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Posts Tagged ‘Henry Darger’

Art House: On “John Ashbery Collects”

October 22, 2013 | by

Installation view of "John Ashbery Collects: Poet Among Things."

Installation view of "John Ashbery Collects: Poet Among Things," at Loretta Howard Gallery, New York.

So just what is the “thingness of the thing” that Heidegger was talking about? The phrase’s riddlesome poetry could easily have been penned by John Ashbery, instead of the crusty German phenomenologist. Is Heidegger suggesting that material things possess an essence, an abstract quality that both defines and constitutes, say, a shoe—its shoeness? Perhaps, but Ashbery, in fact, offers a more straightforward assessment of the unseeable stuff that makes stuff stuff in the opening lines of “Grand Galop”: “All things seem the mention of themselves.” Such are my thoughts as I roam the rooms of Ashbery’s Hudson, New York, home … well, only to the degree that the galleries at Loretta Howard, in Chelsea, have been decorated with trompe l’oeil drawings—wainscoting, doorways, mantels—to look like the rooms of the poet’s well-appointed nineteenth-century house.

Thoughtfully curated by Loretta Howard Gallery and poets Adam Fitzgerald and Emily Skillings, the show offers a selection of Ashbery’s own paintings, prints, collages, bric-a-brac, and furniture; it’s all cozily arranged to conjure as much domestic atmosphere as might be had in a gallery space. Kitschy figurines, VHS tapes (Daffy Duck and Jack Benny among them), bawdy toys, and hand-painted plates line the shelves of cabinets and bookcases that could have been lifted whole from Ashbery’s parlor. Other items, like the French Provincial chairs and Oriental rugs, have been. They complement a piano drawn on a wall on which are hung several selections of early twentieth-century sheet music (“Mr. and Mrs. Is the Name,” “Flirtation Walk”), as if resting on the instrument’s music desk.

Alongside such homey items (the cartoons playing on the TV jangle in a familiar way with the filigree wallpaper designs) are pieces by many of the poet’s friends and artistic confederates, such as Joan Mitchell, Fairfield Porter, Larry Rivers, Trevor Winkfield, Jess, Alex Katz, Jane Freilicher, and Willem de Kooning. There’s a gemütlich vibe, equal parts wry and melancholic, generated by this assemblage of things cultural that ably recalls the mood and manner of Ashbery’s writing. To elucidate this point, the curators include wall text featuring apt passages of his verse that treat the world, if not the mind, as a congeries of curios, a kind of Cornell box. Of course, the show includes a few of those; with poems populated by Popeye, Henry Darger, Chopin, Faust, Parmigianino, and a myriad of other, less identifiable references, it’s no surprise that Ashbery is a devotee of Cornell’s eclectic connoisseurship. Both share an affinity for the metaphysique d’ephemera, an aesthetic that elevates the trivial to the transcendent. Read More »

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What We’re Loving: Sea Monsters, Children’s Books

September 21, 2012 | by

I spent a recent vacation totally engrossed by Richard Ellis’s Monsters of the Sea. An accomplished marine artist and writer, Ellis examines the great sea monsters of history—from the sea serpent to the Kraken to the mermaid—and explains the sources of the myths (basking shark, giant squid, and manatee, respectively). The book is a combination of lore, history, and scientific inquiry, and a fun and accessible read. Plus, it introduced me to the Journal of Cryptozoology. —Sadie O. Stein

I tripped into a fit of digital nostalgia this week when I discovered Stylist’s compilation of opening lines from classic childrens books. There are even thumbnail covers, and the combination somehow makes the Paris Review office smell like the library I went to when I was a kid. To prevent sentimental overdose, I recommend a mix-and-match game: combine three opening lines and begin your own canonical text for youngsters. “In a hole in the ground it was too wet to play, if you really want to hear about it”; “Once upon a time, a little girl named Laura got the dog drunk on cherry brandy so she was sent to bed without eating anything.” And so on. —Samuel Fox

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Staff Picks: Henry Darger’s Room, Shelley’s Ghost

March 2, 2012 | by

Henry Darger, Study of a Vivian Girl with Doll, mid-twentieth century, watercolor, carbon tracing, and pencil on paper, 12 x 9 inches. Courtesy of the American Folk Art Museum.

“The dustbin of history was, to the revolutionary of the thirties, what Hell was to the Maine farmer. To fall out of history, to lose your grip upon its express train, to be buried in its graveyard—the conflicting metaphors descriptive of that immolation recurred again and again. But who could have believed that it could happen to so many so young?” So writes Murray Kempton in A Part of Our Time, his series of biographical essays on radicals of the 1930s. First published in 1955, the essays have lost none of their sparkle, and as a great newspaperman (who just happened, sometimes, to write like Lytton Strachey) Kempton can dash off a portrait or render an absolute judgment or paint the entire sweep of the New Deal in a matter of column inches. —Lorin Stein

I was at the New York branch of the Japanese bookstore Kinokuniya over the weekend, perusing their extensive selection of art publications, and I came across the 2007 book Henry Darger’s Room. The outsider artist’s work will be familiar to most people, but if you haven’t seen images of his tiny Chicago apartment—left intact for twenty-five years after his death and partially reassembled in the Intuit Museum—then have a look at this volume, by his former landlords. The book is somewhere between creepy and magical. —Sadie Stein

The New York Public Library’s exhibition “Shelley’s Ghost” is a pleasant place to spend an hour after lunch if you happen to be in midtown. You can examine “Ode to the West Wind” and “Ozymandias” as well as Laurence Olivier’s copy of The Cenci (he once contemplated a production). There are also a few Shelleyean relics, some cute and some a little bizarre: the poet’s gold-chased baby rattle, his Neapolitan guitar (see “With a Guitar, to Jane”), and some fragments of skull that survived his cremation near Viareggio. —Robyn Creswell

Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber, a collection of dark and sensual feminist fairy tales based on traditional legends, has me spellbound. —Elizabeth Nelson

The entire collection of love letters between Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning were put online earlier this month. They aren’t exactly tied in a pink ribbon, but they are fascinating to browse. —Deirdre Foley-Mendelssohn

This Is Not a Film, a collaboration between Iranian filmmakers Jafar Panahi and Mojtaba Mirtamhmasb, opened this week in New York. Made right before Panahi was sent to an Iranian prison on a six-year stint for antigovernment propaganda, the movie is a portrait of a filmmaker in crisis, a yawp over the roofs of the world. —Josh Anderson

I’m just saying: The Room is playing this Saturday at Landmark Sunshine. Get your spoons out. —S.S.

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