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Book Review: Bücher Books


Book Review Bücher Books By Boris Mikhailov Reviewed by David Ondrik Boris Mikhailov’s Bücher Books (like most text in the book, the German precedes the English) is a ponderous tome of 334 pages that reproduces two of his artists books, Structures of madness, or why shepherds living in the mountains often go crazy and Photomania in Crimea.

Bücher Books. By Boris Mikhailov.
Walther König, 2013.
 
Bücher Books
Reviewed by David Ondrik

Bücher Books
By Boris Mikhailov
$59.95
Walther König, 2013. 336 pp., 270 color illustrations, 9x12".


Boris Mikhailov’s Bücher Books (like most text in the book, the German precedes the English) is a ponderous tome of 334 pages that reproduces two of his artists books, Structures of madness, or why shepherds living in the mountains often go crazy and Photomania in Crimea. There are also essays, in both German and English, by Inka Schube, Helen Petrovsky, Bernd Stiegler, Tobias Wilke, Boris Groys, and Oksana Bulgakowa. Unfortunately, the essays are reflective of much academic writing on art and are verbose, lugubrious, and dull; nearly 80 pages that you’ll most likely skip unless you are a dedicated fan of Mikhailov’s work or in the unfortunate position of working on your MFA or a PhD in Art History.

The artists books are somewhat more interesting in concept than in execution. Active behind the “Iron Curtain” at the height of the Cold War, Mikhailov would create “books” of small prints he’d made, sometimes in a bathroom briefly and subversively converted into a darkroom. These pocket-sized books could be easily concealed and transported to meetings with other artists who were trying to stay off the KGB radar. According to the essay by Schube, Mikhailov was an engineer before running afoul of the KGB, who found his nude photos of his wife subversive. This led to the loss of his engineering job and the decision to become a photographer full time. He made a name for himself photographing everyday life; the “little people;” his Ukrainian homeland.

Bücher Books. By Boris MikhailovWalther König, 2013.

The first reproduced book here, Structures of madness is not about the average people in Ukraine, or even people at all. Instead it is a somewhat light-hearted, ridiculous examination of our human proclivity to see faces or humanoid figures in the random shapes of nature, in this case mountain rocks. It’s 128 pages of a photo paired with a drawing that shows where the face, skull, vulva, penis, rabbit, fish, whatever is hiding in the rock formation. At least to my mind it’s not particularly meaningful, and the fun wears off after twenty or so pairings.

Bücher Books. By Boris MikhailovWalther König, 2013.
Bücher Books. By Boris MikhailovWalther König, 2013.

The second book, Photomania in Crimea is a series of photos of (mostly the same) people having fun at the beach. They are a more personal, close up version of Massimo Vitali’s beach photos, but much rougher, intimate, and much more nude. But I’m not sure there’s anything going on besides “people are having fun at the beach.” Perhaps in mid-20th century Ukraine this was an important revelation that a Westerner, who can go to a beach at any time, doesn’t really understand.

Bücher Books. By Boris MikhailovWalther König, 2013.

Published by the Sprengel Museum Hannover, Bücher Books itself is a high quality publication. The images are crisp and clear; the paper feels weighty without being thick. The essays are printed in a different, uncoated light gray stock that is presumably easier to read. It’s a well done object, but the contents are likely to be too opaque for people unfamiliar with the politics and culture of mid to late 20th century Ukraine.—DAVID ONDRIK


DAVID ONDRIK is an artist, high school art teacher, and writer who grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico and now lives in Portland, Oregon. http://www.artisdead.net.

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