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James Tate’s Last Poem

March 15, 2016 | by

Late last year, I saw John Ashbery give a reading at Pioneer House, in Brooklyn. At one point, he read a prose poem by James Tate, who died last summer. It was, Ashbery said, Tate’s final poem—so incontrovertibly final, in fact, that it had been discovered in the poet’s typewriter soon after his death. What Ashbery went on to read was terrific: as I recalled, it opened in a comic mode, riffing on all these bogus feats Tate claimed to have accomplished that year (hot-dog-eating contest winner, arm-wrestling contest winner, et cetera) and building to a quiet, rueful meditation on aging.

It seemed almost too perfect to have been plucked unedited from a typewriter, so much so that I wondered, in passing, if maybe it were a sly, prankish tribute. I knew, or I thought I remembered, that Ashbery and Tate had been close. “He has developed a homegrown variety of surrealism almost in his own backyard,” Ashbery had written of his friend in 1995—a variety in which we find “something very like the air we breathe, the unconscious mind erupting in one-on-one engagements with the life we all live, every day.” The poem Ashbery had read was so rich with those “eruptions” that I knew it had to be Tate’s.

I’m happy to say that Tate’s final poem appears in the Spring issue of The Paris Review, along with four new poems by John Ashbery. Below you'll find a photo of the poem as it was found in Tate’s typewriter. His last line, given the circumstances, has a new resonance. What are the chances? Read More »

Memento Mori

March 10, 2016 | by

This painting and below: E. B. Roberts, Series of Salesman Samples for Memorials, 1929, enamel on board,  20" x 24". From a series of thirty-three paintings. Images courtesy Ricco/Maresca Gallery.

Trawling through eBay recently, I came across a folder of sample funeral cards from the early twentieth century. As near as I can tell, salesmen would roam from funeral home to funeral home peddling these to undertakers, who would in turn press them on bereaved families. They were standard thank-you notes, essentially—“The family of _________ will hold in grateful remembrance your Spiritual Bouquet and kind expression of sympathy”—but unattached to any death in particular, their messages were gauche, even funny. That they were framed in advertising copy didn’t help. Imagine: Someone you love dies, and before you can even pick out the announcement cards, you have to read sentences like “Genuine engraving achieves its inherent beauty from a correlation of width and depth which no other process possesses.” As a character in Terry Southern’s The Loved One says: “Death has become a middle-class business. There’s no future in it.” Read More »

Meditations on Hunting

March 7, 2016 | by

Emilie Clark’s exhibition of new watercolors, “Meditations on Hunting,” is at Morgan Lehman Gallery through March 26. 

Emilie Clark, Untitled (TH-11), 2015, watercolor on paper, 36" x 32".

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Stolen Glasses

February 29, 2016 | by

Click to enlarge individual panels.

stolenglassesitlte Read More »

No Life Lost: The World of Berlinde De Bruyckere

February 18, 2016 | by

DSC_3378_DE BR72362

Berlinde De Bruyckere, to Zurbaran, 2015, 2015, horse skin, fabric, wood, iron, polyester, 46" x 63" x 50". All photos: Mirjam Devriendt.

The foal’s spindly legs, gently bound together in a chiasmus and lit, as though by overhead moonlight, formed a shy shadow on the darkened gallery floor. The animal—sacrificial, symbolic, stunning, meaning both marvelous and stupefying—had its eyes covered by frayed cloth, but, coming into sharp view, it was revelatory, a subtle kind of piercing. Laid out on a wood-and-iron table, the foal evoked Francisco de Zurbarán’s small oil painting Agnus Dei. And indeed, the piece, by the Belgian sculptor Berlinde De Bruyckere, was called to Zurbaran and dedicated to that Baroque master.

De Bruyckere—a soft-spoken woman, whose quiet, deliberate intensity echoed the steel-rod strength of her work—saw Agnus Dei about a year and a half ago at a Zurbarán exhibition in Brussels and was, she said, “surprised” by it. Standing in front of her work on the eve of the opening of her show “No Life Lost” at Hauser & Wirth, De Bruyckere said that the only way she knew to “react to that painting was making a work out of this feeling and emotion. I was so attracted by what I saw I couldn’t do anything else, just work with that idea, that feeling.” And so she began with the visuals: “The holy lamb was bound—the legs together in the same position as I did with the foal. And then it was also placed on wood, very poor wood; it’s not a rich table with a lot of class and glamour, it’s a really poor wood. And also the fact of chiaroscuro—the dark and the light in the painting was something that inspired me, and it’s also why I decided to keep the darkness in the space.” But as she worked on the fragile blankets that would bind the animal, she felt that it was not enough. This was around the time she first saw images of Alan Kurdi, the drowned Syrian boy, and these images elicited again the feeling she had at seeing the Zurbarán. “From that moment on,” De Bruyckere said, “I was doing the blind-making of the horse not in terms of making blind in a negative way but just in a positive way. It was like the dream of [the] people of Syria who try to make it to Europe. They have a dream, and very often this dream will never happen. And especially with the boy who arrived dead already, there was no chance to live and to become someone. And it was the same with the foal, he died after one day, there was no future for him.” Read More »

Unexpected Eisenstein

February 17, 2016 | by

Sergei Eisenstein, Set design for Act III of Heartbreak House (unrealised),  1922, paper, pencil, ink and watercolour on paper ©Russian State Archive of Literature and Art, Moscow

Sergei Eisenstein, Set design for act 3 of Heartbreak House (unrealized), 1922, paper, pencil, ink and watercolor on paper. ©Russian State Archive of Literature and Art, Moscow

 
In November 1929, the thirty-one-year-old Sergei Mikhailovich Eisenstein was the world’s most notorious film director. Four years earlier, Battleship Potemkin, his euphorically reviewed, highly influential tour de force about mutiny on the eponymous naval vessel, had brought him both acclaim and infamy. Infected with wanderlust, Eisenstein won permission from Stalin to leave Russia on a short research trip. He took off in August 1929, with twenty-five dollars in his pocket. He returned home, reluctantly, just under three years later.
 
During the ensuing whirlwind—to Berlin, Paris, London, then on to Hollywood—Eisenstein met with the world’s leading intellectuals, actors, and avant-garde artists: James Joyce, Jean Cocteau and Robert Desnos in France, George Bancroft in Germany, Charlie Chaplin, Marlene Dietrich and Gary Cooper in the United States. His grand tour often gets overshadowed by his disastrous film collaboration in Mexico with the novelist Upton Sinclair—framed in Peter Greenaway’s 2015 movie Eisenstein in Guanajuato—but British culture was a significant and often neglected long-term source of interest.

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