Nonfiction on Vivian Maier, Amazing Road Trips, the European Union, & Erotic Dolls | Xpress Reviews

Week ending July 4, 2014

Cahan, Richard & Michael Williams. Eye to Eye: Photographs by Vivian Maier. CityFiles. 2014. 207p. photos. ISBN 9780991541805. $49.95. PHOTOG
Since her death in 2009, Vivian Maier has become internationally famous because of her heartbreaking story and brilliant photography. Virtually invisible to others, she died alone and in poverty but left a wealth of photographs—more than 100,000 images. For over a half-century Maier wandered the streets of New York and Chicago and journeyed through Asia and elsewhere making incredible photographs. Few knew of Maier’s pursuit during her lifetime, and her great talent went unrecognized. But since the body of her life’s work—a treasure trove of prints and negatives—was rescued from a storage locker and thrift shop, she has been acknowledged as a great artist. To date, three excellent collections of Maier’s photographs have been published (Vivian Maier: Out of the Shadows; Vivian Maier: Street Photographer; and Vivian Maier: Self-Portraits). In this title, Cahan and Williams, authors of Out of the Shadows, have again followed a thematic approach, this time gathering informal portraits in which Maier has caught the eye of at least one person in the frame. While these photographs may not rise to the artistry and unbelievable originality of Maier’s street images and self-portraits, they do offer touching glimpses into the lives of those portrayed and a quiet sense of humanity. The authors contribute a short, insightful introduction but otherwise allow the artwork to speak for itself.
Verdict Anyone who appreciates photography, especially incomparable photographs, will love Eye to Eye.—Raymond Bial, First Light Photography, Urbana, IL

Grosberg, Michael & Adam Karlin. New York & the Mid-Atlantic’s Best Trips: 27 Amazing Road Trips. Lonely Planet. 2014. 351p. photos. maps. index. ISBN 9781741798142. pap. $24.99. TRAV
At first glance, this Lonely Planet guide looks like the beginning of a Rand McNally road atlas: sweeping vistas, majestic mountains, and the postcard-ready beauty of America that offers an exciting introduction to an otherwise very practical resource. But this collection of road trips is entertaining and colorful throughout, in images, text, and simple maps tracing suggested routes through New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Washington, DC, Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia. The guide does an impressive job of highlighting how many hidden treasures, historical wonders, and breathtaking natural scenes grace the relatively small spaces that comprise most of the Mid-Atlantic states. One could follow easily any one of the suggested trips to the letter or select a few stops for a day trip, while locals might pick one site at a time.
Verdict Great for international travelers and seasoned locals alike, this guidebook maintains a fine balance between well-known attractions and spots off the beaten path and presents them in a visually enticing manner.—Emilia Packard, Austin, TX

Olson, Todd P. Caravaggio’s Pitiful Relics. Yale Univ. 2014. 247p. illus. notes. index. ISBN 9780300190137. $65. FINE ARTS
Olson (art history, Univ. of California, Berkeley; Poussin and France: Painting, Humanism and the Politics of Style) presents a first-person scholarly perspective of the 1590s when Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio came to Rome. He examines the artist’s response to the Catholic Church’s Counter-Reformation; his narrative subjects, materiality, and technique; the relics cult (incorruptibility of the saint’s body and obsession with possessing souvenirs for veneration); and his church commissions, politics, and reputation. The book’s inviting structure misleads. Carefully delineated, topical chapters (five) confuse with choppy content and seemingly unrelated twists, separated by titled paragraphs. Ample black-and-white and color plates of paintings and prints accompany difficult-to-digest topics; the choice of hard-to-read type is unfortunate. At least there is an index, although it will be difficult to pinpoint unified discussion for the student-researcher. Natasha T. Seaman’s The Religious Paintings of Hendrick ter Brugghen is an academic yet more approachable companion work.
Verdict Since this work presupposes much more than basic knowledge of, or curiosity about, the artist, his historical critics, and major ecclesiastical events of his time, it is recommended for the art historian alone. Obtuse prose and scholarly allusions will most likely frustrate the majority of readers.—Marianne Laino Sade, Maryland Inst. Coll. of Art Lib., Baltimore

Peet, John & Anton La Guardia. Unhappy Union: How the Euro Crisis—and Europe—Can Be Fixed. PublicAffairs. 2014. 240p. illus. notes. index. ISBN 9781610394499. $23.99; ebk. ISBN 9781610394505. INT AFFAIRS
Coauthors and Economist journalists Peet (Europe editor) and La Guardia (Brussels correspondent) here provide insights into the impact of European Union (EU) activities worldwide, especially the economic events experienced by its 28 member states. The establishment of the modern EU and adoption of the Euro, the shared currency among member states, was intended to promote democracy, free trade, and prosperity throughout the Eurozone. However, recent debt crises in countries such as Greece, Ireland, and Spain highlight that the integration of the European monetary and banking systems are complex and create risks for member states that non-EU nations do not face. There are no easy, straightforward solutions, but the authors present extensive analysis about potential directions.
Verdict This work will appeal to readers who have been searching for a comprehensive account of the modern EU and its history.—Caroline Geck, Camden Street Sch. Lib., Newark, NJ

Smith, Marquard. The Erotic Doll: A Modern Fetish. Yale Univ. 2014. 376p. illus. notes. index. ISBN 9780300152029. $40. FINE ARTS
eroticdoll070414The phenomenon of Pygmalianism, the fetishizing of inanimate humanlike objects, in modern art and culture is the core theme of this study. In consideration of this topic, Smith (head of doctoral studies, School of Humanities, Royal Coll. of Art, London; editor, Journal of Visual Culture) discusses not only dolls but any category of human forms, including mannequins, sex toys, statues, artificial anatomy, etc. Such objects have played a role in modern art from the late 19th century, especially among the Surrealists and in more recent years in installation art, videos, and even mainstream cinema (e.g., 2007’s Lars and the Real Girl, starring Ryan Gosling). The works of some notable 20th-century artists, including Oskar Kokoschka, Marcel Duchamp, and Hans Bellmer, receive special attention. The well-written, readable text is accompanied by just enough illustrations to reinforce the author’s analyses. While this is a scholarly study of an interesting topic, readers should understand that sexuality is explicitly discussed.
Verdict Highly recommended for those interested in modern art and a unique aspect of modern sexology.—Eugene C. Burt, Seattle