Archive for February, 2018


Helen Frankenthaler (obituary)
Abstract expressionist artist associated with the colour field movement

Michael McNay
The Guardian, Wednesday 28 December 2011

At the age of 23 Helen Frankenthaler painted Mountains and Sea (1952), an abstraction that freed up the logjam in postwar American art following the first sensational burst of creative activity by the abstract expressionists. It looks, in reproduction, like a gently evocative watercolour with a series of blue, green and red stains fading into pink, and a small, glowing yellow ochre passage coalescing into the hint of landscape that the title suggests. In fact Frankenthaler, who has died aged 83, had just returned from a holiday in Nova Scotia to her studio in New York, and nailed a canvas about 7ft high and 10ft wide to the floor and poured oil colour on to the surface.

The method and the scale of it was, of course, borrowed from Jackson Pollock’s procedure, but it was totally devoid of Pollock’s angst-ridden search for the sublime. Frankenthaler said later that, fresh from the north Atlantic, she painted from the memories absorbed into not only her mind but her wrists as well. Painting became once again, as in many of its best periods, an instinctive coalition of hand and eye and controlling intelligence.

(read more)


Helen Frankenthaler with sculptor David Smith


Helen Frankenthaler
Life Magazine


The newly unveiled Baraka Obama portrait is clearly not the kind of challenging art Leo Steinberg had in mind when writing his famous essay. Nor would I say that these derivative images are genuine expressions of the ‘plight of the public.’ Can you see why I make those to assertions? Nevertheless, it’s interesting to view this in the light of yesterday’s discussion regarding the public’s keen interest in emerging art, and the diminishing endurance of shock.

Obama’s Official Portrait Is Already The Best New Meme Of The Year

Serendipity! – Right On Schedule

Posted: February 13, 2018 in Uncategorized

Not long ago, Jasper Johns, who is now 87 and widely regarded as America’s foremost living artist, was reminiscing about his childhood in small-town South Carolina. One day when he was in the second grade, a classmate named Lottie Lou Oswald misbehaved and was summoned to the front of the room. As the teacher reached for a wooden ruler and prepared to paddle her, Lottie Lou grabbed the ruler from the teacher’s hand and broke it in half. Her classmates were stunned.

“It was absolutely wonderful,” Mr. Johns told me, appearing to relish the memory of the girl’s defiance. A ruler, an instrument of the measured life, had become an accessory to rebellion.

Jasper Johns is first studio artist in 34 years to receive Presidential Medal of Freedom

News From New Pompeii

Posted: February 12, 2018 in Uncategorized


Wallace Stevens
(1879 – 1955)
A Postcard From The Volcano

Children picking up our bones
Will never know that these were once
As quick as foxes on the hill;

And that in autumn, when the grapes
Made sharp air sharper by their smell
These had a being, breathing frost;

And least will guess that with our bones
We left much more, left what still is
The look of things, left what we felt

At what we saw. The spring clouds blow
Above the shuttered mansion house,
Beyond our gate and the windy sky

Cries out a literate despair.
We knew for long the mansion’s look
And what we said of it became

A part of what it is … Children,
Still weaving budded aureoles,
Will speak our speech and never know,

Will say of the mansion that it seems
As if he that lived there left behind
A spirit storming in blank walls,

A dirty house in a gutted world,
A tatter of shadows peaked to white,
Smeared with the gold of the opulent sun.


Jasper Johns
Light Bulb 1 (1958)
Private Collection

Readings For The Week of February 27th

Posted: February 12, 2018 in Readings

Good class today! These are the new readings I said I would provide. Because we are a very chatty group (which I consider a very good thing), I doubt we will get to them until Monday. But do feel free to read ahead. I’ll see you very soon!


Susan Sontag
(1933 – 2004)
“Against Interpretation” (1964)
“Notes on Camp” (1964)


Susan Sontag with Jasper Johns

Lucio Fontana

By its very nature, action painting is painting in the medium of difficulties.
–Harold Rosenberg, “The American Action Painters” (1952)

There exists my action, regardless of whether or not it is secured.
–Kazuo Shiraga, “Action Only” (1955)


Kazuo Shiraga
Challenging Mud (1955)


Kazuo Shiraga
painting with his feet for Life magazine
at the Nishinomiya factory of Jiro Yoshihara (1956)

Shozo Gutai

Shōzō Shimamoto
making a painting by shattering bottles (1956)


Murakami Saburō
Passing Through (1956)


Kazuo Shiraga
Work II (1958)


Shomei Tomatsu
Atomic Bomb Damage (1961)


Kazuo Shiraga
Black Sky (1990)

In our form of society, audience and understanding for advanced painting have been produced, both here and abroad, first of all by a tiny circle of poets, musicians, theoreticians, men of letters, who have sensed in their own work the presence of the new creative principle.

–Harold Rosenberg, “American Action Painters” (1952)


Frank O’Hara
(1926 – 1966)

Screen Shot 2013-02-11 at 11.22.05 AM



The experience, you will notice, the elements which enter the presence of the transforming catalyst, are of two kinds: emotions and feelings. The effect of a work of art upon the person who enjoys it is an experience different in kind from any experience not of art.

