Take a Close Look at Basquiat’s Revolutionary Art in a New 500-Page, 14-Pound, Large Format Book by TASCHEN

At many a bookstore and art gallery gift shop, you will find copies of writer and artist Javaka Steptoe’s Radiant Child, a young person’s introduction to Jean-Michel Basquiat. The book has deservedly won a Caldecott Medal and the praise of adult readers who find as much or more to admire in it as their kids do. A surprisingly moving short biography, it hits many of the major notes in Basquiat’s formative years: His Brooklyn childhood and Haitian and Puerto Rican heritage; his love for his encouraging mother and heartbreak at her institutionalization in a mental hospital; his childhood spent in New York art galleries planning to be a famous artist, and his keen interest in anatomy textbooks, jazz, and black history….

But for a seriously deep immersion in the artist’s history and development, you will want to consult a new 500-page book from TASCHEN, Jean-Michel Basquiat XXL. Written by curator Eleanor Nairne and edited by Hans Werner Holzwarth, the “oversized hardcover,” notes This is Colossal,” is filled with large-scale reproductions of the artist’s drawings, paintings, and notebook pages. Several essays guide the reader year-by-year through Basquiat’s artistic career, from 1978 to his untimely death in 1988.”




The ten years the book covers provide enough material for two or three volumes, and also happen to tell the story of a cultural revolution in which Basquiat was at the center, as TASCHEN writes:

The legend of Jean-Michel Basquiat is as strong as ever. Synonymous with New York in the 1980s, the artist first appeared in the late 1970s under the tag SAMO, spraying caustic comments and fragmented poems on the walls of the city. He appeared as part of a thriving underground scene of visual arts and graffiti, hip hop, post-punk, and DIY filmmaking, which met in a booming art world. As a painter with a strong personal voice, Basquiat soon broke into the established milieu, exhibiting in galleries around the world.

Basquiat is now recognized—art scholar and curator Dieter Buchhart argues—as an artist who “eternalized… the exhilarating possibilities for art, music, and social critique in New York.” But for all the high praise he has garnered after his tragic overdose at 27, in life his work was often “’explained away’ by his Afro-Haitian and Puerto Rican heritage,” writes Kristen Foland at Swamp. “Some art historians and critics, including Sharon F. Patton, categorized his work as ‘primitive’ and called him a ‘black graffiti artist,’ a term he found inherently racist.”

Basquiat recoiled at the idea of being segregated and singled out as a “black artist”; but he proudly celebrated black life and cultural forms in narrative works rich with symbolism and poetry, mourning and triumph. Asked about his subject matter, he once replied, “royalty, heroism and the streets.” Grand themes and settings were what he had in mind, and Nairne fittingly titles her essay in the TASCHEN book, “The Art of Storytelling.”

Perhaps the reason Basquiat’s life makes such a good story, for kids and grownups alike, is that he himself was such a powerful storyteller. He weaved his personal history seamlessly into the social and political fabric that enmeshed him in the legendary late-seventies/early-eighties downtown New York scene. The new large format TASCHEN book lets you get a close-up look at the fine details of his revolutionary canvases, drawings, collages, wood panel paintings, and street poetry and painting.

via This is Colossal

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Download Over 325 Free Art Books From the Getty Museum

cézanne

In 2014, Getty Publications announced the launch of its Virtual Library, where readers can freely browse and download 325 art books from the publisher’s backlist catalogue. The Virtual Library consists of texts associated with several Getty institutions. Readers can view extensively researched exhibition catalogues from the J. Paul Getty Museum, including Paul Cézanne's late-life watercolours, when the painter raised the still life to a high art (Cézanne in the Studio: Still Life in Watercolors, 2004), as well as the woefully underappreciated Flemish illustrations of the 15th and 16th centuries (Illuminating the Renaissance: The Triumph of Flemish Manuscript, 2003).

The collection also contains detailed treatises on art conservation from the Getty Conservation Institute, and scholarly works from the Getty Research Institute, both of which include a multitude of books on specialized topics. Fancy reading about the relationship between Peter Paul Rubens and Jan Brueghel the Elder, the two legendary 17th century painters who lived in the Netherlands’ city of Antwerp? There’s a book on that.

Intrigued by all the prostitutes in French impressionism? Try Painted Love: Prostitution in French Art of the Impressionist Era (2003). Perhaps you’re partial to ancient vases, and have already read The Colors of Clay (2006), Pots & Plays (2007), and Greek Vases (1983)? Don’t worry, the Getty’s virtual library has at least 8 more vase-oriented books.

