Artful Volumes

Thomas Demand, Daily #18, 2012, framed dye-transfer print, 237⁄8 × 337⁄8".

The catalogue raisonné Thomas Demand: The Complete Papers (Mack, $85) follows the German sculptor-turned-photographer’s twenty-five-year paper trail—literally. The artist builds and photographs elaborate and eerily convincing life-size scenes entirely from colored paper and cardboard, often drawing inspiration from mass media images. His photos of creepy unpeopled spaces, with titles such as Archive, Staircase, and Room, are misleadingly bland. Büro (Office), 1995, is based on a shot published in the West German newspaper Der Spiegel, showing a generic—yet chaotic—room with a plain desk and floor covered in sheets of blank, scattered paper. (It’s an archivist’s worst nightmare.) This turns out to be the East German secret police headquarters, which had just been ransacked by protesters after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Demand is not interested in the “decisive moment” so much as the moment just afterward, when all the key players have left the frame. The more recent “Dailies” series is based on snapshots from Demand’s iPhone: a stack of gaudy American cheese slices, perfectly arranged cigarette butts stubbed out in sand, two brown cups stuck forlornly in a chain link fence. These pictures lack the freighted histories of Demand’s earlier work but are somehow more unnerving. As Hal Foster writes in one of the book’s essays, they “appear so artificial and so automatic as to be almost posthuman.” Flipping through page after page of Demand’s bureaucratic interiors, pathetic apartments, and deadpan shots of urban detritus can be numbing, perpetuating a sense of uninspired overload in an image-heavy era of TMI. You can also find yourself lost in the details. As Demand says, “Things must be slowed down.” —LISA DARMS

Anna Zemánková, Infinite Flower, ca. 1960, pastel, tempera, and India ink on paper, 335⁄8 × 213⁄8".

Famous for her enigmatic line, “I grow flowers that grow nowhere else,” Czech artist Anna Zemánková gets the deluxe treatment in Anna Zemánková (Kant, $90), an exquisite three-hundred-page monograph that celebrates four periods of her prolific work: Dramatic, Triumphant, Faustian, and Ethereal. Ten essays, as well as poems and quotes by the artist, accompany lavishly reproduced, full-color plates. Zemánková started drawing at age seventeen, pausing to work, pay bills, and raise a family from the 1920s through the ’50s. Personal crises, including six miscarriages, led her two adult sons, who found a suitcase of her artworks in the basement, to encourage her to draw again. Until her death in 1986, she drew with synesthetic joy during the morning’s wee, silent hours, cranking Beethoven, Leoš Janác ˇ ek, Bach, and Charles Lloyd, whose music, she claimed, expressed “all the deep and emotional things that are in my flowers.” Why mention her miscarriages? Because fertility, fecundity, and nascent, primordial life are Zemánková’s true subject matter. The book pushes her legacy past the gendered and the personal, shedding light on her endurance and professionalism: She held exhibitions of her own work in her apartment, hosted salons with fellow artists, and was an active community builder. The outsider-artist narrative doesn’t suit her—sure, she skipped academia in favor of motherhood, but that’s nothing new. Labels saddle artists, particularly female ones, with confining expectations, and this volume questions art-historical categories that are in dire need of revision. Zemánková’s pictures pulse and breathe, depicting an inner life that willfully combated oppressive external circumstance. —TRINIE DALTON

Harmony Korine, Drum Ass, 2017, video, color, sound, 6 minutes.

Deana Lawson, Cortez, 2016, ink-jet print, 40 × 50".
Harmony Korine (Rizzoli Electa, $45) is a juicy memento of the filmmaker/artist/skateboarder/schlock provocateur’s amazingly incongruous Centre Pompidou exhibition: a talisman halfway between a roadside accident shrine and a set of home-invasion Polaroids. Korine embraces chance processes he calls “Mistakist,” an all-purposeless anti-technique covering his stained-ass primitivism, cannily blasé voyeurism, and outsider-art posturing. The result is an imagistic babble of naïf paintings, manipulated photos, poetic scribblings, junkyard gags (I’m especially fond of the “Kill Whitey” skateboard), and freaky flicks. From the Kids screenplayto the inspired pop-tabloidism of Spring Breakers, Korine has forged a conduit from the Andy Warhol/Werner Herzog/Larry Clark universe to the TMZ/hacked selfie-porn/#crystalmeth aesthetic. Alicia Knock’s accompanying essay puts a painlessly respectable spin on these Emo Philips–meets–Mike Kelley antics, while the works undercut credulity even if you half believe Korine’s mock-transcendental cocktail of marginalia and glossolalia. Harmony’s Playhouse of bunny-eared miscreants, “trash humpers,” celebrity impersonators (does James Franco count as a “James Franco” impersonator?), and phantoms of The Jerry Springer Show instead splits the nominal difference between bloodshot aggression and fucked-up yearning. Beneath its preening sleaze and hustler’s ploys, Harmony Korine has all the ingredients of a perfect art therapy textbook for at-risk youth. Rather than taking up armed robbery against a sea of troubles, his do-it-yourself projects demonstrate an admirably can-do, how-to approach to picking up paintbrushes, cameras, and writing pads instead. —HOWARD HAMPTON

Kenny Kenny self-portrait, date unknown. From Pansy Beat.

