J. Hoberman: Trick or Truth?

Is photography a way of documenting the world that has an inherent “truth-claim” on the real? Or is it, as Edward Steichen suggested, essentially graphic, a technique for creating a certain kind of image? “Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop,” an exhibition now up at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (later traveling to the National Gallery and Houston’s Museum of Fine Art), makes a vigorous case for understanding the medium as Steichen did.

Photo: Grete Stern: Dream No. 1: Electrical Appliances for the Home, 1949 (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

J. Hoberman: Trick or Truth?

Is photography a way of documenting the world that has an inherent “truth-claim” on the real? Or is it, as Edward Steichen suggested, essentially graphic, a technique for creating a certain kind of image? “Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop,” an exhibition now up at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (later traveling to the National Gallery and Houston’s Museum of Fine Art), makes a vigorous case for understanding the medium as Steichen did.

Photo: Grete Stern: Dream No. 1: Electrical Appliances for the Home, 1949 (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Eve Bowen: A Treasure Trove of Edward Gorey

Whether they are Edwardian ladies, fur-coated gentlemen, ill-fated children, or unusual animals, Edward Gorey’s characters are almost always on some kind of journey. His stories often unfold in wallpapered rooms, on barren estates, or among statues, beast-shaped topiaries, and urns. “Few seem to return from the borders to which I’ve sent them,” he wrote. Perhaps this is what gives Gorey’s work its talismanic power: his books and drawings, which are so often about imagined deaths and disasters, turn into lucky charms for his readers.

Image: ‘Lady Under Elephant Table’ (Edward Gorey Charitable Trust)

Eve Bowen: A Treasure Trove of Edward Gorey

Whether they are Edwardian ladies, fur-coated gentlemen, ill-fated children, or unusual animals, Edward Gorey’s characters are almost always on some kind of journey. His stories often unfold in wallpapered rooms, on barren estates, or among statues, beast-shaped topiaries, and urns. “Few seem to return from the borders to which I’ve sent them,” he wrote. Perhaps this is what gives Gorey’s work its talismanic power: his books and drawings, which are so often about imagined deaths and disasters, turn into lucky charms for his readers.

Image: ‘Lady Under Elephant Table’ (Edward Gorey Charitable Trust)

Barry Moser: Flannery O’Connor, Cartoonist

The writer Flannery O’Connor kept a pet chicken when she was a small child and trained it to walk backward—it was the subject of a 1931 Pathé film “short,” a brief human interest story that came between the Pathé news and the feature picture show. The five-year old Flannery was in the picture “to assist the chicken,” but later said that it was “the high point” in her life, adding, “Everything since has been anticlimax.”

When I began studying her linoleum cuts that short film came back to me. It came back for the simple reason that linoleum cuts are drawn and cut backwards. Her prints are naïve in their craftsmanship. But so what? One does not really expect accomplished, sophisticated art from a college student, much less in a college newspaper, and in this O’Connor is not an exception.

Barry Moser: Flannery O’Connor, Cartoonist

The writer Flannery O’Connor kept a pet chicken when she was a small child and trained it to walk backward—it was the subject of a 1931 Pathé film “short,” a brief human interest story that came between the Pathé news and the feature picture show. The five-year old Flannery was in the picture “to assist the chicken,” but later said that it was “the high point” in her life, adding, “Everything since has been anticlimax.”

When I began studying her linoleum cuts that short film came back to me. It came back for the simple reason that linoleum cuts are drawn and cut backwards. Her prints are naïve in their craftsmanship. But so what? One does not really expect accomplished, sophisticated art from a college student, much less in a college newspaper, and in this O’Connor is not an exception.

