Artful Volumes

Ruby Ray’s portrait of the Bags, 1978.

“The Golden Age of Hustlers,” a 1989 ballad by trans punk poetess Bambi Lake, is a loving tribute to the sex workers who plied their trade—and sacrificed their bodies—along San Francisco’s infamous Polk Street in the 1970s. The song, a frank portrayal of an outlaw era in Sodom by the Bay, is a glamorous yet melancholy jaunt down memory lane. So is KALIFORNIA KOOL: PHOTOGRAPHS 1976–1982 (Trapart Books, $40), a new collection by photographer Ruby Ray, who chronicled the denizens of San Francisco’s nascent punk and postpunk scenes. (Ray was also a major contributor to the seminal punk zine Search & Destroy, founded by V. Vale, who provides an affectionately rambling essay for this book.) Ray, like Lake, is thankfully still with us, as are many of the people who make appearances in this volume: Mayo Thompson of the band Red Krayola, Poison Ivy Rorschach of the Cramps, the Slits’ Viv Albertine, and even crypto-fascist and cultural irritant Boyd Rice. Of course, plenty of the dead show up, too—including Poison Ivy’s bandmates Lux Interior and Bryan Gregory; pretty boy Darby Crash of the Germs; and Nico, sans the Velvet Underground. Though Sturm und Drang is an essential component of punk and its affiliated acts, Ray manages to capture a palpable sweetness in her subjects—a quality that runs through the hearts and minds of all young and earnest believers in ideas bigger than themselves. —ALEX JOVANOVICH

Niko Pirosmani, Sitting Yellow Lion, date unknown, oil on cardboard, 39 × 31 1⁄2".

Modernism loves its ingenues, but rarely does it take good care of them. While, in Paris, Apollinaire and Picasso were raising champagne flutes to Henri Rousseau, in Moscow, modernists Mikhail Larionov and Natalia Goncharova found their muse in Niko Pirosmani, a roguish, self-taught sign painter from Tbilisi. Pirosmani would die penniless and alone in 1918, but his stark depictions of buxom barmaids, banquets, grayscale giraffes, and grape harvests have since elevated the artist to the status of international icon. The “Georgian Giotto” was born to a rural peasant family in the early 1860s. Orphaned at a young age, he moved to Tbilisi, where he eventually settled into life as a vagabond sign painter, trading his services for food or a place to sleep. If the Russian avant-garde was calling for a fusion of art and daily life, Pirosmani was one step ahead of them. His art did not need to break free of the mausoleum of the museum; it already thrived on the streets, flanking tavern walls and storefronts. To label the artist “primitive” would be a misnomer. A true craftsman, Pirosmani applied high-quality oil paint to black wax cloth, not (as legend holds) because the latter was cheap and available—cheaper materials abounded—but because he knew how to draw upon its depths to inflect his emerald-green hillsides with a uniquely Caucasian melancholy or to ruffle the gossamer skirts of his Actress Margarita. A century after the artist’s death, the Albertina Museum Vienna and the Fondation Vincent van Gogh Arles have partnered to produce a reappraisal of his work, curated by Bice Curiger. An exhibition paired thirty of Pirosmani’s paintings with a selection of tributes by artists ranging from Picasso to Tadao Ando. The catalogue, NIKO PIROSMANI (Hatje Cantz, $65), corrals nine new texts and a conversation between Curiger and Georgian art historian Mariam Dvali that recognizes Pirosmani as more than a novelty act. —KATE SUTTON

Graciela Iturbide, Peregrinación, Chalma, Estado de México (Procession, Chalma, State of Mexico), 1984, gelatin silver print, 5 3⁄4 × 4 3⁄4".

