Art & Culture


Bungalow: The Ultimate Arts & Crafts Home by Jane Powell and Linda Svendsen (Gibbs Smith)

With her ever present wit and occasionally irreverent writing style, Jane Powell makes the subject of the bungalow even more interesting than it already is. Packed with more examples of that epitome of Arts & Crafts style living than can be easily tallied, Bungalow guides us through a lovely world and a simpler time. When artists believed that the design of an object could reinforce and validate our lives and craftsmanship was more than important, it was essential. In page after page of house design, details and interiors, Powell and Svendsen teach us the language of architectural romance. By no means the last word on the subject, Bungalow still manages to be complete without getting overly pedantic. "Mostly," says Powell, "it's a celebration of bungalows and everything on them and in them, and the Arts & Crafts Movement they represent." As a coffee table book Bungalow is a real showpiece made more so by Linda Svendsen's excellent photography and Dawn DeVries Sokol's Arts & Crafts inspired layout and design. Through reading this book I have come to agree wholeheartedly with Powell's theory that: Everything must be either beautiful or amusing. Very fortunately for us Bungalow is both. -- David Middleton

Cirque du Soleil: 20 Years Under the Sun by Tony Babinski (Harry N. Abrams)

Last year I saw O, the Cirque du Soleil show at Bellagio, in Las Vegas. It was a life-shifting experience for too many reasons to list here. After it was over, I had a hard time imagining what this troupe could do to top themselves, and I still do. Of course, Cirque du Soleil: 20 Years Under the Sun celebrates 20 years of topping themselves, from Cirque's humble beginnings, to their first triumphs, to their touring circus, to their permanent installments in Las Vegas and other popular locations. Filled with insightful text and hundreds of on-stage and backstage photos, this is an extraordinary portrait of the world's most organic performance group. Its showmakers, its performers, its circus-craft … everything is Grade A, and so is this book. As its pages show, if you've ever seen a Cirque du Soleil show, what's out front is only the tip of the tent. -- Tony Buchsbaum

Gulag: Life and Death Inside Soviet Concentration Camps by Tomasz Kizny (Firefly Books)

It is an unusual topic for a book in the coffee table format: Gulag is an extraordinary book. It documents the Soviet Union's state administered labor and prison camps where tens of millions of prisoners were frozen, starved, executed, beaten and worked to death. And while it may not be the usual fodder for this format, Gulag is an unforgettable book. Polish photographer Tomasz Kizny combines historic photos -- many never before published -- with his own contemporary photos of the same sites. In between these arresting visual records, Kizny has included interviews with survivors, some historic documents and his own clearly stated observations. Gulag is much more than a book: it's a lifework. -- Aaron Blanton

John Fitzgerald Kennedy: A Life in Pictures (Phaidon)

I am a JFK junkie. John Fitzgerald Kennedy: A Life in Pictures is the ultimate junkie's fix. Three hundred pages of photos -- both color and black-and-white -- that trace the life and career of the one president just about all Americans love. No: JFK wasn't perfect, and he may not have been the very best president, but the fact is, he's the most magnetic, most dynamic, most influential president the United States ever had -- and probably ever will have. When I was growing up, I always thought presidents were the kind of men we should be able to look up to. As a grown man now, I wonder where that kind of president has gone? Will we ever have another like JFK? This book's photo collection ranges wide and deep, bringing up a JFK who is complete and as knowable as he can be. There's the longing in his eyes as well as the truth and the confidence. Turning the pages of this storybook-in-pictures, I kept thinking that for all the thousands of images we have, there is but one word that sums them all up: Gone. -- Tony Buchsbaum

Mid-Century Modern by Bradley Quinn (Conran Octopus)

I know that, had I come of age in the 1950s, I would have decorated my home with furniture designed by Charles and Ray Eames, Eero Sarrinen, Arne Jacobsen (to name but a few of my favorites) and lived in an open plan bungalow house designed by architect Richard Neutra. Growing up in the 1970s, there was unfortunately two decades and a disco full of difference between me and the industrial design that, when I discovered it, hit me like a love-at-first-site ton of elegantly bent chrome. Fortunately, we can relive those glorious days of spectacular Jetsons' style living through Mid-Century Modern, a loving homage to our eternal infatuation for designs that have become highly collectible classics. Starting with the mid-century home and running though chapters such as Interior Decor, Furniture, Design Details, Mid-Century Style and a Resource Guide where collectors and aficionados can perhaps find that last Panton chair to complete their set, Mid-Century Modern gives a complete cross section of style of the 1950s and its current place in modern living. Informative and beautiful to look at, this book is a real gem. -- David Middleton

