Friday, June 11, 2010

All the work that’s fit to print

A visit to Walther Koenig Books near Museum Island is a humbling experience. Here the artists of the world are caught between the covers of thousands upon thousands of volumes. One large cabinet in this huge store contains nothing but catalogues raisonnés, those invaluable listings of detail and photographs that describe works so that they can be accurately identified. When you consider the three volume, complete catalogue of the works of someone like the Swiss artist Roman Signer, you do wonder why major New Zealand great artists continue to go unrecorded in this meticulous way.

Three years ago we posted on the pathetic effort the Colin McCahon Research and Publication Trust has made to record the works of Colin McCahon. The database remains virtually unchanged since the day it was put up; same errors, same badly-cropped photographs and still includes its famous promise, "A Selection of essays on Colin McCahon's life and work is currently in development and will be available soon". 

When it comes to doing the Trust business well, the McCahon people could well take a look at the Len Lye version. The Len Lye Foundation has been tireless in its support and research into the sculptor’s life and work. Who can be surprised that interest in McCahon is waning (the last touring exhibition of McCahon was two years ago and the survey show six years before that) at the very time that Len Lye is increasingly being seen as an important modernist figure?

Images: Top, one half of one of the five large rooms that comprise Walther Koenig’s bookshop in Berlin. Bottom, sample of catalogues raisonné available at Koenig’s.