Nonfiction Review: “Awake in the Dream World” By Audrey Niffenegger

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AwakeInTheDreamWorldRECOMMENDED

“As a child,” writes Krystyna Wasserman in her introductory essay “Swept Away by Magic,” “[Audrey] Niffenegger spent hours alone in her bedroom, dreaming, drawing, reading and writing.” Years later, those childhood pursuits became an adult career, spanning multiple creative disciplines. Now, fans of Niffenegger’s books and art have the chance to explore a kaleidoscopic cross-section of her work with a handsome volume of her visual art.

The collection serves as the catalog to an exhibition of Niffenegger’s work on display this summer at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, located in Washington, D.C. Her first major museum exhibition, the mid-career retrospective opens June 21 and runs through November 10. Featuring almost 250 works of art ranging from artist books, to graphic narrative work, to stand-alone illustrations, the exhibition is a substantial showcase of a diverse body of work.

For those who can’t make it to the museum, “Awake in the Dream World” offers a microcosmic alternative. In addition to the art excerpts, the book features three essays by Wasserman, the exhibition’s curator, Niffenegger’s colleague and Art Institute of Chicago curator Mark Pascale, and Niffenegger herself, shedding both insight and context on the history of her creative development. But of course the serious point of interest in the book is the art itself. Read the rest of this entry »

Art Book Review: “The Complete Record Cover Collection” by R. Crumb

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RECOMMENDED

Robert Crumb might have the public persona of a cranky, creepy curmudgeon, but when it comes to music, he enthuses without reservation. That is, of course, as long as it’s his kind of music, which skews toward nearly forgotten blues and jazz artists of the first half of the twentieth century. His cover for Janis Joplin’s Big Brother and the Holding Co.’s “Cheap Thrills” is iconic, and no doubt he could have illustrated the pick of the rock ‘n’ roll litter over the subsequent years had he wanted to. But with the exception of a few things for the likes of the Grateful Dead and Frank Zappa, he’s wallowed in intentional obscurity, which makes this collection all the more valuable. Read the rest of this entry »

Art Book Review: “Lady Gaga x Terry Richardson”

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When you think of the photographer Terry Richardson, you think of, what, perversion and controversy? Of a photographer often more famous than his subjects? Of an artist whose personality is larger than life, a phenomenon entirely of his own manufacture? The matchup of Richardson and Lady Gaga—he traveled with her for ten months of unrestricted access to her life on and off stage—seems to promise either spectacular success or colossal failure. Could it really fall in between? Apparently. The handsomely designed book is devoid of text or captions, save a very short intro from Gaga. The net effect tends to preserve the otherworldly artifice of the Lady Gaga creation—even when she’s eating pasta, or brushing her teeth, it’s stylized. Read the rest of this entry »

Picturing Progress: The Light and Dark Side of Technology

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The story of American warfare for the last century has been one of technological advances propelling us ahead of our adversaries and, sometimes, spinning off applications that have meaningful implications for peaceful society as well. (Most notably, the internet, which evolved out of a Department of Defense undertaking.) Recent advances, like the use of drone warfare and the alleged but widely believed joint US-Israeli creation and deployment of the Stuxnet computer worm to devastate Iran’s nuclear development, seem to have ushered us firmly into a reality drawn straight from science fiction. We treat these advances with passive interest, or even some level of cheerleading for the home team (no American casualties!). That is, until other countries catch up and force us to confront what we have wrought, as the New York Times recently suggested in a piece headlined: “Coming Soon: The Drone Arms Race” in response to China’s high-profile display of their own drone development this summer. Read the rest of this entry »

Personal Museums: New art books in review

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Julius Shulman: The Last Decade

The photographer Julius Shulman probably had as much to do with the perpetuation of the LA style of home design as did any of the architects he deified with his images. Read the rest of this entry »

Event Preview: Alex Ross

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Artist and local resident Alex Ross is one of a very short list of comic-book artists working in the superhero genre anymore with a truly idiosyncratic visual style. Particularly notable is that what others draw, he paints. So his new sketchbook, “Rough Justice,” wherein he too draws, in preparation for painting, is revelatory. This guy could easily work with pencil and ink alone, since his “roughs” are often on a par with, nay superior to, the finished work of many of his peers. Equally interesting are the insights into the creative process, as practiced by the mainstream comic book industry these days, that emerge in his descriptions of some of the projects that never saw the light of day, such as proposed creation of an imagined son of Batman, called Batboy. It’s all fanboy fantasia. (Brian Hieggelke)

Alex Ross signs copies of “Rough Justice” at Chicago Comics, 3244 North Clark, June 5 at 3pm.

