Book Reviews

FELIX THÜRLEMANN. MORE THAN ONE PICTURE: AN ART HISTORY OF THE HYPERIMAGE

Getty Research Institute, 2019

Reviewed by Sharon Mizota

I was excited to read More Than One Picture: An Art History of the Hyperimage by Swiss art historian Felix Thürlemann. I hoped it would provide much-needed background for the unexpected, non-linear ways in which we consume images today. 

Thürlemann defines “hyperimage” as a presentation of multiple, discreet images whose arrangement and juxtaposition create meaning. A hyperimage could be a museum exhibition, an art history lecture, or a book, but I was disappointed to discover that it does not apply (despite its tech-y sounding name), to the glut of imagery found on the Internet. Nor does it exist outside of Western European art history. The book is an informative, and at times insightful “compare and contrast” exercise familiar to most art history students, but it is a missed opportunity to make connections outside of its own discipline. For our “hyper” connected world, it’s exceedingly timid.

The book is divided into three sections, each focusing on a different type of hyperimage creator: collectors, curators, and artists. Each section is further divided into three case studies looking at specific hyperimages. All are arranged more or less chronologically, starting with 17th century salon-style hangings descended from the cabinet of curiosities, to early installations in the Louvre Museum, to more adventurous efforts by German art historian Aby Warburg and French writer André Malraux that incorporate non-Western images (and also reflect the imperialist and colonialist attitudes of their time and place). The final section is devoted to the artworks and reproductions that Pablo Picasso and Pierre Bonnard displayed on their studio walls to situate their own practices in a broader context. It ends with a look at the work of contemporary German photographer Wolfgang Tillmans, whose output consists mostly of hyperimages.

Throughout, Thürlemann emphasizes how these varied creators arranged visual relationships for two main purposes: to distinguish different styles of art, and to compare works with similar iconography. German art historian Heinrich Wölfflin compared and contrasted nudes in Renaissance and Baroque styles to identify their aesthetic and formal differences. 18th century collector Johann Valentin Prehn arranged his remarkable collection of miniature oil paintings according to the “pendant” system in which pairs of images with similar subjects flank a central image, much like an altarpiece. Even Thürlemann’s reading of contemporary artist Tillmans reifies the main genres of Western photography: portrait, landscape, still life, and abstraction. This fixation with style and iconography, while certainly accurate with regard to art history, neglects other forms of hyperimage construction, such as 20th century exhibitions organized around the cultural, geographic, or racial backgrounds of the artists, or by tracing personal or professional relationships among them. 

Thürlemann’s desire to restrict his study to well-trod, Western European art historical ground is understandable. It’s no longer responsible or desirable to make grand, sweeping claims about the world. It’s too vast and chaotic, and it now seems like sheer folly to think that any one person or work could responsibly encompass all of human creation. Still, the idea of the hyperimage, as a structure that allows for relationship building, is tantalizing. I wish Thürlemann had at least gestured toward some of its broader implications for our current global context.

Still, More Than One Picture might be an illuminating read for archivists interested in the history of collecting and art historical pedagogy in Western Europe, or for museum curators responsible for the creation, presentation, and interpretation of hyperimages. For archivists, its careful analysis of creators’ intentions reinforces a bedrock concept, “respect des fonds.” Context matters.

Although it doesn’t address archival practice explicitly, the book hints at the meanings created or sundered by archival arrangement. It might make you think twice before separating images that seem to have little or no relation to each other. It might also make you question the traditional categories and criteria used to arrange and describe collections. They are also part of a long history of totalizing impulses, and may no longer serve or reflect the global, interconnected, multivalent world we live in now.


SIMON FERDINAND. MAPPING BEYOND MEASURE: ART, CARTOGRAPHY, AND THE SPACE OF GLOBAL MODERNITY

University of Nebraska Press, 2019

Reviewed by Mott Linn, CA, Los Alamos National Laboratory 

At a previous job, I oversaw both that university’s map library and the archives and special collections unit, which included a collection of artist books.  Both of these experiences helped inform this review of Mapping Beyond Measure: Art, Cartography, and the Space of Global Modernity.  Clearly, the maps are pertinent to Ferdinand’s work; however, the artist books are closer to what this book discusses.  You can think of the materials that the book is about as being “artist maps” (what Ferdinand refers to as “map art”), although he also includes more common types of art, such as paintings, that include a map.  

For those unfamiliar with artist books, they are when an artist takes a book and transforms it into art or makes art that takes the form of a book.  A well-known example is A Humument; you can see a few of its pages here: http://www.tomphillips.co.uk/humument/slideshow/1-50.  Consequently, one can think of map art as when an artist takes a map and transforms it into art or makes art that takes the form of a map.

As Ferdinand states, “This book is devoted to artistic experiments with cartography” and that the premise of the book is “that map art is especially well placed to explore themes of global modernity.”  Although much of the art he considers is two-dimensional, that is not solely the case.  For example, the last chapter is about a film and elsewhere he considers collages and walking performances.  Ferdinand, who is a lecturer in literary and cultural analysis at the University of Amsterdam, also discusses the changes that have taken place over time in the field of cartography, from the handmade maps of decades ago to the current use of GIS software. 

One of the strengths of this book is its scope: the author covers artists from around the world and art works spanning many decades. The book also features a lengthy bibliography, numerous footnotes, and an ample index.

Considering that colorful maps/artwork is what this book is all about, it is most disappointing that the illustrations are relatively small and in grayscale.  It would be very valuable for the readers to be able to judge for themselves what Ferdinand is writing about.  Although one cannot expect the format of the book to allow for full-sized illustrations of the works being discussed, it would have been nice if the publisher would have used a format larger than 6” x 9”.  Likewise, although having the images next to the text that is discussing them is optimal, having all of the images in one gathering would allow for color versions of the maps without significantly increasing the cost of the book.

Some will certainly like this theoretical book, although I prefer looking at the more traditional maps that I use to decorate the walls of two of the rooms of my home.  As the old saying states, “to each his own.”

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