• Hello Cruel World

    Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s life in pieces

    Fassbinder Thousands of Mirrors. By Ian Penman. New York: Semiotext(e), 2023. 200 pages.

    PICTURE THIS: Camera slowly panning across shelves littered with dog-eared paperbacks, soiled scripts, handwritten corrections, framed stills, loose pills. A copy of Ian Penman’s Fassbinder Thousands of Mirrors (a book of personal notes on—to?—the late director) unobtrusively propped up amongst a slightly phantasmagorical recreation of the filmmaker’s last living quarters. Two or three televisions going in every empty room. News headlines and obituaries (“RAINER WERNER FASSBINDER, 37, FILM MAKER, DEAD”) flash

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  • Free Association

    On Brian Dillon’s Affinities

    Affinities: On Art and Fascination. By Brian Dillon. New York Review of Books, 2023. 320 pages.

    IN THE EARLY WEEKS of the pandemic, I became obsessed with maps of New York City. Cloistered in my apartment in upper Manhattan, I would stare at the subway map for hours, studying every stop on every line. I would wander around Brooklyn on Google Maps, memorizing the order of avenues and streets. I played quizzes where you would look at photographs taken on the street and have to guess the neighborhood. It must have seemed like a sad way to pass the time, but the obsessive scrutiny seemed important.

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    James Meyer on Yve-Alain Bois’s An Oblique Autobiography

    An Oblique Autobiography, by Yve-Alain Bois; ed. Jordan Kantor. San Francisco and New York: no place press, 2022. 376 pages.

    THE PUBLICATION of Yve-Alain Bois’s latest book marks a watershed in the oeuvre of this influential scholar. What is the place of this most personal (and most surprising) of Bois’s publications in the arc of a career that extends from his cofounding of the groundbreaking journal Macula in the mid-1970s to teaching positions at Johns Hopkins and Harvard to his tenure as professor at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Studies, a position he held from 2005 to 2022? What insights

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  • Mortal Coil

    Resurrecting Robert Smithson

    Inside the Spiral: The Passions of Robert Smithson. By Suzaan Boettger. University of Minnesota Press, 2023. 440 pages.

    ASTONISHINGLY, it has taken fifty years since his death for a “life” of Robert Smithson to emerge. Then again, the endlessly polysemous nature of Smithson’s art, the vertiginous heap of writing on him already out there, and his own profound ambivalence toward the very enterprise of history—collective and personal—make him a rather daunting subject. The prospective Smithson biographer, over the winding course of her inquiry, must advance despite so many taunting aphorisms like

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  • Spirited Away

    Who painted Hilma af Klint’s otherworldly visions?

    Anna Cassel: The Saga of the Rose. Edited by Kurt Almqvist and Daniel Birnbaum. Bokförlaget Stolpe, 2023. 182 pages.

    ANNA CASSEL: THE SAGA OF THE ROSEa sumptuously designed book by the same publisher of the seven-volume, thirty-eight-pound Hilma af Klint Catalogue Raisonné, is not only an astonishing revelation of a heretofore unknown visual artist, but one whose recently discovered participation in the creation of Hilma af Klint’s renowned “Paintings for the Temple” necessitates a reconceptualization of this pioneering work, and hence a corrective to the history of modernism itself as it

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    Tiana Reid on Tina Post’s Deadpan

    Deadpan: The Aesthetics of Black Inexpression, by Tina Post. New York, NYU Press, 2023. 280 pages.

    PEOPLE WHO DON’T KNOW ME often tell me I look fairly blank. It comes out in a swarm of ways. “I can’t read you,” someone who wanted to fuck informed me. (We didn’t make it to bed.) “She’s so serious,” a retail worker said, addressing the white person next to me. (I didn’t buy anything.) “She’s so boring” is another one I’ve gotten, mostly behind my back. (I’m a professor who doesn’t drink or do drugs anymore, so I’ll ungrudgingly admit to that—maybe too quickly.) “Well, what do you think?” is a

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    Harmon Siegel on Benjamin H. D. Buchloh’s Gerhard Richter: Painting After the Subject of History

    Gerhard Richter: Painting After the Subject of History, by Benjamin H. D. Buchloh. Cambridge, MA, MIT Press, 2022. 696 pages.

    AT TIMES, Benjamin H. D. Buchloh seems to loathe the subject of his latest tome, Gerhard Richter: Painting After the Subject of History. Artist and critic disagree vehemently, their dialogue “confrontational enough to have made enemies under other circumstances.” Moments of outright antagonism punctuate their periodic interviews. Richter mourns the loss of painting’s artisanal quality; Buchloh responds, “You can’t be serious.”1 Richter states that exploitation is basic to

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  • Peel Slowly and See

    T. J. Clark’s impressions of Cézanne out of time

    IF THESE APPLES SHOULD FALL: CÉZANNE AND THE PRESENT. BY T. J. CLARK. Thames & Hudson, 2022. 240 pages. 

    THE MOST PUZZLING THING about T. J. Clark’s new book is its title. If These Apples Should Fall: Cézanne and the Present suggests a contemporaneity, even a topicality, that never comes. Most of the chapters derive from texts written years ago, and all the pulsations of the present day—its politics, crises, and fashions—ring somewhere beyond the book’s ambit. For the author, Paul Cézanne’s present tense instead resides in the moment of looking itself: “I want . . . a writing,” Clark issues, “

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  • Class Acts

    Autonomia and the future of creative work

    AFTER THE FALL of Benito Mussolini’s government following World War II, a national referendum voted in favor of a republic. The ostensible rupture with Fascism, however, masked a continuity while cold warriors were largely content to let former Fascist Party functionaries hold governmental and corporate positions of power. Meanwhile, though left-wing parties gained national legitimacy after the Resistance, they increasingly favored the development of productive forces while stamping out revolutionary aspirations. In the early ’60s, during Italy’s so-called “economic miracle,” dissident Marxist

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    My nomination of either Paul Galvez’s Courbet’s Landscape: The Origins of Modern Painting or Benjamin Buchloh’s Gerhard Richter: Painting After the Subject of History would inevitably be dismissed as biased (the first author is my spouse, the second a very close friend), so I had to cast my net wide (and away from the modernist field) in order to find a book in which the close reading of specific works is as richly intertwined with the mapping of the cultural and epistemological context of their creation: David Young Kim’s Ground Work: A History of the Renaissance Picture (Princeton University

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    A profile of Helen DeWitt in New York magazine, which ran with a photo of her wielding a chain saw, said that, in the course of three days of interviews, “she used the word morons a lot.” Like her characters, DeWitt has an air of casual incivility that she says isn’t her fault. That she’s surrounded by idiots is more or less the plot. (From a short story on the sexual mores of Europeans: “Contact with grossly inferior minds leaves a smear of stupidity across brilliance.”) I’m not sure there is anyone writing now in English better at parceling out blame—namely, for preventing high-strung,

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    It seems very hard to have been Rene Ricard. It seems even harder to have been around him. Rene (Osprey) is a story of the people who chose to be around Ricard anyway, knowing that suffering his suffering was the price of admission one had to pay to experience his frantic discharges of genius. A collection of the artist William Rand’s diary entries from the 1980s and ’90s—the last decades that afforded New Yorkers the luxury of being both artists and addicts—these fragments of day-to-day encounters with Ricard (whose “firing” from this publication is reported in the book) show what it was like

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