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Rare, obscure, modern

Posted by Sebastian Smee April 7, 2011 11:07 AM

Schwitters Doesburg. Kleine Dada Soiree.jpgLast month's story about the South End book dealer Elmar Seibel and his business, Ars Libri, has generated a great deal of interest. The history of the business and of Seibel's connections with Persian and Islamic culture is amazingly complex, and, long though the finished article was, a great deal that might have appeared in it did not. As I researched it, windows kept opening onto whole vistas that seemed to cry out for their own articles.
Perhaps the most important part of what was omitted is the story of Seibel's colleague David Stang (pictured below), who has spear-headed the company's move into the area of rare 20th century avant-garde books and related material (above, a poster - already sold - designed by Kurt Schwitters and Theo van Doesburg for the "Kleine Dada Soirée," an uproarious Dada performance held in The Hague in 1922.)
Stang came to Ars Libri from the Fogg Museum of Art at Harvard University in 1978.
The field of modern art in the rare book world was relatively new then. It "really began," says Stang, "with a series of auctions in Switzerland in the late 1950s and late 1960s. The first Tristan Tzara sale was a major event in 1968. By the late 1970s, not long after Ars Libri was established, there were a handful of specialist dealers in the field, all but one in Europe.
"In those days," he continues, "this was still a small world. Today it draws a far wider audience, though the number of serious specialists is still rather small and most of the original figures are now dead or retired."
David Stang.jpgArs Libri buys this material from private collectors and scholars, here and in Europe, at auction, and from rare book dealers and galleries in Europe and Japan. WHo buys this stuff? Primarily museums and rare book libraries. Regular clients include the National Gallery, the Metropolitan Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Museum of Fine Arts, as well as overseas museums such as the Reina Sofia in Madrid, the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, and the National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo; other major clients are libraries at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, as well as the British Library, the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, and so on.
The shift into this area began, says Stang, when Ars Libri acquired three important (and huge) collections in 1985-1986. All three were sold onto the Getty Research Institute, which was Ars Libri's major client at the time.
One of the collections was centered on Russian avant-garde material; another was a world renowned library of books, periodicals and documents relating to the modern avant-garde, and the third was the Jean Brown archive. Stang describes the latter as "perhaps the single greatest collection in the world of contemporary experimental art and artists' books, focusing on conceptual art, Fluxus, mail art, concrete and visual poetry, and so forth." Mrs. Brown had long made this material available to the artistic and scholarly community at her Shaker house in the Berkshires.
Because there was a great deal of overlap between these three collections, Ars Libri had a large number of duplicates which it was at liberty to sell. These duplicates became, says Stang, "the basis of our first official catalogue of rare modern material, in 1988."
Stang had worked on late 19th and early 20th century art as a graduate student at Harvard. This was an area that appealed deeply to him. The first catalog was well received, so, he says, "we just kept going, issuing catalogues regularly every year. I now do four or five a year, most years. The research for them is often very interesting, and I enjoy designing them as well. Finding the material calls for frequent trips to Europe, some of them rather long."
Ars Libri continues to deal in antiquarian material in the fine arts, as it always has. But, says Stang, "the modern avant-garde - Dada, Surrealism, Futurism, Expressionism, Constructivism, Pop, Fluxus, Minimal and Conceptual art, and others - remains our central focus. Over the past decade we've gotten into Mavo - the radical Japanese movement of the 1920s: absolutely fascinating; the material is excruciatingly rare - and into modern graphic design, from the 1920s to Herbert Bayer.
"It's all brilliantly interesting. I find that the more I learn, the more complex and interwoven it all becomes. The material is often very beautiful, and there are still all kinds of marvelous things to discover."

James Levine writing a memoir

Posted by Steve Greenlee March 25, 2011 02:49 PM

03032011_03levinero.jpgLest anyone thinks James Levine has nothing to do now that he has resigned as music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, that's not true. The maestro, who was forced to put down his baton because of chronic health problems, is writing a memoir.

