Christopher Lyon

  • interviews October 04, 2022

    Taking the Measure of David Smith

    Michael Brenson’s David Smith: The Art and Life of a Transformational Sculptor, the first biography of the celebrated twentieth century artist, was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux this week. Brenson contributed the lead essay to David Smith Sculpture: A Catalogue Raisonné, 1932–1965, published last year by The Estate of David Smith and Yale University Press. Christopher Lyon, its editor and a contributing essayist, spoke with Brenson recently about his Smith biography. Brenson, the artistic director of the Jonathan and Barbara Silver Foundation, was an art critic for the New York Times

  • Louise Bourgeois: An Unfolding Portrait

    DURING A CAREER of more than seventy years, Louise Bourgeois (1911–2010) was a consummate insider. For most of that time, she was hardly recognized outside the small circle of the New York art world. That abruptly changed in 1982, when curator Deborah Wye organized a Bourgeois retrospective at MoMA, only the institution’s second devoted to a living woman sculptor or painter. Sculpture suited Bourgeois: Its often-obdurate materials provided a productive counterweight to her forceful creative psyche. But early and late in her career—at first constrained by space, time, and resources, and later

  • Robert Frank: Film Works

    NOT LONG AFTER Robert Frank's still photographs in The Americans, published in 1958, definitively revealed the grim underside of the 1950s American dream, he put his Leica away and embarked on a new career as a filmmaker. This set of publications and DVDs, packaged in a handsome wooden case the size of a large-format art book, chronicles the half century of movies that followed. The book features a 1985 interview with Frank's close friend and collaborator Allen Ginsberg, who says the photographer shifted to filmmaking to sidestep the pitfalls of being an acclaimed artist, to "stay with life as

  • culture December 14, 2016

    On Intimate Geometries: The Art and Life of Louise Bourgeois by Robert Storr

    This 828-page tome on the art and life of Louise Bourgeois, who was born in 1911 and died in 2010, is the product of some thirty years of work. It comprehensively surveys Bourgeois's career as an artist, which spanned nearly seventy-five years, with more than nine hundred illustrations.

    Christopher Lyon: First I'd like to say something about the book we're here to discuss. This 828-page tome on the art and life of Louise Bourgeois, who was born in 1911 and died in 2010, is the product of some thirty years of work on Robert Storr's part. It comprehensively surveys Bourgeois's career as an artist, which spanned nearly seventy-five years, with more than nine hundred illustrations. Chapters relating Bourgeois's life and analyzing her creative achievement alternate with portfolios, in chronological sequence, that show the unfolding of her oeuvre. The final chapter is a coda that

  • Dwan Gallery: Los Angeles to New York, 1959–1971

    THE INFLUENTIAL AND coolly glamorous gallerist Virginia Dwan finally gets her due in Dwan Gallery: Los Angeles to New York, 1959–1971, an impressive exhibition catalogue celebrating her 2013 gift of 250 artworks to the National Gallery of Art (Washington, DC). Most were acquired directly from the artists she featured in more than 130 shows in her galleries in Los Angeles, beginning in 1959, and New York, where she moved in 1964. Reflecting the era's feverish pace of change, the art reproduced in the book's excellent plate section shows a startling range of styles, from late AbEx and Nouveau

  • Artful Volumes

    In the run-up to the holiday book-buying season—once the lifeblood of trade-art-book publishing—high hopes are again being pinned on the oldest of art-book genres: collection surveys, nine- or ten-pound wonders that purport to give us a deeper understanding of a museum’s “masterpieces.” That devalued word regains currency in THE PRADO MASTERPIECES (Museo Nacional del Prado/Thames & Hudson, $125), a comprehensive look at the holdings of one of the world’s greatest museums of European painting. Collection-survey books often rely on recycled photography and texts, and the Prado book is no exception.

