Max Kozloff

  • A DOUBLE PORTRAIT OF CECIL BEATON

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    Edgar Degas once chafed James McNeill Whistler, who wore a cape and sported a monocle, by saying, “My dear friend, you

    dress as if you had no talent? Cecil Beaton adopted a similar pose during a career that enabled him to photograph Lillie

    Langtry in the beginning and Mick Jagger at the end. Unquestionably an artist of special refinement, he posed almost

    fatally as one who was ”artistic? The pose has kept his name alive as a character who played various hothouse scenes in

    Mayfair, Hollywood, and among the Manhattan and Palm Springs hoi polloi of the Depression '30s. The summer's immense

  • A DOUBLE PORTRAIT OF CECIL BEATON

    EDGAR DEGAS ONCE CHAFED James McNeill Whistler, who wore a cape and sported a monocle, by saying, “My dear friend, you dress as if you had no talent.” Cecil Beaton adopted a similar pose during a career that enabled him to photograph Lillie Langtry in the beginning and Mick Jagger at the end. Unquestionably an artist of special refinement, he posed almost fatally as one who was ”artistic.” The pose has kept his name alive as a character who played various hothouse scenes in Mayfair, Hollywood, and among the Manhattan and Palm Springs hoi polloi of the Depression ’30s. The summer’s immense Beaton

  • Max Kozloff on Umberto Eco

    COLUMNS|Books|4

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    Travels in Hyperreality, by Umberto Eco, trans. William Weaver, San Diego, New York, and London: Harcourt Brace

    Jovanovich, 1986, 307 pp., $15.95.

    Concerned with reincarnations, second guesses, unreasonable facsimiles, aftereffects, and mimicries, Umberto Eco is

    appropriately named. This professional distinguisher of signs from their signifieds readily admits that he practices

    semiotics, but the practice shouldn't frighten anyone and he would still do it “if it were called something else.” In

    this collection of essays he originally wrote for an Italian newspaper and magazine public, Eco gets

  • Umberto Eco

    Umberto Eco, Travels in Hyperreality trans. William Weaver (San Diego, New York, and London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1986), 307 pages.

    CONCERNED WITH REINCARNATIONS, SECOND GUESSES, unreasonable facsimiles, aftereffects, and mimicries, Umberto Eco is appropriately named. This professional distinguisher of signs from their signifieds readily admits that he practices semiotics, but the practice shouldn’t frighten anyone and he would still do it “if it were called something else” In this collection of essays he originally wrote for an Italian newspaper and magazine public, Eco gets involved with

  • THROUGH THE NARRATIVE PORTAL

    Our mind is a moving scene, which we are perpetually copying.

    —Denis Diderot

    AS ARTISTIC TRADITIONS GO, the Modernist belief in the autonomy of the work of art was of short standing but had a strong grip. No one over 40 has any trouble remembering the strictures against narrative painting; such bans on external references ruled the non-discursive arts in the mid century, seemingly unbudgeable rocks of purist principle. The serious Modernist could make signs and evoke symbolic meanings, but was prohibited from regressing so far as to tell a story. Here were strategies and gestures that asserted

  • FORUM

    ART CRITICISM HAS LONG BEEN programmatically under fire from its enemies and it has just now been dealt a setback by its supposed friends. I’ve often complained of criticism too, but it is the best instrument we have for reflecting upon the experience of art in modern culture. The critic is the individual who assesses the ideas, responds to the artistic processing, and monitors the feeling tones of the created work, in public, and for the record.

    Criticism is accomplished through great internal disputes, using sensitized language in which the allusive character and the value systems of works of

  • CONTENTION BETWEEN TWO CRITICS ABOUT A DISAGREEABLE BEAUTY

    Critic 1: It seems that we’re slated to disagree again. We just came away from a session with Joel Peter Witkin’s photographs, but it’s as if we had been at a movie, and as we left, looking into each other’s face, I saw in yours the wrong expression. I’m dumbfounded that you’re able to smile.

