At Large  June 29, 2023  Barbara A. MacAdam

Three Books About Art for Your Summer Reading List 

Courtesy Nara Roesler. Photo: Flavio Freire.

Abraham Palatnik: Experimentation/Enchantment. Published by Nara Roesler Books.

Three books—actually exhibition catalogues—hint at the diversity of the art being exhibited, considered, and reconsidered today. Together, the following publications reflect the intellectual range of the art critics and the artists themselves.

Among the books is Gold Custody—a collaboration between conceptual artist Barbara Bloom and the poet/novelist/critic Ben Lerner. Connected to an exhibition at David Lewis Gallery in East Hampton, New York, Gold Custody demonstrates, or tries to, the way the framing, positioning, and remembering of images do or don’t tell a “true” story. 

Warm, witty, eccentric, astute, and confounding, this “catalogue” touches on how we understand what we hear, see, or think—and then, remember. All of which makes us wonder: What can we understand or trust?

David Lewis Gallery.

Gold Custody by Barbara Bloom and Ben Lerner.

Bloom is interested in the relationships among and between things in various contexts and likes to explore how stories evolve. Most of all, she expects her viewers and readers to be like detectives, creating narratives based on the in-between.

Her attempts to evoke this response might manifest in the display of photographs of sets of eyes, all hanging near one another; or in a framed photo of three flower arrangements, two of them set in front of a display in a painting.

Lerner, for his part, shows how detection can operate, in a story that connects, unravels, and disconnects the “evidence,” but leaves us comfortable in the fictive space where objects, ideas, and memories assume positions. As he observed in writing, “Abstraction is important, abstraction is necessary, otherwise we can’t perceive the shapes—an ellipse, a triangle—that structure experience . . . And that’s just for starters."

Courtesy the artist and Karma, New York.

Alan Saret, Matter into Aether. Text by Klaus Kertess Karma, New York, 2022.

The next publication featured is Matter into Aether from sculptor Alan Saret.

In a 1982 essay devoted to Saret, who was then showing at the legendary Bykert Gallery, the late curator-critic Klaus Kertess wrote: “Technology and the clarity of mathematics, attuned to nature, laid claim to Alan Saret’s vision at an early age.”

Courtesy the artist and Karma, New York.

Installation view of Alan Saret: Allies.

This observation from an essay later republished in the book Alan Saret: Matter into Aether, concurrent with the recent show at Karma, Allies, offers a succinct introduction to Saret’s work, which has been increasingly on view in galleries and such venues as The Church in Sag Harbor, New York.

At The Church, his very there-and-not-there wire sculpture Zinc Cloud (1967/1990) quietly stands out among the more solid near-representational material creations from sculptors like Liza Lou and Charles LeDray.

Kertess additionally referred to Saret’s work as “a vision that folds the dictates of the material into the immaterial.” Later, he added: “His procedures are clear and transparent, but are further transformed and layered in meshes of metaphor and ambiguities of space and form that make vision a veil for the visionary.”

The late curator-critic was right on the mark in defining Saret’s appealing and enigmatic work.

Courtesy Nara Roesler. Photo: Flavio Freire.

Abraham Palatnik: Experimentation/Enchantment. Published by Nara Roesler Books.

More direct and active is the wonderful catalogue/object devoted to the late Brazilian artist, designer, and inventor Abraham Palatnik (1928-2020) and published by Nara Roessler Books. The beautiful publication delves into the biography of Palatnik and his fascinating exploration of kinetic sculpture.

Palatnik broke with traditional painting by bringing to bear technology, psychiatry, cinematography, biology, aesthetics, and design to his practice. He used color and light to activate his sculptures which he called “Kinechromatic art.”

The son of Jewish immigrants from Ukraine, he was born in Brazil in 1928. In 1932 he moved to Tel Aviv and, before long, back to Rio in 1947. Palatnik studied art and engineering in Israel and then worked in a psychiatric hospital in Rio, where as he told critic Hans Ulrich Obrist in an interview, he was inspired by psychiatric patients. “I gave up traditional painting,” he said. “I thought I’d never be able to make works as good as theirs.”

He began creating electro mechanical devices based on the kaleidoscopic principle, considering how colors change, or appear changed, based on the position of viewer.

Mario Pedrosa, an art critic, journalist, curator, and museum director was a major supporter of Palatnik. He organized three Sao Paulo biennales, singling out Palatnik, who, according to Pedrosa:

“Represents the extreme tip of the modern movement... working with direct light as a means of plastic expression. ...Here we have a luminous image that projects itself, moves, retreats or advances toward us in its desperate desire to give us succession and simultaneity, space and time, concretely and indissolubly unified, all at the same time.”

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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