New York

Richard Pettibone

Curt Marcus Gallery

Some people get to play out their obsessions in public. In the case of Richard Pettibone, it’s his thing for Ezra Pound. Though Pettibone has been doing “appropriation” art for longer than the genre has existed as such, in recent years his shows have been all but one-man monuments to the champion vorticist, one-time fascist, and generally irascible author of the Cantos, the composition of which occupied Pound for much of his life. The poet also forms the focal point of Pettibone’s last show, in which he reproduced the covers of a number of Pound first editions and displayed them lovingly on cherry easels. In each of these works, Pettibone carefully painted (in oil) the front covers and sometimes the title pages, dedications, or colophons of Pound’s books against a flat, monochromatic background. Most of the works divide the canvas in half, presenting one page to the left and one to the right, so that the whole looks something like a reverential diptych. In The Collected Poems of Ezra Pound, 1992, the cover of the book is painted to scale in the left half of a cream-colored background while to the right appears the dedication, “This book is for Mary Moore of Trenton, if she wants it.” Slightly visible beneath the dedication is the ghost of the title “Ripostes,” as if the painting were indeed a page of paper through which the reverse side could just barely be made out.

In addition to the explicitly Pound-oriented works, Pettibone displayed a heterogeneous collection of “appropriated,” though slightly altered, works: Constantin Brancusi endless columns, Marcel Duchamp shovels, Shaker ladders (inscribed with such quotes from Pound’s Cantos as “Slowness is beauty”), and a reproduction of Homer’s Odyssey, made in the manner of the Pound book covers. Because the poet is the focal point of so much of Pettibone’s work, it is tempting to read this entire show through Pound. Beyond the few tangible links between Pound and Pettibone’s other subjects (e.g. Pound greatly admired Brancusi), both artist and poet make quotation a key element of their work (Pound, for instance, translated sections of a Renaissance Latin translation of the Odyssey into his Cantos), creating a seemingly schizo collection of information.

But is Pettibone merely a see-and-do monkey with a slavish thing for Pound, copping the poet’s modus operandi? Pound’s Cantos are widely recognized as a modern form of epic, and every point on which Pettibone can be seen to match the poet can also be traced back to the formal characteristics of that genre. For instance, Pettibone’s collection of heterogenous objects is nothing if not a sort of catalogue—a visual incarnation of the sweeping catalogue passage typical of Western epic. And if the genre’s most salient feature is that it relates the deeds of a hero then Pound certainly emerges as Pettibone’s protagonist. The work thus attests to the Modernist notion of the artist as hero, reflecting a nostalgia for a now-irretrievable golden age; though what Pettibone perhaps forgets is that, given Pound’s controversial social beliefs, he might more easily be positioned as something of an antihero.

Keith Seward