Sunday, March 26, 2017

TASCHEN's Ai Weiwei monograph, signed trade edition

In my opinion, the editor Hans Werner Holzwarth is the best thing German luxury-book publishers Taschen has going for it, but their audience has shifted too far from art books for Holzwarth to be appreciated in the way that he deserves. His books are impeccably designed and boast finely-curated essays that warrant actual reading (sadly a rarity for a beautiful art monograph). The artists he features are a fine balance of market players and contemporary classics, ranging from Jeff Koons to Albert Oehlen and Neo Rauch. Each book has a gorgeous full-bleed detail of an artwork for its cover, and in its first edition (a limited cloth-bound folio in a clamshell case) these details look positively breathtaking. These are typically offered in a limited edition of 1,000 signed and numbered copies (prices range from $1000-1500), and 100 "Art" Editions that come with an original print ($4500+). Later, a $70 trade edition is usually offered. I proudly own four of the Taschen Holzwarth limited editions and they look exceptionally good lined up in their cases -- their colors, lettering -- hell, everything -- is perfect. But shockingly, these books don't seem to sell well: a signed, limited Mario Testino photo book will disappear from stores in a busy holiday season but the best book on Christopher Wool is still available, even while his work breaks auction records worldwide.

I'm always excited to hear of a new book that Holzwarth is involved with, but its been a weird few years -- I'm smitten with Darren Almond thanks to his recent Fullmoon but this was only available as an art edition ($2500+ with a print) or as a trade edition ($70)... with no signed, limited edition in between for more casual collectors. In a similarly strange move, Taschen came out with a gorgeous limited edition book on Ai Weiwei but did so without a clamshell case: the limited edition comes wrapped in a scarf. This, to me, sounds like a logistics nightmare: however beautiful a book may be, if it's over $1000 I'd like to take care of it with something more than a fabric wrap. For both the Almond and the Ai Weiwei, I decided to opt for the trade edition. A strange turn for a collector like me, particularly so considering I already own the majority of the series.

I received an email recently from Taschen that Ai Weiwei would be doing a sudden middle-of-the-day book signing one Thursday (I think he had an opening that night at Mary Boone) -- I was at work that day but the New York store graciously hooked me up with a phone order. While of course nowhere near the print quality of the limited edition, to me, this is as great as the $1500 scarf-wrapped limited version, far more manageable and potentially a little more rare. I know the artist was there for only a few hours and probably signed no more that 100 copies. I'm thrilled to have one. Copies are being listed now for around $600 on eBay and abebooks, but mine will be staying in my library.

Currently reading:
Autumn by Ali Smith

Currently listening to:
Xiu Xiu, "Forget"

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