Never Coming to a Theater Near You: A Celebration of a Certain Kind of Movie by Kenneth Turan (PublicAffairs)

Some of us like to talk or read about movies almost as much as we enjoy seeing them. For us, it's a joy to find a reviewer able to share and articulate our particular passions. Readers of the Los Angeles Times and listeners to National Public Radio have long had such a companionable critic in Kenneth Turan, whose reviews are informed by great enthusiasm and special acumen. Now, more than 150 of Turan's Times film reviews -- well-written enough to be called essays -- are gathered in Never Coming to a Theater Near You, which is intended as a handbook not only to movies Turan has liked best over the last dozen years or so but to those a mass audience has seen the least: worthy films, from major studios and independents alike, that mostly opened small and closed quickly. "The good really do die young in this business," notes Turan of those pictures that so often disappear before one can find time to see them. Here, then, is a chance to be reminded of such works and maybe catch up with them on DVD. It's a critic's dream of a marathon festival Turan presents: American movies from The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert to Zoolander, foreign films from After Life to Yi Yi, documentaries from Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary to Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey; with special retrospective screenings of a dozen past classics, including Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast, Carol Reed's The Third Man and Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch. You couldn't ask for a better guide to all this cinema than the knowledgeable and ardent Turan, whose pieces are so succinct and lively they not only make you want to see the picture he's describing, they make you want to reread the review. Let's savor a few of his openings. From 1996: "Flirting with Disaster doesn't just begin, it erupts, like champagne too impatient to stay in the glass." From 1994: "Bhaji on the Beach is one of those small but remarkable pictures that smiles at the supposed difficulties of moviemaking." From 2003: "Lawless Heart is a charming, disarming, and in some ways humbling film. It is so adroit in its structure, so insightful in how it explores its vivid characters, that it forces us to acknowledge not only how complicated all lives are but also how easy it is to be self-centered and miss those complications in everyone else." With his largeness of spirit, his willingness -- eagerness -- to be enchanted by his subject, and his ability to convey the appeals of those films that most engage him, Turan is (for this reader's money) the best American movie reviewer since Pauline Kael; and he's (inarguably) kinder and (arguably) smarter than she. I think Never Coming to a Theater Near You belongs on the same small shelf of essential movie-criticism collections as Kael's I Lost It at the Movies and James Agee's Agee on Film. And if you don't agree with me -- well, let's have a cappuccino and talk about it. -- Tom Nolan

New Scandinavian Design by Raul Cabra and Katherine E. Nelson (Chronicle Books)

"With a combined population of only twenty four million, the Scandinavian countries have exerted amazing influence on the field of international design for more than sixty years. An astounding array of products with a Scandinavian imprint have engaged people around the globe who find these products not only desirable in themselves but also reflective of a philosophy of comfortable living and social equality." The introduction to New Scandinavian Design cuts to the chase quickly and succinctly. There is something to be said for Scandinavian design. It's clean no nonsense functionality paired with a sense of whimsy, combined ultimately to create a truly humanist approach to design. Since the 1950s -- at least as far as North America is concerned -- Scandinavian design's elegant, clean, linear and organic forms have influenced interior design and graced homes with a panache that few industrial styles have duplicated. Focusing on 3-D design, housewares, furniture and consumer products from the early 1990s and covering the Nordic Countries of Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland and interspersed with interviews with people influential in the Scandinavian design community, New Scandinavian Design gives a well balanced look into the modern and ever-evolving world of industrial design from a uniquely Nordic Standpoint. With its cutting-edge page layout and design New Scandinavian Design is by far one of the most innovative books to come alone in some time. From IKEA to the Øresund bridge that links Denmark with Sweden, no object is too insignificant nor material too common to use. We get page after page of interesting and innovative style and imagination from everything from simple tableware to huge industrial projects. A lovely, dazzling book, fascinating, informative and an indispensable resource for designers and lovers of Nordic design. -- David Middleton

