“Weschler is a master of narrative nonfiction. For decades his effervescent reporting on visual art and on human rights appeared in The New Yorker and other magazines, and his book Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder, about a mind-bending Los Angeles museum, is a classic. Weschler’s warmth and curiosity suffuse the title piece of this collection, a 2002 essay for Wired magazine on why the lifelike rendering of a human face has long eluded digital animators. His finest pieces are often about artists working at the frontiers of perception itself. In one, he details the childhood visual experiments that led Trevor and Ryan Oakes, identical twin brothers working as artists in New York, to devise a low-tech method for tracing the three-dimensional world onto canvas. (It essentially involves crossing their eyes.) When Weschler meets the sound and film editor Walter Murch, their conversation goes beyond craft to explore Murch’s theories about how much auditory stimulus viewers can absorb at a time and the power of eye contact in film and in life (he argues that blinking might serve as a sort of mental punctuation). Weschler turns to more sober reportage in a handful of human rights pieces, including a solemn account of the diplomatic contortions at the founding of the International Criminal Court. He shuttles deftly between the heavy and the irreverent; when a chattering swarm of German teenagers descends on a Holocaust memorial in Berlin, Weschler takes it as a sort of revelation: 'Maybe life does just go on, and that is its blessing (as well as its curse).' Such moments confirm his sense of wonder at how beauty works in the world, as a sort of spontaneous brimming over of convergence and coincidence. ”
– Jascha Hoffman, New York Times Book Review
Shuttling between cultural comedies and political tragedies, Lawrence Weschler’s articles have throughout his long career intrigued readers with his unique insight into everything he examines, from the ordinary to the extraordinary.
Uncanny Valley continues the page-turning conversation as Weschler collects the best of his narrative nonfiction from the past fifteen years. The title piece surveys the hapless efforts of digital animators to fashion a credible human face, the endlessly elusive gold standard of the profession. Other highlights include profiles of novelist Mark Salzman, as he wrestles with a hilariously harrowing bout of writer’s block; the legendary film and sound editor Walter Murch, as he is forced to revisit his work on Apocalypse Now in the context of the more recent Iraqi war film Jarhead; and the artist Vincent Desiderio, as he labors over an epic canvas portraying no less than a dozen sleeping figures.
With his signature style and endless ability to wonder, Weschler proves yet again that the “world is strange, beautiful, and connected” (The Globe and Mail). Uncanny Valley demonstrates his matchless ability to analyze the marvels he finds in places and people and offers us a new, sublime way of seeing the world.
When this book first appeared in 1982, it introduced readers to Robert Irwin, the Los Angeles artist "who one day got hooked on his own curiosity and decided to live it." Now expanded to include six additional chapters and twenty-four pages of color plates, Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees chronicles three decades of conversation between Lawrence Weschler and light and space master Irwin. It surveys many of Irwin's site-conditioned projects—in particular the Central Gardens at the Getty Museum (the subject of an epic battle with the site's principal architect, Richard Meier) and the design that transformed an abandoned Hudson Valley factory into Dia's new Beacon campus—enhancing what many had already considered the best book ever on an artist.
Soon after the book's publication in 1982, artist David Hockney read Lawrence Weschler's Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees: A Life of Contemporary Artist Robert Irwin and invited Weschler to his studio to discuss it, initiating a series of engrossing dialogues, gathered here for the first time. Weschler chronicles Hockney's protean production and speculations, including his scenic designs for opera, his homemade xerographic prints, his exploration of physics in relation to Chinese landscape painting, his investigations into optical devices, his taking up of watercolor—and then his spectacular return to oil painting, around 2005, with a series of landscapes of the East Yorkshire countryside of his youth. These conversations provide an astonishing record of what has been Hockney's grand endeavor, nothing less than an exploration of "the structure of seeing" itself.
From a cuneiform tablet to a Chicago prison, from the depths of the cosmos to the text on our T-shirts, Lawrence Weschler finds strange connections wherever he looks. The farther (and further) one travels (through geography, through art, through science, through time), the more everything seems to converge — at least, it does through Weschler's giddy, brilliant eyes. Weschler combines his keen insights into art (both contemporary and Renaissance), his years of experience as a chronicler of the fall of Communism, and his triumphs and failures as the father of a teenage girl into a series of articles — complemented by color photos and illustrations throughout — that are sure to illuminuate, educate, and astound.
