What role is art playing in the hybridization/evolution of the book?

I’m very pleased to have been invited to be involved in the production of this new “literary” festival… described below in Quill & Quire magazine:

TINARS founder Marc Glassman to launch Toronto book fest in March

By Stuart Woods
January 6, 2014

Marc Glassman

What does the book launch of the future look like? Marc Glassman, artistic director of This Is Not a Reading Series, believes he has the answer. The former owner of Pages Books & Magazines (which closed in 2009) will present his vision with a series of events and readings to take place in Toronto this winter.

According to a press release, the Pages Festival + Conference, scheduled for March 13 to 15, will comprise “mainstage events,” in which authors will present their work to the public with multimedia support, and a series of daytime seminars, workshops, and panels touching on diverse topics, from “the impact of new technologies on literature to the maintenance of copyright and the shifting role of illustration in ebooks.” Events will take place at the Randolph Academy Theatre and the Tranzac Club, with programming details being announced over the next five weeks.

“As with TINARS, the onstage events will revolve around a creative collaboration between the Pages festival and writers,” Glassman tells Q&Q in an email. “We suspect that book tours in the future will look like our events. Headlining writers will inevitably work with musicians, video artists, dancers, actors, comedians, and installation artists to create grand spectacles that the public will embrace.”

Pages Beyond Bricks & Mortar, the pop-up version of the former Queen Street bookstore, will sell books at all festival events. Glassman adds that he will be reaching out to publishing colleagues in the coming weeks, though he has already assembled a board that includes Robert Logan, chief scientist at OCAD’s strategic innovation lab and professor emeritus at the University of Toronto; Doina Popescu, founding director of the Ryerson Image Centre; Xenophile Media founder Patrick Crowe; PEN Canada executive director Tasleem Thawar; Point of View magazine publisher Judy Wolfe; and digital publishing veteran Robert Kasher.

TINARS will continue its regular programming throughout the winter. Two events scheduled this month feature poet and critic Jason Guriel (The Pig Headed Soul, Jan. 8) and novelist Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer (All the Broken Things, Jan. 20).

The perfect Christmas book

ISBN-13: 9781603201742; Publisher: Time Home Entertainment, Inc; Publication date: 10/30/2012; Pages: 112; Sales rank: 122,161 (Dec. 26); Product dimensions: 8.70 (w) x 11.00 (h) x 0.50 (d)

The publication this season of JESUS: Who Do You Say That I Am? could not have come at a more perfect time, coinciding with the unveiling (re-birth really) of a special stained glass window at my church, Emmanuel Howard Park United in Toronto. The window’s image, of Christ holding a lantern, is based on a painting entitled “The Light of the World” by the PreRaphaelite William Holman Hunt. So perfect was this painting that it was for a time the most reproduced image in the world. (At Emmanuel Howard Park United there are no less than three versions of it.)

This particular stained glass window has an exceptionally perfect story. Commissioned by the church janitor to commemorate the life of his son killed in WWI, it was the only window to survive a church fire in the 40s, but remained virtually unseen in a little used stairwell for over 70 years until this fall when it came to the attention of a few people at the church who worked through a labyrinth of unusual to say nothing of improbable circumstances until this December, when the window was cleared of obstructions and backlit. It is now a beacon of light that presents a welcoming message directly on to the main street of our bustling community.

The LIFE publication appeared on magazine racks by the cash registers at my local grocery store just at the same time as the Emmanuel Howard Park window was lit up. One can imagine the enormous number of people this little publication is reaching, putting it into that special category of (publishing) miracles.

JESUS, Who Do You Say That I Am? is a perfect publication is so many way. It fleshes out the details of Christ’s life with stories and pictures that bring the places, the geography and culture of the times alive. It lays out the story from the Bible with a mixture of interpretiion, theology and history so we can understand, without judging, what people believe and where there are doubts. It’s an exquisite balancing act.