New York Changing: Revisiting Berenice Abbott's New York by Douglas Levere (Princeton Architectural Press)

Published in 1939, the original Changing New York was Berenice Abbott's love letter to an ever-evolving New York. A record of a city perhaps at the height of its potential and at the same time on the cusp of great transition. Douglas Levere, inspired by an Abbott photograph of the neighborhood he lived in, decided that these images needed to be revisited. "From 1997 to 2003," writes Levere, "I returned to the original sites with the identical 8x10 camera that Abbott used, at the same time of day and year Abbott's photographs were taken, revealing New York Changing [Abbott's original photographic project] over sixty years. Rephotography is a tricky idea..." To say the least. Levere had to find the exact point at which Abbott took each photograph 60 years before. In and around New York City and its surrounding areas, this would have been a Herculean task. Armed with little more than Abbott's original photos and original style equipment, Levere reproduced Abbott's photos precisely. Seeing how much or how little has changed over the course of six decades is a fascinating study in civic dynamics. Abbott's photographs are beautiful. The fact that Levere reproduced them makes his photographs no less valid. His love of the subject and passion for the work are evident in this lovely book. -- David Middleton

Passage by Andy Goldsworthy (Harry N. Abrams)

There is no one like Andy Goldsworthy. No one. And this book (and a new DVD called Rivers and Tides: Working With Time, from Docurama) will prove it to you. Goldsworthy makes sculptures that are, for the most part, temporary. His materials of choice -- stone, wood, assorted flora and fauna -- shape his vision, which is in turn shaped by the natural rhythms of earth. It's not at all a stretch to say that Goldsworthy's whole mission is finding the beauty in transient art. That is, it's not so much about what he creates as it is about how earth changes it and recreates it. Passage is an extraordinary work of documentation, made in words and pictures that show the artist at work on a variety of pieces in a variety of media. Not one of them is permanent, though one or two might seem to be. It may take decades, but every piece Goldsworthy makes will fall to earth's own artistry. In locations as wide as Massachusetts, France, New York and Scotland, Goldsworthy makes monuments to time that have never existed before. To leaf through this book and to watch the DVD is to witness a modest man making his way by making his visions real. In a way, it's almost religious, watching him. He's sort of like God, playing with so many elements, yet resigned to the inevitable intrusion of life itself. -- Tony Buchsbaum

The Rape of the Masters: How Political Correctness Sabotages Art. by Roger Kimball (Encounter Books)

Why should art history and criticism languish in puerile and inane academic theory? And why should this domineering criticism fester in ideology, especially given the lack of identification by the general art lover with the social-political motives of these critics? And just when did art become that where "historical arguments will be evaluated according to how well they coincide with our political convictions and cultural attitudes," to cite one of the post-modern gurus that Roger Kimball addresses? These are some of the pressing questions that art historian and essayist Roger Kimball poses in The Rape of the Masters: How Political Correctness Sabotages Art. The current state of criticism has reached such an insipid low, Kimball argues, that "the work of art is seized as an occasion for critical lucubration, for political sermonizing, for theoretical or pseudo-theoretical exegesis." Highlighted by insightful essays on Courbet, Rothko, Sargent, Rubens, Winslow Homer, Gauguin and van Gogh, The Rape of the Masters is a bona fide debunking of fashionable and chic "theory," deconstructionism and the many other current forms of crass politically correct bugaboos of ideologues. Kimball understands the sense of urgency that informs the aforementioned questions. Among the stakes, he demonstrates, is the demise of western culture, but also the importance of decency, temperance and discretion as instructional parameters of art. As such, he takes no prisoners of people who while prophesying self-styled, politically expedient virtues and ethics merely manage to come across as careerists and opportunists. Part of the horror of this academic mania for "critical theory," Kimball tells us, is that where the experience of art is "partly to familiarize ourselves with humanity's adventure in time," the post-modern art critic is instead out to level the hierarchical nature of art. He achieves this with admirably measured logic and clear language. Humor also plays a huge part of Kimball's essayist qualities. "In the face of blatant absurdity," the author warns us, "ridicule is generally a more effective specific than argument." In addition, the absence of unnecessary jargon and bombastic, half-baked ideological diatribes makes for a refreshing series of essays that do not embarrass their writer while enlightening the reader. In experiencing the sublime, Kimball intimates, ideologues need not apply. -- Pedro Blaz Gonzales

