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IFS, ANDS, AND BUTS: ELIZABETH MURRAY'S IF ONLY

If only I had a cup of coffee . . .

I do not know why Elizabeth Murray paints cups, and neither, she says, does she, except she thinks “cups are beautiful.” There are cup paintings of Murray’s dating back to 1981, and they seem to me summary of her work: deeply attuned to art history, but wearing their knowledge lightly; generous, good-humored, but distinctly suspenseful in their skewed stances and tensely swollen volumes. Strictly, I suppose, these are still lifes, if outsized ones, a distortion recalling Claes Oldenburg. But where the still life classically suggests a kind of removal, a literal stillness, Murray’s cups have a springy energy, a warm—hearted palette, a vernacular familiarity (organic Cubism meets Casper the Friendly Ghost), and a psychological portentousness, which, however, the artist is little concerned to discuss. “If I knew the meaning,” says Murray, “I don’t

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