Andrew Solomon

  • “The Third Mind”

    UNTIL SURPRISINGLY RECENTLY, conventional wisdom held that anything from the East that resembled contemporary work produced in the West was derivative, and yet anything that didn’t resemble work produced in the West was unsophisticated and naive. Alexandra Munroe’s “Scream Against the Sky: Japanese Art After 1945,” at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in 1994, was one of the first major museum shows in New York to correct that perception. Even the New York Times expressed wonderment that “[a]nyone who regards contemporary Japanese art as a watered-down version of Western modernism has a surprise

  • Andrew Solomon on Ballets Russes

    THE THREE BALLET companies that emerged following Diaghilev’s death in 1929 and the subsequent dissolution of his legendary Ballet Russe were the greatest dance troupes in the world in their day, and all contemporary ballet owes them a debt. From the 1930s to the 1960s, they were a nexus of splendid dancing; of magnificent choreography, by Léonide Massine, George Balanchine, David Lichine, and others; and of fantastic spectacle, including costumes and scenery by such distinguished artists as Matisse and Dalí. The first of these companies, the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, took the best exiled

  • Andrew Solomon on Frank Moore

    THE WHOLE TIME I KNEW FRANK MOORE, he was dying; but this made his actual death, at the age of forty-eight, even more shocking than it would otherwise have been. Frank’s characteristic state of hovering transition seemed permanent: As clearly as I believed that Frank would never be well, I believed that he would never die. He came so close to dying so many times and always managed to pull back: Deathbeds were places he visited the way the rest of us visit sleep. Like Evel Knievel, he stayed alive against the odds, almost ostentatiously, as though he believed death could be defied through pure

  • “China: 5,000 Years”

    It isn’t easy to mount a terrible show in which each piece of art is absolutely fantastic. But until one has confronted the reality of “China: 5,000 Years,” one cannot imagine either how good the material or how bad every curatorial decision (assuming that there were some curatorial decisions) could be. There are some successes here: the museum staff have done an able job, for example, with the lighting of the show; and no fair-minded review could skip mention of the handsome display cases made specifically for the exhibition. It’s a shame, though, that “China: 5,000 Years” is incoherent,

  • DOT DOT DOT: THE LIFEWORK OF YAYOI KUSAMA

    IN 1968 YAYOI KUSUMA’S CELEBRITY RIVALED EVEN ANDY WARHOL’S. BUT WITH THE DEATH OF CLOSE FRIEND JOSEPH CORNELL, FOLLOWED LESS THAN TWO YEARS LATER BY THAT OF HER FATHER, THE MENTAL PROBLEMS SHE HAD LONG BATTLED BECAME UNMANAGEABLE, AND SHE OPTED FOR THE SILENCE OF A TOKYO PSYCHIATRIC HOSPITAL. WITH TWO MAJOR NEW YORK GALLERY SHOWS IN THE PAST YEAR AND AN EXHIBITION SCHEDULED FOR 1998 AT LACMA, HER RETURN TO THE SPOTLIGHT IS COMPLETE. ANDREW SOLOMON MET WITH THE ARTIST AS SHE OPENED HER CURRENT INSTALLATION AT THE MATTRESS FACTORY IN PITTSBURGH, TO ASK HER ABOUT HER ART AND THE LIFE IT HAS TRANSFORMED.

    I WAS SURPRISED BUT DELIGHTED that Yayoi Kusama came to meet me at the Pittsburgh airport. It made for a large group: Kusama; her two assistants; the curator of the Mattress Factory, who was driving; a translator. They were right at the gate when I stepped off the plane. There was no mistaking Kusama. Tiny, old, dressed in a red embroidered silk jacket, loose trousers, and sneakers, her long black hair free-falling down her back, she stood surrounded by attendants like some marvelous glass ornament enveloped by protective cotton. Of her original beauty, the most striking remnant is her eyes,

  • Günther Förg

    Günther Förg’s photos of Moscow are very, very beautiful. This comes as no surprise vis-à-vis Förg, but is really quite astonishing vis-à-vis Moscow. In a sort of frieze comprising 31 large black and white prints, Förg represents some of the great buildings constructed in that city during the idealist ’20s and ’30s. We’ve seen many tributes to the great utopia since the decay of the Soviet state liberated us to speak of this work with admiration, and without anxiety about its political implications, but fortunately this show moves beyond that paradigm.

    The rather illiterate press release states

  • Frank Moore

    In “Days of 1964” the poet James Merrill wrote: “I hoped it would climb when it needed to the heights/Even of degradation, as I for one/Seemed, those days, to be always climbing/Into a world of wild/Flowers, feasting, tears—or was I falling, legs/Buckling, heights, depths/Into a pool of each night’s rain?” Like Merrill, Frank Moore seems to be unsure of when he is rising and when he is falling; hovering tentatively in the same electric, soul-wrenching, longed-for space of pending despair. Moore’s recent work shares the passionate engagement, richness of experience, and technical self-assurance

  • “Moscow in New York: The Third Lomographic Happening”

    “Moscow in New York: The Third Lomographic Happening” sounded like it was going to be a hot ticket, and that’s why I went. I mean, partly it’s just that noun, “Lomographic,” one of those words that seems to have come into being just so you can sound hip when you use it. Plus, the show was not just work by a bunch of people who use Lomography; it was put on by the Lomographic Society. What could be more seductive? Can you think of anything you’d like more than to be able to say, offhand: “Hey, I’m a member of the Lomographic Society, so don’t try anything.” Or: “I can’t make a plan for Thursday

