James Evanson’s Functional Art

In a 1986 New York Times feature, architect James Evanson explained his design vision: “decoration should be integral to the shape and structure of furniture and buildings, not simply applied without regard to their overall form.” This ethos has defined Evanson’s innovative career, and for the past three decades his work has aimed to challenge the way art meets function.

Evanson’s Aero Chair, on display at RARE.

As a young artist, Evanson studied silkscreen and sculpture at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, and later attained an architecture degree at Pratt Institute in New York, accumulating a diverse set of technical and aesthetic skills along the way. These varied interests and abilities made him “something between a designer and a builder” (as the artist has described himself), and led him to create a unique line of work: Functional Art. 

For Evanson, this involved “integrating many aspects so that the whole piece is not arbitrary and whimsical, but holds together,” and resulted in designs—from curved copper chairs to architecturally inspired lighting fixtures—that are intricately hand-crafted pieces of art, yet also eminently useful objects at the same time. 

One of Evanson’s Lighthouse lamps

Evanson’s dedication to creating furniture that is both beautiful and practical has produced an exceptional body of work which has been recognized by a number of prominent galleries and museums—including Art et Industrie, Novo Arts, and Tower Gallery—and continues to serve as a paradigm of 1980s post-modern design.

“James Evanson,” RARE’s new exhibition, will feature a diverse range of the artist’s vintage designs, and will be on display from February 19th through March 14th.
 

Posted in Art, Design on February 19 2015

The Lighthouses Are Lit….

James Evanson's Lighthouses are in the house and lighting up the gallery; see them for yourself starting tomorrow evening...!

Posted in Art, Design on February 18 2015

Pop-Up Show Spotlight: Roy DeCarava’s The Sweet Flypaper of Life

RARE has been bustling with activity lately: “Matter/Giacometti” just closed, “James Evanson” will open next Thursday (see our exhibition page for more information), but this week we’re excited to present the initial installment of our special pop-up exhibition program, showcasing a superb collection of first edition photobooks. In honor of Black History Month, we want to spotlight one of those books in particular—The Sweet Flypaper of Life, a seminal rumination on Harlem—and its esteemed photographer, Roy DeCarava, one of the most respected artists, activists, and educators of his generation.

A first edition copy of The Sweet Flypaper of Life is now on display at RARE

Born in Harlem in 1919, DeCarava began taking photographs as research for his fine art prints, but soon made the medium his main creative outlet, and—drawn to the uniqueness of the community he grew up in—turned his lens on his own urban surroundings and the African-American experience. As DeCarava noted in a 1982 New York Times interview, one of his reasons for this focus was “that black people were not being portrayed in a serious and in an artistic way.”


In 1952, DeCarava became the first African-American photographer to receive a Guggenheim Fellowship (1952); his application for the award, in part, stated that his goal as a photographer was “a creative expression, the kind of penetrating insight and understanding of Negroes which I believe only a Negro photographer can interpret.” The prize money allowed DeCarava to concentrate full time on Harlem as a subject, and in 1955 he collaborated with Harlem Renaissance writer Langston Hughes on his first book, The Sweet Flypaper of Life, pairing his deeply felt images with Hughes’ “how good it is” prose poetry to create a fictional yet realistic tale of daily life in their unique neighborhood. “I always wanted an emotional content or ambiguity that allowed people to explore what they were experiencing,” DeCarava explained in a 1998 interview for the Baltimore Sun.

Although produced relatively early in his career, The Sweet Flypaper of Life exemplifies the type of work for which DeCarava is best known, and for the remainder of his career he devoted himself to both illuminating the lives of African-Americans through his images—most notably through his series on jazz musicians—and strongly advocating not only for photography’s status as a legitimate art form, but for African-Americans’ place within it. His artistic philosophy is perhaps best expressed by this 2001 statement: “It doesn’t have to be pretty to be true. But if it’s true it’s beautiful. Truth is beautiful. And so my whole work is about what amounts to a reverence for life itself.” DeCarava’s work was the subject of at least 15 solo exhibitions in his lifetime, and in 2006 he was awarded the National Medal of Arts. He passed away on October 27, 2009, at the age of 89.

