15 February 2011

Learning From Las Vegas. 1972

Current Selling Prices
$650-$3000 /£400-£2000

Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown and Steven Izenour. LEARNING FROM LAS VEGAS. Cambridge, Mass. & London: The M.I.T. Press, 1972

Cult classic -architecture / urbanism...a revolutionary case study that opened the world's eyes to vernacular architecture and iconography-the "ugly and ordinary" structures and signage born to satisfy the needs of regular people, not architects. It shows the considerable influence of pop art which some art critics say has, in its turn, influenced contemporary art. Venturi Scott Brown are now an important architectural firm with buildings at Harvard, Michigan, Yale and Tsinghua University Beijing. Robert Venturi is often referred to as the "father of Post Modernism."

The book is a large quarto of 188 pages and can turn up in a translucent glassene printed jacket that adds considerably to its value. In a 2007 interview by Melissa Urcan with the two surviving authors we get a look at the work 35 years on:
"Melissa Urcan: I would first like to ask you about the weight of Learning from Las Vegas, now almost 35 years old. Do you feel tied to the association of your work to this book, or is it something you continue to draw from?

Robert Venturi: Since
then we have written an essay called "Las Vegas After Its Classic Age," which emphasizes that Learning from Las Vegas in the context of now is completely historical. If you had written a book on the Renaissance in Florence, it would have taken maybe 100 years to say, "Oh that's historical." Now you can say 35 years have gone by very fast. But Learning from Las Vegas is still relevant in many ways, such as in its recognition of the relevance and significance of iconography and signage more than of space. Las Vegas got us in a lot of trouble, but we learned a lot from it.

MU: The Strip in Las Vegas appears to be where you spent the most research time. In this book you had the premonition of the building and sign eventually merging. Did you have any idea how big the entire city would become?

Denise Scott Brown: We did concentrate on the Strip, but not only on the Strip. We studied patterns of land use throughout Las Vegas. And we mapped all the strips of Las Vegas, not just the famous Strip...

VALUE? The book has been reprinted and can be picked up for $30 but the 1972 first is now of some value. When I featured this book 3 years ago there were 4 copies on ABE at between $1800 and $4500, there are now 14 with a decent enough copy sans jacket for $600 and a few in jacket from $1400 to $3500 and a one signed by Venturi with a drawing at $5000 in chipped jacket. Some copies listed may have jackets, the ever helpful Powells of Oregon merely describe their $1950 copy as 'standard' - a brutal price without jacket, but fairly decent with. The odds are it has no jacket and is a sad and tired example. If a copy is nice, dealers tend to say so. The jacket being printed acetate/ glassene is almost always less than fine and a perfect jacket could see a fast sale at $3000 otherwise it has become a slightly slow book to sell, although architecture is still a good subject and more reliable, say, than photobooks...For the person 'holding folding' there is also 'An Archive of Manuscript Materials Relating to the Publication of Learning from Las Vegas' at $35000 - considerably less than you could lose in 10 minutes play at the Bellagio.

OUTLOOK? Something of a sleeper, it can be picked up occasionally at library sales, boot sales and flea markets or even from web-savvy dealers who see online prices and assume the sellers are 'having a laugh.' Possibly a good hold over a decade or two, there seems to be considerable interest in the book and a plethora of critical works about it. I suspect in years to come Las Vegas will be seen as a suburb of hell and will be regarded in the way that we now think of Atlantic City or Blackpool. Only the Gods really know-- it mayl be better to sell now before more copies come to roost. My last copy took about a year to sell in 2008 at $1400 ('All lettering on front and back of jacket intact, loss of LE of 'Learning' at head of spine- an impressive example...')

For $50 or less you can buy I Am a Monument: On Learning from Las Vegas on Learning from Las Vegas by one Aron 'Balsamic' Vinegar. This 'provocative rereading of an iconic text' compares the text of the 1972 version and the 1977 'stripped down' edition. Vinegar is concerned lest we '... miss the underlying dialectic between skepticism and the ordinary, expression and the deadpan, that runs through the text.' Post post-modernism and beyond.
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