Artful Volumes

The artist and writer David Wojnarowicz was an outsider, autodidact, and key figure in the East Village art scene in the 1980s. He died of aids in 1992, after a life of creating explicit, beautiful artwork in opposition to the savage, censorious Right. He saw America as the site of a mass slaughter, a land of violent xenophobes trying to create “a one tribe nation.” His work, often called transgressive, is in fact transcendent, full of love and grace and rage, and anarchist at its core. David Wojnarowicz: History Keeps Me Awake at Night (Whitney Museum of American Art/Yale University Press, $65) is the canonization of a radical saint, a reliquary curated by institutions that Wojnarowicz railed against while also desiring their recognition. The timing of this publication is itself a radical act; the essays masterfully frame his life and art as an ethical practice at a time when we most need such an approach. Hanya Yanagihara discusses the artist’s 1991 book Close to the Knives: A Memoir of Disintegration, a cross-genre document of the plague years, as war reportage, and warns against making Wojnarowicz, who “couldn’t hide his art’s ferocity behind likability,” an icon. Marvin J. Taylor and Julie Ault’s essays contribute revelatory scholarship and analysis. Biographer Cynthia Carr’s time line of the artist’s life, in conversation with Wojnarowicz’s self-penned biographical dateline, is deeply moving. The plates are extraordinary, talismanic, and include work not seen before—both pictures of the artist and pieces from private collections. The catalogue is like an IED placed in the heart of gentrified Manhattan. “If I could write a book that killed America,” Wojnarowicz wrote, “I would have done it.” —Cara Hoffman

In 1989, Tim Berners-Lee, a computer scientist at the particle-physics laboratory CERN, drafted a proposal for an information-management system that would later become the World Wide Web. His supervisor scrawled one comment on the paper’s cover: “vague but exciting.” The same could be said of the exhibition and catalogue Art in the Age of the Internet: 1989 to Today (Yale University Press, $65), at the Institute of Contemporary Art (Boston). It’s broad and diverse, a zoo of seventy-plus Web-art specimens, many of which are relatively new to museum captivity. Though the curatorial constraints are purposefully loose, the artists have been sorted into a clever taxonomy of five categories. Juliana Huxtable reigns over “Performing the Self,” flanked by Martine Syms, DIS, and Amalia Ulman, each just as at home online as IRL. In “Hybrid Bodies,” Ed Atkins subjects his on-screen self to a gory fate at airport security; he’s grouped with Sondra Perry, Lee Bul, and Mariko Mori, women of color whose avatars more keenly understand bodily peril. “States of Surveillance” turns onlookers into the looked-on: Lynn Hershman Leeson’s American Girl doll live-streams her surroundings, and Jill Magid gazes back at the government, compiling footage of herself that was taped by Liverpool’s Citywatch. “Virtual Worlds” is more trusting of technology, letting Mark Leckey’s spectacle of shouting Samsung appliances run wild. In “Networks and Circulation,” Nam June Paik’s wall of synchronized TV sets looks old and unevolved by comparison, but its rapid-fire choreography of flashing imagery is everyone’s ancestor—and is just as exciting as ever. —Juliana Halpert

John Ashbery, Late for School, ca. 1948, collage, 12 1/2 × 8". © John Ashbery.

Twenty-seven years ago, after a bicycle accident put her on bed rest for five months, the Dutch photographer Rineke Dijkstra began rehabbing in the water, gradually rebuilding strength by swimming. One day, Dijkstra took a self-portrait at a pool facility. She stands squarely within a grid of yellowing tile, her head adorned with a swim cap and goggles, her body newly resurrected. The image appears opposite the title page of Rineke Dijkstra: The Louisiana Book (Koenig Books, $68), the genesis moment of an artistic career that became devoted to corporeal presence and power. From there, Dijkstra’s oeuvre unfolds mostly chronologically, beginning with her early pictures of young beachgoers framed against pale backdrops of ocean and sky. Their stances relax into a natural contrapposto, their nearly nude skin glowing white, each undergoing their own Botticellian birth at the firing of Dijkstra’s flash. The body in transition emerges as the artist’s greatest fascination: For a subsequent project, she photographed new mothers, clutching their newborns to their chests as they stand with still-enlarged bellies and flushed cheeks. Later, Dijkstra captured the aftermath of a different ordeal, shooting Portuguese bullfighters just out of the arena, blood spattered across their faces and floral jackets. Another ongoing series has followed a Bosnian refugee since 1994; she sits meekly as a child, slumps in her chair as a teenager, leans to one side while pregnant, and masters professional poise as an adult, the shape and language of her figure forever in flux. —J. H.

