Dan Nadel

  • William T. Wiley, 1966. Photographer unknown.
    passages May 10, 2021

    William T. Wiley (1937–2021)

    LOVING WHATEVER IT IS that you clutch to your chest and call “art” means taking some care of the culture around that word and its objects. It’s a positive gesture to some kind of eternity. It means you love the making of things, and you do not fear those things, nor fear or resent the artist who makes the things you don’t understand. You care for the artist who passively refuses to take part in whatever culture he deems damaging to his mind or spiritual well-being. These are the ways I want to love and the ways I believe in William T. Wiley, who died on April 25. I first met Bill Wiley in early

  • Philip Guston, If This Be Not I, 1945, oil on canvas, 42 1/4 × 55 1/4". © The Estate of Philip Guston.

    Now You See Me

    TO BE A JEW in twentieth-century America was to be an outsider. We Jews gathered in temples and schools, we bought properties, physical and intellectual, to maintain control of our environments. We formed our own magazines. We exploited ourselves and others. Ashkenazi Jews can pass as non-Jewish when it suits us, or Jewish again when we wish to be “chosen.” And when blame is to be assigned, or walls erected, we can once again pass or not pass depending on the ideological needs of the times. The tension inherent in assimilation and rejection, donning and discarding a mask, is at the center of

  • Robert Williams, Death on the Boards, 1992, oil on canvas, 60 × 84".

    FAST COMPANY

    Robert Williams: The Father of Exponential Imagination, by Robert Williams. Seattle: Fantagraphics, 2019. 484 pages.

    THERE’S NO SUCH THING as a “popular imagination,” but some artists do access and describe localized dreamworlds comprising popular icons, histories, and lore shared if not by an entire populace then by sizable groups. Robert Williams is one such mythologist, his devotion to the arcana of twentieth-century culture suffusing narrative paintings indebted as much to 1950s Benzedrine-powered cartooning as to classicism. Like other practitioners of a hyperbolic figuration whose perversions

  • HUMANLY POSSIBLE

    IT’S 1970 and William T. Wiley, up in Marin County, California, underneath a canopy of trees by a spindly creek, writes to H. C. Westermann:

    I’ve been working and bumming around—spooking myself. Me and the dog and the Iguana. I guess I’ll walk down to the post office mail this letter and then out to the studio and see if there are any miracles to wrestle with. Or maybe I’ll just hang around the stage door and congratulate the winners. Nothing to lose.1 

    Wiley was referring to his own work space, his theater of creation. Painter Baffles and Excess in California, 1969, is one of his numerous

  • View of “Hairy Who? 1966–1969,” 2018–19. Center: Jim Nutt, Miss E. Knows, 1967.

    “Hairy Who? 1966–1969”

    THE STORY GOES LIKE THIS: In 1966, friends and recent School of the Art Institute of Chicago graduates Jim Falconer and Jim Nutt approached Don Baum, director of the Hyde Park Art Center, about mounting a series of small group exhibitions featuring young artists. The first of these, “Hairy Who,” comprising works by Falconer, Nutt, Art Green, Gladys Nilsson, Suellen Rocca, and, at Baum’s suggestion, Karl Wirsum, opened later that year. Swiftly embraced by local and national critics, the exhibition announced an open, nondogmatic mode of artmaking, materially polymorphous and engaged with, but not

  • HUMAN NATURE

    ATTEMPTING TO RENDER what it is to be human is an absurd task, which makes it all the more urgent. We are long past the postwar afterglow of the “Family of Man” and other ultimately exclusionary attempts at unity. To know that and yet to pursue unironic ideas about our collective condition—despite all current political, social, and theoretical factors—is a profound act of faith in art. The artists Ellen Berkenblit, Carroll Dunham, Sarah Peters, and Kyle Staver are creating internally consistent speculative spaces in which to explore and, possibly, recuperate the idea that art is capable

  • “HAIRY WHO? 1966–1969”

    The Hairy Who, a self-styled group of six graduates from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago—Jim Falconer, Art Green, Gladys Nilsson, Jim Nutt, Suellen Rocca, and Karl Wirsum—mounted six exhibitions between 1966 and 1969 (three in Chicago and one each in San Francisco, New York, and Washington, DC). These were highly sophisticated, skilled, and stubbornly independent artists who prioritized language building and imaginative invention to produce primarily figurative work that delved into sex, ecstatic states, class structures,

  • Christina Ramberg, Untitled (Two Women), ca. 1968, felt-tip pen on paper, 3 1/2 × 3 1/4". © Estate of Christina Ramberg.

    HOW WOULD A COMB THAT CANNOT UNTANGLE HAIR LOOK?: THE ART OF CHRISTINA RAMBERG

    HAIR, URNS, AND THE BODY as sexualized object were where Christina Ramberg (1946–1995) began, and they are still what she is best known for. After nearly two decades of making paintings and drawings depicting heads, hands, and torsos, she rigorously pursued quiltmaking, and then created a final group of architectonic abstract paintings a decade before her life was cut short by a debilitating neurodegenerative disease. Throughout, her work is characterized by a fierce attention to structural integrity and an unflinching exploration of the female body, first as a subject of fetishistic fascination

  • Michael Williams, PuzzledDAD series (5), 2016, oil and acrylic on linen, 36 × 48". From the series “PuzzledDAD series,” 2015–16.

    LUCK OF THE DRAW: THE ART OF MICHAEL WILLIAMS

    ONE OF THE BETTER DESCRIPTIONS of Michael Williams’s vision of painting comes from the artist himself. At the end of a fairly exhausting studio visit earlier this year, I asked him whether he had faith in a grand notion of art—something to which most artists decidedly would not admit. He replied:

    I do have a great belief in art, but I’m not as in touch with that as I was when I was thirteen. There is something mystical about making art and paintings. Alone in the studio making a painting can be a strange time. Moving around weirdly, doing weird things. I like the idea of being more purposeful.

  • Joe Bradley, Mother and Child, 2016, oil on canvas, 83 × 101".

    CLOSE-UP: SCRAWL SPACE

    THREE RECTANGLES of blue, yellow, and black underpin Joe Bradley’s Mother and Child, 2016. In the top left corner of the painting, a yellow crescent is crowned, or perhaps being eclipsed, by a great gray disc, and strokes of red shore up the circular forms. This might feel like familiar modernist territory. But look closer: Weirdness seeps in.

    At the far left edge of the canvas, a violence of red and black strikes a patch of tan. In the center, a single red stroke obscures a second yellow crescent. Blurts of green intrude into the blue, as does a substratum of yellow, which lurks in the blue and