Books: My Books in Development

I had an interesting experience over the weekend, which was reading a novella that I wrote (!) in 2004, to see if I think it is viable for development into a full novel.

At the time I wrote it, I was concerned that it was too fresh in my mind to evaluate properly, so I set it aside and wrote three more novellas, one each in subsequent years, as part of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Then I allowed my demanding job(s) to take over my life again. Now that so very much time as passed, I thought I’d see if it is worth working on.

The answer, to my own surprise, is YES.

Editing and expanding on a draft novel is a HUGE project, and… I’m a bit alarmed and intimidated.

But… I’m already more than 50,000 words committed! Why NOT develop it?? I was briefly indignant while reading about some confident middle schooler seeking agents to publish the first thing they ever wrote, before realizing that nothing is preventing me from taking similar steps. (Aside from my career, haha!)

I want to spruce it up and build it out a bit more, since the feedback I got from another writer is that there SHOULD be more of it – it held his interest all the way through, and he wanted to read more to read within the same story.

Editing a novel can take months or years, so I’m unsure how to set a schedule for myself on this. But I know it is worth starting, at the very least.

** ~ **

Meanwhile, I spent most of my energy yesterday laying out a new photography book, and… I’m supposed to do the same today!

It has been a while since I laid one out properly, and there are some new features at my favorite book printer, Blurb, that I am testing out. (I’ll write about those once my prototype arrives.)

I have laid out and self-published photo books before: eleven of them, including nine volumes of my iPhone 1 photo diary (!) and two thematic/place-based photo essay books. Blurb, which is based here in my hometown of San Francisco, does a beautiful job in printing and binding them, and provides a great online storefront to sell and display them. Their services are superb.

My best book so far was just an ordinary travel photography book, which I know is an awkward genre. Local photographers do the best work of documenting their location, because they see it in all seasons and in all of the lighting variations that occur over a year – there are photos local photographers take that a visitor is sure to miss. Visitors are subject to whatever the weather happens to be. I was just an outsider-tourist visiting during a cold and stormy month, and will never see these sites in all the familiar glory of a local who loves where they are every day.

Just the same, the process of creating this particular book was good for me. I had to think about photos as a set, rather than individually; think about how to lay them out, and how page spreads relate to each other; and learned how to mix slightly higher resolution digital images (from my whopping 4 megapixel digital camera of the time (weeping sound)) with very low resolution ones (from my iPhone 1), which inspired me to use some special effects to make use of the low-res images’ softness.

While I was taking photos for this book, I was continuing my (ordinarily domestic) phone photo diary practice, which also resulted in a Blurb book as part of my photo diary series. This was educational in different ways, most relating to its different content from my efforts to follow conventions in my formal work.

My phone photos are created for my own satisfaction, rather than to attempt to impress others or formally document some monument, and so are casual. I take photos of details at odd angles that won’t be good for drawing; I photograph ads and menus; I intentionally take photos of crowds of tourists at tourist sites, and especially enjoy photographing other people photographing. That isn’t the sort of thing included in most artsy/destination books, but are true to my experience of a place. (Note: Sylvia Plachy does a GREAT job of photos of people at tourist sites, though she brilliantly captures their personal drama at a level I cannot hope to achieve!). My phone photos show that I take photos of ads, signs, trash, art museum displays, selfies, and things I want to buy in shop windows, and the result is more…. comprehensive? Realistic? Varied in subject matter and more contemporary in representation? Maybe all of those things.

Under self-imposed rules of my phone-photo diary series, I also had to include EVERY photo I took in the book, so there was no editing of either content or the resulting jpeg files (except for limiting myself at the time due to storage limitations, and awareness that I had this rule). This means the book includes images which indulge my personal quirks, meet social obligations, and capture extremely minor details that are not especially artistic. (I did use some of these as an appendix in the art book, to personalize the book with experiences without including images of myself.)

