The Twentieth Century Society

Review: Books round-up October 2013

Reviewed by Catherine Croft

Geoffrey Clarke: a Sculptor’s Prints by Judith LeGrove (Sansom & Company, 160pp, £35)

If you’d like to know more about Geoffrey Clarke, I can highly recommend this. It includes a catalogue raisonné of his prints, an extract from his RCA thesis, and lots of fascinating information about his commissions and contacts with the design world – for instance, that copies of the etching Adoration of Nature were set in bonded plastic as decorative panels for Robin Day’s sideboards exhibited at the 1951 Milan Trienniale and the Festival of Britain the same year.  And the (mostly monochrome) prints are pretty wonderful themselves. Judith LeGrove was previously the curator of the Britten-Pears Archive in Aldeburgh and edited A Musical Eye: The Visual World of Britten and Pears (also just published), which would go nicely with a trip to the Red House.


Concrete: Photography and Architecture ed. Daniela Janser, Thomas Seelig and Urs Stahel (Scheidegger and Spiess, 440pp, £66.50)

Despite its grey endpapers, raw grey card binding and the word CONCRETE down the spine, this bilingual German/English heavyweight isn’t a book about concrete buildings (yes, I was slightly disappointed when I realised).  Instead it’s an exploration of the relationship between architecture and photography, between the physical object and image, which originated in an exhibition at Winterthur in Switzerland.   I was struck by comments made in a transcribed conversation with the architect Annette Gigon, where she notes that ‘artists’ photographs made a different perception [of undervalued buildings] possible.’  She cited Ed Ruscha’s Every Building on the Sunset Strip and Bernd and Hilla Becher’s photographs of industrial buildings: ‘Even if it depicts something ugly, there is something about it that is influencing, formative.  With an image one can almost never say “no”.’  I sense that the material hangs together less well as a book than it did on the wall, where it would have more easily prompted cross-readings and fresh insights, but it includes some great images, many of which will be unfamiliar in the UK.


Charles and Ray Eames: Pioneers of Mid-Century Modernism by Gloria Koenig (Taschen, 96pp, £6.99)

This book quotes the New York Times on its dust jacket, talking about the series it is part of: ‘These seductive books have slick production values, excellent illustrations and smart texts.  Each one is a fast-food, high-energy fix on the topic at hand.’ I’m not sure how the Eames would feel about this endorsement.  From the famous photo of Ray at the handlebars of a Triumph motorcycle, with Charles grinning behind (and clearly parked up in a studio) through the opening line: ‘Together they dared to disturb the universe, altering it forever with their Eamesian touch’, it’s a fast and upbeat ride, with lots of pictures.  A ten-page introduction is followed by mini-chapters on major projects.  Perhaps less a MacDonald’s burger, more a Prȇt à Manger sandwich.