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Posted inArt

A Wanderer Among the Rubble (Part 1)

Jocelyn once described her husband, Gandy Brodie (1924–1975) as a “delinquent Hebrew student.” In the novel Life on Sandpaper (Dalkey Archive Press, 2011), the Israeli novelist and painter Yoram Kaniuk writes about the time he and Gandy hung out together in New York, befriending Lenny Tristano and Charlie Parker, as well as Willem de Kooning and Tennessee Williams.

Posted inArt

Portrait of an Artist with Three Lives

It is hard to resist the temptation to mythologize Albert Contreras’s adult life, to not see it take shape as a movie script or imagine who might get the starring role. But if you to stop to think about it, the only reason Contreras’ life story could be turned into a movie is because of his paintings. That’s what it boils down to. We shouldn’t want it any other way.

Posted inArt

No Country for Old Men

Jan Müller’s heart gave out when he was 36. The brevity of his life is mentioned in just about everything written about him, but his tragedy is unlike those of other, more famous artists who died too young — whether it’s Masaccio (1401–28), Egon Schiele (1890–1918), Amedio Modigliani (1884–1920) or Vincent van Gogh (1853–90).

Posted inBooks

Sleeper Awake: Michael O’Brien’s “Avenue”

Poems often groan beneath their encumbrances: weighty metaphors, top-heavy conceits. Which is why I like it when Michael O’Brien, in his most recent book Avenue (FloodEditions), writes of a poem being merely “certain words in / a certain order.” This stripped-down formulation courts a charge of banality or even absurdity — after all, even email spam is made up of words in a specific arrangement — but here it evokes O’Brien’s abiding concern with verbal exactness, even out of the depths of dreaming.

Posted inArt

The Soulful Insolence of Sven Lukin

I have been a Sven Lukin fan since 1970, when I first saw “Untitled” (1969) in one of the concourses running under the Empire State Plaza in Albany. Made for, and located in, a long recessed area — and playfully hovering between flatness and volume, the pictorial and the sculptural — Lukin’s “Untitled,” a three-dimensional, green, orange and blue squiggle, is over 11 feet high and nearly 120 feet long.

Like someone practicing penmanship, “Untitled” begins as a series of tightly compressed vertical folds — think u’s and n’s — that rise and fall, suddenly run along the floor, undulate once, and then extend straight along the floor again until it rises up again; it wants to stretch to its full length, which, as the recessed area makes clear, it can never do. Despite its physical imprisonment, “Untitled” is as irrepressible as a rubber snake.

Posted inPerformance

Happily Tangled Webs

On my way to the Joyce SoHo last Wednesday, while thinking about David Gordon’s 50th anniversary — and realizing that, while he has been making work for five decades, I would be seeing it live for the first time that night — I got to wondering: What does Gordon, renowned for resisting any sort of tidy classification, think about these tidy little landmarks called anniversaries?

Posted inBooks

Time Out

“A literary event!” — every middlebrow doorstop of a novel gets saddled with that cliché. You’d think aesthetic significance could be determined by weight. Or that literature had no other time frame than that of the publishers’ seasonal catalogue, destined to wait a bit longer to be trashed than the daily paper, but not by much.

Nonetheless, something I’m prepared to call a literary event did take place earlier this year, when in its issue of February 9 the London Review of Books published a twenty-part poem or sequence by Denise Riley, “A Part Song.”

Posted inBooks

Crossed Signals: Brian Evenson’s Stories Blend Genre and Literary Conventions

Brian Evenson’s writing might well be, in the words of a character from his new story collection Windeye, published by the venerable Coffee House Press, a means of “capturing on paper and holding steady and immobile the various motions and bodies that constitute an event.” The twenty-five new stories collected here are all event-driven, narratives spurred into life by mysterious disappearances, communal meetings, or acts of stomach-churning violence.