    Critic 2: I know what you mean about the movie, because I’ve often sauntered out from one with friends and been astonished, in the light, that they were frowning. So many feuds start out that way, with a flick. Just when you think you know a person very well, it turns out that you don’t, especially when it

  • ROBERT DOISNEAU’S OBLIQUE REGARD

    “THE MAN WHO FEELS,” said Horace Walpole in a celebrated mot, “will see life as a tragedy; the man who thinks will view it as a comedy.” We’re discouraged from analyzing comedy because rational words seem always to trail behind and to betray the spirit of the subject. If Walpole was right, though, there may be an element of calculated reason that aids a comic view, a slow process that nourishes a fast humor.

    What if it’s said: “We think, therefore we must eventually laugh”? Thought can introduce us to the comic because it comprehends how often the vanities of the ego can be tripped up by the

  • THE EXTRAVAGANT DEPRESSION: JOHN GUTMANN’S PHOTOGRAPHS OF THE THIRTIES

    MEMORY, SAYS THE DICTIONARY, is “the mental capacity or faculty of retaining and reviving impressions or of recalling or recognizing previous experiences.” To aid memory, an aggregate of photographs can hold up to view images not only of separate people, now gone, but of whole cultural periods. Receding into history, a culture—the sum of the arrangements by which a society manifests itself—leaves behind artifacts such as words, objects, and images, which survive in a progressively alienated and disorderly state. What lives on in human memory of cultures is a composite of ideas which such remnants

  • Nicaragua, Falkland Road, and Rajasthan

    WHILE IT CONVEYS INTIMATE DETAILS of a revolution, and therefore of a historical event, Susan Meiselas’ Nicaragua should not be treated as any kind of historical analysis. The book has been criticized for deciphering less about an event or a situation than a 60-second television news report, but this is fatuous. Whatever a book of still photos can tell its readers and viewers is clearly not of the same order of experience as a television broadcast. While such a book does not attempt to fill in the gaps between occurrences, it does impart their flavor and mood. If it doesn’t furnish corporate

  • The Awning That Flapped in the Breeze and the Bodies That Littered the Field: “Painting and the Invention of Photography”

    Q. Who do you really believe was present at that Supper?

    A. I believe one would find Christ with his Apostles. But if in a picture there is some space to spare I enrich it with figures according to the stories.

    from the trial of Paolo Veronese before the

    Holy Tribunal, Venice, July 18, 1573

    ONE OF THE WAYS WE recognize a picture as a photograph is by its unimaginable reserves of micro-data. its readiness to provide for unperceived event, its “space to spare.” Packing in more discriminated material than is needed for any story, the photograph offers an over-abundance of particulars—images of things

  • William Klein and the Radioactive Fifties

    THE PHOTOGRAPHER WILLIAM KLEIN had initially been a painter embroiled in experimental Parisian abstraction of the ’50s. Later, in the ’60s, among his many careers, he became known as one of the most successful photographers of international high fashion. At the peripheries, then, of the work for which he’s justly famous—gutsy reports of the megapolis 25 years ago—there are analogies to the efforts of two other Kleins, Yves and Calvin.

    This displaced New Yorker, whose enunciation is disconcertingly suave and whose face recalls that of Antonin Artaud, was enchanted with sleaziness. Until Klein came

  • The Anatomy of Disruption: European and American Painting 1880-1906

    BEFORE ABSTRACT EXPRESSIONISM, Surrealism, Constructivism, Dadaism, Cubism and all the other 20th-century movements, before them came Post-Impressionism. The story of how this term originated in the camarilla of Roger Fry, as a throw-away title for a 1910 exhibit of dead French radicals active 20 years earlier, has often been told. Their generation was said to have represented a turning point in the avant-garde that even many years later could only be characterized negatively, as having appeared after and in conscious challenge to an earlier movement. That is what the word “post,” in art language,

