Summer reading is an art activity with its own particular pleasures—with it, even kicking back in a hammock, relaxing in a park or having a cocktail on a patio becomes an opportunity to delve into top creative issues and leading design minds. Here are Canadian Art’s picks to pack this summer, wherever the season may take you.
Ken Lum, by Grant Arnold, Okwui Enwezor and Roland Schöny, Douglas & McIntyre, 144 pp, $55.00. Buy this book.
The poster for Ken Lum’s current survey at the Vancouver Art Gallery features a photo of Mirror Maze with 12 Signs of Depression; fittingly, images of the reflective labyrinth also permeate this catalogue, published to accompany the show. All three erudite essays analyze Lum’s use of mirrors, invoking diverse theories to illuminate the Vancouver artist’s recurrent blurring of the lines between private and public (yes, Jacques Lacan makes several inevitable appearances). Roland Schöny offers a semiotics of the mirror and Grant Arnold focuses on its destabilizing qualities; both critics commend Lum for foregrounding the contemporary urban subject’s struggles with identity. Okwui Enwezor, meanwhile, considers how Lum’s recent mirror and text works engage with the traditions of post-minimalist sculpture and post-conceptual photography. The essays’ critical breadth is both impressive and apposite, although their scholarly tone sometimes seems out of keeping with Lum’s understated playfulness. Nonetheless, this collection provides important insight into the work of one of Canada’s most influential working artists.
Waiting for Godot in New Orleans, edited by Paul Chan, Badlands Unlimited, 352 pp, $50.00. Buy this book.
In 2007, the American artist Paul Chan and the New York non-profit Creative Time worked with New Orleans community groups to stage a free outdoor performance of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. Conceived as a response to the shameful lack of sanctioned mobilization in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the production was set against the backdrop of the city’s two most ravaged districts: the Lower Ninth Ward and Gentilly. This catalogue is an archive of the project, which was presented in-situ over four evenings to audiences that numbered more than 1,000. The images and testimonials speak to the power of art and community.
Anri Sala, by Marie Fraser et al., Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, 128 pp, $39.95. Buy this book.
The Berlin-based Albanian artist Anri Sala made his Canadian solo-show debut at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal this past spring. Published in conjunction with that landmark show, this two-volume paperback catalogue presents colour video stills and photographs along with a number of critical writings, including an essay by chief curator Marie Fraser on the importance of sound in the artist’s work. Sala and his collaborator Edi Rama offer a supplementary text on their installation Inversion, which appeared as part of the Montreal exhibition; dialogues with thinkers and theorists such as the art critic Michael Fried provide context for this work.
Artists’ Magazines: An Alternative Space for Art, by Gwen Allen, MIT Press, 368 pp, $34.95. Buy this book.
Gwen Allen’s accessible study of the world of artists’ magazines from the mid-1960s through to the late 1970s and beyond is, perhaps, the best primer yet on the subject. Allen begins where she should, with a chapter on Artforum and its controversial forays into publishing artists’ interventions, then proceeds with an astute rundown of the major publications of the period, including Phyllis Glick’s Wunderkammer-like Aspen, the SoHo-centric Avalanche and General Idea’s influential Toronto-based FILE. An appendix listing artists’ magazines from 1945 to 1989 makes this book an essential resource.
Stealing the Mystic Lamb, Noah Charney, PublicAffairs, 336 pp, $35.95. Buy this book.
Painted on panels between 1426 and 1432, Jan Van Eyck’s Ghent altarpiece The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb is the painting that launched both the Northern Renaissance and the venerable tradition of oil painting. Since its earliest days, the work has been recognized and coveted as a cultural treasure, and Charney’s book charts its travails over 580 years as it has been broken up, hidden, stolen, ransomed and beset by sloppy restoration. The Nazis even hid it in an Austrian mine! It is an amazing story, and the author keeps our eyes fixed on the remarkable achievement of Van Eyck’s art.
Jim Nutt: Coming into Character, by Lynne Warren et al., MCA Chicago/Yale University Press, 124 pp, $35.00. Buy this book.
Jim Nutt has made some of the craziest paintings in American art. Part of the Hairy Who Chicago imagist crew of the 1960s, Nutt was one of the few US artists who stood up to the European neo-expressionist art that crashed ashore in the 1980s. Thirty years later, the painter is the subject of this loving retrospective catalogue. The collected essays draw attention to his female portraits from the past 20 years—images that manage to combine the disjointed physiognomies of cubism with the paint-handling of an Italian Renaissance master.
Huckleberry Finn, edited by Jens Hoffmann, CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, 108 pp, $39.00. Buy this book.
There may be no better way to understand the facts of a nation than through its fictions. The CCA Wattis director Jens Hoffmann did just that in a trio of recent exhibitions framed around the American literary classics The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Moby Dick and, in the series’ final installment late last year, Huckleberry Finn. This richly produced volume extends that exhibition’s character study of the runaway slave, Jim, with reproductions, essays and historical details that smartly recontextualize a broader cultural journey through racism that ultimately remains unresolved.