- Hey, kid—wanna get into print? Take some advice from a guy who’s been around the block: during the submissions process, it’s always better to lie and/or cheat. (The jury’s still out on stealing.) “I was a junior editor at an established magazine, and I decided to use this to my advantage. I typed up a cover letter on my employer’s very fine letterhead, slipped it and the story into an envelope embossed with our well-known logo … A few months later, an editor emailed me at work—stick it, SASE!—to say he would like to buy the story … What I’m counseling is cheating: You don’t have to be an asshole. The submission process is a rigged casino game, though, and all is fair in love and literary magazines.”
- The trope of the writer as a habitué of cafés—always bowing his head over a cappuccino or espresso, always pausing to scrawl something brilliant and hard-won in a coffee-stained Moleskine notebook—is irritating, both to the idea of writers and the idea of cafés. The history of the coffeehouse is a strange thing: it was long regarded not as a site for productivity but for procrastination, especially among men. “Coffee itself was often thought to be disgusting—a few of the names used by detractors were ‘syrup of soot,’ ‘a foreign fart,’ ‘a sister of the common sewer,’ ‘resembling the river Styx,’ ‘Pluto’s diet-drink,’ ‘horsepond liquor’ … While the early coffeehouses sometimes hosted what were called ‘improving activities,’ including scientific lectures—the scientist Robert Hooke, a member of the Royal Society, was a prominent coffeehouse lecturer, and in one particularly bizarre case, a porpoise was brought to a coffeehouse and dissected in front of an audience, in the name of natural philosophy—the culture of ‘improvement’ did little to assuage the sense that these places were black holes for the productive days of men in their best working years.”
- Imagine befriending various writers. Did you know? Most of them will be awful companions, including Joyce, Dickens, Hardy, and even Lawrence: “Later, when he takes the dog out he invites you to join him. He is looking for a man to form a blutsbrüdershaft, he says, a friendship so strong that you can both say exactly what you think of each other without putting the relationship at risk. As he says this, he places a hand on your wrist. He’s so seductive that you feel afraid.”
- In which Mary Karr sets the record straight on a thing or two, as is her wont: “David Foster Wallace wanted celebrity as much or more than any writer I’ve ever known … I had to talk David out of doing a Gap commercial at one point because I said, ‘Would Cormac McCarthy do it? Would Toni Morrison do it?’”
- Today in aged Lithuanian garage doors: “Lithuanian photographer Agne Gintalaite has documented a series of some 200 Lithuanian garage doors painted and weathered by the elements and time on the outskirts of Vilnius that look like Mark Rothko paintings left out in the rain, each its own stunning work of abstract art.”
Last month, I got a peek at a private collection of work by the painter Jane Wilson. Tucked away in a Midtown East town-house office are a handful of her diminutive watercolors and a very large oil painting depicting one of Wilson’s characteristic landscapes—a sweeping, hazy view of a sliver of land and a limitless sky.
Last fall, I saw a host of such paintings in Wilson’s show at DC Moore Gallery. Yet there’s a difference between admiring her evocative landscapes—or, more precisely, skyscapes—in a gallery setting and discovering them in a secret spot, where, I imagine, they exist for their owner as a private portal, an escape—out of the office, out of the city, out of one’s own life. Imagine sitting in a darkened, quiet office and looking up at Wilson’s plush, golden altocumulus clouds or at the purple and blue striations of storm clouds over a teal sky or at the dappled, cobalt blue of twilight. Where couldn’t you go? Read More
Born in a small town in northwest Iran in 1924, Monir Farmanfarmaian studied fine arts at the University of Tehran for only six months before deciding to move to Paris. But, with World War II raging, the ambitious young artist was denied entry in France; she opted instead for the United States, landing in New York City in 1944. “She traveled to the right place at the right time,” argues her old friend Frank Stella in Cosmic Geometry, Farmanfarmaian’s first and much-anticipated monograph, a testament of her continuing importance to contemporary Iranian art. Stella goes on to describe her facility with Abstract Expressionism’s “flatness” and “imagelessness”—her childhood home was filled with stained glass and wall murals—but neglects to mention all the other juicy details of her first decade in New York: how she rubbed elbows with the great artists of the day, including Pollock, de Kooning, and Rothko, at the Cedar Tavern and at the Arts Students League; how she worked as an illustrator for Bonwit Teller under Andy Warhol. “I wasn’t bad looking,” she says, “so everyone invited me to their parties.”
In 1957, she moved back to Tehran, married a young, American-educated lawyer named Abolbashar Farmanfarmaian, and began working with broken glass and mirrors in her studio—materials that became her hallmarks. She recounts traveling in 1966 to the Shāh Chérāgh mosque in Shiraz, Iran, a shrine “filled with high ceilings, domes, and mirror mosaics with fantastic reflections.” “We sat there for half an hour, and it was like a living theater,” she notes. “People came in all their different outfits and wailed and begged to the shrine, and all the crying was reflected all over the ceiling … I said to myself, I must do something like that, something that people can hang in their homes.” Read More
At this time of year, the Bowery seems colder and brighter than other streets nearby, maybe because it’s several lanes wide and flanked by buildings no more than four or five stories tall. To me, it’s also a resonant place, and has been since I moved to New York. Along the Bowery, there are traces of a cultural history I tell myself I’m a part of (artists and musicians making prescient, eerie, underground things) as well as a cultural history that, let’s be honest, I’m actually a part of (Chinese immigrants starting businesses to meet market demand). Mark Rothko, Eva Hesse, and William S. Burroughs lived or worked along the Bowery. CBGB’s was there. It has also been the site of lighting outlets and restaurant-supply stores with exactly the sort of aspirational, front-of-the-phonebook names that my parents, with their limited English, would choose: AA International Trading Inc. A-1 Restaurant Equipment. A-Plus Restaurant Equipment.
Maybe it’s because the rest of the Bowery seems so familiar that I found “Experience,” Carsten Höller’s solo show at the New Museum, so disorienting. Of course, as the Belgian-born artist recently told a colleague at Artforum.com, “My entire show is set up to make you [go] mad.” Read More