Category Archives: Design

Spraying You: Ari Marcopolous

I’m not reading any reviews of Directory (2011), the new book by Ari Marcopolous and Rizzoli. I can’t, actually: he’s spraying me in the eye. From what I can see, it’s a paperback book, cover finished with a thick kind of lacquer lamination; it’s several hundred or several thousand pages long; it consists of image after image printed on groundwood paper, and it’s $65.

This book is tweaking my ambiguity radar in ways that I usually welcome. That is: I like the idea of art spraying you in the eye, and having to realign yourself to get oriented. Like Johnny Rotten gleefully talking about confused listeners of punk: They don’t have any reference point! They don’t know what to do with it! I appreciate having to work.

Is there some kind of vowel missing in this visual language, these xeroxed photos of graffiti, clouds, stuff? An appreciation of the forms (photography, publishing), perhaps, a missing craftsmanship? Look at the art of Richard Diebenkorn: you can see how the surface has been thoughtfully worked; there was an attention to paint and canvas. I’m not requiring reverence, either: the spray paintings of Christopher Wool have that, too:

Christopher Wool, Untitled, 2007, Enamel on linen, 126 x 96 in. (320 x 243.8 cm)

Reference point? In an old copy of Frieze magazine there was an article by Neville Wakefield on the fashion photography of Steven Meisel. I remember being blistered by it for some reason. It was probably chic envy, along with his complex and searching style, and his research. I appreciated the bit on the Alex Katz editorial in Vogue Italia. If only Neville Wakefield could describe some of Marcopolous’ images, he could throw me a rope.

Wait a minute: Neville Wakefield wrote the text! Where is it? Flip through, flip through: about half a dozen of the photos in Directory have captions. The texts for “Milan,” a photograph of a solitary figure walking through a building, and “Houston,” a barely-there cityscape, led the way. Some of the other captions seemed obvious, and did not.

There are a lot of photographs of graffiti in the book. I’ve read my share about Dondi and Futura 2000, and Mailer; the mojo here is sapped, faded, bleached.

There are other planets in Directory‘s solar system: Philip-Lorca diCorcia: Thousand, which was an exhibition as well as a book, comes to mind. Also, the photography of Mark Morrisroe who was prolific and personal, as Marcopolous seems to be.

Now let me go clean the paint out of my eye so that I can actually read, and possibly review, this book.



A series of books as a project: Errata Editions publishes Books on Books, which are near-facsimilies of historical photobooks. You wouldn’t be able to find the originals easily, or may not have heard of them; for $39.95, you can have all the pages of the original plus an essay and production notes.

The trim size is small, 7″ x 9.5″, and the pages are represented like this, as a “book within a book” style:

Books on Books #7. David Goldblatt, In Boskburg.

The books that I browsed were not seminal books for me, but this is what they call “meta,” and the scale was confusing. I became insatiably interested in seeing the photos at the actual size. Was I looking at a picture of myself reading? Was I also wearing miniature glasses and sitting in a miniature chair, in a miniature room?

During the same reading, my playful mind-scale odyssey continued. I was surprised to find that even smaller scale representations of photos, in Phaidon’s 55 Series, felt adequate, even overadequate, and satisfying:

Subject was important again, size irrelevant, and I envisioned owning the complete library. How could this be? Was I unconsciously overemphasizing the value of the $9.95 price? Errata made a focus on scale an error, glaring, while Phaidon did well at hidin’ it.

Most photobooks for me, are never large enough, especially if the subjects are landscapes. I imagine them expanding to “actual size,” a gallery of life. This leads me to Borges’ maddening On Exactitude in Science, a three-sentence long “story”, with all of its deliberate archaisms and capitalizations. Wonderfully, this fiction has the ability to put the world, and this blog post, in its pocket:

In that Empire, the Art of Cartography attained such Perfection that the map of a single Province occupied the entirety of a City, and the map of the Empire, the entirety of a Province. In time, those Unconscionable Maps no longer satisfied, and the Cartographers Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it. The following Generations, who were not so fond of the Study of Cartography as their Forebears had been, saw that that vast Map was Useless, and not without some Pitilessness was it, that they delivered it up to the Inclemencies of Sun and Winters. In the Deserts of the West, still today, there are Tattered Ruins of that Map, inhabited by Animals and Beggars; in all the Land there is no other Relic of the Disciplines of Geography.

Suarez Miranda, Viajes de varones prudentes, Libro IV, Cap. XLV, Lerida, 1658

From Jorge Luis Borges, Collected Fictions, Translated by Andrew Hurley, 1999.

Zombies vs. Unicorns in 4-D

The book is Zombies vs. Unicorns, edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier, and published by Simon & Schuster. It is accompanied by a small website.

Allow me to read too much into something with almost no words: the cover design.

Zombies vs. Unicorns. Art direction by Sonia Chaghatzbanian.

What compels? The subject matter is about a primal mythological battle, with all the accompanying psychological freight. That can be discussed elsewhere.

Mystery, denial, hiding. The jacket forces a trade of white space, rudimentary and safe, which allows a page to breathe, for black space: the space of shadows, closed eyes, dead ends. It is like any one of the theatrical scrims that divide “the show” from life, and make it a show: the curtain that withholds the stage before the lights go on; the second or two of darkness at the cinema, before the film begins, and after it ends. Before the dream (or nightmare), you “black out.”

There is also a “false exit” in the cover, a locked trap door: the figures of zombie and unicorn are fake die cuts, blind stamped.

The palette beneath is electric, but first, the darkness. This design reminds me of another book. Something is trying to shine out; black is covering it up:

This is almost design in four dimensions. Length, width, height, but also something like time, or memory.