Arthur C. Danto shares an extract of his essay on the peerless Robert Mapplethorpe in a new book from Phaidon
There is a tension at the heart of Robert Mapplethorpe’s art, verging on paradox, between its most distinctive content and its mode of presentation. The content of the work is often sufficiently erotic to be considered pornographic, even by the artist, while the aesthetic of its presentation is chastely classic—it is Dionysiac and Apollonian at once. The content cannot have been a serious possibility for a major artist at any previous moment in history. It is peculiar to America in the 1970s, a decade Mapplethorpe exemplifies in terms of his values, his sensibilities, and his attitudes. But content apart, the photographs seem scarcely to belong to his own time at all. They are controlled, composed exercises in a classical mode. They fit, aesthetically, with the photographs of the nineteenth century, which Mapplethorpe admired and collected, far more than they do with the work of his contemporaries. Dionysus was the god of frenzy, Apollo the god of proportion and of form. According to Nietzsche, the two opposed deities together generated tragedy, and perhaps the dissonance between content and form in Mapplethorpe’s work conveys the dark excitement of tragedy as well.
As a person, Mapplethorpe lived along both dimensions of his art. He frequented the wilder precincts of sexual expression that the general lifting of prohibitions opened up for exploration in the late 1960s, but he aspired to a code of conduct hardly typical of the times, somewhere between dandyism and gentlemanliness. The embodiment in Mapplethorpe’s work of these polarities—uninhibited and austere, dirty and pure, wild and disciplined—perhaps explains the undeniable power of his greatest images. It also explains why the work was and remains the focus of hostile criticism. However liberated the sexual mores of the age, they were hardly loose enough to accommodate as acceptable the sadomasochistic practices he celebrated. But neither did the formal beauty to which his art aspired recommend him to the artistic establishment. However modern its content, its severe classicism seemed to consign it to another age.
It is interesting to contrast Mapplethorpe’s art with that of another artist of the period, one who found favour, even great favour, with the arbiters of photographic taste, namely Garry Winogrand. Toward the end of his life, in an interview with Janet Kardon, Mapplethorpe observed that his pictures were “the opposite of Garry Winogrand’s.” This is nowhere more apparent than in the albums each produced of photographs of women. Women Are Beautiful was published by Winogrand in 1975. Some Women, by Mapplethorpe, was published posthumously in 1989, but was put together in consultation with his friend and colleague Dimitri Levas before his death. The difference between the visions of these two artists, made palpable in the two collections, lays bare a number of the basic variables of photography as an art.
Robert Mapplethorpe is edited and designed by Mark Holborn and Dimitri Levas, with a foreword by Patti Smith, an introduction by Andrew Sullivan, and an essay by Arthur C. Danto, published by Phaidon on 3 April, £125 (phaidon.com)
Rebecca Morrill introduces the vital book from Phaidon
Any book of women artists is likely to be seen as a direct descendant of feminist art history, the discipline born in the 1960s alongside other social histories that challenged the dominance of the white male protagonist in accounts of the past. Yet women have been the focus of publications considerably further back in time. Giovanni Boccaccio’s De Claris Mulieribus (‘Concerning Famous Women’), 1361–2, for example, included several visual artists among its 106 biographies of important females, historical and mythological. Over a millennium earlier, the Christian theologian Clement of Alexandria in his Stromata (‘Miscellanies’), c. ad198–203, mentions the third-century bc Greek female artist Anaxandra within a chapter entitled ‘Women as Well as Men Capable of Perfection’. And of course, some consider the first ‘named’ artist to have been a woman: Kora of Sicyon (c.650 bc), described by Pliny the Elder in his Natural Histories (ad 77), who drew the silhouette of her lover on a rock.
More recently, although still decades before the women’s movement, the British writer Walter Shaw Sparrow (1862–1940) compiled and edited a substantial survey entitled Women Painters of the World. Seen from a twenty-first-century perspective, it is easy to be critical of this book: his notion of ‘the world’ encompasses only North America and parts of Europe, and his choice of vocabulary – with phrases such as ‘the gentler sex’ – now feels dated. However, in his preface, he touches on some of the fundamental issues that would come to concern feminists later in the century: the need to explore assumptions about the definition of ‘genius’ in art; the issue of whether a fundamentally feminine art style exists; and the question: ‘Is a woman artist equal to any man among the greatest masters?’
