Carter Ratcliff

  • John Elderfield with Penetrable by Jesús Soto, Museo de Arte Moderna Jesús Soto, Ciudad Bolivar, Venezuela 1999.

    John Elderfield

    IN MARCH JOHN ELDERFIELD was appointed chief curator of the Department of Painting and Sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. He succeeds Kirk Varnedoe, who left the post (often called the most powerful in the art world) to join the faculty of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, in 2001 [see Artforum, January 2002]. Elderfield has held various curatorial positions at the museum since 1975; his most recent, chief curator at large, will now be occupied by another long-time MoMA curator, Kynaston McShine. Fourth in a line of staunch modernists—Varnedoe’s predecessors

  • James Rosenquist, Car Touch, 1966, oil on two shaped canvases, 88 x 74” overall.

    James Rosenquist

    As an art student at the University of Minnesota, James Rosenquist found work painting grain elevators and storage tanks. He also learned the billboard painter’s trade and later, as a Pop artist, made art of images scaled up to the hypervisibility of the signage along America’s highways and in its big cities. Soon after his first show at New York’s Green Gallery, in 1962, Rosenquist emerged as the sole practitioner of what might be called the Times Square sublime—in contrast to the abstract sublime of Jackson Pollock and Barnett Newman.

    Organized by Walter Hopps and Sarah Bancroft, the Houston

  • Leon Polk Smith

    LEON POLK SMITH was born in what was then known as Indian Territory and a year later, in 1907, as Oklahoma. Both his parents were part Cherokee, and many of their neighbors were Chickasaws and Choctaws. Smith was to speak with warmth about the Native American stories, songs, and rituals he learned as a child. His heritage would put him at odds neither with contemporary America nor with Modernism; in fact the spirituality of the Native Americans, he felt, attuned him to the present and its possibilities.

    Attending Oklahoma State College as a young man, Smith passed an open door that showed him an

  • New World Order

    NEAR THE BEGINNING OF “Willem de Kooning: Paintings” are the pictures of seated women the artist painted in the early ’40s. Made with delicate, muscular lines and hot colors, these images show the artist’s elegance, his knack for the flattening and slippage of forms, and the high-flash sexiness that de Kooning, a Calvinist born in 1904, was happy to call “vulgar” but that nowadays looks like standard urban allure.1 The stylistic sources of these imaginary portraits were no mystery, especially not to him. In the catalogue of the show, which debuted earlier this year at the National Gallery of


    JEFF KOONS HAS DISPLACED much from the larger world to the world of art—objects and the forms of objects, images, and genres of narrative. Among his displaced objects are basketballs and vacuum cleaners. The forms he has displaced include that of a toy rabbit, which was made of inflatable plastic when he found it. To present this form in the art world, he cast it in stainless steel. Having found other forms in kitsch statuettes of various sorts, he has had them reproduced with meticulous care, often at enormous size. Thus a small ceramic figure of a bathing woman becomes larger than life. With


    FASHION IS EPHEMERAL. Those who are concerned with fashion have a motive to deny this, to say, no, you don’t understand: of course it is true that clothes are different every year, for it is only through change that standards can be maintained; only shifting restlessly, alert to the world’s alterations, can the ideal of timeless elegance manifest itself in the new season, now, at this instant. Those who are concerned with fashion also have reason to agree that it is ephemeral, to say, yes, how could it be otherwise: of course clothes have a fresh look each year, for only by renewing itself can


    This week’s newsletter features poet and critic Carter Ratcliff’s “Longo’s Logos,” an essay on Robert Longo that appeared in the January 1990 issue of Artforum. For the magazine’s October issue—out now—writer, curator, and contributing editor Tim Griffin muses on the artist’s recent charcoal drawings in “More Real Than Real: On the Art of Robert Longo.

    According to Carter Ratcliff, whatever power an artist has to critique commercial institutions resides, to a degree, in their embracing their status as an institution themselves. This dictum is the launching point for Ratcliff’s “Longo’s Logos,”


    “THE DANDY,” WROTE THE English belle-lettrist Cyril Connolly, “is but the larval form of a bore.”1 He registered this opinion in 1960, after England had weathered two world wars and, four years earlier, had watched its last grand imperial gesture end in fiasco at Suez. Connolly believed that an England bereft of empire must now make itself felt in the world chiefly as a civilizing example; a new sort of authority would have to be claimed, a gracious prestige that excessive affectation would undermine. In the political circumstances of Britain in 1960, to charge the dandy with incipient tediousness

  • James Bishop: Remembering How to See

    IN RECENT SEASONS, JAMES BISHOP has painted on smallish pieces of paper, usually eight inches by ten, though he sometimes works on a sheet eight inches square. Never does the image look squared away: faint blues and luminous grays arrange themselves to suggest architectural ascension, a structured upwardness. Pencil lines reinforce these suggestions with stepped and peaked forms—terse hieroglyphs for house or tower. This vertical tendency (for it refuses to become a definite policy) is new in Bishop’s art. From the late ’60s to the early ’80s he built nearly all his images from the halves and

  • The Adventure of the Third Essay

    This is the third of a series of articles on sight. The first, “Bagpipes on the Shore,” was published in October 1986; the second, “I Like the Free World,” in February 1987.

    AN UNKNOWN PARTY HAS KIDNAPPED the Duke of Holdernesse’s only son. At the desperate urgings of the boy’s headmaster, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson rush north from London to “the cold bracing atmosphere of the Peak country”—the “Hallamshire” uplands where the crime took place. After a preliminary reconnaissance of the grounds where the boy was last seen, Holmes examines “a large ordnance map of the neighbourhood.” Placing a


    This is the second in a series of articles on sight. The first, “Bagpipes on the Shore,” was published in October 1986.

    STEREOTYPE CAN’T MAKE UP its mind about Brazil. The paintings of Frans Post exhibit analogous uncertainties. In 1637 Count Johann Maurits of Nassau-Siegen, newly appointed governor of the Dutch colony in Brazil, included Post in the contingent of artists and scientists he brought with him to the New World. Post left seven years later. In country, he saw Brazil as an underfurnished immensity, a new world with the look of a nonworld. Back in the Netherlands, he remembered Brazil


    TOURISM IS A MONUMENT’S best preservative. In 1722, Jonathan Richardson reported to the London public that for ten hours he had lingered in the Florentine Tribuna, unable to take his eyes off the Venus de’ Medici. Decades later, British tourists still felt obliged to let the statue overwhelm their sensibilities. In his travel journal the historian Edward Gibbon said this Venus belongs “among the small number of objects able to surpass one’s most fervent hopes. From the cradle I had heard tell of the Venus de’ Medici; books, conversation, prints and models have put it before my eyes a thousand