  • Oleg Vassiliev; Erik Bulatov

    The work of Erik Bulatov and Oleg Vassiliev lost much of its urgency with the dawn of freedom; the moral impetus that had been its primary interest in the pre-Glasnost period seemed to give way, post-1988, to self-conscious formalism. It was as if only their impeccable technique could hold onto viewers uninterested in and unacquainted with the difficult circumstances their art had previously resisted. As those Soviet structures disappeared, Bulatov became often banal, and Vassiliev, kitschy and sentimental. Both artists settled in the West—Bulatov in Paris, Vassiliev in New York—and there seemed

  • Komar and Melamid

    It’s all very Russian. The work for which Komar and Melamid became famous was about the frightening absurdity of the Soviet system, and was directed toward the dismantling of that system. Now that the system has been dismantled, Komar and Melamid are the kings of nostalgia, ardent for the very sorrows that once gave them a claim to tragedy. Like all victims of child abuse, Russians are paralyzed by the loss of the abusive parent—not simply because that abusive parent defined their lives, but also because (nature is perverse) they loved that parent with a depth of emotion obscure to nationals of

  • THE NEW RUSSIAN MONEY

    THE UNOFFICIAL ART MOVEMENT of the old Soviet Union was formed by an absence of market. Artists within the restricted circle of the vanguard produced artworks and showed them to each other; the work conformed to no external esthetic standards, since it wasn’t going to be sold, and it was made without much concern for an audience, since its only viewers would be personally acquainted with the artists and their circumstances. Glasnost changed all that. The international boom in Russian art meant that the artists of Moscow and Leningrad could exhibit their work across the West, and sell it to the

  • Andrew Solomon

    THE NAME OF S. Y. KOCHELEV often comes up in discussions of Kasimir Malevich, Wassily Kandinsky, and Marc Chagall, with all of whom he had close friendships. But the difficulties posed by the provisions of his will, which place all his studio pictures in the collection of the Barnaul Museum of Art and Natural History—Barnaul, a mining town of half a million or so, is 110 miles south of Novosibirsk—have made exhibitions of his work infrequent in the West. There can be little question, however, that Kochelev was the real visionary of postrevolutionary Russia.There is no room here to

  • Les Célébrités

    ANDY WARHOL FORCED US to come to terms with the principle of the artist as celebrity, with the notion that people paint as much to become famous as to communicate the insights that stir their souls. What Andy could not have predicted, however, Is the more recent principle of the celebrity as artist, of people becoming famous in order to show their art as much as to be hailed in the streets. In the last few years In New York, we have seen David Lynch exhibited at Castelli Graphics and Dennis Hopper at Shafrazi. Work by Jerry Garcia, of the Grateful Dead, has materialized on Spring Street. Diane

  • The Art of Perestroika Part II

    THE FIRST CHANGE WROUGHT BY perestroika in the lives of Soviet artists was an expansion of the audience for their work. That audience has come to include an apparently endless influx of Western critics, curators, gallery dealers, and collectors eager to examine, criticize, and respond to work originally intended to transmit coded communications. But, whereas it was comparatively easy for artists to negotiate the situation on their home turf, it is virtually impossible for them to sustain that dialectic now that they are traveling to countries in which secrecy itself is not a priority, in which

  • Bookbinding

    ABSTRACTION REDEEMS OBVIATED forms. So the new kinds of painting that emerged at the end of the 19th century were devoted to proving wrong Paul Delaroche’s famous assertion upon seeing a daguerreotype that “From this day on, painting is dead.” More utilitarian forms than representational figuration passed unmourned with the era of the Industrial Revolution. The carriage gave way to the automobile, the wood-burning stove to the oven, the quill to the ballpoint, with, Luddites notwithstanding, only gestural nostalgia or inexpedient sentimentality. But our post-Modern era mourns its own passing as

  • The Art of Perestroika

    IN THE LAST EIGHTEEN MONTHS, the situation of the Soviet avant-garde has undergone a significant transformation. Perestroika—the political and economic restructuring—has freed Soviet artists to exploit the many ways in which their situation remains unchanged, as they practice their dangerous and humorous elusions not only on the ministry of culture and its official adherents, and on one another, but now on the Western critics, curators, and buyers who are currently invading Moscow as well. What is most impressive is that the art’s change in disguise—from a seeming absence of meaning to a seeming

  • Something Borrowed, Something Bloom

    THAT OUR HISTORICIST ERA is also an estheticist era, one in which sheer attractiveness often seems to reign both in art and in the mundane, has considerable bearing on the apparent fact that ours is above all a synthetic era, one in which the greatest art is merz art—a matter of wittingly random collages. The return to the past can seem to be a way of giving up on the future, and it can have the chilling quality that the most seductively popular nostalgic things always have. But the 1980s’ self-conscious preoccupation with the past—manifested in the manic borrowings of both “high” and popular

  • Missing sign language.

    VISITORS TO MANY OF the rooms on the first floor and mezzanine of the Lila Acheson Wallace Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, a wing built to contain art of the 20th century, will find on the walls short paragraphs in large type, usually offering some biographical information about the artists represented, a brief guide to the emotions that the work of those artists has been held to engender, and, sometimes, a history of the museum’s acquisition of the works shown. But at this date—five months after the opening–they will also find on the first floor two conspicuous rectangles of