Have You Read . . . ?

The Red Couch: A Portrait of America by Kevin Clarke & Horst Wackerbarth

When most people decide to take to the highways and road trip across the country, the idea is generally to travel fast and light and leave all excess baggage behind you in your asphalt wake. Taking an 8-foot red-velvet couch along for the ride doesn’t figure in to most sane road tripping plans. But that’s just what photographers Kevin Clarke and Horst Wackerbarth did over the course of a four year art project begun in 1979.

In 1976, while moving the couch from a NYC apartment onto a moving truck, a shaft of morning sunlight fell across the couch sitting in the middle of street. Photographer Clarke (who had been sleeping on the couch at a friend’s loft) was struck by the beauty of the scene, decided to take a photo of the couch sitting in the road, and an idea was born. Along with his West German photographer friend Horst Wackerbarth, Clarke began planning and raising money for the project: they would rent a van, cart the bright red sofa around the country, and photograph the artistic results of placing this large, slightly garish, and incongruous piece in the middle of everyday American life. After having a replica couch made, Clarke and Wackerbarth both began touring around the country, working independently of each other, and snapping photographs of the couch. Some of the images are just pictures of the couch in strange and beautiful places, but the more interesting photographs feature people that the photographers met in the course of their travels and asked to pose with the couch. These pictures feature everyday people (and a few celebrities for good measure) in the everyday situations of their lives, from a stockbroker on the trading floor, to a family that has just been evicted from their apartment building.

The fixed visual element of the couch lends a powerful unifying element to these photos of incredibly diverse people and places. What would otherwise be a fine collection of portraits depicting the vastness of the American experience is here given a strange and surreal edge by the constant presence of the couch. In this age of Photoshop, where virtually no image is what it appears to be, looking at these beautiful, sometimes eerie photographs it is often necessary to remind yourself that these pictures are the real thing. The bright red couch you see sitting in the middle of a Long Island landfill, or attached to a window-washer’s scaffolding high above the ground, or straddling a canoe in the middle of a glacial lake in Alaska was actually hauled, hoisted, or dragged into position by hand, not by the click of a mouse.

The Red Couch is definitely a  strange and beautiful book to be hunted down off the shelves. With an unusual visual surprise on nearly every page, it is a welcome reminder that art and magic can be found on any day, in any direction you care to look.


A Christmas Carol

Every year during the holiday season, the Morgan Library and Museum in New York exhibits one page of Charles Dickens’s handwritten manuscript of A Christmas Carol. The page is displayed under glass in what was once the library of John Pierpont Morgan.

Now, for the first time, the Morgan has allowed The New York Times to photograph and post the entire manuscript online. See for yourself the editorial changes Dickens made before he sent it to the printer. The public is also invited to submit which edit is the “most interesting.” For more, click here.

Want Cormac McCarthy’s typewriter?

Well, you’re in luck! After 46 years, Cormac McCarthy’s Olivetti Lettera 32 will be auctioned by Christie’s on December 4th. According to the man himself:

“It has never been serviced or cleaned other than blowing out the dust with a service station hose. … I have typed on this typewriter every book I have written including three not published.”

While it might not work very well (if at all), just remember that this is the typewriter on which every McCarthy novel (including All the Pretty Horses, The Crossing, Cities of the Plain, Blood Meridian, No Country for Old Men, and The Road), short story, play, screenplay, draft, and correspondence was typed. Purchased for $50 in a Tennessee pawnshop in 1963, it is expected to sell for $15,000-$20,000. Proceeds will go to the Sante Fe Institute.

And don’t worry – Cormac McCarthy will now be typing on a “new used” Olivetti that his friend bought on eBay for $9 (plus $20 for shipping).