My top ten list of literary heroes has so far focused on authors of fiction, art criticism, music journalism, comics experts, poets, and artist book makers. For the final four, I think I’ll backtrack into those arenas more deeply to reflect on creative transformers: an artist who integrates text into his practice, a curator who writes and makes art, a writer who has a strong visual sense, and an author who claims she can think like animals!
1/ Dan Graham and his recently released, Rock/Music Writings (Primary Information)
At the Printed Matter Artbook Fair this weekend my only purchase was Primary Information’s new release of Dan Graham’s collected music writings. [Primary Information, by the way, is an interesting press that collects hard to find art world texts into simple, affordable volumes. Last year at the fair they featured a volume that collected together all of Artforum’s Top Tens.] While Dan Graham’s artwork is a world unto itself, I’ve been studying his music writing. Graham is as much a music journalist as he is an artist, in my opinion. His texts that trace the connections between psychedelic and garage rock to early punk, the New York 1980s downtown music scene, and the avant-garde, are all fantastic. One of my favorite books about music is Graham’s Rock My Religion (MIT Press), but it’s been out of print for a long time and is prohibitively expensive and/or missing from libraries. I hear they’re not reprinting it either. That means Rock/Music Writings is a crucial book. It pulls the best from Rock My Religion plus other magazine pieces Graham wrote about The Kinks, Beatles, The Seeds, and a stunning essay about musical performance and stage-set.
More info about the book:
2/ Temple Grandin
There is no one else out there covering author Temple Grandin's territory. Sure, Oliver Sacks writes about neurological disorders and the fascinating characters who turn adverse conditions into something artful or beneficial, and Sacks did once profile Grandin in the New Yorker. But Grandin’s focus is on autism and on the autistic person’s abilities to think visually in order to relate to animals. She became famous for redesigning slaughterhouses for cattle to save the cattle from experiencing terror before death. That is an extremely oversimplified explanation of her work, but it will get us started…
She says in one of her books, Thinking in Pictures,
I THINK IN PICTURES. Words are like a second language to me. ' I translate both spoken and written words into full-color movies, complete with sound, which run like a VCR tape in my head.
Grandin’s book, Animals in Translation, is one of my most cherished reads. Her most recent title, Animals Make Us Human, is equally gripping. In each text, she writes about empathizing with animals in order to understand what they are thinking. Far from taking a New Age pet psychic approach, Grandin uses scientific writing, arguing each point with case studies. I admire her and her writing style greatly.
Animals in Translation:
Thinking in Pictures:
3/ Kathy Grayson
Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of watching Kathy Grayson become one of the premier curators of New York Art. A director at Deitch Projects, her roster of artists have come to define a downtown aesthetic for many international exhibitions. I’m including Grayson here because her art writing style is as spunky and radical as the art she shows, and because she has spearheaded some righteous books alongside her exhibitions. I mentioned in a previous post the New York Minute show and its O.H.W.O.W. catalog that Grayson just organized at MACRO Roma. But previous to this, she also made a catalog I must recommend, called Mail Order Monsters (Picturebox), for a group show that traveled to Athens, London, Berlin, New York, and maybe elsewhere. She is definitely a woman to watch for the future relations between books and art.
Grayson keeps an active blog documenting her projects:
See also the YouTube clip below of the Mail Order Monsters installation at Peres Projects Berlin!
4/ Sarah Manguso
Manguso’s writing defies categorization, and as such I admire the way she has published volumes of poetry, short stories, and non-fiction. Her prose teeters between textual genres, which is only part of what makes it powerful. I started perusing her oeuvre after reading her book of short story/prose poems, Hard to Admit and Harder to Escape, included in a sweet mini-library of miniature books McSweeney’s published. Since then, she published Two Kinds of Decay (FSG), a memoir about her battle with a life-threatening blood disease. I have been astonished by everything I have read of hers, and anxiously await more.