COLUMNS

  • Still Hot

    Maurice Sendak’s ageless imagination

    WILD THINGS ARE HAPPENING: THE ART OF MAURICE SENDAK. Edited by Jonathan Weinberg. Delmonico Books/The Columbus Museum of Art, 2022. 248 pages.

    THE FRONT AND BACK ENDPAPERS of Maurice Sendak’s perennially beloved 1963 book Where the Wild Things Are are covered in subdued bursts of foliage in yellow, blue, green, orange, and brown. The thicket of leafy plants is overlaid by a loose grid of hatch marks that have always made me think of the fine mesh of a window screen. The reader’s face looms just before the screen, with only a view of the semi-exotic jungle beyond, but it’s a view ripe for an

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  • Scum As You Are

    The furious comedy of Valerie Solanas

    UP YOUR ASS. BY VALERIE SOLANAS. Sternberg/Montana, 2022. 104 pages.

    “MY ONLY CONSOLATION’S that I’m me—vivacious, dynamic, single, and a queer,” quips Bongi Perez, the intrepid antiheroine of Valerie Solanas’s Up Your Ass. Written between 1962 and 1965, the play features a wisecracking masc lesbian panhandler and sex worker who sounds a lot like the writer herself. Notorious for shooting Andy Warhol and his associate Mario Amaya in 1968, Solanas’s best-known text is her SCUM Manifesto (1967), outlining a program of male elimination. But it was Up Your Ass, a lesser-known dramatic work, that lay

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  • Idle Hands

    Surrealism versus the work ethic

    SURREALIST SABOTAGE AND THE WAR ON WORK. BY ABIGAIL SUSIK. (Manchester University, 2021. 296 pages.)

    IN A PANTOMIMED SCENE from Charlie Chaplin’s A Woman of Paris (1923), the bon vivant Pierre Revel visits an upscale restaurant’s kitchen to vet the preparation of his meal. Holding an aging pheasant carcass to his nostrils, a chef affirms its quality for the “delighted gourmet,” who, in turn, luxuriates in “the spoiled meat odor as greedily as if it came from a cluster of lilies of the valley.”

    This campy vignette opens Ilya Ehrenbourg’s essay “The Surrealists,” translated from the Russian for

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  • Present Danger

    North Korea’s monumental gifts to Africa

    INTERNATIONAL FRIENDSHIP: THE GIFTS FROM AFRICA. BY CHE ONEJOON. Kehrer, 2021. 192 pages.

    ON OCTOBER 13, 2010, Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade stood at Collines des Mamelles—twin hills that overlook the Atlantic Ocean and an important point of departure to the Americas from the entrepôt of the Cape Verde Peninsula during the transatlantic slave trade—and welcomed 163 Haitian university students who would be receiving free education after the catastrophic earthquake that January. The president was an impassioned rhetorical advocate for Haiti following the disaster. Days after the earthquake,

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  • Heaven Sent

    Celia Paul’s Letters to Gwen John

    LETTERS TO GWEN JOHN. BY CELIA PAUL. New York Review Books, 2022. 352 pages.

    IF TRUTH AND ARTIFICE WERE OPPOSED, we would have no painting, no poetry, no speech, no life. Yet there is tension, undoubtable, incorrigible, a catch in the flow of perception, thought, and deed, as the dreams that live in some strange interior take shape and enter the shared reality of a work. Celia Paul, in both her painting and her writing, is a formidable guardian of her own inner life, as well as a careful chronicler of what it means to traverse a boundary that is barely perceptible, hardly there at all, and yet

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  • Read Their Lips

    The feats and failures of Gran Fury

    IT WAS VULGAR AND IT WAS BEAUTIFUL: HOW AIDS ACTIVISTS USED ART TO FIGHT A PANDEMIC. BY JACK LOWERY. Bold Type Books, 2022. 432 pages.

    THE PAST DECADE has seen an outpouring of what writer and organizer Theodore Kerr calls AIDS Crisis Revisitation, a genre defined by its nostalgia for the pre-1996 years of HIV/AIDS activism, particularly ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power). A major contribution to this literature, Jack Lowery’s intricately researched history of Gran Fury trains its spotlight on the artists and designers who collaboratively authored much of ACT UP’s iconic propaganda.