  • Artful Volumes

    Edgar Degas, a master at capturing ephemeral moments, found his perfect medium in monotypes, the subject of EDGAR DEGAS: A STRANGE NEW BEAUTY (Museum of Modern Art, $50). The process—applying ink or oil paint to a printing plate then transferring the image to paper using an etching press—makes the prints malleable until the last moment, granting the artist great freedom to spontaneously experiment. They are well suited to creating a sense of motion, atmospheric effects, and stark contrasts between darkness and light. Degas, who was not formally trained in printmaking, took advantage of these

  • Artful Volumes

    THE WORLD OF CHARLES AND RAY EAMES (Barbican Art Gallery/Rizzoli, $75), with a dust jacket that folds out into a colorful poster in the image-grid style the design duo popularized, may seem like an Eames lounger: Something you can settle into and use to travel back in time to, say, 1956. But don’t get too comfortable. This catalogue is not about midcentury modern furniture and decor, but instead shows how the Eameses communicated their rationalist vision of design: a way to provide “the best for the most for the least,” as they often put it. Even their famous Pacific Palisades home, known as

  • Artful Volumes

    That the arch-villain of the moment is a New York real-estate mogul does not surprise the city’s residents. Two new entries in the evergreen picture-book category of lost (or about-to-be-lost) New York evoke worlds, large and small, obliterated by avaricious Trump-style development. Adam Gopnik provides the suavely nostalgic introduction to PENN STATION, NEW YORK (Thames & Hudson, $50), a collection of densely dark, dreamlike black-and-white photos by Louis Stettner. Shot in 1958, five years before the old Penn Station was torn down, the series was inspired by an image Stettner made in 1957:

  • Artful Volumes

    The art historian Robert Farris Thompson taught us that African art is an “art of motion.” Kongo: Power and Majesty (Metropolitan Museum of Art/Yale University Press, $65) demonstrates that the most compelling objects of central African art are not static, timeless creations—as they may seem in museum displays—but urgent responses by a community under siege. This exhibition catalogue, spanning the late-fifteenth to the early-twentieth centuries, documents much of what remains of precolonial artworks from the Kongo kingdoms, many being gifts by African royalty to their European counterparts.

  • politics September 23, 2015

    Fair Game

    On a steamy Friday afternoon that felt more like late July than mid-September, I headed to the annual New York Art Book Fair at MoMA PS1, aiming to learn more about the state of independent art publishing. Run by Printed Matter, the nonprofit organization that promotes artists’ books with evangelical zeal, the fair is now in its tenth incarnation, and included, among more than three hundred and fifty participants, art-book publishers from twenty-eight countries. Finding them was the challenge. With a floor plan in one hand (isn’t there an app for this?) and the miniature telephone book listing

  • Artful Volumes

    In the sensual Costume Institute catalogue CHINA THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS: FASHION, FILM, ART (Metropolitan Museum of Art/Yale University Press, $45), Met curator Andrew Bolton proposes, with a nervous nod to Edward Said, a “rethinking” of Orientalism as “an appreciative cultural response by the West to its encounters with the East.” Bolton’s depoliticized take on the exchange between East and West in his introduction sets the tone for a volume that is an exuberant triumph of style over substance, complete with a red, silklike cloth cover stamped with gold foil. Inside, elaborate Western

  • Artful Volumes

    To call Jules Feiffer an artist, or, worse yet, a cartoonist, diminishes his restless talent: He was a playwright, a screenwriter, an acerbic social commentator, and the illustrator of a beloved children’s book, The Phantom Tollbooth. OUT OF LINE: THE ART OF JULES FEIFFER (Abrams, $40) walks us through the career of this child of the Bronx, an apprentice to the legendary Will Eisner (the creator of The Spirit series, on which Feiffer worked) and the man whose Village Voice cartoons were for decades a reason to put up with the paper. This book was so long in the making that it comes with an