To be published by Alfred A. Knopf Inc., the as-yet-untitled book will chronicle Levine's half-century in the music business. The 67-year-old conductor is collaborating on the book with Harvey Sachs, a music writer whose resume includes a biography of Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini and an edited collection of Toscanini's letters.

No word on what Levine is being paid for the book. He was represented by New York-based literary agent Denise Shannon, who did not immediately return a call today.

-- Mark Shanahan

(Globe photo by Michele McDonald)

New Maurice Sendak book coming

Posted by Steve Greenlee March 25, 2011 01:01 PM

fable-1-_.jpgLet the wild rumpus start: A new Maurice Sendak book is on the way. The 82-year-old author and illustrator of "Where the Wild Things Are" and dozens of other childrens books has written and illustrated "Bumble-Ardy," the story of a partying pig and his friends, according to the Associated Press. HarperCollins Children's Books announced today that it will publish "Bumble-Ardy" in September with a first printing of 500,000 copies.

Sarah Palin bio has 'Rogue' jacket

Posted by Steve Greenlee March 14, 2011 04:19 PM

Books Palin Bio.jpgSo here's the jacket of Joe McGinniss' upcoming book about Sarah Palin. Looks more like a pulp detective novel than a serious biography of a politician. But maybe that's the point. Curiously, the publisher, Broadway Books, released the image several months before the actual book comes out. "The Rogue: Searching for the Real Sarah Palin" is due out sometime this fall. McGinniss -- known for such narrative nonfiction books as "The Selling of the President 1968," "Fatal Vision," and "The Last Brother: The Rise and Fall of Teddy Kennedy" -- famously angered Palin last year when he rented the house next door to her as he was researching the unauthorized biography.

Lepage show delayed until next season

Posted by Laura Collins-Hughes March 2, 2011 10:43 AM

French-Canadian director Robert Lepage, who has worked in Boston only twice in the past 25 years, won't be coming here this season after all. His one-man Hans Christian Andersen show, "The Andersen Project," which ArtsEmerson had planned to present next month at the Cutler Majestic Theatre, is being shifted to the 2011-12 season.

New performance dates will be announced soon, ArtsEmerson said. Ticket holders are advised to call the box office: 617-824-8000.

Gorey's perfect captions

Posted by Sebastian Smee February 18, 2011 11:30 AM

"The author introduces two small, distant, ageless, and wholly imaginary relatives to fifty seasons of the New York City Ballet."

It's hard to say if the caption above by Edward Gorey should be spooky, dismal, depressing, or sweet - all I know is that it's hilarious, and in its way, perfect.

The drawing it goes with is at the Boston Athenaeum, part of "Elegant Enigmas" the Art of Edward Gorey" (through June 4). It put me in mind of Chris Ware's "Jimmy Corrigan" - pathos made exquisite.

But it also just seemed like a sentence to savor on its own terms - like one of Felix Feneon's early 20th century newspaper squibs, published in "Novels in Three Lines" (New York Review Books): "Scheid, of Dunkirk, fired three times at his wife. Since he missed every shot, he decided to aim at his mother-in-law, and connected."

Or this one, from my old newspaper in Sydney: "An unemployed relaxation consultant was arrested with three kilograms of cocaine inside his golf bag." 

Critics slam 'Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark'

Posted by Don Aucoin February 8, 2011 10:58 AM


     Spider-Man has more to fear than the Green Goblin.

     Namely, the barbs of theater critics. A raft of prominent critics weighed in today on "Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark,'' the much-ballyhooed, much-troubled $65 million Broadway musical. The verdict was generally withering.

      Ben Brantley of The New York Times wrote: "The sheer ineptitude of this show, inspired by the Spider-Man comic books, loses its shock value early. After 15 or 20 minutes, the central question you keep asking yourself is likely to change from 'How can $65 million look so cheap?' to 'How long before I'm out of here?' '' 

      The Washington Post's Peter Marks described "Spider-Man'' as "170 spirit-snuffing minutes,'' adding that director Julie Taymor, a native of Newton, "left a few items off her lavish shopping list: 1: Coherent plot. 2: Tolerable music. 3: Workable sets.'' Charles McNulty of the Los Angeles Times called the show "a teetering colossus that can't find its bearings as a circus spectacle or as a rock musical.'' The Hollywood Reporter's David Rooney called it "an ungainly mess of a show that smacks of out-of-control auteurial arrogance.''