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  • OK Computer

    How digital graphics remade the material world

    IMAGE OBJECTS: AN ARCHAEOLOGY OF COMPUTER GRAPHICS. BY JACOB GABOURY. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2021. 312 pages. 

    JURASSIC PARK, the 1993 blockbuster sensation, contains a sly, almost Velázquezian instance of mise en abyme. In the eponymous theme park’s futuristic genomics lab and control room, scientists fabricate the ultimate prehistoric spectacle using desktop computers, software applications, and file systems manufactured by the real-life Silicon Graphics, Inc. (SGI). These prominently featured SGI workstations don’t just play an essential role in the film’s narrative structure—allowing for plot

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  • Direct Action

    Carmen Winant’s lessons in looking

    INSTRUCTIONAL PHOTOGRAPHY: LEARNING HOW TO LIVE NOW, BY CARMEN WINANT. London: SPBH Editions, 2021. 119 pages.

    “LET ME PAUSE HERE to say that ‘instructional photographs’ is a term that I have made up; there is no preexisting dedicated category for this kind of picture,” writes artist Carmen Winant in her slim, pocketable book Instructional Photography: Learning How to Live Now. On the opposite page, a woman gingerly pulls hardened plaster from her face; culled from a photographic “how-to” on mask-making, the black-and-white image has been shorn of captions and context, extricated from the words

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  • SMALL PRESS

    Domenick Ammirati on Isolarii

    IN THE FUTURE, there will be no writing; we will communicate solely like bees through TikTok dances. In the interim, during the slow/fast glide toward the desuetude of the written word, attention spans dwindle, readers seem to cathect increasingly onto texts the length of a caption, and people like myself pen mournful eulogies that may reasonably be labeled “tl;dr.”

    The new subscription-based press Isolarii is experimenting with a cunning strategy for attracting readers to medium-length reading: It makes books with pages the size of the display on a second-generation iPhone SE. The design is a

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  • Dirty Laundry

    Sophie Calle lodges in your mind

    THE HOTEL, BY SOPHIE CALLE. Catskill: Siglio Press, 2021. 243 pages. 

    THE ENGLISH EDITION, now out from Siglio, of Sophie Calle’s seminal photographic essay, The Hotel (1984), boasts a cover with a florid design and gilded lettering, which suggest preciousness and the idea of hospitality as genteel comfort. Yet the French artist ruthlessly unpacks such notions in the series—quite literally, since she made it while working as a chambermaid at a Venetian inn, raiding and photographing private articles left by guests in the rooms and by opening their luggage. The list of Calle’s playful transgressions

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  • Duchamp and Circumstance

    Taking a page from Duchamp’s master plan

    MARCEL DUCHAMP, BY ROBERT LEBEL WITH MARCEL DUCHAMP, ANDRÉ BRETON, AND H. P. ROCHÉ. New York: Hauser & Wirth Publishers, 2021. 252 pages. 

    TOWARD THE END of his life, in 1966, Marcel Duchamp was asked why he had never had a solo exhibition in his native France. “I don’t know. I never understood. I think it’s a question of money,” he replied. “The dealers have nothing to gain from me. . . The museums are run, more or less, by the dealers.”

    This candor was calculated, all part of Duchamp’s schtick. Since the mid-1920s—after a terrifyingly productive decade in which he reimagined Cubist painting,

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  • Breaking Dawn

    David Graeber and David Wengrow’s new history of humanity

    THE DAWN OF EVERYTHING, BY DAVID GRAEBER AND DAVID WENGROW. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2021. 704 pages.

    ONE OF THE MAIN PROPOSITIONS that David Graeber and David Wengrow put forth in The Dawn of Everything, their bracing rewrite of human history, is that the ancestors of our prehistory were not simple, unthinking clods, but rather self-conscious, idiosyncratic social organizers, living through a “carnival parade of political forms.” Today we might use words like “anarchist,” “communist,” “authoritarian,” or “egalitarian” to describe their activity, but that language fails to represent

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