Phil Patton

Critic; Curator; Writer / United States /

Phil Patton’s Notable Books of 2011

The best books offer new angles on subjects, like dramatic spotlights on stage or a clever shot on a pool table.

So a book about painting turns out to say a lot about architecture and a car maintenance manual can reveal a hidden human story. Look at Le Corbusier as a “car nut” and you get a fresh impression of his cities; study the details of the architecture firm KieranTimberlake’s walls and windows and you learn about technology.

This is an important lesson in a time when books and the business behind books are changing. The definition of what constitutes the proper subject for a book is also changing. What this new situation demands is our constant curiosity about books: we need to pick up and leaf through and note down titles and search out references.

Here are some titles that sent me off in surprising directions.

2 books
Alexander Nemerov

Written to accompany an inspired exhibition first mounted at the National Museum of American Art in Washington, D.C.; currently at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri; and due at the Georgia Museum of Art next year, the book reveals a powerful overlooked artist, George Ault. The book and the exhibition focus on five paintings made between 1943 and 1948 depicting the crossroads community of Russell’s Corners near Woodstock, New York. Ault was a sort of darker, deeper cousin of Charles Sheeler or Charles Demuth or even Edward Hopper. Poor, critically neglected, isolated, he committed suicide in 1948.

Ault’s paintings, like those of Sheeler, Demuth, and Hopper, also have a lot to teach us about architecture and space and the emotions associated with both. The space Ault painted is also cinematic, or theatrical—it could be a set for a darker, never-performed Thornton Wilder play. Nemerov sees Ault in the context of Precisionism or Neue Sachlichkeit and ambitiously uses him as a lens to look at visual thinking in America in the 1940s. The wide-ranging text is perhaps overreaching but also intriguing with its references to film noir and documentary photography.

Text by Philip Ursprung

For over a decade, the Berlin architect Jürgen Mayer H. has collected computer-generated security patterns, numbers, envelope linings, and so on. He has published a limited-edition book of them under the title Wirrwarr, a German word meaning chaos and confusion, with onomatopoetic overtones of buzz.

These would have been an appropriate submission for our Typologies class at the School of Visual Arts Design Criticism program. They are the sort of omni-present and overlooked form of design we are interested in.

The patterns serve as inspiration to his architecture, as, for example, in the facade of the Hasselt Court of Justice, completed this year in Hasselt, Belgium. Some of the images will be on display at the Art Institute of Chicago through January 22, 2012.

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