Artful Volumes

Irving Penn: Centennial BY Maria Morris Hambourg, Jeff L. Rosenheim. edited by Alexandra Dennett, Philippe Garner, Adam Kirsch, Harald E. L. Prins, Vasilios Zatse. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Hardcover, 372 pages. $70.
Dreamlands: Immersive Cinema and Art, 1905?2016 BY Chrissie Iles. edited by Adam D. Weinberg, Karen Archey, Giuliana Bruno, John Canemaker, Brian Droitcour, Noam M. Elcott, Tom Gunning, J. Hoberman, Esther Leslie, David Lewis. Whitney Museum of American Art. Hardcover, 256 pages. $65.
The Ecstasy of St. Kara: Kara Walker, New Work BY Reto Thüring, Beau Rutland, Kara Walker, John Lansdowne, Tracy K. Smith. edited by Ari Marcopoulos. The Cleveland Museum of Art. Paperback, 79 pages. $20.
Lee Lozano: Lozano c. 1962 Karma, New York. Hardcover, 96 pages. $40.
IOWA BY Nancy Rexroth, Anne Wilkes Tucker. edited by Mark L. Power, Alec Soth. University of Texas Press. Hardcover, 168 pages. $45.
Betye Saar: Uneasy Dancer BY Richard Powell, Deborah Willis, Kellie Jones. edited by Mario Mainetti, Chiara Costa, Elvira Dyangani Ose, Miuccia Prada, Patrizio Bertelli. Fondazione Prada. Paperback, 320 pages. $55.
Lygia Pape BY Iria Candela. edited by Glória Ferreira, Sérgio B. Martins, John Rajchman. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Hardcover, 208 pages. $45.

The cover of Irving Penn: Centennial The cover of Dreamlands: Immersive Cinema and Art, 1905?2016 The cover of The Ecstasy of St. Kara: Kara Walker, New Work The cover of Lee Lozano: Lozano c. 1962 The cover of IOWA The cover of Betye Saar: Uneasy Dancer The cover of Lygia Pape

The main thing that hits you about the hefty IRVING PENN: CENTENNIAL (Metropolitan Museum of Art/Yale University Press, $70) is how, over decades of fastidious work, the photographer managed to create and maintain a minutely controlled approach where diversity dissolves into uniformity. His figures are decked out in veritable uniforms, whether modeling chichi hats and indigenous costumes or posing as "themselves." Across so many different venues, from Vogue, high-end books, and middlebrow advertising to strikingly decorative ethnography and abstract studies (nudes, obviously, and a whole gorgeously grimy series on, less obviously, cigarette butts), his classicism transformed all the world into stage decoration. Maria Morris Hambourg, Jeff L. Rosenheim, and other contributors here dutifully stake out ultimately superfluous claims for Penn's art-historical importance: "While his subject matter may have been fashionable, his photographs occupied a place beyond the whims or fads of fashion," Philippe Garner writes. Maybe, but the word for these works is not timeless or beautiful but handsome—eminently pleasing to the eye, with a slightly stuck-up, sententious quality mitigated by a hint of errant wit. E.g., the early Beef Still Life (tastefully arranged ingredients for stew placed in a rustic copper pot, with a picture of a cow as backstop), or his neat device of literally cornering celebrities: Andy Warhol may have had his Factory, but Penn was a cottage industry, synthesizing a range of handmade artifacts and impersonal expressions with Automat compartmentalization and fashion-industrial production.