All of the Getty’s virtual library volumes are available in a downloadable PDF format. If you're looking for more free art books, please explore the resources in the Relateds below.

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in January 2014.

Ilia Blinderman is a Montreal-based culture and science writer. Follow him at @iliablinderman.

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Why Should We Read Kurt Vonnegut? An Animated Video Makes the Case

Beneath Kurt Vonnegut’s grim, absurdist humor beat the heart of a humanist, but not, by any stretch, an optimist. Vonnegut looked balefully at every project intended to improve the sorry state of human affairs. In Player Piano, for example, he imagines a future very much like that envisioned for us by our contemporary technocratic elite: nearly all work has been automated and the mass of unemployed are given a modest stipend for their living and funneled into what anthropologist David Graeber might call “bullshit jobs.”

“Finally,” Ed O’Loughlin writes at The Irish Times, “Vonnegut’s non-tech proles rise up against the machines that have perversely enslaved them, smashing all that they can find. For Vonnegut, ever the pessimist, this is not a happy ending; the revolution runs out of steam, collapses internally, and the remaining rebels go happily to work in the wreckage of their struggle, eagerly repairing the machines that they destroyed themselves.” This bleak satire can seem almost upbeat next to the fatalism of his most famous novel, Slaughterhouse-Five.




In this book, Vonnegut uses an alien race called the Tralfamadorians to illustrate the idea that “all moments—past, present, and future—always have existed… always will exist,” as the Mia Nacamulli-scripted TED-Ed animation above explains. The aliens keep the novel’s hero, Billy Pilgrim, in a human zoo, where they patiently explain to him the inevitability of all things, including the bombing of Dresden, an event Vonnegut personally survived, “only to be sent into the ruins as prison labor,” notes Paul Harris at The Guardian, “in order to collect and burn the corpses.”

To say that Vonnegut, who once worked as a press writer for General Electric, was skeptical of scientific plans for managing nature, human or otherwise, would be a major understatement. As he watched GE scientists embark on a project for controlling the weather (while the company’s “military collaborators have more aggressive plans in mind”), Vonnegut began to demand “an answer to one of science’s greatest ethical questions,” writes WNYC: “are scientists responsible for the pursuit of knowledge alone, or are they also responsible for the consequences of that knowledge?”

The question becomes even more complicated if we accept the premise that the future is foreordained, but without the intervention of all-seeing aliens, there is no reliable way for us to predict it. Vonnegut’s experiences at GE formed the basis of his 1963 novel Cat’s Cradle, in which a military technology called Ice-nine ends up freezing all of the world’s oceans and bringing on cataclysmic storms. Cat’s Cradle’s characters survive by adopting a religion in which they tell themselves and others deliberate lies, and by so doing, invent a kind of meaning in the midst of hopelessness.

Vonnegut stressed the importance of contingency, of “growing where you’re planted,” so to speak. The best options for his characters involve caring for the people who just happen to be around. “We are here to help each other through this thing,” he wrote, “whatever it is.” That last phrase is not an evasion; the complexities of the universe are too much for humans to grasp, Vonnegut thought. Our attempts to create stable truths and certainties—whether through abstract in-group identities or grand technological designs—seem bound to cause exponentially more suffering than they solve.

Vonnegut may have achieved far more acclaim in his lifetime than his contemporary Philip K. Dick, but he felt similarly neglected by the “literary establishment,” Harris writes. “They interpreted his simplistic style, love of science fiction and Midwestern values as being beneath serious study.” (See, for example the 1969 New York Times review of Slaughterhouse-Five.) But perhaps even more than the perennially relevant Dick, Vonnegut’s work speaks to us of our current predicament, and offers, if not optimism, at least a very limited form of hope, in our capacity to “help each through this thing,” whatever it is.

If you want to fully immerse yourself in Vonnegut's body of work, the Library of America has created a box set that contains all 14 novels plus a selection of the best of his stories.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Download Beautifully-Designed Bauhaus Books & Journals for Free: Gropius, Klee, Kandinsky, Moholy-Nagy & More

640px-Die_Buehne_im_Bauhaus

In 1919, German architect Walter Gropius founded Bauhaus, the most influential art school of the 20th century. Bauhaus defined modernist design and radically changed our relationship with everyday objects. Gropius wrote in his manifesto Programm des Staatlichen Bauhauses Weimar that “There is no essential difference between the artist and the artisan.” His new school, which featured faculty that included the likes of Paul Klee, László Moholy-Nagy, Josef Albers and Wassily Kandinsky, did indeed erase the centuries-old line between applied arts and fine arts.