(Aside: the garden on the cover was especially fun for me: I took a photo OF the other tourists in the designated/popular taking-photos-patio shown here FROM alongside the popular view of the landscape (an image of that appears within the book), and there was laughter from my fellow tourists when they looked away from that view and noticed…)

** ~ **

Back to the present: I intend to produce three photo books this autumn:

  • a book of black and white San Francisco architectural facades,
  • a book of images from an old, plastic-lensed camera from my paternal grandfather’s attic (which I can’t find my negatives for, so this project is delayed until those turn up), and
  • one of new (2021) Polaroid Duochrome images.

I only have one of these three books laid out, uploaded, and ordered. I haven’t scanned a single Polaroid yet, so I’ve got lots of work ahead of me… Wish me luck!

Book: Whitelash: Unmasking White Grievance at the Ballot Box by Terry Smith

Whitelash: Unmasking White Grievance at the Ballot Box
by Terry Smith, J.D.
published by Cambridge University Press
2020

This is a very thoughtful book that I began zealously recommending to others as soon as I was a few chapters in. Written by a law professor, this text analyzes the actions of the Trump Administration and motivations of its supporters, and asks: is the overt racism displayed by the administration and its primarily white supporters legal, and can it be addressed within existing legal frameworks?

Aside from me: For anyone who wasn’t in the US or following news in late 2016, the election of a failed businessman over an experienced and successful female secretary of state is best understood as a reaction by conservative white voters against the party and policies of the twice-elected African American president. While the US has a mythology of cultural openness and racial inclusion, this mythology is usually limited to justifying structures of white dominance with minor multi-cultural visibility. It appears from interviews and studies (included many cited in the footnotes of Smith’s book) that a black president made many whites feel that their unearned dominance was ending, and so they chose a leader with animus against a range of non-white ethnic groups with hopes to re-entrench whiteness as the center of political power and as the only true American identity.

Mr. Smith’s definition of a white backlash, condensed to Whitelash, is very clear:

Whitelash is the reaction of many white Americans when they believe that strides toward racial equality have run amuck, to the point of threatening their own material well-being, even as they remain far better-off economically than people of color…. This fear manifests itself through individual and collective efforts to retain the benefits of a structure of racial inequality, efforts that erroneously cast equality for people of color as discrimination against whites. Thus, the default position—the social baseline—from which too many whites define the normalcy of race relations is racial inequality.

from Whitelash Chapter 1, Electing Trump and Breaching Norms

With an extensive background in civil rights law and discrimination cases, Mr. Smith finds that in most circumstances, the stated intentions of the administration, which displayed clear animus against specific groups, would be legally actionable. From housing rights to employment to labor law and beyond, an announced intention to “ban Muslims” would put DT on the wrong side of the law. The racial animus that animates his followers is harder to legally address, but Smith ultimately proposes common sense solutions to cancel out the local manipulations of racists, which currently roll up to have adverse national impacts for all of us.

Smith’s analyses are methodical and well supported with citations to source materials. As a legal professional, it is what I would expect in my profession and in legal education more than in the popular, general-audience press. The writing is clear, and the explanations of the law are superb, and there are great citations!! (The Apple ebook version has each footnote linked in a way that makes it easy to read them and jump back to where you left off reading. I also appreciate the many colors of highlighting in the Books app, which I utilized extensively. I’m sure other eBook software has similarly beneficial features, but this is the first time I really utilized them, and it made a great impression.)

Thanks to Smith’s thorough research, the book goes beyond law and features many amazing quotes and references to other worthwhile books that delve into some of the topics covered. For example, while so many of us can’t understand how voters could sabotage material improvements for all of us, or even vote against policies that would benefit them directly, content Smith cites suggest that people’s idea of themselves as conservatives wins out emotionally over their own specific material situation.

“ In 2004, Emory University political psychologist Drew Westen conducted neuroimaging of the brains of partisan men presented with evidence that both Democratic presidential candidate Senator John Kerry and Republican incumbent George W. Bush had made contradictory statements. Democrats were more critical of Bush’s statements, and Republicans were more critical of Kerry’s. The neuroimaging revealed that the portion of the brain associated with reasoning—the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex—played no role in eliciting the partisans’ responses to the candidates’ statements. Instead, the emotion circuits of the brain lit up when the subjects responded.”

