From Sisters by a River.
Barbara Comyns (1909–92) grew up one of five girls in an old house on the banks of the River Avon. When she was seventeen, her father died; the family was ruined and dispersed. Her first novel, Sisters by a River, is about the lost paradise of their country childhood—a paradise that is often indistinguishable from hell. It is, in other words, a realistic treatment, written (for her own daughters, originally) in a kind of well-bred nursery patois, with the cold gaze of an actual child: “Quite suddenly Chloe and I got a craze for throwing perfectly good things away, it started in the holidays when our other games were rather suppressed. It was always Chloes’s things that were distroyed, we would burn her books slowly, page by page, break her dolls heads off and distroy toys she was really fond of, an awful gleam would come into our eyes and we would tear a teddy bear’s head off, burn it, then throw the body in the river.” —Lorin Stein
I snuck away from the office to catch MoMA’s new exhibition “A Revolutionary Impulse: The Rise of the Russian Avant-Garde.” This show doesn’t make any new claims, and I’ve seen a good bit of the work before, but I never miss a chance to see it again. And each time I do, I’m awed by the exuberance, energy, and freshness in the artists’ approaches to materials and ideas and to the physical and psychic environments of revolutionary Russia. I also never fail to find new connections with more contemporary art. In her linoleum-cut prints from 1917 to 1919, Lyubov Popova layered collage-like, colored shapes to suggest movement and spatial interaction (what she called “painterly architectonics”): I instantly thought of Lee Krasner’s large, hard-edge canvases from the early seventies, where seemingly cutout curvilinear forms dance around one another. In El Lissitzky’s Proun lithographs from 1920—in which various three-dimensional geometric shapes float around one another as though in a group space walk—I see Rammellzee’s “Letter Racers” from the late eighties and early nineties, his galactic graffiti language writ in sculptures composed of found objects spray painted and mounted on wheels and skateboards. “The artist is transformed from reproducer to builder of a new world of forms, a new world of objects,” El Lissitzky wrote. I’ll bet Rammellzee would agree. —Nicole Rudick Read More