Monday, February 20, 2017

Anders Nilsen, A Walk in Eden (accordion-bound artist's book, edition of 20)

I've written about Anders Nilsen quite a bit at The Oxen of the Sun and elsewhere. I've tracked Big Questions to its omnibus publication, featured Rage of Poseidon after picking up a copy from Nilsen himself at the Brooklyn Book Festival, and reviewed a number of titles at the former Contemporary Lit site (compiled here). Most recently I wrote about sketchbook-compilation Poetry is Useless in the Fall 2015 print issue of Rain Taxi. When Nilsen announced that he was working on a coloring book called A Walk in Eden, I was excited to see the finished product but was a little skeptical to see how it fit in the with the rest of his body of work. But, of course, the book is exceptional and despite its ties to what may be a waning coloring fad it persists as a standalone piece. A Walk in Eden is a mesmerizing vision of meticulous line-work and fantasy: flowers bloom into crystalline root systems, Orangutans ride elephants with dinosaurs in the distance and mangroves sprout from the backs of giant lizards. It's playful and expansive and, in my opinion, too perfect to color.

Last fall, Nilsen announced a handmade accordion book of a single 12-panel panorama from A Walk in Eden. (The trade edition ended up chopping up these continuous landscapes into multiple pages.) Measuring 10 feet across, this artist's book edition of A Walk in Eden presents Nilsen's work as it was originally created. It's absolutely stunning and would not be out of place in a vitrine at a gallery or museum retrospective. The book is $100 and in an edition of only 20 copies. I'm stunned that there are still some available. Any fans of his work should try to pick one of these up before they're gone. Go here to purchase (the site says there are only 13 left).

Further, it's really important to support these kinds of handmade flights from artists. Selling through an edition of 20 books sends a message that there's a market for these things and will inspire anyone to make more work. It's also so good to see that an artist like Nilsen still has the passion to make things. When I first discovered his work around 2005, it was a time of miniature staple-bound books and I think of this accordion edition as a return to those days. It's such a special piece that cuts through contracts and global distribution - it's just an artist making something beautiful, and that's worth every dollar.

Currently reading:
Home and Away: Writing the Beautiful Game by Karl Ove Knausgaard and Fredrik Ekelund

Currently listening to:

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace (1st edition, 1st printing)

Happy New Year!

Due to my critical writing picking up, I'm going to formally step back from The Oxen of the Sun and aim for a major, meaningful update once a month. Over the past year and half I challenged myself to a new post once a week, which I more-or-less was able to achieve. It was an interesting challenge, in that it forced me to keep up the pace with my collecting. However, as my library's been growing more refined and I've been getting into art collecting, I'm trying to focus my major acquisitions to just that: major, long-lusted-after items. Things like this:

This is a first edition, first printing of David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest. It just might be one of the best books I've ever read. This time last year I embarked with a number of other readers on "Infinite Winter", a season-long online reading group led by a handful of passionate readers and scholars. (I even contributed a few columns as a guest writer.) I'd always had a standing respect for DFW's books, but this is the big one: it's one of those rare books that's inseparable from its reading experience -- I'll always remember where I was in my life when I was exploring the Enfield Tennis Academy with the Incandenza family, learning about the Entertainment and the Clipperton Suite.

In one of my columns I wrote about how I'd always had a copy of the book but never got around to reading it. Collector-wise, it wasn't worth much and I ended up selling it (it was a first edition but a later printing). I'd had hopes of finding a 1st/1st and waited patiently... this one came up for just over $200 on eBay a little while ago and I pulled the trigger. It's surprisingly clean for its price and in great shape.

The first printing has some great quirks: favorite author William T. Vollmann's name is spelled incorrectly on the back, and there's an enigmatic ring on the bottom-right corner of the last page of the novel (before the endnotes).

Thrilled to finally call this my own. All that's left is one of the rare hardcovers of The Broom of the System and then I'll be all set!

As always, thanks for reading and I'll see you next month with something new and exciting. 