“Poodle-ology. What is it?” asks artist and New York nightlife doyenne of yore, Billy Erb (née Beyond). “The worship of poodles and poodle chacki?” responds Lady Miss Kier, the former lead vocalist of the effervescent funk-house band Deee-Lite. “Poodles are the high drag of the dog world.” Duh! You’ll find this glittering revelation among countless others in the pages of Pansy Beat (Krimskrams Island LLC, $35), a collection of illustrator and graphic designer Michael Economy’s eponymous fanzine, a short-lived but seminal publication that ran for only five issues between 1989 and 1990. Pansy Beat is the best kind of time warp, an exuberant chronicle of downtown Manhattan’s gay goings-on. The zine came out in the midst of the aids crisis, but in spite of the horrors of the disease, it remained bubbly, boy-crazy, and camp—defiantly so. Some of Pansy Beat’s highlights include a hilariously passive-aggressive interview conducted by drag grande dame Lady Bunny with the late Australian performance artist Leigh Bowery (who shows up in a striking centerfold modeling a disco-tinsel face mask and a faux-fur minge); some clever essays on blaxploitation films, Lucille Ball, and Judy Garland; psychedelic texts from Sister Dimension, the star of Tom Rubnitz’s manic 1989 video short Pickle Surprise; an utterly fabricated chat with the then “king of the club kids” (and later a convicted murderer), Michael Alig; and some fabulously gross holiday recipes by Alan Hamilton’s Helen Lawson–like alter-ego, Endive. —ALEX JOVANOVICH

Deana Lawson, Cortez, 2016, ink-jet print, 40 × 50".

Deana Lawson (Aperture, $75), the first monograph of the Rochester-born photographer’s work, is splendid, essential, and long overdue. For nearly two decades, Lawson has made exquisite portraits of black women and men that show the transcendent power of a tender gaze. Nestled within bedrooms, kitchens, and living rooms, her subjects attain a gentle grace: Like the odalisques of paintings past, women arch delicately across plump couches, nearly bare mattresses, and shaggy rugs—small refuges of softness inside starkly bare walls. Family members and friends bunch together, mirroring each other’s poses, forming tableaux vivants of togetherness. Men flash gang signs, hold infants and money stacks, and wrap their arms around women, like divine muses of love, prosperity, and protection. Women are typically nude, and men shirtless, with shadows and tattoos wrapping around their bodies in subtlechiaroscuro. Lawson is a modern-day Caravaggio, masterful at balancing a Baroque sense of drama with an abiding loyalty to real life. She finds her models “around the neighborhood,” she tells the artist Arthur Jafa, “in beauty supply shops, fried-chicken spots, nightclubs, Family Dollar, churches, et cetera.” It’s clear that she doesn’t want to defy the gravity of everyday life, grounding her images with piles of laundry and “that damn metal radiator,” as Zadie Smith writes in her New Yorker profile of Lawson, used as the book’s foreword. Yet her subjects—so overlooked by the Western canon—still seem to rise skyward, glancing back at us one last time as they’re immortalized as high art. —JULIANA HALPERT

John Edmonds, Untitled (Du-Rag 6), 2017, ink-jet print on

Japanese silk, 50 × 40". From the series “Du-Rags,” 2017.

Higher (Capricious, $60) is a fitting title for the debut photo book by the young virtuoso John Edmonds. Like Deana Lawson, Edmonds finds his models—the majority of whom are men—on the street and subway, portraying them as paragons of beauty. But his images are more focused and pared down, keen on stripping away meaning from form. In “Hoods,” a series Edmonds began in 2016, men wear sweatshirts with the hoods pulled up, each framed from behind the left shoulder. Their faces are shrouded, and their figures are reduced to three-quarter profiles against gray concrete walls, a racist schematic distilled into its core element. Despite being labeled a “sinister signal” by conservative media, the garments appear plush and innocent, nothing more than pure cotton. In another series, do-rags billow and drape down to men’s backs. Edmonds studies these accessories from all angles, letting their metallic fabric shine opulently in the sun. The artist shoots only in natural light, a decision that makes his subjects’ bodies appear even more statuesque. In a collection of portraits of young men, sunlight curls across motionless chests and arms, is striated by window blinds, and splashes onto walls, turning small bedrooms into galleries of classical sculpture. The images revive ancient-Greek notions of male loveliness, allowing figures to soften, touch each other, and court admiration. In “Tribe,” the comparisons are more frank: Models are posed alongside decorative African masks and figurines. Wood is juxtaposed with flesh, and carved hair with the real thing, as if to finally prove the crudeness of representation and the complexity of real lives. —J. H.