Art Books
Being Ten of
The Best and
The Brightest
Received by RALPH
Over the Past Year or So


c. 1910 by
Dr. Emil Mayer

Edward Rosser
(Blind River)
Mayer was a lawyer in Vienna. He was a music lover, and a gifted amateur photographer. He made hundreds --- perhaps thousands --- of photographs of the street life of Vienna in the early part of the 20th century. His photographic process was called "bromoil." Over fifty of these shots are reproduced here.

In 1938, the Nazis entered Vienna. When Mayer discovered that many of his associates had joined the party he and his wife chose to commit suicide. The Gestapo found his collection and destroyed most of it. The "bromoils" presented here are a few of those that survived.

Overall, this book is elegantly designed, printed on exquisite paper, and is probably as much of a work-of-art as Mayer's rare studies of early Viennese street life.

Adventures with
Old Houses

Richard Hampton Jenrette
(Wyrick & Co.)
Jenrette has made a second career in discovering old homes and dolling them up. We aren't talking row houses in Georgetown or on Nob Hill --- we're talking Edgewater, a massive Doric pile in Barrytown, New York; or Ayr Mount, in Hillsborough, North Carolina; or the George F Baker House at 67 East 93rd Street in New York City --- which Jenrett has fixed up to a fare-thee-well with wallpaper gleaned from the Petits Appartements of Marie Antoinette at Versailles and Charles X bookcases.

Jenrette spices the photographs with chit-chat about how he bought this place for a cool two mil, and sold that one for five, letting you know that if you to plan to go in the restoration biz, you had better have some ready cash (and some hot friends: the introduction to the book was penned by The Prince of Wales.) No fake humility here.

We added up all the rooms Jenrette is presently carrying on inventory and it comes to more than 200 --- if you include the carriage houses, entrance halls, servants' quarters, æries, and stables. Since we have several friends from south of the border who can't even begin to afford a New York City $400/month rent-control apartment, and since we figure that Jenrette has all this extra space, and since he seems like a generous enough soul (if a bit overweening) --- we'd like to send along some of them to call on him there on 93rd Street, just to ask for a place for Pablo and María and the six or seven kids to lay their heads for a week or so. They'll gladly help him fill up those bright but empty rooms --- perhaps, some nights, jolly him a bit by singing musica norteña, downing pulque with him, cooking some of their favorite chiles rellenos, and --- in the process --- help get the family out the seediness of the ghetto for a while, give them a chance to see how the other half lives. We figure it'd be a hell of a lot more fun for Jenrette than a week or so knocking around Edgewater with HRH The Prince of Wales.

Margaret Mead,
Gregory Bateson,
And Highland Bali
<Fieldwork Photographs
Of Bayung Gedé, 1936-1939

Gerald Sullivan
(University of Chicago)
Gregory Bateson and Margaret Mead moved to Bali in 1936, and stayed for three years. They were there to study the culture in the village of Bayung Gedé --- but Bateson being Bateson, was primarily interested in madness, conflict, and conflict resolution. (He referred to as "schismogenesis.")

Problem was, the Balinese were and still are disinterested in conflict. When there was a problem, Mead stated that the Balinese "simply refuse to perceive" something strange or intrusive, because

    they close their eyes and say "I don't understand..." They are the least responsive people, I think, I have ever known...They seem to me to have no affective attachment to anyone.

Thus, she claimed, the only way they "kept the peace among some 800,000 people on this little island," was by their "lack of emotional responsiveness." In the present shrink world, Mead's take on things is sometimes referred to as "a delusional psychological projection."

Outside of misreading the culture, Bateson and Mead took several thousand photographs of daily life of the Balinese. Some two hundred are included in this volume. One would not call them art per se --- but they are a visual portrayal of a culture which others have found to be artistic to the core with their exquisite music, their sense of design, and their gentle spiritual beliefs.