     Other reviews were more mixed. Elisabeth Vincentelli of the New York Post called it "an inconsistent, maddening show that's equally parts exciting and atrocious.''  Scott Brown of New York magazine wrote that "Spider-Man'' is "by turns hyperstimulated, vivid, lurid, overeducated, underbaked, terrifying, confusing, distracted, ridiculously slick, shockingly clumsy, unmistakably monomaniacal and clinically bipolar. But never, ever boring.''

     In his review, the New York Times' Brantley acknowledged that the show is still in previews, which are traditionally considered works-in-progress, and doesn't officially open until March 15. The opening date has been repeatedly pushed back as Taymor and the show's producers have struggled to cope with technical problems that have resulted in several injuries to cast members. But the delays have ignited controversy because audiences have been paying top dollar to see "Spider-Man'' in its still-evolving form and without the benefit of reviews.

    Expressing the apparent view of other critics who chose to weigh in now, Brantley wrote that "since this show was looking as if it might settle into being an unending work in progress,'' he opted to review it "around Monday, the night it was supposed to have opened before its latest postponement.'' From what he saw, Brantley wrote, "Spider-Man'' is "so grievously broken in every respect that it is beyond repair.''

        Rick Miramontez, a spokesman for "Spider-Man,'' told the Associated Press that: "This pile-on by the critics is a huge disappointment. Changes are still being made and any review that runs before the show is frozen is totally invalid.''  

Newbery, Caldecott awards announced

Posted by Steve Greenlee January 10, 2011 01:32 PM


The most prestigious awards in children's books were announced today. The American Library Association announced that Clare Vanderpool's "Moon Over Manifest" has won the John Newbery Medal for the "most distinguished contribution to American literature for children," and "A Sick Day for Amos McGee," illustrated by Erin E. Stead and written by Philip C. Stead, received the Randolph Caldecott Medal for best children's picture book.

The full report from the Associated Press follows:


Another adaptation for Pattinson

Posted by Steve Greenlee January 6, 2011 11:46 AM

pattinson1611.jpgRobert Pattinson is becoming one of the most sought-after actors in Hollywood -- especially for film adaptations of popular novels. Not only does the "Twilight" star get top billing in the forthcoming "Water for Elephants," based on Sara Gruen's book, but now The Hollywood Reporter says he has signed on to star in "Cosmopolis," David Cronenberg's adaptation of Don DeLillo's novel. Pattison will play a 28-year-old billionaire who rides around Manhattan in a limo, trying to get to a hair salon while absurd events unfold around him.

The new word on 'Huck Finn'

Posted by Steve Greenlee January 4, 2011 01:57 PM

huck.jpg"Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" has been controversial almost since its publication in 1885, when the Boston Transcript reported that a Concord library official had derided Mark Twain's novel as "trash." Over the years the book has been banned from various public and school libraries, and occasionally it ignites another controversy, usually over its portrayal of African-Americans and its repeated use of a certain racial slur. (According to Publishers Weekly, that word appears in the book 219 times.)

Now comes a new edition from Alan Gribben, a Twain scholar at Auburn University in Alabama, that eliminates the offending word, replacing it with the word "slave." Due next month from NewSouth Books, the revised novel is sure to generate just as much debate, presumably over whether it is appropriate to sanitize a classic work of literature.

"This is not an effort to render Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn colorblind," Gribben told Publishers Weekly. "Race matters in these books. It's a matter of how you express that in the 21st century. ... I'm hoping that people will welcome this new option, but I suspect that textual purists will be horrified. Already, one professor told me that he is very disappointed that I was involved in this."

What's your opinion? Is the new edition a good idea?

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Culture Desk is a blog that serves to highlight both local and national stories of interest in the worlds of art, music, movies, TV, theater and more. Most items are written by writers and editors from The Boston Globe arts and culture staff.

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