From Art Forum . . .

ARTHUR C. DANTO, contributing editor of Artforum:

Carolyn Brown joined the Merce Cunningham Dance Company at its inception in 1953 at Black Mountain College, and she remained with the company for twenty years, becoming one of its star dancers. Her book Chance and Circumstance: Twenty Years with Cage and Cunningham (Knopf) offers an almost diaristic account of what it was like to be a modern dancer in that company at a time when dance, along with avant-garde music, was undergoing conceptual changes parallel to those that were transforming contemporary art in New York. Brown and her husband, the composer Earle Brown, became, in a sense, protégés of John Cage, whose philosophy of art—a wild mix of Zen, Artaud, and Duchamp—contained, as she says, “half a dozen or so separate idées fixes, leitmotifs that appeared and reappeared” in both his own and Cunningham’s works. Brown paints an affecting panorama of hope and squalor as her circle of young or youngish artists, composers, and dancers struggled for acceptance in a grudging and skeptical world . . .

JOHN BALDESSARI, an artist based in Santa Monica:

. . . I recommend Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein’s Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar . . . (Abrams), since it lends credence to my point of view. Its subtitle is Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes. The book includes such gems as this, which the authors use in relation to the idea of essentialism.

Abe: I got a riddle for you, Sol. What’s green, hangs on the wall, and whistles?

Sol: I give up.

Abe: A herring.

Sol: But a herring isn’t green.

Abe: So you can paint it green.

Sol: But a herring doesn’t hang on the wall.

Abe: Put a nail through it, it hangs on the wall.

Sol: But a herring doesn’t whistle!

Abe: So? It doesn’t whistle. . .

KATY SIEGEL, contributing editor of Artforum:

. . . My favorite book is on the smaller side, small enough to carry around and read between classes and meetings. Kara Walker: My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love (Walker Art Center) is unexpected. Other Kara Walker books have been almost uniformly impressive (including Rizzoli’s reissue of the excellent 2003 Tang catalogue, Narratives of a Negress); her silhouettes lend themselves to a spare but majestic coffee-table treatment. I love this book because it spurns the obvious take, shunning black and white to muddy the waters with a brown-on-brown design, replacing flatness with a roughly textured, embossed cover, and emphasizing the intimacy of smaller works on paper, as well as including a visual essay by the artist made from archival collage material and her texts on index cards . . .

ERIC BANKS, editor of ArtForum:

The year 2007 will be remembered as biography’s annus mirabilis. Books that hewed to the genre’s customary heft (Hermione Lee’s Edith Wharton, Zachary Leader’s Life of Kingsley Amis, Arnold Rampersad’s Ralph Ellison: A Biography) returned their subjects to the cultural forefront, while less traditional excursions, such as Janet Malcolm’s splendid Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice, dispensed with the completist’s agenda only to serve up complex and compelling portraits. My favorite book of the past season is no less a case of biography against the grain: Ben Ratliff’s Coltrane: The Story of a Sound (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). It may sound perverse to label it as such—Ratliff is attempting to answer how it is that “Coltrane, particularly from 1961 to 1964, sounds like the thing we know as modern jazz, just the way that Stravinsky sounds like the thing we know as modern classical music” . . .

Full story . . .