This month we are looking at a recent catalogue from Peter Harrington of London. However, this is not one of their regular book collections but comes from the Peter Harrington Gallery. The title is Modern and Contemporary Prints, Art and Photobooks. Among the items, there are many that one would strictly think of as works of art, but others, particularly among the photobooks, can be as historic as history texts, except they let the pictures do the talking. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words. This is a catalogue for those who see themselves not simply as book or art collectors, but as collectors of subjects that cross the rigid divides. Here are a few examples.
We begin with one of the more amazing books (and more) you will ever see. It is also the ultimate tribute to Muhammad Ali. The title is GOAT – Greatest of All Time: A Tribute to Muhammad Ali. It was published by Taschen, the high-end publisher from Cologne in 2001. It was created by Jeff Koons with Ali, and contains over 3000 images, including photographs, art and memorabilia. There are probably few in this world who don't know Ali, but if you were born yesterday, he was the great, probably the greatest boxer ever, who became so much more. As the seeming braggart who drew everyone's attention, and ire in his early days, he became a war protester and symbol of rights for black people, and yet with generosity and care for all. He died "the greatest," one of America's most beloved men. Item 1 is the Champs Edition of this book, the best one, printed in a limited run of 1,000 copies. It includes not only the book but a three-piece sculpture by Koons. It consists of two of his inflatables, which inflate to become a car tire and dolphin, along with a stool. The tire rings around the stool, the book rests atop it, the dolphin braced above. It also contains four gelatin prints signed by Ali and photographer Howard L. Bingham. One is displayed on the cover of this catalogue. The book features a pink spine, the color of Ali's first pink Cadillac. It is housed in a clamshell box with an image of one of the most iconic Ali photographs of all by Neil Leifer. From Ali's 1966 fight versus Cleveland Williams, it is taken from directly above the ring, Ali returning to his corner, Williams flat on his back, out cold on the canvas. Item 1. Priced at £10,000 (British pounds, or approximately $13,331 U. S. dollars).
This next photobook is something of an anthropological study as well as a work of photographic art. Rather than a study of some far off tribe by an Englishman, it is a study of the English themselves. The title is The English at Home, and the observer/photographer was Bill Brandt. Brandt was a German native, but his father was English. As the situation deteriorated in Germany in the early 1930s, he made his way to his father's native land. Camera in hand, he wandered around England, countryside and cities, visiting rich and poor, documenting what he found. While a study of a common national people, it is more a study in contrasts in lifestyle. As Raymond Mortimer explains in the book's introduction, "Mr. Brandt shows himself not only to be an artist but an anthropologist. He seems to have wandered about England with the detached curiosity of a man investigating the customs of some remote and unfamiliar tribe." Offered is the first edition from 1936. Item 14. £400 (US $532).
This two-volume set is described by the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography as a "monumental biography of Michelangelo." The title is The Life of Michelangelo Buonarroti. Based on Studies in the Archives of the Buonarroti Family at Florence. Written by John Addington Symonds, this is a first edition from 1893. Michelangelo was so revered in his native Italy that biographies were being written of him even during his lifetime. However, no one prior to Symonds had access to the family archives, Symonds reputation for scholarship convincing authorities to grant him that. This book contains 50 reproductions of his work along with an etched portrait. Symonds also examines the great painter and architect's sonnets and letters, and this is where the work became controversial. Michelangelo lived something of a monk's lifestyle, but the sonnets may display some homoerotic sentiments. As the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography describes it, "critics rebuked him [Symonds] for unearthing 'scandals' and 'filth'; publication of his discovery in the Buonarroti archives that Michelangelo's poems and letters had been deliberately altered so as to obscure masculine love was deemed mischievous." Before publishing some of his writings centuries earlier, Michelangelo's descendants had changed some masculine pronouns to feminine ones to make the sonnets more socially acceptable. Item 49. £650 (US $865).
Item 32 is Tree and Serpent Worship; or, Illustrations of Mythology and Art in India in the First and Fourth Centuries after Christ from the Sculptures of the Buddhist Topes at Sanchi and Amravati. The author of this 1868 book was James Fergusson. Fegusson was raised in England, but went to British India at the beginning of the 19th century to join his brother in business. They were quite successful merchants, allowing Fergusson to concentrate his time within a few years on his passion, ancient Indian architecture. The subject was virtually unknown at the time, but Fergusson had such an obsessive passion for it he spent years scouring the Indian countryside to learn everything he could. This was despite his being untrained as an architect, a skill he learned on his own sufficiently to design structures himself. This copy bears the bookplate of 19th century artist, particularly with stained glass, and close associate of William Morris in the arts and crafts movement, Edward Burne-Jones. Harrington notes that while Burne-Jones doesn't follow much in the way of Indian styling, he did frequently make use of sepentine themes. £3,750 (US $4,995).