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4 April 2010

What Mark Morris thinks about butts


Of late I have been endeavoring to understand dance. A review of Mark Morris‘s “Socrates” at BAM helped me some with its inclusion of a quote about…butts.

This led me to the quote’s original appearance, a passage from The New Yorker writer Joan Acocella’s book on the choreographer:

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12 February 2010

The world-wide visual culture industry


from Calvin Tomkins Lives of the Artists:

And what are my thoughts exactly? Read more »

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8 February 2010

Larry Bell’s boxes

This past weekend I visited David Zwirner Gallery to see ‚ÄúPrimary Atmospheres: Works from California 1960-1970,” an informal survey of art from the mainly Los Angeles based visual art movement called “light & space” — Cali’s flaked out, completely lovely response to minimalism, a mostly east coast affair. The favorite notice I’ve read comes (as it often does) from Peter Schjeldahl at The New Yorker. They won’t let you read him on the web unless you’re a subscriber, but they will let you see this slide show with audio. Take what you can get, I guess?

I feel the same about these pictures I’m sharing. They’re not the same as the real thing. But you’ll have to take what you can get.

These boxes, they’re by Larry Bell.
Read more »

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28 January 2010

Ultimate effacement

“The only recent photograph of him (taken many years ago) is of him wearing a furious face as he fends off an intruding cameraman.”

Indeed. His name is JD Salinger, and now he’s dead.

In some ways, it feels wrong to reproduce that picture, but let it underscore the mechanical age we live in, an age in which people’s likenesses and personalities are reproduced with the same brutal efficiency as texts and records and automobiles and television shows and microwave ovens. It was the exact thing Salinger’s life seemed a silent protest against. This Rick Moody tribute which appeared on NPR today encapsulated a number of my thoughts. His one time literary home The New Yorker is running a memorial, including subscriber-only access to his stories.

My main thought is about the work which might await us. Yes, there’s been speculation about boxes of unpublished work, recapitulations of Salinger’s statement in 1963, a few years before he went quiet…

“I like to write. I love to write. But I write just for myself and my own pleasure.”

…but there’s been little notion that maybe now (or at least soon) these writings will be published. Let’s remember it’s not publication that Salinger seemed to mind, so much as it was the dangerous, self-exposing, quintessentially modern phenomenon of widespread renown. He committed to staying away from the spotlight, and stuck to it like few others one can recall.

Greta Garbo said: “I never said, ‘I want to be alone.’ I only said, ‘I want to be let alone.'”

Artie Shaw said: “Tell ’em I’m insane. A nice, young American boy walking away from a million dollars, wouldn’t you call that insane?”

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11 January 2010

Vincent van Gogh and the Community Function

vangogh

Today’s take on the Community Function is via late 19th century France & The New Yorker. The title was “Van Gogh’s Ear: The Christmas Eve that changed modern art.” In fact, though, the piece is about the isolation & collaboration & community artists have saught, lost & found in our modern era.

It begins on a pessimistic note, and I was reluctant to share it for that reason, but by the end, the message has turned around.

    Most of all, van Gogh was in pursuit of an old romantic dream: the dream of a collaborative community. Art could be saved from mere commodity if artists lived and worked together as they once had done. The Nazarenes, a secretive sect of painters in Rome in the early nineteenth century, seem to have been the first to revive the ideal, while John Ruskin’s Guild of St. George, a pseudo-Gothic band of pseudo-Goethic Masons, became, in the eighteen-sixties, the most unintentionally comic. The Impressionists, urban painters par excellence, saw themselves at moments as a band of brothers, but theirs was an infantile form of community. Renoir and Monet played and painted side by side like two-year-olds, rather than fully engaging in a club like twelve-year-olds. The idea that van Gogh, and others of his generation, pursued was deeper: a sort of religious revival that might be found in a renewed monastic arrangement.

    The vision of an ideal community runs through the letters. If we could all work together, we’d be like . . . Icelandic fishermen! Buddhist monks! Peasant craftsmen! Members of the French Foreign Legion! Not long after he arrived in Arles, he wrote to Gauguin, “I must tell you that even while working I never cease to think about this enertprise of setting up studio with yourself and me as permanent residents, but which we’d both wish to make into a shelter and a refuge for our pals at moments when they find themselves at an impasse in their struggle.” . . .

    For van Gogh, the story ends conclusively: the Yellow House empty, the dream of community gone, the asylum’s doors the only ones open to him. He left the hospital in January and returned to the town, but his behavior was so strange that the peopel of Arles put together a petition to have him committed to an asylum or sent back to his family–breaking for good the vestiges of his dream of an organic rural community. Arles was as tight and closed and suspicious as any other small town. In his letters, the old fantasy, the fishermen and the monks, disappears . . .

    The only authentic community he found was among the insane. At least they supported one another. “Although there are a few people here who are seriously ill, the fear, the horror that I had of madness before has already been grately softened,” he wrote to Theo’s new wife, Jo. “and although one continually hears shouts and terrible howls as though of the animals in a menagerie, despite this the people here know each other very well, and help each other when they suffer crises.” Artist scould not be fishermen, or monks, or Legionnaires. They were artists. Collaborative creativity? We live and see and work alone. Collective responsibility? It ends in a crazy house. . .

    The letters of van Gogh’s last year mark his acceptance of his isolation, coupled with the belief that the isolation need not be absolute — that, one day, there will be a community of readers and viewers who will understand him, and that his mistake had been to try and materialize that community in the moment instead of accepting it as the possible gift of another world and time. “One must sieze the reality of one’s fate and that’s that.” The real community is not that of charmed aritsts living like monks but the distant dependencies of isolated artists and equally isolated viewers, who together make the one kind of community that modernity allows.

I am somewhat loathe to quote the author of this piece, Adam Gopnik, at length. I have no great disdain for him, but I feel some harmonic resonance with Vanity Fair columnist James Wolcott‘s infamous takedown of Gopnik in The New Republic. (i.e. “It isn’t that Gopnik is ungifted or imperceptive, or a slickster trickster like his colleague Malcolm Gladwell, who markets marketing. He is avidly talented and spongily absorbent, an earnest little eager beaver whose twitchy aura of neediness makes him hard to dislike until the preciosity simply becomes too much.”) Read the whole thing here.

That said, this piece of writing was as sharp as Wolcott’s critique was barbed.

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