Staff Picks: Conduits, Cockroaches, Colored Paper


This Week’s Reading

From Ben Gijsemans’s debut graphic novel, Hubert.


It seems silly to ask, but did you know that there were loads of women making art in the postwar era, before the advent of the feminist movement, women who were central to the development of various abstract idioms but who were largely marginalized in male-dominated conversations about abstraction? Surprising, but not surprising, right? MoMA’s new show, “Making Space: Women Artists and Postwar Abstraction,” which opens tomorrow, seeks to rectify this omission by gathering some fifty artists and more than a hundred paintings, drawings, photographs, sculptures, ceramics, and fiber works made between the end of World War II and the late sixties. One of my favorite paintings is there: Lee Krasner’s Gaea, a large canvas on which pink and white ovoid shapes burst out of a dark purple background. I discovered Eleanore Mikus’s gluey white canvas, from which indistinct shapes begin to surface, like forms from a block of marble; Anne Ryan’s small, profound collages made from colored paper, sandpaper, cloth, string; Magdalena Abakanowicz’s imposing, animate yellow-orange woven sisal wall piece; and so many more—room after room of stunning, brilliant work.  —Nicole Rudick

Constance DeJong’s novel Modern Love turns thirty this year, and it’s out in a striking new facsimile edition from Primary Information and Ugly Duckling Presse. The book comes kicking and screaming from a vortex of polyphony. Its two hundred pages wander from the downtown New York of the seventies to India to Oregon to Spain in the time of the Armada; it declaims on everything from Elizabethan fashion to the joys of cohabiting with cockroaches, with a long passage that’s straight-up science fiction. All of this should induce vertigo, or at the very least whiplash; instead the novel enshrouds the reader in a kind of patchwork quilt, comfortable even as it frays at the edges. Seemingly frenetic, Modern Love is ordered with great care; beneath its constant digression it settles into a ruminative, almost stately pace, encouraging capacious feeling on anxiety, sex, death, and work, often all at once. “I’m fanatical about sequence,” DeJong told Bomb recently, “and how sense and meaning can be made from a system of order that isn’t recognizable as alphabetical, chronological—one that has a different mechanism to the structure. That has always been fuel for my writing, and it has never gone away.” —Dan Piepenbring 

Lee Krasner, Gaea, 1966.

It’s easy to forget that P. G. Wodehouse, the quintessential English humorist, spent the vast majority of his working life in America. He assimilated, too. According to the New Yorker writer Herbert Warren Wind, Wodehouse—a diligent worker well into his eighties—always took time out for the afternoon TV show The Edge of Night. “For many years, it was his habit to watch another soap opera, Love of Life, which went on at noon, but about three years ago a new man started writing the script for the show, and it lost its appeal for Wodehouse. He much admires Henry Slesar, the writer of The Edge of Night, and speaks of him as ‘a chap who has a good story to tell and knows how to tell it.’ Aside from this, the things he most likes to watch on television are the Mets’ games.” Thanks, as ever, to the giveaway table in our lobby for The World of P. G. Wodehouse (1972). —Lorin Stein

Though I read it last year, I worked my way through C. E. Morgan’s The Sport of Kings again this week when I heard that it had been shortlisted for the Pulitzer. The novel begins with a boy, Henry Forge, racing through his family’s cornstalks to hide from his raging father, John Henry, who is after him for killing a neighbor’s bull. The Forges have farmed their Kentucky land for generations, but Henry, the heir, decides to dismantle his family’s legacy to breed Thoroughbreds. Henry becomes a legend of Kentucky horse racing; his daughter Henrietta inherits her father’s passion but thunders against his bitterness and racism. As I picked through The Sport of Kings this time, I focused on the novel’s five “interludes,” which shine through the vaulting family narrative. These moments sharpen this epic with an ecstatic lyricism, as in “La belle rivière,” an homage to the Ohio River. It begins, “The Great, the Sparking, the White; coursing along the path of the ancient Teays … formed in perpetuity by the confluence of two prattling streams, ancient predecessors of the Kentucky and Licking—maternal and paternal themes in the long tale of how the river became dream, conduit, divide, pawn, baptismal font, gate, graveyard, and snake slithering under a shelf of limestone and shale.” —Caitlin Love

Hubert lives alone in a flat in Belgium and watches his neighbors through the windows. He spends his days at an art museum, rarely interacting with others. He photographs classical art, mostly paintings of nude women, to take home for further study. He’s the eponymous protagonist of Ben Gijsemans’s debut graphic novel, Hubert: peculiar, yes, and more than a bit pitiful. Gijsemans renders Hubert in copies, capturing his micromovements, over series of solitary seconds; the panels of the book inch forward in time, emphasizing Hubert’s silent isolation. We see Hubert engage with Édouard Manet’s Olympia; we see him in his flat attempting to re-create the art he has photographed. His day-to-day minutiae take on beauty alongside the famous paintings and sculptures. Hubert is brave, though, maybe even heroic—read the book to see why. Gijsemans’s story is about art and inspiration as much as it is about loneliness. —Jeffery Gleaves