(emphasis mine)

This helps me understand why people would vote against getting life-saving healthcare, for example – their political self-image has no room for such things, and their emotional fears of not being first in line, or of anything good happening for people who look different from themselves, kills such support outright. (You can see this in discussions of the national healthcare program: people whose lives were saved by “Obamacare” have spoken out to say they had opposed the idea on principle, while others said they opposed “Obamacare” but supported the “ACA,” – even though they are the same thing. One label offended their political identity.)

It can be painful to relive some of the terrible, racist actions, statements, and policies that were made during the time period covered, but it is also useful to see these actions against non-white and non-Republican groups as part of a long term pattern and strategy (with source citations!), rather than in the outrage-of-the-day coverage that we had at the time.

In summary: this is the best book I’ve read on the topic of political racism and its impacts in the United States. With a wealth of citations, clear writing, book recommendations on related topics, and a thoughtful and logical approach to analyzing the pretexts under which racism operates, I feel enriched by having read it. I feel even more confident in my support for necessary democratic reforms than I previously did. I highly recommend it.

Reading (about books)

Here I’m going to admit that when I’m not reading books, I am often… reading ABOUT books.

Setting aside my more-than-full-time job, artistic practices, Internet research rabbit holes, language study, long walks, and correspondence, there are still sometimes hours left in the day (especially if I don’t sleep) to read about books! 😀 You just have to look, and the time is THERE. (Give up television: it doesn’t lead to enough good books!)

I wind up reading about books even if I don’t plan to.

Even people I follow on Twitter are either already published authors, or they become published authors after I start following them. (Can I take credit for this somehow?) (I’ll be reviewing more of their books on this site, so I don’t have to list those now.)

Periodicals: The newspapers I subscribe to review books frequently and enthusiastically, and I often make note of their recommendations.

Washington Post Books

Guardian (UK) Books

Local Publishers: We have some!

City Lights: City Lights is a landmark local bookshop AND a publisher, especially known for poetry.

Chronicle Books: Chronicle Books is a local publisher, and their emphasis keeps shifting, so I’m unsure what their specialty is now. They published a favorite technical alternative photographic process book, and a great how-to on fabric design patterns. They currently seem big into cookbooks and lifestyle/decor.

McSweeney’s Books: I subscribe to Timothy McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern (an outrageously well designed periodical packed with illustrations and short fiction), and it happens that McSweeney’s ALSO publishes books.

Specialty Publishers: as an artist and art book collector, I have many favorite publishers, including museums (though publishing is a sideline for them). Dedicated photo/art book publishers often have great websites and blogs (and some have their own bookshops!), which I visit just to see what they are up to, and invariably find something that fits my interests. This short list is organized based on the number of books by each I possess:

Phaidon: Based in the UK and NYC, has a bookshop in New York City, and the only time I don’t leave that shop with a bag full of books is when I’d pre-ordered their most tempting new publications. (I’m ridiculous.). I like them for fine art and art theory. There’s a special series of artist monographs that they do in a great style, and I have dreams of being featured by them someday…

Aperture: Based in New York City. Aperture is a non-profit, which publishes a great magazine and produces beautiful photography books.

Taschen: Based in Köln (Cologne), Germany. I like Taschen for their architecture compilations.

Gingko Press is based in Berkeley, California. Gingko produces books on art and design – their graphic design books in particular are especially attractive.

Be cautious: you’ll feel money trying to fly out of your bank account just by glancing at any of these sites!

Book: Trespass: A History of Uncommissioned Urban Art edited by Ethel Seno

Trespass: A History of Uncommissioned Urban Art
edited by Ethel Seno, with essays. by other contributors
published by Taschen, Köln (Cologne), Germany
2010

This oversized book flew into my arms once I realized it included guerrilla gardens AND painted street art AND sculptural interventions AND abstract art… I believe this was one of those books that I bought in a museum shop while traveling, which complicated my return home because my luggage became too heavy…

This well produced book (Taschen makes well designed and printed art books) has a diverse set of urban art interventions, supported by a mix of good-plus-a-bit-stuffy essays about the value of unauthorized art installations. Is street art really at the level of Luther nailing his theses to the church door? (Me: Nope!) Can it be transformative and important and beneficial? (Me: Yes!). Is it a reclamation of public space back from advertising? (Me: sometimes, but not always.) I admit that I have preconceived notions (tagging = bad, graffiti pieces = good, gulf between those two things = huge), and the essays didn’t change my views, but maybe I’ve just been spoiled by living in a great mural city, and didn’t need to be won over for the value of these contributions to urban environments. I appreciate the attempt to distinguish vandalism from expression, though it is difficult to make broad generalizations – it’s more of a case-by-case evaluation.

