Artful Volumes

Jean Dubuffet, Mire G 177 (Bolero), 1983, acrylic on paper mounted on canvas, 52 ¾ × 78 ¾".
Jean Dubuffet, Mire G 177 (Bolero), 1983, acrylic on paper mounted on canvas, 52 ¾ × 78 ¾". Courtesy Galerie Jeanne Bucher Jaeger, Paris/© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London

Jean Dubuffet (1901–1985) was a French painter, printmaker, and sculptor who began seriously making art at age forty-one. But he never really outgrew his divine callowness, the spirit of a teenager beseeching the sheeple to wake TF up: “Look at what lies at your feet! A crack in the ground, sparkling gravel, a tuft of grass, some crushed debris offer equally worthy subjects for your applause and admiration.” In JEAN DUBUFFET: BRUTAL BEAUTY (Prestel, $50), the catalogue for an exhibition at the Barbican Art Gallery in London, we observe the many ways he battled the notions of comportment and connoisseurship inherent to the Beaux Arts: scrawled graffiti-like compositions on newspapers; his monstrous “Corps de dames” (Ladies’ Bodies) series, an attack on the French tradition of the dainty nude; his radical reimagining of landscape paintings, which were really about the landscape in his brain, and that have goth titles like Sun Without Virtue; sculptures made from debris, lava stones, and discarded sponges, e.g., 1954’s Excroissance à la joue (Excrescence at Play). Seen from our choleric era, Dubuffet’s body of work is striking because it expresses contempt for authority with playfulness, not rage or sulky irony. By 1973, Dubuffet’s unrestrained fantast notions had peaked in Coucou Bazar, a fifty-five-minute nonnarrative painting/performance that required endurance from both the audience and the artists: onstage, dancers wearing twenty-pound red, white, and blue costumes moved very slowly to an abstract electronic-music score by İlhan Mimaroğlu. The LARP worked: it was hard to tell the difference between a prop and a person. If you got bored, that was all part of the scheme. Anything could be art, even an exit sign. —DAVID O’NEILL

Rashid Johnson, The Hikers, 2019, 16 mm transferred to digital video, color, sound, 7 minutes 4 seconds.
Rashid Johnson, The Hikers, 2019, 16 mm transferred to digital video, color, sound, 7 minutes 4 seconds. © Rashid Johnson/Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

It’s hard to contain Rashid Johnson’s art in a gallery, let alone between two book covers. And yet RASHID JOHNSON: THE HIKERS (Hauser & Wirth /Aspen Art Press, $85) manages to capture the essence of the artist’s multivalent practice, which encompasses work in film, painting, sculpture, performance, installation, tileworks, clay, and more. Johnson combines these media in immersive full-gallery environments that buzz with anxious energy. Other works signify calm—or at least a moment’s pause—amid the chaos of a violent nation, as plants in specially made ceramic pots, space rocks, and books grace shelves and pedestals. The ambitious Untitled Escape Collage, 2019, also evokes a sense of refuge and conjures a new mood of autonomy in a fallen world, as does this volume’s title work, The Hikers, 2019, a 16-mm film shot in Aspen, Colorado, in collaboration with choreographer Claudia Schreier. The piece is a “platonic love story” told in dance, as two masked men chance upon each other on a mountain trail. For Johnson, the project began with “thinking about the Black body moving in space, what the repercussions of that were, what the dangers of that were, what the opportunities of that were.” The two performers’ movements are balletic, tender, stressed, spry, and ambiguous. Opportunity and danger are uneasy partners, like the id and the ego (another of the artist’s preoccupations), and Johnson revels in the scrabbling friction between the two. —D. O.

Sergio Larrain, Vagabondages. The City. London, England, ca. 1958, gelatin silver print.
Sergio Larrain, Vagabondages. The City. London, England, ca. 1958, gelatin silver print. © Sergio Larrain/Magnum Photos

“Walking about with a camera,” wrote Julio Cortázar in the story known in English as “Blow-Up,” named after the movie Michelangelo Antonioni adapted from it, “one almost has a duty to be attentive, not to lose that abrupt and happy rebound of sun’s rays off an old stone, or the pigtails-flying run of a small girl going home with a loaf of bread or a bottle of milk.” It’s a plausible idea of photography; a friend recalled that Sergio Larrain claimed to be able to spot a serious photographer without seeing their work—“by the intensity of their gaze.” It was Larrain, we learn from Agnès Sire’s introduction to SERGIO LARRAIN: LONDON (Aperture, $55), a new edition of his London photographs, who gave Cortázar the anecdote on which he based the story. But the London the Chilean photographer saw in 1959 is a world away from the Swinging London of the 1966 film; it’s closer to the fogbound city that enchanted Whistler and Monet, but now grown claustrophobic—more like a fug than a fog. You want to open a window and let in some air, but you’re already outside. The place is doubly haunted, by its future and its past. Crowds flowing over London Bridge might have stepped out of “The Waste Land.” Throngs press in on each other but each individual remains isolated. A man at the bottom of an Underground station escalator that seems miles long looks lost in a dream. flee from the wrath to come, urges a religious fanatic’s sign, while on the facing page a man hawks a Leftist newspaper headlined martyrs of notting hill. Male headgear still denotes class: bowlers or top hats for city gents, flat caps for workers, already more evidently multiethnic than they would have been just a decade earlier. The “old London” that still seems to endure in these pictures is undergoing displacement or dissolution—its blur reflects the inner tremors of a place in transition. Or is that something I’m projecting through sixty years’ hindsight? The narrator of Cortázar’s tale, having praised the photographer’s duty of attentiveness, goes on to reflect that, nonetheless, “every looking oozes with mendacity, because it’s that which expels us furthest outside ourselves, without the least guarantee.” Concentrating on the image transforms it into fiction, or in any case, an ambiguous passage opens up between the image-world and the empirical one. Larrain’s London photographs transport us, not so much to a city at a specific point in history, but to the liminal state in which it might have been perceived. —BARRY SCHWABSKY