Material Man
Sexuality, Style

Giannino Malossi, Editor
(Harry N. Abrams)
This one is put together by the "Fashion Engineering Unit." It's a doozy. Athletes, businessmen, jockstraps, boots, transvestites, sportsters, Elvis look-alikes, jockeys, pensioners, transsexuals, weenies, lionskins, wrestlers, kokburu (of Kyrgysten), Anthony Perkins, the Incredible Hulk, James Dean --- anything the "unit" can come up with to confuse us with the focus, all set in a blaze of dramatic photographs, some in color, some in black-and-white.

Chapters include "Mickey Rooney and the Downsizing of Man," "Maleness as a Fluctuating Gender," "Military Style," "Adam's Apple," and, of course, "Sex Objects." The confusion is entirely intentional, and the effect of some 200 whammo photographs is enough to make us all fear for the future of the Republic.

To Conserve
A Legacy

American Art from
Black Colleges
And Universities

Richard J. Powell and
Jock Reynolds
Powell and Reynolds have culled drawings, paintings, photographs, sculpture and lithographs from various colleges, including Fisk, Clark Atlanta, Howard University, Hampton, Tuskegee, and North Carolina Central University.

Some of the artists go all the way back to the turn-of-the-century, including the painter Clementine Hunter (b. 1886) and photographer John K. Hillers (b. 1843). The most moving drawings and paintings, at least in reproduction, come from William Henry Johnson ("Seated Man " and "Farm Couple at Work"), William M. Hayden's "Saturday Night Function," Claude Clark's "Jumpin' Jive" --- and Aaron Douglas' "Sahdjio" from 1925 [ink-and-graphite, illustrated above.]

The R. Crumb
Coffee Table
Art Book

Whole Career
From Shack
To Chateau!

Peter Poplaski
(Little, Brown)
This one came in three years ago and sat on our bedtable as we read and reread (and reread) it and tried to figure out how to describe it. Crumb --- like Bukowski and "The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers" and Woodstock and those startling drugs and Viet-Nam --- defined a decade for many of us and we figure if those names and words are unfamiliar to you, we can't help you. Not at all.

But if they are part of your vocabulary, then The R. Crumb Coffee Table Art Book is going to be your meat. This volume gives you a rich collection of his drawings from the very beginning to the most recent --- along with essays on his life, his loves, and his hard times, including declamations like "The Seventies Was the 'Burnout Decade!" The Big Party Was Over!"

Crumb is strange and attractive (and strangely attractive) on three counts:

  • His cartoons take a once-trivial art --- Disney, et al --- and run it directly to its logical, if not spooky, conclusion;
  • His words and drawings are largely autobiographical/confessional à la St. Augustine --- filled with appropriate agonies and doubts of the "Am-I-Being-Stupid-To-Reveal-My-Soul-To-Strangers?" school that should be the essence of all autobiographies and confessionals; and
  • He's an excellent writer --- manages to get much of the show-off angst of his drawings into literate sentences.

The Red
Rose Girls
An Uncommon Story
Of Art and Love

Alice A Carter
(Harry N. Abrams)
Jessie Willcox Smith, Elizabeth Shippen Green, and Violet Oakley lived on the Philadelphia Main Line and were fairly important artists, muralists and illustrators of their time, the early 20th Century. They lived together on an estate that was called "The Red Rose Inn," where they took the pledge to stay true to each other, through thick and through thin, forever and ever.

The Red Rose Girls is thick with their illustrations and murals --- along with photographs of some of their art works, and them, their friends, family and worksites. The author indicates that the three might have been lesbian lovers --- but who knows and who cares? At that time, women could live together, even pledge eternal love to each other, in full innocence: what happened at night or between the sheets was rightfully as considered no one's business.

This volume is grand, with a generous selection of their artworks. However, because of their chosen media --- government-sponsored murals, heavily symbolic, overwrought magazine drawings --- with titles like "Admiral Penn Denouncing and Turning His Son From Home Because of His Sympathy with the Despised Sect of Quakers" --- the reproductions leave something to be desired, and, for that reason, the photographs may turn out to be the most accessible part of their history.

