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Rachel Cohen

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Cezanne apples peaches still life

Summer of Cezanne

Thursday, September 8, 2022

The summer of Cezanne is over. It was a beautiful season, marked by voyage, worry, discovery, growth, and, near to us and to those we know, by illness, flood, fire. The children had bikes, lakes and ponds were blue, we ate corn that had grown well and corn that hadn’t. I went, ten times, to the Art Institute here in Chicago and studied the Cezannes, more than a hundred of them, assembled probably for the last time in my lifetime, in a show at once magnificent and calm. I’ve written a review of the show [...] more

Vija Celmins Blackboard Tableau #12

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

This is Blackboard Tableau #12 by Vija Celmins. Made between 2007 and 2015, in a process suggested in the wall text: “One found tablet, one made tablet, wood, leather, acrylic, alkyd oil, and pastel.” Celmins, born 1938, Riga, Latvia, in another period of trouble. [...] more
Gray, Glass Trees

Glass Trees

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Glass tree. Half empty. Can’t see its forest for. [...] more
Vuillard

On green on my birthday

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

On green on my birthday. for Elina Mer, for Latham Boyle, and for Peter Helm, on our shared birthday Yesterday, I traded green poems... [...] more

Liz Magor at Passover

Sunday, March 28, 2021

I have been twisting myself toward spring cleaning. My right hip and lower back aren’t what they were. It is hard to get a clear mind, and the house is encrusted with the layers of our going through this year. On my desk, the notebooks with promising scraps of ideas are buried beneath an avalanche of the undone tasks of several years. Books are everywhere, as are the children’s projects, stiffened clay, half-sewn dinosaurs, still unstuffed. A metal model tower that didn’t work out awaits an uncertain fate in one of the myriad little white dishes we [...] more

Pissarro in March, in memory of Richard Brettell

Sunday, March 21, 2021

In 1897, Shrove Tuesday fell in March, and, in Paris, the annual Mardi Gras parade came down the Boulevard Montmartre on a blustery day. At a window overlooking the Boulevard, Camille Pissarro waited, brushes at the ready. The previous month, in February, he had begun an ambitious project, which would result in sixteen paintings of the Boulevard Montmartre, showing winter giving way to spring. Pissarro painted in the mornings, the afternoons, and the evenings; he painted in snow, rain, and the rare sunshine; he painted grey, and, when it came at last, he painted green. And he [...] more

Rogues' Gallery, Daumier

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

I've always liked this set of busts by Honoré Daumier. [...] more
Joan Mitchell City Landscape

Joan Mitchell, Snow

Monday, February 15, 2021

Four years ago, a little more than four years ago. I saw this Joan Mitchell at the Art Institute. Snow on top of snow, on all the angled branches, over the places where the birds try to find food. [...] more

Winter Gardening Pissarro

Friday, January 22, 2021

Yesterday it went up to 39 degrees in Chicago, which is warm right now in January, and it was a lovely day, sunny and quiet. Looking ahead to many cold days, I had seen this one on the horizon and planned to use it for a pleasant task in the garden, cutting the dry Northern sea oats. These are beautiful grasses with very lovely seeds in a pattern like a short bit of wheat. They are already in profusion in our garden, and the dry stalks need to be cut in January or the seeds are too [...] more

library of exile

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

I saw Edmund de Waal’s library of exile installation in the summer of 2019, in Venice. I went in the morning. My mother had the children, and while I was gone T dropped his gondola souvenir on the stone floor and the little glittering aqueous globe with the tiny buildings of Venice in it smashed on the stone floor and water went everywhere. They went to the little souvenir shop and bought another one for a few dollars. But I did not know of this. I took the vaporetto, a grown up, a [...] more

Malangatana, Missing Voices

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Malangatana: Mozambique Modern closed on November 16th, around the same time that the Art Institute shut its doors. It was the first retrospective of Malangatana Ngwenya’s work since the artist’s death in 2011, the first solo show of the artist’s work in the United States, and the first show of work by a modern African painter in the Art Institute’s history. The artist often went by his first name, Malangatana. [...] more

