Photo Books

Ari Marcopoulos, Todd Eberle, Maurizio Cattelan

BY Vince Aletti, May 1, 2011

Two of my favorite new books could not be more different. Both Ari Marcopoulos’s Directory (Nieves/Rizzoli) and Todd Eberle’s Empire of Space (Rizzoli) are dauntingly hefty compilations that successfully sum up their author’s vision in book form. Both photographers are concerned with the way we live now, including various aspects of the built environment, but Marcopoulos’s book focuses exclusively on boy-centric youth culture (graffiti, skateboarding, hip-hop, video games) over the past few years, while Eberle surveys three decades of a solid, boundary-free career in editorial work. At 1,200 pages, Directory is massive and deliberately overwhelming. Like a phone book, it’s soft-bound and printed on flimsy stock—a deliberately amateurish and funky style that’s just right for a compilation of snapshots Xeroxed in black and white to look like a cross between a platinum print and badly degraded tabloid reportage. The photographs are digitally dated in the frame but are otherwise uncaptioned; the book’s only texts are a series of brief, illuminating essays by Neville Wakefield on individual images. But, like much contemporary visual culture, it’s the accumulation of pictures, not single shots, that define this project. For Marcopoulos, “the book is about noise, not composition,” so it feels raw, chaotic, explosive. With thousands of graffiti tags clamoring for attention, Directory has a terrific, pent-up energy, but Marcopoulos hasn’t just channeled that commotion, he’s shaped it into one of the year’s strongest artist’s books.

Empire of Space may look terribly posh by comparison, but it’s no pushover. Eberle, best known for his photographs of architecture and interiors, has done just about everything else, and the best of it is here in elegantly sequenced, always witty pairings: the protective grill on the facade of the Museum of Modern Art next to the metallic mesh cover of a Braun speaker; a sleek Adirondack bowling alley opposite the Tate Modern’s vast Turbine Hall; Andy Warhol’s pink Calvin Klein underwear facing a close-up of his Orange Marilyn. Career recaps are rarely this much fun, but Eberle has a sharp eye for both art and commerce; he’s not cynical, he’s savvy. He appreciates both high kitsch and high modernism—Morris Lapidus’s Fontainebleau and Oscar Niemeyer’s Brasilia—and that openness gives the book a sunny disposition, the kind you want to spend time with. Bonus: Eberle annotates the index of thumbnails and captions with a lively running commentary that’s full of insights into the life of a working photographer.

Maurizio Cattelan’s latest publication, Toilet Paper, follows his previous periodicals, Permanent Food and Charley, with what appears to be a slim folio of appropriated photographs. Sponsored by Dakis Joannou’s Deste Foundation and distributed by D.A.P., TP contains no text, only a series of double-page spreads reminiscent of Permanent Food’s wildly unpredictable mash-up of styles. The images in the second issue, dated January 2011, look like they come from a variety of sources and periods, from 19th-century crime scene to French New Wave film still. On the grimy wall next to a dark stairwell, someone has scrawled the word HOPE, with an arrow pointing down; on a blood-splattered table, a knife, a meaty heart, and a horseshoe spell out IOU. Knowing Cattelan’s bent for the perverse and the outrageous, it will come as no surprise that all these images are his own—made in collaboration with Italian photographer Pierpaolo Ferrari and a crew of clever co-conspirators. Another issue is planned for this year’s Venice Biennale.