The book includes some solid old-school works that are worth knowing about, and gives NYC a lot of the credit it deserves (hooray!) for being such a huge influence on global street art culture. The book doesn’t limit itself to NYC, of course, and shows great examples of work in different media from around the world. (I recognize multiple SF artists in here – hooray!)

The big value for me was showing me works I hadn’t seen by artists I knew, or identifying things I’d seen in passing and tying them to specific artists/places/details. You know an art book is good when you get inspired to do more research, and I came away with a list of things to seek out.

This is a solid high-level survey of a very wide range of unauthorized works, from Banksy stencils to plants set into potholes in the road to yarn bombing. I enjoyed it, and feel enriched for having read it.

~ ~ ~ ~

P.S. Here are some links (unaffiliated with the book) about work and artists that the book inspired me to seek out more about:

Unauthorized gardens for the community were frowned upon by authorities, which makes the authorities look ridiculous… I’d seen this garden in images before, but didn’t know the backstory. Now I do!

Crateman (in Australia) is charming and clever – I love the unanticipated use of a ubiquitous material. There is something especially fun about its low resolution. 🙂

Somehow, I had never seen the full set of Jenny Holzer’s appropriately named “Inflammatory Essays,” but I am fixing that now, thanks to the Tate’s collection:

Holzer’s website is also excellent and includes her current work (which is GREAT!):

There are several Barbara Kruger works in the book, and I was reminded of how impressive it is to be INSIDE one of her all text installations, such as the one at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. If you ever have a chance, it’s great to stand in a room wrapped in her work.

Book: Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson

Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach
by Kelly Robson
published by Tor
2018

One of the funnier recommendations I’d read for this book observed that it was hilarious that, even in the future, scientists will devote entirely too much of their time writing grant proposals. Yes, this book EMPHASIZES that in a way that feels a bit too real!

Without revealing any spoilers, this is a science fiction story of first contact (my definition of it), environmental devastation, underfunded environmental restoration, practical business applications of time travel, and the risks of the combining those things!

Robson tells the story in a non-linear way, which is fair and even appropriate for time travel stories. Her approach develops an excellent tension while reading: you know from the first page that something will go wrong, but HOW it will go wrong and how the wrongness will be resolved is the mystery.

Robson’s world-building is done well – you learn about the different ways humans have survived the devastation they wrought without being bogged down with too many details. The way the world works is experienced as characters accomplish other things, which is efficient and makes the characters’ efforts feel appropriate. It is great to have some grown-up characters in the book: people whose experience, scientific knowledge, and past successes made them valuable. (I live in a youth-worshipping culture, so this stood out.)

I had my doubts about the book during the proposal writing sections (because, as someone with a procurement certificate and experience writing grants: TOO REAL), but was rewarded for my persistence with a book I couldn’t put down once the time travel started.

Book: Architecture Now! Museums by Philip Jodidio

The cover gives a sense of the clean lines the book’s featured projects consistently display. As in other Taschen architecture books, architecture photography is the star of the show.

Architecture Now! Museums
by Philip Jodidio
published by Taschen, Cologne (Köln), Germany
2010

This oversized softcover showcases architecture firms working on public and private museums, with an emphasis on projects Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and North America. Each firm has a brief profile, followed by one or more projects which are showcased through very precise, clear photographs and blue architectural drawings (usually plans, sometimes sections, in miniature) for orientation. Profiles and project texts are provided in English, German, and French in caption style, as the photos and drawings do most of the work in showcasing the projects.

The author emphasized built projects over conceptual ones, though he included some already under construction and a few very likely to be built, to keep the book feeling up-to-the-moment as of its publication. He succeeded!