Eric Banks, Against Monuments

Much of the most interesting gestures in “The Ungovernables” toy in one way or another with the idea of monumentality, whether by addressing scale or by nodding to the historically deflated form of commemorative public sculpture. The six sheets of thin, hammered copper that the Vietnamese-born Berlin-based artist Danh Võ has causally sprawled on the floor or leaned against the New Museum’s fourth floor walls are fragmentary components of the replica shell of the Statue of Liberty he had fabricated in China. His work seems less like a monument yanked off its pedestal than an ambiguous dressing down of Lady Liberty. In its ambivalent approach to a piece of public sculpture overloaded with symbolic meaning, Võ’s crippled, scattered statue exemplifies a good bit of the work in the Triennial. Nearby, the Argentine artist Adrián Villar Rojas’s gargantuan sculpture A Person Loved Me reaches all the way to the rafters, its upward thrust seemingly arrested only by the physical limitations of the boxy, high-ceilinged space. Constructed of clay, which provocatively undermines the work’s futuristic, vaguely Space Invaders form with a weathered, decaying look, the sculpture is equal parts sci-fi fantasy and industrial relic. These two large-scale takes on the monument sit uneasily with each other, but as they jostle for the viewer’s attention, a kind of unspoken dialogue between them emerges.

Photo: front left: Danh Võ: WE THE PEOPLE, 2011; center: Adrián Villar Rojas: A Person Loved Me, 2012; right: Amalia Pica: Eavesdropping (Version # 2, large), 2011 (New Museum)

Eric Banks, Against Monuments

Much of the most interesting gestures in “The Ungovernables” toy in one way or another with the idea of monumentality, whether by addressing scale or by nodding to the historically deflated form of commemorative public sculpture. The six sheets of thin, hammered copper that the Vietnamese-born Berlin-based artist Danh Võ has causally sprawled on the floor or leaned against the New Museum’s fourth floor walls are fragmentary components of the replica shell of the Statue of Liberty he had fabricated in China. His work seems less like a monument yanked off its pedestal than an ambiguous dressing down of Lady Liberty. In its ambivalent approach to a piece of public sculpture overloaded with symbolic meaning, Võ’s crippled, scattered statue exemplifies a good bit of the work in the Triennial. Nearby, the Argentine artist Adrián Villar Rojas’s gargantuan sculpture A Person Loved Me reaches all the way to the rafters, its upward thrust seemingly arrested only by the physical limitations of the boxy, high-ceilinged space. Constructed of clay, which provocatively undermines the work’s futuristic, vaguely Space Invaders form with a weathered, decaying look, the sculpture is equal parts sci-fi fantasy and industrial relic. These two large-scale takes on the monument sit uneasily with each other, but as they jostle for the viewer’s attention, a kind of unspoken dialogue between them emerges.

Photo: front left: Danh Võ: WE THE PEOPLE, 2011; center: Adrián Villar Rojas: A Person Loved Me, 2012; right: Amalia Pica: Eavesdropping (Version # 2, large), 2011 (New Museum)

David Bromwich, The Pox Beneath the Powder

The title “Infinite Jest” gives a very partial impression of the survey of caricatures showing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art through March 4. Hamlet said those words about Yorick, but Yorick was a jester at the court of Elsinore. That is not the same as a satirist. There may be something expansive about the very idea of jest, because it obeys no rules and draws hints from the humor of the audience. The art of caricature, by contrast, is finite, bounded and severe.

Photo: Enrique Chagoya: The Headache, A Print after George Cruikshank, 2010 (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

David Bromwich, The Pox Beneath the Powder

The title “Infinite Jest” gives a very partial impression of the survey of caricatures showing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art through March 4. Hamlet said those words about Yorick, but Yorick was a jester at the court of Elsinore. That is not the same as a satirist. There may be something expansive about the very idea of jest, because it obeys no rules and draws hints from the humor of the audience. The art of caricature, by contrast, is finite, bounded and severe.

Photo: Enrique Chagoya: The Headache, A Print after George Cruikshank, 2010 (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Martin Filler, Good Soldier Michals

Like many another GI in occupied Europe, but with infinitely more talent, Duane Michals documented his Army experience through pictures taken with a nifty German-made camera. The results as reproduced in his new book show his expertise and essential style to be firmly in place a full decade before his first gallery show in New York in 1963. Announcing several of his major themes is Michals’s diagonally composed photo of a row of birchwood crosses topped with Wehrmacht helmets, under which he writes, “When soldier sons die, mothers lie in graves of grief.”

