Saturday, May 28, 2016

You're an O'Neill drama, You're Whistler's mama

You're Camembert

 Shining luncheon shoes in 
 his airy atelier in the
 West 50's, the American vet-
 eran hummed a tune in time
 with a worn buffing cloth,

 Damned if he didn't know his
 market. Damned if he'd ever
 forget what he'd danced to.

 Our mentors say, we've al-
 ways had unfortunates. Now
 there is a Republican can-
 didate, for President, who
 vocally, vociferously does
 not respect them. Right.
 Especially their ordeal.

                           Who, am I glad,
                           is not alive to 
                              see this?




Cole Porter
Anything Goes
  You're the Top

Saul Leiter
Shoes of the
  Shoeshine Man

Mark Rothko
Black on Maroon
  New York
Tate Gallery

Thibaud Charon

Friday, May 27, 2016

Weekend light

to evade, has found himself in his East
Village bolt hole without a single sum-
mons to the Hamptons for the centennial
running of the Indianapolis 500 steeple-
chase, or whatever it is. Literal hours
of fittings of blazers not to wear, se-
lecting vintages not to bring, to host-
esses not to hypercompensate, have left
his tanline discernibly adrift, even as
he scans his device for updates on this
curious endowment of delightful liberty.

It's enough to send a man to his trusty
pelt, to ponder calmly what had dealt
a hand of quiet with its soothing ease,
his docket vacant of appellants he must
please. If there is anyone happier than
the man who isn't known, is it the one
who's known for something, uncollected? 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

A gathering of great powers

Edward Dimsdale

Shades of multi-tasking

  Like you, we're trying
  not to see the ingeni-
  ous American tilt to-
  ward Asia as a hodge-
  podge of Dulles' Cold
  War treaty spheres,
  much less our own new
  Greater East Asia Co-
  prosperity Sphere, in
  witty response to the
  ancient giant power.

  Opening arms bazaars
  and lining up promis-
  ing markets for depen-
  dent regimes: just co-
  incidences of no pre-
  cedent to worry about.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Buying pictures iv: The searing hue

Saul Leiter's famous portrait of the
shopping figure, receding from focus
and shape by the viewer's nearer dis-
traction, upper left, has about it a
swastika-like distribution of concen-
tration of pure black. It's difficult
when something spontaneous achieves
such eloquence and enigma in a single
shutter release; this represents, of
course, the gold standard of imagery.
It burns, to grasp it. The shopper,
unaware she is refracted, raises our
awareness of empanelment in seeing. 

The sulfurous qualities of the mi-
gration to black, in Smith's so-
cial-realist portrait of a steel-
worker, in the same period, wrest-
ling a cauldron of coke beside a
blast furnace in America, summon
remembrances of hideous hazards,
replaced by manufacture's extinc-
tion, by fossil fuels' condemna-
tion, by social marginalization.
This is the taint of the hour,
as all disdain the filthy ape.

But if this is an election fa-
voring the ambiguities, it will
come as a shock to the odds. We
see in this late masterpiece by
Mark Rothko an extraordinarily
sulfurous vitality in contra-
distinction with an almost ap-
pealingly emphatic black. Roth-
ko differs with Leiter, in re-
jecting the dark as an element
of style, and with Smith, as
an element of conditionality.

It is the stain of a certitude;
and it is laid upon that can-
vas for those who know it well,
over strokes more defiant than
pathetic, of violet, earth, per-
iwinkle, sand, and persistently
impertinent green. This is not
a portrait of processed cheese.

Even vitality can fail, as the
panels threaten. Even vitality
will be singed. We hear, that a
resistance to the dark is to be
mounted as an Edith Wharton dis-
dain to comment. Will no one of-
fer that candidate a visit to a
corner on Fifth Avenue, where a
Century of ferment has its home,
youth flock, all day, to feast;
and struggle shines from every
offset sight against complacency;

I never saw a branding fail more
effêtely, than the present jest,
fighting for us. Can no one re-
fer that candidate to the prepo-
sition of respect, that 4-letter
word, anathema to condescension;

Aversion to with is dark, already.
What on earth did they pay, to be
boasting of usurping our own cause,
as if indentured to their destiny?

Saul Leiter
ca 1953
Greenberg Gallery
New York

W. Eugene Smith
Dance of the Flaming Coke
Collection unknown

Mark Rothko
Untitled (Black on Grey Series)
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
  Gift of the Mark Rothko Foundation

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Buying pictures iii: Painting in white

There's always more of that
stuff where it came from than
can sustain the illusion that
it is white. White-by-convenience
undermines white for identifica-
tion's sake. White-for-lack-of-a-
better-word throws up its hands
in genetic meaninglessness, but
still it suggests a border more
than an assimilation. Theologists
in hues are exegetic in the news
of its constraint, ignoring they're
exploring a delusionary taint. What
we like about Duchamp is his device
for getting rid of it; about Rothko,
his vision of its permeability. 

