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Untitled (Ocean), drawing by Vija Celmins, in “To Fix the Image in Memory”

Harlem Renaissance

The Atlantic

July 2024

The setting for Archibald Motley’s bright and bumptious dance scene Blues (1929) was a café near the Bois de Boulogne frequented by African and Caribbean immigrants, where he would sit and sketch into the night. The subject is unquestionably modern, as are Motley’s smoothed-out surfaces and abruptly cropped edges, but the gorgeous entanglement of musicians and revelers—the chromatic counterpoint of festive clothing and faces that come in dark, medium, and pale—recalls far older precedents, such as Paolo Veronese’s The Wedding Feast at Cana (1562–63), the enormous canvas at the Louvre that people back into when straining for a glimpse of the Mona Lisa.

Untitled (Ocean), drawing by Vija Celmins, in “To Fix the Image in Memory”

William Kentridge

New York Review of Books

21 December 2023

History, Kentridge wants us to understand, is like his sculptures, or his films, or his drawings on concatenated book pages. There may be an instant where it all comes together and makes sense, but it’s we, not the data, who make the sense—“make” as in “manufacture,” as in “making it up.” Our brains are hardwired to find meaningful connections among any sensory inputs. We can’t help it. (This is a game at which art critics, like gamblers, habitually overestimate their skills.)

Untitled (Ocean), drawing by Vija Celmins, in “To Fix the Image in Memory”

Kerry James Marshall: The Complete Prints

Ludion / DAP

November 2023

Kerry James Marshall is one of the world’s most celebrated painters, hailed for having redefined Blackness as a visual device and cultural subject, as well as for opening new vistas on what pictorial art can be and do. He has also been, from the beginning, a peintre-graveur—a painter who uses printmaking as a way of thinking, of aligning image and surface, of being in the world. For all their importance to the artist, however, Marshall’s prints—which range from the pocket-sized woodcuts to sixty-foot long installations of UV-cured ink on plexiglass—prints have never been discussed as a coherent body of work, and many have never been documented. This catalogue raisonné fills that void.

Untitled (Ocean), drawing by Vija Celmins, in “To Fix the Image in Memory”

Vermeer

The Atlantic

May 2023

Of all the great painters of the golden age when the small, soggy Netherlands arose as an improbable global power, Johannes Vermeer is the most beloved and the most disarming. Rembrandt gives us grandeur and human frailty, Frans Hals gives us brio, Pieter de Hooch gives us busy burghers, but Vermeer issues an invitation. The trompe l’oeil curtain is pulled back, and if the people on the other side don’t turn to greet us, it’s only because we are always expected.

Untitled (Ocean), drawing by Vija Celmins, in “To Fix the Image in Memory”

How American Eyes Got Modern

New York Review

May 9, 2024

In the standard telling, the story of midcentury American art is a saga of hyperbolically talented painters working large and abstractly to manifest an existential encounter between man (notwithstanding the occasional begrudged woman) and material. “What was to go on the canvas was not a picture but an event,” in Harold Rosenberg’s catchy 1952 formulation. Canvas-as-event became a publicity magnet, inspiring popular news items like Life magazine’s 1949 “Jackson Pollock: Is He the Greatest Living Painter in the United States?” along with decades of New Yorker cartoons. On the home front, however, in private houses and apartments, things were different.

Untitled (Ocean), drawing by Vija Celmins, in “To Fix the Image in Memory”

Everything Will Be Alright: Kerry James Marshall

New York Review of Books

23 November 2023

For Kerry James Marshall, art has always been “a set of problems that needed to be solved, the first of which was…the problem of Black representation.” It’s a bit like saying that the first problem to be solved is landing on the moon—a wildly ambitious but not insane goal as long as you are willing and able to tackle the myriad theoretical and technical problems that stand between you and success.

Untitled (Ocean), drawing by Vija Celmins, in “To Fix the Image in Memory”

Interview with Prudence Crowther

New York Review

April 29, 2023

... It’s easy to poke fun at “woke” excesses, but the larger problem is that any kind of discovery has been preempted. It’s comforting but deeply boring (and ultimately dangerous) if all you are asking from art is an affirmation of something you already believe. The universe is a probabilistic place, at least from the vantage point of an individual living in it, and coming to terms with unanticipated outcomes is important.

