Artblog review of books: Adam Wallacavage’s Monsters

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Here begins a new occasional feature, the Artblog review of books. Libby and I are both voracious readers as are most of you, we believe. Because we read fiction as well as non-fiction and because many books of fiction are visually rich and rich with ideas we will be covering things other than art books — but art books as well. As always, feel free to contribute. The more voices the merrier.

Adam Wallacavage
Book jacket, Monster size Monsters. Photo of Brian Chippendale by Adam Wallacavage.

The first Adam Wallacavage photos that I saw were at Spector Gallery in his 1999 solo exhibition Le Monstier. It was a huge show of small works — there must have been a couple hundred pieces — all small color prints (4” x 6” or so) and mounted in a grid that spanned the entire room like a river of photos. The images were fresh and snapshot-like. And in the seemingly random installation (there were no labels, and no apparent groupings of works by subject matter) what was communicated most strongly was the voracious appetite for life this young photographer had. His energy and good eye made you want to look at it all, the shots of friends and family, the urban scenes, the portraits of weird antique dolls.

The whole and the individual parts were charming, imbued with the humbleness of a family snapshot album yet an album of gems, any one of which was a stand-alone icon.

Wallacavage, a Space 1026 member, is a professional photographer as well as a fine art photographer. His works have appeared in genre magazines like Swindle and Thrasher. His new book, Monster size Monsters, published by Gingko Press, brings the fine art photography and some professional work together in what feels almost like that 1999 exhibition—a flow of images glued together by love, a great eye — and did I mention – a sense of the absurd.

Adam Wallacavage
My Niece Kristina, Fathers’ Day 2004.

The book’s got a nice, clean layout with the stream of images bracketed by Jim Houser’s funny and worshipful foreword (“Adam Wallacavage is my hero. As a 15-year –old, I assumed that Adam invented zines…” ) and Andrew Jeffrey Wright’s snarky but fact-producing interview (Q: So how did you start out? A. I started out as a young child.”)in front and an index at the end. The index includes thumbnail versions of the photos with titles and occasionally some great anecdotal information about the pictures.

Adam Wallacavage

Wallacavage, working on his octopus chandeliers. His show of the chandeliers was at Jonathan Levine Gallery in June and July. In his interview with Wright in Monster size Monsters Wallacavage confesses that he’d love to be known more for his ornamental decoration than for his photographs. He dreams of leaving the world a legacy akin to that left by Mr. Mercer in his concrete castle, Fonthill, in Doylestown.

Adam Wallacavage
Self-portrait in dining room

Wallacavage is a visual omnivore and an unrelenting documenter of the local. Most of the images seem to be shot in Philadelphia or South Jersey. And yet the photos are so engaging on a visual level (from the breathless action shots of airborne skateboarders to the quiet people portraits and some great mugging mug shots) they have universal appeal.

Adam Wallacavage
Duck, one of the portraits of toys that are a recurring theme.

Wallacavage has empathy for his subjects and his compositions communicate volumes. Doc in His Magic Fun shop for example, with Doc’s head framed by a towering wall of masks and magic tricks, is a great comment on the seduction of the supernatural and on a person and his obsession. I’m a sucker for Wallacavage’s people pictures and the book is full of them, from family members to artists in their studios and people simply labeled “Flea market friends.”

Adam Wallacavage
Howard Finster, 1994, photo by Adam Wallacavage. It’s not in the book but I found it on his website and thought it was a great portrait of the self-taught artist.

But the breadth is here, in shots that say that in addition to people the guy’s into the world’s finer weirdness—carnivalesque photos of carnivalesque places that may or may not be fun – Asbury Park, Wildwood, flea markets, skate parks.

Adam Wallacavage
Ryan Dunn at the Troc. (quoting from the book:…”during the first season of Jackass during a CKY show. I was in the suburbs when Bam called me saying he and Dunn were going to do this jump in 30 minutes. somehow I managed to drive into the city, find parking, get a photo pass, run up the steps, pull out my camera and get this shot without time to focus or even check the settings on my flash.”)

The world’s a carnival and we’re all monsters size monsters, whether big or small, green or pink, earnest or pretending. Wallacavage, in his interview with Wright, says his goal is to make art that is uplifting. He’s succeeded.

To see some images from the book, check out Wallacavage’s website.

Adam Wallacavage Monster size Monsters
Photos by Adam Wallacavage
Compiled and edited by Roger Gastman
Foreword by Jim Houser
Interview by Andrew Jeffrey Wright
2006, Gingko Press and R77
ISBN: 1-58423-228-5
176 Pages, Hardcover, 9” x 11”, 100’s of photographs
$39.95

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