The Light of the World, stained glass window after an original painting by William Holman Hunt

The final section, “He Is All Things to All Men,” shows how Christ figures into the work and lives of organizations and individuals around the world. But then, after consulting notable scholars, the Surgeon General of the U.S. and the Cardinal of New York City, LIFE settles on three of the unlikeliest of characters to draw the whole thing together.

They choose three artists, musicians Moby, Aaron Neville and Willy Nelson, to deliver personal accounts of how Christ figures into their lives.

Moby relates most to the glorious side of the Son of God. He believes in Jesus, he says, but isn’t going to make a big deal about it; he’s content with the idea that the universe is “an unknowable but fascinating and wonderful place.”

Neville relates most to the compassion of Christ, describing personal feelings of empathy for Christ’s suffering and joys, and recalling a moving prayer/story about footprints in sand.

Nelson takes things in completely different direction that for me cuts to the quick of thinking about Jesus. He begins by quoting Matthew 5:48: ‘Be ye perfect, even as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect.’ then goes on to say, “The purpose of life is to reach perfection. The rose starts as a seed or cutting, then grows and prospers with the sunshine and the rain. After a period of time, the perfect rose blossoms. The human experience is much the same, except the time span is much greater because man, before he can reach this state of perfection, must return again and again through many incarnations in order to conquer all disease, greed, jealousy, anger, hatred and guilt. In order to achieve perfection man must use his imagination to create an image of himself in his mind as a happy, healthy person, perfect in every way. He must pattern himself after the master of perfection, such as the great master Jesus.”

In today’s world, so fraught with violence and misunderstanding, it’s odd to hear someone holding out for the possibility of perfection. Yet there is perfection in this little publication with the not so little circulation. And there is perfection in its timing, coinciding as it did with the most perfect resurrection of the heart of a modest downtown church in Toronto.

With the brilliance of perfection all around, the darkness of doubt is extinguished.


Mrs. Delany’s invention: collage, aging and the artist’s life

Mary Delany collage of a Magnolia grandiflora.
Mary Delany collage of a Magnolia grandiflora.

There are so many good reasons to buy this book, which came to us via Virginia Eichhorn of the Tom Thomson Art Gallery. (Thank you!) It is beautifully produced, on a fascinating if somewhat esoteric topic (collage), addresses in several ways the important role art plays in people’s lives (for artists but also  non-artists, the seasons of an artist’s career, art in relation to life-experience and aging) and is well-written despite being a bit quirky (speculative, almost fictional while also being a biography).

It is exactly the kind of book that can change how you think and inspire new directions.



An Artist (Begins Her Life’s Work) at 72

By Molly Peacock,

Illustrated. 397 pp. Bloomsbury. 2011 $30.

reviewed in the New York Times

reviewed in the Globe and Mail

[buy it in the Amazon]

Box office democracy

Pleading with the old donors or courting the new, opera's got its work cut out for it in the new art economy. Scene from Carmen at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

The Canadian literary magazine Descant is a gem. Not only are the writing and art generally good, but the distinguished crew that produces it are given space each issue to sound off on a special topic. The winter 2012 issue (Descant 159, Vol. 43, No. 4), themed “A writer’s guide to melancholia,” carries excellent essays by contributing editors Kay Armatage and Mark Kingwell. Both follow the melancholy theme, Kingwell on grammar, Armatage on arts funding. Kingwell mourns the passing of the serial comma, while Armatage laments the passing of the serial donor.

Armatage has been studying the Metropolitan Opera’s investment in high definition broadcasting to movie theatres and in so doing, uncovers some important aspects of the new art economy.

The Met broadcasts further the innovation of their famous Texaco-sponsored radio broadcasts, which, though highly successful in reaching audiences (11 million listeners in 42 countries), actually cost the Met money, buying air time on many stations.

