Posted inArt

A Map That Never Stays the Same

Sun Tzu’s Sixth Century treatise, The Art of War, is one of the precursors to Gertrude Stein’s How to Write (1931). Written in different epochs, under different dark clouds, war either in progress or just around the fork in the road, these manuals are invaluable to an understanding of writing and the written, but in dissimilar ways. The primary difference is that Sun Tzu believed in narrative, with its carefully constructed beginning, middle, and end. It was an arc, though not a rainbow.

Posted inArt

Closely Watched Trains: Josephine Halvorson and Charles Demuth

A studio visit prompted these thoughts about Josephine Halvorson’s paintings, which Nancy Princenthal has characterized as “resolutely airless and mute.”

Halvorson depicts close-up views of largely flat surfaces, often with a rectangle framed within the painting’s rectangle. In addition to conveying little depth, the surfaces usually contain a space we cannot see into, or they feature a closed door or doors. These tensions inflect our experience of the artist’s work, with its slow dance between the visible and the hidden, and between sight and touch. She seems to want the viewer to smell her objects as much as see them, to become familiar with the scarred and punctured surface (or skin) of their silent “faces.” For her, painting isn’t confined to sight. She lives in a world of things, not images – a three-dimensional realm far removed from the flattened realm of popular culture and the mass media.

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Richard Baker, Physiognomist of Our Past and Future

Richard Baker is best known for his still-life paintings of tabletops, often tilted at impossible angles and covered with out-of-print art books and other bric-a-brac, such as ceramic pots, to-go food containers, candy bars, and tulips. Ranging from the lowbrow Learn to Draw by Jon Gnagy (Mr. “Learn-To-Draw”) to the hefty catalogue of the exhibition Paris-New York (1977) — the year the artist graduated from high school — Baker’s non-hierarchical representations form an inventory of the books that have, at different times, been central to his ongoing education, stretching from when he was a teenager until the present.

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The Modernity of Giovanni Battista Moroni (1524–1578)

There are four portraits by Giovanni Battista Moroni (1524–1578) currently on display at the Metropolitan Museum, and each of them is a gem. Two are included in Bellini, Titian, and Lotto: Northern Italian Paintings from the Accademia Carrarra, Bergamo (May 15–September 3), an exhibition of fifteen modestly sized paintings, including “Orpheus and Eurydice” (ca. 1510–1512), the smallest Titian (1485/90–1570) I have ever seen, and, as they say, a youthful effort.

Posted inBooks

The Tip of the Iceberg: My Reading of Frank Kuenstler (1928–1996)

I want to begin with a few salient facts and personal observations about the poet and filmmaker Frank Kuenstler. He is part of the same generation as John Ashbery, Robert Bly, Robert Creeley, Philip Lamantia, Denise Levertov, Frank O’Hara, and Adrienne Rich, and, to my mind, belongs in their company. Between 1964 and 1996 he published nine books. If we take his word for it, and I see no reason why we shouldn’t, he began working on LENS in 1952 but waited more than a decade before he began publishing his work. Partly this had to do with the twelve years it took Kuenstler to complete LENS, but I imagine other factors were also involved.

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Nobuo Sekine and Charles Ray and Their Sculptures Filled with Liquid

Lee Ufan’s letter to Stella underscores his ongoing critique of Western aesthetics, which began with the specific objects we associate with Minimalism. Whereas Minimalism, at least as Stella codified it, emphasizes the material presence of an object isolated from the passage of time, the artists associated with Mono-ha were interested in what happened between things, in the dynamics of their relationship as well as in change. Thus, for all the visual affinities between a Western-made object and those made by the Mono-ha artists, these connections have to do with appearance — they are morphological and, at best, superficial.

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The Rediscovery of a Forgotten Pop Artist: Evelyne Axell (1935–1972)

The Great Journey into Space is the second exhibition of the Belgian Pop artist Evelyne Axell to be seen in New York. Her first New York exhibition, Axell’s Paradise: Last Works (1971–1972) before she vanished, which I reviewed for The Brooklyn Rail (Nov. 2009), was also at 1602 Broadway (October 1–November 21, 2009). (Note: The gallery’s name is different from the address, which is 1181 Broadway, third floor). Together, these exhibitions fill a gap in our knowledge of what was going on during the heyday of Pop Art as well as offer viewers a chance to assess the work of an artist who has largely been left out of art history. An exhibition devoted to the “Erotomobiles” that Axell did between 1964 and 66, at the outset of her rather short career, would fill out the picture.

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Single Point Perspective: Where Does Illusion End and Reality Begin?

There is the American flag, and there is the painting “Flag” (1954–55) by Jasper Johns, which is in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Flying over federal courthouses, churches, schools, post offices, lawns, construction sites and, in the months after 9/11, nearly ever taxi in New York, the American flag signifies nationalism and a set of ideals over which there has been increasingly rancorous debate. Each generation must wrestle with three basic questions: who is American, what does it mean to be an American and what is an American entitled to?

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A Wanderer Among The Rubble (Part 2)

Gabriel Solomon Brodie grew up in a tenement on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. That he became an artist who achieved what he did in a relatively short period — his career spans around twenty-five years — is a testament to his ferocious persistence. Wanting desperately to get himself out of his impoverished circumstances, he became a painter. He did so out of the purest motivation: he fell in love with painting.