In late 2018, Louise Bourgeois: The Eternal Thread — the French-American artist’s first large-scale exhibition in China — opened at the Long Museum in Shanghai. On display among the sculptures for which Bourgeois is best known was her 2006 multimedia work 10 am is When You Come to Me. It’s composed of twenty hand-painted sheets of musical score paper, nineteen of which depict two red hands, grasping, touching, and reaching for each other. A simple, striking dossier of intimacy and connection.
Toward the end of Pop Song: Adventures in Art & Intimacy, the new memoir-in-essays by Larissa Pham, the author visits the Bourgeois retrospective and is drawn to 10 am, which she calls a portrayal of the “ever-shifting closeness and distance that was the product of two people coming into proximity.” Pham’s description of 10 am also feels apt for Pop Song, which similarly paints romantic relationships in all their ambiguity, precarity, and fluctuation.
Pop Song reads like the lovechild of Olivia Laing’s The Lonely City and Durga Chew-Bose’s Too Much and Not in the Mood, essay collections that consider art and love from the perspective of literarily inclined women. Pham’s essays are most successful when she enters a more critical mode and flexes her knowledge of visual art (she studied painting and art history at Yale), which fortify her personal reflections with intellectual heft. When she synthesizes and reflects on the work of others — Francesca Woodman, Agnes Martin, and James Turrell; Peter Hujar, Roy DeCarava, and Jenny Saville; Thiebaud, Kusama, and Caravaggio — Pham’s prose shines. Seeing art through her eyes is a gift, and each work she contemplates is enriched by her sensitivity and discernment.
Most of Pop Song’s essays have a wonderful wandering quality; Pham excels at leading the reader down sinuous paths and arriving at unexpected insights. Still, some essays are admittedly bloated. Nevertheless, breakthroughs and epiphanies abound. (I expect many millenialwomen will find Pham’s realizations — particularly about her relationships with sex, food, and Tumblr — eerie in their immediate relevance.)
The collection’s strongest essay, “Body of Work,” uses Nan Goldin’s 1980 photograph “Heart-Shaped Bruise” as a springboard to probe how bodily harm and emotional pain have shaped the lives of women throughout history. From the immortal image of Goldin’s wound, Pham’s thoughts spiral out — to crisis hotlines, to BDSM, to the Christian practice of self-mortification, to the writings of Leslie Jamieson and Julia Kristeva — and ultimately arrive at satisfying conclusions about art and suffering. (A favorite: “Art perseveres; bruises fade.”)
In combining criticism and memoir, Pham is guided by what she calls “this kind of scraping, this desperate searching for an image that communicated the way I felt.” I must have reread this phrase a dozen times: so often I hear about how the job of art is to agitate, to challenge, to jolt out of complacence and/or ignorance. This is one of its possible functions. But I tend to gravitate towards art that articulates familiar feelings. The art that moves me most is that which enables an experience of recognition, of reflection, of likeness. Reading Pop Song I had that same experience, with Pham giving language to the ineffable and assembling an arsenal of artists to help.
Your list of must-see, fun, insightful, and very New York art events this month, including art made during the first stock market crash, a homage to feline friends, and the 10-year anniversary of a crucial public art initiative.
Astrid Dick was told that she could not paint stripes because Sean Scully and Frank Stella have done so before her, a patently foolish statement.
Hrag Vartanian, Hyperallergic’s editor-in-chief, is one of the guest jurors reviewing applications for the two-month residency in Utica, New York.
Paddy Johnson answers your questions about art fairs, visibility, and frustrating studio visits.
The 26th Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival’s Philippines retrospective highlights early documentation of the country, local responses to the Marcos dictatorship, and contemporary work.
Hear a band of improvisers led by Rajna Swaminathan and a performance of Morton Feldman’s “For John Cage” in programs inspired by the exhibition, “New York: 1962-1964.”
The country music legend says the museum will be part of a “Dolly Center.”
Herzog and de Meuron’s design for the Museum of the 20th Century in Berlin has been accused of poor energy efficiency and called a “structural nightmare.”
From residencies, fellowships, and workshops to grants, open calls, and commissions, our monthly list of opportunities for artists, writers, and art workers.
Looking for some holiday gift inspiration? We’ve got you covered with this roundup of accessories, games, and more that have been flying off the shelf this season.
SCAD’s booth at Design Miami/ features glazed tiles by alumni artists Nicolas Barrera, Lauren Clay, Gonzalo Hernandez, Cory Imig, Abel Macias, and Nikita Nagpal.
Plaintiff Cheri Pierson accuses the disgraced financier of a “brutal” sexual attack at the Manhattan mansion of Jeffrey Epstein.
At the heart of What if the Matriarchy Was Here All Along? is the idea that matriarchy never really died but rather has transformed.