COLUMNS

  • Diary

    Stepping Stones

    The Saudi scene takes the world stage

    “THE PRAYING MANTIS is eating my bees,” Moza Almatrooshi wails as we watch in horrified fascination. A second ago, the mantis seemed to be asleep; now, it holds its fuzzy victim daintily in its forelegs, taking thoughtful little nibbles as if savoring an amuse-bouche. The bee is part of the artist’s work in “Staple: What’s on your plate?,” the remarkable inaugural show at Hayy Jameel, a mammoth new art center in Jeddah. Dealing with food politics and sustainability, standouts include an austere ode to the migratory hilsa fish from Pratchaya Phinthong, chocolate sculptures from the Cercle d’Art

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  • Books

    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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  • Interviews

    Sreshta Rit Premnath

    Sreshta Rit Premnath on finding hope at the margins

    Sreshta Rit Premnath abstracts materials associated with the architecture and institutions of confinement and control—chain-link fencing, metal barriers, aluminum sheets, Mylar blankets, foam mattresses—into floating signifiers that he recombines into installations at once topographical and quietly theatrical. Below, Premnath discusses two related exhibitions, both titled “Grave/Grove” and currently on view at the MIT List Visual Arts Center until February 13, 2022, and Cincinnati’s Contemporary Arts Center until February 27, 2022, where his austere sculptures become unlikely hosts to various

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  • Passages

    Robert Cumming (1943–2021)

    YOU MIGHT THINK it would be difficult to photocopy your own obituary from a major US newspaper and mail it off to somebody. Yet Robert Cumming did just that in 2011. He sent me his 1995 obit from the Boston Globe—a quarter-page of real estate headlined “Robert Cumming, 67; Painter, Sculptor, and Art School Teacher,” with a photo of the artist giving a lecture in front of the chalk-drawn walls of his installation Blackboard Brain, a de facto three-dimensional portrait of his mind that was commissioned by the MIT List Center in 1993.

    I quickly sent him an e-mail: “Dear Robert, I was dismayed to

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  • Books

    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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  • Slant

    Blood Meridian

    J. M. W. Turner in Texas

    TO VIEW A J. M. W. TURNER sunset in Texas, as I did recently in Fort Worth at the Kimbell Art Museum’s “Turner’s Modern World”—an exhibition making its stateside debut after premiering at Tate Britain in London—is to wish Turner might have had the opportunity to paint a Texas sunset. In fact, I came away from the show thinking that in a slightly altered universe, Turner could have been a Texan. The ferocious clouds the lifelong Londoner dangles above cowering people evoke the feeling, if not the geography, of Texas, and his canvases, like many things in the longhorn state, are applauded for the

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  • Books

    Time Transfixed

    Searching for Magritte in a Magritte-filled world

    MAGRITTE: A LIFE, BY ALEX DANCHEV, WITH SARAH WHITFIELD. New York, New York: Pantheon, 2021. 480 pages.

    “RENÉ MAGRITTE is the single most significant purveyor of images to the modern world.” Such is the bold claim that launches Alex Danchev’s biography of the painter. Danchev, who died before completing the volume, goes on to name Magritte’s many collectors and admirers, a list that includes Jeff Koons, Yoko Ono, Paul McCartney, and John Berger, as well as highlighting his role in bringing “the frisson of the surreal to Madison Avenue.” It is a small irony, then, that the work of an artist who,

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  • Diary

    First Words

    The Poetry Project’s New Year’s tradition perseveres

    IT WAS IMPORTANT TO ME to be there for it all: the Poetry Project’s Forty-Eighth Annual New Year’s Day Marathon reading. Beginning at 11 a.m. and ending just after midnight, the fundraiser is my favorite New York City tradition, a sentiment echoed by many of the more than hundred and sixty poets who performed remotely over the course of the day on January 1, 2022. The Poetry Project—an institution by and for poets predicated on the virtue of nonhierarchical community-building—has been around since 1966, offering readings, lectures, workshops, and intergenerational mentorship to emerging writers.

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  • Passages

    Billy Apple (1935–2021)

    Thomas Crow on Billy Apple

    THOUGH HE WAS much else besides, Billy Apple had a convincing claim to have been the consummate artist of Pop, the one who pursued its implications so thoroughly as to have achieved escape velocity from the category altogether. His career stands as a corrective to recent attempts to internationalize Pop by multiplying local scenes across the globe. Like his peers Öyvind Fahlström, Richard Smith, Mario Schifano, and Hélio Oiticica, Apple defied parochialism by moving from his place of origin to and from London or New York, those magnets of maximum stimulus and information. At twenty-four, still

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  • Passages

    Margo Leavin (1936–2021)

    Allen Ruppersberg on Margo Leavin

    IT IS A FORMIDABLE TASK to write of Margo Leavin in the past tense, as she was always a grand presence when she was still among us. Whether ensconced—along with her partner, Wendy Brandow—at the Margo Leavin Gallery at the end of Robertson Boulevard in West Hollywood or moving in art circles around the world, she was always that same Margo we all knew. A rare figure who was feared and loved, courted and consulted, competitive and generous, she was not, whether friend or foe, one to be ignored.

    So I find it difficult to believe that I can’t call her to check in on things, as friends do, to make

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  • Film

    Sleepless Nights

    Amy Taubin on Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Memoria

    FIRST, WE SEE A ROOM. It is dark, too dark to make out details or even the colors hinted at in various shades of gray. There seems to be a bed and perhaps a person asleep under the covers. Just when your eyes are intent on the little that can be seen, you hear—could it be?—a sonic boom, a sound so loud and dense that it vibrates through your entire body. When we say a film is kinetic, we are usually describing the effect of its images on the viewer. But the kineticism of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Memoria is auditory. So overwhelming is its impact that it would be ridiculous to say we watched

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  • Film

    Missing Men

    Anna Shechtman and D. A. Miller on Pedro Almodóvar’s Parallel Mothers

    A SOCIAL ANTHROPOLOGY of Almodóvar country would duly remark the profusion of single mothers and sisterly subcultures. The most obvious explanation for this phenomenon is the no less abundant population of bad men: fathers who rape, batter, walk out, or otherwise abdicate the paternal function, as psychoanalyst D. W. Winnicott called it, of protecting maternity. In Parallel Mothers, Almodóvar’s latest film, Ana (Milena Smit), for instance, is pregnant with a child conceived in a sexual assault involving multiple men. Whoever sired her little Anita will not be coming forward, even if intimidated

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