Marcel Duchamp
In Advance of the
  Broken Arm
Collection MoMA

Mark Rothko
Collection unknown

Peter Gay
  The Lure of Heresy
  from Baudelaire to Beckett
  and Beyond
Norton, 2008©

Monday, May 23, 2016

Buying pictures ii

In the hall of mirrors, nobody speaks.
An ember smolders before hollowed cheeks.
Someone empties pockets, loose change and keys,
into a locker. My god forgives me.
Some say love, disclosed, repels what it sees,
yet if I touch the darkness, it touches me.

In the steam room, inconsolable tears
fall against us, In the whirlpool, my arms,
rowing through little green crests, help to steer
the body, riding against death. Yet what harm
is there in us? I swear to you, my friend,
cross-armed in a bright beach towel, turning round
to see my face in the lamplight, that eye, ear,
and tongue, good things, make something sweet of fear.

              In the juxtaposition our Parties intend 
              for us this year, our people have never 
              experienced such fear, with such unani- 
              mity, since 1932 - or revulsion, at our 
              Parties' symbiotic failure, since 1968.
              Two Parties portend a combat between the 
              dishonorable and the dead, where a ques-
              tionable distinction of life must define 
              the alternative. This suggests an inter-
              regnum, possibly in favor of life at any 
              cost, but of such ferment as to show our
              present government justified as sunlight.

              The storm to come, in four short years,
              will gather to seek a decisive, cleans-
              ing blow. Two Parties would rather pre-
              tend, this were that election, but they
              always grasp that way. They still cry,
              Choose, within their caustic whirlpool.

              This poem, this extraordinary painting,
              frame the prospect rather compellingly.
              Shall it be for the dark, to wrestle it
              now at its weakest, or for the dank, to
              stifle good things that make the sweet?
              There are two rational choices, but one
              objective: to crush the binomial beast.
              Shall we give it its head, or ourself a
              wound on which it only craves to fatten.

              It would be remiss not to confront anxi-
              ety that debate wounds resistance to the
              dark. Nothing of the kind could be true,
              if resistance were competent to withstand
              it. If it is not, now is the time to know.

              An open convention can ease serious doubt,
              eye, ear and tongue making something sweet.
              It could ventilate an acrid pall, hovering
              over the nomination, of indolent, heedless
              contempt; revive moribund distinction, and
              rally the partisans of playing fair. Noth-
              ing less can draw the necessary contrast
              with the dark, or suspend disbelief anew.

Henri Cole
  The Roman Baths
    at Nîmes
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2010©

Mark Rothko
Untitled (from the Black on Gray series)
Collection unknown

Gérard Castello-Lopes
Sea Wall in Algarve

Mikhail Pashchuk
  in GQ Italia

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Buying pictures


Is it probable, can we suppose, that the sun even knows how to set on those happy days in Old New York, when a Mrs Mellon might swoop down on the studio of a Russian émigré painter and snaffle ten or eleven of his canvases, already painted and dry, on the way to Bendel's? Not for so long as anything remains to be possessed, it would appear, at least during the term of one's life. Yet, always, maybe, some residual glory won't be mislaid, if ever subject to the going rate. This canvas was sold in 2007 at Christie's for ten million, six hundred eighty-one thousand dollars, a daunting load for any handbag. Then came 2008, and the buyer owned its image.

The Black and Grey series of canvases from 1969-1970 do occupy the terrain of residual glory where, in fact, there is no natural price. There is nothing more eloquent in the artist's oeuvre, nothing more stunningly provocative and coherent. Exceedingly richly complex in their roiling surfaces, they are, of course, unyielding in their resistance to simplicity. They have come to define for me the likely dynamics and issues of the political contest now being framed for the American electorate, except in one material respect. Click the image.

Without precedent Mark Rothko delineated these canvases with a perimeter border in white, portraying emphasis and confinement. The musings of an American electorate, we have discovered, have a way of migrating more liberally; and they are permeable, we have discovered, to the enterprising interventions of a variety of interested parties from abroad - in addition, that is, to the domestic Supreme Court. 

These paintings do not misrepresent the philosophical range and competing interests of the pending campaigns; while, they impart nothing to advise, only to edify. That edification relies on close contemplation, not only of distinctions, but of the effect of a preference for either of them. This must continue, the paintings urge, while time permits. This will, they attest. Yet they articulate conditions the electorate is certain to resist, the more the viewer inflicts his attention, defying the frame.

W. Eugene Smith
New York, 1950's

Mark Rothko

ca 1969

Blue, Green, Brown
National Gallery of Art
Gift of the Estate of
  Mrs. Paul Mellon