By contrast, the cineplex broadcasts (cinecasts) are ticketed events, revenue generating for the theatres and for the Met. But, Armatage points out, the Met’s motivation can’t  only be to make money because after five years and 45 broadcasts costing about $1.1 million each, the Met has just begun to make a profit and a very modest one at that ($11 million in 2011), a “drop in the bucket” according to Armatage.

If it’s not about the money then, Armitage asks, are they perhaps striving after some ideal of democratization; bringing art to the masses, eliminating the distinctions between high and low? Closer to the mark, she says, but still not a bull’s eye. Radio is truly free, whereas the cinecasts, while not ultra expensive like attending the opera, are still far from free.

Armatage concludes the grail the Met is after is not exactly to be more inclusive so much as to find altogether new audiences. The need to do so is urgent: The average age of Met subscribers is 65, she notes.  Moreover, the regulars are not like you and me; they are rich, really rich, ponying up big bucks for box seats and making substantial donations to boot.

So the question the Met’s cinecasts are posed to answer seems to be how to replace this aging audience and their old-fashioned type of patronage. Armatage has to admit that the cinecast initiative shows promise: already reaching 2.4 million people through 1,500 theatres in 46 countries, and poised to expand into Russia and China.

And the money isn’t just in the ticketing. Donations have correspondingly increased, by 50% in 2012. Although half of that still comes from the Met’s board of directors, according to the Met’s CEO Peter Gelb, the new millionaire donors are going to be found in those new audiences.

A similar change in audience-economies can be seen in the film business. According to an article in The Economist (February 23rd-March 1st, 2013), Hollywood movie revenues are stagnating while TV is more popular and profitable than ever. This summer, for the first time in as long as I can remember, networks are introducing new programs and not just playing reruns.

To make up for  lost theatre revenues, Hollywood has come to rely on downstream revenue from DVD rentals, sales and now downloads through digital subscription services. But like with the Met’s cinecasts, this diversification doesn’t pay as much or as consistently as the old revenue models. According to analysts,”people are still watching the same amount of movies that they did a few years ago, They’re just spending $6 billion less a year to do it.”

Lower rates of return are endemic to the new media environment. In the same way that digital advertising rates for online magazines do not produce returns the way print advertising did, or ebook sales don’t yet make up for losses in hard copy book sales, movie distribution deals in new markets like Russia and China pay producers lower rates than the domestic standard percentage.

So here is the rub for the new art economy: new audiences promise to replace the disappearing, smaller but richer ones who paid more for tickets and donated more, but those new audiences typically pay less for digital delivered media. How much bigger the new audiences need to be, how much they’ll pay to be served and whether they will donate significantly all remain to be seen.

For the time being, producers, whether in the movie business or the opera business (or publishing for that matter) have little choice but to gamble on the new digital media: risking more, taking less profit while pushing their products further into unmapped territory.

While the revenue models are uncertain, there’s little doubt the wider audience is there.  It’s just a question of how to wring the right amount of money out of them. In 2012, Lionsgate, an independent movie studio and distribution company, made one of its movies available in theatres and on video-on-demand at the same time, with the happy result that it produced three times as much revenue as it would have done otherwise, because, in the words of Lionsgate chairman Michael Burns, it “found two different audiences”.


To follow this topic on Twitter, search the hashtag #artecon.


Featured Books Archive

Co-published by the Mackenzie Art Gallery in Regina, Saskatchewan and the Tom Thomson Art Gallery in Owen Sound, Ontario, Tactile Desires: The Work of Jack Sures, is sumptuously illustrated with the complete works from the traveling  exhibition of the same name, most recently at the Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery. The book features essays by Sandra Alfoldy, Virginia Eichhorn, Julia Krueger and Matthew Kangas.

ISBN 9780929021607

Softcover with French flaps, 216 pages, full colour

Read the review here.

This book is not just very hard to find online, I can’t find it anywhere. But I do have a number of copies on hand if you are interested: 44.95 CAD plus shipping. Please enquire via the contact page.

