I fell hard for Anselm Kiefer's impossible but seductive lead books back in the day. I was in college and just making my way from religiously/symbolically loaded Italian Renaissance to contemporary art, when I found the lush catalogue for Kiefer's The High Priestess on a visit to Rizzoli in NYC. [NY was then still in the wake of a big Kiefer retrospective, which I'd missed.] It was like the guidebook to the historically saturated, emotionally fraught world Wim Wenders had just captured in his 1987 angels documentary, Wings of Desire.
The High Priestess, 1989, photos by the artist, image of a signed copy available from bythebooklc in Phoenix
After a few years, I cooled a bit on Kiefer, got a bit more context, began to recognize and be [a bit] skeptical of my own susceptibility to the allure of superlative materialism. So the show at Marian Goodman in 1993, which consisted of the contents of the vanished artist's abandoned studio in Germany--a teetering stack of once-valuable, ruined, dirt-encrusted paintings, and a long table strewn with semen-splattered ledger books--didn't hit me as hard as it did some folks.
20 Jahre Einsamkeit/20 Years of Loneliness, 1971-1991, image via schjeldahl/artnet
[Re-reading it now for the first time in 20+ years, I realize that Jack Flam's 1992 NYRB essay on Kiefer's work and the euphoric literature it spawned was the source of my unconscious reboot. I basically internalized Flam's argument in its entirety; I must have been a hit at parties, parroting that thing.]
Anyway, the point is, I guess, is I have a long and conflicted relationship with artist books, especially the most physically luxurious and sublime ones. I know this. I live this. I make books myself with as little aestheticizing consciousness as possible because of this.
And yet, here I am, swooning like an undergrad at the amazing video of Olafur Eliasson's A View Becomes A Window, an edition of nine handblown glass-and-leather books produced for Ivorypress, which is on view in Madrid through this week:
Seeing the colored glass samples stacked up around his studio for the last several years, AVBAW seems like the most normal, logical extension of Olafur's recent work. Which is just the cool, analytical inevitability it needed to get past my sublime defenses.