By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
Martin Parr’sMexico (Aperture, 88 pages, $40), a narrow tome with a splendidly gaudy holographic cover, is a sharp-eyed tour of Mexico’s material culture: a chorus of green-robed ceramic Jesus figures, each clutching a gold coin to his chest; a pile of rainbow-colored broom heads; a batch of unnaturally pink pastries against the backdrop of a woman’s green-checked frock; an arbor of red- and green-capped hot-sauce bottles; a pair of aged, sun-darkened hands tangled in the lavender fluff of a cotton-candy machine. The project is a study in color more than anything else — not the glossy, romanticized color of cookbooks and travel magazines, but the commercial, street-worn, often crass color of everyday life.
Also from Aperture, Richard Renaldi’s lovely first book Figure and Ground(156 pages, $45) isa collection of wonderfully unassuming portraits and landscapes taken over several years of travels around the United States. The cross-country tour is so familiar a trope in American photography as to virtually constitute its own genre, but it’s accomplished here with unusual sensitivity and care.
Two L.A. museums also put out significant photography catalogs this year:
Where We Live: Photographs of America From the Berman Collection (Getty Trust Publications, 192 pages, $50), a handsome volume with quite a few good pictures, many of which work better in book form than on the walls of the museum; and The Collectible Moment (Yale University Press, 344 pages, $65), a catalog of the Norton Simon’s photo collection, which is modest but compelling, enhanced by a valuable history — including many personal accounts — of the photography scene in L.A. in the 1970s. (Exhibitions of these works at both museums run through February.)
The heavyweight in the realm of architecture and design this year is Domus 1928–1999 (Taschen, 6,960 pages, $600), Taschen’s 12-volume compendium of highlights from the seminal Italian design magazine. Each volume reproduces selections from the magazine page for page, with translations at the back but minimal commentary.
On the other end of the institutional spectrum is Design Anarchy (Adbusters Media, 416 pages, $65), a stridently chaotic — and thoroughly entertaining — visual screed by Adbusters founder and editor-in-chief Kalle Lasn. The book features scores of Adbusters-like layouts surreptitiously supplemented with a history of the magazine, political commentary and design theory, such as this eloquent take: “Modernism gave birth to abstraction in a fit of dread, a paroxysm of fear born in the unpredictable dead of night, in the threatening wilderness, in the aftershock of an earthquake, in the bloodied trenches of a World War. The Futurists, the Constructivists, the Bauhaus — all of them were ruled by the tantalizing image of standing victorious over the trees, the mountains, and the sun itself. To tame an insane and corrupt world, they had to perfect it with logic .?.?. This instinct still rules over us. But it does not have to be this way. Design doesn’t need to be terrified, precious, idealized, sanitized. It can be visceral, messy, chaotic, anarchic.”
Finally, for that brother-in-law, college buddy or co-worker on your list who just doesn’t go in for all this high-minded art stuff, there’s Steven Blush’s American Hair Metal (Feral House, 180 pages, $23), a shamelessly enthusiastic look at an illustrious moment in music history, packed with priceless fragments of rock & roll wisdom, like this jewel from Skid Row’s Sebastian Bach: “Puking is the second best release to orgasm. I dig it. When I puke, it’s totally righteous. It’s so great, it’s like a total release of heaviness. It’s like an orgasm coming out of your mouth.”
Other notable titles: Drawing From the Modern, Volumes 1-3(Drawing From the Modern, 1880–1945, 220 pages; Drawing From the Modern, 1945–1975, 228 pages; Drawing From the Modern, 1975–2005, 220 pages: Museum of Modern Art, $40 each), a three-volume catalog of the museum’s drawing collection, neatly assembled in a jazzy slip case; Materializing the Immaterial: The Architecture of Wallace Cunningham(Yale University Press, 160 pages, $50), an elegant little book featuring lovely photos of beautiful homes for very wealthy people; Magical Meteorite Songwriting Device: Collages by Exene Cervenka (Perceval Press, 50 pages, $35), a lively collection of recent collages from the former X front woman; Looking East: Portraits by Steve McCurry (Phaidon, 128 pages, $40), a high-finish book of hauntingly soulful photographic portraits; Butt Book (Taschen, 560 pages, $30), an entertaining collection of highlights from the first five years of the Dutch gay-culture magazine; Yosemite: Art of an American Icon(Autry National Center/University of California Press, 232 pages, $65) and The Modern West: American Landscapes 1890–1950 (Yale University Press, 315 pages, $65), two copiously illustrated, scholarly books about the art of the American West.