Darby English

  • Jasper Johns, Figure 2, 1962, encaustic, oil, chalk, and collage on canvas, 50 1⁄4 × 40 1⁄8". © Jasper Johns/Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.


    THE MIND ALREADY KNOWS 2, but not this 2. This one’s unfamiliar—at variance with the 2 I already know—and so not particularly well seen by my most ready-to-hand ideas: so many automatic thoughts about 2, two, gray, portrayal, painting, and more. Johns’s clear, obtuse construction shows a natural number turned out in flamboyantly scuzzy typographical uniform, sporting seven colors plus a range of grays and the beige of peeking canvas. Seductively, emphatically, Johns blends content and pure painting, casually reconciling an exaggerated division. We associate 2s in this particular typographic

  • Kara Walker, untitled, 1997–99, watercolor and ink on paper, 10 1⁄4 × 7 1⁄8". From the thirteen-part suite Untitled, 1997–99.

    BEST SHOWS OF 2021

    KARA WALKER’S TRADEMARK SILHOUETTES are as opaque as the irreducible differences that put the politics in difference. The artist is equally adept at eliciting responses to both. Indeed, Walker’s manifold contribution includes the crises of category irreducible difference typically instigates. An engaged observer is exposed to projections that seem to issue from Walker’s personality at force. So many are the quirks in play that some find the work impenetrable, that it pushes too much other-than-me substance to merit Walker a place under a shared sign. Which is fair. But when an observer’s resistance


    BY THE TIME I MET DOUGLAS CRIMP, he had earned his fame several times over. It was easy to find him daunting in the real. He was formidably tall, handsome, cerebral, clear-eyed, and never low on fuel. But Douglas was also gentle, openhanded, and powered by curiosity; he found it utterly crucial to relate to you. You got used to Douglas’s kind of care, which truly makes room for others and sustains a genuine presence to them no matter how perfunctory the occasion. He really just thrived in friendship, inhabiting it with lenient intensity. A lot of people feel close to Douglas because Douglas was

  • Darby English

    Summer is the season for foreground music, when our desire for melodic accompaniment is on spectacular display. It cradles the widely held conviction, astutely explored by Barry Shank in The Political Force of Musical Beauty (Duke University Press), that the word song does rotten justice to certain units of musical experience. As, for instance, when some tune, in the process of unfolding itself, appears at once to exist for us alone and to matter beyond measure. It can happen in a club or a car or a chair. Such an experience’s apparent privacy can make its “political force”—Shank’s apposite