Ivan Morley’s latest exhibition is at Bortolami Gallery through February 18. A lifelong Californian, Morley partakes of a tradition Jerry Saltz has called “clusterfuck aesthetics,” fusing pop images to emblems of American subcultures. Among the materials he’s used in these works: tooled leather, mother of pearl, and KY jelly. By his own account, the two recurring titles in this series, “Tehachepi” and “A True Tale,” refer to apocryphal stories from the Old West—the former concerns “native family life in a town where the wind was so strong it could alter the trajectory of a bullet,” where the latter involves “an entrepreneur who made a fortune shipping cats to a rat-infested city.”
From the first chapter of The Inkblots: Hermann Rorschach, His Iconic Test, and the Power of Seeing, out in February, it seems incredible that no one before Damion Searls has ever written a biography of Rorschach. Born in extreme poverty in the Swiss countryside, in 1884, Rorschach spent most of his professional life in obscurity, working as a psychiatrist in a remote, understaffed insane asylum. It was there that he invented his “psychodiagnostics,” a series of symmetrical multicolored forms (they weren’t really inkblots) that could reveal hidden aspects of the mind. One year later, Rorschach was dead, at thirty-seven, of a ruptured appendix. His early death may have deterred other would-be biographers, but Searls sails past it with style: the second half of his book traces the fortunes of Rorschach’s famous test, which became a household word in America after World War II, when the U.S. Army used it on draftees. Searls uses this unlikely-seeming artifact to illuminate two histories, one scientific, the other cultural, both full of surprises. —Lorin Stein
I have a galley of Layli Long Soldier’s debut collection but have put off digging into it partly because it doesn’t come out until March. Given the events at Standing Rock earlier this week, it seemed the ideal moment to read the long, multipart poem Whereas, Long Soldier’s response to President Obama’s signing and delivery, in 2009, of the Congressional Resolution of Apology to Native Americans. Or rather, his lack of delivery: he never read it aloud publicly. Is an apology really an apology if you only write it down and file it away? Long Solider begins sentences, paragraphs, and sections with whereas, the hedging of government-speak that she counters with lines about her childhood, her parents, her tribe, and her daughter. She interweaves these with thoughts of language’s limitations, which she faces again and again, and her weariness—bodily, psychically, culturally—infects the poem: “How much must I labor // to signify what’s real … Really, I climb the back of languages, ride them into exhaustion—maybe pull the reins when I mean go … Stuck, I want off. Let loose from the impulse to note: Beware, a horse isn’t a reference to my heritage.” The personal is political here, and vice versa, and Long Soldier isn’t giving up. “The root of reparation,” she writes, “is repair.” —Nicole Rudick Read More
Violence and gentrification in John Schlesinger’s Pacific Heights.
“This is our home. This is all happening to us in our home.”
That is the sound of a white woman’s despair. It’s the second act break of the domestic thriller Pacific Heights, and Patty (Melanie Griffith) has just realized that her stupid, pseudo-liberal boyfriend and her smart, pseudo-liberal self are no match for their leering, destructive tenant (Michael Keaton), a failed trust-fund sociopath with a who-me? grin and a twofold goal: first destroy her home from the inside out, and then grab it for himself. Not to live in it, but to profit from its collapse.
When Pacific Heights was released in 1990, critics were puzzled and more than a little contemptuous of the workaday “real-estate thriller” directed by John Schlesinger in his post–Marathon Man slump. Patty and her boyfriend, Drake (Matthew Modine), are unmarried yuppies who’ve pooled their resources to buy an albatross of a Victorian fixer-upper in San Francisco’s rapidly gentrifying Pacific Heights neighborhood. They fudge the numbers on their mortgage application—“Everybody does it,” bleats Drake—and stay afloat by renting out two units to tenants. Read More
Randi Malkin Steinberger’s book No Circus collects photographs of buildings tented for termite fumigation around Los Angeles. It includes an essay by D. J. Waldie, excerpted in part below.
If you live in Chicago or Cleveland, you may never have seen a house tented for termite fumigation. Dry-wood-termite infestation—the usual reason for tent fumigation in the southern and western parts of the United States—may become more common as the global climate warms.
Termites don’t take cold well. Neither do cockroaches. In an evolutionary sense, termites are the cousins of cockroaches that picked up other habits, including a knack for colony formation.
Like ants, a termite colony has a queen, but unlike ants, the colony also has a king. Once mated, the termite queen and king are monogamous and life-long partners. The queen may live as long as fifty years in some termite species. There is a court of princesses around the queen, waiting, infertile, until the queen dies.
Left undiscovered long enough, the termite colony will prosper until the apparently intact timbers of the house are a paper-thin skin over the hollowness inside. Read More
Recently, thanks to heavy wait times at the twenty-four-hour Genius Bar on Fifth Avenue, I found myself killing an evening at the Plaza with nothing to read but the galleys of a book of art criticism, How to See, by the painter David Salle. It turned out to be perfect company—witty, chatty, intimate, sharp. And slightly exotic (at least for this reader): you rarely see novelists write so knowingly, on a serious first-name basis, about each other’s work. Soon I was dog-earing and drawing lines in the margins next to favorite passages, as for example:
On recent paintings by Alex Katz:
Some of the color has the elegance and unexpectedness of Italian fashion design: teal blue with brown, black with blue and cream. You want to look at, wear, and eat them all at the same time.