Personal Museums: New art books in review

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If the artwork that you hang upon your walls is a kind of self-curated gallery, then the art books on your shelf form a personal museum, a selection of works reflecting interests, if not ownership, either due to limitations of resources or desires. Many art books are born as exhibition catalogues but come to function as something else; a record, perhaps, of what the eye once saw, but also an opportunity to consider the work in a different time frame, whether that be duration, frequency, or simply its passage. Here, then, a few new offerings in consideration.

“The Rockabillies” by Jennifer Greenburg (Center for American Places at Columbia College Chicago, 100 pages, $50): Thanks in large part to the influence of Diane Arbus, the photographer who documents human subcultures too easily turns them into freakshows, with a detached, often ironic distance that shelters the image maker from the image. Greenburg, a Chicago photographer, admits to being a voyeur into rockabilly culture (all photogs are, by definition), but from a unique perspective: she is a wholehearted participant. Read the rest of this entry »

Nonfiction Review: Wrigley Field: A Ballpark Pop-Up Book

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Neither a children’s book nor a diehard’s reference, this promotional tool for Major League Baseball is a large legal-sized hardcover with a dozen pages of text and color photos that range from the iconic to the chest-bumping. The third in a series, preceded by Fenway and The Mets’ Citi Field(!?), “Wrigley Field: A Ballpark Pop-Up Book” contains Wrigley history, significant Cubs games and milestones, stats, non-baseball moments, team leaders and a pop-up of the field that, aside from the scoreboard and lights, looks pretty generic. It’s interesting but not impressive. Let’s hope for more on the field this season. (Robert Duffer)

“Wrigley Field: A Ballpark Pop-Up Book”
By David Hawcock
Universe Publishing, 16 pages, $25

Reading Preview: Jay Ryan/Quimby’s

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jayryan_book_a.btsRECOMMENDED

There may be plenty of people in this world who ignore the everyday reality that burdens the rest of us, who see and describe things as they choose, often with the assistance of irresistably cute animals, but most are locked up, not making a living off it. Chicago artist and printmaker Jay Ryan, of The Bird Machine, not only makes a living off making up his own world, he makes the rest of us want to live in it. His rock posters and other commissions rarely make any literal connection to the band or subject matter at hand, but there’s a method to his madness. Well sometimes. Consider this description of one poster for a Stnnng/Dianogah double bill in Minneapolis, from his forthcoming book on the Akashic imprint, “Animals and Objects In and Out of Water: Posters by  Jay Ryan, 2006-2008″: “I was building a new bike while making this print, so I drew a bike. Then I drew a fat man being thrown from the bike, but replaced him with a dolphin, but soon felt the dolphin didn’t fill the space appropriately, and didn’t really make sense, anyway. I replaced the dolphin with an icthyosaurus, and added a toaster to tie the whole composition together.” Read the rest of this entry »

411 Seven Days in Chicago: Magic Buildings

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For those into extremely rare architectural manuscripts, but don’t have money or the means to see them, the Art Institute’s online publication of Marion Mahony Griffin’s “The Magic of America” should make it worth switching to broadband. Written as an illustrated memoir of her and her husband Walter Burley Griffin’s work, the book has reached cult status among architects, despite (or perhaps, because of) only being available in the form of three precious copies in Chicago and New York. “The thing has been mined as a quarry for those looking for a particular fact or point of view,” says Jack Brown, Director of Libraries at the Art Institute. “But if you step back and read all of it, you start to see it has clear themes.” The massive 1400-page manuscript, which took almost two years to digitally transfer, features approximately 650 illustrations and a narrative that isn’t particularly flattering to architectural superstar Frank Lloyd Wright, who the Griffins worked with. “Marion had a very low view of him, a very negative view,” Brown says, explaining that Marion had accused Wright of usurping credit for some of her husband’s ideas. You can find the book at www.artic.edu/magicofamerica/.