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Posts Tagged ‘surrealism’

More Paintings About Poets and Food

February 20, 2015 | by


Djordje Ozbolt, Poet Smoking, 2014, acrylic on board, 27 ½” x 23 5/8”.

Tomorrow’s the last day to catch Djordje Ozbolt’s show “More paintings about poets and food”—a welcome nod to Talking Heads’ 1978 album More Songs About Buildings and Food—at Hauser & Wirth.

Ozbolt grew up in Belgrade and now works in London, where he’s lived for many years; though he denies any kind of “East-meets-West” tensions in his work, his paintings evoke the kind of rambunctious, vivid satire of Western culture that comes best from outsiders. Ryan Steadman, writing in the New York Observer, calls Ozbolt “a master of the deadpan historical zinger … While an artist like John Currin seems to begin from a kitschified American view of classical painting (think Norman Rockwell), Mr. Ozbolt pointedly razzes the medium’s deeper history (a history that reflects our own) in a way that a New-Worlder never fully could.” It would be easier to shrug off his paintings as jokes if they didn’t reappear, some hours after seeing them, in one’s nightmares. I don’t know how Ozbolt burrows so deep into his subconscious, but I applaud him for it; he’s found a labyrinthine, underground network of our bugbears and bêtes noires. In Delivery, for example, a raven makes a brisk descent with a glazed donut in its beak—it took me a while to make the connection, but eventually I was brought back to the scene in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks wherein Waldo the Myna Bird is executed above a tray of jelly donuts. This is America, people: whenever birds and baked goods meet, suffering is sure to follow. Read More »

The Verb to Be

February 19, 2015 | by


André Breton in 1924.

André Breton’s poem “The Verb to Be” originally appeared in our Spring 1985 issue.

I know the general outline of despair. Despair has no wings, it doesn’t necessarily sit at a cleared table in the evening on a terrace by the sea. It’s despair and not the return of a quantity of insignificant facts like seeds that leave one furrow for another at nightfall. It’s not the moss that forms on a rock or the foam that rocks in a glass. It’s a boat riddled with snow, if you will, like birds that fall and their blood doesn’t have the slightest thickness. I know the general outline of despair. A very small shape, defined by jewels worn in the hair. That’s despair. A pearl necklace for which no clasp can be found and whose existence can’t even hang by a thread. That’s despair for you. Let’s not go into the rest. Once we begin to despair we don’t stop. I myself despair of the lampshade around four o’clock, I despair of the fan towards midnight, I despair of the cigarette smoked by men on death row. I know the general outline of despair. Despair has no heart, my hand always touches breathless despair, the despair whose mirrors never tell us if it’s dead. I live on that despair which enchants me. I love that blue fly which hovers in the sky at the hour when the stars hum. I know the general outline of the despair with long slender surprises, the despair of pride, the despair of anger. I get up every day like everyone else and I stretch my arms against a floral wallpaper. I don’t remember anything and it’s always in despair that I discover the beautiful uprooted trees of night. The air in the room is as beautiful as drumsticks. What weathery weather. I know the general outline of despair. It’s like the curtain’s wind that holds out a helping hand. Can you imagine such a despair? Fire! Ah they’re on their way … Help! Here they come falling down the stairs … And the ads in the newspaper, and the illuminated signs along the canal. Sandpile, beat it, you dirty sandpile! In its general outline despair has no importance. It’s a squad of trees that will eventually make a forest, it’s a squad of stars that will eventually make one less day, it’s a squad of one­-less-­days that will eventually make up my life.

Translated from the French by Bill Zavatsky and Zack Rogow.


Studies in Latrinalia, and Other News

November 24, 2014 | by


Photo: Conway L, via Flickr

  • A 1950 letter from Neal Cassady to Jack Kerouac—“16,000 amphetamine-fueled, stream-of-consciousness words” that inspired Kerouac to rewrite On the Road in a more breathless vein—is up for auction.
  • A chat with William Gibson: “I’ve always embraced the fact of any imaginary future becoming archaic. Imaginary futures are about the moment of their creation, they aren’t about the real future. Ultimately every imaginary future will be read as an artifact of the moment of its creation.”
  • The language of poker: Today’s players are the strong, silent types, “But many of the earliest tournament pros … were famous for blustery speeches, part of an aggressive style of banter meant to put their opponents ‘on tilt.’ And while these players were haranguing their opponents, they would watch closely to see what clues—‘tells’—leaked out under pressure.”
  • What’s the meaning of the writing on the bathroom wall? “The most common type of graffiti was ‘presence-identifying’ (just scrawling your name, for example), but men were identifying their presence more than women. Women, on the other hand, wrote more insults … When a woman goes into a women’s restroom and finds herself surrounded by only women (in a room full of mirrors, no less), she may very well become hyper-aware of the fact that she is a woman. People might be putting on makeup, performing their gender, and behind closed doors, they’re dropping their pants. Meanwhile, next door in the men’s room, dudes are standing next to each other at the urinal, aggressively not making eye contact, trying to ignore the miasma of testosterone that I assume hangs in the air like a fog.”
  • Are the British simply too polite to be any good at surrealism?


