There was a time when I didn’t know Gordon Bishop, but that time’s not worth talking about.
I met Gordon in his shop, Tropics, sometime in the early eighties. I’d been walking through Soho and noticed a store I hadn’t seen before. Inside was a jumble of Javanese antiques—carved doors; four-poster beds; objects that seemed decorative, ceremonial, and incomprehensible—along with fabrics and wall hangings and kites and sculptures. It looked like Santa’s workshop, if Santa had a penchant for priapic statues of half-dressed men with enormous erections and wicked smiles.
No one seemed to be working there, but I heard flute and gamelan music coming from the back room. There was a curtain separating me from the music, along with the sort of velvet rope commonly seen in discos, and a hand-painted sign fixed to the rope: DO NOT ENTER. Read More
I was at Moe’s Books in Berkeley looking for material on seventeenth-century shape poems with my not-yet-two-year-old daughter when a wizened man with mutton chops spotted me reshelving the books she was piling in the corner.
“What are you looking for?” he asked.
I quickly learned that he’d spent his entire scholarly life immersed in the study of shape poems. Moe’s must be rich with encounters like this; it’s a four-story bookstore just three blocks from the University of California, Berkeley campus.
He told me about a contemporaneous vogue for something called emblem books. Perhaps the best known emblem book is Hans Holbein the Younger’s beautifully decorated The Dance of Death, in which woodcuts of various scenes and settings depict a skeleton reminding us of time’s wicked work on our health and aspirations. Beneath each woodcut is an epigram in verse. The best-known English practitioners of emblem books, Francis Quarles and George Wither, are hardly known at all, possibly because it’s hard to anthologize poems that are incomplete without an accompanying picture. Read More
Toward the end of !Women Art Revolution, the performance artist Janine Antoni, who was born in 1964, recalls a moment when her professor, Mira Schor, asks if she’s heard of the work of Ana Mendieta, Hannah Wilke, and Carolee Schneeman. Antoni hadn’t, and she went to the library to learn more. She found nothing, so Schor brought Antoni clippings and catalogues she had saved at home. The moment was profound. “I looked at this work,” Antoni said, “And I thought, ‘I’m making the work of the seventies.’”
!Woman Art Revolution, which plays for just this week at IFC, is a documentary by Lynn Hershman Leeson. The film weaves together decades of interviews with female artists, which Hershman Leeson began recording in 1966 in her Berkeley living room, and she continued recording through the next four decades.
There are over four hundred hours of tape, and it took Hershman Leeson three and a half months to watch it all—once. It is incredible. Nancy Spero, who died in 2009, shares a humiliating appointment with Leo Castelli: “Ivan Karp saw me. I was wearing high heel boots at the time. I was really kind of tall. Ivan is small. … He had me put [my tablet] on the floor so every time I turned the page, it felt I was genuflecting to him. And then he said, ‘What’d you bring these to me for?’” Here’s the late art historian Arlene Raven: “I stopped doing the dishes, making the three meals a day, the laundry, and the house cleaning and so on. The process of personal liberation for me resulted in the break up of my marriage.” The Guerrilla Girls appear: “Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?” Marcia Tucker, the founding director of the New Museum, talks about how she was hired as the first female curator at the Whitney, but at $2,000 less than her colleague James Monte: “So I went into see my director and I said, ‘Listen this is what’s happening and you’ve got to change it.’ And he said, ‘Oh well, the budget, the budget, the budget.’ And I said, ‘The New York Times, The New York Post, The Daily News.’ So it got changed!”