Vanitas: The Transience of Earthly Pleasures is an exhibition catalog for a Frieze Art Fair exhibition of the same name staged in 2010 by London's All Visual Arts Gallery. Morbid Anatomy Museum docent--and volunteer extraordinaire--Brenna Pladsen took a liking to the book, and kindly offered to write the following guest post about it; if you are interested in finding out more, you can spend some quality time with it at The Morbid Anatomy Library!
Vanitas is a prime example of a good exhibition book. This is partially because it seems to have been an excellent exhibition. Judging from the book, the art skewed toward the luxurious and the animal. Bits of birds and bugs are a striking part of the collection and bring home the concept of the vanitas painting, which is given a robust and generous explanation in the introduction.The setting and curation are carefully matched to inspire the visitor into the correct frame of mind to appreciation the philosophy of the genre. The book follows that idea, and the wonderful photographs of the space can really transport you there and give a sense to the space and scale of the works. The Tim Noble and Sue Webster pieces, especially Metal Rats Fucking, need the accompanying context to be striking. The art is beautifully recorded by the photographs, but the exhibition photos are really transporting and have the dark, hyper-real quality of an original vanities painting. While the photography is luscious and luxurious, it is thankfully given space to breathe. I was struck by how contemporary and modern the book feels without loosing that decedent, velvety touch.