His book is also engaging for its fine period design and its multiplicity of printing techniques and paper stocks. Of particular interest is a small erratum slip attached into the binding within the contents pages. Printed on thick matte paper in red ink, it explains that images of works by nine additional – and at the time contemporary – painters had been featured in a supplement added after the rest of the book had gone to press. One can only imagine Sparrow’s frustration, having finally completed his 332-page magnum opus, to have yet more artists to include. He hints that there were more than just those nine, stating, ‘It is hoped that the Women Painters of To-day may be studied again in the second volume … there are thousands of ladies who now win a place in the art exhibitions of Europe and America.’ No such volume was made, and Sparrow went on instead to author numerous monographs on (male) artists in the ‘Art and Life Library’ series.
Great Women Artists is published by Phaidon, £39.95 (phaidon.com)
Jacob Charles Wilson reflects on the most enduring architectural movement of the 20th century
We live in a brutal world. Open your phone and there will be three photo galleries of Yugoslavian spomeniks, two interviews with young authors in their Barbican flats, nine homemade concrete plant pots, and at least two fashion shoots on the Alexandra Road Estate. We’re all guilty – this article is guilty – but for a moment let’s bring it back to architecture.
Brutalist architecture has probably never been this popular. Even when the style first emerged in the 1950s, and throughout its heyday in the 1960-70s, it remained the architect’s architecture, and the bane of many. But it’s now undergoing something of a revival, the map of brutalist architecture is being rewritten – quite literally. The Atlas of Brutalist Architecture serves as a guide to this brave new world, featuring nearly 900 buildings representing the work of over 700 architects across 100 countries. Brutalism has outgrown its foundations, it’s enjoying a more forgiving definition, and there’s a greater appreciation for these foreboding monuments as they’re recognised for what they are: architectural marvels, not simply concrete monstrosities.
But for those who have been living under a slab of concrete for the past few years: what is brutalism? There’s no simple answer; brutalism as a style and as a name has many competing histories. Jonathan Meades, in his incomparable documentary Bunkers, Brutalism and Bloodymindedness: Concrete Poetry, sees influences in the 18th century appreciation of sublime wildernesses, the hulking Baroque palaces of architect John Vanbrugh, and the bunkers and fortifications of the Second World War. When this architecture of accretions was eventually given a name nobody could agree on where exactly it came from: perhaps from the French béton brut, the term for raw concrete that hasn’t been polished down, or perhaps the Swedish name Nybrutalism. Either way, the part that became cemented in people’s minds was ‘brutal’, so conventional wisdom follows that brutalist buildings are hulks, raw, threatening, and always made of concrete.
The Atlas of Brutalist Architecture counters this conventional definition, showing, in the sheer expanse of its survey, that brutalism has always been a flexible definition: Brutalist architecture aspires, experiments, it is space age architecture rooted firmly on the earth. This unparalleled publication covers almost all the structures that connoisseurs will be familiar with: Denys Lasdun’s National Theatre on London’s Southbank, Le Corbusier’s Unité d’habitation in Marseille, France, and Gerhard Kallmann and Michael McKinnnell’s City Hall for Boston, in the United States, as well as many more underappreciated buildings: the PEGLI 3 housing estate in Genoa, Italy, Agustin Hernandez Navarro’s Praxis Home in Mexico City, and the Hemeroscopium House, Madrid, amongst other lesser known houses and hospitals, libraries and lecture halls that are simply difficult to access, closed down, or destined to be demolished.
Each brief entry comprises a single black and white photograph. It’s a shame there couldn’t be more, but it’s a clear case of quality over quantity. In any case, I found the small glimpse of a building enough to make me want to scope it out in person. The lack of images is only really lamentable in the 30 or so entries which have already been demolished. The descriptions accompanying each photograph are concise, but give enough sense of the building by providing context of its construction and use. Importantly, each entry features a key denoting the condition, current usage, and protection status of the building – essential for those planning to actually visit the sites.
Context is vital in understanding buildings, yet the easily manufactured clickbait of concrete surfaces and obtuse angles has decontextualised many of these structures – a problem that the architecture critic Owen Hatherley has formerly written on. It’s often said that Brutalism is an ethic as much as an aesthetic: about what a building ought to do, as well as how it looks. Perhaps this is why hatred of brutalism is passé, because Brutalism represents for us a time when buildings were built for a purpose, an approach to architecture very different from our own cheap and quick multi-functional rental units.