–T. S. Eliot

I wonder what anyone will make of these recordings, from the 1970s, of the very famous Canadian pianist Glenn Gould, author of the famous essay “Let’s Ban Applause!” (1962). The YouTube comments are total nonsense, of course. But perhaps there is a lesson to be learned from watching people make idiots of themselves by failing epically in their attempts to praise or blame. The same appalling spectacle can also be seen regularly over on, and I invite you all to have a look, when you get a chance, at customer reviews there. Horrifying, but instructive, and indicative of just how important it us for us to have decent critics in our culture. But enough of general issues. What’s actually going on in these specific videos? What would the author of our current readings have to say about these performances? What do you imaging Gould is trying to achieve here? Is he succeeding wonderfully, or is he yet another epic failure? Why? How?

Orlando Gibbons
“Lord Salisbury’s Pavan and Galliard”

William Byrd
Galliard No.6

But why in the world would Gould ever want to ban applause? And what might that have to do with arguments put forth in the critical writings of T. S. Eliot? Will the following piece of music offer any assistance as we attempt to answer that question?

Have A Fun Weekend!

Posted: February 9, 2018 in Uncategorized

Ali Foreman Kline

At a certain moment the canvas began to appear to one American painter after another as an arena in which to act—rather than as a space in which to reproduce, re-design, analyze or “express” an object, actual or imagined. What was to go on the canvas was not a picture but an event.

–Harold Rosenberg

Arthur Goldhammer, translator of a volume of Camus’s Combat editorials, calls it “nonsense” to believe that “good translation requires some sort of mystical sympathy between author and translator.” While “mystical” may indeed be a bit of a stretch, it’s hard to look at Camus’s famous first sentence—whether translated by Stuart Gilbert, Joseph Laredo, Kate Griffith, or even, to a lesser degree, Matthew Ward—without thinking that a little more understanding between author and translator may have prevented the text from being colored in ways that Camus never intended.

Louise Bourgeois
Maman (Mommy)

A Taste for Rebellion

Posted: February 7, 2018 in Uncategorized

Student: How Is Addiction Related To Freedom?

The Cigarette’s Powerful Cultural Allure
January 11, 2014
NPR Weekend Edition (4 min 41 sec)

Nearly 20 percent of Americans still smoke, in spite of what we know about the dangers. Part of the reason is the allure of a cigarette, so elemental to classic scenes in movies, television shows and books. NPR’s Scott Simon speaks with Richard Klein, author of Cigarettes are Sublime, about smoking and American culture.


Klein Cigarettes Sublime

From Duke University Press

Cigarettes are bad for you; that is why they are so good. With its origins in the author’s urgent desire to stop smoking, Cigarettes Are Sublime offers a provocative look at the literary, philosophical, and cultural history of smoking. Richard Klein focuses on the dark beauty, negative pleasures, and exacting benefits attached to tobacco use and to cigarettes in particular. His appreciation of paradox and playful use of hyperbole lead the way on this aptly ambivalent romp through the cigarette in war, movies (the “Humphrey Bogart cigarette”), literature, poetry, and the reflections of Sartre to show that cigarettes are a mixed blessing, precisely sublime.

About The Author

Richard Klein is Professor of French at Cornell University and editor of Diacritics. He quit smoking while writing Cigarettes Are Sublime and has been nicotine-free ever since.

SAS underline

To name a sensibility [i.e., a taste, a mode of life], to draw its contours and to recount its history, requires a deep sympathy modified by revulsion.

–Susan Sontag

jpeg-1 jpeg-2

jpeg-3 jpeg-4


[F.W.J.] Schelling‘s parting shot, in the last paragraph of his final lecture, is a sharp reminder to the state that its quality will be judged by its contribution to public and private art.

In closing, let me say that it is a disgrace in those who have a direct or indirect part in governing the state not to have familiarity with or receptivity to art. Nothing honors princes and those in authority more than respect and encouragement of artists. It is a sad and shameful spectacle when those who have the means to promote art’s finest flowering waste their money on tasteless, barbarous, vulgar displays.

Even though the public at large may find it hard to grasp that art is a necessary, integral part of a state founded on Ideas, we should at least recall the example of antiquity, when festivals, public monuments, dramatic performances, and other communal activities together made up a single, universal, objective, and living work of art.

–F.W.J. Schelling, On University Studies (quoted from E.S. Shaffer’s “Romantic Philosophy and The University of Berlin”)

Lawmakers balk at potential cost of Trump’s military parade.


(1919 to 1933)

Issued by Faber and Faber, the aggressively modern publishing house where T. S. Eliot worked.

Nikolaus Pevsner (1902-1983), Art historian and architectural scholar

Architectural historian. Born in Leipzig, Pevsner lost his post at Göttingen University on Hitler’s advent, and came to Britain in 1933. Pioneers of Modern Design (1936) and An Outline of European Architecture (1942) established his reputation and stimulated a popular interest in art and architecture. He taught at Birkbeck College, University of London (1942-69), and was Slade Professor of Fine Art at Cambridge (1949-55). He sat on the editorial board of the Architectural Review, was art editor of Penguin Books, and in 1955 gave the Reith lectures on the ‘Englishness of English Art’. The Buildings of England (46 volumes, 1951-74) remains his monument.

This is a tremendous book about a subject that engages us all. On one level, it is simply a biography of the architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner, who came to England from Germany as a refugee in 1933 and wrote the magisterial Buildings of England series for Penguin. However, it is much more than the story of one man.

As befits the study of one of our greatest cultural historians, it is also a story of why architecture matters and, at a deeper level, how Europeans evolved the particular living spaces and political systems we see today.