Nonfiction: English Architecture, Le Corbusier, Modernists, Nat Geo Photos | Xpress Reviews

Week ending February 13, 2015

Binski, Paul. Gothic Wonder: Art, Artifice and the Decorated Style 1290–1350. Yale Univ. 2014. 452p. photos. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780300204001. $75. FINE ARTS
This new work by British medievalist professor and scholar Binski paves the way for a new discussion on the influence of English architecture on the late gothic style of the European continent. This is certainly not a coffee-table book by any means, although there are numerous magnificent photographs and detailed illustrations used as primary examples for his thesis. The author’s focus is on the revival of the use of aesthetic to the understanding of medieval art. Following a scholarly introduction, the book is divided into three primary sections: “Mode, Invention and Means”; “The Aesthetics of the Decorated Style”; and “Artifice, Authority and Figuration.” Each section is then subdivided into ten chapters total on “The Heroic Horizons of Pre-Decorated Art,” “Gothic Invention,” and “Invention Energized: Scale and Allegory,” to name a few. Binski spends a large amount of time discussing the extraordinary buildings at Ely Cathedral in Cambridgeshire, England, devoting an entire chapter to this location. A very extensive notes and bibliography section concludes this well-researched and documented work.
Verdict This masterly work will be appreciated by scholars of history and art and is recommended for academic libraries and institutions concentrating on art, architecture, and aesthetics.—Stephen Allan Patrick, Jonesborough, TN

Flint, Anthony. Modern Man: The Life of Le Corbusier, Architect of Tomorrow. New Harvest. 2014. 288p. notes. index. ISBN 9780544262225. $25. ARCH
Le Corbusier (1887–1965) born Charles-Edouard Jeanneret-Gris, was a French/Swiss architect ahead of his time. His career spanned decades. In the 1920s, his ideas for housing, to create streamlined living spaces designed for efficiency, were considered radical. His early designs for residences were unique for the time, featuring open floor plans, concrete construction, and pylons to produce parking space beneath. The architect aspired to invent entire “cities” that were efficiently conceived. After World War II, one of his great successes was the city of Chandigarh in India, an entirely planned community built from scratch. While his theories of modern architecture were cutting edge, the man himself was just as fascinating. He lived an exciting life filled with highs and lows, successes and disappointments, and encounters with some of the most famous and interesting people of the 20th century, including a shipboard affair with performer Josephine Baker. The author, a fellow at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy and a veteran journalist, presents a well-researched and chronicled account of the life of the man known as “the architect of tomorrow.”
Verdict While filled with great detail and documented research, the writing is a bit cumbersome.—Sandra Knowles, South Carolina State Lib., Columbia

Govan, Michael & Anna Bernardini. Robert Irwin | James Turrell: Villa Panza. Prestel. 2014. 168p. illus. notes. ISBN 9783791353982. $65. FINE ARTS
Count Giuseppe Panza bi Biumo (1923–2010) was an Italian aristocrat who inherited the Villa Menafoglio Litta Panza near Milan and an ardent collector of modern art, primarily by Americans. Late in life after having filled the family villa with acquisitions, much of his collection was distributed to several American museums—most notably forming the core of Los Angeles’s Museum of Contemporary Art (LACA). Focuses include abstract expressionists, pop, and finally the California School of Minimalists. In this last category were Robert Irwin (b. 1928) and James Turrell (b. 1943), from whom he commissioned many site-specific installations and who are at the center of this book, published on the occasion of an exhibition at the villa. Regrettably, both Irwin’s and Turrell’s nonobjective works are very site-specific and difficult to portray in print. The artists were interested in built interior spaces, to be experienced from within, making use of natural and artificial light to produce transcendent environments. Equally regrettably this title is not up to the challenge of conveying the impact of the art on visitors. The illustrations are adequate as a catalog and retrospective; several essays elaborately recount Panza’s relations with the artists; and it’s evident that both men adapted to new technologies. But the cumulative effect is too diffuse, too disjointed to be interesting.
Verdict Of appeal mainly to devotees of a very specific school of American modernists and the history of art collecting.—Douglas F. Smith, Oakland P.L.

starred review starGriffiths, Annie. Stunning Photographs. National Geographic. 2014. 400p. photos. ISBN 9781426213922. $40. PHOTOG
stunningphotographs021315For this lovely and dramatic book, National Geographic (NG) photographer Griffiths (A Camera, Two Kids, and a Camel: My Journey in Photographs; National Geographic Simply Beautiful Photographs) has chosen hundreds of the most remarkable images ever made by NG photographers. Herself an accomplished photographer whose work has appeared in Life, Smithsonian, GEO, Paris Match, and other publications, Griffiths contributes a thoughtful introduction and has organized the book into six broad categories: “Mystery”; “Harmony”; “Wit”; “Discovery”; “Energy”; and “Intimacy.” She has succeeded admirably in selecting such fine photographs and arranging them, along with insightful quotes, in an appealing manner. Beautifully designed and reasonably priced, Stunning Photographs offers a sampler of incredible images in a single, large-format monograph.
Verdict Anyone interested in photography, from amateur to seasoned professional, will absolutely love this book.—Raymond Bial, First Light Photography, Urbana, IL