- Sometimes I lose sleep worrying about the colors of the world, fearing that some of them will disappear forever as manufacturing processes change and our planet’s pigment chemists quietly swap, say, one shade of aubergine for another, slightly inferior shade. But we needn’t worry. The Forbes Pigment Collection, presently housed at the Harvard Art Museums, is dedicated to preserving historic colors. “Later Forbes hired scientist Rutherford John Gettens, who examined the chemistry of pigments and innovated tools like a microsampler for taking art specimens. Now conservators can examine how a color has changed over time—like pararealgar, that was originally red and reacted with light into yellow—and the original components of art through the pigment library.”
- So your home was featured in a popular motion picture! That’s swell. That’s just grand. I’d be happy to stop by and have a look, because, you know, I’m in the market for a—oh, oh it was in Silence of the Lambs, you say? I see. And nearby, “there’s a creepy-looking tunnel, which some visitors suspect is haunted. There’s an old, rusty bridge that crosses the Youghiogheny River and serves as the main access route to the nearby town of Perryopolis. The isolated location is perhaps the perfect place for a fictional killer to set up shop”? Well, let me think on it. I’ll get back to you sometime.
- In the 1930s, a Wyoming newspaperman named Garrett Price started to draw White Boy, a comic about, yes, a young white male who was captured by Indians and adopted into their tribe. (The strip later took the slightly less inadvisable title Skull Valley.) Now, the entire three-year run of White Boy has been reissued and it is … let’s say it’s illuminating as to the predilections and prejudices of its era. “Price’s character Trapper Dan Brown was a familiar frontier type, with a high opinion of himself and a low opinion of Indians,” Thomas Powers writes of it: “In one strip Trapper Dan challenges Lark Song, a noted orator in his tribe, to best if he can a song Dan has written. One verse goes: Oh, I don’t like books / and I don’t like tea, / I wrassled a bear / when I was three. / Ki-Yi-Yippy-Yippy Yea.”
- A new collection of Walker Evans’s photography finds him in cinemas and junkyards, subways and ice-cream shops—the book shows “an artist who was constantly evolving; he was sampling new ideas, techniques, and technologies. Anything new or curious was of interest. When he advised the artist to ‘Stare, pry, listen, eavesdrop,’ he was speaking from his own experience. It could have been his personal mantra.”
- Patti Smith has been reading Frida Kahlo’s love letters to Diego Rivera, with attention to one in particular: “They didn’t have a passionate relationship that dissipated and was gone. They had an earthly human love as well as the loftiness of a revolutionary agenda and their work. The fact that this isn’t a profound letter makes it in some ways more special. She addressed it to ‘Diego, my love’—even though this is the most mundane, simplest correspondence, she still noted their love, their intimacy. She held the letter in her hands, she kissed it with her lips, he received it and held it in his hands. This little piece of paper holds their simplicity and their intimacy, the earthiness of their life. It contains the sender and the receiver.”
- “How do you rehabilitate your love for art works based on expired and inhuman social values—and why bother?” Elif Batuman reckons with racist literature. (Which is, after all, most literature: “These Turks took a pleasure in torturing children,” Dostoyevsky wrote in The Brothers Karamazov.)
- Frida Kahlo’s love letters to José Bartoli are being exhibited and auctioned, thus granting “small-minded people the chance to grub about, imagining what it’s like to be a great artist enjoying a great love affair, with its epic arc, operatic decline and poignant afterlife … This is all being served up like a tray of fast food, yet more low-grade fodder to fuel the Kahlo myth with sexualised details, emotional prurience and papery relics. People will pore over her handwriting in a way they never pore over her work.”
- “Irritated by Renoir’s intrusion, Manet is reported to have told Monet, ‘He has no talent, that boy. Since he’s your friend, you should tell him to give up painting!’”
- On the continued importance of close reading as an academic tool: “The attentive inspection of the verbal texture of poems, novels, and plays continues to be the methodological basis of what we do in our most important venue: the college classroom, especially the Intro to Lit classroom … teachers found that students lacking specialized knowledge of the ins and outs of English history or the finer points of Aristotelian logic could still get excited by talking about the form of a Donne lyric or image-patterns in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man … it allowed public-school trained students at the University of Illinois or Iowa to have as much to say about texts as their preppie counterparts at Yale or Harvard.”