Currently reading:
Commotion of the Birds by John Ashbery

Currently listening to:
"Native North America" compilation by Light in the Attic

Sunday, December 18, 2016

La Conquête de l'espace, Atlas by Marcel Broodthaers (MoMA 2016 facsimile edition)

The great Belgian artist Marcel Broodthaers was responsible for some of the most important developments in conceptual art - playfully manipulating both artistic materials and exhibition spaces, his work revolutionized how we as viewers engage with art. Often shelved alongside the Surrealists, I feel Broodthaers is more at home in the realm of philosophy and consider his work a strange sort of visual literary theory. He was a poet until his 40s, and made his debut in the art world by creating a plaster sculpture out of his unsold poetry books (a now-famous publication and sculpture called "Pense-Bête"). Despite some incredible punning sculptures using mussel shells and lumps of coal, he was a poet at heart and has a large body of work that exemplifies this devotion to writing. During his life Broodthaers made a number of wonderful artist's books - I'm particularly fond of a version of Mallarmé's Roll of the Dice he created using engraved aluminum plates, one of which is in the MoMA's permanent collection.

When the MoMA had their retrospective in the spring, they produced a edition of Broodthaers' La Conquête de l'espace - Atlas à l'usage des artistes et des militaires. This book is a "world atlas" with an incomplete selection of countries in alphabetical order, each scaled to be the same size as Belgium. There's more: the book itself is only 4 x 3 cm. It's exquisitely well produced for such a novel idea, and the original edition of 50 occasionally come up at auction for a hefty sum (in the tens of thousands of dollars). MoMA's version is much cheaper, in an edition of 500, and comes in a nice silk box with a foam lining:


Here's a detail of the book's title page (special thanks to my recently-manicured wife):

The book is still available from MoMA. While not particularly cheap, I think its a must for Broodthaers fans and for the art-inclined book collector.

Currently reading:
Universal Harvester by John Darnielle

Currently listening to:

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Javier Marias, Thus Bad Begins (Knopf, 2016, signed, first edition)

This is a signed first edition of Javier Marías's new novel Thus Bad Begins, which was published recently by Knopf. Marías very rarely tours for his books but did a reading with Community Bookstore in Brooklyn where he signed a number of copies of the new novel. I think these'll be the only copies Marías signs at a formal event, and the bookshop still has a number of them in stock. Although Marías isn't quite a collector's must-have at this point, he's built quite a cult following and early review of Thus Bad Begins have been particularly glowing.

I couldn't make it to the event myself but was very quick to have a copy set aside for pickup later that week! Give them a call to get yours. Absolutely love the design of this, too - with the ominous cover and the vintage font...

Currently reading:
The Sellout by Paul Beatty

Currently listening to:
Blackout Beach, "Fuck Death"

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Free Shit by Charles Burns (compilation of issues #1-#22 published by Le Dernier Cri) and Free Shit #23

A few years ago, the late Alvin Buenaventura told me at a comic fair that I should go to Charles Burns's signing line and ask me if he's "got any free shit" - I had just bought a bunch of rare books from his table, and perhaps as bit of book-collecting lagniappe he gave me this password. I'm really not the kind to do this but as Burns was signing some old book for me I gave him Alvin's magic words. "You want some free shit?" he asked me, and dug around into his bag and found a ziploc pouch full of little blue mini-comics. Hilariously, Burns has a secret handmade series called Free Shit that he gives out at fairs to the well-informed. He gave me issue #14, with an early blue Nitnit on the cover and a sexy demon centerfold.

Now, Burns has compiled the first twenty-two issues into a single pocket-sized volume, published in an edition of 1000 by Le Dernier Cri. Each cover is silkscreened (mine's unfortunately a little scuffed). Burns had a table at Comics Arts Brooklyn last weekend where he was selling these - like the grabby fan I am, I already bought one that was sent over from France. Oops. 

But he signed my copy and gave me issue #23 of Free Shit. The front of both are above, the back of each is below (absolutely love that bouquet and don't know what's going on with "The Brainless Glob"):

Here's the signed title page of Free Shit and the cover of Issue #23:

Despite being extremely tightly bound, the book is gorgeous and it's wild to see how motifs and characters have evolved over the years. One of the hive mothers in the Last Look Nitnit trilogy even appears in an early issue: 

..and I believe these bootleg cryptic covers showed up later in a portfolio published by Galerie Martel.

It's such a great piece and while the minis are fun, they're much better produced here in this format. Check out Le Dernier Cri to buy! I'll post more Charles Burns stuff later on this year, as I've picked up a few really special pieces that I'm excited to share.