Museums, especially large public ones, are something of an architect’s dream: the program requirements for the building tend toward grandness (with grand budgets to match), and the owners are often trying to embody their status and create a landmark. (Several of my own city’s museums are featured here, and yes, we were definitely collecting star firms for bold looks that will please visitors and be recognized as proof of our cultural sophistication.) As a result, many of the projects included here were the result of high profile, international competitions.

The projects are quite diverse in materials and appearance, and this impressive variety is due to the hard work of the author, the skill and diverse approaches of the architects, and (I am certain) the programmatic requirement to make unique statements that will serve the owner’s image.

As in other architecture books, I especially appreciate images that show the building being used for its intended purpose. Some promising projects are included here that were built around special collections, but those collections aren’t shown in the uninhabited spaces, and so it is difficult to know if the building truly succeeded in its program. (I don’t know if this is the usual concern about the purity of the architect’s work (which I don’t find useful), or concerns that any art shown would require additional legal reproduction rights.) Those projects that show people moving through the spaces and art on display with appropriate lighting suggest they firmly meet the criteria of success. I wish such images were included for all the projects.

In fact, now that this particular book is ten years old, it would be great to have a standard analysis performed of each rating them on how well the execution of the programs held up during use. I would like to see the best designs/designers given some retroactive credit for not only winning their competitions successfully, but for their programmatic success, and for the satisfaction of their customers.

This is an attractive book of a wide range of solutions to the display requirements of museums, and it is fun to spend time with. I’m happy I purchased it (long ago) and revisited it (today!).

Book: Tokyo Ueno Station by Yu Miri

Tokyo Ueno Station
by Yu Miri
translated by Morgan Giles
published by Riverhead Books / Penguin Random House, New York
2019 (English translation – Japanese language original: 2014)

What a book to read on a stormy, autumn day!

This lyrical, sorrow-drenched book is narrated by a ghost who haunts the park near Ueno Station, where he lived once gave up on the idea of living.

Kazu Mori lived a hardscrabble life, working from an impoverished childhood through an insecure adulthood in an endless stream of physically taxing jobs, sending money home to his family while becoming a stranger to them. His reflections on his experiences raise images of hard seasonal harvests, dialect shame, inter-regional hostility, cultural bemusement over different sects of Buddhism, and grief. His choices created a deep alienation from those around him, an estrangement he recognized far too late.

Even as he drifts about, watching others live, he still notices and remembers blossoms blowing in the wind, the soft fabrics of wealthy museum goers, the sound of the rain on a tarp, the bright light at the end of a cigarette, the crunch of crisp leaves underfoot, and the sweet smells of foods… His world of overheard conversations, exposure to the full force of the seasons, and the sound of birds is beautiful, even though he may not have fully appreciated such things in life.

This beautifully written and translated book is a meditation on grief and the extremely transitory nature of life.

Book: Zaha Hadid by Philip Jodidio

What would the architecture profession do without architectural photography?

Zaha Hadid
by Philip Jodidio
published by Taschen, Köln
2019

Before reviewing this book, I wish to disclose how I feel about deconstructivism, even though Hadid’s work is NOT the old meaning of THAT fad. I trained as an architect and worked in architecture in the late 80s and early 90s. In school, I had a few oppressively modernist instructors (as in the 1950s concept of modern) get very, very excited about abstract deconstructivist drawings of spaces which could not be built, and which had no human use. While they obsessed over floating red triangles, they still insisted that an ideal building was a Palladian villa. I’m not kidding. They couldn’t see where the movement was going. Also, the deconstructivist works they liked best could not be built on earth because of gravity. They completely missed the rebellion against simple forms that these fetishized, sharp drawings offered. Their enthusiasm for drawings with no application on earth put me off all such work for a long time. In the meantime, Hadid’s real world, mature work displays great characteristics which were implied by her early rebellion against simplistic geometries, which led me to this book.

