On the subject of Spies, history remained almost silent for quite some time following his untimely death in 1942. He was only 46 years old then, an artist at the height of his significant talent, when he was lost at sea during the war in a tragic case of “collateral damage”. Spies left only 80 signed, complete paintings behind, as far as we know. Almost all of them have remained in private collections, treasured by their owners, as have other documents and artefacts related to his personal and artistic life. And so Spies’ legacy has stayed somewhat obscure. Until now.
Afterhours Books, a specialist publisher focusing on the arts and cultures of the Indonesian archipelago, has released the Walter Spies Collector’s Suite, in a limited edition of just 150 pieces. At $5,000, you can be sure it is more than a mere art book for the coffee table. The set represents the culmination of some fifty years of scholarship and meticulous consideration of Spies’ life and work. He died a relative unknown, a man who had lived outside the artistic mainstream then, beginning in the mid-sixties scholars and affectionate admirers of Spies began writing about him, and exhibiting his work — mostly in the Netherlands and Germany. Their interest helped bring to light a wealth of documents, and many works that were previously unknown. Sporadic attention to the life and art of this singular talent led to a number of volumes in English, and even an aborted effort to produce a feature film based on his life.
At long last, with the release of Afterhours’ Spies Suite, a half-century of work by the world’s “Spies Scholars” has been brought together in one multi-part publication offered in a single elegant case. The story behind this heroic act of art publishing is here, on the Afterhours site. It makes good reading, and so will the two volumes in the boxed set. I’m certain of that. If I could afford it, I would buy two of the 150 limited editions; one to enjoy, and one to preserve unopened. I’m sure it would fetch a fine price in twenty years’ time, thus recouping my investment in the Spies Suite I’d have for my own pleasure in my personal library.
Have you got 10K in your art budget? Or 5K? Do you have a penchant for tales of the golden age of Bali’s engagement with the west, or for that ineffable quality of Bali’s that only the finest artists that ever worked here could portray? Click through to Afterhours and buy the Spies Suite directly, here.