WHAT HEAVEN LOOKS LIKE

COMMENTS ON A STRANGE WORDLESS BOOK

Some of his points invite argument, but Elkins’ knowing commentary helps the reader interpret the art. A fine addition to...

A mystery manuscript comes out for airing; wordless save for the title page, what does it mean?

It might be a delicious intrigue cooked up by Borges: a manuscript of fuzzy provenance, consisting of 52 paintings, rests unvisited on the shelves of a library for generations. Rediscovered, it proves fascinating—not least because it has no words but tells a story all the same of a world emerging out of primordial chaos. Elkins (Chair, Art History, Theory, and Criticism/Art Institute of Chicago; What Photography Is, 2011, etc.) hazards that the work is alchemical; in his smart commentary, he builds a case that it might have originated in Holland at the end of the 17th century or the beginning of the next one at the hands of a female artist. As he writes, though, “usually some telltale sign helps identify an anonymous artist: some stylistic quirk, or some figure or composition borrowed from another painting. At least so far, no such clues have broken the manuscript’s silence.” The figures depicted resemble the work of William Blake, with seemingly allegorical elements, as with one image featuring Greek gods and demigods gazing with interest at three nymphs, the viewer seeing this all as if from the opening of a cave. Elkins writes of the red and gold flecks and rather psychedelic palette, “colors have never had any meaning, much as people have tried to foist meaning on them. They say nothing in themselves, and they steal meaning from everything they cover.” Well, then. The storyline that emerges from the sequence, vignettes painted on what seem to be sections of cut log, may be anyone’s guess, but Elkins, reading visual clues, posits that the artist may have gotten tired of it all by the time the work was done. That won’t be true of readers of this book, who will likely remain fascinated from start to finish.

Some of his points invite argument, but Elkins’ knowing commentary helps the reader interpret the art. A fine addition to the odd-book shelf.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-946053-02-2

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Laboratory Books

Review Posted Online: June 12, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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INSIDE THE DREAM PALACE

THE LIFE AND TIMES OF NEW YORK'S LEGENDARY CHELSEA HOTEL

A zesty, energetic history, not only of a building, but of more than a century of American culture.

A revealing biography of the fabled Manhattan hotel, in which generations of artists and writers found a haven.

Turn-of-the century New York did not lack either hotels or apartment buildings, writes Tippins (February House: The Story of W. H. Auden, Carson McCullers, Jane and Paul Bowles, Benjamin Britten, and Gypsy Rose Lee, Under One Roof In Wartime America, 2005). But the Chelsea Hotel, from its very inception, was different. Architect Philip Hubert intended the elegantly designed Chelsea Association Building to reflect the utopian ideals of Charles Fourier, offering every amenity conducive to cooperative living: public spaces and gardens, a dining room, artists’ studios, and 80 apartments suitable for an economically diverse population of single workers, young couples, small families and wealthy residents who otherwise might choose to live in a private brownstone. Hubert especially wanted to attract creative types and made sure the building’s walls were extra thick so that each apartment was quiet enough for concentration. William Dean Howells, Edgar Lee Masters and artist John Sloan were early residents. Their friends (Mark Twain, for one) greeted one another in eight-foot-wide hallways intended for conversations. In its early years, the Chelsea quickly became legendary. By the 1930s, though, financial straits resulted in a “down-at-heel, bohemian atmosphere.” Later, with hard-drinking residents like Dylan Thomas and Brendan Behan, the ambience could be raucous. Arthur Miller scorned his free-wheeling, drug-taking, boozy neighbors, admitting, though, that the “great advantage” to living there “was that no one gave a damn what anyone else chose to do sexually.” No one passed judgment on creativity, either. But the art was not what made the Chelsea famous; its residents did. Allen Ginsberg, Bob Dylan, Andy Warhol, Janis Joplin, Leonard Cohen, Robert Mapplethorpe, Phil Ochs and Sid Vicious are only a few of the figures populating this entertaining book.

A zesty, energetic history, not only of a building, but of more than a century of American culture.

Pub Date: Dec. 3, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-618-72634-9

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Sept. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2013

HUMANS OF NEW YORK

STORIES

A wondrous mix of races, ages, genders, and social classes, and on virtually every page is a surprise.

Photographer and author Stanton returns with a companion volume to Humans of New York (2013), this one with similarly affecting photographs of New Yorkers but also with some tales from his subjects’ mouths.

Readers of the first volume—and followers of the related site on Facebook and elsewhere—will feel immediately at home. The author has continued to photograph the human zoo: folks out in the streets and in the parks, in moods ranging from parade-happy to deep despair. He includes one running feature—“Today in Microfashion,” which shows images of little children dressed up in various arresting ways. He also provides some juxtapositions, images and/or stories that are related somehow. These range from surprising to forced to barely tolerable. One shows a man with a cat on his head and a woman with a large flowered headpiece, another a construction worker proud of his body and, on the facing page, a man in a wheelchair. The emotions course along the entire continuum of human passion: love, broken love, elation, depression, playfulness, argumentativeness, madness, arrogance, humility, pride, frustration, and confusion. We see varieties of the human costume, as well, from formalwear to homeless-wear. A few celebrities appear, President Barack Obama among them. The “stories” range from single-sentence comments and quips and complaints to more lengthy tales (none longer than a couple of pages). People talk about abusive parents, exes, struggles to succeed, addiction and recovery, dramatic failures, and lifelong happiness. Some deliver minirants (a neuroscientist is especially curmudgeonly), and the children often provide the most (often unintended) humor. One little boy with a fishing pole talks about a monster fish. Toward the end, the images seem to lead us toward hope. But then…a final photograph turns the light out once again.

A wondrous mix of races, ages, genders, and social classes, and on virtually every page is a surprise.

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-250-05890-4

Page Count: 432

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

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