Deborah Griscom Passmore, Pear, Belle Angevine, 1900, watercolor on paper, 9 7/8 × 6 ¾".
Deborah Griscom Passmore, Pear, Belle Angevine, 1900, watercolor on paper, 9 7/8 × 6 ¾". USDA Pomological Watercolor Collection/Courtesy of Special Collections, USDA National Agricultural

In AN ILLUSTRATED CATALOG OF AMERICAN FRUITS & NUTS: THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE POMOLOGICAL WATERCOLOR COLLECTION (Atelier Éditions, $50), life-size and lifelike depictions of comestibles are set off against studiously blank parchment, all in the name of science. These likenesses—in blight and bloom alike—were commissioned between 1886 and 1942 and used by the USDA to propagate descendants and study disease. The teachable moments stand out: a decrepit lemon cocooned in gray mold, mangoes with a fungal infection, a mutant Concord grape that must be described as “scrotal.” That today some of these renderings have no real-world referent (breeding has left us with “sculpted, toned, hyperproduced” analogues) lends their taxonomy a certain dreaminess. In a playful introduction, Adam Leith Gollner adroitly presents this volume as an aesthetic project, collecting the most “delectable” of twenty-one specialists’ 7,500 watercolors. These are sandwiched between concupiscent headnotes and capped with encomia by Michael Pollan and John McPhee—on apples and oranges, respectively. Still, technical skill is the rule: see R. C. Steadman’s Fredonia grapes, reproduced in detail to reveal disturbances in the dusty yeast on the surface of each orb; or M. D. Arnold’s luminous cross-section of a Tragedy plum that I would call photorealist if I’d ever had the pleasure of meeting this variety before now. Indeed, these artists were in the business of rivaling color photography, not yet widely used. More than a picture book, this is a survey of visual learning; prior to the orange’s introduction in Europe during the Renaissance, Westerners went around calling the shade of the same name “yellow-red.” —LIZZY HARDING

Catherine Opie, Dyke, 1993, C-print, 40 × 30"._
Catherine Opie, Dyke, 1993, C-print, 40 × 30"._ Courtesy the artist and Regen Projects, Los Angeles/Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, Seoul, London/Thomas Dane Gallery, London and Naples/Peter Lund, Oslo

Catherine Opie is renowned for depicting the idea of “home.” Not only physical sites marked by dwellings, communities, and relationships, but also for showing, in her arresting photographs, how bodies themselves can be powerful sites of self-knowledge. In CATHERINE OPIE (Phaidon, $150), a new survey of the artist’s work that includes essays by Hilton Als, Douglas Fogle, and Helen Molesworth, readers are invited to consider Opie’s distinctly American vision. Rather than catalogue the artist’s projects chronologically, the book uses juxtaposition—a technique Opie often invokes—to illustrate the overt and subtle connections between the photographer’s human, architectural, and ecological subjects. In an interview with curator and writer Charlotte Cotton, Opie says: “It’s tricky. I don’t believe that a portrait is essentially about the person. I think that the only expectation I have about portraiture is to recognize what a shared moment can do.” While Opie has pioneered the depiction of queer communities, this comment is a prescient critique of the political power of representation in art. Over the course of four decades, Opie has created new ways of envisioning the country’s fragile bonds, its elective affinities, and the aftereffects of its political cacophonies. —ESMÉ HOGEVEEN

Miguel Trillo’s portrait of two concert goers at Campo del General Moscardó, Madrid, September 1983.
Miguel Trillo’s portrait of two concert goers at Campo del General Moscardó, Madrid, September 1983. © Miguel Trillo

When the Francoist dictatorship in Spain fell in the mid-1970s, a new generation of young people shed cautious vigilance for unbridled release. Photographer Miguel Trillo moved to Madrid to immerse himself in the effervescent movement called the Movida, homegrown but shaped by the international punk scene. Trillo’s work documents the restless energy of Madrid nightlife: a circuit of impromptu parties, concerts, and clubs attended by people with maximalist style and no fucks to give. Trillo didn’t photograph on the sly; a direct, active gaze was, aesthetically and ethically, the requisite one.

He created the fanzine Rockocó (six issues from 1980–1985); they were deep dives into scenes peopled by mods, rockers, and goths. He glued his photos onto paper or cardboard, added captions and recurring iconographic flourishes (a cutout of a safety pin, a length of studded bracelet), then photocopied, stapled, and distributed the ensemble by hand. The Archivo Lafuente—an organization that conserves twentieth-century artistic documents—recently acquired prints and original elements of Trillo’s productions, which today double as vestiges of Spain’s scrappy avant-garde. MIGUEL TRILLO: MADRID IN THE EARLY 80S (La Fábrica/Ediciones La Bahía, $40) replicates his original zines as a record of these subcultures. It has an ad hoc, yearbook feel—loose camaraderie, community made by proximity—with two to five images per page, plus captions giving dates and venues. Expressive freedoms and raw excesses displaced decades of oppressive militancy, and the reader basks in the resulting skittish and exuberant energy. —SARAH MOROZ