Illustration, Art and Architecture
recent picture books

Margaret K. Hofer's The Games We Played [17.95, Princeton Architectural Press] is a lovely coffee table book that I've been repeatedly looking at but putting off writing about over the summer. Putting off because in many ways I don't know what to write about it. It's subtitled The Golden Age of Board and Table Games' and the press release suggests that it is an intelligent account of historical graphic design and illustration that will appeal to collectors, historians, and graphic design afficionados alike'. These both seem quite likely, but I can't really comment, as I don't know my graphic design history, or that much about games. Well, only games such as Monopoly, Escape from Colditz, Risk, Cluedo and various Avalon Hill wargames, which provided more of a golden age for me, but that's probably besides the point. I would imagine though that I'm not alone in enjoying this book in an uninformed way, casting more of an eye over the fuzzy printing [of the original] and stylized illustrations than anything else, although I also find myself speculating over the social constructs of an age that would produce most of this stuff. Beneath the veneer of having a good time and enjoying the game there's a horrible lurking sense of good, upright, noble pursuits, with more than a hint of educational purpose! But don't let me put you off enjoying this colourful, eclectic volume.

I find German Art Now [25, Merrell] more unsatisfactory. Some of this is self-induced disquiet, although I suspect I might not be alone in thinking that a book called German Art Now might be about, well, German art now! And actually, this isn't, it's about German art a little while back, about the big boys of the painting world - Baselitz, Penck, Polke, Beuys, Lupertz, Immendorf and Keifer, and the photographers Gursky, Hfer, Ruff, Struth and the Bechers. What the book actually is, when you get inside and start reading, is an exhibition catalogue exploring the group of artists who rose to prominence 25 years ago. Fair enough, but why not flag it up differently?

The book contains some erudite and interesting essays, both charting the rise of these artists and offering critical analysis, and is nicely illustrated, but I particularly find two things rather strange: Firstly, there is almost nothing in here that I haven't seen before; this is an incredibly obvious and ordinary selection of the artists' work; and, secondly, why are photography and painting kept so separate in this volume? Surely, the debate about painting and fine art is over, and we accept photography can hold its own and is an important art form. I feel that this book is rather behind the times and simply documents something that has already happened, something well known and documented better elsewhere. I was rather looking forward to seeing what contemporary German artists had to offer, not simply revisiting famous images.

New London Architecture [16.95, paperback] is better for envisioning the future, as a goodly number of the projects described in this volume have yet to be built, and feature as proposals or computer-simulated photographs. I like the idea of documentation of what might not happen! - think of the possibilities that this kind of fiction offers. Guides to imaginary cities, or fantastical DK-type guides to New York or Glasgow or Venice the way we might prefer them to be... Anyway, I digress.

This book is a wonderfully photographed collection of new architecture, showing that - despite the best efforts of our philistine prince and his conservative friends - exciting new building is happening in London, and that the city looks all the better for it. From the gherkin tower, to small, intimate private houses, from the London Eye to the proposed new Wembley Stadium, this is an invigorating and exciting book. I like it as much as a photography book as for the architecture: everything about it is clean, simple, elegant and precise. Three years into the new century and things are looking better already. Now all we need is a new Prime Minister with a few straight lines and clear glass in. And I'd also like a new house, full of big white empty spaces, please.

© 2003Rupert Loydell