The Brooklyn Rail, November 2010 Issue

This month’s Brooklyn Rail didn’t just update me on the critical reception of the past months’ art exhibitions, it also kept me well-informed about the state of vegetarian tacos, Indian call centers, and the misunderstood G train! The November issue (my copy is elegantly covered in a Jonas Mekas lithograph of a hand cradling a flower bud) is a primer for anyone who hasn’t necessarily seen all of the right shows and read all of the right books for the recent spat of cultural production. Taken as a whole, though, the weighty newsprint publication’s most interesting articles lay in unexpected places and concern unexpected topics.

Separated into the secular “Local” and “Express” sections, followed by a series of reviews of various artistic genres and capped off by published poetry and fiction, the Brooklyn Rail is pretty big. Eighty-one large format pages don’t go by quickly. But the issue kicks off with some solid pieces of city reporting. E. Tammy Kim’s piece on the mysterious past, present failure, and possible future of the G train is enlightening, not least for its collection of evocative descriptions of subway banter and narratives of what riding the train is actually like. In the end, “the G joins its riders in a ritual of frustration.” Ouch. I was also pleasantly surprised by Dave Kim’s bicycle search through Brooklyn for the perfect vegetarian taco, which, as it turns out, doesn’t exist. Also ouch. Christian Parenti’s piece on Indian call centers is an in-depth look at a shrouded phenomenon.

And then there’s art stuff! A big John Yau interview with painter Thomas Nozkowski, who currently has a show up at Pace Gallery, is decked out with a Phong Bui portrait of the artist. The interview rambles pleasantly over the daily practice of painting and drawing and the affinities of memory and the abstract, how the actual creeps in to the non-objective. It’s nice to have such abundant space devoted solely to conversation, and a rich, detailed one at that.

Into the art exhibition review block, things get jump-started with Thomas Micchelli’s review of Chaos and Classicism at the Guggenheim. Pitting the show against the Metropolitan Museum’s Glitter and Doom, which covers the 1920s German expressionist and neo-realist movement, Micchelli calls the Guggenheim the clear loser. The writer has a hard line against the classical aspirations of fascism and the idealization and reduction of humanity into faceless automatons, the same influences that he sees as forming the backbone of the art in Chaos and Classicism. Also included is the fetishizing of antiquity by totalitarian regimes. Micchelli rightly prefers the messy reality to clean repression, but one wonders if his blanket statements connect classical visuality too explicitly and universally to the political aspirations of fascism, a current that the writer also seems to identify with actual antiquity.

The Books section is great for future fodder for this column. Nicolle Elizabeth makes Mike Young’s Look! Look! Feathers sound particularly appealing. In Poetry, I like Steve Dalachinsky’s rhythmic, stuttering “a walk to the butcher’s @ sunset.” In Fiction, Margarita Shalina has a memoir-ish lived criticism, or something, of Jim Carroll’s The Petting Zoo and an Allen Ginsberg reading witnessed by the narrator as a college student. I’m guessing this whole thing is probably not fiction. I like it either way.

The Brooklyn Rail can be found free and monthly at cool places all over Brooklyn, and sometimes even Manhattan. They also have a sweet website, though some social media buttons would be nice, where all of the above articles can also be found.

Kyle Chayka was senior editor at Hyperallergic. He is a cultural critic based in Brooklyn and has contributed to publications including ARTINFO, ARTnews, Modern Painters, LA Weekly, Kill Screen, Creators...