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Writing Worth Reading

Matthew Barney’s Mailer Mash-Up

Matthew Barney’s new film, River of Fundament, is a work of “pharaonic immodesty” loosely based on Norman Mailer’s “universally reviled” novel, Ancient Evenings. The “scatalogical excess” will “leave moviegoers covering their eyes”. It’s a mess, particularly towards the end, but an interesting one. “Barney, like Cocteau before him, understands that an element of camp or porn can be just the thing to recharge the old myths” (1,750 words)

How To Ruin A Cultural Institution

New York’s Museum of Modern Art emerged from its last redesign in 2004 “looking more and more like a fking department store”. Now it’s being enlarged, because director Glenn Lowry wants “a bigger fking department store”. And why? “For a decade now MoMA has been locked in a marketing battle with the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The goal is to see which museum can be turned into the biggest tourist trap” (1,790 words)

Don’t Bowdlerize Balthus

Balthus was “the last of the mystics who transformed twentieth-century art”, along with Matisse, Picasso, Kandinsky, Mondrian, Bonnard. But the Met’s exhibition, Balthus: Cats and Girls: Paintings and Provocations, is “extraordinarily frustrating”, because it takes such a narrow view of his work. “Who would imagine, knowing Balthus only from this show, that he was one of the greatest landscape painters of modern times?” (4,360 words)

When Condé Nast Was A Force For Good

In praise of Alex Liberman: photographer, sculptor, editorial director at Condé Nast for 30 years. “At Vogue you will still occasionally find a piece of writing or a photo spread that exudes the kind of mysterious ambience or atmosphere that Alex believed the magazine owed to its most discerning readers. But Anna Wintour rarely ventures beyond her comfort zone. Nobody believes they can afford to anymore” (1,600 words)

The Rectangular Canvas Is Dead

“Painting, which for centuries reigned supreme among the visual arts, has fallen from grace. Which is not to say that painting is dead, or dying. But the painter’s basic challenge, the manipulation of colors and forms and metaphors on the flat plane with its almost inevitably rectangular shape, is no longer generally seen as the primary place in the visual arts where meaning and mystery are believed to come together” (2,500 words)

Jacques Callot’s Line Sublime

Perl is so skilled at deriding bad art that I sometimes forget how well he writes of art he loves. As here. “Rarely have life’s sweetness and bitterness been embraced with more evenhanded genius than in the work of Jacques Callot. The seventeenth-century French printmaker finds an ethics of vision—a way of grappling with whatever the world has to offer—in the indomitable force and lucidity of his line” (3,570 words)

Ai Weiwei: Wonderful Dissident, Terrible Artist

Verdict all there in the title. But a pleasure to hear Jed Perl prosecuting his case. “It is tempting to say that I admire the politics and am left cold by the art. But that lets the art off too easily. It is bone-chillingly cold, the thoughts or attitudes of a great political dissident who remains untouched by even a spark of the imaginative fire”

Curse Of Warholism

“Warhol is more with us than ever. Warholism is the dominant ism of our day, grounded as it is in the assumption that popular culture trumps all other culture, and that all culture must become popular culture in order to succeed”

The Middle Distance

Review of Susan Sontag’s Journals. “Sontag brings her frequently lofty subjects close to the reader, but not too close, so that she satisfies some yearning in the public to know or to understand without ever satisfying it entirely”

Relevance Of Irrelevance

George Braque was the equal of Picasso in pioneering cubism. His reputation has languished unfairly. The two “represent divergent attitudes toward modernity. Picasso is the athlete in the stadium. Braque is the poet in the tower”

Bullshit Heaven

Murderous review of highbrow book about lowbrow painter Thomas Kinkade. “The entire subject is a nervous breakdown waiting to happen. I am not always sure whether the authors are being grimly sincere or shamelessly ironic”

Whitney Adrift

Whitney Museum of American Art will move to New York’s Meatpacking District — its fourth home in 80 years. Why the wanderlust? The institution has a lifelong identity crisis. It keeps hoping that new surroundings will provide a cure

Ai Weiwei: Fire And Ice

“Like many of the social critics of the 19th and early-20th centuries, Ai is an egomaniac who makes common cause with the common man. He brings an old fashioned rhetorical fervour; the cadences of a late modern Tolstoyan prophet”

Copy Cats

Sardonic note on originality in modern art, provoked by Jeff Koons’ attempt to copyright image of dog made from balloons. Warhol, then Koons, copied everyday things and declared them art. Can you be original in your plagiarism?

Can This Book Save American Art?

Art writer Jed Perl sings his praises for Robert Duncan’s 1964 opus The H.D. Book, only now being published in its complete form, calling it “the greatest of all meditations on modern poetry .. and the modern artistic imagination”

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