  • Artful Volumes

    Music fans of a certain age will recall the lost pleasures of album covers, and especially of box sets, which often included liner notes, lyrics, and interviews (and, of course, records). BJ�–RK (The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Artbook DAP), the catalogue for MoMA’s spring-blockbuster entertainment, recalls this form, with a slipcase containing four booklets and a slim paperbound book with poetic ruminations on the Icelandic star’s first seven albums along with images of the David Bowie–like array of her performing personae. But there’s no CD or DVD here, which makes this a little like a

  • Artful Volumes

    VIVIAN MAIER: A PHOTOGRAPHER FOUND (Harper Design, $80) shifts the focus from the faux-romantic idea of Maier as an eccentric recluse (à la Henry Darger) who hoarded never-displayed photographs until she died a pauper’s death and was granted sudden and improbable posthumous stardom. Instead, we see a surprisingly savvy street photographer, who, like Garry Winogrand, Diane Arbus, and Lee Friedlander, honed her vision in 1950s New York. From the late ’50s on, in the guise of a socially invisible Chicagoland nanny, she created thousands of remarkable photographs, devoting her skills to unsentimental

  • 20 × 20+

    LOOKING BACK over the past twenty years of art books, there is much to sift through and much to celebrate. Here, I’ve asked publishers, editors, designers, and booksellers to help me nominate the outstanding titles published in the US during that time. (I limited the search to volumes costing less than $300.)

    Today, art-book publishing is blooming in a desert. Despite ever-dwindling nourishment from sales, it is a golden age in terms of both the number of titles available and their impressive quality. No single factor explains this paradox, but if we examine the list, we do see trends. The

  • Artful Volumes

    The seductive cover of JEFF KOONS: A RETROSPECTIVE (Whitney Museum/Yale, $65) is a printing tour de force: no title, just an embossed rendition of the 1991 polychromed wood sculpture Large Vase of Flowers. Open petals reveal what appear to be the tops of enticing (yet unsavory) muffins, simultaneously erotic and excremental. Koons himself describes the flowers as “very sexual and fertile,” adding, “at the same time they are 140 assholes.” The work is like a dirty joke on Georgia O’Keeffe. Demonstrating Koons’s deft employment of technically demanding, impersonal manufacturing processes, the

  • Artful Volumes

    A single word may send a reader—or viewer—down the wrong path. On the cover of ALIBIS: SIGMAR POLKE 1963–2010 (Museum of Modern Art, $75), the title appears against a close-up of snakeskin—printed on boards embossed with a scaly texture—framing a photo of the artist as a child manipulating a marionette. In the book’s lead essay, curator Kathy Halbreich proposes that Polke studiously avoided any signature style or medium, “so that his aesthetic method . . . enacted the role of an alibi.” But alibis brings to mind excuses, and the book takes a historically constrained viewpoint—the text is full

  • Artful Volumes

    Few contemporary artists meaningfully engage with poetry in their work. When they do—whether it is Anselm Kiefer enlisting Paul Celan, or Nancy Spero ventriloquizing Artaud—they tend to prefer their poets dead. It is all the more remarkable, then, that the painter and collage artist Jess (1923–2004) and his partner of nearly forty years, poet Robert Duncan (1919–1988), collaborated frequently and made each other’s ideas fundamental to their art. Duncan and Jess attracted a diverse group of Bay Area artists and poets, and this milieu is the subject of An Opening of the Field: Jess, Robert Duncan,

  • Artful Volumes

    Art Spiegelman’s CO-MIX: A RETROSPECTIVE OF COMICS, GRAPHICS, AND SCRAPS (Drawn & Quarterly, $40) reveals the busy creative mind behind Maus, Spiegelman’s masterstroke, completed in 1991, in which he used the despised, adolescent, “Jewish” entertainment of the comic strip to explore his relationship with his parents and their experience of the Holocaust. Co-Mix echoes that strategy, performing the jujitsu flip of mimicking a high-art exhibition catalogue in the quintessential low-art medium of comics. Compulsively self-reflexive, the book convincingly makes the case for comics as the ultimate