This week, glorious space photos, Ben Carson’s Jesus kitsch, rich people trying to get a tax write-off, the Whitney Museum’s original sin, Jeff Wall’s insecurities, and more.
But they can live very close to the art indeed, as Patricia Cohen pointed out earlier this year in her New York Times article on the Brant Foundation Art Study Center, conveniently located in Peter Brant’s backyard in Greenwich, Connecticut. This foundation provides Brant tax breaks while keeping his art collection intact and nearby. “There simply is no clear test,” says New York art attorney Thomas C. Danziger. “How close to your house is too close?”
You could easily read Cohen’s article as a cautionary tale. But Scott Stover, who runs the philanthropy advisory Global Art Development, said that collectors he knows found it inspiring. “They want to know how they can do that too,” he said. “Every donor I’ve ever worked with has been interested in the tax incentives and implications of their philanthropy.”
In his sculpture, Ray hits us with visual fact, the belief that form carries meaning, and dispenses with all the familiar distancing tropes that keep stories safe and pathology at bay. Other than the operatic scale, there’s no romanticizing of subject, no nostalgia, sentimentalizing, myth, or fantasy. No pallative parable or moral. Just the bare facts. This is a glyph for the complexities of reality. Twain’s tale was set in 1853; Ray’s story is set in an eternal present and is nonfiction. Here, in Wallace Stevens’s words, it’s “a constant cry against an old order.”
“It was a photography and text piece that I don’t like but that is still around,” he says, drily. That same year, he completed an MA on Berlin Dada and the Notion of Context, then moved to London to do postgraduate research on Manet, still a defining influence, at the Courtauld Institute. By then married with two children, he did not resume his art career until 1977, when he started making his signature large backlit photographs. “Like painting, my work is very much about composition. That is where the feeling flows – more so than in the expressions on faces or the possible social meanings. But I am not trying to imitate painting. In fact, my pictures are as close to Robert Frank or Paul Strand as they are to painting or cinema. But people seem to choose not to see that.”
He’s still troubled by his decision to turn from one to the other. “I still don’t know why I slithered away from painting to photography and I have never been able to figure that out,” he says. “It may just have been youthful stupidity or the fact that I was an over-confident and in-a-hurry adolescent in the late 1960s – when the possibilities of photography first registered with me. I was very restless in those days. If I had known then what I know now, I would have done it differently.”
For all his success, he sounds regretful. “Not regretful because I love photography and am still excited by it, but I’m still haunted by the idea that it was a misstep and all that followed has just been a big mistake.” A brilliant mistake, I reply, taken aback.
In this way, HONY joins organizations like TED and the Moth at the vanguard of a slow but certain lexical refashioning. Once an arrangement of events, real or invented, organized with the intent of placing a dagger—artistic, intellectual, moral—between the ribs of a listener or reader, a story has lately become a glossier, less thrilling thing: a burst of pathos, a revelation without a veil to pull away. “Storytelling,” in this parlance, is best employed in the service of illuminating business principles, or selling tickets to non-profit galas, or winning contests.
Douglass, we learn in Picturing Frederick Douglass: An Illustrated Biography of the Nineteenth Century’s Most Photographed American, was convinced of the importance of photography. He wrote essays on the photograph and its majesty, posed for hundreds of different portraits, many of them endlessly copied and distributed around the United States. He was a theorist of the technology and a student of its social impact, one of the first to consider the fixed image as a public relations instrument. Indeed, the determined abolitionist believed fervently that he could represent the dignity of his race, inspiring others, and expanding the visual vocabulary of mass culture.
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