Bauhaus architecture sandblasted away the ornate flourishes common with early 20th century buildings, favoring instead the clean, sleek lines of industrial factories. Designer Marcel Breuer reimagined the common chair by stripping it down to its most elemental form. Herbert Bayer reinvented and modernized graphic design by focusing on visual clarity. Gunta Stölzl, Marianne Brandt and Christian Dell radically remade such diverse objects as fabrics and tea kettles.

640px-Kandinsky_Punkt_und_Linie_zu_Flaeche

Nowadays, of course, getting one of those Bauhaus tea kettles, or even an original copy of Gropius’s manifesto, would cost a small fortune. Fortunately for design nerds, typography mavens and architecture enthusiasts everywhere, the good folks over at Monoskop have posted online a whole set of beautifully designed publications from the storied school.

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Click here to pick out individual works. Sadly, though, you can’t download a teakettle.

The list of Books in the Monoskop Bauhaus archive includes:

And here are some key Bauhaus journals:

  1. bauhaus 1 (1926). 5 pages, 42 cm. Download (23 MB).
  2. bauhaus: zeitschrift für bau und gestaltung 2:1 (Feb 1928). Download (17 MB).
  3. bauhaus: zeitschrift für gestaltung 3:1 (Jan 1929). Download (17 MB).
  4. bauhaus: zeitschrift für gestaltung 3:2 (Apr-Jun 1929). Download (15 MB).
  5. bauhaus: zeitschrift für gestaltung 3:3 (Jul-Sep 1929). Download (16 MB).
  6. bauhaus: zeitschrift für gestaltung 2 (Jul 1931). Download (15 MB).

Get more in the Monoskop Bauhaus archive.

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in October, 2015.

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Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring lots of pictures of vice presidents with octopuses on their heads.  The Veeptopus store is here.

Japanese Artist Creates Bookshelf Dioramas That Magically Transport You Into Tokyo’s Back Alleys

Should you find yourself in a Japanese city, spend time not on the Starbucks- and McDonald's-lined boulevards but on the back streets that wind in all directions behind them. Or better yet, head into the back alleys branching off those streets, those half-hidden spaces that offer the most evocative glimpses of life in urban Japan by far. Only there can you find passage into the wonderfully idiosyncratic businesses tucked into the corners of the city, from bars and restaurants to coffee shops and of course bookstores. Those bookstores have long occupied Japan's back alleys, but now an artist by the name of Monde has brought the back alleys onto bookshelves.

Monde's handcrafted wooden bookend dioramas, which you can see on his Twitter feed as well as in a Buzzfeed Japan article about them, replicate the back alleys of his hometown of Tokyo. They do it in miniature, and down to the smallest detail — even the electric lights that illuminate the real thing at night.




Scaled to the height of not just a book but a small Japanese paperback, the likes of which fill those back-alley bookstores from floor to ceiling, they're designed to slot right into bookshelves, providing a welcoming street scene to those browsing through their own or others' volumes in the same way that the actual alleys they model come as a pleasant surprise to passersby on the main streets.

Tokyo has become a beloved city to Japanese and non-Japanese alike for countless reasons, but who can doubt the appeal of the way it combines the feeling of small-town life in its many neighborhoods that together make for a megacity scale? Monde's dioramas capture the distinctive mixture of domesticity and density in the capital's back alleys, reflecting the narrowness of the spaces in form and their somehow organically manmade nature — stepping stones, potted-plant gardens, and all the small pieces of infrastructure that have accumulated to support life in the homes of so many — in content. Though Tokyo has for decades been regarded, especially from the West, as a place of thorough hypermodernity, its alleys remind us that within the sometimes overwhelming present exists a mixture of eras that feel timeless — just like the content of a well-curated bookshelf.

via Twisted Sifter

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Download 569 Free Art Books from The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Met 1

You could pay $118 on Amazon for the Metropolitan Museum of Art's catalog The Art of Illumination: The Limbourg Brothers and the Belles Heures of Jean de France, Duc de Berry. Or you could pay $0 to download it at MetPublications, the site offering "five decades of Met Museum publications on art history available to read, download, and/or search for free."

