The Artist's Body, edited by Tracey Warr, Amelia Jones

Phaidon, 304 pages, $39.95
By JON GARELICK  |  December 5, 2006

This paperback reprint of last year’s hardcover is the perfect gift for the transgression-loving art nerd on your list. Lavishly illustrated, encyclopedic in scope, with full-on Phaidon design, the topic is purportedly “the history of work by artists using their own body as the material of their work.” But that narrow description includes Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings, “the material embodiment” of a “heroic performance,” as well as Cindy Sherman’s role-playing self-portraits, Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece, Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ, and all manner of performance art, self-paintings, self-mutilations, and exhibitionist forays. The cumulative effect of the images could induce voyeuristic queasiness, even though they’re not, in fact, moving (Hannah Wilke’s self-portraits in the last stages of lymphoma). Extensive “document” excerpts, which feature everyone from Freud, Artaud, and Bataille to Herbert Marcuse, Harold Rosenberg, Rosalind Krauss, and Elaine Scarry, help provide the art-speak Key to All Mythologies. Still, no one does it better than the editors themselves, as in their caption to Shigeko Kubota’s Vagina Painting: “Subverting action painting in this deliberately ‘female’ process of gestural, menstrual creativity, Kubota’s performances also activated the vagina as a source of inscription and language, inverting the Western cultural designation of female genitalia as a site of ‘lack’ (lack of the phallus) and the place where language breaks down.”

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