At Large  January 8, 2024  Barbara A. MacAdam

Three Art Books for Your Winter Reading Pleasure

via the artist's website

Featured spread in the book, Rob Wynne: Obstacle Illusion of the Installation of Wynne's Float, 2018, at The Brooklyn Museum

As the temperature drops and you spend more time indoors this winter, here are three very different art books to keep you inspired, both visually and intellectually. They are all driven by the competing ideas of memoir, fact, and fancy. 

All three are fascinating for the way they reflect on how and why they were conceived. On one level, they  are art about art. More than filled with information, they reveal the personalities and even the eccentricities of their subjects or authors. 

Rob Wynne: Obstacle Illusion (Gregory R. Miller & Co., 2023) is a stunner—a form of art about art and culture and history and literature and gayness and fun. Wynne is a contrarian, as evidenced by his photo inside the book, where he blatantly hides his face from the camera. He is given to Surrealism and literary allusion—a builder of artifacts of the imagination.

CORY REYNOLDS via Artbook.com

Featured spreads from Rob Wynne: Obstacle Illusion, the first comprehensive monograph on the sculptor, glass, textile and installation artist.

Here, in these beautiful photographs, we find huge glass flies crawling up walls as well as glass buttons and spirals of seductively colored dots, mirrored glass feet, stitched and embroidered words, and much to think about. Wit and wonder are Wynne’s domain. 

Filling the book are reflections by literary figures such as novelist A. M. Homes, who writes, “Wynne is not a gay artist in the sense of making art about gay identity, but he is a gay artist in that his sensibility, his comfort with his own masculinity and sexuality has given him the freedom to work with materials that some might call feminine—and not to care.” And critic and curator Michael Duncan writes, “No matter an artist’s intentions, art can subvert them.”

Most revelatory is an interview Wynne engages in with critic and novelist Linda Yablonsky, letting us see how he got from “there” to here, how he segued into abstraction and language (word) art led by the mail-art maestro Ray Johnson. He speaks of the vibrant downtown ‘70s art scene when everyone was visiting everyone’s studio and everyone was sleeping with everyone. He said, “There was a real sense of camaraderie." To say the least. 

As for the book’s title, it derives from a cabdriver’s malapropism. On a rainy night, the driver looked at Wynne in the rearview mirror and said, "Did you see that? It was an obstacle illusion."

Courtesy Monacelli

Gaetano Pesce: The Complete Incoherence

Following such logic, what could be more to the point than the vociferous and absurd reflections in Gaetano Pesce: The Complete Incoherence (Monacelli, 2023) by Glenn Adamson. The designer, Gaetano Pesce, an adamant opponent of the strictures of International Style, had his own cabby story. Responding to a cabdriver’s complaint about his lot in life, Pesce offered him a job. The driver accepted and went on to do “horrible” work, recalled Pesce. 

“He had no idea what resin was,” he writes referring to his own signature medium. “But it was beautiful, too..... Certain things were not straight. It was okay. That is the malfatto—the badly made, the fault. The mistake becomes a formal expression, a quality.” 

Pesce revels in chaos, with an eagerness to offend. Master of mostly untamable media and unfathomable forms. Adamson writes that Pesce’s “principle lies in the power and provocation of the part, the impulse drawn from inner life that wells up in some figurative or symbolic feature of the final object to tell a fragmented narrative.”

Courtesy Monacelli

A featured spread inside Gaetano Pesce: The Complete Incoherence

Pesce’s provocative life’s story takes us from his birth in La Spezia, Italy, in 1939, through his “principles” of creativity, beginning in the 1960s, through his relationship with his love and collaborator Milena Vettore, his signature pop-like designs, the effects of the Vietnam War, his use of blood-red color in his furniture and performances, his investigation of new media, his signature furnishings (and his support of women, as symbolized by his now-iconic Donna chair). His playfulness and imagination take so many forms, such as his resin chair draped in the form of a sitter, which brings to my mind Dr. Seuss’s Cat in the Hat, who continually says, “...and that’s not all..."

Courtesy Oro Editions

The Private Eye in Public Art

Joyce Pomeroy Schwartz is not a contrarian. Rather, she’s a straightforward dedicated collector, curator, writer, and art consultant. She is above all, a supporter, promoter, and defender of public art, who has for some 50 years, been helping to design the city around us. She has guided it through the gathering of an eclectic array of groundbreaking art. Her book, The Private Eye in Public Art (Oro Editions, 2023) brings her experience to bear, presenting a critical inquiry into public art and the policies that govern it.

Schwartz was born in Brooklyn, New York, and educated at Hunter College. She became a founder of ArtTable, the independent organization that has supported female art professionals, and began her real career at Pace Gallery, where she befriended and mentored the careers of artists ranging from David von Schlegell to Louise Nevelson. She came to live in the Rockefeller Apartments on West 54th Street, appropriately opposite the Museum of Modern Art, where her late husband ran his dental practice and where she continues to live.

Courtesy Oro Editions

Featured spread within The Private Eye in Public Art

The work of purist minimalist sculptor von Schlegell was among Schwartz’s first selections for Storm King Art Center in Orange County, New York, where she was an early adviser. Von Schlegell’s airy but muscular structures set the tone of the pristine outdoor sculpture park, while Nevelson’s dense, dark sculptures punctuate the gathering.

Schwartz quotes Robert Smithson on the subject of private versus public art, scorning the role of the gallery. “A work of art when placed in a gallery loses its charge, and becomes a portable object or surface disengaged from the outside world…. All is reduced to visual fodder and transportable merchandise.” Schwartz introduces a terrific selection of brilliantly untransportable art, as beautiful and witty as Daniel Buren’s conceptual concrete-and-mirrored cabin in Pistoia, Italy, in which mirrored walls reflect one another, creating the illusion that the cabin doesn’t really exist.

Except in our minds!

About the Author

Barbara A. MacAdam

Barbara A. MacAdam is a New York-based freelance editor and writer, who worked at ARTnews for many years as well as for Art and Auction, New York Magazine, Review Magazine, and Latin American Literature and Arts. She currently reviews regularly for The Brooklyn Rail.

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