I met Simon Gouverneur in the late 1980s, when I gave a lecture at the Maryland Institute College of Art. Something that I talked about that afternoon prompted him to introduce himself — I am guessing it was Wifredo Lam. We sat in a drab conference room. For the rest of the afternoon, before I caught a train back to New York, he and I wandered through dangerous territory, which was the problematic relationship between art and race. He was happy to speak to someone who was sympathetic to his quarrel with multiculturalism, and its ideas of essentialism and who shared his interest in visionary art and painters such as Piet Mondrian and Alfred Jensen.
John Yau has published books of poetry, fiction, and criticism. His latest poetry publications include a book of poems, Further Adventures in Monochrome (Copper Canyon Press, 2012), and the chapbook, Egyptian Sonnets (Rain Taxi, 2012). His most recent monographs are Catherine Murphy (Rizzoli, 2016), the first book on the artist, and Richard Artschwager: Into the Desert (Black Dog Publishing, 2015). He has also written monographs on A. R. Penck, Jasper Johns, and Andy Warhol. In 1999, he started Black Square Editions, a small press devoted to poetry, fiction, translation, and criticism. He was the Arts Editor for the Brooklyn Rail (2007–2011) before he began writing regularly for Hyperallergic. He is a Professor of Critical Studies at Mason Gross School of the Arts (Rutgers University).
The Struggle for Coherence
The other day, at a small cocktail party, a literary agent told me that he liked writers who knew and wrote for their audience. Our conversation soon sputtered out because I didn’t see any value in disagreeing with him. A few minutes later, a writer confided that he would keep working on a manuscript only if he could morally, ethically and esthetically justify what he was doing. For each of them the work itself could never be justification enough. It had to appeal to a larger power.
Can We Do Something About This?
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the extraordinary June Leaf show before it closes at the Edward Thorp Gallery on February 4, 2012.
Sassily Serious and Seriously Sassy
I set out with the intention of seeing these shows, so I wouldn’t call it synchronicity, but the simultaneous exhibitions of David Goerk and Martha Clippinger in the same building, just one floor apart, did get me thinking about art making that is concerned with the realm between painting and sculpture — from della Robbia’s bas reliefs to early modernism (Hans Arp) to contemporary art (Stuart Arends, Ellsworth Kelly, Jim Lee, and Richard Tuttle).
The Immaculate Conception of Damien Hirst
“You do know, don’t you, that even well-meaning people are pawns for the powerful, and when it comes right down to it, humans are best thought of as oversized prawns waiting to be plucked from their beds of ice? Personally, I like to methodically squeeze the plumpest and pinkest ones between my thumb and forefinger, really smooth them out, before swallowing them whole.”
I dreamt that I met the famous and powerful Hollywood gossip columnist, Hedda Hopper. She was tired of lying around in Rose Hill Permanent Rest Stop and wondered if she could get her old job back.
Ben Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station
“I’m sure the people of Iraq are looking forward to your poem about Franco and his economy,” Isabel tells the main character, Adam Gordon. Since the death of the self, the author and painting, the desire for significance has led to a daily slew of preposterous claims and downright silly statements.
Unassimilated and Inadmissible
When Katherine Kuh asked Edwin Dickinson about his painting, “Self-Portrait in Uniform” (1942), where the artist depicts himself in a mirror dressed as a Union soldier, he answered, “I’ve had a number of hobbies; one was the Civil War. For about nine years I was particularly interested in that subject and the portrait comes from that time.”
Lester Johnson’s Last Paintings
Lester Johnson (1919 – 2010) remains a cult figure, particularly for those who care about painting, which, let’s face it, is a cult made up of warring factions. Johnson is a full-fledged member of the faction to which the terms “painterly,” “expressionist,” and “figurative” have accrued, but which are too diluted to be of any use. He remains best known for his paintings of men, often depicted as monochrome silhouettes packed tightly together.