The most fascinating part of the Atlas is where the images of buildings outside of North America and Western Europe are given context. Here mid-century brutalist architecture never just meant raw concrete, but represented the idea of creating a new identity for these recently-independent and non-aligned nations, a stylistic break from the eerily repeated colonial and Stalinist classicisms. For example: the post office in Agadir, Morocco, designed by Jean-François Zevaco, represents a blending of monumental European modernism and local Arab traditions resulting in a building that resembles an upturned version of the city’s Casbah. The Mexican National Museum of Anthropology sits on the site of the first Aztec settlement and houses one of the best collections of Pre-Columbian artefacts. The Indian parliament building at Chandigarh, regarded as one of the best buildings designed by Le Corbusier, stands as an enormous monument to the country’s hard-won independence.
In my mind, Brutalist buildings are stunning. Associated with honesty to materials, unforgiving inventiveness, and dedicated to social good, it’s easy to see why the style has come to be revived and emulated across media. But is it just another passing trend? Will we find it next week supplanted by romanesque lampshades or wattle and daub coffee pots? If it is a passing trend then it’s simply the same as any other. But I do hope there’s more to it, that it might be the start of a real reassessment of a maligned cultural moment. This Atlas is a good place to start learning the stories of global importance behind the images, but it also simply provides an indispensable guide for planning your next holiday photoshoot.
Having lived in Japan since 1988, faithfully recording the culinary customs of her adopted home, acclaimed food writer Nancy Singleton Hachisu reflects on the vitality of tradition in the country’s unique culture
Like everywhere, modern-day Japanese rely on convenience foods and instant preparations. Part of why I immerse myself in Japanese cuisine is to advocate for a look back at traditional foods and artisanal ingredients that have not yet been lost.
Today’s food distribution systems are such that almost all global foods are available in Japan. This has diluted traditional culinary mores, and one ironic result of that is an increased nostalgia for those very traditions. All kinds of Japanese ingredients, even somewhat obscure ones from small producers, are also now throughout Japan, which has given rise to a renewed interest and excitement about previously regional Japanese foods.
I have been cooking all my life. My husband, Taadaki, is an excellent cook, so other than a foray into temple food cooking when I first arrived in Japan from America in 1988, I left the Japanese cooking to him, except Japanese-flavoured salads. Once we renovated my in-laws’ farmhouse, I became the “resident bride”, and took over the making of the tempura (I like it hot and crispy) and kenchinjiru, the country soup we make before the New Year when friends come to help pound the mochi . Over the decades, Japanese recipes were transmitted to me orally and I faithfully recorded the heart and spirit of the dishes before writing the recipes and then testing them. Proportions and amounts needed to be based on logic, and that logic is generated from years of cooking experience.
Building relationships is the foundation of how we work and live in Japan. No request can come on the first meeting. Friendship and mutual trust need to be forged. I spent one and a half years visiting each chosen area at least two or three times before returning with my photographer. The atmospheric photos of this volume are a true record of the country as it is today, and for that, a treasure.
GINGER-INFUSED GREENS AND VEGETABLES
This medley of simmered, steamed, and crunchy raw vegetables is brought together by the ginger- infused dressing. Leftovers are good for several days, if refrigerated.
150g edible shungiku
150g bok choy
150g komatsuna or mustard greens
135g Japanese aubergines, peeled at intervals for a striped effect
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 and 1⁄2 tablespoons mirin
3 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
150g daikon (or other root vegetable such as turnip), scrubbed and cut into thin julienne
Fill a large pot halfway with water and bring to a boil. Hold the greens with a large pair of tongs and dip the stems into the boiling water to cook for 30 seconds. Drop the greens into the water, push down, and cook for an additional 30 seconds. Drain and refresh in a colander under cold, running water until cool. Squeeze the greens of excess liquid, chop coarsely, and squeeze again.
Set up a steamer and bring the water to a boil. Arrange the aubergine in the steamer basket, cover, and steam until soft, about 15 minutes. Tear or cut lengthwise into strips and halve crosswise.
In a medium bowl, combine the soy sauce and mirin. Squeeze the grated ginger to express the juice into the bowl. Toss the greens, aubergine and daikon in the dressing and serve in a rustic pottery bowl.
The celebrated architect John Pawson, known for his monochromatic and minimalist buildings, reflects on his relationship with colour and a new photographic project, Spectrum
Colour is an attribute people don’t necessarily associate with my work. There is a longstanding presumption that it is all about whiteness. The truth is that it is impossible to talk about any architecture – including my own – without talking about colour. Le Corbusier described architecture as masses brought together in light. And as soon as you have light, you have colour. I have come to see that you can only really start to understand an architectural space when you have seen it in a range of light conditions, which means also experiencing the full range of its colour spectrum. As Goethe put it, “Colours and light… stand in the most intimate relation to each other”.