<The Racy
Pin-Ups of
World War II

Max Allan Collins, Editor
(Collectors Press)
For those of us who lived through WWII, it was Bundles-for-Britain, scrap drives, "A" "B" and "C" gas stickers, "A Slip of the Lip/Will Sink a Ship," blackouts, bronze and gold stars in house windows, men everywhere in uniform, sugar and meat rationing coupons, War Bond Drives, strange names from around the world (Pearl Harbor, Iwo Jima, Stalingrad, Rabault, Utah Beach), and Pin-Ups.

Pin-Ups! What a concept. The inductees were jammed together in training camps, or overseas, and there were, supposedly, no women, and so out came these cartoon characters --- women with flimsy dresses and pursed lips and inflated breasts and ill-clad buttocks.

The pictures and drawings were hung everywhere: on barrack walls, inside lockers, and strangest of all --- painted on the sides of the various warplanes.

B-24 and B-25 and B-29 bombers sported mammalian caricatures, given names like "Shoo-Shoo Baby" and "Sweat'er Out" and "Playmate" and "Six Hits and a Miss." Fighter planes like the P-51s and P-61s and F4Us were labeled "Heats On," "Midnight Belle," and "Hawkeye Hattie," and, as well, sported ill-painted ladies in various poses and various states of undress.

It was designed, we believe, to vitiate the raw truth of what a bomber or fighter was designed to do to "the enemy." In this way, the lubricious figures made very peculiar counterpoint to the real work of war --- bullets and bombs (cluster, phosphorous, and atomic), aimed kill other pilots or, more probably, the victims down there below --- in Dresden, in Tokyo, in Berlin, in Nagasaki, in Hamburg, in Hiroshima. The merry message these "pin-ups" delivered was, Forget what's happening down there because up here in the sky it's nothing but buxom young ladies flying around in various stages of undress.

New York

The City From
It's Beginnings
To the Present

Gloria Deák
It starts with drawings from the very earliest days, when Giovanni da Verrazzano arrived in New York Bay and encountered Indians "dressed with the feathers of birds and various colors" --- giving a hint of colorful parades to follow centuries later. There are early maps, drawings of religious services, chapters on the "Merchant Princes," portraits (usually of the very rich), drawings of tenements, photos of country estates, paintings of Wall Street, and whole chapters devoted to such things as "Painting, Theatre, Music, and Dance."

Like the city itself, it is a very confusing olla podrida, with due homage to Walt Whitman, Truman Capote, Madison Square Garden, "Triumphs of Architecture and Urban Engineering." The whole is thick, heavy, placid, comfortable --- filled with information about homes, ferries, the movie industry, and such heavy facts as,

    More than 130 commodities were produced in Queens by three times that number of factories of the early decades of the twentieth century. They included...automobiles, airplanes, printing presses, and turbine engines, as well as...buttons, chewing gum, hats, and biscuits.

The only thing missing is more of the reality of life then and now that New York represents to most of us outsiders, which is row after row of dark, desolate, dusty housing --- both public and private --- which no amount of glitter and glamor can hide.

<The Photographs
And Notebooks of
William Gedney

Margaret Sartor,
Geoff Dyer, Editors
William Gedney sought subjects in the streets of New York, the hippy hangouts of San Francisco, the world of Calcutta, and the backwoods of Kentucky. He was successful at his chosen art --- winning, during his lifetime, many grants and awards for his honest shots of real life.

What Was True contains a hundred or so of these photographs, arranged with notes that he took while working on his various projects. These include the banal and the tired, but then statements like

    Dame Arbus committed suicide last week. It seemed unreasonable.

Or, this quote from Redon

    One must respect black, nothing prostitutes is the agent of the mind far more than the most beautiful color of the palette or prism.

His style is sharp and no-nonsense and sometime brutal, the very opposite of romantic. It is the portraits of the very poor people of India and the hill country of Kentucky, however, that stay with one.

--- Lolita Lark,
Carlos Amantea,
Ignacio Schwartz, and
R. R. Pennypacker, III

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