In the past century, the notion of life as an unspooling film was self-evident: DREAMLANDS: IMMERSIVE CINEMA AND ART, 1905–2016 (Whitney Museum of American Art, $65) functions as a sprocket-marked conveyor belt transporting the reader-viewer from the dawn of the celluloid age (Edwin S. Porter's Coney Island at Night, 1905) into the digitized, multimediated, postcinematic outré spaces of today (Frances Bodomo's Afronauts, 2014). Documenting the eponymous Whitney exhibition, which incorporates a century-plus of intersectional, mostly American cinema and art (with a few German ringers thrown in), it covers the primitive majesty of Porter's two-minute Edison epic through the metamorphic timescapes of Walt Disney, Fritz Lang, Joseph Cornell, Bruce Conner, Stan VanDerBeek, Lynn Hershman Leeson, and many oneiric works by others. This volume takes on a plangent life all its own: You can read it front to back, gorgeous stills laying groundwork for the theory and phenomenology provided by Chrissie Iles ("The Cyborg and the Sensorium"), J. Hoberman ("After 2001: The Dematerialization of the Film Object in the Twenty-First Century"), et al. But you can more productively, and ravishingly, scan it back to front, as a do-it-yourself flip-book animation that infinitely cuts and recuts itself, as you land on different juxtapositions of terms, images, and frissons. Dream a little dream of Mickey Mouse as apprentice mime from Marcel Carné's Les Enfants du paradis. Or imagine the fandomphantasmagoria of The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift rolling over the dour hypotheses of Theodor Adorno. It's Road Runner contra Wagner: beep-beep.

—Howard Hampton

During a residency at the American Academy of Arts and Letters in Rome last year, Kara Walker produced several graphite and charcoal works on paper that delve into "how narratives of faith operate, and the enormous impact religion has had on colonizing and enslaving black people," as she writes in THE ECSTASY OF ST. KARA (The Cleveland Museum of Art/Yale University Press, $20), a slim but potent catalogue from an exhibition of the same name at the Cleveland Museum of Art. The book opens with black-and-white photographs by Ari Marcopoulos, mostly close-ups of a monumental drawing Walker produced in Rome, Easter Parade in the Old Country, 2016. In one of these details, a disheveled and naked white man has nailed one of his arms onto a wooden structure while Br'er Rabbit binds the fellow's feet with rope. The little scene speaks volumes about the brooding mood of Walker's oeuvre to date: an intertwining of desire, violence, and fear manifested through folk tales, parables, and pranks. Several of Marcopoulos's intimate pictures in the book—particularly those of Walker working in her temporary studio, of her hands covered in graphite, and of the artworks they visited together (including, of course, Bernini's Ecstasy of Saint Teresa)—feel like mementos from a transformative journey, and they are successfully paired with Walker's diaristic writings about the Eternal City. Yet she always has her eye on what's going on back home. In her excellent essay "Assassination by Proxy," she links Barack Obama and Black Lives Matter. "I fear that Michael Brown and Tamir Rice and all the rest were killed as proxies for The Black President," posits sage Saint Kara.

Lee Lozano's brief art career in New York, from 1961 to 1971, sometimes seems like a relay race: She moved deftly from gestural and hard-edge figuration to abstraction to task-based Conceptual pieces. By 1972, she had dropped out of the art world entirely. She then moved to Dallas and continued her 1971 conceptual work, in which she decided to "boycott women,"—i.e., not interact with them—for the rest of her life. Given her dizzying speed, it can be valuable to focus on a single year of her production. That's just what LOZANO C. 1962 (Karma, $40) does, spotlighting thirty-one paintings, some as small as 3 1/4 × 2 3/4". This handsome ninety-six-page clothbound book accompanied an electrifying exhibition last year at the Manhattan bookshop and gallery space Karma, where the brushy comic-tragic canvases, many depicting faces, penises, and airplanes, lined the walls. In the early '60s Lozano was merging Surrealism with AbEx and art brut (she had moved to New York after attending the Art Institute of Chicago, which birthed the funny-freaky Monster Roster and Hairy Who). A recurring motif in these works are dick-like Pinocchio noses ("man as pathological liar?" asks Bob Nickas in his essay). In one piece, the long penis-nose of a grinning mask cleaves the mouth of another mask. It's a subtle reminder that Lozano's wry humor always had a razor-sharp edge. And this shrewdness was one way of surviving times as crazy as our own. As a page from one of her private notebooks here explains: "KEY TO HOW TO COPE WITH THE NIXON DANGER: EITHER KILL IT, WHICH MY INTELLIGENCE ABSOLUTELY REFUSES, OR MAKE A FOOL OF IT."