Photo: Duane Michals/Antinous Press

Martin Filler, Good Soldier Michals

Like many another GI in occupied Europe, but with infinitely more talent, Duane Michals documented his Army experience through pictures taken with a nifty German-made camera. The results as reproduced in his new book show his expertise and essential style to be firmly in place a full decade before his first gallery show in New York in 1963. Announcing several of his major themes is Michals’s diagonally composed photo of a row of birchwood crosses topped with Wehrmacht helmets, under which he writes, “When soldier sons die, mothers lie in graves of grief.”

Photo: Duane Michals/Antinous Press

Christopher Benfey, How to Be the Photograph

There was reason to expect some personal revelations when the musician and writer Patti Smith took the stage at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on a Friday evening in early December. She was there to talk about Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz, the photographer and indefatigable promoter of modern art whom O’Keeffe married in 1924. An exhibition upstairs in the Tisch Galleries—showcasing the works of art that O’Keeffe had selected from Stieglitz’s private collection and given to the Met in 1949, including some of his erotic photographic portraits of O’Keeffe herself—was the immediate occasion for Smith’s appearance, along with the publication of the first volume of letters by O’Keeffe and Stieglitz, which Smith carried onto the stage like a bible, festooned with yellow Post-it notes. Smith was accompanied, for an evening of songs, readings, and ruminations, by her daughter, the pianist Jesse Paris Smith, and by her longtime band-member Lenny Kaye, the guitarist and rock archivist. (more)

Audio reproduced courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum.

Twenty-five years ago, Art Spiegelman published the first of his Maus books—a pair of graphic novels about the experiences of the author’s father during the Holocaust, with Jews drawn as wide-eyed mice and Nazis as menacing cats. Maus II was awarded the Pulitzer prize in 1991—the only graphic novel ever to win—and both books continue to move and provoke readers. In his new book MetaMaus, Spiegelman talks with Hillary Chute, a professor of English at the University of Chicago, about how the Maus books came into being.

Image: Study, page 124 of Maus (Art Spiegelman)

Twenty-five years ago, Art Spiegelman published the first of his Maus books—a pair of graphic novels about the experiences of the author’s father during the Holocaust, with Jews drawn as wide-eyed mice and Nazis as menacing cats. Maus II was awarded the Pulitzer prize in 1991—the only graphic novel ever to win—and both books continue to move and provoke readers. In his new book MetaMaus, Spiegelman talks with Hillary Chute, a professor of English at the University of Chicago, about how the Maus books came into being.

Image: Study, page 124 of Maus (Art Spiegelman)

Richard Prince, Bob Dylan’s Fugitive Art

Dylan’s studio. I think it was Dylan’s studio. I’m still not sure. It didn’t look like any artist’s studio I’d ever been in. It was on the second floor and was around five hundred square feet and furnished with furniture that looked like it had been found on the street. There was a small Casio keyboard on a keyboard stand. There was a store-bought easel and a carton of art supplies on the floor. The carton was one of those plastic containers the USPS holds mail in. I’m not sure what was on the wall. I think there was a gold record or a plaque that said something about a record industry milestone. There was a small balcony with a couple of wrought-iron chairs and a table. It was a mismatched set. Except for the art supplies, there wasn’t a single thing in this room that would tell someone, “Art is made here.” It was kind of astounding. It was like Dylan was painting in a witness protection program.

