Oversized and lavishly produced reproduction of a fascinating but obscure artifact plucked from the archives. Hailing from a clerical family "well offOversized and lavishly produced reproduction of a fascinating but obscure artifact plucked from the archives. Hailing from a clerical family "well off, but not rich," Johnson, who lived from 1746 -1823, meticulously documented the clothing she had made for her, carefully affixing textile scraps to an old account ledger from a family friend and writing detailed descriptions of their attributes, uses, prices, etc. Now held by the Victoria & Albert Museum, its potential contribution to our understanding of Britain's Regency era is obvious: here's a small peek into mundane details of everyday life that are often lost to history.
But alongside the undeniable sociohistorical importance, I picked this up more for purely aesthetic reasons, as inadvertently Johnson created an early example of what later became known as an "altered book" (which is basically the catch-all term applied any time an artist creatively modifies the original form of a text in some way). Viewed from this perspective, as I flipped through the pages of this book the fanciful, intricate sensibility of Joseph Cornell constantly came to mind, and I imagine the celebrated 20th century surrealist would have been as utterly enchanted as I was by Johnson's efforts.
"I can be a pain, but most of all, I can be a pleasure."
Stated in the prologue, I flagged this comment in the margins of my book, and now I see it's a"I can be a pain, but most of all, I can be a pleasure."
Stated in the prologue, I flagged this comment in the margins of my book, and now I see it's actually a nice summation of her entire memoir. Because while it could have used some substantial and judicious editing and condensing, overall what's here is mostly a pleasure to read, a raucous romp through the second half of the twentieth century through the perspective of one of pop culture's most iconic—and iconoclastic—personalities.
Of all things, this this memoir constantly brought to mind Candide, Voltaire's epochal satire. Whipping across time zones and continents, creating and shedding personas, colliding with important historic figures and events, blundering into potentially dangerous situations and skipping away unscathed, Jones herself is something of a Candide figure—albeit without the slightest trace of that character's infamous naiveté, for as Jones constantly reiterates, she's game to try anything at least once (and if everything recorded here is true, she's true to her word!).
Early on Jones insists she "love[s] secrets" and promises that sharing her memories will not "spoil the mystery" of her life. And for all the information packed into these 380 pages, I do believe she managed to stay true to her word. Each paragraph is so packed with dazzling names—Warhol! Harring! Studio 54! Roommates and BFFs with Jessica Lange and Jerry Hall in Paris! Iman! The British Royal Family! Karl Lagerfeld! Helmut Newton! Etc, etc, etc—that the reader slides along in a kind of happy buzz without necessarily realizing that how all of this happens remains, in the end, an enigma. How exactly does one keep a schedule of regularly staying out until dance clubs until 7am? Manage experimental drug use (she says one acid trip lasted two weeks)? Seem to be everywhere in Europe and America simultaneously? Time bends and blends, she seems to pack into months more than most people are able to experience in a lifetime. I kept thinking "it must take SO MUCH effort and hard work to maintain the Grace Jones persona," but Jones rarely shows her cards. Reading this memoir, I got a sense of one layer of who Jones is, the facade that operates in the realm of contemporary pop culture myth, larger than life, something beyond mere celebrity or notoriety. But like the expert showsperson that she is, she cleverly camouflages the nuts and bolts that keep everything in place. But the private Grace Jones? That Jones has been secreted her away from public display.
The primary and vitally important exception to this, I will say, is when it comes to her art and image creation. For most of her career Jones has been characterized as the muse and ultimately the creation of others, and primarily of men. Here Jones demonstrates over and over again the personal agency behind everything she has accomplished: ceaselessly sniffing out the latest trends in music, fashion, and art, collaborating with the most talented and creative individuals in their respective fields, carefully shepherding each project to fruition and public release, this memoir obliterates any lingering perception that Jones is herself is anything less than one of the astounding artists of the second half of the twentieth century. We're just barely starting to come to grips with the artistic legacy and sheer fabulosity that she hath wrought.
A really nice introduction to one of my favorite contemporary artists. Bas's work often calls to my mind Fairfield Porter's elegance and exquisite att
A really nice introduction to one of my favorite contemporary artists. Bas's work often calls to my mind Fairfield Porter's elegance and exquisite attunement to color, albeit filtered through a gothic sensibility; I also find his implicitly/explicitly homoerotic reinterpretation of "classic" symbols and motifs of American boyhood—like the Hardy Boys—irresistible. There's also often something of Harry Darger as well, what with idyllic, impervious youth dropped into nightmarish dreamscapes. A really striking talent still in the process of emerging.
