Thursday, September 8, 2016

Star Trek: 50 Artists 50 Years Is As Much A Mixed Bag As The Exhibition!

The Good: Good photography, Nice foreword, Some impressive art
The Bad: Overpriced, Some terrible artwork
The Basics: Titan Books allows those who cannot make it to the traveling Star Trek: The Exhibition experience the Star Trek: 50 Artists 50 Years as a coffeetable book with as mixed results as the artwork it presents!

I own very few coffeetable books. For one, I have cats, so the coffeetable is frequently used as a feline jungle gym and, frankly, I don't need to bring anything else into the house that the cats will destroy just by being placed where their name dictates. Second, coffeetable books are a tough sell with me because their pricing follows a very predictable arc; the price is usually set artificially high to capitalize on initial hype of the book's subject, then about three months after the premiere, the price of the book plummets . . . and about a year later, the coffeetable book goes into collectible pricing ranges based on its rarity, but it is virtually impossible to find truly mint copies of the book (yes, I am a snob about book condition!). So, I tend to avoid coffeetable books as a genre, though I do have a couple. When Titan Books announced that it was publishing the coffeetable volume Star Trek: 50 Artists 50 Years, that got my attention.

I was genuinely surprised that Titan Books could publish a coffeetable book because the last I knew Simon & Schuester/Pocket Books had the exclusive license for publishing Star Trek books (as I have come to understand it, there are differences between the fiction and non-fiction - about productions, cultural impact, etc. - publications and that allowed Titan Books to publish Star Trek: 50 Artists 50 Years). I also found myself thinking that Titan Books was a good choice for publishing Star Trek: 50 Artists 50 Years, a book based on the art exhibition of the same name that is traveling the world during the 50th Anniversary of Star Trek (which just so happens to be today!). Titan Books did an impressive job with Watchmen Portraits (reviewed here!) and it seemed like they could do right by a volume cataloging the Star Trek 50 Artists 50 Years Exhibition.

Star Trek: 50 Artists 50 Years is a coffeetable photography book that captures the artwork from the Star Trek: The Exhibition traveling art display of the same name. For $40, readers, collectors and art enthusiasts get a 112 page book of photographs and blurbs that is barely over a half-inch thick (not, admittedly, the way books are usually valued, but it's a lot of money for something that is physically less substantial or impressive than other Titan Books volumes in the same price point). The unique aspect of the book is a foreword by Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan director Nicholas Meyer.

As for the rest, what Star Trek: 50 Artists 50 Years are photographs or images of the fifty art pieces that were contributed to celebrate the 50th Anniversary Of Star Trek. The pieces range from montages that pack characters in from virtually every episode of the original Star Trek for a single shot to stylized headshots of Star Trek (franchise) aliens. There is a photo montage of (essentially) Mayim Bialik doing cosplay and photographs of toys and a theoretical starship. One of Leonard Nimoy's photograph montages was included, as well as new retro-looming movie posters and faux-recruiting posters for StarFleet!

What Titan Books got right with Star Trek: 50 Artists 50 Years is the book's physical quality. The foreword is a nice touch and all of the images are credited on the page opposite the work. The photographs look good and the paper stock is thick enough so there is no image bleed from other pages; each work of art is left to stand on its own. Star Trek: 50 Artists 50 Years is a book that looks as good as the artwork it portrays within its pages.

That said, Titan Books cannot be held responsible for the content of those pages and that is a decidedly mixed bag. Some of the artwork is cartoonish and juvenile and the purpose behind some of the pieces eludes me (Spock leaning on a classic car, for example). It is art, but it is not like the subjects of the photographs in the book Star Trek: 50 Artists 50 Years were all oil paintings; some are essentially doodles by famous artists. Others are immaculate works of detailed art, clever, or have quite a bit of artistic merit (like Nimoy's photography). The inconsistency makes for a very unsatisfying book and collection.

Which brings us to why Titan Books bothered to publish Star Trek: 50 Artists 50 Years. Star Trek: 50 Artists 50 Years was a massive undertaking and I suspect licensees like Titan Books and Rittenhouse Archives (which created a trading card set based upon the artwork from the exhibition, reviewed here!) had to bid and produce their products in something of a vacuum. They took a risk on the subject and, sadly, none of the licensees or museums that are hosting the Star Trek: The Exhibition knew that it would be so thoroughly spoiled online. published images of all fifty works to promote the project and it completely guts the need for something like Star Trek: 50 Artists 50 Years. The book ends up feeling, sadly, like a cashgrab and to be fair to Titan Books, they did get screwed by

But, Star Trek: 50 Artists 50 Years exists in the same world as the internet and is attempting to appeal to the same fanbase. Unfortunately, in this instance, it makes Star Trek: 50 Artists 50 Years utterly unnecessary. Given the opportunity, I suspect most fans will look over the artwork on and realize there is little thrill to be had in seeing the displays in person. Moreover, some of the artists are likely to offer prints of their work directly; that would allow fans to get the exact work or works that they loved from the art exhibition, without the works they did not. I would be surprised if there were fifty Star Trek fans in the entire world who would want all fifty pieces of artwork from the Star Trek 50 Artists 50 Years project hanging in their homes.

Ultimately, that makes the appeal of Star Trek: 50 Artists 50 Years surprisingly minimal, even for a coffeetable book that one glances at only occasionally.

The artwork within this book utilizes images based upon elements of the Star Trek franchise, most notably:
Star Trek
Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan
Star Trek: The Next Generation

For other Star Trek reference books, check out my reviews of:
Where No One Has Gone Before: A History In Pictures
The Star Trek Compendium
The Official Star Trek Prop And Costume Auction Book


For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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