Image: Bob Dylan: La Belle Cascade, 2009 (Bob Dylan/Gagosian Gallery)

Richard Prince, Bob Dylan’s Fugitive Art

Dylan’s studio. I think it was Dylan’s studio. I’m still not sure. It didn’t look like any artist’s studio I’d ever been in. It was on the second floor and was around five hundred square feet and furnished with furniture that looked like it had been found on the street. There was a small Casio keyboard on a keyboard stand. There was a store-bought easel and a carton of art supplies on the floor. The carton was one of those plastic containers the USPS holds mail in. I’m not sure what was on the wall. I think there was a gold record or a plaque that said something about a record industry milestone. There was a small balcony with a couple of wrought-iron chairs and a table. It was a mismatched set. Except for the art supplies, there wasn’t a single thing in this room that would tell someone, “Art is made here.” It was kind of astounding. It was like Dylan was painting in a witness protection program.

Image: Bob Dylan: La Belle Cascade, 2009 (Bob Dylan/Gagosian Gallery)

Animalinside: A Collaboration

Text by László Krasznahorkai
Drawing by Max Neumann

Withdraw into protection and safeguard all that is important to you, take it down to below the earth, all that you have, take down the jewelry, the food, the children’s photographs, the armchair where you like to sit with a book in your hand, the curtain, behind which you feel yourselves to be safe, from the window; gather together all that was dear to you, gather together the identity cards and baptismal certificates, take the money out of the bank and hide it in the cellar behind the wall, but really every piece of jewelry, every scrap of food, every photograph of the child, every armchair and every beloved book, every curtain and every document, and really all of the money down to the very last cent, and really hide all of these things well, but really well, under the earth, so that at least you will be able to believe until then that there was some sense to it all, until we get there, seek out protection at least until then, while you are still able to believe that we haven’t got there yet, believe and hope, hope and believe very much that it is rational to prepare for our arrival, just move away and pack up, take the chests stuffed full of pilfered loot, take them one after the other, down below the earth, at least until then do not think about how it is not necessary to wait for us, that it is not necessary to be afraid of us, that we are coming and that there is no need to worry about us, that the day is coming and we are coming, and seeing as it’s already here, seeing as that day has come, and you didn’t notice that it has come, here we are, we see it all, we see what you’re doing with your little chests, we see what you’re doing with your little possessions, and we see what you’re doing with the child, we see everything already from up here, because we are watching you, if you look up you can also see how the light sparkles in our eyes, but you don’t look up, and that is how the day ends for you, and that is how life ends for you, because it is impossible to hide away from us, there is no depth within the earth that could be a refuge for you, we are here, above, here, look we’re watching from up here what you’re doing down there, but we don’t have to watch everything, because we already know everything about you, because the judgment has been brought upon you, and you do not merit the earth, that is what it says in the judgment, because you have gambled away your luck upon the earth, that is what it says in the judgment, because you have become unworthy of the earth belonging to you, all you lot will clear out of here now and someone else is coming, someone else shall live upon the earth, it’s the end of you lot, not even a trace of you all shall remain here, that is what it says in the judgment, so that now you might as well put down that last chest, that too is written in the judgment, and that is why we came here, to execute that judgment upon you.