There is something both marvelous and hilarious,” writes Lawrence Weschler, “in watching the humdrum suddenly take flight. This is, in part, a collection of such launchings.”Indeed, the eight essays collected in A Wanderer in the Perfect City do soar into the realm of passion as Weschler profiles people who “were just moseying down the street one day, minding their own business, when suddenly and almost spontaneously, they caught fire, they became obsessed, they became intensely focused and intensely alive.” With keen observations and graceful prose, Weschler carries us along as a teacher of rudimentary English from India decides that his destiny is to promote the paintings of an obscure American abstract expressionist; a gifted poker player invents a more exciting version of chess; an avant-garde Russian émigré conductor speaks Latin, exclusively, to his infant daughter; and Art Spiegelman composes Maus. But simple summaries can’t do these stories justice: like music, they derive their character from digressions and details, cadence and tone. And like the upwelling of passion Weschler’s characters feel, they are better experienced than explained. “Weschler seems so hungry for life that the rest of us become hungry for him . . . a magician, a performer, and a scholar. All in one.”—from the Foreword by Pico Iyer “Weschler’s essays are exquisitely…
There are writers who specialize in the strange and others whose genius is to find the strangeness in the familiar, the unexpected meanings in stories we thought we knew. Of that second category, Lawrence Weschler is the master. Witness the pieces in this splendidly disorienting collection, spanning twenty years of his career and the full range of his concerns–which is to say, practically everything.
Only Lawrence Weschler could reveal the connections between the twentieth century’s Yugoslav wars and the equally violent Holland in which Vermeer created his luminously serene paintings. In his profile of Roman Polanski, Weschler traces the filmmaker’s symbolic negotiations with his nightmarish childhood during the Holocaust. Here, too, are meditations on artists Ed Kienholz and David Hockney, on the author’s grandfather and daughter, and on the light and earthquakes of his native Los Angeles. Haunting, elegant, and intoxicating, Vermeer in Bosnia awakens awe and wonder at the world around us.
In the early 1990s the design and creation of the Central Garden at the Getty Center were entrusted to the distinguished contemporary visual artist Robert Irwin. Irwin-a member of California's "light and space" movement-was an unexpected choice for this major commission, and his work has aroused intense interest in the art world and among gardening enthusiasts and visitors to the Getty Center. In Robert Irwin Getty Garden, Lawrence Weschler offers a lively account of the creation of what Irwin has playfully termed "a sculpture in the form of a garden aspiring to be art." Weschler's narrative is followed by a transcript of conversations in which he and Irwin, in a series of walks through the garden, discuss in detail the decisions, both philosophical and practical, that shaped the making of this major art work in Southern California. The book contains more than one hundred color illustrations, many of them specially commissioned from photographer Becky Cohen. The photographs capture the stunning variety of colors and textures of the plant forms selected by Irwin. They also reveal the care and precision that went into the creation of each element of the garden environment, from the handrails and lighting fixtures to the huge azalea rings and waterfall that make a visit to the Getty Central Garden an unusually thought-provoking experience.
Robert Irwin has exhibited widely in galleries and museums in North America and abroad.
In this highly entertaining book, Lawrence Weschler chronicles the antics of J. S. G. Boggs, an artist whose consuming passion is money, or perhaps more precisely, value. Boggs draws money-paper notes in standard currencies from all over the world-and tries to spend his drawings. It is a practice that regularly lands him in trouble with treasury police around the globe and provokes fundamental questions regarding the value of art and the value of money.
From the author of Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonder, Calamities of Exile combines three gripping narratives that afford a sort of double CAT scan into the natures of both modern totalitarianism and timeless exile.
During the past fifteen years, one of the most vexing issues facing fledgling transitional democracies around the world—from South Africa to Eastern Europe, from Cambodia to Bosnia—has been what to do about the still-toxic security apparatuses left over from the previous regime. In this now-classic and profoundly influential study, the New Yorker's Lawrence Weschler probes these dilemmas across two gripping narratives (set in Brazil and Uruguay, among the first places to face such concerns), true-life thrillers in which torture victims, faced with the paralysis of the new regime, themselves band together to settle accounts with their former tormentors.
Pronged ants, horned humans, a landscape carved on a fruit pit—some of the displays in David Wilson's Museum of Jurassic Technology are hoaxes. But which ones? As he guides readers through an intellectual hall of mirrors, Lawrence Weschler revisits the 16th-century "wonder cabinets" that were the first museums and compels readers to examine the imaginative origins of both art and science. Illustrations.
Bizarre twists of fate and the mysterious workings of grace link these profiles of six people who unexpectedly changed the direction of their lives. We meet Ahumal Ramachander, an intense, polyglot Indian who, on his first trip to the U.S., discovered an obscure abstract-expressionist painter named Harold Shapinsky. Ramachander decided that his true calling, his karma, was to champion Shapinsky's work. His story reveals the ruthlessness of a slick art world. Other dreamers who followed their instincts include Knud Jensen, Danish cheese exporter turned art-museum director; Art Spiegelman, creator of Maus, an award-winning comic-strip history of the Holocaust; and Nicolas Slonimsky, energetic Russian conductor who found a new vocation in his mid-60s as a musical lexicographer. We also meet eccentric artist James Boggs, who often is arrested for spending his near-perfect renditions of $100 bills, and Lenny Durso, an almost bankrupt owner of a bookstore. Weschler is a staff writer for the New Yorker, where most of these sensitive portraits first appeared.