Associate editor of frieze, based in Berlin. Open one of the ten volumes of Works (Steidl), a limited edition set of Lewis Baltz’ serial photographic works from the late 1960s to the early 1990s, and you can trace his immensely underrated influence on the photography of the last 30 years. Baltz was matter-of-factly documenting the urban and suburban sprawl of the American West – in both photographs and sociological studies – long before it became the concern of writers such as Mike Davis or groups like the Center for Land Use Interpretation. He unromantically pictured landscapes on the margins, burgeoning suburbs and seemingly unremarkable constructions at eye level, in black and white. The blank facades and parking lots of The New Industrial Parks near Irvine, California (1974) show places where, as Baltz says, ‘you don’t know whether they’re manufacturing pantyhose or megadeath’ – an observation, like much of Baltz’ incisive work – that is even more starkly visible today.
To say that Beat Takeshi is versatile is an understatement. Known inside and outside of Japan for his shape-shifting creative output as a comedian, actor, TV presenter, game-show creator and film director, his exhibition at the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain in Paris last year was his first outing as a contemporary artist. The manifestations of his hilarious, prolific imagination range from colourful, cartoonish paintings to meticulous sketches for the large installations and machines Takeshi produced for the exhibition – including a mock-museological dinosaur display with his theories about their extinction (‘Because they can’t wipe their bottoms’). Beat Takeshi: Gosse de Peintre (The Painter’s Kid, Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain) documents the huge amount of work commissioned for the show, as well as older paintings that have appeared in his films but which he previously refused to exhibit, such as his versions of the Japanese art of flower arranging, in which calla lilies become penguins’ heads.
Senior editor of frieze, based in New York.
It’s hopeless trying to keep up with the merciless pace at which the contemporary art industry produces books, and so my favourite art publication of 2010 was all about not knowing. The catalogue for the touring show ‘For the Blind Man in the Dark Room Looking for the Black Cat that Isn’t There’ (published by Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, where the show began) is written by the show’s curator, Anthony Huberman, and edited and designed by Will Holder – but it isn’t really an exhibition catalogue. Aside from a checklist of works, it includes no images or texts about the exhibiting artists. Rather, it’s a visual essay on the idea that ‘non-knowledge’ – curiosity, confusion, intuition, mystery, paradox, humour – can be a productive way of understanding the world. Lively and approachable, the book’s clear text works in concert with photographs, drawings and creative typesetting, a little like one of those Philosophy for Dummies primers, or a less stuffy Ways of Seeing (John Berger, 1972). You can whip through it in the time it takes to drink a cup of tea, and it should be required reading for anyone curious about the search for knowledge in 20th-century art, philosophy and science.
Co-editor of frieze, based in London.
Two books, three lives well-lived. A Life in Pictures (Canongate Books) by Alasdair Gray and Postwar American Art: The Novak/O’Doherty Collection (Irish Museum of Modern Art). The 76-year-old Gray recalls his life so far in a near-hallucinogenic rush of words, paintings, photographs, decorative embellishments, book covers, newspaper clippings and fake reviews (‘bibliophiles will esteem it as highly as Hypnoertomachia Poliphili and similar incunabula’). Reading is usually a peaceful activity; this is more like being bombarded by a brilliant drunk with a photographic memory – and all the better for it. Postwar American Art, though less frenzied, is no less absorbing: it commemorates the 76 works – including pieces by Marcel Duchamp, Jasper Johns, Edward Hopper and Sol LeWitt – donated by the writers and artists Barbara Novak and Brian O’Doherty to imma. Their collection grew organically, beginning in the 1960s when their New York home was the centre of a group of friends, writers, composers and artists, a place where, as O’Doherty writes, ‘every work was an argument, every idea had to be defended’. Each of the donated works were either exchanged, were gifts, or bought from a friend. Each is beautifully reproduced and accompanied by the ever-fascinating story of its acquisition; personal photographs are scattered throughout. About the works given to him by Joseph Cornell, for example, O’Doherty writes: ‘I sent him mineral crystals. His letters usually came with a mystery enclosed.’ O’Doherty and Novak married in 1960. In many ways this book reads as a love letter not only from – and to – their friends, but to each other. As Doherty declares: I can’t think of it without her.’
