COLUMNS

  • QUONDAM THEORY

    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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  • YVE-ALAIN BOIS ON DAVID YOUNG KIM’S GROUND WORK: A HISTORY OF THE RENAISSANCE PICTURE

    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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  • AMY SILLMAN ON REBECCA SOLNIT'S ORWELL’S ROSES

    Flowers have been a hot topic the past few years: promiscuous symbols for everything from sex to death, mourning to deceit, love to cliché to decay. So Orwell’s Roses (Viking), Rebecca Solnit’s rhizomatic rumination on pleasure and politics mapped onto the figure of George Orwell and his rosebushes, was apropos. It turns out that Orwell, one of the great heroes of political critique made into art, was also a passionate and devoted lover of flowers and gardening. He saw the English as a nation of flower lovers and hobbyists (or as he put it, “stamp-collectors, pigeon-fanciers, amateur carpenters,

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  • COCO FUSCO ON MAGGIE NELSON’S ON FREEDOM: FOUR SONGS OF CARE AND CONSTRAINT

    Maggie Nelson’s On Freedom: Four Songs of Care and Constraint (Graywolf Press) is a marvelous mix of theory, politics, and personal exposé. She wrestles fearlessly with the pieties of our cultural moment. Above all, she latches on to the concept of freedom—used and abused by absolutists of every political persuasion—and delivers a well-reasoned analysis of its contextual conditions: freedom versus unfreedom, freedom from ethical responsibility, and freedom to explore the darkest recesses of the imagination in our art and our erotic lives. Nelson’s refreshing ability to probe her own lived

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  • ARACELIS GIRMAY ON MARWA HELAL’S ANTE BODY

    In the early months of the pandemic, at a memorial celebration of the great Kamau Brathwaite’s life, M. NourbeSe Philip reminded us of these drumsoundings, his words: “So much undone to be undone.” In this spirit, I make my notes toward poet Marwa Helal’s Ante body (Nightboat Books)so alive with plurals, so awake to a we-frequency—because it is part of a most vital and mystical practice of undoing. In her precision, she slits the grammars of empire, making language-openings that are brief refuges for her beloveds. On the pages marked “ante matter” are columns of text that read as simultaneities

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  • ALISSA BENNETT ON CONSTANCE DEBRÉ’S LOVE ME TENDER

    My friend Jarrett recently told me that the only way he can psychologically reconcile himself to the idea that I work in a gallery is to think of my job as a piece of durational performance art. My pantomime of professionalism is simply too at odds with the person he knows me to be, so he’s conjured a fantasy that can accommodate both his friend the writer and the stranger who shares her life. I like the idea of it, mostly because I also often wonder which version of myself is real and which the forgery. Maybe everyone feels like that and we just never bother to figure it out.

    In 2015, Constance

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  • KAITLIN PHILLIPS ON HELEN DEWITT’S THE ENGLISH UNDERSTAND WOOL

    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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  • ANNIE-B PARSON ON SHEILA HETI’S PURE COLOUR

    In Pure Colour (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), Sheila Heti stages a human encounter inside a leaf. Paradoxically, this novel is a work of pure realism. It opens in a biblical mood, declaring a simple system to sort all human essences into three types: bird, fish, or bear. And as in the Bible, Heti describes multiple planes of existence with uncanny authority. We are introduced to Mira, a bird type, whose beloved father, a bear type, has recently died. Mira—her voice pure, childlike, uncensored—uses the verb ejaculate countless times to describe the sensation of her father’s body entering her body

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  • AUDREY WOLLEN ON ELSPETH BARKER’S O CALEDONIA

    When I was a teenager, I was lucky enough to have a mother who pressed upon me Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle—a perfect book, perfectly timed. I press that book upon people now, but I know there are books that, although satisfying to read, are laced with a certain wistfulness—I found this too late, you think. Or worse, your recriminations turn outward: Why did nobody tell me? This could have saved me so much trouble! But what does that mean exactly? We want to toss the object back to our earlier selves, shimmering as it skips across the years. We want to have pocketed that little pebble of

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  • RYAN MCNAMARA ON WILLIAM RAND’S RENE

    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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