Untitled (Ocean), drawing by Vija Celmins, in “To Fix the Image in Memory”

Kerry James Marshall's Exquisite Corpses

New York Review of Books

December 12, 2022

For four decades Marshall has been helping himself to the bounty of art history, extrapolating distinctive strengths of early Renaissance or French rococo and setting them to work in entirely novel ways to depict Black subjects and Black experience. In a spellbinding exhibition now at Jack Shainman Gallery, it’s Surrealism’s turn. Hilarious and sinister, easy to approach and impossible to resolve, the paintings and drawings in “Exquisite Corpse: This is Not the Game” follow the segmented protocol to which the Surrealists laid claim under the name le cadavre exquise.

Untitled (Ocean), drawing by Vija Celmins, in “To Fix the Image in Memory”

Africa and Byzantium

The Atlantic

February 2024

A century after Constantine, Saint Augustine, a Berber from what is now Algeria, asked: “Who now knows which peoples in the Roman Empire were what, since we have all become Romans?” Two centuries after that, Emperor Heraclius considered moving the capital from Constantinople to Carthage, in present-day Tunisia. Visitors to the exhibition would do well to leave at the door any contemporary assumptions about the geography of wealth, power, religious animosity, and ethnic identification.

Untitled (Ocean), drawing by Vija Celmins, in “To Fix the Image in Memory”

Ed Ruscha at MoMA

New York Review of Books

23 November 2023

No artist has explored the thinginess of words more adroitly or deeply than Ruscha has at every step of his career. In the mid-Sixties he took up a kind of journeyman trompe l’oeil style (not smooth enough to fool the eye, but good enough that you get the idea) to picture typographic letters under pressure (the letters of “RADIO” squeezed with a C-clamp), and then liquids that coalesce into legibility: a puddle of baked beans that can be read as “Adios,” or the word “City” spelled out in clear droplets, its near-perfect circle of a C hinting at an absent highball.

Untitled (Ocean), drawing by Vija Celmins, in “To Fix the Image in Memory”

Piranesi Provacateur

New York Review

May 11, 2023

Look around, and somehow poor Piranesi is still everywhere. His prints pop up like background chatter in photographs, fictions, and Logan Roy’s living room in Succession’s fourth season. Jorge Luis Borges and Le Corbusier were aesthetic and philosophical adversaries, but both decorated their rooms with Vedute...Louis Kahn, champion of modernist monumentality, had Piranesi’s quixotic plan of the Campo Marzio in his Philadelphia office; Peter Eisenman, architecture’s field marshal of fragmentation, has the same print in his bedroom.

Untitled (Ocean), drawing by Vija Celmins, in “To Fix the Image in Memory”

Winslow Homer

The Atlantic

May 2022

The Homer of The Gulf Stream is both more worldly and more elusive than the Homer of little red schoolhouses and sou’westers. And what the 90 or so paintings and watercolors assembled in “Crosscurrents” make clear is that the most salient quality of his art was never straightforwardness; it is his knack for using visual precision to demonstrate the limits of vision. We can see what is happening but not what will happen. He is the master of the ambiguous outcome, which also makes him the master of the unclear moral: Believe in the ship, and The Gulf Stream is a lesson in forbearance; believe in the waterspout, and it is a lesson in futility.

other recent publications

Jim Dine: I Print: Catalogue Raisonné of Prints, 2001–2020

with Tobias Burg, editor

Göttingen: Steidl 2021

Bits and Pieces: 400 Years of Collage

Print Quarterly, March 2021

What the Little Woman Was Up To:

Five Hundred Years of Women’s Work: The Lisa Unger Baskin Collection

New York Review of Books, 26 March 2020

The Self-portrait from Schiele to Beckman at the Neue Galerie

New York Review of Books, 18 July 2019  

Poons v Koons: the Art of ‘The Price of Everything'

New York Review Daily, February 2019 

Mirror Mirror: The Prints of Alison Saar

Susan Tallman, Nancy Doll and Alison Saar

Portland: Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation 2019

The Edge of Visibility 

Art in Print, Sep-Oct 2018

Richter and Polke

Art in Print, Jul-Aug 2018

The American Dream: Pop to the Present

Stephen Coppell, Catherine Daunt, Susan Tallman

London: the British Museum 2017

 

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