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Coffee Table Curator: April 2017

Moyra Davey, Moyra Davey: Les Goddesses/Hemlock Forest, Dancing Foxes Press, 29.95 USD

In October of 2016 at La Biennale de Montréal artist Moyra Davey premiered Hemlock Forest, a fragmented film that melds autobiography with photographic, filmic, and literary references. The work is an act of sharing comparable to a letter, in which the New York-based artist reveals a great deal but with restraint. Over the course of 42 minutes, Davey recites a script, which one can now read in Moyra Davey: Les Goddesses/Hemlock Forest alongside an essay by Aveek Sen and the text of her 2011 film Les Goddesses. When paired as chapters of one publication, bridges between the two periods of Davey's life, which were depicted on-screen, are made clear.

If you're unfamiliar with Davey, this book serves as an intimate introduction to her work, and if you're a follower of her practice, the printed bibliography at its close is perhaps of most interest—a list of her influences and fodder for further reading. 

Sam Contis, Deep Springs, MACK Books, 45 USD

Deep Springs is Sam Contis's first book, and sees the California-based photographer investigate the mythological American West. Her subject is Deep Springs College, an isolated all-male school (established in 1917 and located north of Death Valley and east of the Sierra Nevada) where pupils are taught to tend to the land and care for cattle. Her images evoke the heat of a sun-drenched day in the desert. There are photographs of blood, flies, dust, meat, and sunburnt skin, as well as young men working, asleep, and at play (a crotch, an Adam's apple, a stomach, and muscular back all make appearances). Shot in both black-and-white and color and paired with archival imagery, the images collectively form a vital, exhausting portrait of Deep Springs. Contis is both kind to her subjects and conceptually confrontational in pointing to long-established established understandings of masculinity.   

Nicolas Jaar, Network, Printed Matter, 33 USD

Nicolas Jaar is best known for his "sonic experiments," which take the form of electronic soundscapes, but it's unsurprising that his vision extends beyond music given that he's the son of visual artist Alfredo Jaar and has already ventured into film scores. His latest project is Network, an art book co-published by Printed Matter and Jaar's label Other People. It's an extension of his online project by the same name, in which Jaar conceived of a DJ hosting a network of radio stations online; each station features Jaar's music (such as his 2016 album Sirens) or mixes that he created with voice actors and other audio material.

The physical iteration of Network is primarily a black-and-white transcription of these stations, complete with a pullout guide of their names and the contributors who worked on them. The result is frenetic, jumping from topic to topic and never "complete." Some pages consist of photos while others feature only text and take on a poetic quality, such as this favorite line of ours: "TAKE CARE NOT TO SEE WHAT IS NOT THERE TO BE SEEN."  

Larry Sultan, Pictures from Home, MACK Books, 50 USD

Larry Sultan's 1992 photo book Pictures from Home is as much a self-study as it is a document of suburban Southern California in the ‘80s and all that carries with it (domestic dreams and the expectation of evolution out in "the West"). This reissue requires little introduction: it reprints Sultan's images and original text from the 10-year-long project verbatim. 

James Baldwin and Steve Schapiro, The Fire Next Time, Taschen, 200 USD

In 1963 the Harlem-born writer James Baldwin published The Fire Next Time, a pairing of essays addressing the history of the African American experience in the United States (in the form of a letter addressed to his nephew) and Baldwin's understanding of the role of religion in his home borough. In November of the year prior, a portion of the text was published in The New Yorker and read by Life magazine photographer Steve Schapiro, who promptly asked his editors if he could photograph Baldwin. He traveled with Baldwin for four weeks in June of 1964, documenting his involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, a time that Congressman John Lewis aptly refers to as "the struggle for human dignity in America."

For this special edition publication (released in a set of 1,963), Baldwin's words are paired with an introduction by Lewis, an essay by Gloria Karefa-Smart, and, of course Schapiro's images—of "Bombingham" (Birmingham, Alabama), Martin Luther King Jr., the South Side of Chicago, Rosa Parks, segregationists in the South, the March on Washington, and more. Schapiro's essay Eyewitness is also included. The efficacy of their combination is haunting, and we continue to consider the following observation by Lewis: "Baldwin and Schapiro were convinced, as I am, that love makes up the tiniest, most minute seed at the core of existence, but it is also the giant force that binds our universe to every part of heaven. It was love, Baldwin believed, that had the power to bend that moral arc toward justice ..." 



Alexander Nemerov, Ralph Eugene Meatyard: American Mystic, Fraenkel Gallery/D.A.P., 45 USD

Ralph Eugene Meatyard's The Family Album of Lucybelle Crater was published posthumously in 1974, two years after the Lexington, Kentucky-based photographer passed away due to cancer. Though he was a week shy of 47 when he died, his photographic output was impressive: his surreal black-and-white images were disturbing and at times humorous. He often depicted children in menacing poses; blurred limbs or doll parts; kids and adults in masks; eerie landscapes; and mausoleums or broken-down buildings.

In American Mystic, Alexander Nemerov dissects Meatyard's final series image by image, revealing the bank of literary and art historical references lurking in his compositions. Nemerov was given unprecedented access to Meatyard's photographic archive, notebooks, and family (which frequently was his subject), the result of which is a nuanced understanding of the amateur's interests. Meatyard's work is also on view at Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco through the end of next week.