Lois Dodd’s early paintings (1958–66) are showing at Alexandre Gallery through March 18. Dodd, who is eighty-nine, helped to found New York’s artist-run Tanager Gallery in the fifties, when it was one of a series of downtown spaces redefining how work was shown and sold. She said of her paintings in 2012, “They could be much more descriptive, but I don’t want to do that. In that sense, one always puts the blame on the abstract painters. That’s what I looked at and loved. I don’t want to get too descriptive. You can go so far and stop. I can just feel when to stop.”
Our newest correspondent, Merritt Tierce, is writing about “the varieties of obscurity.” First up: a fateful trip to Greece leads her to the Museum of Wooden Sculptures.
I lost my wallet last week. I’d been out having drinks, wearing jeans into which I could have forced something no wider than a penny; at the train station I sat down in a chair on the platform, slid my ticket into my wallet, and wedged my wallet under my thigh. The train arrived and I stood up and boarded, leaving my wallet there on the platform.
I discovered the loss when I started looking for my ticket as the ticket checker approached. I was immediately distressed, of course, though not by the loss of the wallet itself, or my debit cards or my ID, but at the most likely permanent disappearance of a piece of paper with an address written on it, the handwritten address of the Greek wood sculptor Giorgis Koutantos. Read More
Claire Sherman’s exhibition, “West Ridge,” is at DC Moore Gallery in New York through November 5. Sherman’s latest paintings focus on what she calls “unraveling environments,” depicting archetypes of forests and islands in varying states of agitation. She paints quickly, refusing to spend more than a day in the studio working on a single piece. “The physical quality of paint is something I find very seductive,” she told Hyperallergic in 2014. “Paint has the ability to describe, fall apart, be chaotic, rigid, uncontrollable, fluid, and surprising all at once.”
Celebrating the history of the beloved ash tree.
As a small child, my mother was taken to the Lake District, in the hope that she would have a better chance of survival under the shelter of the northwestern hills than at home on the flat, overexposed coast of Lincolnshire. It was early 1940. It would have been a grand adventure, were it not for the constant reminders that things were not as they should be. It was not just the absence of fathers, uncles, brothers, but the presence in the hotel grounds of oddly damaged things: a blind cat, a broken wheelbarrow, a man who had been at Dunkirk and did not seem quite like other grown-ups. What my mother remembers most vividly is a young woman, pale in face and dress, who spent her days sitting outside, staring up into the branches of the tall ash tree and drawing what she saw. When the sun came out, her pencil lines darkened, turning the tracery of tiny branches into black lace veils. She never spoke, but day after day she looked up and re-created the impossible patterns on her large, flat sheets of paper. What did the ash tree mean to that unknown woman? Or to my mother, in whose agitated, impressionable mind it took root and has remained ever since?
The ash tree is known as the Venus of the woods, and it seems to stir powerful feelings in those who gaze on its graceful form. Whether it is standing in spacious parkland or in an unkempt, November hedge, or rising naked from a sea of bluebells, the ash’s curvy limbs taper to an end with tips pointing to the heavens. A young ash is often like a half-open peacock’s tail, not quite ready to display its beauties; the branches of a mature ash, once fully fanned out, will slope down toward the earth, before sweeping up again, as if to send the buds flying. Through the summer the boughs cascade in all directions, wave-shaped and covered in green sprays. There are no angles on a young ash tree—everything is rounded and covered in fluttering foliage, soft as the feathers in a boa or the fur of a chinchilla. The boughs gain a few inches and furrow with the passing years, but with maturity come striking attitudes. In winter their silhouettes stencil clear skies like a row of unframed stained glass windows. The ebullient black buds stand proud, as if impatient for the spring, but in fact the ash is usually the last to come into leaf and the first to shed its seasonal foliage. The uncovered form of the ash, though, is just as compelling as the full-dress splendor of more eye-catching trees. Read More
Two trees grow in Brooklyn.