Concrete Contemporary art auction promises excitement

Michael Snow, Carla Bley, photo litho, 16 of 100

Judging from the preview last night, Steve Ranger has shaped Waddington’s Concrete Contemporary art auction to be an exciting event, filled with surprises.

Everything is priced to sell, with minimum bids verging on on the ridiculous: a Michael Snow for $1500? A lovely Joanne Tod fashion drawing for $2000?

There are the usual suspects, priced in the low five figures and a nice mix of artists you might not necessarily know, reasonably priced, for example this pair of collages by Andrew Owen or a 1980 Charles Ringness with it’s elegant, self-conscious primitiveness.

Andrew Owen, Lilies and Bamboo Excavation. Lot 38. Estimate $4-5000.


Steve Ranger has put extra attention into the auction catalogue, which is beautifully designed with substantial texts about each work and artist.

Concrete Contemporary is a thoughtful  sampling of contemporary Canadian art, showing both its depth and variety.

Will tonight’s event build momentum in the marketplace? By all rights, it should.



Joanne Tod, Pansies. Estimate $2-3000.










Richard Roblin, 2012. Estimate $12-15,000. (Thank you to Senaca College acquisition committee member and painter Paul Woolf for posing for scale.)

Maxwell Anderson’s view of 2012: museums (and publishing)

Reproduction of Picasso linocut from the Remai collection.
Picasso, Portrait de jeune fille d'après Cranach le jeune II, 1958, linocut on paper, Remai Art Gallery, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

Evaluations of the previous year at the turn of the new year are generally popular, refreshing memory and promoting sober reflection. 2012 was, after a promising start, a miserable year by all accounts, including that of Maxwell Anderson, as expert and independent a thinker on the subject of art museums as one can find in the US of A.

Writing in the December issue of Artforum, Anderson observes an untoward over confidence and release of extravagance after years of measured caution and terrified parsimony brought on by the financial crisis of 2008. Anderson decries the financial short sightedness of museums, whose boards churn through directors while ignoring their fundamental missions and chasing trivial (and largely unattainable) goals like attendance to justify their institutiions.

Anderson usefully lists the criteria by which he believes boards should be evaluating their museums’ work: “the extent to which they care for our cultural heritage past and present and advance research, understanding, and awareness of the value of aesthetic endeavor.”

Anderson spends a lot of column inches on the most sensational news of 2012, how Jeffrey Deitch was challenged after his appointment to the directorship of the LA Museum of Contemporary Art when artists on his board abandoned ship after Deitch sacked veteran curator Paul Schimmel and dumped already scheduled projects for his own. Anderson’s piles on with the others, but his complaints sound shrill. If museums are stuck in various malaise, who better than Deitch, with his outsider status and dealer experience, to throw open the gates of privilege or try to develop more open and interesting relationships between museums and the market?

Acquisitions are another thing that make headlines in the museum world. Anderson notes a few of  what he calls marquee art acquisitions, transformative gifts and bequests, including 405 Picasso prints donated to Saskatoon’s civic gallery by the Frank and Ellen Remai Foundation, a gift substantial enough to bring the respectable, regional Mendel Art Gallery (now renamed the Remai Art Gallery of Saskatchewan) to the attention of the international art world.

Most interesting are Anderson’s compliments to the city of Detroit for instituting tax-based (mill rate) funding for the Detroit Institute of Arts, following a grassroots campaign that argued the  extrinsic benefits to the community, including the multiplier economic effect, programs for the disabled and safer streets. Solid municipal support like that is more common here in Canada but needs to be even more universal, and at consistent funding levels.

In conclusion, Anderson appeals for more thoughtful and substantive support for art museums’ intrinsic activities: research, collections care, publishing and conservation. But looking hard at those programs may turn up problems just like the equivocal attitude to museum leadership and the preoccupation with attendance, like the looming collections crisis: vaults over-crowded with indifferent works acquired in boom times, with no room left, or budgets to support, the art being made today, or the on-going problem of donations that look good in annual reports but saddle institutions with costs they can ill-afford, in perpetuity.