Magritte Shaving

November 21, 2014 | by


René Magritte, Les valeurs personnelles (Personal Values), 1952, oil on canvas. Image via SFMOMA

René Magritte was born on this day in 1898. Louis Simpson’s poem “Magritte Shaving” appeared in our twenty-fifth anniversary issue in Spring 1981.

The houses look at one another,
a language of windows.
The violin stands above the collar ...
sleigh bells in a blue sky.

How calm the torso of a woman
like a naked statue.
Reclining in an alcove
with curtains, the window gives
a view of earth ... yellow fields.
She has a blue leg and a green arm,
red arm, and leg painted saffron.

The orange sphere floating in space
in front of the blue canyon
has a face like a mask
with fixed brown eyes.
Directly underneath, on the parapet,
stands a shirt with a tie
in a dark, formal suit.

He has left his shaving brush
on top of the cabinet with doors of glass
that is merging with a cloud.


“At the Well”: Four Paintings by Neo Rauch

November 6, 2014 | by


Neo Rauch, Marina, 2014, oil on canvas, 98 1/2” x 118 1/8”. Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London

Neo Rauch’s “At the Well,” featuring new small- and large-format paintings, opens today at David Zwirner Gallery.

Rauch was born in Leipzig in 1960; his parents died in a train accident when he was four weeks old. Growing up in East Germany, he wasn’t exposed to much of the Western avant-garde, and though he’s denied that reunification influenced his development, I think it’s no coincidence that his show comes now, on the eve of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

His aesthetic couches the East with the West, and they make for strange bedfellows: the work is full of doom, but it’s never quite nefarious. If anything, a disquieting calm obtains. “My pictures supposedly have a vital quality, like an animal, a living thing,” Rauch told the Art Newspaper in 2011. “There is no need to understand, only to feel that this creature is, to the greatest possible degree, at peace with itself.”

Whether we’re at peace with it is another question. Looking at Rauch’s paintings, you feel as if you’ve gotten lost in the corridors of a vast, oppressive Soviet bloc building and opened the wrong door: you’ve stumbled upon the neon guts, the recondite boiler room, of social realism. Everyone is hard at work—but what are they working on? Again and again, his paintings find stone-faced men and women in dutiful pursuit of some arcane greater good. They plod through slanted, parti-colored worlds of clock towers and quaint rooftops, abrading the land without doing violence to it. This is labor as ritual, or ritual as labor. As a statement by the gallery says,

His paintings are characterized by a unique combination of realism and surrealist abstraction. In many of his compositions, human figures engaged in indeterminable tasks work against backdrops of mundane architecture, industrial settings, or bizarre and often barren landscapes.

Rauch said in a 2009 interview,

What finally condenses on the canvas is highly subtle and in need of protection. Sometimes I am surprised by the result of my art. There is a figure, which appears again and again: it might be a revenant or a reincarnation. He finds his way on to my canvas subconsciously. Only when I look at the finished work I realize: here he is again. It is true, his is the face of a decade and that decade is the fifties.

“At the Well” is up through December 20. Read More »


In Which André Malraux Kills Death

November 3, 2014 | by


An engraving by Fernand Léger.

André Malraux was born today in 1901, and his first novel, Paper Moons (Lunes en papier), was published when he was only twenty. If that provokes pangs of jealousy, bear in mind that the print run was limited to 112 copies. The National Library of the Netherlands has a terrific post about the first edition, which was published by Éditions de la Galerie Simon, one of the most forward-thinking publishers of its day.

As that small print-run indicates, Simon wasn’t a major operation. Malraux’s publisher, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, had a shrewd and prescient eye for writers and artists. He was also an art dealer, one of the first to find merit in the work of the Cubists, who were largely written off as pretentious pranksters at the time. As a publisher, he sought work that “accomplished in words what the Cubists did with paint”; accordingly, he published early work by Apollinaire, Max Jacob, Raymond Radiguet, Pierre Reverdy, and Antonin Artaud, among others, often with artwork from his friends. In the case of Lunes en papier he called on Fernand Léger to contribute several wood engravings. This was not, it must be said, a popular or canny decision at the time:

Léger [had] caused a sensation at the Salon des Indépendants in 1911 with his Nude in the Woods (Nus dans la forêt). Kahnweiler was immediately intrigued and attempted to contact its creator, who had previously made a living as a draughtsman for an architectural firm. Léger was mockingly called “tubiste” because of his tube-like presentations: he felt isolated and unappreciated.

As for the novel itself:

Lunes en papier continually subverts the reader’s expectations, starting with the cryptic subtitle and the warning in the front of the book: “There is nothing symbolical in this book.” The three stories are absurdist in nature, with strange plot turns and metaphors, airy, sometimes humorous in tone, while still dealing with seemingly serious matters, and ending with the death of Death … Malraux would later qualify his first effort as a “gloire de café.” But it suited the Surrealist and Dadaist ideas of its time extremely well.

There’s a translated excerpt from Cipher Journal that includes the bit where Death dies. More specifically, Death—a woman in a dinner jacket that makes her look like an insect—receives a visit from a dubious physician, who informs her that she may be going bald. He prepares her a bath of nitric acid. She slides on in and begins to corrode; by the time her servant intervenes, it’s too late, and Death has resigned herself to dying. Read More »