Last Saturday, my roommate took us to El Museo del Barrio to see “NKAME,” a haunting retrospective of the late Cuban printmaker Belkis Ayón. It is a show of paradoxes, crackling with stillness and intricate in its simplicity. Ayón’s work merges elements of Christian narrative with that of the founding mythology of the Afro-Cuban fraternal society Abakuá to establish an independent and forceful iconography of her own. Her prints are populated by androgynous, ghostly figures, featureless save for the almond-shaped eyes that peer out from their canvases in a resolute, subtly confrontational stare. One piece reimagines Da Vinci’s The Last Supper, but many of the scenes are more deliberately abstract, and those are the ones that are the most viscerally evocative. The show includes one of her color prints, but the rest are the result of her midcareer decision to work only in grayscale. Ayón’s true virtuosity is in her command of this palette, and the nuance of patterns she weaves into her prints is captivating. These patterns imbue the stillness of her scenes with a buzzing energy just below the surface, underscoring the archetypal uncanniness of her hybrid mythology. It was my roommate’s third time seeing the exhibition, and it is certainly one to pull you back again and again. Spend time with each print; the experience of each is a slow, mysterious revelation of masterful detail. —Lauren Kane
The other evening, after my colleagues had all gone, I slouched into one of our office reading chairs and dipped into Paul Yoon’s latest collection of short stories, The Mountain. I didn’t get far—I read “A Willow and the Moon,” which opens the book, and stopped—but only because Yoon’s prose is far too mesmerizing to rush through. The story, a beautiful amalgam of sorrow and longing and hope, follows a boy through to adulthood, from the First World War to the Second, from the sanatorium high in the mountains of the Hudson Valley, where his mother volunteers, to the basement of an English hospital, where bombs fall around him. As a boy, he looks on as his mother wrestles her addiction to morphine, as his father loses his interest in the family, as his best childhood friend falls ill, all the while making of himself what he can on his own. Though every page of the story heaves with lonesomeness and despair (for the lives that could have been had his parents never married or wars never begun), “A Willow and the Moon” nevertheless warmed my heart: the boy harbors neither resentment nor rage for the lot he’s been given, only sadness for all that’s happened and hope for all that’s still to come. —Caitlin Youngquist
On Monday, I went to the opening of the Oscar Wilde Temple, an installation at the Church of the Village by artist duo McDermott & McGough. The temple’s Stations of the Cross depict phases of Wilde’s arrest, trial, imprisonment, and release; its altarpiece is a linden-wood sculpture of the author; and the walls are draped in fabrics and hues from the contemporaneous Aesthetic movement. It also includes a half dozen small portraits of LGBTQ “martyrs,” such as Brandon Teena, Sakia Gunn, and Martha P. Johnson. If the installation sounds minimal, its impact is otherwise: housed in a small room underneath the church, the temple feels consecrated, and also invigorating. Wilde celebrated his homosexuality openly, even in the face of persecution, and in him, McDermott & McGough have found a martyr and a saint for today’s LGBTQ community. The temple is a project the pair started thinking about in the eighties and have only now produced. But the timing is apt, McGough says; considering the political moment, he quotes Toni Morrison: “This is precisely the time when artists go to work.” Wilde’s example provides inspiration for resistance of all kinds: his subversion was public and powerful. —Nicole Rudick Read More
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What I know about the poets of my generation, I started to learn, in the late nineties, by reading the young critic Stephen Burt. Many of the poets he wrote about seemed forbidding, but he tried to make them inviting. His own poems were often disarmingly direct. One line, from his poem “Kudzu”—“like the body I hated then, and hate”—still rings out to me twenty years later from a blur of more elliptical work. Now Stephen also goes by Steph and Stephanie, and their new collection, Advice from the Lights, has been my subway reading for the past two weeks, especially “Sadder,” an elegy to the poet C. D. Wright, and Burt’s imitations of Callimachus, and the many evocations of childhood in a “wrong” body:
O grapefruit (as color and flavor). O never quite rightly tied laces. O look,
up there on the uneven climbing bars,
too hot to touch where the sun touches, now that it’s spring,
the shadow of a tarp, like a sail between sailors
and thin swings that make no decision, like weather vanes.
O think of the lost Chuck Taylors. The lost Mary Janes. —Lorin Stein
Larry Rivers’s painting of Maxine Groffsky appears on the cover of our new issue, and I’m pleased as punch. I’ve long been an admirer of Rivers’s art and feel a kind of greedy affection for it: I never tire of seeing it. This week, “(Re)Appropriations,” a small survey of works—more than twenty paintings, collages, drawings, sculptures and relief paintings—opened at Tibor de Nagy in New York. The exhibition displays the changes in his work over five decades, but it’s hard not to get hung up looking at his life-size painting of a boldly nude (except for boots) Frank O’Hara, from 1954, and the collages from the early sixties, which are gorgeously tactile. I admire the way his representations of friends, cultural objects, and historical figures are only partially rendered on the canvas, as though they are already drifting out of River’s view just as he has turned to look at them. —Nicole Rudick Read More
After a month and a half of wandering, rudderless, in the deserts of mixed metaphor, The Paris Review Daily is delighted to welcome its new editor: Nadja Spiegelman.
Nadja’s memoir, I’m Supposed to Protect You from All This, was published last year. More recently, she coedited Resist!, a free feminist publication of comics and graphics. A former editor at Toon Books, Nadja has written for New York Magazine, the newyorker.com, Fantastic Man, McSweeney’s, and many others. She also introduced Daily readers to verse in emoji—the first in what we feel sure will be a series of exciting innovations here at your favorite gazette of culture and the arts. Nadja has spent the past five years living in Paris; she will be returning home this week to join us in our Chelsea offices. (Her personal Paris review? Five stars.)
In our Fall issue, Malcolm Gladwell discusses his years as an illegal immigrant (and failed right-wing provocateur); Michael Lewis explains how he writes by his family motto (“Do as little as possible”); and David Sedaris weighs the pros and cons of communication with the dead.
Also: our longtime Paris editor Maxine Groffsky—who brought John Ashbery and so many others into the pages of the Review–remembers the sixties, with cameos by John Ashbery, Brigitte Bardot, Harry Mathews, George Plimpton, Niki de Saint Phalle, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and the Congress for Cultural Freedom. (“If we’d been getting money [from the CIA], I would have splurged on typewriter ribbons.”)
Plus: fiction by Ann Beattie, Antonio Di Benedetto, Isabella Hammad, and Sigrid Nunez; poems by Peter Gizzi, Patrick Mackie, Ange Mlinko, D. Nurkse, Ezra Pound, Jana Prikryl, Philip Schultz, Frederick Seidel, and Donna Stonecipher; an Art of Fiction interview with Dany Laferrière; and the teenage diaries of Duncan Hannah, high school Casanova.