Learning to See
AN ARTIST’S VIEW ON CONTEMPORARY ARTISTS FROM ARTSCHWAGER TO ZAKANITCH
BY BRUCE HELANDER
PUBLISHED BY STARGROUP INTERNATIONAL
Bruce Helander’s Learning to See: An Artist’s View on Contemporary Artists from Artschwager to Zakanitch (StarGroup International, 2008) is an entertaining and highly informative collection of writings andreviews by one of the premier American collage artists of our time. In it, Helander, a witty and knowledgeable guide, comments on more than 40 recent museum and gallery exhibitions from six consecutive seasons, in pieces originally commissioned by Art of the Times magazine.
His chapters cover works and exhibitions by many of the leading painters, sculptors and creative icons of this century and the one just past—from Artschwager, Bourgeois, Chihuly and de Kooning to Hockney, Hirst, Berlant and Lichtenstein. Helander—who, in addition to being an artist and critic, is a curator, founder of Art Express magazine, and formerly the youngest provost ever of the Rhode Island School of Design—functions as a merry tour guide and a kind of latter-day Vasari, continuing the age-old tradition of an artist assessing and describing the works of other artists.
His one-liner titles (“Dutch Boy Paints” for a piece on Willem de Kooning, “Sit” for a review of William Wegman’s Weimaraner photos) are charming. But it’s the reviews themselves—written by an artist educated in art-making on a professional level who obviously has a compelling insight from an insider’s position—that make this book distinctively different from, say, one written by a critic with an art history background.
This handsome, 200-page book, designed by Daniel Ellis (whose portfolio includes publications for the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Museum of Modern Art), is lavishly illustrated with beautifully reproduced color images of the artworks. In a section devoted to personal photographs of the artist, there are candid images of Helander with art-world icons like Robert Rauschenberg, Dale Chihuly, Julian Schnabel, Larry Gagosian, James Rosenquist and Frank Stella, among others. In this fascinating section, there are clues to how the author made his way into the art world and how his perspective was sharpened by knowing many of its important players. But the real pleasure of this informative publication is the lineup of artists reviewed—in addition to many of those named above, the chapters cover exhibitions by Jasper Johns, Albert Oehlen, Malcolm Morley, John Torreano, Elizabeth Murray, Yoko Ono, Louise Bourgeois, Deborah Butterfield, Robert Rahway Zakanitch and Jack Pierson, among others, as well as Los Angeles-based artists Tony Berlant, David Hockney, Martin Mull, Laura Owens, Yuroz and Leonard Nimoy. Let Helander lead you to learn to see in a whole new way—through his eyes, it’s always a wondrous journey.
Sample pages can be viewed at www.helanderlearningtosee.com