Staff Pick

Alexander Calder (1898-1976) was the son and grandson of sculptors, but when he went to school he studied engineering. Later, committing himself to art, he chose painting, like his mother. It took a few years before he accepted his fate and turned to sculpture. This brief period of indecision is the single moment of angst in the life of one of the twentieth century’s most joyful and original modern artists. Inheriting his father’s dexterity as well as his “playful, lively, fantastic” tendencies, Calder (Knopf, $55) dedicated his life to animating the inanimate. In Jed Perl’s lively, affectionate, and thorough account to 1940, Calder’s life was pretty much on track from the start. With the avant-garde “always part” of it, he grew up in the artistic circles of both France and the U.S., a peripatetic life he continued. He was an incorrigible punster (see his work A Merry Can Ballet) and everything he did was infused with humor. Perl traces Calder’s jeux d’esprit from the early portraits and objects he made by bending wire, works that “suggested rapidly executed line drawings leaping into the third dimension,” to the elaborate Cirque Calder that was meant to be performed, not just looked at, and on to his abstractions, which were also a “menagerie…of unexpected forms” in motion, and which Perl, in the spirit of his subject, describes as “motions galumphing, jagged, swishy, swirly.” As playful as they were serious, these mobiles (named by Duchamp) and stabiles (so-called by Jean Arp) revolutionized sculpture, taking a stationary form, making it move, and creating new relationships between the viewer and the art. Perl is tireless in tracing Calder’s influences, which included Miró, Klee, Hélion, Saul Steinberg, Mondrian, Edgar Varèse, Martha Graham, and Malcolm Cowley. All were his friends, and Perl’s engaging, scholarly, and buoyant biography—and its 400-plus photos—makes it easy to see why.

Calder: The Conquest of Time: The Early Years: 1898-1940 Cover Image
$55.00
ISBN: 9780307272720
Availability: In Stock—Click for Locations
Published: Knopf - October 24th, 2017

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Staff Pick

 A fascinating exercise and assay, Traces of Vermeer (Oxford, $34.95) serves as an elucidating technical accompaniment to the broader scope of Vermeer in Detail. Jane Jelley is, first and foremost, a painter. But she has become something of a reconstructive art historian through her engagement with Vermeer and his artistic process. Vermeer’s startling command of light, the snapshot-like quality of his 17th century masterworks, has long baffled even his greatest admirers. It would seem he used a camera obscura as an optic aide, but how exactly Vermeer might have used it—and whether its use in some way detracts from his genius—has been highly controversial. Jelley brings a vast knowledge, and, more importantly, practice, of traditional painting techniques to this discussion: grinding one’s own pigment, preparing canvases, long apprenticeships, third glazes. Through trials in the studio, she proposes a novel suggestion as to how exactly Vermeer could have used a camera obscura lens to arrive at his compositions, plot them onto canvas, and then prepare and layer paint to create his unparalleled works. The process, she maintains, would only further elevate Vermeer’s genius. Jelley’s engaging prose is a boon to both scholars and casual art appreciators.

Traces of Vermeer Cover Image
$34.95
ISBN: 9780198789727
Availability: In Stock—Click for Locations
Published: Oxford University Press, USA - October 1st, 2017

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Staff Pick

“Thinking is my fighting,” Virginia Woolf said, and this might be Sentilles’s  motto. Her profound and unsettling meditation on war and violence proposes many ways—writing, painting, making music, taking photos—to counter, if not undo, war’s devastation. Writing in the line of John Berger and Susan Sontag, Sentilles starts with the moral implications of looking at images of pain. She considers ethical problems of aestheticizing suffering and asks what good can be done for the victims by the viewer’s sympathy and unease. Yet without seeing exactly what war does, how will people learn to reject it as a solution? Writing in brief chunks, personal as journal entries, Sentilles tells multiple stories simultaneously. These concern a student in her art theory class who had served as a guard at Abu Ghraib; her grandfather, who was traumatized by his service in World War II; and Howard, a CO who was imprisoned for his refusal to serve. These profiles lead to discussions of Japanese American internment camps, lynchings, PTSD (and its foreshadow, the fear-driven anticipatory TSD), the inheritance of trauma by later generations, the use and sacrifice of animals in war, and artists’ appropriation of war images for art. While Sentilles, a former divinity student, closes with a prayer that the world be made anew, she knows the task will be long and difficult.

Draw Your Weapons Cover Image
$28.00
ISBN: 9780399590344
Availability: In Stock—Click for Locations
Published: Random House - July 4th, 2017

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