- Our poetry editor, Robyn Creswell, on the New Museum’s current show, “Here and Elsewhere”: “So many of today’s iconic images are made in the Middle East … For visual artists working from the region, this surfeit of spectacles poses a challenge. When everyday life—at least as it is experienced via a computer screen—regularly throws up these images of terror and drama and the technological sublime, how can a photographer compete?”
- Ben Lerner at the Met: “What interests me about fiction … is in part, its flickering edge between realism and where a tear in the fabric of a story lets in some other sort of light.”
- Things that—according to the students and faculty of the first Ashbery Home School, a new writing conference in Hudson, New York—John Ashbery is “the ultimate example of”: “surrealism, realism, hyperrealism, distance, proximity, translation, tradition, the grotesque, the beautiful, the blind, the all-seeing, the old, the young, the queer, the hetero, the hedgehog, the fox, the human, the alien, the bric-a-brac in the cupboard, the masterpiece on the wall, painting, cinema, architecture, life.” (NB the author of this list describes it as “incomplete and incompetent.”)
- A brief history of the problem of sorting, classifying, and otherwise categorizing things: “It is tempting to think making categories is a straightforward scientific enterprise, and that debates will be clearly settled once we’ve amassed enough data. But the history of science shows this not to be the case … The nature of scientific categories is not merely an empirical issue; it’s also a philosophical one, and one affected by self-interest and social forces.”
- Today, in posthumous gifts: more than three thousand of Doris Lessing’s books are to be donated to a public library in Zimbabwe, where she lived for twenty-five years.
Every morning, I would start the day with the Smashing Pumpkins—haunting “Disarm,” anthemic “Today.” Over and over, in a bedroom still mired in childhood, where a mound of carelessly tossed stuffed animals crept up my white wood dresser, I relentlessly played Siamese Dream. This, I thought, is how one becomes a teenager.
When the sun was at its hottest, late in the afternoon, I would stand at my front door, forehead pressed against the mesh screen, waiting for some friend’s mother to pull up in a beige Nissan and carry us to the mall. Here, I would spend hours in too-short shorts in too-cold air conditioning deliberating between pungent Plumeria or Freesia lotions at Bath & Body Works, scarfing down greasy slices of food-court pizza, and buying a hideous glittery cropped tee my mother would take one look at and matter-of-factly proclaim I would never wear. Until I was called for dinner, I’d read Seventeen, wondering if, once my dreaded braces came off, I’d be as beautiful as the young girls staring back at me with their wisps of charcoal eyeliner rimming their almond-shaped eyes, the ones who looked like they hadn’t cried since they fell off pretty pink bicycles with white baskets and streamers flowing from the handlebars. After that night’s iteration of chicken and rice, the phone would ring. For the next hour and a half, I would talk about nothing with the person I had had nothing to say to at the mall just a few hours before.
It was the summer of 1993, and I was bored. Read More
Several times a week, I sneak downstairs to watch dancers rehearse with Merce Cunningham. I work at a nonprofit located in the New Museum and its current Tacita Dean exhibition includes Craneway Event, a 108-minute film of the choreographer at work in an enormous former assembly plant outside San Francisco. A postcard vista of the bay glistens in the background. As the sun creeps in, it warms the reflective surface of the floor to a bluish-gray so that in some shots water seems to ripple beneath the dancers’ feet.
Architect Albert Kahn originally designed the plant for maximum natural light. Stripped of furnishing and ornament, it looks porous rather than cavernous. There feels something almost prescriptively calming about looking at a space that size while living in a city as densely populated as New York; as if just by looking at it, I reclaim my proper wingspan after weeks in shoebox-sized studio apartments and subway cars sitting elbow-to-elbow with other passengers. My sense of time is similarly unreined. Nothing rushed, no antics, and absent of narrative; the film offers rather than requests my patience.
The term “time-based art” seems especially apt when discussing Tacita Dean’s work. In interviews, she talks of her delight in the period between shooting footage and processing it, as it allows her to revisit a film in progress with a new perspective. Her subjects might be defined broadly as the history slipping through our fingers: fleeting moments, obsolescing technology, the wisdom of an old master (Cunningham died a year after Craneway Event was made,) things just about to disappear.
At this time of year, the Bowery seems colder and brighter than other streets nearby, maybe because it’s several lanes wide and flanked by buildings no more than four or five stories tall. To me, it’s also a resonant place, and has been since I moved to New York. Along the Bowery, there are traces of a cultural history I tell myself I’m a part of (artists and musicians making prescient, eerie, underground things) as well as a cultural history that, let’s be honest, I’m actually a part of (Chinese immigrants starting businesses to meet market demand). Mark Rothko, Eva Hesse, and William S. Burroughs lived or worked along the Bowery. CBGB’s was there. It has also been the site of lighting outlets and restaurant-supply stores with exactly the sort of aspirational, front-of-the-phonebook names that my parents, with their limited English, would choose: AA International Trading Inc. A-1 Restaurant Equipment. A-Plus Restaurant Equipment.
Maybe it’s because the rest of the Bowery seems so familiar that I found “Experience,” Carsten Höller’s solo show at the New Museum, so disorienting. Of course, as the Belgian-born artist recently told a colleague at Artforum.com, “My entire show is set up to make you [go] mad.” Read More
Readers of Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities will recall the “Collateral Campaign,” a fictional initiative to commemorate the seventieth anniversary, in 1918, of the ascent of Austrian Emperor Franz Josef to the throne. As the novel progresses, so too does the campaign: it will be a whole year of festivities, it will be The Austrian Year, The Austrian Peace Year. The planning draws in prominent personages who introduce more and more ambitious proposals; it launches scores of dinner evenings, plenipotentiary committees, and public debates.
Musil’s subject, and the admixture of sympathy and satire he brought to it, seems awfully familiar in 2011. Nowadays, we are fairly encircled by Collateral Campaigns—by artistic enterprises whose intentions, intellectual and social, are unimpeachable, yet which seem always to hover between event and discourse, between process and product. Example: the new BMW Guggenehim Lab in the East Village, which opened last month.
The opening lines of “From a Great Mind,” a song by the Siberian folk-punk singer Yanka Dyagileva, run something like this when translated from Russian:
From a great mind, only madness and jail,
From a reckless head, only ditches and barriers,
From a beautiful soul, only scabs and lice,
From universal love, only bloodied physiognomies.
A similar sentiment animates “Ostalgia,” the recently opened exhibit at the New Museum in New York. The name for the show is taken from the German neologism ostalgie, a portmanteau of east and nostalgia meant to evoke a longing for life in East Germany, particularly its daily rituals and their trappings. But the show—and this is probably true of its namesake concept—is not really about a longing for communism. It is rather about the hunger for the kind of meaning that can only emerge from meaning’s suppression. Repressive regimes raise the stakes: under them, art is not something artists are paid to create, but something that extorts a price—perhaps a terrible one—from the artist. Ostalgie is not for the totalitarian government but for the clarity that emerges from the knowledge that great minds risked the gulag, the madhouse, the blindfold, and the rifle with every act of artistic creation. Read More