—Lauren O'Neill-Butler

Irving Penn, Mouth (for L’Oréal), 1986, dye-transfer print, 18 3/4 × 18 3/8". © The Irving Penn Foundation.
Irving Penn, Mouth (for L’Oréal), 1986, dye-transfer print, 18 3/4 × 18 3/8". © The Irving Penn Foundation.

"To crave and to have are as like as a thing and its shadow," Marilynne Robinson observes in her 1980 novel, Housekeeping. Photographer Alec Soth cites this line in his introduction to the new edition of Nancy Rexroth's IOWA (University of Texas Press, $45), a powerful collection of photographs first published in 1976. Rather than offering the straightforward travelogue implied by its title, the book delves into Rexroth's clouded longing for a place that no longer exists, at least as she remembers it. The Iowa that emerges is not a physical territory—most of the photographs were actually shot in Ohio—but rather a state of mind, soft and supple and flat, the ideal surface for the photographer's projections of Middle America. More concerned with architecture and its inhabitants than sweeping views of the natural landscape, Rexroth trains her lens on the sunlit porches of clapboard houses, murky corners of bedroom walls, or the phantom-like figures of children playing on the lawn. The dreamy, diaphanous character of her images can be traced to her use of a Diana, a popular plastic novelty camera whose technical shortcomings created its trademark shadow-steeped aesthetic. In her reflections on the project's fortieth anniversary, Rexroth refers to her photographs as "personal secrets of lonely power." IOWA's reissue ensures that these secrets will be shared with a new audience.

Published on the occasion of the eponymous exhibition, BETYE SAAR: UNEASY DANCER (Fondazione Prada, $55) takes a comprehensive look at the life and work of Saar, a seminal figure in the Black Arts and feminist movements. Edited by Mario Mainetti and designed by Irma Boom, this volume appropriates the artist's signature assemblage technique in its structure, which centers on an illustrated time line pieced together from Saar's private archives. Spanning the years from 1926 to 2016, the exhaustive chronology embeds personal images such as Saar's baby pictures, family photographs, and casual snapshots of the artist at work within a larger visual narrative, consisting of historical events ranging from the founding of the National Negro Congress, to the debut of Ms. magazine, to Nina Simone's final concert at Carnegie Hall. The publication is rounded out by an introduction by exhibition curator Elvira Dyangani Ose, three critical essays, a bibliography, and an exhibition checklist. In its ambition, this format channels Saar's celebrated 1969 assemblage, Black Girl's Window, which depicts a woman pressing her face and hands to a window, whose other panes contain an iconography of past and future. The figure is both a reflection of and witness to the times around her, a compelling metaphor for Saar's own practice.

—Kate Sutton

Lygia Pape, a mainstay of Brazil's brief but influential early-1960s Neo-Concrete Movement, will have her first US retrospective this spring at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The subtitle of its catalogue, LYGIA PAPE: A MULTITUDE OF FORMS (Metropolitan Museum of Art/Yale University Press, $45), is represented on the cover not by words but by images: primary-color squares that resemble nautical signal flags for a navy with a madcap design sensibility. The diaristic aggregation of these small paintings, which became her 1961–63 installation work Livro do tempo (Book of Time), adds a temporal dimension to a composition based on elemental forms and colors, reflecting her lifelong goal of fusing art and everyday experience. After Brazil's 1964 military coup, her work increasingly expressed populist convictions. Divisor (Divider), 1968, a thirty-square-meter fabric work with openings for participants' heads, was first "activated" not in a museum but by a group of children in a Rio de Janeiro favela. Pape's multifaceted career—she was a designer, conceptual artist, pedagogue, architectural theorist, filmmaker, and defender of indigenous culture—is an awkward fit for an exhibition catalogue. Thankfully, she is finally getting her due, though she never seemed to mind the neglect much. "I always enjoyed marginality," she says in a late interview. "I was very much an anarchist."

—Christopher Lyon