- An ode to the lowly breakfast sandwich, that quiet workhorse: “The great virtue of the bacon, egg and cheese on a roll, or its variations, is in what it doesn’t do. It doesn’t divide New Yorkers by class, income or neighborhood. It doesn’t seek publicity. It doesn’t convey status or bragging rights. It just conveys nutrition and, if you need it, settles your nerves. It is a secret handshake that New Yorkers exchange, not with one another, but with the city.”
When a woman artist looks for her forebears, she sees a void.
There are, needless to say, great female artists. There’s Tamara de Lempicka, queen of art deco. There’s Artemisia Gentileschi, forever in paintings, cutting off her rapist’s head. There’s love-ravished Camille Claudel, making the hands of her lover Rodin’s sculptures before being institutionalized for forty years. There are Mary Cassatt’s paintings of children. But it can’t be denied: the canon of Western woman’s art is nothing compared to the canon of Western woman’s writing.
Noted Audre Lorde, “Of all the art forms, poetry is the most economical. It is the one which is the most secret, which requires the least physical labor, the least material, and the one which can be done between shifts, in the hospital pantry, on the subway, and on scraps of surplus paper.” While a writer may require only a room of one’s own, an artist needs years of training, muses, a studio, canvas, paints, patrons, and, fundamentally, a world that lets her be grubby and feral and alone.
Growing up, the women in art history who inspired me were primarily models: Victorine Muerent. La Goulue. Far from pampered, indolent odalisques, these are sexy, tough, working-class women, often with backgrounds in the sex trade. Notable contrasts to the genteel girls who studied flower painting along with piano and embroidery, my archetypes were flamboyant, glamorous self-creations, unabashedly employing themselves as their own raw materials in a world that would give them nothing else. I too worked as an artist’s model. For an artist, the job is a paradox: you’re clay for someone else’s creation while longing to make your own. Read More
We’re out this week, but we’re re-posting some of our favorite pieces from 2011 while we’re away. We hope you enjoy—and have a happy New Year!
When I was in high school, the few friends I had all lived in other states—the far-flung gains of various summer camps—which meant that I took a lot of long train trips on weekends. On these rides, I developed the habit of sitting next to a very specific kind of stranger: a middle-aged man who looked lonely. The goal was to find someone who’d talk nonstop. That was how I met Tom Malone: on the train from New York to Raleigh. Over the course of the eight-hour journey, he talked about everything from his government job to his pit bull’s separation anxiety. He told me he used to braid his ex-wife’s hair every night, back when they were married. He explained in detail the reasons Amtrak’s business model was bound to fail. He said my name a lot, and with formality: “Here’s the thing, Jean,” and so on.
I’d never felt safer in my life, sitting next to Tom—his belly like a life raft, and me nodding like a therapist. At one point though, he ruined the spell. He said, “You look exactly like that girl Lennon dated. What’s her name.”
“Yoko Ono?” I said.
“No, no, not Yoko Ono. Oh, darn it. May. May Pang? You know her? Lost weekend?” I didn’t know her. And I wanted us to go back to talking about him.
About five years ago, when I first saw the work of artist Laurel Nakadate, I could have sworn that she had cast Tom in one of her videos, which feature middle-aged, sometimes overweight, mostly white men who had approached her in the street or hit on her in parking lots. In return, she’d invited them to go home with her and act out strange one-on-one scenarios in front of video cameras. We see them shaking her inert body and yelling, “Wake up! Wake up!” or performing an exorcism, or sharing a birthday cake. In a scene from I Want to Be the One to Walk in the Sun (2006), her hirsute costar strips down to his loose-fitting underpants, while she takes off everything but her bra and panties. Then, with her index finger, she traces a clockwise circle in the air over his head. It’s a signal for him to spin around, which he does, while she watches, unblinking and tender. Read More
Frida Kahlo wore plaster corsets for most of her life because her spine was too weak to support itself. She painted them, naturally, covering them with pasted scraps of fabric and drawings of tigers, monkeys, plumed birds, a blood-red hammer and sickle, and streetcars like the one whose handrail rammed through her body when she was eighteen years old. The corsets remain to this day in her famous blue house—their embedded mirrors reflecting back our gazes, their collages bringing the whole world into stricture. In one, an open circle has been carved into the plaster like a skylight near the heart. Read More