Similarly, publishing continues to be fraught with contradictions, as Anderson notes earlier in the article: Why do museums persist in spending lavishly for exhibition catalogues that sell few copies to only the very narrowest segment of museum patrons?

There are answers to that question (e.g. publishing contributes in a fundamental way to the integrity of an institution by manifesting its commitment to, and capacity for, top notch research), and to  others that address the core of the museum. Overall, Anderson’s year-end review calls for a refocusing on things that really matter. He has created a useful agenda to guide discussion and work in 2013.


Maxwell Anderson is a highly respected thought-leader within the art museum community,  former director of the Whitney Museum of American Art, president of the Association of Art Museum Directors, and currently the director of the Dallas Museum of Art.






What $700 art books tell us about the Canadian book market

Amy Verner, writing in the December 19th Globe & Mail (What your $700 coffee-table book really says about you), calls attention to the fact that the market for big and beautiful art books is undiminished despite retractions in the economy and the seemingly-ever-collapsing book market. In fact, it may be growing.

Of course, she is talking about the world of international publishing, not our domestic one where even the most sumptuous, prestige art books are rarely if ever priced over $100. After the automatic discounts Amazon applies automatically to even new books, the prices of Canadian art books appear slightly ridiculous. Take just three examples:

ISBN 978-1551522951, 176 pp. Arsenal Pulp Press

Polaroids, a huge (34 x 44 cm), full colour, coffee table book of preparatory pictures taken by the internationally recognized Canadian painter Attila Richard Lukacs, beautifully designed by artist Michael Morris,  is available for the preposterously low price of $37.62 from Amazon.ca. Even the publisher’s retail price of $60 is probably less than half what a book of this quality about an artist of Lukacs calibre is worth, and should command in the marketplace.

Another fabulous book, published  on the occasion of a museum exhibition of the  work of fashion designer Jean Paul Gautier,  exquisitely produced (including an amazingly clever, optically vibrating plastic sleeve) by the very talented team at the Musée des beaux-art de Montreal, comes in at under $100 if ordered from Amazon, despite the fact that Gautier is an international celebrity and this was a world-premier event, his very first recognition by the art museum world.

Only when we get into the realm of “historical treasures”  does price even begin to reflect value, or investment, e.g. the catalogue raisonée of David Milne is $360.36 on Amazon.ca, discounted egregiously from a still very reasonable $572.00, a price that barely reflects the estimated $1 million invested in this project (which produced, in addition to the catalogue raisonée, a CD version, and a companion biography written by David Silcox).

Jean Paul Gautier, ISBN 978-1419700026, 424 pp., co-published with Abrams

Are Canadian art books priced so poorly because Canadians are a naïve and unassuming people afraid to stand up and be counted? Or is it because the costs of production are covered by government subsidies regardless of sales? Or is it that Canadian publishers do not have the distribution reach and marketing resources to really compete in the international marketplace?

These are questions that deserve answers.


New catalogue of 2012 Canadian art books

ISBN 9780968211557, softback, 200 pages, co-published by Coach House Press and the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art

Canada’s public galleries are using a new service called Catalist for promoting their books. A spin off from Booknet Canada, Catalist allows subscribing publishers to create their own online catalogues. Designed as a shopping tool for retailers and libraries, the site gives an excellent overview of the remarkable art book publishing being done in Canada. Visit the site to see for yourself.

Illustrated at left, a 2012 book about the literary post-punk short movies of Emily Vey Duke and Cooper Battersby, a collection of stills, award-winning scripts, creative writings and critical missives by scholars, video legends and animal experts weighing in on why Vey Duke and Batttersby matter. Edited by Mike Hoolboom.





Learn more about Booknet Canada and Catalist.