Artful Volumes

Feminist, Fluxus, and experimental-music scholars, rejoice. This facsimile edition of WOMENS WORK (Primary Information, $24), the first publication to bring together textual scores exclusively by women, is a must. Just like musical scores, these pieces are made up of a series of notes: short—often terse—DIY instructions. Though the publication only ran for two issues, with the first produced in 1975 and the second in 1978, the project featured key works by the likes of Pauline Oliveros, Mieko Shiomi, Simone Forti, Carolee Schneemann, Mary Lucier, and its editrixes Alison Knowles and Annea (then Anna) Lockwood. “These are scores ready for you to do. Please notify us of performances,” Knowles and Lockwood wrote on the first page of the first issue, thus exemplifying one of the main tenets of Fluxus: Anyone can create art.

As with previous Primary Information reprints, due care has been paid to a faithful reproduction of the originals: brown ink on off-white paper for the saddle-stitched first issue; a foldout poster printed on heavyweight paper for the second. Both are tucked into a no-frills foldout cardboard cover just slightly larger than a 45 EP. The scores are characterized by their material simplicity, emphasis on repetition, and engagement with the everyday—also qualities of so-called women’s work in the domestic sphere, which are sometimes upended into absurdity here. See, for instance, the prompts to burn down or drown a broken upright piano in Lockwood’s Piano Transplants. “Play whatever pleases you for as long as you can,” she noted. But sometimes the command is simply meditative: “Keep the next sound you hear in mind for at least the next half hour,” Oliveros wrote. The invitation beckons. —Lauren O'Neill-Butler

As a teenage Hoosier and budding feygele during the late 1980s and early ’90s, I was desperate for signs of glamour and gayness. A watershed moment was the publication of Madonna’s pop-smut picture book, Sex (1992), a visual accompaniment to her Erotica album and a polymorphously perverse valentine to her adoring public, sheathed in a Mylar wrapper—as if it were a couture condom—with photos of Naomi Campbell, Udo Kier, Big Daddy Kane, Vanilla Ice (Jesus Christ, Vanilla Ice), and other celebs (clearly of varying degree) doing their damnedest to look kinky for the camera. One of the ringleaders behind Sex was the clever cultural Svengali Fabien Baron. A new volume, FABIEN BARON: WORKS 1983–2019 (Phaidon, $200), collects the director’s creative output, both commercial and personal, in chapters with list-y, poetic titles made up of descriptors such as DIMENSIONS, PYRAMID, FRAGRANT, and EGG. Featuring projects with clients including François Nars, Harper’s Bazaar, and Calvin Klein (Baron was responsible for the brand’s controversial pedo-porny television and print ads of 1995, which put him temporarily in the crosshairs of the FBI!), as well as Baron’s magisterial photographs of Greenland’s dying icebergs (he refers to these gelid behemoths as “supermodels”), this sumptuous tome reveals the mechanics of a ruthlessly sharp eye—one that can inspire both marketplace lust and a deep reverence for the ability to identify the zeitgeist in its myriad forms. As Kate Moss, another kind of supermodel, says of Baron in the catalogue’s foreword: “He makes magic happen.” —Alex Jovanovich

Twelve stills from Fabien Baron’s 2018 film for Bottega Veneta.

Alec Soth, the Gen X heir to William Eggleston, is our era’s most soulful photographer. By this, I don’t mean his work is “ineffable.” Rather, it has a genial naturalness—visual charisma. In his latest monograph, I KNOW HOW FURIOUSLY YOUR HEART IS BEATING (Mack, $65), Soth tells novelist Hanya Yanagihara, “I’ve always liked the accessibility of my work, that people are let into it pretty quickly.” That welcoming approach is closer to God than any art straining after holiness—or, heaven help us, anything tagged “spiritual.”

The book consists of nearly forty uncaptioned large-format color images taken in interior spaces, some occupied with genuine characters, others in which mute objects tell the tale. In one shot, St. Louis Cardinals gear crowds the frame, with 1980s Redbird pennants and posters pinned to the tulipy wallpaper and stray signed baseballs haphazardly stuck into coffee mugs. The room teeters on the edge of total chaos: gashed walls, a filthy umbrella, sun-worn beer paraphernalia, and a rough sea of pillows, papers, postcards, and mail. The photo’s punctum is a pile: a box of Club crackers, a universal remote, RX bottles and bags, and a letter from AARP, all crammed in the corner of an untidy couch. I can’t think of any array of items that better expresses what the Buddha called “sickness, old age, and death.” If you can’t relate to that, there are other words for Soth’s strategy—poetry, for one, or punk. Nothing is harder than making it look easy. —David O'Neill

Alec Soth, Anna. Kentfield, California, 2017, ink-jet print, 58 × 48". Courtesy the artist and Mack