Currently reading:
Float by Anne Carson

Currently listening to:
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, "Skeleton Tree"

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Pim & Francie: The Golden Bear Days by Al Columbia (Fantagraphics, 2009, out of print first edition)

For Halloween, I thought we'd take a look at one of the more unsettling new additions to my library, Al Columbia's Pim & Francie: The Golden Bear Days. Al Columbia is a relatively new find for me - I'd seen him in various comics anthologies like Mome and the Best American Comics compilations, but it was the publication of Kramer's Ergot: Volume Nine earlier this year that made me frenetically want to build my library with whatever's out there. (He had an amazing full-page comic of Pim & Francie summoning demons in an old ramshackle house.) I was amazed to find out that with the exception of a few comics like Doghead and The Biologic Show from the 90s, there was only one book: Pim & Francie: The Golden Bear Days, and it had been out of print for years.

It's absurdly difficult to track down at a normal price, and my purchase of a copy at $100 on eBay probably didn't help the market calm down to more palatable levels. A quick check brought up one copy out there at $195 and a bunch at $599. But, wow: if you like Al Columbia's work it's kind of a must-have. His cartoons are like an alternate-universe Mickey Mouse trapped in a horror film - with thick, dreamy linework, he channels a pure vintage Disney-era aesthetic (down to the clunky, clog-like shoes) and poisons it with dreary, nightmarish vision. Here, Pim & Francie can be seen wandering through the forest, led by some kind of Jiminy Cricket-meets-Jim Jones figure, who appears to be pulling them by some sort of entrails to a cruel demise:

They knew they were going to "die out here", and began the story cowering among some anguished trees.

Terrifying, but what an incredible vision. The best thing about The Golden Bear Days is its consistent resistance to being a compilation of completed strips. While some stories gel into a few sequential frames, the book as a whole resembles more of a sketchbook, with morbid scenes floating among its pages. Pim & Francie are repeatedly maimed, murdered, and hoodwinked in a deliriously free-form manner. Zombie clowns give way to scenes of old, predatory men shaped like Goofy, and fall apart into sketches of some arcane hexes and hooded occultists. It's absolutely mesmerizing.

The book's got a great design on the outside as well, with the illusion of being a worn old picture book printed into its boards and spine.

I'm keeping an eye out for more by Al Columbia. He's done some incredible paintings, and some drawings have come up on eBay in the past few months. Occasionally some new silkscreens will crop up, too, such as the amazing "Jack Never Woke Up" that I missed over at Jordan Crane's WHAT THINGS DO shop).

Happy Halloween!

Currently reading:
Last Look by Charles Burns

Currently listening to:
"A Place Called Bad" by The Scientists

Monday, October 17, 2016

Gallowsongs by Jess (Black Sparrow Press, signed and numbered edition)

Jess Collins, renowned for his irreverent "paste-up" collages, did a few books with Black Sparrow Press in the 60s and 70s. Those readers that are new to Jess should check out O! Tricky Cad! and other Jessoterica from Siglio Press, as it's the best book on Jess out there right now. His paste-ups were these insane text-based collages, often re-appropriating strips of dialogue from comic books like Dick Tracy (hence the "Tricky Cad" anagram) into these compositions that look like equal parts Tristan Tzara and the Zodiac Killer:

In addition to his collages he's also a fantastic painter; I've seen some similarly "layered" pieces that are thick with color and function, formally, in a sort of parallel way to his cacophonous paste-ups.

I was thrilled to find a book of his pen and ink drawings published by Black Sparrow Press in 1970. This is a signed limited edition of Gallowsongs (versions of poems originally in Galgenlieder by Christian Morgenstern).

Very exciting to see a book bound like this, with three brads screwed through the spine. Inside, poems are scattered around the page, integrated beautifully with Jess's illustrations. Here's the title page (with some remnants of creatively-placed prices from other booksellers):

Here are some of my favorite samples from the inside: 

I absolutely adore this "wordless" poem, called "Fish's Nighthymn": 

And here's the limitation page. This book was published in an edition of only 175 hardcover copies, each signed and numbered by the artist. There were 600 paperbacks, and 26 lettered copies bound in full leather.

I don't understand why this signed edition is still on the secondary market for around $150. The lettered copies start at around $500, but this is such a special book, and Jess such a fantastic artist, that I think these 175 signed/numbered hardcovers should also be bumped up into the $350-750 range. If you're intrigued, I suggest you snatch up a copy before people catch on.

Lastly, just for fun, here's the original prospectus (check out that $20 price point!):

Currently reading:
Cheap Novelties by Ben Katchor

Currently listening to:
"A Place Called Bad" by The Scientists