Posted in Photography on February 11 2015

Pop-Up Show: Rare First Edition Photo-Books!

Our first special pop-up exhibition—a collection of superb photobooks—will be on display five days only, from this Tuesday, February 10th, through Saturday, February 14th. The framed photographs of Alberto Giacometti by Herbert Matter will also remain available during this event.

Posted in Art, Photography on February 10 2015

Five Essential Books on Alberto Giacometti

1.)  Matter, Herbert. Alberto Giacometti. Photographed by Herbert Matter. Text by Mercedes Matter. Foreword by Louis Finkelstein. With an introduction by Andrew Forge. New York: Harry M. Abrams, 1987.

The focus of our current “Matter/Giacometti” exhibition, Herbert Matter’s Alberto Giacometti highlights the talents of Matter as a photographer and designer while also showcasing the best of Giacometti. Beautifully conceived, with over 180 photographs, 45 in full color. Also included is commentary by Matter and his wife Mercedes, each close friends of Giacometti, with intimate perspectives on his life.

The German edition of this book is also on display at RARE as part of the “Matter/Giacometti” exhibition.


2.) Lust, Herbert C. Giacometti: The Complete Graphics and 15 Drawings. Introduction by John Lloyd Taylor. New York: Tudor Publishing Company, 1970.

“Whereas his sculptures and paintings embody the quintessence of being, the graphics are their commentary and affidavit—testimony in propr. persona of his multifaceted genius”—From the introduction by John Lloyd Taylor.

A complete study of Giacometti’s lesser-known drawings, Lust’s book features over 360 illustrations plus a full written catalog of attributed works, as well as an exclusive interview with Diego Giacometti about his brother’s career. His long friendship with both men provided Lust with both extensive and unique access to the works.

This copy is inscribed by the author to Mercedes and Herbert Matter: For Mercedes and Herbert / Whose creative life have so much helped American art community—may you continue to flourish! / Cordially / Herbert Lust.

 

3.) Hohl, Reinhold. Alberto Giacometti. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1971.

Hohl, who recently passed away in 2014, was a leading Giacometti scholar, often called upon to verify the authenticity of the artist’s works. His essays for this comprehensive volume furnish valuable biographical and critical evaluations of Giacometti’s life and work, while over 270 illustrations supply abundant visual references. Considered an essential text for Giacometti research.


4.) Bonnefoy, Yves. Giacometti: A Biography of His Work. Translated by Jean Stewart. Paris: Flammarion, 1991

A French poet and art critic, once heavily associated with the Surrealists, Bonnefoy’s Alberto Giacometti offers yet another perspective on Giacometti’s life and work. An important aspect of this large edition—585 illustrations, 200 in color, with an in-depth biography and aesthetic analyses—is that it also contextualizes Giacometti’s work among his contemporaries, contributing crucial insights into the artist’s canon.

 

5.) Dupin, Jacques and Michel Leiris. Alberto Giacometti. Paris: Maeght Editeur, 1978.

A small volume in French by the writers and critics Jacques Dupin and Michel Leiris, both of whom were leading members of Paris’ Left Bank intellectual community as well as friends and models of Giacometti. Leiris had the additional distinction of also having fallen out with Surrealist leader André Breton. Offers a biographical timeline, a finite yet diverse sampling of Giacometti’s work, and essays by the authors. 150 illustrations, 24 in color.


All five copies featured in today’s Rarities are available for purchase at RARE as part of “Matter/Giacometti.” Please contact us for further information and pricing.

Posted in Design, Photography on February 07 2015

“Dog”: A Rare Moment in Giacometti’s Career

Alberto Giacometti spent the majority of the 1950s producing what have become many of his most iconic pieces, but early in the decade he experimented with a series of sculptures far different from the subjects so often associated with his work. While utilizing the attenuated forms he developed during and following World War II, this unusual 1951 cycle depicted not humans, but animals—specifically a dog, a cat, and a horse—with “Dog” [below] the most detailed of the trio.

Giacometti’s Dog, photographed by Herbert Matter, now on display in “Matter/Giacometti” at RARE.

