Category: Modern Art

The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Laing (Picador, 2016).

lonelycity“When you have no-one, no-one can hurt you”. The bleak lyrics by Will Oldham from ‘You Will Miss Me When I Burn’ by Palace Brothers are hardly life affirming. Olivia Laing takes a more positive line from Dennis Wilson’s ‘Thoughts of You’ in which the Beach Boy sings how “Loneliness is a very special place”.

However, I doubt that many people equate loneliness with specialness. Most of the time it’s a condition that generates feelings of shame, self loathing and depression. The invisible cloak we wear is a burden rather than a protection.

The ‘adventures’ of Olivia Laing’s compassionate and insightful book nevertheless show how being alone can be, and has been,  the stimulus to greater self knowledge and the impetus towards personal creativity. Continue reading


ASK ME ASK ME ASK ME by Patrick Potter (Carpet Bombing Culture, 2017)

ask meI have no idea how this little gem of a book got to be stocked at the shop of Bologna’s Museum of Modern Art but I’m grateful for some employee’s initiative and vision.

Its subtitle is ‘Random questions for awesome conversations’ and that, together with some lively graphics, is exactly what you get.

The content recognizes the sad truism that the human race is rapidly losing the art of conversation. It promotes the notion that asking and answering questions is a step towards reviving this vital social skill.

The zombie-like addiction to screens of all shapes and sizes means that we risk forgetting the pleasures and perils of ‘real’ human interaction. Left unchecked, this will leave us increasingly technologically connected and physically isolated. Continue reading


Walk Through Walls: A Memoir by Marina Abramović (2016)

marinaI suspect most will, like me, come to this illuminating book through the publicity surrounding Marina Abramović’s recent works of performance art like The Artist Is Present at MoMa New York (March 14 – May 31, 2010) and ‘512 Days’ at Serpentine Gallery, London in 2014 or through the numerous fascinating video interviews and talks to be found on You Tube.

These show her to be powerful woman who is both strikingly beautiful and rivetingly charismatic. It becomes clear after seeing and hearing her how she can so fully captivate audiences and inspire adulation. Through the force of her personality and strong physical presence she comes over like a cross like a dominatrix or femme fatale yet also exudes warmth, humor and compassion.

The memoir – ghostwritten by James Kaplan based on extensive interviews – reveals her as an all or nothing character for whom nothing short of total committment is good enough. Continue reading

THE STORY OF LOOKING by Mark Cousins (Canongate Books, 2017)

mark1As with his previous book – The Story Of Film (the tie-in with the brilliant Channel 4 series) , Mark Cousins acts as an articulate and able guide in the same way that E.H. Gombrich did for ‘The Story of Art’ in 1950.

Like Gombrich, the language is kept simple and jargon free in order to appeal to readers of all ages.

It’s easy to imagine Cousins carefully preparing each chapter in the same way as teachers put together lesson plans. He’ll have pack of slides to show and discuss in the classroom but he’ll be ready to shuffle these up to keep students on their toes and to relieve boredom.

There is clearly an educational purpose behind such an ambitious study but there also a desire to keep things as light, accessible and entertaining as possible. Continue reading

LANARK by Alasdair Gray (Canongate, 1981)


If anybody denies that Lanark is a work of genius, that man or woman is not be trusted. If that same person says that it is a work of madness, you might concede that he or she has a point.

It is, by now,  common knowledge that the line between the two concepts – genius and madness – is a fine one. Navigating life can be defined in terms of such a fine line. Imagine a tightrope walker moving between two points without the security or consolation of a safety net. On false step could prove fatal and the safest option of all is not to start the walk from point A to point B in the first place.

Fortunately, enough humans have an inbuilt drive to do things that  have not been done before.  Convention tends to stifle such urges but the risk takers and iconoclasts of this world may embark on journeys that no-one has contemplated.

Lanark is such a journey. It was written over the course of 25 years and eventually published in 1981 when Gray was 47. It is a work of diversity and perversity and is to Glasgow, Scotland what Jame’s Joyce’s Ulysses is to Dublin, Ireland. Continue reading

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