A beautiful, lavishly produced book that served as a wonderful introduction to Lowry's expansive and eclectic body of work. It was her collage work anA beautiful, lavishly produced book that served as a wonderful introduction to Lowry's expansive and eclectic body of work. It was her collage work and journals—part diary, part art journal—that span some 120+ volumes that initially brought her to my attention, but going through this book it quickly becomes obvious how the kinetic, sensuous aura of combining together disparate objects and images is the principle underlying all of her work (which also takes the form of assemblages, sculptures, and paintings, along with collage).
The addended texts, particularly the remembrance by Mike McGee, were particularly helpful in giving a glimpse of the artist as a person, and how her personality subtly imbues all aspects of her work. Considering this book has a retrospective aspect to it—Lowry tragically passed away in 2009, only 63 years old—it's a great testament to the book that it nonetheless manages to pulsate with so much energy and life....more
A diverting, nicely observed little read. Levy takes on this quality that sometimes comes off as a bit faux-naïf, as I got the impression that her obsA diverting, nicely observed little read. Levy takes on this quality that sometimes comes off as a bit faux-naïf, as I got the impression that her observations cover, just barely, a layer of subtle wit and more than a bit of satire (take the deliciously veiled b*tch-slap of a closing line: "I never get the chance to read [Stein] my story and left Paris eventually enriched only by the knowledge that Gertrude Stein was now great in France"). Throughout Portraits she constantly downplays her intelligence and abilities to comprehend and appreciate modernist art--a role it is implied the extended Stein family kept her in--but the art collection she amassed and several texts she wrote belie a bit more to the situation than she lets on here.
The title is a bit misleading, as most of the incidents involves those who fall into the "their circle" part of the title--Alice B. Toklas (whose trip to Europe was funded by Levy), Swedish sculptor David Edstrom, and most particularly Sarah Stein, Gertrude's formidable sister-in-law and staunch Matisse supporter, make the most frequent appearances. There's also Levy's take on the rowdy Montmartre dinner that Stein made famous in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, and even an odd little chapter that seems to center around an attempted lesbian pickup from which Levy demurs (another case of feigned naiveté?).
Nothing is exactly revelatory, but that's just it--as the short introduction states, for years this previously unpublished manuscript has been mined endlessly by scholars and historians for firsthand information on this storied period. As such, it's nice that Levy has been given the opportunity to finally speak for herself. ...more
Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell are the hook and main selling point, but this is actually a collection of essays covering a number of modernist womenVirginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell are the hook and main selling point, but this is actually a collection of essays covering a number of modernist women writers, including H.D., Colette, Dorothy Richardson, Bryher, Stein, etc. The topics traversed—ranging from the Woolfs's personal albums to Bell's photographic experimentation to early, pioneering female film criticism and more—is unceasingly fascinating, which is why I was often frustrated with how dull Humm's analysis could become. It's pretty dazzling when it sticks to original research and close reading of a wide range of material (which accounts for the four stars), but all too often comes it lapses into ponderous strings of academese, and I quickly began to skip just about everything directly dealing with psychoanalytic theory (which is why I considered docking one of those stars).
The major highlight is the consideration of the Woolfs's personal photo albums as demonstrating a number of her literary techniques in visual form. Never chronological or even topically arranged, the five albums instead are largely associative constructions and often contain multiple photographs of a single subject from different visual perspectives (echoing cubist and other innovations of modernist visual art), and sometimes "superior" versions of photos can be found hidden behind ones that are less representationally perfect but contain flaws that are more artistically interesting and/or evocative (hinting that the albums were more than just personal records) . I wish Humm had explored a bit more Leonard's admitted contribution to the albums, but overall Humm makes a convincing case that Woolf's larger aesthetic project involves her "amateur" involvement in the photographic arts just as much as her "professional" achievements as novelist, essayist, and literary figure.
There's also a nice overview of the intimate connection many female modernists had to cinema and the photographic arts in general, opening up a number of avenues of inquiry I'm already researching and/or plan to pursue further.
[One of the images Humm includes from the Woolf albums]