Giacometti famously had his human models sit for hours in order to better capture details of their individual characters, but in creating“Dog,” he instead called upon only his memory. Giacometti spoke with his biographer, James Lord, about the project’s unusual development, a conversation Lord later recounted in his short piece, “Giacometti Gives Up Painting”: “For a long time I’d had in my mind the memory of a Chinese dog I’d seen somewhere. And then one day I was walking along the rue de Vanves in the rain, close to the walls of the buildings, with my head down, feeling a little sad, perhaps, and I felt like a dog just then. So I made that sculpture."

In reflecting upon the final product, however, Giacometti did not feel the sculpture accurately portrayed a dog, not even his “Chinese dog of memory”: "But it’s not really a likeness at all. Only the muzzle is anything of a likeness. The muzzle, yes, but not the back legs at all. The back legs are utterly false.”

Excerpt from the typescript of James Lord’s "Giacometti Gives Up Painting"


He swiftly returned to human forms following this experiment—“[P]eople themselves are the only likenesses. I never get tired of looking at them.”—but Giacometti’s small detour to create “Dog” has become a large part of his legacy, and the piece remains one of his most beloved sculptures; it's even the subject of a 1990 poem by Robin Becker, “Giacometti’s Dog.”

Lord’s original typescript of “Giacometti Gives Up Painting” is currently on display at RARE, in addition to other archival matter related to his biographical work on Giacometti. 

Posted in Art on February 04 2015

The Process of Herbert Matter’s Giacometti


Herbert Matter’s book, Giacometti, is what might variously be called a personal mission, a calling, a beautiful obsession. After comprehensively photographing Alberto Giacometti and his work in Paris at the sculptor’s rue Hippolyte-Maindron studio, Matter spent the remaining 24 years of his life carefully organizing and overseeing the composition of those images into a visually compelling and profusely illustrated book.

The photographs are stunning: less documentary than expressive statement, and utilizing unusual camera angles and perspectives to better capture the dramatic nature and construction of both Giacometti’s artwork and the artist’s famously idiosyncratic countenance. The sculptor himself considered the results “by far the most beautiful photographs” ever taken of his work.

However, Matter’s process materials from the project—on display for the first time at Rare—are of commensurate historical and aesthetic interest, as they chronicle not only the prodigious nature of Matter’s design talents and his attention to detail, but also numerous production techniques which are no longer in regular practice. 



Matter began his design process by first creating simple hand-drawn storyboard layouts on graph paper [left], incorporating either quickly sketched outlines of the images he saw placing on each page (see first line of pages), roughing in filler text (second line of pages), or indicating content to come with an "x":



 

 

 

 


 

As he developed the layout further, he added more detail to the thumbnails and jotted page numbers and notes [below]:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



For spreads that were more complicated visually—such as the series in the middle of the book which has multiple photographs of various sizes on each page—Matter included more recognizable characteristics in each sketch to better differentiate the photographs, and also added numerical references in red underneath each drawing [below]:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He then went back his original book-length storyboards, photocopied them, and cut out the images [below left] to paste onto plain layouts [below right], adding additional drawings and notes in marker and ink where necessary. This process enable Matter to continually alter and rework his layouts with ease and flexibility.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The culmination of all these meticulous revises were his spectacularly beautiful and minutely detailed final storyboards [below]—rendered in colored pencils and ink—which mirror the ultimate order and look of the book itself:

From these evolved designs, maquettes—book mechanicals employing pasted-down photostats and typset text, with hand-drawn additions in places—were created, which were used by editors and production specialists to both revise the layouts and create a working protoype for the printer. In the two images below—both from the American edition's maquette—autograph changes are written on Post-It notes, and hand-written yellow stickers at the bottom of each page indicate page counts. The photographs in the image on the left are both on display in "Matter/Giacometti," and both pages in the spread on the right can be seen in Matter's hand-drawn storyboards above (image 3).

Below are images of a maquette for the German edition of the book, with paste-down typeset text on the left, and a hand-drawn image on the right:

 

As a final touch, Matter also created the typeface used on the dust-jacket and title pages of the book [left, with detail], hand-drawing the forms on graph paper and using masking tape to make corrections and create visual white space. 

 

 

 

Regretfully, Matter did not live to see his opus to publication, passing away in 1984. His wife Mercedes subsequently guided the book through the editorial process to its eventual publication by Abrams in 1987.

