in Culture Digest | 01 NOV 08
Featured in
Issue 119

Monika Baer

In an ongoing series frieze asks curators, artists and writers to list the books that have influenced them

in Culture Digest | 01 NOV 08

Vladimir Nabokov, Lectures on Literature, (Harcourt, New York, 1980)

In describing the way Marcel Proust compares his characters to those in paintings, in stained-glass windows or on tapestries, Nabokov assumes that Proust conceals his appreciation of the beauty of his male characters behind the mask of an art connoisseur. As Nabokov sees it, Proust thus also conceals his disinterest in young women and his inability to perceive their magic. I personally imagine a prismatic space that the characters enter to be transformed before they step back into the narrative.

Janet Malcolm Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1981)

This book is based on dialogues with analysts – what they do and how they deal with their ambitions, misconceptions and flaws. Malcolm peers deeply into the shifting world of psychoanalytic practice and its history. The book made me envision the concept of transference as a multilayered transparent image settling down on the topography of the analytical situation, like a ghost looking for a body.

Dr Sharon Moalem (with Jonathan Prince), Survival of the Sickest: A Medical Maverick Discovers Why We Need Disease (William Morrow & Company, London, 2007)

This is a delightful book that deals with the question of why evolution hasn’t yet done away with illness. Moalem points out that under certain circumstances, many illnesses, particularly regionally occurring ones, have been shown to offer a distinct medical advantage for the better survival of humans. Every illness carries a historic coding. Dr Moalem and his snazzy mouthpiece, Mr Prince, get you deliriously lost in their endless net of interconnectedness about the endless net of interconnectedness.

Helmut Newton, Autobiography (Gerald Duckworth & Co. Ltd, London, 2003)

Various aspects of Newton’s work interest me: the way his black and white aesthetics echo German Expressionism and whether they can be considered a sort of molecular storage space distinct from the content of the images. I’m also interested in the way his wife and colleague June Newton, aka Alice Springs, influenced his images of women. I fantasize about Helmut Newton being her medium. This autobiography hardly touches upon these particular interests; instead, it sparks new ones.

Anne Hollander, Sex and Suits (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1994)

Hollander looks at the history of fashion and examines its political coding by focusing on how men’s suits have evolved, the implications thereof, and the way they’ve remained essentially unchanged for the past 200 years. She sharply analyzes the gender-specific aspects of fashion and describes the handling of materials so palpably that this book is a sensual pleasure to read.

Lessons from Bernard Rudofsky: Life as a Voyage (The Getty Research Institute and Architekturzentrum Wien, 2007)

Bernard Rudofsky was an artist, architect, curator, critic and fashion designer. This catalogue spans his entire career. In the exhibition ‘Are Clothes Modern?’, which he curated at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1944, he demonstrated the non-functional aspects of men’s modern business attire with a life-size transparent diagram depicting the outlines of a suit, leaving its superfluous pockets and numerous buttons opaque.

Victor I. Stoichita, The Self-Aware Image: An Insight into Early Modern Meta-Painting (Cambridge University Press, 1997; originally published as L’Instauration du tableau: Metapeinture a l’aube des temps modernes, 1993)

Towards the end of the Renaissance, tableau painting liberated the medium from the liturgy and from being bound to a specific location, providing the foundation for categories of modern art. This book is almost too good to be true, but I am glad that it was not around at the beginning of my studies, as it presents such a rich collection of clear solutions to problems that I was grappling with then.

William Copley’s signature on the painting Miss American Pie (1970)

Copley painted his signature, ‘Cply’, on the lady’s right buttock. She even lifts the hem of her dress to display it.

John Henry Comstock The Spider Book (Doubleday, Page & Company, New York, 1912)

I am interested in spiderwebs as filters and as visible traces of the movements of spiders. Until I read this book I did not know that male spiders, which don’t have penises, weave a special net onto which they exude droplets of sperm from their genital orifices, which are then taken up by their pedipalps (anterior extremities) by capillary forces. Later the pedipalps take on the role of a sexual organ. I like the idea of this intricate bridging and it still echoes in the back of my mind.

Norma Broude and Mary Garrard The Power of Feminist Art: The American Movement of the 1970s, History and Impact (Harry N. Abrams, New York, 1994)


Lucy Lippard Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object from 1966 to 1972 (University of California Press, 1997; first published 1973) This was a very influential book for me, marking the start of my studies, and leaving me with the problem of what it takes for a painting to be art.

Amos Vogel Film as a Subversive Art (Random House, New York, 1974)

An extensive history and analysis of avant-garde film and its crossing of boundaries. In this treasure trove, Vogel shares his appreciation of even the most obscure films. He values the expansion of borders and the challenging and breaking of taboos as politically essential. It’s also a good book to read if you want to regard mankind with affection.

Annemarie Hurlimann and Alois Martin Müller Film Stills: Emotions Made in Hollywood (Hatje Cantz, Ostfildern, 1992)

It was in this book that I came across the stills from Erich von Stroheim’s film Greed (1924), which still haunt me.

Carson McCullers The Member of the Wedding (Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1946)

In my teens I was a dedicated fan of McCullers’ dense compositions and charged sets, which led to my occupation with set design and film stills.

Willard Price ‘Adventure’ series (John Day Company, New York, 1949–80)

The teenage brothers Hal and Roger Hunt capture live animals for zoos and circuses. Their misfortunes are described in gory detail, while girls and women are nonexistent. I owe a large part of my extensive zoological knowledge to Price, such as the observation that angry gorillas smell of burning rubber.

A.A. Milne The House at Pooh Corner (Egmont, Glasgow; first published 1928)

This is the first book I remember from my childhood. Winnie-the-Pooh and Piglet worry about Eeyore freezing just as they come across an untidy heap of sticks. They build a house for him in a nice dry place.

Monika Baer lives and works in Berlin, Germany. Since the early 1990s she has been working with painting, drawing, watercolour and collage. In 2006, a retrospective of her work was organized by the Bonnefantenmuseum in Maastricht, which later travelled to the Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich, and the Ausstellungshalle zietgenössische Kunst, Muenster. Her paintings were also featured in last year’s documenta 12. She’ll be showing her new work in a solo exhibition at Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zurich, in March 2009.