Mark Grotjahn is known for his paintings that emanate an overt sense of the graphic—what I like to refer to as the image-ness of the image. The strength of his body of work is the polarity between the different series that comprise it, and key to that polarity is the conceptual freedom he’s declared for himself in the first place. From the formally tight, monochromatic Butterfly paintings, to his very loose Mask sculptures, Grotjahn trapezes a wide aesthetic expanse from one series to another.
Of all the books on Mark Grotjahn, none have focused on his work like the recent publication by the Aspen Art Museum, where the first comprehensive survey of his work was mounted last year. Sure, there are other (yet incomplete) catalogues on Grotjahn, but just like his art, the publications that chronicle his output have only gone up in price—and just as quickly. And when you can’t afford a work of art by an artist you appreciate, you should at least be able to obtain something to serve as a reference. That’s why this monograph is such a good deal as it’s just being made available.
When it comes to books, here’s my criteria, and keep in mind this is not a literary book review, it’s an Art book review, and artists have their own wants and needs when it comes to their books:
Writing: The essays by Barry Schwabsky and Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson are both kept to the subject at hand. Salient is how I describe their assessment of Grotjahn’s career thus far and I wasn’t pulled into a side conversation about some far-flung, hypothetical influences that really have nothing to do with his work. It was refreshing to hear both writers focusing on Grotjahn with enough scrutiny that I actually learned more about him.
Images: Of course, an art book should be bristling with reproductions. What I look for are images of additional works from the artist that I have never seen, along with studio shots that shed light on studio practice. This publication has both as it contains fifty-four color photos total, some of which are of works not found anywhere else, along with two-page spreads of studio shots revealing some of his new bronze masks in process and some much smaller versions of his Face series of paintings. My only reservation is that some of the photos in the “additional works” section could have been somewhat larger in size.
Heft: Did the last art monograph you’ve read weigh a ton? It shouldn’t have. A book should be a pleasure to read, not weight training. Over the past ten years or so, I’ve noticed a leaning toward the production of publications in smaller dimensions, which keeps the cost down a bit and makes them much easier to just pick up and read. Remember those “coffee table” sized books? Their size and weight simply makes them unwieldy and higher priced. So, the book on Grotjahn certainly has good heft; I can sit in a chair and read it for a long stretch without fatigue setting in.
Shelvability: The dimensions of any given book can impact whether it fits on the shelf or not, which is important when it comes to the preservation of any publication. Too tall of a spine and it simply won’t be possible to store it on a standard shelf, a practical thing to consider here. It’s good to know that the dimensions of the Grotjahn book are: 8.75 x .5 x 11.5 inches, and with a simple, straightforward design, hardcover and quality paper stock, it should wear well.
Affordability: Introductory price is: $34.29 at certain retailers. When used copies of other books on Grotjahn are selling for double, sometimes triple their original price or more, this publication is more comprehensive in its analysis of his work and is definitely more affordable.
Import: Before buying any book, I always ask myself if it’s of such importance to me that I will refer back to it over the years to come. Additionally, will it add to my overall sense of what I want to have in my personal library, just like my own collection of art? Finally, does it contribute to my personal growth as an artist, or is it a publication that’s so well done that it’s actually a work of art itself? Again, Mark Grotjahn, published by the Aspen Art Museum is just such a book.
Painter’s Bread Ranking (from 1-5, five being the highest score).
—This book satisfies all of the above criteria just shy of completely, I give it a 4 ¾.
Mark Grotjahn [Hardcover]:
Barry Schwabsky (author), and Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson (author, foreword), Mark Grotjahn (author).
Aspen Art Museum. aspenartmuseum.org
28Illustrations: 54 color photos.