This book is a profile of Zaha Hadid’s architectural practice, and the work of the global firm she founded, which continues to produce remarkable buildings consistent with her approach beyond her death. The Taschen Basic Art series is a collection of artist profile teasers, which get you started in your studies without committing you to a vast, oversized portfolio the size of your coffee table. It takes a light, greatest-hits touch, which was just right for me to familiarize myself with her recent work and help me overcome my misgivings around the early conceptual drawings I used to associate her with.

The essay by Jodidio is long, but it helped me clarify elements of her designs I like. I was pleased to read that she always worked with engineers up front, not at as an afterthought, which explains her innovative designs for walkways (such as the famous floating ramps and stairwells of the National Museum in Rome, and so many other cores of her buildings), which define many of her interiors for me. She incorporated and used below-grade spaces as essential spaces within her designs more visibly than many of her contemporaries, and this allowed for different circulation patterns, which also feel innovative. Her use of organic, fluid-appearing forms carries through her designs in a way I feel is superior to some of the others working on similar projects. Many of her theoretical drawings and early designs also anticipated computer-supported fabrication, so it sometimes feels like the technology caught up with her ideas.

The selection of projects is excellent, and the photography is well done, especially with respect to night scenes and interior lighting. (Hooray for architectural photography!)

I’m not entirely sold on all of the interior spaces. There are walls that melt down into the floor in a way that will tempt skateboarders, but foil pedestrians, and while those feel consistent with the intentions for the overall building forms, they sometimes look… leftover? I’ve been in her building in Seoul, and loved her plazas and bridges, but the interior spaces I entered were more cavernous than comfortable.

This book is an attractive and affordable introduction to the built work of an innovative architect whose portfolio feels both contemporary and futuristic.

For those of you who drink: the introductory essay creates an opportunity for a drinking game. Take a shot each time you encounter the words “seamless” or “chthonic.” You are also allowed to have an outburst each time a comparison to modernism is made.

Book: Concrete edited by William Hall

Concrete
edited by William Hall, with an Essay by Leonard Koren
published by Phaidon Ltd., New York & London
2012

I purchased this oversized, well-illustrated book more because I love Phaidon as a publisher than because I love concrete. I certainly don’t love concrete as much as William Hall, whose introductory page made me laugh out loud over his enthusiasm and his bafflement that everyone does not share it.

I have my own strong feelings about concrete. I loved my structures class in architecture school, and, even though I prefer steel trusses and wooden glu-lams for a surprising number of purposes, I was lucky enough to have T.Y. Lin, ‘the father of pre-stressed concrete,’ come to speak at City College of San Francisco while I was attending. His work in concrete impressed me greatly, and made me fussy about its application. His applications were so damned CLEVER. Lin (who passed away in 2003) and his firm have an amazing practice with bridges AND other structures in which concrete really shows off its compressive strengths. Pre-stressing in their work also allowed concrete to be used in situations where it would otherwise be a too-heavy, too-bulky choice. The firm’s work include structures that have thin decks and crisp, curved walls because of his practice’s expertise with pre-stressing (and likely also post-tensioning, which also increases concrete’s versatility).

So my enthusiasm for concrete emphasizes using it where it can do something that steel or wood CAN’T. Arches, rings, heavy supports, thin parabolas, crisp curved shells – shapes where compression is why it was chosen.

I appreciate that there are other reasons concrete may be chosen – its versatility, ability to be shaped into many different forms, fire resistance, ability to include on-site aggregates, and so on. But if a building doesn’t have some structural sophistication that REQUIRED concrete, I’ll often give it the side eye. Not to single out the gorgeous works of Louis Barragán, but I often look at his painted walls and think aloud, “yes, but they aren’t holding anything up, so he could have done that with plaster over just about any building material.” I am disclosing this purist structural bias up front.

I have another bias, which is that I live in an area prone to earthquakes, and so I am forgiving about the fact that concrete is rarely only concrete. Here in seismically BUSY California, there is invariably steel rebar, glass fibers, or something else giving concrete tensile strength it wouldn’t ordinarily have, to keep it from dropping chunks on us when our buildings shake. The waffle ceilings of my college architecture building were designed to let the concrete crumble or crack lightly while the steel gave us time to get out in the event of a major seismic event beyond its capacity. So I (reluctantly) accept that this book on concrete is rarely about concrete by itself, because I would avoid such buildings for safety reasons! (STEEL IS AWESOME!) So, I’m conceding this point, so you will know that my weird purist bias has practical limits involving wanting us all to survive earthquakes.