  • Autochromes: The Bouquet of Lighted Air

    RIGHT FROM ITS START, photography was expected to bloom one day with hues that resembled those of the natural world. The medium had been born generating far more visual information than that of painting; there was reason to suppose it could be just as chromatic. Before this palette could be obtained, however, difficult optical and chemical problems had to be solved. Was one to proceed best by the mixing of colored lights (filters), or by means of dyes included on the sensitive plate? How was the process to be developed and how was the result to be fixed so that colors wouldn’t fade? Further

  • Disquieting Norms

    THE CHILLY, ALIENATING MOOD THAT intrigues us in August Sander’s portrait photographs—shown in an excellent exhibition directed by Michael Hoffman and coordinated by Martha Chahroudi1—may be our own creation, for it has nothing to do with his purposes. Susan Sontag writes:

    Sander’s complicity with everybody also means a distance from everybody. His complicity with his subjects is not naive . . . but nihilistic. Despite its class realism, it is one of the most truly abstract bodies of work in the history of photography.

    To say that this German artist is “abstract” and “nihilistic” is to characterize

  • How to Mystify Color Photography

    HAD THEY BEEN SHOWN in a gallery, William Eggleston’s color photographs would not have raised special problems. Nowadays it’s quite normal that dealers imagine photos of all kinds to be art, worth a try in an increasingly sporty market. Eggleston’s images—dye transfer prints that have been made from slides—represent a large genre whose trademark is the very averageness of its subjects. We are not certain what these pictures tell us of suburban life around Memphis and northern Mississippi, circa 1970, but they describe it unexceptionally well. They are neither quite casual nor overtly tendentious.

  • Nadar and the Republic of Mind

    DURING THE MIDDLE OF the last century, the two best-known photographers doing business in Paris were Disdéri, who popularized the carte-de-visite, and Félix Tournachon, whose nickname, Nadar, became as familiar in his time as Kodak in ours. Portraits were the cash crop of both their studios, as for many others, because the portrait mode enjoyed artistic prestige and huge market turnover.

    Let’s define a portrait as the picture of an individual or group whose character is either described by social, ethnic, and class affiliations, or may, in some measure, be invoked in contrast to them. Sometimes,

  • Jewish Art and Modernist Jeopardy

    AT A RECENT SHOW I came upon an exceptionally peculiar and moving early modern painting, by an artist unknown to me. It looked at first like a Juan Gris, a late Cubist still-life in brown, egg nog and lemon yellow, with dark carmine. These hues were zoned in large, flat, overlapping planes showing off against each other decoratively within a diagonal sweep from the left high to the lower right corner of the vertical canvas. My glance took in the up-ended perspective of a table, geometric schemata that rhymed curves and angles, a black collaged cardboard rectangle, and printing, displayed in a

  • Photos Within Photographs

    SUPPOSE THAT, OF ALL the things the camera lens scans, photographs, Kodak bric-a-brac, might be among them—caught by chance in a natural environment, a room to whose decor they contribute. We know that a photograph freezes a particular instant in time, continuously receding from something called “the present” (an ephemeral sensation of future viewers). A photo within a photograph emits a doubling effect that regresses inward. It marks off at least two instants in time, contained and containing. And sometimes the contrast between them, intentional or not, can be nostalgic, even poignant.

    On the

  • Pygmalion Reversed

    To know oneself is to foresee oneself;

    to foresee oneself amounts to playing a part.

    —Paul Valéry

    QUESTION: CAN A WORK of art ever be in pain? Answer: yes, if it is incarnated in a body; if, somehow, the body acts as the ground upon which an art meaning may be inscribed. Naturally, theater and dance employ human bodies, in the sense of being staffed by them. But we would not say a play is composed of people, as for example, a painting is composed of paint. The script or notation, whatever plan that has been decided on or improvised, directs bodies on a stage. It is usually that direction we call