In the early twentieth century, the myth of Mexico as a land of the enchanted and the uncanny was propagated by the dreamlike images of Edward Weston, Tina Modotti, and Henri Cartier-Bresson. While some photographers had flocked to the country for inspiration, others, like Paul Strand, were invited by the government to help advance the notion of mexicanidad—an essential “Mexicanness” that could unite the nation’s fractured population after nearly a decade of civil war. Initiated by the Museum of Fine Arts (Boston), the exhibition “Graciela Iturbide’s Mexico” plumbs the wells of mexicanidad as captured by the lens of Iturbide, an apprentice of Manuel Álvarez Bravo who has since taken up the mantle of the country’s greatest living photographer. Recognizing the camera’s potential as a tool of cultural colonization, Iturbide is careful to avoid replicating the outsider perspective that previously dominated depictions of Mexico. When, in 1978, Iturbide was commissioned to document the country’s native population, she spent months living alongside the Seri Indians, producing portraits that resist the urge to exoticize their subjects while still reveling in the mystery and romance of their daily rituals. Iturbide would later turn her camera on the Zapotec culture of Juchitán, where she snapped one of her best-known images: Nuestra Señora de las Iguanas (Our Lady of the Iguanas, 1979), a picture so revered it now has its own statue, lovingly dubbed “La Medusa Juchiteca.” The photograph captures a Juchitec iguana vendor—her eyes flinty, her face perfectly composed—sporting a crown of live lizards. Iturbide applies the same unflinching eye to her subjects at large, from a desert dandy to the ritual slaughter of goats, a flock of birds swarming the open sky, and Frida Kahlo’s bathroom, enema cans and all. The catalogue, GRACIELA ITURBIDE’S MEXICO: PHOTOGRAPHS (MFA Publications, $50), couples an essay by curator Kristen Gresh with thematic sections prefaced by short introductory texts; the separation between the photographs and their descriptions allows the images to speak on their own terms. As a final note, an essay by critic Guillermo Sheridan argues that even as she lays other mythologies bare, Iturbide is a legend all her own. —K.S.

Top: Ron Herron, Cities: Moving (detail), 1963. From the series “Walking City,” 1963. Bottom: William Heath Robinson, An Ideal Home No. II, The Folding Garden (detail), 1933. Both from Home Futures: Living in Yesterday’s Tomorrow.

What made the idea of the “future home” so appealing? Sleek space-age machines that promised to make household drudgery a thing of the past, perhaps. Instead, we’ve gotten data-mining smart homes that leave us fundamentally vulnerable to attack and an ecology of apps that transpose domestic labor not onto machines but onto poorer, darker bodies. The catalogue for a recent exhibition at the Design Museum in London, HOME FUTURES: LIVING IN YESTERDAY’S TOMORROW (The Design Museum, $50) provides a robust overview of the changing face of domesticity. Images from the exhibition are interspersed with short, fun texts that wonder what happened to various futuristic promises. Among the longer essays is a cogent analysis of the gendered dimensions of labor-saving technology. Another traces how monks’ cells spawned the idea of single-occupancy hotel rooms. We can never go home again, but this volume offers a tool kit for imagining a new one. —RAHEL AIMA

Two objects from Trevor Paglen’s From the Archives of Peter Merlin, Aviation Archaeologist. Left: Challenge coin for a Nevada Test Site Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration, 2003. Right: Patch for the 57th Wing unit of the United States Air Force

Badges and coins featuring wizards and aliens, anthropomorphic fighter jets chasing rabbits, and Duff beer; KGB identity cards; Iranian toy replicas of American drones; a desiccated dinosaur egg. Metal detritus from crashed air- and spacecraft, whose mangled, riven forms offer quiet testament to an intrinsic violence. These are a few of the curiosities found in Peter Merlin’s archive, which is housed in a remote corner of the Mojave Desert near Area 51. In FROM THE ARCHIVES OF PETER MERLIN, AVIATION ARCHAEOLOGIST (Primary Information, $20), artist and secret-culture aficionado Trevor Paglen has photographed these items against a stark white background. Bold primary colors predominate, along with occasional dark redactions. Full-page detail shots highlight some of the weirdest objects, lending them an ominous air, but you could just read the slogans, in which full-throated military machismo meets a winky tinfoil-hat vibe: One badge featuring a flaming Eye of Sauron promises THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE; another advises that A LACK OF CRITICISM SHOULD BE ENOUGH. Or, more to the point: WE DO BAD THINGS TO BAD PEOPLE. —R.A.