Full Colour Glory

Will Eisner’s New York. Life in the Big City (Norton, £19.99 [don't rush out to buy it yet - UK publication is November 06 - ed.]) is one of the best things I’ve been sent to review for a long, long time. Inside it’s 400+ pages are four collected books of drawings, some out-takes, some new images, and an introduction by Neil Gaiman. What more can you ask for? Eisner has a style all of his own and is an acute and witty observer of New York life, and human nature in general, and these cartoons are empathetic not critical: New York is Eisner’s town and he likes what he is part of.

I wish I could say the same for Assouline’s New York, a weighty 1000 pager hardback in a slipcase. Even Tama Janowitz who writes the minimal text here has lost her pizzazz and comes across as bored. Despite quotes from hipsters such as Ginsberg and Baudrillard, this is a real coffee table book in the worst sense: slick glossy photos that don’t get beyond the tourist images of this great city. If you like bright anodyne books of photos this one’s for you. Frankly, I think a great city like New York deserves a lot better.

Keith Haring may have been the man to do that. Although The Keith Haring Show (Skira, £50.00) was published to coincide with a major exhibition in Milan, Haring’s art was always rooted in the vibrant graffiti and subway culture of New York. This is a magnificent overview of the artist’s work, encompassing paintings, drawings, graphics and peripheral projects (such as ceramics) and including superb essays, articles and interviews. Even at the height of his fame I feel Haring managed to stay true to his roots, never letting his work become too cosy within the art world.

I always associate Dan Flavin with New York, because I first saw his light sculptures there, illuminating the recently reopened spiral Guggenheim Museum. Dan Flavin. Rooms of Light (Skira, £16.95). Again, produced to accompany an exhibition, this sumptuous paperback achieves the tricky task of capturing Flavin’s neon installations and sculptures to great effect; it also includes a number of illuminating essays. Part of the book discusses the last work Flavin undertook, a major permanent installation in a Milan church, where the sanctuary becomes soaked in warm spiritual light, clearly delineating walls, roof and altar. There is also visual and written documentation of a large corridor installation in a villa, where coloured doorways contrast with lowlit passages in front of the viewer. Full colour bleeds here do the work full justice; the sculptures are similarly presented. Congratulations to the publisher for achieving the impossible in documenting this work.

Less successful, to my eye, is “Where Are We Going?” Selections from the François Pinault Collection, again published by Skira (£38.00). With prelims printed on a particularly nasty high-weave paper in Barbie pink, it attempts to bring unity, and one suspects credibility, to a collection now housed in a new museum in Venice. Whilst there is beautiful work by the likes of Brice Marden, Agnes Martin, Cy Twombly and Mario Merz in here, this is also the collection of someone who believed the critics and bought into the likes of Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst. Don Flavin is featured here, too, along with other major artists like Warhol and Nauman, so it’s not all bad. But it’s hard to see any overall vision or taste, a cohesion that would make the collection that much more interesting. As it is, this feels like an overdone and overpriced catalogue, with the publisher and designer trying far too hard.

© Rupert Loydell 2006