James Gibbons

Post image for Only Abandoned: The Poetry of Marcel Broodthaers

Midway through the retrospective of Belgian artist Marcel Broodthaers currently at the Museum of Modern Art, the visitor comes across the witty short film La Pluie (Projet pour un texte) [The Rain (Project for a text), 1969].

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Post image for Late Indulgences: John Ashbery’s Breezeway

A few months ago in the New Yorker, essayist John McPhee recalled an exchange with his editor at Playboy in 1970, Arthur Kretchmer, about whether to remove a certain reference in a draft he’d submitted.

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Post image for Sweet Soul Music: Fred Moten’s “The Little Edges”

The title of Fred Moten’s latest collection, The Little Edges, pinpoints the border country where his poetry unfolds.

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Post image for Sense of an Ending: Harvey Shapiro’s A Momentary Glory

When I recall the poet Harvey Shapiro, who died not long before his eighty-ninth birthday in January 2013, I remember having lunch with him on a sweltering August afternoon in 2001, New York City’s hottest day in twenty-five years, or so the radio said.

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Post image for A Tale of Two Cities: Charles Marville’s Photographs of Paris before Haussmann

The life of French photographer Charles Marville, the subject of a retrospective currently at the Metropolitan Museum, comes down to us hazy in its contours. Born Charles-François Bossu in 1813 to a family of artisans and tradesmen, Marville rid himself of “Bossu” (hunchback) after being teased about it at school, but the import of his chosen pseudonym is unknown.

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Rolls of Engagement: Photography Goes to War

by James Gibbons on September 28, 2013

Post image for Rolls of Engagement: Photography Goes to War

“At the height of my career covering conflicts,” reflects American photojournalist David Leeson (b. 1957), “I truly believed, deeply and passionately, that there existed a series of photographs, or a single photograph, that could end war. I wanted to find that one photo.”

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Post image for Shock of the Old: The Pre-Raphaelites Go Back to the Future

In its first iteration in London, Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Art and Design, the survey now on view at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, bore the edgier title Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde. We may not customarily think of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB) — founded in secret in September 1848 by William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and soon attracting other artists — as an avant-garde, but the label does seem apt. The PRB painters and their affiliated artists were an embattled band of refuseniks, rejecting the standard practices of modern painting, and with it modernity itself, as corrupt and unsustainable.

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Post image for Postage Due: Joan Miró’s Alternative History

For a call for help, it packs a punch: an outsized yellow fist, raised in salute, all but leaps out of the blue background of Joan Miró’s color stencil “Aidez l’Espagne” (“Help Spain,” 1937). Open-mouthed, the stylized Catalan peasant who dominates the image is an emblem of strength and energy — a rooster crowing, a poet singing. In his paintings of the 1920s and 1930s, Miró achieved an unsettling power by delving into the unconscious, creating yawning expanses suggestive of colorful abysses and symbol-laden dreamscapes strewn with biomorphic forms. But in “Aidez l’Espagne,” he opted for the direct simplicity of graphic propaganda.

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Post image for Watcher from the Skies: Richard Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park Series

Beginning in 1968, in an act of governmental largesse unlikely to be repeated any time soon, the Bureau of Reclamation of the U.S. Department of the Interior invited forty artists, all expenses paid, to create works documenting its water reclamation efforts in the West. Among those asked to participate was Richard Diebenkorn, who traveled in 1970 to the Columbia River valley and Salt River in Arizona for five days of expansive looking, taking in landscape views from a promontory and making several overhead passes in a helicopter. Long fascinated by aerial perspective, he found himself “boggled” by what he saw. “Whenever there was agriculture going on,” he later recalled, “you could see process — ghosts of former tilled fields, patches of land being eroded.”

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Post image for Sleeper Awake: Michael O’Brien’s “Avenue”

Poems often groan beneath their encumbrances: weighty metaphors, top-heavy conceits. Which is why I like it when Michael O’Brien, in his most recent book Avenue (FloodEditions), writes of a poem being merely “certain words in / a certain order.” This stripped-down formulation courts a charge of banality or even absurdity — after all, even email spam is made up of words in a specific arrangement — but here it evokes O’Brien’s abiding concern with verbal exactness, even out of the depths of dreaming.

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