Self-Portrait: Che Guevara by Che Guevara (Ocean)

So much about revolutionary icon Che Guevara left us wanting more. Since he died -- violently and too young -- in 1967, Che Guevara is perhaps so fervently and fondly remembered because he brought together "practical action and human and artistic sensibility." Never before have we seen this so brilliantly rendered as in Self Portrait: Che Guevara, a book composed entirely of Guevara's diaries, poems, letters and short stories as well as Guevara's photographic self-portraits, together with photos from the Guevara family albums, many of which have never before been published. If last year's Motorcycle Diaries were wonderful -- and they were -- Self-Portrait is sublime. Never before has this interesting man been so intimately exposed: and the exposure is superb. -- Adrian Marks

Sonata for Jukebox: Pop Music, Memory, and the Imagined Life by Geoffrey O'Brien (Counterpoint Press)

Geoffrey O'Brien is one of the best young cultural critics in America. In previous books, he's produced valuable explications of genre fiction (Hardboiled America), film (Castaways of the Image Planet), poetry (Bardic Deadlines), reading (The Browser's Ecstasy) and the 1960s (Dream Time). In Sonata for Jukebox, he tackles popular music; and the result is this masterpiece: a breathtaking, brain-sparking blend of essay, memoir, analysis and evocation. O'Brien draws heavily from his well-stocked family room of personal experience with American pop. His grandfather led a dance band in the 1930s; his father was a popular New York disc jockey for many years; his brother became a musician in the 60s. O'Brien grew up surrounded by and soaking in the sounds of several decades and multiple generations. Eventually, his personal experience merged into the soundtrack-music of his peers in unexpected and poignant ways. Few writers have written as joyously, thoughtfully and evocatively about the great assortment of sounds Geoffrey O'Brien brings to life through his keen scrutiny: from Jimmie Rodgers to Burt Bacharach, from Franz Waxman to Igor Stravinsky, from the Beach Boys to the Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet. "The universe's hidden door has opened," he writes here. "There are no limits on what is being offered." O'Brien has aesthetic chops that just don't quit, and Sonata for Jukebox must be read to be believed. And reread. And reread. -- Tom Nolan

Spectrum 11: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art edited by Cathy Fenner and Arnie Fenner (Underwood Books)

As compilations go, you can't much beat Spectrum 11: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art. But, you may ask, isn't that kind of compilation just full of warriors with swords and maidens with metal breast plates? Sure, but there is so much more and what a showcase for the fabulous artists featured inside. Every year for the last 11 the Spectrum judging committee has been deciding who should be the very best among a cadre of fantastic artists. And every year the quantity and quality of choices just gets better. Page after page of amazing imagery created by talented artists with an eye for the bizarre, the unreal, the dark, the epic, the humorous and the otherworldly. Featured art categories include advertising, book illustration, comic illustration, 3-D art, editorial, institutional and a section of unpublished work. An amazing resource and an incredible inspiration for those of us still coming to grips with the world of stick figure drawing, Spectrum 11 provides hours of pleasure and motivation for beginning artists in the field of fantasy as well as those who have been at it for years. -- David Middleton

Vespa: Style in Motion by Davide Mazzanti and Elissa Stein (Chronicle Books)

Weighing in at a mighty 336 pages and nearly bigger than the subject itself, Vespa chronicles the history and cultural significance of Piaggio & Co.'s iconic two-wheeled freedom machine. No less than encyclopedic in scope, Vespa goes through the motor scooter's history in authoritative detail. From the first Vespa 98 to roll off the assembly line in 1946 through to the 2003 model Vespa Grandturismo 200, we see several generations of motor scooter aficionados and their love affair with one if Italy's most precious commodities. So important to the Italian economy that on April 28th, 1956 a huge crowd descended on the factory to watch the archbishop of Pisa bless the 1,000,000th (that's one MILLIONth) Vespa roll off the assembly line. Important enough to even merit a commemorative stamp in the scooter's honor. Vespa: Style in Motion runs through each and every two-wheeled vehicle that Piaggio ever made and includes all models' stats and details and does it with great fun and style. An incredible portrait of a cultural icon and the company who continues to produce it. -- David Middleton

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