We celebrate the legendary portrait photographers, from Nadar to Diane Arbus to Richard Avedon, for their almost mystical abilities to connect with their subjects, bringing out qualities that no other person could. In Hiroshi Sugimoto’s Portraits (Damiani/Matsumoto Editions, $50), that relationship is almost entirely one-sided. The book contains the artist’s black-and-white photographs of wax figures of the famous and infamous (with a few portraits of living people, just to keep us guessing). Isolated against black backdrops and carefully lit, Richard I, Fidel Castro, Voltaire, and Lady Di are offered for our scrutiny. Others, like Salvador Dalí, who recoils from a rooster perched on his shoulder, interact with props, or are placed in sparse settings: Albert Einstein stands on a circular platform in an odd space with a corrugated-sheet-metal background, as if caught by surprise in a time machine created by a middle-school student. The blankness of the settings is countered by the richness of Sugimoto’s famously sumptuous printing. The portraits recall the photographer’s many images of dioramas, reflecting a lifelong preoccupation with photography’s ability not only to preserve but also to reanimate. As Sugimoto has said, “If this photograph now appears lifelike to you, you had better reconsider what it means to be alive here and now.” —Lisa Darms

The title of the insistent new monograph Don’t Sleep: The Urgent Messages of Oliver Munday (Rizzoli, $35) is as fervently conscientious as the artist’s loud, literal, and acutely compelling illustrations. A selection of Munday’s most evocative work—which the acclaimed designer has created for an assortment of books, magazines, and newspapers—is organized in thematic categories, ranging from “History” and “Race” to “Health,” “Environment,” and “War,” and accompanied by an introduction from Hilton Als. In his autobiographical essay, Munday, who was raised in an affluent neighborhood in Washington, DC, constructs parallel coming-of-age story lines, explaining how his obsession with design developed in lockstep with an awareness of his race-and-class privilege. Munday is, in fact, impressed by his own self-awareness. Recognizing his advantages has led him to further epiphanies—for example, that design is never neutral and there’s no such thing as a meritocracy. Ultimately, his best work comes from this uncomfortable position. He maintains that visual literacy can be leveraged to promote social awareness—even change. InThe Psychology of Violence, a 2017 illustration for the New Yorker, a wooden school chair is centered against a blood-red background. The writing desk, attached to the seat’s right side, is shaped like a handgun. Munday shows that every formal detail in an image is inherently political, and this vivid compilation shouts out to remind us that visual media is the primary language of our time. —Isabel Flower

Rineke Dijkstra, Odessa, Ukraine, August 7, 1997, C-print, 60 1/4 × 50 3/4". Courtesy Marian Goodman Gallery, New York/Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin.

John Ashbery possessed an ironic yet fond regard for both obscure and popular shards of mass culture, one unmatched by any other major American poet. In a single poem—“Daffy Duck in Hollywood”—he comfortably veers from Handel’s Amadigi di Gaula to Walt and Skeezix, from an early ’20s newspaper comic, and back to Aglavaine et Sélysette, a play by late-nineteenth-century dramatist Maurice Maeterlinck. Given his long-standing involvement in the art world, Ashbery’s employment of collage to compose visual work as well as poems is no surprise. They Knew What They Wanted: Poems & Collages(Rizzoli, $35), edited by Mark Polizzotti, offers a generous selection of both these images and similarly made texts. In either medium, the juxtaposition of high and low signifiers is the means to achieve erudite comedy and poetic meaning. In the collage titled The Painter, both elements rise up from the slender fissure—a chasm before the poet’s work with scissors and glue—between Gustave Courbet’s panicked visage in his self-portrait The Desperate Man and the apple-cheeked countenance of the lounging Dutch Boy from the iconic paint advertisement. In an interview included in the volume, fellow poet John Yau comments about recent collages: “It’s like you are about to undertake a journey or begin a dream.” With the deadpan wit that sparks so many of these works, Ashbery replies, “That’s how I feel much of the time.” —Albert Mobilio

Dutch architect Theo Deutinger has spent the past decade exhaustively cataloguing physical infrastructures of control around the globe; the results are presented in the hundreds of meticulous drawings that make up Handbook of Tyranny (Lars Müller, $30). Structures included range from refugee camps to prison cells, but the book’s most topical chapter is perhaps the one on walls and fences. These ancient forms of obstruction might seem hopelessly obsolete in our age of air travel and the internet, but Deutinger notes that of the sixty-six barriers between nation-states in the world today, fifty have been built since the year 2000. One of these is the “floating fence”—currently in use along stretches of the US–Mexico border—which is deployable in areas where conventional construction is impossible. This is a highly sophisticated and genuinely thoughtful design; the same could be said of the “anti-homeless” furniture that Deutinger has included in his chapter on “defensive cities.” Indeed, the most chilling aspect of many of the systems he delineates is that they are so well-designed. They are also relentlessly effective, successful because they target the precise point where social and political problems can be reduced to purely technical and spatial ones. It’s almost tragically easy for an architect to provide the means of keeping a vagrant off of a park bench (add another armrest!) or a refugee out of a country (build a wall!). Housing refugees and the homeless is, of course, also a spatial problem. But solving it requires moving in the other direction, from the spatial out into the social and political, necessitating dialogue and collaboration. No easy shift, but perhaps this handbook is a small step in the right direction. —Julian Rose