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Reviewed by:
  • The Art Book Tradition in Twentieth-Century Europe ed. by Kathryn Brown
  • Sarah Tribout-Joseph
The Art Book Tradition in Twentieth-Century Europe. Edited by Kathryn Brown. Farnham: Ashgate, 2013. 212 pp., ill.

This volume makes a valuable contribution to intermedia studies and succeeds in the editor’s aim of showing how the art book tradition exploits ‘the dynamic relations between contrasting media in order to test and expand their own expressive repertoire’ (p. 1). In response to the definitional challenge posed by the livre d’artiste, Kathryn Brown proposes a useful application of analytic aesthetics based on Berys Gaut’s cluster account to determine what is meant more generally by the term ‘art’ (for Gaut, see for example ‘“Art” as a Cluster Concept’, in Theories of Art Today, ed. by Noël Carroll (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2000), pp. 25–44). The result here is a broad range of works in the European art book tradition offering a stimulating composite approach, though admittedly with a French bias that Brown links to publication strategy at the turn of the nineteenth century. Peter Read provides an excellent opening chapter, working from the premise that the ideal livre d’artiste would be a collaboration between writer and artist on equal terms. Acknowledging Foucault’s theory that text is ‘consecutive and linear’, whereas an image is ‘simultaneous and immediate’, Read sees that ‘the sharp edges and static fixity of Dufy’s woodcuts nevertheless match the regularity and aphoristic brevity of [Apollinaire’s] Bestiaire poems’ (p. 28). Brown’s own chapter on Matisse’s choice to illustrate Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal with a repeated facial motif — a choice he recognized would confound some readers (p. 32) — shows how the disjuncture between media can be exploited for mutual enhancement. Elza Adamowicz challenges the precepts of the ekphrastic tradition as defined in James Heffernan’s authoritative Museum of Words (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004). Starting from the ‘pictorial and verbal incongruities’ (p. 152) in Magritte’s works (a picture of a bowler hat with the caption ‘La Neige’), she explores how some writers treat Magritte’s work in a ‘cavalier fashion’ in their textual responses, ‘deliberately misreading the works’ (p. 163). She offers a fitting conclusion to many of the articles here: ‘Texts are thus less descriptive than performative: the poet, through rhetorical means, imitates the processes of the artist’ (p. 163). Deborah Schultz’s chapter goes beyond aesthetic considerations to examine the dual art/document nature of diaries in times of crisis in the works of Nazi camp survivor [End Page 276] Arnold Daghani, of the secret agent Peter Malkin, responsible for the capture of Adolf Eichmann, and of Ian Dengler, a May 1968 participant. Neil Cox also goes beyond aesthetics as he confronts Georges Braque’s bird representations and their illustration of Saint-John Perse’s text, L’Ordre des oiseaux with a Heideggerian reading of Rilke, and as he problematizes the privileging of the birds as ‘figures of ontological omniscience’ over Heidegger’s ‘emphatically human’ perspective (p. 56). In an engaging concluding chapter, Susan Harrow shows how in Francis Ponge’s writing on art the image resists recuperation in words, thus anticipating later theoretical shifts in visual culture theory away from definition of the viewed to the ‘interrogative agency of the art’s object’ and definition of the viewing process and the viewer (p. 182).

Sarah Tribout-Joseph
University of Edinburgh


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pp. 276-277
Launched on MUSE
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