When he’s not busy making crisp, disquieting black-and-white photos of historical wax figures, natural history dioramas, and minimalist seascapes, photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto practices what he calls “unlicensed” architecture, designing buildings on the sly in Washington, DC, Manhattan, and Odawara, Japan. His aim, he says, is to make buildings that will “still look nice after civilization is gone.” In HIROSHI SUGIMOTO: ARCHITECTURE (Damiani/MW Editions, $60) he photographs modernist architecture’s greatest achievements, including the Guggenheim, the Farnsworth House, the Seagram building, and United Nations headquarters (among many others), as if that end of history were long past. He frames the structures with a real shortage of reverence, always shooting in black-and-white with a dim dynamic range. He also impiously blurs his subjects, using a technical trick to “focus on a point at twice infinity”; in other words, he calibrates the lens of his large-format camera to capture what’s impossibly far away, as if the masterpieces of modernism were inconveniently blocking what he’s really after—mere obstacles to the immeasurable. Like his theater photographs, which capture the light from an entire movie in one hours-long exposure, Sugimoto’s architecture images display a distinctly melancholic fascination with time. What do the buildings of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Frank Lloyd Wright, Oscar Niemeyer, et al. look like stripped of their present-day mystique? In Hiroshi Sugimoto: Architecture, “timeless” buildings look more like husks, wordless monuments to hubris. —D.O.

Hiroshi Sugimoto, Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1997, gelatin silver print, 23 × 18 1/2". © Hiroshi Sugimoto

In 2008, for his untitled contribution to the Eighth Panama Art Biennial, Mario García Torres painted twelve canvases all in white, peeled them from their frames, and sent them to sea, each in its own sealed bottle. The idea was that the artist would show only the naked wooden supports, until whoever found the paintings returned them and the canvases would be stretched anew. More than a decade later, all the frames remain empty. In MARIO GARCÍA TORRES: ILLUSION BROUGHT ME HERE (Walther König Verlag, $40), the catalogue for an exhibition that traveled from the Walker Art Center to WIELS, writer Sophie Berrebi seizes on what she describes as García Torres’s “impulse to disappear.” Likening the artist to Georges Perec, who famously wrote an entire novel without the letter e, Berrebi concludes that his works “conceal in plain sight that there is, in fact, nothing to see.” García Torres sees his pieces as unanswered “letters,” implicitly or explicitly addressed to predecessors like Mario Merz, Bas Jan Ader, and Robert Barry. To shape these missives, the artist doubles as art historian, plumbing the dry depths of Conceptualism to retrieve rare bits of trivia: He tracks down the hotel marked on On Kawara’s postcards, and speculates on the mysterious four-day joyride that left Michael Asher’s Westfalia trailer stranded in the woods outside Münster.

The book parses these projects in essays by the exhibition’s two curators, Vincenzo de Bellis and Caroline Dumalin, Berrebi, Tom McDonough, Julia Bryan-Wilson, and Rulo David. If García Torres’s letters often adopt the pedagogical formats of slideshows or subtitled videos, the publication delivers a procession of individual works, illustrated with only one or two excerpts or stills apiece, so that even in their presence, the works speak to absence. —Kate Sutton

Mario García Torres, Falling Together in Time, n.d., video, color, sound, 15 minutes 7 seconds.

Martin Puryear is the rare artist who knows how to build a canoe. Witness the effortless glide of “Liberty,” his project for the United States pavilion in this year’s Venice Biennale: The selected sculptures charted the rough seas of representing America at a time when the country’s core principles are under siege—that is, if they ever really existed. The exhibition catalogue, MARTIN PURYEAR: LIBERTY/LIBERTÀ (Gregory R. Miller and Co., $50), accomplishes a similar feat, smoothly transcending the current political context to tap into something more universal.

Puryear rooted his project in the architecture of the US pavilion, which was modeled after Monticello, the Palladian plantation home of Thomas Jefferson. The former president hailed “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” even as he denied these “unalienable rights” to his own slaves, suggesting that the “all” in “liberty and justice for all” has always meant “the select few.” “Liberty” takes an unsparing look into these fissures, starting with Jefferson himself. In the rotunda under the pavilion’s dome, Puryear erected A Column for Sally Hemings, 2019, an elegant tapered Doric column, staked at the top with a rusted iron shackle, in tribute to the slave who bore the Founding Father’s children.

For her introduction to the catalogue, “Liberty” curator Brooke Kamin Rapaport navigates Puryear’s expert interlocking of references. In other essays, Darby English explores Puryear’s mobilization of the pavilion architecture; Anne M. Wagner appraises the technical virtuosity underlying the artist’s seamless, sensuous sculptures; and Tobi Haslett takes up Big Phrygian, 2010–14—a human-scale re-creation of the “Phrygian cap”—as a lens through which to reconsider the near-mythic figure of Jefferson, in all his contradictions. But the publication’s most eloquent entries are the works themselves. Unapologetically photogenic, they exude a fluidity that defies their materials. —K.S.

Martin Puryear, Big Phrygian, 2010–14, paint on red cedar, 58 × 40 × 76". Joshua White