Tan’s latest book is a portable gallery: each spread features an artfully illuminated sculptural scene facing a paragraph-length “explanation”—an excerpt from one of 75 Grimm fairy tales.
Tan created 50 sculptures for Philip Pullman’s Grimms Märchen (2013), a 512-page collection of familiar and lesser-known tales, available only in German. To present his menagerie to English speakers, Tan here adds more stories and art, eliciting text and an introduction from scholar Jack Zipes. Lean, powerful dialogue and descriptions accompany pieces with complex patinas, textured settings, and provocative subjects acting out their vengeance, charity, jealousy, and love. The objects, inspired by Inuit and pre-Columbian figurines, are sculpted from clay over papier-mâché and finished with acrylics, oxidized metal powder, and shoe polish. An evil queen is blood red, all sharp edges. Cinderella’s gilded face is framed claustrophobically by a rough, conical hearth. The titular story features an older brother about to kill his sibling to win their father’s favor. Readers must turn to the summaries at the back of the book to understand this entry (and others). While some will find this format useful, others will yearn for a complete narrative in context; Tan encourages readers to use this alongside Zipes’ The Complete Fairy Tales (1987).
These inscrutable, unsettling sculptures demand that viewers connect art and tale, examining their own reactions to the darkest impulses and glimpses of light within the book—and themselves. (foreword, introduction, bibliography, afterword, annotated index) (Fairy tales. 12 & up)