Editorial assistant of frieze, based in London.
The two books I have revisited time and again in recent months have been short on text but rich in images. I flicked through both of them quickly at first then found myself drawn back. Published at the end of October, Haunted Air (Jonathan Cape) by Ossian Brown (one-time member of the industrial band Coil and co-founder of Cyclobe) – with an introduction by David Lynch – is a collection of photographs as keenly fascinating as they are disturbing. Taken between 1875 and 1955, these anonymous portraits of American children and adults dressed up for Halloween capture moments of the then-living communing with the dead.
Thomas Scheibitz’ A Moving Plan B – Chapter One (Walther König), accompanied the exhibition he selected for the Drawing Room, London, in September (which ran alongside his own solo show at Sprüth Magers, London) and comprises three curt essays by writer and curator Anna-Catharina Gebbers, philosopher Marcus Steinweg and the artist himself. The writing parallels the simplicity and range of the selected drawings, doodles, sketches and plans that were included in the show. From Bogdan Bogdanovic’s geometrically obsessive designs in pen on board to Manfred Kuttner’s notation-filled homage to J.S. Bach to Scheibitz’ own roughly jotted shortlist of artists, the book holds up to the light those scribblings of inspiration all too often forgotten.
Co-editor of frieze, based in Berlin.
Around 1982 Stephen Willats met Leigh Bowery at London’s Cha Cha Club, a shelter from reigning norms and a container of new ones. Willats had been looking into art’s potential for social change since the early 1960s; ironically at the Cha Cha this made him resemble – as he crawled along the floor collecting ‘something of the club’s rough physicality’ into a plastic bag – a drugs investigator. With the publication of Art Society Feedback (Badischer Kunstverein Karlsruhe and Verlag für moderne Kunst Nürnberg) Willats’ writings are, for the first time, collected in one volume and cloaked in a thick layer of essays by seven contributors. The artist’s smart, dry commentaries on the connections between his work and behaviourism, cybernetics and the photocopier transform modern art’s need for explanation into an asset.
Scott King – who first became known in the mid-1990s as art director of i-D magazine – also has a set of productive contradictions in place. In his introduction to Scott King Art Works (JRP|Ringier) Jon Savage quotes King’s statement that his early work was as much about fandom as it was about ‘the loathing of it’. Less successful are the moments when the loathing transforms into radical chic mannerism (I, for one, am tired of Ulrike Meinhof-as-style-icon). But Scott’s work can also be shot through with observational brilliance, as in his 1998 series of screenprints of concerts where the ratio of star to fan is broken down into a simple mathematical formula: both are rendered as black dots. Joy Division in 1980 at the University of Birmingham face 168 of them while the Rolling Stones in Altamont in 1969 face thousands.
Associate editor of frieze, based in London.
2010 saw a number of antidotes to what Hans Ulrich Obrist has diagnosed as ‘exhibition amnesia’. Exhibiting the New Art: ‘Op Losse Schroeven’ and ‘When Attitudes Become Form’ (Afterall in association with the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna and the Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven) is the first in a new series of exhibition histories. It’s an invaluable resource – with floorplans, original catalogue essays, interviews and an in-depth study by Christian Rattemeyer – about the two shows and their differing fortunes. Despite opening within a week of each other in 1969 Wim Beeren’s Stedelijk show, ‘Op Losse Schroeven’ (a Dutch expression meaning an unstable situation) has, as Rattemeyer puts it, ‘almost disappeared from history’, while Harald Szeemann’s exhibition at Kunsthalle Bern now enjoys a quasi-mythical status. Forthcoming books in the series will skip forward 20 years to ‘Magiciens de la Terre’ and the 3rd Havana Biennial.
Edited by Jens Hoffmann, The Exhibitionist is a new, twice-yearly journal about exhibition-making. Its claim to take the early Cahiers du cinéma as a ‘primary inspiration’ extends to an eager reapplication of the auteur theory; protest against forgetting is important, but I worry about the partiality of an account that professes to be ‘for curators by curators’. A nice alternative is Ryan Gander’s Catalogue Raisonnable Vol. 1 (JRP|Ringier), a collaboration with design collective Åbäke; it’s a wildly inventive account of an artist’s exhibitions, publications and – most of all – ideas.