COLUMNS

  • Automatic Writing

    Deep Scroll, edited by Anne de Vries. Eindhoven, the Netherlands: Onomatopee, 2020. 380 pages.

    DEEP SCROLL is a book for this precise mediated moment. It’s a chaotic journey in which the reader walks a tightrope between the real and the simulated, in which the old is repackaged as the new and we are driven to furious speculation over a multitude of speakers’ intents and ideologies. Artist Anne de Vries offers a mad pastiche of dense theory layered atop digital collages of his installation work from the past two decades. He sourced classic writings by Hannah Arendt, Alain Badiou, Manuel DeLanda,

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  • Occult Classic

    The Tarot of Leonora Carrington, by Susan Aberth and Tere Arcq with an introduction by Gabriel Weisz Carrington. Lopen, UK: Fulgur Press, 2020. 120 pages.

    THE VOICE OF ART EDUCATOR Jackie Armstrong emanates from my MacBook, guiding me through the vaulted chamber of Leonora Carrington’s painting And Then We Saw the Daughter of the Minotaur, 1953, acquired by New York’s Museum of Modern Art in advance of their 2019 expansion. The track is part of the museum’s Covid-era playlist “Artful Practices for Well-Being,” a series of audio tours that forgo didactic synopsis in favor of visualization and

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  • Chaos Magic

    Extra Ordinary: Magic, Mystery, and Imagination in American Realism, edited by Jeffrey Richmond-Moll and Philip Eliasoph. Georgia Museum of Art, University of Georgia. 2021.

    THE SLIPPERINESS characterizing many literary and art-critical terms is in particular evidence around the oxymoronic genre of “magic realism.” While its narrowest definition—the inclusion of the fantastical within an otherwise realistic setting—can be useful when applied to specific examples of fiction or art, the label is often employed in ways so elastic as to render it meaningless. Extra Ordinary: Magic, Mystery, and

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  • Mutual Understanding

    Disasters and Social Reproduction: Crisis Response Between the State and Community, by Peer Illner. London: Pluto Press, 2020. 208 pages. 

    Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity During this Crisis (and the Next), by Dean Spade. New York and London: Verso, 2020. 128 pages. 

    IN ONE OF photojournalist Margaret Bourke-White’s most iconic Depression-era images, a seamless, whitewashed vision of the good life is undercut by a segregated breadline. Tightly composed, the picture almost stages a return of the repressed, as material casualties of “the American Way” buttress—but also contravene—the billboard’s

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  • Style Counsel

    The Hidden Mod in Modern Art: London, 1957–1969, by Thomas Crow. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2020. 200 pages.

    THOMAS CROW’S NEW VOLUME, The Hidden Mod in Modern Art: London, 1957–1969, is a meticulous account of the imbrications between artmaking and stylemaking in postwar London, flanked by a jeremiad against what its author perceives as received ideas in contemporary art history. Indeed, Crow’s street-level method—we are treated to a litany of place names, hairstyles, and vivid descriptions of magazines—is part and parcel of his complaint: If art is to be meaningful, Crow seems to insist,

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  • After Party

    IN FALL 2020, artist Matt Keegan produced an artist book called 1996, a compendium of ephemera, essays, and interviews circling around the year in question, which Keegan sees as a tipping point for the American left—the moment its capitulation to neoliberalism was complete. It also happens to be the first birth year for Gen Z, whose members have recently begun populating Keegan’s art-school classes. In trying to come to grips with shifts in American electoral politics, ensure that key histories are passed on to posterity, and chart changes in queer identity, the book provides a nonfatalistic,

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  • All Systems Go

    IN THE FIRST MONTHS OF QUARANTINE, my apartment became my personal ecosystem. The idiosyncrasies of daily life in isolation—the peculiar sleep hours, the midnight meals on the fire escape, the evening Scrabble ritual—felt entirely specific. And yet, with over half of the world’s population instructed to quarantine as well, these intimate idiosyncrasies were twinned with a totally novel feeling-in-common. When we are asked to “flatten the curve” or wear masks outdoors, we are asked to see ourselves as both individuals with agency and a collective whose influence is only made en masse. We are

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  • Marguerite Duras's Me & Other Writing and Duras/Godard Dialogues

    A certain scene between Marguerite Duras and Susan Sontag, told to me by someone who was friends with both and seated between them while Susan was visiting Paris, goes like this: Duras had just made a new film, and, in keeping with her character, she spoke at Susan in a monologic séance, going on and on about herself, her new film, and critical reactions to her new film. After speaking for most of the occasion they were together, Duras suddenly quieted and seemed to notice Sontag qua Sontag, and not just any old audience to her tirade. “Susan! My goodness. I have only talked and talked, and I

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  • Yvonne Rainer's Work 1961–73

    A big black-and-white book, first published in 1973 and prettily reissued by Primary Information, Work 1961–73 collects screenplays, photographs, flyers, and essays, which comprise an odd monument to thirteen years of scrupulous, self-inflicted, paradoxically rebellious discipline that took the form, for Yvonne Rainer, of dances and films. Devotees will find much to relish: Loaded with documentation and reflections, the book gives a sinuous and often funny account of the first stirrings of Judson Dance Theater, breathing life into an avant-garde now hardened into history. But it’s also a tour

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  • Ciaran Carson's Still Life

    The poet Ciaran Carson, who died of lung cancer in October 2019, was master of the long line, and chronicler of his hometown’s civil war. Books like Belfast Confetti (1989) will survive. Still Life, whose title is similarly painful, was published in Ireland in the month of Carson’s death, and in the US this past February (Wake Forest). It bids farewell to life in a sequence of seventeen poems about paintings and prints, all of them treasured, one or two of them—a still life of a bowl by Jeffrey Morgan, a print by James Allen—in the poet’s possession.

    Many poets write poems about paintings; few,

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  • Gene Youngblood's Expanded Cinema

    Stan VanDerBeek coined the phrase “expanded cinema.” But it was Gene Youngblood who put it on the cover of a book, filled it with rocket fuel, and sent it buzzing through the late-1960s art world like a heat-seeking missile. For its fiftieth anniversary, Expanded Cinema has been lovingly reissued by Fordham University Press with a substantial new memoir-ish introduction by the author. The volume reminds us to locate the techno-anarchic edge of what became “new media” on the left coast, where filmmakers, psychedelic engineers, and intermedia practitioners wrested cybernetics from its military

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  • Suzanne Preston Blier's Picasso’s Demoiselles: The Untold Origins of a Modern Masterpiece

    In Picasso’s Demoiselles: The Untold Origins of a Modern Masterpiece (Duke), Suzanne Preston Blier presents a deeply nuanced investigation into the mysteries of the links between Pablo Picasso’s Les demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907, and African art and the African presence in Europe. Weaving together an intricate tapestry (genealogy?) composed of the works of other artists (André Derain, Henri Matisse) and writers (Gertrude Stein) in Picasso’s circle; the scene at his studio, Le Bateau-Lavoir, in Montmartre; then-extant collections of ethnographic photographs of nude women of color; and the African

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