Tuesday, 31 May 2016

The man who knew his space

This is one of those Taschen architectural books that is a trap for the unwary because of the reviews. It was originally published in 2000 as a jumbo edition (16 by 12.5 inches) and now reprinted with exactly the same content but a smaller edition (check out the Product Description above) to celebrate Taschen's twenty-fifth anniversary. There is also a ninety-six page paperback, a sort of vastly condensed edition of the book. Because the title is the same for each edition Amazon will probably use all the reviews for all editions.

To sum up all of Richard Neutra's built work in a single volume (and in three languages) is an editorial compromise which I think mostly comes off. To accommodate English, French and German means making lots of the excellent photos smaller than they would have been if it was in English only. The copy is set in seven point Gill Light (though with reasonable line spacing) so it takes up less room but it isn't easy to read after the sun has gone down.

The three hundred completed structures are in chronological order from the 1915 Officer's tea house in Bosnia-Herzegovina to the 1969 Uni of Pennsylvania student housing (Neutra died in 1970). All of them are named with a street address, date and depending on their importance either a brief description or several hundred words. I only found one that had no description or photos. Maybe three-quarters of the buildings have plans re-drawn from the originals (one inch to twenty feet or one inch to thirty feet).

Julius Shulman took probably more than half the thousand photos in the book, he was Neutra's favorite snapper and of course his photos make all the work look interesting so the reader can appreciate the clever use of space, some of the houses are actually quite compact. Most buildings get between two and four images with the world famous ones getting more: the Edgar Kaufmann house in Palm Springs gets twelve of the interior and exterior. The photos of California houses clearly show how Neutra (and others) took advantage of the pleasant climate by using floor to ceiling movable windows which opened to allow the interior floor coverings to blend into exterior patios and gardens.

Despite the editorial compromises I've mentioned I think the book is a wonderful survey of Neutra's work. He was, of course, one of the great architects of the twentieth century. 

Saturday, 28 May 2016

What's it worth?

Always a pleasure to browse through the latest annual Collectables. This edition has four thousand images (which are changed for each new book) each with a caption and suggested value. As the title suggests the contents are collectable rather than out and out antiques and some reviewers feel that the contents don't really go into particular depth about a subject, I would agree but the book is a snapshot of a huge range of everyday products and artistic objects.

Miller's publish a whole collection of titles to cover specific interests, for example: Art Deco; costume jewellery; mid-century modern and the very impressive Antiques encyclopaedia (ISBN 978 1845337698). I've been collecting Scandinavian glass and ceramics and only one piece is illustrated in this book. I would look elsewhere if I wanted detailed information about my collection.

The book is also a pleasure to look at, all the photos are cutouts, the layout and typography work for the reader. Overall, a yearly visual treat.

Friday, 27 May 2016

Priceless Preiss

I've always regarded Demetre Chiparus and Ferdinand Preiss (1882-1943) as the leading artists of the Art Deco statuette genre. They both specialised in producing exquisite figures made from cast bronze and carved ivory for faces and limbs not covered by the clothing. Though both artists created similar statuettes their styles were different, Chiparus provided plenty of detail on the clothing of his dancing ladies while Preiss was more concerned with movement and energy and his work had very precise ivory carvings of faces and hands. Page eight has twelve close-ups of faces showing how much detail is possible with ivory.

Alberto Shayo's illustrated essay in the book's first seventy pages covers the life of Preiss, his training as an ivory carver and successful partnership with Arthur Kassler, their company signed works with a P and K in a circle. Preiss worked in Berlin surrounded by the creative atmosphere of the city during the twenties. Shayo considers a 1914 statue called 'Youth' as the start of the Preiss style, a slender nude athletic female with up-stretched arms. It remained a popular line from the P&K studio and continued to be produced throughout the twenties. The book has several photos of nude statues in classical Greek poses and also many examples of clothed females in outdoor pursuits like skating, tennis, swimming, golf.

It probably wasn't Preiss' intention that these reflected the importance the Nazi Party attributed to physical culture, youth and beauty. To remain in business in the thirties Preiss had to join the Reichkulturkammer though he was never a party member. As the decade ended bronze became scarce, exports to Britain were forbidden (the most important market for P&K's work) with the last bronze and ivory statue made in 1940, though work continued only using ivory. In 1943 Preiss died in Berlin from a brain tumour, he was sixty-one.

I think this can be regarded as the best book about the beautiful work of Ferninand Preiss, there are over a hundred whole page photos and according to the dimensions in the captions many are life size. Alberto Shayo has written a similar book about Chiparus, also published by the ACC.