by Tal R

Man Overboard (Mann über Bord)

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My standards for a good art book are generally pretty straightforward: (1) Make the art nice and big, so I can see it. (2) Make sure the colors are reproduced well. (3) Keep the pictures to themselves.

This book breaks all of those rules, but I think it might be one of the best art books I’ve ever seen.

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That may be because it isn’t really an art book at all. It’s more like another piece of art.

Tal R arranged the pages himself: an album of  pictures neatly affixed with photo-corners on colored paper. It has the feel of a scrapbook, but there are no outside references here. All the work is his own, drawn from 15 years of art-making.

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The work is wildly diverse. A large, stringy sculpture on a pedestal. A small color-blocked painting. A photograph of a near-naked woman holding some kind of suitcase.

Different genres. Different vocabularies.

The pieces could easily have been made by entirely different artists.

But then, of course, they weren’t.

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Nothing is grouped in any obvious way — by chronology, say. Or theme. Or genre. (There are neither titles nor dates provided, even in the end-matter.)

But the pages convey a sense of implicit coherence. We get the feeling of a singular human intelligence at work here. A disco-ball draped in hair  relates to a painting of a circus relates to a quilt. When the pieces are put next to one another, it all becomes part of a continuous thought process.

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You have to pay attention to understand the story here. But it’s not presented as a puzzle.

Though there are no titles or dates to organize them, they are all driven by the same kind of feeling.

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Some pieces appear more than once, pictured at different angles, at different scales. They lurk in the background, and we begin to see how they have been revised (or even wrecked) in order to make something new. One set of problems gets solved, and other problems emerge. Everything can be re-purposed. It’s all luminous, but none of it is precious.

In place of big clean pictures, here we get a different kind of account of an artist’s work — not just a catalogue of objects, but a sense of what it means to make them.

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