David O’Neill

  • Peter Saul, Untitled, 1966, acrylic, oil, and metallic paint on canvas, 75 1/4 × 69 1/4".

    Peter Saul

    Peter Saul remembers listening to the electrocution of American scapegoat Ethel Rosenberg live on the radio. This would have been 1953, when he was eighteen. According to the artist, the reporter became “completely unhinged,” shouting, “Her hair is on fire! Her hair is on fire!” Sadly for Saul, his parents made him switch off the broadcast, leaving him to forever imagine what followed. This possibly apocryphal origin story goes a long way toward explaining Saul’s work: He’s been envisioning the depth of the country’s depravity ever since and has never lost a sense of our zeal for public suffering.

  • E. J. Bellocq, Storyville Portrait, ca. 1912, printing-out-paper print, 10 × 8".

    E. J. Bellocq

    Legend and rumor grow like weeds around the enigmatic photographer E. J. Bellocq (1873–1949). His beat was Storyville in New Orleans, a locale that spawns the tallest tales. The photo don John Szarkowski once described him as a “hydrocephalic semi-dwarf”; he was also said to be an outcast, one with a cone-shaped head and a high-pitched voice. He loved “high-class” brothels and made what Nan Goldin has called “among the most profound and beautiful portraits of prostitutes ever taken.” Bellocq captured these women circa 1912—in their gaudy rooms or outdoors, sometimes tenderly holding a pet—with

  • David Byrd, Auctioneer, 1970, oil on canvas, 34 × 28". White Columns.

    David Byrd

    For most of his life, the painter David Byrd (1926–2013) was known not as an artist but as a hospital orderly. After serving in World War II, he worked odd jobs before settling in at the Veterans Administration facility in Montrose, New York, laboring there for thirty years before retiring to paint full-time in 1988. In 2012, Byrd’s art was discovered by a neighbor. He was eighty-six years old and had only a year left to live. A 2013 exhibition at the Greg Kucera Gallery in Seattle was the first step in the familiar choreography for a so-called outsider artist striding to prominence. Byrd was

  • Alfredo Camisa, The Sickle, 1955, gelatin silver print, 23 3⁄8 × 19 5⁄8". From “NeoRealismo: The New Image in Italy, 1932–1960.”

    “NeoRealismo: The New Image in Italy, 1932–1960”

    The word realism conjures the everyday, the unfussy, the small. But what’s real when the world has gone mad? It’s a question that gripped Italian photographers, directors, journalists, and writers around World War II and is surely worth asking again. This exhibition heralds artists who captured quotidian life in an era of daily shocks. With a street-level perspective on poverty and labor in the shadow of war, Neorealism became synonymous with Italian cinema’s golden age. If you’ve seen Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves (1948), you’ll know in part what to expect from the Grey Art Gallery’s survey

  • Paul Holdengräber, the director of LIVE from the NYPL, and author George Saunders in discussion on May 2, 2018 at the New York Public Library. All photos: Sarah Stacke / New York Public Library.
    diary May 09, 2018

    The Empathy Exam

    “IT’S SO EASY TO LAUGH, it’s so easy to hate. It takes guts to be gentle and kind.” These lyrics from my earnest misspent youth dogged me the night of May 2 as I listened to a conversation between the New York Public Library’s leading interlocutor, Paul Holdengräber, and author George Saunders, whose batty 2017 novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, recently won the Man Booker Prize. The refrain bothered me: Morrissey had once been a hero of mine but is now just a walking alt-right-wing meme. The hypocrisy enraged me, though I thought I shouldn’t care.

    The idea of brave compassion, and the doubtful questions