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Recent publications from Thames & Hudson and more

Good value and good quality with Thames & Hudson, and Tate Publications launch a raft of titles in connection with the new museums

More titles and topics from the Thames and Hudson “The world of art series”, including Scottish art by Murdo Macdonald of Dundee University, who broaches the theme of the Scottishness from Celtic sources (The Book of Kells, for example) through to C.R. Mackintosh’s flickering biomorphic linearity and then to climate, history (“the long brawl”, as it was termed). Concluding with contemporary stalwarts such as Paolozzi and Alasdair “Lanark” Gray, this is a timely contribution to the discussion about Scottish identity that devolution has enabled.

Very different, but also excellent value, are Outsider art by Colin Rhodes and a revised and expanded edition of the very useful Japanese art by Joan Stanley-Baker. The former discusses the “spontaneous alternative” of art by “the self-taught, visionaries, spiritualists, eccentric recluses, psychiatric cases, criminals and other beyond the...art market”; covers most of us, really. How many of the above terms can be applied to the late, great Francis Bacon can be disputed, but David Sylvester’s up-close and personal Looking back at Francis Bacon will allow reassessment as he charts the artist’s inspirations, intentions and working methods from 1933 to the early 1990s. Less visceral, more cerebral evidence comes with the publishing of the selected correspondence of Marcel Duchamp, 285 out of about a thousand extant missives, to be precise. A handsome edition, it humanises the artist, but reveals new light on the “readymades”, as well.

Those with a sweeter tooth will prefer the new monograph on Wayne Thibaud, painter of the saccharine underbelly of American Pop. Repetition of diners’ unimaginatively stacked Jello’d cakes and pastries in fittingly oleaginous pigments are his forte, a startling contrast in still-life with the Rijksmuseum’s 2000 jubilee exhibition catalogue, The Golden Age of Dutch art, comprising painting, sculpture and decorative art (see p.25); the latter section is particularly enticing, many objects being illustrated in colour for the first time. Two books about Australian art are worthy of note: Australian painting now, which profiles eighty contemporary artists, including aboriginals and, for children, And a kangaroo too, with full-page illustrations of animals abounding in Aboriginal art.

Perhaps the most dynamic venture from Thames and Hudson is the one in connection with New York’s Museum of Modern Art’s (MoMA) exhibition cycle, derived from in-house materials: “Modern starts, 1889-1930” and “Making choices, 1920-60” which are also the titles of the catalogues. There are three others: Body language, which examines the interpretation of the face and body in modern art; French landscape and Paris and Modern art despite Modernism which discuss the rebellion against the progressive from the 1920s to the 1940s.

In photography, there is more about “the man...equipped with no ordinary eyes”, as Henry Miller put it, namely Brassaï, under the aegis of the photography department of the Pompidou Centre and featuring interviews with the photographer’s widow.

As only to be expected, there is a raft of new books from Tate Publishing about the launch of their flagship Tate Modern. These range from the user-friendly Handbook edited by curators Iwona Blazwick and Simon Wilson. It introduces the building, the contents and the new curatorial approach adopted, using four major themes, one to a floor: the nude, landscape, still-life and history painting. There is also an A-Z of the top 100 artists (in their view), introduced by a football-team sized range of art historians. Though it includes a survey of the building procedures of Herzog and De Meuron in the introduction, more information on this aspect is presented in Building Tate Modern by Rowan Moore and Raymund Ryan, with contributions by Adrian Hardwicke and Gavin Stamp. For those wearied with lugging blockbuster volumes, Simon Wilson also provides a brief and lively guide to Tate Modern with highlights of the various displays.

Over at Tate Britain, they are determined not to be outdone by Modern’s launch: the nineteenth century is enshrined in Ruskin, Turner and the Pre-Raphaelites, a fitting tribute to Ruskin’s centennial. A large William Blake retrospective (9 November to 11 February 2001) draws upon Peter Ackroyd, among other contributors, for a catalogue entitled William Blake: chambers of the imagination. New British art can be explored in New British art 2000: intelligence, edited by Virginia Button and Charles Esche, a catalogue for the first of a series of major exhibitions of contemporary art to be held every three years at Tate Britain. For those who can't wait that long, the update of Louisa Buck’s vigorous Moving targets: a user’s guide to British art now appears with “2” crucially in the title. Unlike generic action movies, however, it goers from strength to strength, providing a much expanded survey of key players, events and places for the fleet of foot.

The “Movement in modern art” series also thrives and expands: Mel Gooding on Abstract art; Michael Compton on Abstract Expressionism; David McCarthy’s Pop art and Eleanor Heartney’s Postmodernism all appear this spring.

V&A Publications have certainly been making Peter Greenhalgh work: àpropos of the Art Nouveau exhibition, he has edited the wide-ranging and thoughtful catalogue of 300 colour illustrations. A smaller survey of the topic is his Essential Art Nouveau.

The estimable Reaktion Books presents a further selection of slightly left-field and always stimulating topics from Written on the body, concerning the tattoo in European and American history (why are Japan and the Maoris left out?), to the use of animal imagery in modern and contemporary art in Steve Baker’s The postmodern animal (to no one’s surprise there is a shark on the cover...) and the slinkily threatening title, The Shogun’s painted culture; fear and creativity in the Japanese States, 1760-1829 (see p.40) by Timon Screech of SOAS, London University.

Philip Wilson continues the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection catalogues with the second devoted to Italian painting: Roberto Contini’s Seventeenth- and eighteenth-century painting.

A smaller publisher well worth noting is Andreas Papadakis who is bringing out The true, the fictive and the real, the title of the Historical dictionary of Quatremere de Quincy, a work overseen by Samir Younes, who provides the essays and translations of the writings of the famous, long-lived (1755-1849) French theorist of art and architecture.

Another architectural breakthrough is Taschen’s excellent edition of the Piranesi etchings, edited by Luigi Ficacci. How can one not admire an artist who claimed, “I think if someone gave me the challenge of coming up with a plan for a new universe, I would be crazy enough to take it”?

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Thames developments'

Appeared in The Art Newspaper Archive, 102 April 2000