Peter Schjeldahl

  • 1982: Anselm Kiefer’s Innenraum

    WHEN ANSELM KIEFER’s Innenraum (Interior space), 1981, among other colossal paintings, knocked me for a loop at Mary Boone Gallery on West Broadway in 1982, I didn’t know that its image derived from a postwar photograph of Albert Speer’s Reich Chancellery in Berlin: the cavernous, skylit, ineffably racy “mosaic hall” where Hitler would meet around a map table with his military staff, making plans. Nor did I know much else (I only thought I did) about the Third Reich, or about German modern culture generally except as filtered through standard humanist, leftish, smoky vamps—Thomas Mann, the

  • DIFFERENT STROKES: THE LATE WORK OF WILLEM DE KOONING

    The last act of Willem de Kooning’s art reminds me of a self-portrait by another Dutchman, Rembrandt van Rijn, that hangs in the Frick Collection. In Rembrandt’s rugged last style, it renders a man who is old, fat, and probably sick, not long for this world, and who meets our gaze with tired, not terribly interested, but speaking eyes. In three-quarter view, filling the frame and crowding the picture plane, he sits heavily, looming at us. He wears a baggy smock that, belted high, gives the bizarre impression that he has breasts. Where are his knees? They are fudged. There is not enough pictorial

  • Child’s Play

    CONSIDERING THE WAY THINGS GO, I struggle with a troubling memory. I remember lap dissolves. They prove that the film’s sequence of marvelous destructions did not occur in one take. I don’t want this to be so. Common sense chips in that, even if rigged as a continuum, the delicately triggered collapses, spills, and explosions had to misfire at least as often as not. Surely the engineering of the project was to Murphy’s Law as the voyage of the Pequod is to Moby Dick: just asking for it. I abhor this common sense, which Fischli and Weiss take no special pains to conceal.

    I want The Way Things Go

  • FINNISH GILT: THE PHOTOGRAPHY OF ESKO MÄNNIKKÖ

    WHEN IN HELSINKI last winter I came upon Esko Männikkö’s antique-framed photographs of back-country Finns,1 I wanted one. Lust to own art is infrequent but not novel for me. I have often said that, given the pelf, I would be a collector instead of a critic. Writing a check is so much more sincere than writing a review, as you know by the pain of parting with your money. Pelf being what it isn’t for me, my lifetime total of art purchases can be counted on the fingers of one hand. But Männikkö’s photographs, which come in editions of prints, each cropped differently to fit an available frame,

  • CRITICAL REFLECTIONS

    I HAVE BEEN CLOSE pals with Dave Hickey, the Walter Pater of the Southwest, for only a few years. He used to scare me. I felt sullenly competitive with him. Then my character improved, I guess, to the point where I could accept his generosity. Dave makes of his gifts a gift to others. Now he is like the friend I was supposed to have in seventh grade and didn’t. His successes please me nearly as much as my own. (They’re less work, for one thing.) I like to think we constitute an aging youth gang of incorrigible esthetes: rugged individualist sniffers of the perfumed hanky, if you will. And if

  • Size Down

    THE EMINENCE GRANTED Cy Twombly by our era’s leading art critic, the auction market, bothers me. I tend to accept the market’s long-term judgment as the most sensible gauge we have allowing for a sanity lag of twenty or so years—of art’s relative values in and for the wider culture. Say what you want about money; it is sincere. But watching the wild run-up in the ’80s, and comparative buoyancy since then, of prices for the Other Guy from Black Mountain has given me a tic of alienation.

    I will not be unhappy if Twombly’s MoMA show squares my taste with that of the collectors who, checkbooks aloft,

  • CRITICAL REFLECTIONS

    PETER AND I TALK ON THE PHONE A LOT—once a week at least, but generally more. Frequently he is just back from some place or I am about to go off, and it is a matter of touching base and catching up. We speak about things seen on the road but mostly about what is going on in New York, which, for better and worse, is our city. Although I used to be able to keep the pace, Peter covers more ground than I do now, having earned the privilege of wandering in the galleries and museums whenever he pleases by having paid the currently steep price for free-lancing while I, at present, am salaried and

  • Susan Rothenberg’s United States

    TURNING-POINT SHOWS in art come with a sense that you know everything about them sub specie aeternitatis. You feel you have a key to artistic significance past, present, and future. This is a mistake. The key has you. The knowledge imparted replaces you, the knower. It assumes your shape, fills your needs as fluid fills a mold. Overload of gratification blows the fuses of your intelligence. You must wait years for your historico-hysterical epiphany to cycle back as cultured common sense. Finally you discover that you were largely right, largely wrong, or nuts.

    I was right, wrong, and nuts—and

  • ABSENT-MINDED FEMALE NUDE ON BED

    IT HAS TO BE IN PROSE or else dismembered, by verse’s cheese slicer. I want it whole, picture plus words plus fantasy. The fantasy of having sex with one who at the moment is an absent-minded female nude on a bed. No one at all.

    Every now and then it is given to someone to be nothing for a moment, to unhinge completely without the slightest consequence. No “change.” Just a momentary sense of everything under the aspect of nothingness, not even death, not even nothingness. How wonderful it would be to be able to share this.

    No transcendence. No dumb, boring religious ideas. No group dynamics,

  • Susan Rothenberg

    Susan Rothenberg has always been the most “formalist” of the painters lately and arbitrarily grouped as “New Image”; as of now, she is also one of the most advanced down the seemingly inexorable road to a new flat-out Expressionism. This makes for an interesting tension, to say the least. I’d like to call the very powerful impact of her current work “visceral,” but that wouldn’t be quite accurate. The paintings hit higher than the viscera. Their effect is both frenetic and icy, a frozen violence very much of the head—without being heady, because they are so firmly composed and cannily painted.

  • Joel Shapiro

    Unless I am missing something, Joel Shapiro’s new little wood reliefs, like his recent largish charcoal drawings, rather leave in their dust the view that his main achievement is the inflecting of Minimalism with “memory,” thereby signaling “shift” in “modernist sensibility” to take in “the stuff of psychology.” (The terms are Rosalind Krauss’s.) Besides invoking an awfully limited notion of “the stuff of psychology”what isn’t psychological? when you come to think of it—this view has depended heavily on Shapiro’s use of recognizable images, almost entirely absent from this show. (There were six

  • Katherine Porter

    Boston-based Katherine Porter was one of the innumerable grid-worrying painters of the early ’70s; she has lately broken out with a great blast of eccentric energy, perhaps emboldened by the recent vogue of skewed, quirky abstraction, certainly adding her own note to it. Her paintings have a theatrical quality and the rough gaiety of big dogs. They are also manically sophisticated, as if a lifetime’s education were being regurgitated all at once. Recent Philip Guston has clearly been a decisive influence, and one could describe some of her paintings in terms that would fit some of his: inept-cartoony