Read like Mark Cunningham
Recommended books, magazines, and websites from art history instructor Mark Cunningham
Alias Olympia: A Woman’s Search for Manet’s Notorious Model and Her Own Desire
POPULAR ND 553 .M3L56 1992b
This book is part memoir, part art historical mystery, part reconstructive biography. Lipton manages to turn her peregrinations through Parisian archives into a thrilling chase after an elusive subject, Victorine Meurent, who has a scant and contradictory paper trail. Meurent is best known as the model for several of Manet’s most famous works, including Olympia and Le déjeuner sur l'herbe, but Lipton probes even further into her tragic life.
Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder: Pronged Ants, Horned Humans, Mice on Toast, and Other Marvels of Jurassic Technology
POPULAR AM 101 .L725W47 1995
The Museum of Jurassic Technology in Culver City, near Los Angeles, is probably my favorite place on earth. Although it appears to be a normal museum, many of the exhibitions are hoaxes or otherwise blur the boundaries between fact and fiction. The entire museum is the brainchild of MacArthur “genius grant” recipient David Wilson, an enigmatic, gnome-like figure, who presents his work with a straight face (but with his tongue buried very deeply in his cheek). The entire museum is one of the greatest pieces of conceptual art or installation art—and makes you question the veracity of all museum displays.
The Painted Word
ND 195 .W64 1975
The Painted Word is Tom Wolfe’s blisteringly funny account of 20th century art. In a mere 100 or so pages, he lucidly provides a history of the ascendance of avant-garde art. Wolfe provides a refreshing take as he discusses the role of art markets and the insular social circles of the art world in building artist’s reputations. The chapter on Clement Greenberg is essential reading for anyone who wishes to understand how Modernist art criticism turned into dogma.
Why Art Cannot be Taught: A Handbook for Art Students
N 346 .A1E44 2001
Elkins is in fine form here, striking his usual pose as a master provocateur—even the title offers a clue as to his general purpose. But there’s also essential information here, too. This book traces the development of art schools, providing a useful outline to figure out the principles and assumptions that shape an institution such as our own. Students should read the section on critiques; Elkins offers a number of useful models and suggestions for making the most of these bizarre dances.
The Bicycle Diaries
POPULAR GV 1044 .B97 2010
The frontman of the seminal art-rock band Talking Heads writes about the pleasures of urban cycling in a variety of cities from Buenos Aires to Manila. Though surprisingly not as bicycle-heavy as one might imagine, Byrne is a compelling narrator to follow along with as he muses about wide ranging issues related to urbanism, globalization, music, and art.
Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography
TR 642 .B3713 1981
A must-read if you are interested in photography. Abandoning the semiotic, post-structuralist approach of his early writing, Barthes adopts a much more personal tone, writing following the passing of his dearly beloved mother (and shortly before he himself stepped off a curb into the path of an ambulance). Barthes poignantly describes the intrinsic relationship between photography and death—the quality of “this-has-been” that haunts every photographic image. Also memorable is Barthes’ concept of the punctum, a small detail in the photograph that “wounds” the viewer. This is a book to return to time and time again.
Townie: A Memoir
Andre Dubus III
POPULAR PS 3554 .U2652Z46 2011
Dubus writes movingly about growing up in the depressed, violence-tinged mill towns of Massachusetts. Routinely bullied as a kid, he decides to pump iron, train to be a boxer, and stand up for himself. But after metamorphosing into the kind of thug who goes looking for barroom brawls—and usually wins—he realizes that to achieve peace, he can’t match physical force with physical force. He develops a meaningful relationship with his estranged father and more importantly with the written word, turning his life around completely. Truly a page-turner, Dubus writes with ferocity and an almost hallucinatory attention to detail.
Believing is Seeing: Creating the Culture of Art
Mary Anne Staniszewski
N 72.5 .S72 1995
Using the same sort of photo-book format that made John Berger’s Ways of Seeing and Marshall McLuhan’s The Medium is the Massage (both of which the library also owns) so revolutionary, Staniszewski guides the reader through thorny questions regarding the criteria by which certain objects are called “art.” She jumps around between periods and places, Western and non-Western, “high” and “low” art, theory and popular culture, making the book accessible to all audiences. A great book to read either before taking the art history survey or to complement upper division courses.
No Such Thing as Silence
ML 410 .C24G35 2010
John Cage's 4'33" is arguably the most controversial artworks of the 20th century (perhaps rivaled only by Marcel Duchamp's Fountain). Seemingly four minutes and thirty-three seconds of "silence," Cage was interested in the potential for any sound to be "musical." Inspired by Zen Buddhist philosophy, chance operations, and a disinterest in aesthetic categories or judgment, Cage sparked a revolution in avant-garde circles.
Based in Brooklyn, Cabinet is a quarterly journal of eccentric, esoteric short essays and artworks with a distinctly conceptual and theoretical bent. The articles are short and diverse, making them eminently readable. Each issue has a theme—recent ones have included “games,” “hair,” and “dust.” But perhaps the best part of each volume is an essay dedicated to a particular color—who knew it was possible to write a thousand words on “drab”?