Posted in Art, Design, Photography on January 31 2015

The Enduring Graphic Design of Herbert Matter


Herbert Matter excelled in many disciplines—photography, painting, architecture, and teaching—yet it is for his graphic design skills that he is best known. As a young artist in Europe in the 1930s, Matter gained early recognition for a series of modernist travel posters he created for the Swiss National Tourist Office, in which his keen sense of color, form, space, and perspective—coupled with an innovative use of photomontage—produced dynamic, eye-catching results that remain design classics today.

Above: Three of Matter’s Swiss travel posters

The acclaim he received for the work opened up new opportunities for Matter, and in 1935 he was hired as a photographer by a Swiss ballet troupe to document their tour of the United States.
Following the end of the assignment, he elected to remain in America, and settled in New York City to pursue an independent career that would continue to integrate both his photographic and design talents.

Matter quickly began taking photographs for a variety of prominent fashion concerns, including Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, and Saks Fifth Avenue, and during World War II created striking posters for the Container Corporation of America. His groundbreaking identity system and advertisements for Knoll—in which he utilized novel layouts, unusual angles, and often humorous concepts—were instrumental in both establishing the young company and underscoring the important role of smart graphic design in business development.

  

Above: Matter’s original Knoll logo and one of his advertisements for the company

Matter also made significant contributions in the public sphere, conceiving the iconic New Haven Railroad logo, as well as that for the Boston and Maine Railroad. These original compositions for the Boston and Main Railroad, as well as other trademark designs, are on currently on display in “Matter/Giacometti.”
 

 

Above: Two Matter logo designs for the New Haven and Boston and Maine Railroads

The sheer variety of Matter’s projects amply demonstrate not only his versatility, but also his unique ability to merge a multitude of talents into a substantial and influential body of work. For these achievements, he was inducted into the Art Directors Club Hall of Fame in 1976 and awarded the 1983 AIGA Medal, both honors conferred on him by his design peers.

Posted in Art, Design on January 24 2015

Alberto Giacometti, Baseball Commissioner

We were reminded this past weekend—once again—that baseball season starts in less than a month, with pitchers and catchers reporting to their respective teams the third week of February. This in turn reminded us of a piece written by a friend of the gallery, journalist Gary Hill, which humorously conflates Alberto Giacometti with the late Bart Giamatti—at that time the newly named commissioner of baseball—and points out several reasons why Giacometti was the ideal person for the job. Gary has graciously allowed us to excerpt it here. So for art lovers, baseball fans, and all those who never thought the twain would meet, we present “Commissioner”:

I was riding the Flushing line toward Shea; an eternal return of sorts. It was winter and I was not actually going to the big blue stadium, but my thoughts turned—in the way that for some of us they always do—to baseball: specifically, the official designation of Alberto Giacometti as Commissioner.

As my train screeched and groaned out of Grand Central, I reflected that just a few years ago a Commissioner Giacometti would have seemed as unlikely as a World Series home run by Tom Lawless, himself a virtual eponym. But it is axiomatic that in this “crazy” game anything can—and does—happen.

Some of us had long dreamed of such a Commissioner, we who drink deeply of this majestic game even while basking attentively among, but perhaps not of, the sunny rows of partisans, worshippers, and boo-ers, the fair-weather holiday-makers and the children in caps.

But Giacometti's accession was no dream, no magic, no “hidden ball trick.” Hindsight is 20/20 (sometimes), but the oeuvre of the national pastime’s new “Über-alles” now looks like a doctored resume, so appropriate is it. From Ball Suspended (both a study of rhythms of form/motion and a “sign” of masculinity) to Nine Figures (no DH, of course), his record—you could look it up—points toward the fields that “Jocko,” as the headline writers surely will tab him, now rules.Ball Suspended (left) and Nine Figures (right)

Certainly, more recent milestones—Giacometti’s studies in “discipline,” his rethinking of gesture and “discernible stop”—must weigh heaviest in considering his coming Commissionership. But, I reminded myself as the No. 7 roared on (and, by the way, what memories that number stirs), Giacometti's earlier, preparatory works cannot be forgotten:

The Palace at 4 A.M.: a complex meditation on home and women, stadiums and seagulls. In The Meanings of Modern Art—a book now as essential to the fan as the Jamesian Abstract,  Boswell’s Life, or the baseball “bible”—Russell calls this matchstick construction “haunting for its uncanny mingling of practicality and the dream”—surely the stuff of which Commissioners are made.