Lately I’ve come to love the empress trees that stand at either end of the Union Street Bridge, which crosses the Gowanus Canal, in Brooklyn. The pair aren’t much in winter, but come spring their canopies grow heavy with grand cascades of lavender flowers. The display is especially remarkable because the canal that flows beside the trees is polluted by heavy metals, pathogens, polychlorinated biphenyls, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and other suspiciously unpronounceable toxins. Whatever perfume might drift from the purple blossoms is instantly overpowered by the rot that wafts from the canal’s murky, iridescent waters. Read More
- I hear you’re moving to Buffalo to pursue a more affordable, creative, authentic life in the smoldering remains of the Rust Belt. That’s neat. But what are you buying into, really? In cities like Pittsburgh and Troy, David A. Banks argues, “a ‘cool’ lifestyle is still the bait, only its terms have shifted toward more regional flavors. Cities that no longer produce physical goods can instead produce their own image as a kind of marketed product. If once they smelted steel or manufactured textiles, now they trade on the unique cultural history that is the legacy of those lost industries. The relatively cheap standard of living in places like Buffalo or Pittsburgh offer a more ‘authentic’ urban experience in terms of sampling gritty make-do entrepreneurial creativity, while also letting new residents dismiss those in more expensive cities as unimaginative dupes taken in by luxury branding … To attract new residents, cities must understand how their character can be conveyed through a smartphone.”
- In 2010, the brokenhearted and salty-cheeked could find solace only in Croatia, where a melancholy place called the Museum of Broken Relationships held the keepsakes of sundered romance. Now the Museum is coming to Los Angeles: “More than 100 exhibits range from everyday artifacts (a spare key never given to its intended recipient, a mirror that didn’t go with an ex’s decorating scheme) to signifiers of deeply troubled unions (a pair of silicone breast implants a woman got at her boyfriend’s urging). Some radiate sorrow, like the blue chiffon blouse a wife wore the day her husband told her he was moving out. All objects are submitted anonymously and come with stories explaining their significance.”
- T-shirt idea: “I majored in English because my university didn’t offer comp lit.” Jeanne-Marie Jackson argues that there’s a critical (in every sense of the word) difference between the two disciplines: “The reason that comparative literature as a discipline, and comparatists as an ad hoc community, somehow escape the intellectual trap of confusing redundant, self-congratulatory polemic with genuinely advancing thought is that, in having to build its own comparative apparatus, the discipline is forced to balance breadth against depth. It can’t escape either geographical reach or philosophical literacy. This is, at its outer reaches, a recipe for something like multicultural dignity, the kind that is achieved rather than avowed, at least in one’s reading and writing.”
- Thorsten Schütte’s documentary Eat That Question: Frank Zappa in His Own Words looks at one of the few genuine iconoclasts in rock music: the man who hated both the squares and the hippies, the man who preferred to chain-smoke as he cranked out musique concrète. “Schütte’s film is a fluid mosaic of concert footage, TV appearances, and interview clips, much of them never seen before: Zappa on the Steve Allen Show in 1963 ‘playing’ the bicycle; hunched over staff paper notating music in his Laurel Canyon studio in the seventies; stalking through airports with a Mephistophelian leer; leading staggeringly well rehearsed bands … Zappa’s antidrug stance made him an oddity in the rock world, defying the idea, foisted on him by journalists and TV commentators, that someone of such profligate imagination must be on drugs. ‘They write about me like I’m a maniac,’ he says at one point. ‘I’m not … I’m forty years old, I’ve got four kids, a house, and a mortgage.’ ”
- Public service announcement: be around trees. I say this not as some kind of granola-crunching hiker-guru type but as someone with a body of hard data to back it up. A new study by Marc Berman, a University of Chicago psychology professor, “compares two large data sets from the city of Toronto, both gathered on a block-by-block level; the first measures the distribution of green space … and the second measures health, as assessed by a detailed survey of ninety-four thousand respondents. After controlling for income, education, and age, Berman and his colleagues showed that an additional ten trees on a given block corresponded to a one-per-cent increase in how healthy nearby residents felt. ‘To get an equivalent increase with money, you’d have to give each household in that neighborhood ten thousand dollars—or make people seven years younger.’ ”