Translated by Ottilie Mulzet

Animalinside: A Collaboration

Text by László Krasznahorkai
Drawing by Max Neumann

Withdraw into protection and safeguard all that is important to you, take it down to below the earth, all that you have, take down the jewelry, the food, the children’s photographs, the armchair where you like to sit with a book in your hand, the curtain, behind which you feel yourselves to be safe, from the window; gather together all that was dear to you, gather together the identity cards and baptismal certificates, take the money out of the bank and hide it in the cellar behind the wall, but really every piece of jewelry, every scrap of food, every photograph of the child, every armchair and every beloved book, every curtain and every document, and really all of the money down to the very last cent, and really hide all of these things well, but really well, under the earth, so that at least you will be able to believe until then that there was some sense to it all, until we get there, seek out protection at least until then, while you are still able to believe that we haven’t got there yet, believe and hope, hope and believe very much that it is rational to prepare for our arrival, just move away and pack up, take the chests stuffed full of pilfered loot, take them one after the other, down below the earth, at least until then do not think about how it is not necessary to wait for us, that it is not necessary to be afraid of us, that we are coming and that there is no need to worry about us, that the day is coming and we are coming, and seeing as it’s already here, seeing as that day has come, and you didn’t notice that it has come, here we are, we see it all, we see what you’re doing with your little chests, we see what you’re doing with your little possessions, and we see what you’re doing with the child, we see everything already from up here, because we are watching you, if you look up you can also see how the light sparkles in our eyes, but you don’t look up, and that is how the day ends for you, and that is how life ends for you, because it is impossible to hide away from us, there is no depth within the earth that could be a refuge for you, we are here, above, here, look we’re watching from up here what you’re doing down there, but we don’t have to watch everything, because we already know everything about you, because the judgment has been brought upon you, and you do not merit the earth, that is what it says in the judgment, because you have gambled away your luck upon the earth, that is what it says in the judgment, because you have become unworthy of the earth belonging to you, all you lot will clear out of here now and someone else is coming, someone else shall live upon the earth, it’s the end of you lot, not even a trace of you all shall remain here, that is what it says in the judgment, so that now you might as well put down that last chest, that too is written in the judgment, and that is why we came here, to execute that judgment upon you.

Translated by Ottilie Mulzet

Sanford Schwartz, Anselm Kiefer, in Love with Loss

One day visitors will make pilgrimages to Anselm Kiefer’s Barjac much the way they now go to the Chinati Foundation, in Marfa, Texas, to see the work of Donald Judd and the art he collected, set out in the many buildings he purchased there over the years. Barjac is the un-Marfa. Where Marfa is about clarity of light, distinct artistic accomplishments kept rigorously in order, and a sense of the past as manageable and containable, Barjac is a setting of dust, dirt, dangerous shards of glass, tenuousness, relics, and symbols to be deciphered.

Image: A still from Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow (Sophie Fiennes)

Sanford Schwartz, Anselm Kiefer, in Love with Loss

One day visitors will make pilgrimages to Anselm Kiefer’s Barjac much the way they now go to the Chinati Foundation, in Marfa, Texas, to see the work of Donald Judd and the art he collected, set out in the many buildings he purchased there over the years. Barjac is the un-Marfa. Where Marfa is about clarity of light, distinct artistic accomplishments kept rigorously in order, and a sense of the past as manageable and containable, Barjac is a setting of dust, dirt, dangerous shards of glass, tenuousness, relics, and symbols to be deciphered.

Image: A still from Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow (Sophie Fiennes)

Eric Banks, The Venice Biennale: The Good, the Bad, and the American

Has the Venice Biennale outlived its usefulness? By most indications, the question is specious. Witness the preview leading to the public unveiling of the fifty-fourth edition of the gigantic international exhibition of contemporary art in early June. Though long ago the Biennale got so big as to overspill its already commodious accommodations in the city’s Giardini and the warrens of the one-time shipbuilding hangars of the Arsenale, it continues to metastasize each year, with a greater number of national pavilions in this edition than ever before (ninety-one countries had signed on before the last-minute defections of Lebanon and Bahrain). Several countries––Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Haiti, Andorra––participated for the first time, while others, including India, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Congo, and Cuba, returned with national pavilions after lengthy absences.

Photo: Christoph Schliengesief’s installation in the German Pavilion

Eric Banks, The Venice Biennale: The Good, the Bad, and the American

Has the Venice Biennale outlived its usefulness? By most indications, the question is specious. Witness the preview leading to the public unveiling of the fifty-fourth edition of the gigantic international exhibition of contemporary art in early June. Though long ago the Biennale got so big as to overspill its already commodious accommodations in the city’s Giardini and the warrens of the one-time shipbuilding hangars of the Arsenale, it continues to metastasize each year, with a greater number of national pavilions in this edition than ever before (ninety-one countries had signed on before the last-minute defections of Lebanon and Bahrain). Several countries––Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Haiti, Andorra––participated for the first time, while others, including India, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Congo, and Cuba, returned with national pavilions after lengthy absences.

Photo: Christoph Schliengesief’s installation in the German Pavilion