Man Pointing: Ruth famously “calling” a home run; Giacometti, reinventing the idea of likeness, finds the 70-1/2-inch-high, whiplash-thin essence of the pigeon-toed barrel of a slugger.

(This photograph on display in the gallery)

City Square: a crossed-up infield, with the corners charging in while up the middle a confused convergence around a runner; urban distances in disarray.

No More Play: experiments with options of motion and the terrain, the surface itself (long before Astroturf), but insisting always on the human factor. Again Russell, on Play: “In the midst of this were human figures that were left stranded at the end of the game, with nowhere to go.” Russell incidentally sees Giacometti's existentialism as “the belief that in all human enterprises the odds are stacked against us and that all we can do is to play a losing game as lucidly as possible”—clearly the Boston view. Russell adds that “Ever since he had read Nietzsche and Schopenhauer at the age of 12, he had been familiar with the tragic sense of human destiny.” But he inexplicably makes no mention of Fenway, Snodgrass, or Dent.

In a recent conversation with Giacometti, although by mutual unspoken agreement we did not discuss baseball or sculpture, I sensed—perhaps I was encouraged to sense —a painfully earned new openness. “Yes,” he said in response to one question. “Yes,” he replied to another, and “I think so,” he agreed to a third.
 
The Giacometti in all of us tends toward reductiveness to that anguished nerve, that never-ending gut-check of the soul. But we also need that voice that says “Yes.” “Yes.” “I think so.”

Posted in Art, Literature, Photography on January 22 2015

Alberto Giacometti and Samuel Beckett: Navigating the Influences of Paris

        

        Above: Samuel Beckett and Alberto Giacometti in 1961

 

Alberto Giacometti, much like his contemporaries Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, cannot be defined by one aesthetic, and Giacometti has been referred to alternatively as a Surrealist, a Freudian, and an Existentialist, among other things. As a young artist in Paris in the 1930s, Giacometti lived and worked around numerous notable characters, including the Irish playwright Samuel Beckett. Despite not being French, both artists had chosen to make Paris their home, and quickly became both close friends and trusted allies, engaging one another in continuous conversations on art and representation, and together navigating the many opportunities Paris had to offer, eventually becoming essential members of the city’s vibrant Left Bank intellectual and artistic community.

One segment of that sphere was the French Surrealists, led by André Breton. Although both Beckett and Giacometti had associations with the group, neither artist fully committed himself to its precepts. Beckett gained early prominence as a writer by helping the Surrealists translate their writings into English, and managed to retain their favor for the majority of his life. Giacometti’s experience, however, was more turbulent. After spending several years working under the Surrealists’ strict abstract guidelines, Giacometti returned to working with naturalistic themes, particularly the human form, an action considered treasonous by Breton; in retaliation, he expelled Giacometti from the Surrealists in 1935.

Another member of Giacometti and Beckett’s shared circle was the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre,whose explorations of existentialism exerted a great deal of influence on both artists’ works, in particular Beckett’s best-known play, Waiting for Godot, which premiered in 1953. The play is also significant for another reason: it was the impetus for Giacometti and Beckett’s most memorable artistic collaboration.

                                  

Above: Giacometti and Beckett pictured with the tree created for the 1961 production of Waiting for Godot

 

Beckett was unhappy with the play’s original set design, in particular its central tree, and commissioned Giacometti to create a new version for a 1961 production. Beckett imagined the process would be a straightforward one for his friend, but Giacometti instead labored over the design. Finally, though, Giacometti created a work that not only satisfied both his and Beckett’s demanding standards, but also elevated the setting of the play itself. As such, it serves as a fitting symbol of both the power of their intellectual union and their long, fruitful personal alliance.

In recognition of their friendship, first editions of Waiting for Godot, Endgame, and Fin de Partie are on display in “Matter/Giacometti”. 

Posted in Art, Literature on January 20 2015

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