The Casual Optimist

Books, Design and Culture

Something for the Weekend

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Wondrous Horrors — Ariella Budick on the centenary of the 1913 Armory Show in New York, for the Financial Times:

Critics did not reject every European innovation. They nodded at the impressionists, puzzled respectfully over Cézanne, and tolerated Gauguin. But cubism blew their minds. The impact was not merely aesthetic. American writers perceived a defiant rejection of rules and a contempt for tradition – qualities they associated with violent political movements. Painters who blasted convention with their brushes gave comfort to bomb-throwing subversives. When critics invoked anarchy, it was not just a figure of speech.
See also: Rethinking the Armory in the New York Times:
New York viewers, including artists, to some degree knew what they were in for. Pictures of avant-garde art had been included, often with mocking commentary, in New York newspapers and magazines for years. And by no means were all Armory reviews pans; one critic wrote that he was grateful for “these shocks to our aesthetic sense.” Others were glad for a certain perspective the show offered: compared with avant-garde work from Europe, American art looked sane.
Making It Up — William Deresiewicz on the work of Geoff Dyer, for The New Republic:
Freedom from conventional and institutional expectations—freedom even from his audience—means that Dyer is also free to make it up, like jazz, as he goes along. Every book is different, and every book is different from everybody else’s books. Zona is a running commentary, almost shot-by-shot, on a single film. But Beautiful consists of a series of quasi-imagined episodes—vivid, textured, saturated with feeling—from the lives of the jazz greats. Out of Sheer Rage is memoir, travelogue, criticism—“about” Lawrence in the physical sense of the word: spinning around and around him with a manic, comic, centrifugal energy. The Ongoing Moment makes a poem of the history of photography by considering not artists or schools, technics or techniques, but, improbably, subjects (hats, benches, stairs): a ridiculous idea, it seems, until you figure out that Dyer’s real quarry is the relationships we have with those quotidian objects, the way they can be made to stand for the lives that move among them. “Spare me the drudgery of systematic examinations,” he writes in Out of Sheer Rage, “and give me the lightning flashes of those wild books in which there is no attempt to cover the ground thoroughly or reasonably.”
See also: Rose Mclaren on Zona for The White Review:
[Dyer] claims, ‘if I had not seen Stalker in my early twenties my responsiveness to the world would have been radically diminished’. He shares with his idol an artistic ideal of awareness, describing Tarkovsky’s aesthetic as a length of take demanding ‘a special intensity of attention’. The inverse dominates much contemporary culture where, ‘a lot of what’s being shown on the world’s screens is fit only for morons’ with the result that ‘there are more and more things from which one has to avert one’s ears and eyes’. Rubbish art that warrants ignorance. A bit broad-brush and heavy-handed, but its Dyer’s reason for writing. Against a social dystopia of willed numbness, Zona documents a profound engagement with an artwork. It is not so much homage to the film alone, but to the dialogue it inspires.

And finally…

What Is This Shit? — Brian Dillon interviews photographer and filmmaker William Klein:

I didn’t know how to do a book. I was just discovering photography and once I had all these pictures, I showed them to editors in New York and nobody thought it was worthwhile to do a book with these photographs. They said, “What is this shit?” I came back to Paris and discovered there was a series of travel books called Petite Planète. I called them up and got an appointment and I went to this office which looked like NASA. Chris Marker was there with a laser gun in his belt, and he saw the photographs and said, “We’ll do a book!” In fact he said, “We’ll do a book or I quit!”

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