But enough about me, let’s talk about me. No, wait, I mean the book!

The projects in this survey are organized by their dominant characteristics, such as mass, scale, or texture, and this works well as an organizational principle. The book is a broad mix of different programs, leaning heavily on physically larger projects where concrete makes sense. As a survey, it includes many older, established projects which are often illustrated in black and white. It may sound silly that I want to see the color of the concrete, but I DO, so for the still-extant older projects, I would have preferred newer color images of them. (Beyond the older, harshly lit photos, the older projects also reflect that formal architecture and/or recognition for it was largely closed to anyone but European men during prior eras, so even the institutional projects in Asia shown were designed by famous European architects. The later projects fare a bit bitter, generating my relief to see Ando and a few female names.)

The most impressive projects for my purposes are those where concrete was necessary due to scale or form. This means I was especially pleased by multi-unit housing projects, public libraries, and (hooray for) aerospace buildings. I made a sad face at Falling Water but a happy face at Johnson Wax. (Falling Water is reputed to be a maintenance nightmare, so if we have to do FLW, Johnson Wax is more overtly successful.) I made frowny faces at Corbu’s skinny columns and space-consuming ramps, and I have mixed feelings about the Japanese residential projects, which are too often just shown from the outside as interesting but potentially unlivable geometric objects.

The layouts across pages are quite good. Projects half a century apart may share a page spread, but they have forms in common that make points about the use of concrete over time — say, a Fiat rooftop car racing track and a concrete pool-type skate park – that are thoughtful and appealing.

This book has a good design, a good essay by Leonard Koren who – YES! – raises the environmental impacts of concrete, and some good selected works to profile, with enough information to send you in the right direction for further research. This is a pleasing addition to my Phaidon book collection.

Book: Judy Chicago: New Views by the National Museum of Women in the Arts

This is a gorgeous cover, with the intrusive colored smoke encroaching on the title text. Just fantastic!

Judy Chicago: New Views
by the National Museum of Women in the Arts (U.S.)
published by Scala Arts Publishers, Inc., New York
2019

Judy Chicago’s works, especially her drawings and paintings, always appeal to me. She has a sense shading and gradation that is consistent across her materials, and her drawing compositions are just stunning. She is an artist I have always believed should be more famous, and the folks at the National Museum of Women in the Arts agree! They’ve created and published this excellent book.

There is a lot to appreciate about this volume. It includes works that are held privately, and so you are unlikely to have seen them; it includes details of works you may not have appreciated from a polite viewing distance in a museum, especially for her textile works; and the essays and interview are of exceptionally high quality – and are somehow at just the right length to leave you stimulated and wanting more.

I am personally thrilled to see images of her smoke and firework pieces, which had escaped me previously, but which I should see in larger form at the upcoming Judy Chicago retrospective at the San Francisco deYoung Museum, which opens later this month (August 2021).

I appreciate so much about her body of work. I especially appreciate: the consistency of her compositions across materials (from Prismacolor pencil to sprayed paints on different bases); her elegant use of ranges of color; her direct embrace of female imagery and feminist ideas; her compassion for the suffering of others (including animals), which she renders so skillfully across different media; her in depth, multi-year studies of materials (she enrolled in auto body shop classes, boatbuilding classes, and china painting classes) so she could execute her work at a high technical level; and her utilization and embrace of skilled collaborators to help her achieve some of her monumentally sized works.

While her work evolved in clear directions, I was surprised to be so delighted by some of her early paintings on car hoods, which I wouldn’t recognize has hers (based on later work), but which is charming and bold. The shapes she uses are nearly iconic.

This is an excellent book of very high quality by every measure, with a great selection of Chicago’s work, beautifully reproduced, presented in a well-organized fashion alongside thoughtful writing about her direction and commitment to her themes. I’m so glad I bought it, and feel more prepared to enjoy her forthcoming show!