I am interested in the subtle but critical differences between what the lens and the eye can render. Where both are physically capable of absorbing light, each process the field of view in different ways. However sophisticated a lens, it doesn’t have the sensory capabilities of the eye. On the other hand, the camera does not rely on memory, but can commit the totality of what it does capture to plate, film or digital file. There is something pleasing in the fact that, in this one respect, photography is the more permanent art form, architecture’s enduring arrangements of stone, concrete and steel notwithstanding: the light composition is perpetually changing in a building, where the point of a photograph is to fix it. Reviewing a collection of images is a fascinating and revealing exercise. You see both what you saw at the time and what you missed. And you are reminded of what you perceived in the moment that has somehow eluded the permanence of the photographic record.
The brain has an instinct to sort and make associations, but it has consistent priorities for the ways in which it does this, typically according to narrative, subject and theme. Override these priorities and all manner of other connections are revealed. Set photographs next to one another on the grounds of colour only and you throw up intriguing new reflex relationships between apparently entirely disparate images. The brain naturally makes stories and connections – it is intrinsic to how we think creatively – so in the end it will always find threads to weave together.
In this way, what began as a simple project to use colour as a tool to edit and order a selection of photographs has become both a creative act in its own right and an invitation to engage.
This is an excerpt from Spectrum, published by Phaidon.
Nicholas Bonner reflects on his first visit to Pyongyang and his collection of vibrant North Korean visual ephemera
Pyongyang was, and remains, a more beautiful capital than Beijing. It is a planned city that sprung up following the devastation of the Korean War (1950–53) – locals say that only three buildings were left standing. The Taedong River and its tributary the Potong River run through the city and, together with various parks, give Pyongyang an admirably high proportion of green space. Early Soviet-style utilitarian apartment blocks and more modern prestige streets were interspersed with peculiar and original public buildings: theatres, gymnasia, cinemas and libraries, all with quirky but wonderful interiors. I had more questions than answers, and it only dawned on me on return to Beijing just how unusual it had all been.
This curiosity-driven jaunt was the first of hundreds of visits, a decades-long enduring fascination with North Korea and its people; its art, products, oddities, mysteries and banalities. These combine to create a whole that remains murky beyond the parts that ‘they’ want you to see, but, with enough persistence and stubbornness, reveals itself incrementally. I have seen the contradictions and controversies, the surprise of normality, the well-off and the desperate, and the emergence of familiar elements from out of the seemingly alien. I still regularly get blindsided by unexpected occurrences; from surprising revelations from old friends, and the excitement of visiting a newly available part of the country, to the swing between sub-zero winters and sweltering summers. It isn’t a place to tire of easily.
As a countryside ranger taking school groups on walks through the green fields and moors of England, I saw that kids stuffed their pockets with stones or flowers, and a similar magpie-style of collection started with me as soon as I began visiting North Korea. I was charmed and simply taken by the graphic design elements of the products there. Many were not technically or legally ‘available’ to me, a foreigner. So I would buy Korean sweets and keep the wrappers and the hoarding eventually became several large boxes stuffed with what others might, justifiably, call junk. When I was approached to publish a collection of North Korean graphics, this rubbish (which I did at least keep in labelled envelopes) suddenly transubstantiated into a carefully curated collection of expertly selected design ephemera.
Nicholas Bonner is a documentary filmmaker, screenwriter, and co-founder of Beijing-based travel agency Koryo Tours, who organise trips to the DPRK.
As it opens up the modernist canon to include both contemporary buildings and lesser-known examples from around the world, a new book asks what modernism means today
In 1910, Austrian architect Adolf Loos delivered a radical lecture railing against what he called ‘the plague of ornament’. Later published as an essay titled ‘Ornament and Crime’, Loos’ polemic was first and foremost a violent reaction to the excess and elitism of art nouveau. For Loos, art nouveau’s decadence was an unnecessary burden on both the powers of invention and human labour. Both, he claimed, slow the tempo of cultural progress. Subject as it is to changing taste, the form of an object, he argued, should last as long as the object lasts physically. This was not the first time a moralising stance has been taken on style, but more than century later, it has proved to be one of the most influential.
A new book, Ornament is Crime: Modernist Architecture, plays on Loos’ legacy and celebrates the architectural language of modernism with a visual survey of extraordinary homes dating from 1910 to present day. As it opens up the modernist canon to include both contemporary buildings and lesser-known examples from around the world, it necessarily asks what modernism means today.