If that strikes you as an obvious choice, prepare to spend some serious time browsing MetPublications' collection of free art books and catalogs.




You may remember that we featured the site a few years ago, back when it offered 397 whole books free for the reading, including American Impressionism and Realism: The Painting of Modern Life, 1885–1915; Leonardo da Vinci: Anatomical Drawings from the Royal Library; and Wisdom Embodied: Chinese Buddhist and Daoist Sculpture in The Metropolitan Museum of Art

But the Met has kept adding to their digital trove since then, and, as a result, you can now find there no fewer than 569 art catalogs and other books besides. Those sit alongside the 400,000 free art images the museum put online last year.

met museum free art books

So have a look at MetPublications' current collection and you'll find you now have unlimited access to such lush as well as artistically, culturally, and historically varied volumes as African IvoriesChess: East and West, Past and PresentModern Design in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1890–1990; Vincent Van Gogh: The Drawings; French Art Deco; or even a guide to the museum itself (vintage 1972).

chess east and est

Since I haven't yet turned to art collection — I suppose you need money for that — these books don't necessarily make me covet the vast sweep of artworks they depict and contextualize. But they do make me wish for something even less probable: a time machine so I could go back and see all these exhibits firsthand.

Note: This is an updated version of a post that originally appeared on our site in March 2015.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

A Japanese Illustrated History of America (1861): Features George Washington Punching Tigers, John Adams Slaying Snakes & Other Fantastic Scenes

"George Washington (with bow and arrow) pictured alongside the Goddess of America"

Though I'm American myself, I always learn the most about America when I look outside it. When I want to hear my homeland described or see it reflected, I seek out the perspective of anyone other than my fellow Americans. Given that I live in Korea, such perspectives aren't hard to come by, and every day here I learn something new — real or imagined — about the United States. But Japan, the next country over to the east, has a longer and arguably richer tradition of America-describing. And judging by Osanaetoki Bankokubanashi (童絵解万国噺), an 1861 book by writer Kanagaki Robun and artist Utagawa Yoshitora, it certainly has a more fantastical one. "Here is George Washington (with bow and arrow) pictured alongside the Goddess of America," writes historian of Japan Nick Kapur in a Twitter thread featuring selections from the book.

"George Washington defending his wife 'Carol' from a British official"

History does record Washington having practiced archery in his youth, among other popular sports of the day, and the image of the Goddess of America does look like a faintly Japanese version of Columbia, the historical female personification of the United States.




The next image Kaur posts shows Christopher Columbus reporting his discovery of America to Queen Isabella of Spain. "So far, kinda normal," but then comes a bit of artistic license: a scene from the American Revolution in which we see "George Washington defending his wife 'Carol' from a British official named 'Asura' (same characters as the Buddhist deity)." Other illustrated events from early American history include "Washington's "second-in-command" John Adams battling an enormous snake," "the incredibly jacked Benjamin Franklin firing a cannon that he holds in his bare hands, while John Adams directs him where to fire," and "George Washington straight-up punching a tiger."

"George Washington straight-up punching a tiger"

The founding of the United States, as Kanagaki and Utagawa saw it, seems to have required the defeat of many a fearsome beast, including a giant snake that eats Adams' mother and against which Adams must then team up with an eagle to slay. What truth we can find here may be metaphorical in nature: even in the mid-19th century, the world still saw America as a vast, wild continent just waiting to enrich those brave and strong enough to subdue it. Global interest in the still-new republic also ran particularly high at that time, as evidenced by the popularity of publications like Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America (which still offers an insightful outsider's perspective on America), first published in 1835 and 1840.

"Together, John Adams and the eagle kill the enormous snake that ate his Mom. The power of teamwork!!!"

Japan, long a closed country, had also begun to take a keen interest in the outside world: American Commodore Matthew Perry and his warships, filled with technology then unimaginable to the Japanese, had arrived in 1853 with an intent to open Japan's ports to trade. In 1868 the Meiji Restoration would consolidate imperial rule in the country and open it to the world, but Osanaetoki Bankokubanashi, which you can read in its entirety in digitized form at Waseda Unversity's web site, came out seven years before that. At that time, the likes of Kanagaki and Utagawa, relying on second-hand sources, could still thrill their countrymen — none of whom had any more direct experience of America than they did — with tales of the grotesque creatures, vile oppressors, heroic rebels, and guiding goddesses to be found just on the other side of the Pacific Ocean.

For more images, see Nick Kapur's twitter stream here.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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