Sunday, December 29, 2013

Skiffs on the Endless River, a Convoy of Joy

Skimming dozens and dozens of "year's best" lists, I once again come to the three-parts delighted, one-part melancholy conclusion that my time will run out long before I can possibly read even a small number of all the books on my "to be read" list.  Oceans of books, fathomless pools of words, serpentines of sentences...and me there, the humble lobster, dabbling, clutching and slowly clambering as best I can in the shallows.  The canary can only sigh...

Any sense that literary culture is declining dashes itself on the sheer volume of publication.  The tidal river accommodates every taste, form and subject   Even assuming Sturgeon's Law holds true, the vastness of global literary output assures us of more high-quality, worthy books published in any one year than any one of us could possibly read in that one year.  And then the next year is upon us...and what about all those acknowledged classics still unread...?

A marvelous situation as we cozy up to whatever we are reading right now, our eyes already looking ahead to the book to follow immediately and the ones stacked up beyond.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Worlds, Hopeful: The Art of Wangechi Mutu

Wangechi Mutu is the artist I have most often returned to this year-- her work draws me in, inspiring with its grace, strength and beauty (a word that so rarely enters into today's art critical discussion). She presents a self-assured, singular vision, unmistakably her own, yet welcomes us all to join her-- a calmly passionate creator of grounded globalized mysteries.  

Border crossings, chimerical figures, the echoes of fairy tale reverberating in the space age, layers of history framing today's concerns...a palimpsestic world that beguiles and astonishes, that forces the viewer to think.

Above all: a world that has women at its center.  Matter of fact, not fragile; axis and volume aligned.

For more by and about Mutu and her work, click here and here

P.S.  Would be an interesting exercise to look at Mutu's work in the context of others wakening us to a world that transcends borders (without overriding the cultures contained within), one based on emancipatory dynamics, and a sense of play and humor as the deepest way to make serious points and effect serious change.   Thinking here of-- among others-- Kiki Smith, Anish Kapoor, of Ursula K. Le Guin, Janelle Monae, Amitav Ghosh, Anoushka Shankar, and Herbie Hancock.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Think, Eye, Think!

Return over and over to the most familiar works of art, and be rewarded with fresher insights, more understanding.

I have seen Veronese's iconic Wedding at Cana at the Louvre, and have looked at reproductions countless times over the years...yet I only this month realized that almost none of the c. 130 revelers at the banquet-- clearly all in animated conversation, as befits the occasion--has open mouth.

Look carefully...with the exception of a bare few whisperers, the multitude cannot be speaking at the precise moment Veronese has chosen to create.  A visual oxymoron.  A confounding of our (and their) senses.

Peter Greenaway provided the clue, as he discussed how he imagined dialogue for the banqueters in his update and gloss on the painting at the 2009 Venice Biennale  (click here for more).   He reminds us that the Benedictine monastery San Giorgio Maggiore commissioned the painting for its refectory, and that the Benedictines ate in silence, as a way to honor God and attain virtuousness.

Veronese found a way to combine the sacred and the secular in a most clever way.   And I am reminded that, no matter how many times I may have looked at an image, further and more intense study almost always repays the effort.  

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Drop-Time Revisited: Shatter/ Stop/ Run (Beat, Heart, Beat)

Cornelia Parker, Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View (1991, at the Tate)
As always, copyright in work and image held by the artist and/or the museum; image used here solely for purposes of commentary.

I have written here and here about Drop-Time, the moment that is frozen in motion, simultaneously gliding and flying while having been lived once, in a specific blink or gasp, months or years or decades ago.

Cornelia Parker captures this feeling of mine, crystallizes the arc of the energy, lets light play through so that the aftermath is perpetual and perpetually changing in shadow.

Sometimes I think I can see my heart-beat in slow motion, kinetic (e)motion, feel it expelling outward, rimmed in living darkness yet pierced by light.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Writing Like Cezanne

The Basket of Apples (1893)

Every time I think I have fastened a color to the page, I discover Cezanne there long before me (and others too, of course, but always and above all: Cezanne).

As Rilke wrote about Cezanne's work, there is something mysterious in the normalcy, a sneak attack on senses lulled into an everyday sensibility:

…in this dense quilted blue of his, in his red and his shadowless green and the reddish black of his wine bottles. And the humbleness of all his objects: the apples are all cooking apples and the wine bottles belong in the roundly bulging pockets of an old coat."

The Boy in the Red Vest (1888-'90)