“Modernism isn’t just a style, it’s actually a radical approach to life and to art,” says co-author Albert Hill. “That clear purpose has resulted in great architecture, and people recognise that this is not architecture by numbers, this is not architecture by corporate committee, this is architecture by vision and values.”
In the 20th century, the tremors of modernism were felt in everything from painting to literature, and to underscore the lasting intensity of these values, authors Matt Gibberd and Albert Hill have interspersed silky black and white photographs with punchy quotes, song lyrics and literary excerpts from figures such as Susan Sontag and Samuel Beckett. “Instead of just being about architecture, the book is about architecture’s place within modern culture,” Hill says.
Although modernism is often historically confined to the 20th century, Ornament is Crime liberates the term by looking at how some of the most respected contemporary architects – including John Pawson, Richard Meier and Tadao Ando – continue to work in the modernist tradition.
“There are very obvious characteristics that these houses share,” explains Gibberd. “Flat roofs, often horizontal bands of glazing, cubic or cylindrical forms. Modernism came about because of new technologies – the possibilities of curtain-walling, and the fact that concrete allowed you to have these open floor plates, huge expanses of glazing – and those still very much apply.”
Many of these defining characteristics were outlined by Le Corbusier in his five points of architecture. With its free facade, ribbon windows, pilotis, roof terrace and open plan, the Swiss-French architect’s iconic Villa Savoye, built in 1929 in Poissy, on the outskirts of Paris, is an embodiment of these principles and remains a benchmark for modernist design. In the absence of surface decoration, Gibberd suggests that modernist architecture becomes about “shape-making”, and like Loos, Le Corbusier and legions of architects since, Ornament is Crime extols the virtues of pure form.
Slowly but surely, the idea of eating insects is being introduced to European countries thanks to insect-based food projects and recipe books hoping to put an end to the ‘creepy-crawly’ taboo
The concept of entomophagy, as its known, was once almost impossible to fathom in the West, but in the last few years there has been a growing interest in insects as an alternative food source. Very slowly, supermarkets are beginning to stock insect-based snacks, while chefs and restaurants are experimenting with insects as ingredients.
Two billion people across the world already eat bugs regularly. Countries including Africa, Australia, Thailand and even the Netherlands incorporate insects into their diets, so why has ittaken so long to catch on in the UK? The answer is arguably a combination of convention and unfamiliarity, but the reality is that eating insects is no different from eating shellfish. There are more than 2037 edible insects in the world and many contain a vast number of minerals, protein and good essential fats that Westerners have overlooked.
“It is reported there are over 2000 edible insect species on the planet so that’s essentially 2000 different flavours,” explains Neil Whippet, co-founder of Eat Grub, an edible insect source that produces insect-based snacks and hosts food events in London. “People just need to get over the psychology of it. That’s what our company ethos is all about. We’re just trying to be a brand that welcomes people to eating insects.”
In addition to selling snacks, energy bars, and cooking packs containing crickets, grasshoppers, Mealworms and more, Eat Grub also develops new recipes to try at home. These include grasshopper stir fry, buffalo worm fried rice, spicy grasshoppers with beansprouts and chocolate cherry cricket brownies. “Crickets are related to shellfish so if you like prawns, you’ll like crickets,” Whippet says. “They’re high in protein and calcium, plus the protein is complete so it has all nine essential amino acids and they’re high in vitamin B12 and fibre. We call them the original superfood.”
As further evidence of the trend,a new book produced by the non-profit, open-source organisation Nordic Food Lab, On Eating Insects, is the first publication to take a comprehensive culinary view on eating insects and how to prepare, cook and enjoy them.
Inside, Michael Bom Frøst – a sensory scientist and director of Nordic Food Lab – discusses his first experience eating insects. “Through tasting them I learned why we should eat them,” he writes. Many have interesting and unusual flavours that he claims we are missing out on. Frest looks back on his first taste of an Amazonian ant (apparently similar to lemongrass and ginger) as an almost religious experience that he found mind-changing.
By 2050 the world could have a population of over nine billion people and according to research, food production may be forced to increase by 70 per cent. In preparation, we need to develop a more sustainable approach to food. It follows that eating insects could very well be the answer. And for those still struggling with the idea of eating insects whole, products like ground cricket flour can be a softer introduction.
“When people talk about wanting to eat more healthily and sustainably, eating insects ticks both those boxes,” Whippet explains. “And they taste great too which is key for any food product.”
On Eating Insects: Essays, Stories and Recipes by Josh Evans, Roberto Flore, Michael Bom Frøst, published by Phaidon, is out now