COLUMNS

  • SUMMER READING

    NAOMI BECKWITH

    My life in Chicago has taken on a Teutonic tinge, so I’ve become more engaged in arcane Germanic topics—and I’m keen to read the novel Black Deutschland by Darryl Pinckney (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), an erudite essayist and chronicler of the black literary tradition. Whereas that tradition’s engagement with Europe generally pivots around a New York–Paris axis, Pinckney’s novel sends a young, queer, aspiring writer from my hometown to seek refuge in Cold War Berlin, hoping to resuscitate the libertine spirit of Weimar Germany. I imagine disappointment for the protagonist but

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  • Sophie Mayer’s Political Animals: The New Feminist Cinema

    Political Animals: The New Feminist Cinema, by Sophie Mayer. London: I. B. Tauris, 2016. 272 pages.

    THESE DAYS, feminism doesn’t always look or sound the way you think it will. In British film scholar and activist Sophie Mayer’s new book, Political Animals: The New Feminist Cinema, fourth-wave feminism is digital, transnational, transsexual, anticolonialist, and multiplatform. It is also occasionally “cisgender,” “Two-Spirit,” and—perhaps most regrettably—“merqueer.” As the aforementioned list suggests, getting with the program might require not only recognizing some unexpected political

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  • Susan E. Cahan’s Mounting Frustration: The Art Museum in the Age of Black Power

    Mounting Frustration: The Art Museum in the Age of Black Power, by Susan E. Cahan.Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2016. 360 pages.

    WHEN THE EXHIBITION “Art AIDS America” was on view last winter at the Tacoma Art Museum in Washington, black activists decried the paltry number of black artists in the show: five out of 107, a low percentage that registered as wildly incommensurate to the disproportionately high rate of HIV infection and AIDS-related deaths among African Americans. On December 17, the Tacoma Action Collective staged a die-in: Protesters lay down on the ground in the museum, red

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  • SUMMER READING

    NAIRY BAGHRAMIAN

    The Art of Freedom: On the Dialectics of Democratic Existence by philosopher Juliane Rebentisch (Polity Press) is a book that only conditionally has to do with art, and more to do with ethics and politics. But to imagine their exclusion from the discourse of art would be unconditionally unthinkable.

    Nairy Baghramian is an artist based in Berlin.

    CARISSA RODRIGUEZ

    When Hilton Als invited viewers to read Brenda Shaughnessy’s captivating collection Our Andromeda as part of his incisive exhibition at the Artist’s Institute in New York that so generously attests, “My art has always been

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  • David Bordwell’s The Rhapsodes

    The Rhapsodes: How 1940s Critics Changed American Film Culture, by David Bordwell. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016. 176 pages.

    A COMPARATIVE SURVEY of the writings of four American movie critics whose careers overlapped in the 1940s—Otis Ferguson, James Agee, Manny Farber, and Parker Tyler—might seem the perfect setup for a narrowly specialized monograph. In the hands of David Bordwell, however, there is no subject, filmic or otherwise, that cannot yield gleams of pleasurable understanding. For decades, whether alone or in collaboration with Kristin Thompson, Bordwell has

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  • Unica Zürn’s Trumpets of Jericho

    The Trumpets of Jericho, by Unica Zürn; translated by Christina Svendsen. Cambridge, MA: Wakefield Press, 2015. 80 pages.

    “MINE IS THE REALM OF SILK.” So Surrealist artist Unica Zürn weaves a material backdrop for her slender but gutting 1968 novella about childbirth. And yet nothing here is smooth. As she dips and stutters through telegraphic references to mythology and personal memories, hypnagogically recounting a violent delivery, she can’t help but see the fiber everywhere. Silk is the blood that runs from the naked breasts of pillaging Tartars to mix with the semen from a duck’s love nest.

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  • the writings of Josep Lluís Sert

    The Writings of Josep Lluís Sert, edited by Eric Mumford. New Haven: Yale University Press; Cambridge, MA: Harvard Graduate School of Design, 2015. 184 pages.

    JOSEP LLUÍS SERT belongs to a middle generation of modern architects whose reputations have not fared all that well over the past half century. Groomed by such early-twentieth-century giants as Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, and the Swiss historian Sigfried Giedion and straddling the historical divide of World War II, Sert and his peers tend to be pegged as epigones, their expansion and revision of modernist ideology overshadowed by a far

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  • Benjamin H. D. Buchloh’s Formalism and Historicity

    Formalism and Historicity: Models and Methods in Twentieth-Century Art, by Benjamin H. D. Buchloh. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2015. 592 pages.

    ALMOST EXACTLY MIDWAY through his new collection of essays, Formalism and Historicity, Benjamin H. D. Buchloh quotes El Lissitzky’s late-1920s description of the revolutionary “demonstration rooms” for abstract art he’d designed earlier that decade in Dresden and Hannover, Germany:

    Traditionally the viewer was lulled into passivity by the paintings on the walls. Our construction/design shall make the man active. . . . With each movement of the viewer in

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  • Adrian Tomine’s Killing and Dying

    Killing and Dying, by Adrian Tomine. Montreal: Drawn & Quarterly, 2015. 128 pages.

    THE LANDSCAPES in Adrian Tomine’s comics are stripped down to their most essential lines, so precisely and elegantly observed as to imply the whole world around them. His characters are drawn with the same meticulous intentionality, but their personalities come off as looser, broader caricatures—these are contemptible men and put-upon women. As the volume’s title punningly suggests, Killing and Dying’s six stories (collected from recent issues of Tomine’s comic book Optic Nerve, which has appeared intermittently

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  • Francine Prose’s Peggy Guggenheim: The Shock of the Modern

    Peggy Guggenheim: The Shock of the Modern, by Francine Prose. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015. 224 pages.

    WHO WAS PEGGY GUGGENHEIM? This new biography may not provide a complete answer, but it does give a whirlwind tour in a compact, peppy car through the tumultuous life of the most famous patron of modern art. Chapters flash by like cinematic scenes: “Her Money” (she was born into a great deal of it, though not as much as many imagined, and, by one friend’s account, she eventually gave away three-quarters of her wealth), “Paris Before the War” (where she was drawn to a bohemian lifestyle

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  • Asger Jorn and Jacqueline de Jong

    The Case of the Ascetic Satyr: Snapshots from Eternity, by Asger Jorn and Jacqueline de Jong, with texts by Axel Heil, Karen Kurczynski, Marc Lenot, Roberto Ohrt, and Kevin Repp. New York: JdJ/D.A.P., 2015. 2 volumes, 56 pages, 1 folder, 48 ephemera items.

    EVEN THE FORMAL HEADING ABOVE will give you no sense of this book. The definition of a title, never mind the neat totality suggested by an elegant case and a cover painting, won’t help solve this case—all punning inevitable. Better to start in the middle, blank, with a fragment, a piece of pinkish-gray paper scavenged from a hotel, an

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  • Wayne Koestenbaum’s Pink Trance Notebooks

    The Pink Trance Notebooks, by Wayne Koestenbaum. New York: Nightboat Books, 2015. 416 pages.

    IN A 2010 ESSAY essay on Frank O’Hara, Wayne Koestenbaum hymns what he calls the poet’s “excited devotion to the state of excitement itself.” It’s an apt description of Koestenbaum’s own modus as critic, poet, and essayist; his writing tends to verbal excess, to unabashed confessions of shame or humiliation (he has even written a book on the latter subject), and evinces an exorbitant urge toward meaning-making. “We commit a cruelty against existence if we do not interpret it to death,” he writes in The

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