The Gardens at Giverny: A view of Monet’s World, by Stephen Shore, Aperature, Millerton, NY.
Reading this book is a bit like drinking coffee with saccharin in it — while it can be enjoyable, one is left with a rather unpleasant aftertaste. This hook is not a tribute to Stephen Shore or his work, ratner it documents the heroic restoration of one of France's national treasures, the home and gardens of the painter, Claude Monet.
In his Introduction, Impressionist critic John Rewald creates a lyrical tour along the Seine River from Paris to the Atlantic pointing out the highpoints of the Impressionist period such as Seurat's La Grande Jatte and Renoir's favorite bathing spot. The tour ends at Giverny, the small farming village where Monet spent the last 43 years of his life. Rewalt goes on to give a history of Giverny: how and when Monet found it, the building of the gardens and lily pond, and its fate after Monet's death in 1926. He credits the American people for being responsible in large part for making the renovation of the neglected Giverny financially possible. He concludes by proposing that Giverny. now renovated, is open to all artists adding that Shore's approach to photographing the grounds was miraculously never "touched by Monet's overpowering 'presence'." At this point the book begins to become more and more offensive.
The reproductions have accompanying text which points out the important buildings, Monet's particularly favorite flowers, which trees were there in Monet's time, and vantage points he used in some of his paintings making it difficult to Look at these photographs as anything other than visual aids to the text.
Following the reproductions are afterwords by Gerald Van der Kemp, curator in charge of the garden's restoration, and Daniel Wildenstein, an art historian whose family operates one of the world's most prestigious art galleries. They both add their estimable stamp of approval to the renovation and explain how they became involved in the project. Thank the spearheading patrons who got the fund raising task off the ground, and conclude by inviting Monet fans lo make the pilgrimmage to Giverny.
What about Stephen Shore? What about the photographs? And why is Aperture publishing what is essentially a lavish brochure announcing one of France's newest tourist spots? My first thoughts were that Stephen Shore had been used: his contribution to this book is all but ignored except perhaps on the back cover flap where in the last sentence it is suggested that this is the "triumph of a major photographer." Surrounded by captions and text which talk almost exclusively of Monet and the renovation, we are instructed to look for the details in the photographs and not for Shore's vision. Shore's deadpan style of photography requires special conditions for viewing and Aperture took great pains to create such conditions in Uncommon Places, their earlier monograph of Shore's work. Here Shore has been used and his work whored and compromised.
Yet, in assessing what Shore got in return, he didn't do too badly. The Metropolitan Museum paid hirr to take these pictures, he got three free trips to France, and Aperture included some of the resulting photographs in a hardbound book whose reproduction quality is so luscious that you can almost feel the garden dew on your fingertips as you turn the pages.
This book will be of interest to Monet devotees who want to learn about and see the restoration of his beloved Giverny, but those who are anxious to see and learn about new work by Stephen Shore will find the book and its concept offensive and insulting.