2001: Art History with Metaphor is part of a series of pedagogical videos by the Bruce High Quality Foundation. It debuted this month at “Retrospective: 2001–2010” at Galerie Bruno Bischofberger in Zurich, Switzerland.
It seems natural now to think of Lynd Ward as one of America’s most distinguished and accomplished graphic novelists. He is, in fact, one of only a small handful of artists anywhere who ever made a “graphic novel” until the day before yesterday. The ungainly neologism seems to have stuck since Will Eisner, creator of the voraciously inventive Spirit comic book of the 1940s, first used it on the cover of a 1978 collection of his seriously intended comics stories for adults, A Contract With God. It was a way to distance himself from the popular prejudices against the medium, and he often cited Ward’s 1930s woodcut novels as an inspiration for his work and for the euphemism. But Ward’s roots were not in comics, though his work is part of the same large family tree, belonging somewhere among the less worm-ridden branches of printmaking and illustration. Read More
While drawing, I imagined myself on the Mayflower, looking out into darkness and seeing only water and sky. I thought about waves and drowning and being surrounded by everything unknown. I thought about how it feels to walk on an unstable surface. When I looked out into the ocean and the harbor in Provincetown, I understood, like the Pilgrims, what it meant to feel alone.
The Nobel Prize committee announced this morning that Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa has won the 2010 award for literature, praising him “for his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual’s resistance, revolt, and defeat.”
In the fall of 1990, The Paris Review published an astonishing interview with Vargas Llosa. Then a friend to both Neruda and García Márquez, he expressed an abiding belief in the need for a literature that dissolves politics into its narrative fabric and offers imaginative solutions to economic and social problems. Writers, Vargas Llosa felt, should not seek to distance themselves from the political sphere:
I think it’s crucial that writers show—because like all artists, they sense this more strongly than anyone—the importance of freedom for the society as well as for the individual. Justice, which we all wish to rule, should never become disassociated from freedom; and we must never accept the notion that freedom should at certain times be sacrificed in the name of social justice or national security, as totalitarians from the extreme left and reactionaries from the extreme right would have us do. Writers know this because every day they sense the degree to which freedom is necessary for creation, for life itself.
Hardly imagining, as an adolescent, that he would be able to devote himself to writing full time—“too much of a luxury for a Latin American,” he explained, “especially a Peruvian”—Vargas Llosa planned to pursue a career in law or journalism. We’re grateful that he reconsidered.
There might never be a more bountiful kingdom of photography than that established under the auspices of the Farm Security Administration and ruled by the former economist Roy Stryker, some 171,000 negatives made to document Depression America between 1935 and 1942. Though he was no photographer (Gordon Parks joked that he couldn’t even load a camera), Stryker pulled no punches during his reign. “I never took a picture,” he once wrote, “and yet I felt a part of every picture taken. I sat in my office in Washington and yet I went into every home in America. I was both the Stabilizer and the Exciter.”
He might have added the Excisor. Scattered among the Library of Congress’s FSA archive are curious reminders of Stryker’s autocratic touch: For the first three years of the project, he registered his disapproval of an image—whether to make an example out of those he thought had wasted valuable film or out of some darker fit of spite—by taking a hole puncher to the negative, ensuring that it wouldn’t be subsequently printed. It didn’t seem to matter who took the picture. Walker Evans got holes punched in a handful of negatives; so did John Vachon, a lowly FSA clerk at the time who was learning the trade on weekends. If Stryker’s one-man photographic death panel was democratic in judgment, it was sporadic in execution. In some negatives the holes are perfunctorily, even apologetically clipped along the borders of the negative; in others, Stryker seemed almost wrathful, going straight for the jugular by obliterating offending faces, necks, or buttocks.
In his video “Punctured,” a reformatted version of his 2009 film “Killed,” the LA-based artist William E. Jones has performed a sort of perverse resurrection of Stryker’s perforated negatives, a Lazurus act that’s doubly miraculous because it uses the powers of video animation to raise up the quite-dead world of documentary photography. (The video is currently featured in an exhibition at Andrew Roth gallery in Manhattan.) From 100 perforated images he located in the Library of Congress archives, Jones has produced 4,500 digital files at different scales of enhancement and organized these into a hypnotically syncopated, nearly five-minute-long looped movie. The structural logic is provided by Stryker’s hole itself: each of the hundred images appears for a total of around three seconds, beginning with an enlarged, screen-filling close-up of the negative space of Stryker’s hole, a giant black spot that then smoothly and very rapidly appears to recede in size as the surrounding photograph comes into view. Then, bang, another Stryker reject appears, with the same fast zoom-out, from hole to whole.
The eighteenth-century bookseller Christoph Friedrich Nicolai was a leading figure in the German Enlightenment and a quixotic critic of the younger German Romantics—Goethe, Schiller—who would soon supplant his own circle of intellectuals. He was also a keen observer and chronicler, and in his “Description of a Journey Through Germany and Switzerland,” Nicolai wrote of his 1781 encounter with sculptor Franz Xaver Messerschmidt in a breezy dispatch that seems eerily like a contemporary profile of a living artist. Once a court sculptor preparing imperial commissions, Messerschmidt had, by the time Nicholai met him, descended into a kind of necromantic madness and retreated to Pressburg, where between 1771 and 1783 he worked over a private series of busts—or “heads,” as they came to be known—that exhibit both a stunning realism and a mesmerizing fascination with the expressive possibilities of the human grotesque. The text below is an abridged version of that profile, translated by Herbert Ranharter.
The most peculiar artist was without a doubt Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, who subsequently died in August of 1783 in his fifty-first year. He lived and dressed like an ordinary citizen. When he began his studies in Rome, he bought a trunk of a lime tree and lugged it into the Farnesi Palace, where he put it down in front of the Hercules statue. Two Spanish sculptors, living off their courtly pensions, dressed in their fashionable morning gowns while mucking about with their measuring devices and clay models, looked over their shoulders at the German stranger with the shabby clothes and short hair and rather thought him to be a day laborer. Messerschmidt set to work with a few carving knives and whittling the wood this way and that. The other artists watched him and, particularly the Spaniards, shrugged their shoulders, thinking that nothing good can come of such activity. Their mockery soon turned to astonishment when they saw a beautiful Hercules emerge from the unwieldy trunk. The Spaniards, who had never been taught this approach, thought that this must have been accomplished with the help of evil spirits, and one of them made utterances to that effect. Messerschmidt, who was always a bit brusque, slapped this man, who was not particularly liked by his fellow students, for making such assertions. Thus Messerschmidt asserted his place with honor, giving him a new status among his peers.