Robert Farris Thompson

  • Focus: Alighiero e Boetti and Frédéric Bruly Bouabré

    Ideas divide us. Images bring us together.
    —Francesco Clemente, Apricots and Pomegranates, 1995

    The late Alighiero e Boetti, from Turin, Italy, and Frédéric Bruly Bouabré, from the village of Zéprégühe, Ivory Coast, reveal in their art our true condition: total capture by the communication process, whether intra personal or technologically mediated. But they also intimate the inner possibilities and activities of mind. They passionately catalogue. They vehemently classify: names, alphabets, series. They chart rivers and stars. They record numerals and faces. They do this to give things meaning,

  • Thornton Dial: Image of the Tiger

    Thomas McEvilley and Amiri Baraka, Thornton Dial: Image of the Tiger (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1993), 160 pages, 128 illustrations.

    THE ART OF THORNTON DIAL, a remarkable black artist of Alabama, recently challenged New York at the New Museum on Broadway downtown and at the Museum of American Folk Art off Broadway uptown. One message was, or seemed to be, Abandon your theoreticism and get on down to line, form, and color, and to social criticism in vernacular terms. Randall Morris argues that academic discourse is inadequate when aimed at visionary artists like Dial.1 I would agree: black


    Sex, Art, and American Culture: Essays, by Camille Paglia. New York: Vintage Books, 1992.

    So far we have seen two acts of the razzle-dazzle Camille Paglia show. The first act—the exposition, as it were—was Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson, a tumescent tome that ranges swaggeringly over the whole of the Western cultural patrimony, resembling in its ambitions such old-fashioned surveys as Erich Auerbach’s Mimesis and E. R. Curtius’ European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages, but hyped-up and amphetamized for the MTV generation. Dirty, too—Paglia’s willful


    ORWELL GOT IT WRONG—it’s not 1984 but 1992 that will give us a Europe reunited on a scale last seen in the time of the Roman Empire. Those worrying over the possibility of act II in a play of world imperialism may be heartened to remember that when the Romans built their roads, they had no idea that those very avenues of commerce and command would accelerate the spread of Christianity, a revolutionary force within their midst. Similarly, could the vaporizing of Europe’s borders next year usher in an age of transnational popular art and music, undermining claimed cultural superiorities? Pouring

  • One - and - Hump

    ESHU-ELEGBA, the Nigerian Yoruba trickster god extraordinaire, entered the world with a calabash full of stones. Immediately he visited the houses of the rich, saying, Come to the crossroads and leave money there so the poor can get something to eat.

    Those who ignored him watched their houses strangely burn, for the stones in Eshu’s calabash caused combustion wherever they fell. Those who were generous were saved. From their monies—in those days handsome cowrie shells served as currency—the poor were rescued and markets began. Henceforth Eshu strung spoons sometimes upon his dress, as emblems of


    The weird boxed and numbered [New York]
    space we live in is already fantasy. Artists
    have only to start with what's there and give it a
    few fillips for the truly fantastic to emerge.
    —John Ashbery, Reported Sightings

    KEITH'S DEATH IS INCOMPREHENSIBLE. I refuse to believe that the next time I ring the bell to his Broadway studio, just south of Great Jones Street, he won’t be there—Great Jones Street where I ignored bad weather in February 1985 because I knew Keith was at one end of the block, Jean-Michel at the other, and Keith’s friend Kenny Scharf in between.1 Or summer 1984, when Houston was virtually Haring Boulevard, what with his hip-hop mural at the corner of Avenue D, his studio at Broadway, and various tags and images all in between. In 1987 and 1988 as well, I’d ring Keith’s bell, and take the