Emerging Buddhas 56th Street

Sunday, November 22, 2020

This time I was quicker to turn to public art. Knowing that the museums were closed again, I right away started walking to look at the sculptures and murals in our neighborhood. On Thursday, I spent a little while with a circle of sculptures that I’ve never really stayed with, though I always point them out to the children as we walk by, or ride on our bicycles. [...] more

I just had time

Thursday, November 19, 2020

The Art Institute of Chicago is closed again, but I was able to go, almost every week, for nearly two months. And, I fell in love with a painting. [...] more

Monet on Election Day

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

At Giverny, during World War I, Monet could hear the gunshots from the front, which was fifty kilometers away. His eldest son died of illness in 1914, and his second son and his stepson were both in the army. Monet did not think especially well of himself for continuing to paint, but he did think it was what he could do. He wrote in a letter in December of 1914: Yesterday I resumed work… it’s the best way to avoid thinking in these sad times. All the same I [...] more

Kerry James Marshall, Another Chance

Monday, November 2, 2020

How I have missed this painting, Slow Dance . When I saw it again a week ago the feeling was of relief, yearning, pleasure, a gift. It was up, it was out, for as long as we are not in total emergency shutdown, I can come visit. [...] more

Toledo Company

Saturday, October 24, 2020

El Greco lived a life of some difficulty. He left Greece for Venice, Venice for Rome, Rome for Spain. These travels were arduous. The ways he wanted to paint were unlike any other painter. A manner that people loved and people hated and people who had commissioned his works sometimes refused to pay for. Quite often refused to pay for. He came to rest in Toledo, but it was an uneasy rest. [...] more

A Room

Sunday, October 11, 2020

At the Art Institute two weeks ago, I wandered into a room of Abstract Expressionism. Either the arrangement of the space or my mood had changed and it was as if I had never seen any of it before. Choucair, Trajectory of a Line with DeFeo, The Annunciation . [...] more

Looking Forward Monet

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Tomorrow, Monday, I’m going to virtually ‘walk’ with people through the last gallery of the beautiful Monet in Chicago show at the Art Institute of Chicago. I have some dozens of close pictures to show of the eight late water lily paintings in that wonderful room. It’s a free public program and quite a lot of people have registered and, in the odd way we live now, I’ll meet each of them in the ether between my screen and theirs. [...] more

Amélie Rorty In Memoriam

Thursday, September 24, 2020

In Cambridge, we had a lovely friend, the philosopher Amélie Rorty. About five years ago, not too long before we left Cambridge, I went with Amélie to see this very beautiful show of the work of Carlo Crivelli (the 15th century Italian artist) at the Gardner Museum. We walked through the show gently, looking at each painting carefully and talking them over as she and I both loved to do. Amélie died last week, at the age of eighty-eight and, in my sorrow, I would like to write a small remembrance. [...] more

Louise Moillon Serendipity

Monday, September 21, 2020

Last week, on my first visit to the museum in six months, I saw a painting by an artist I don’t remember ever having heard of. This kind of serendipity is a special grace of museums. [...] more

Paint, paint, paint

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

On Monday, I went to the Art Institute of Chicago for the first time in six months. It was quiet; everyone had a mask. There were people with devices to check you in electronically and you were informed by text when there was enough space in the one exhibition that is drawing any kind of crowd. The atmosphere was reserved, cautious. But the paintings. El Greco, View of Toledo, ca. 1599-1600, Metropolitan Museum of Art, detail photo Rachel Cohen. At the museum, [...] more

Tiepolo Opening

Sunday, September 6, 2020

I’ve long had it in mind to write a bit about Tiepolo – Venetian artist of the 18th century – an artist I’m trying to catch up to, one I suspect is in my future. It’s the turn of the year. We are back from driving to see friends and family. As we drove the highways, we looked for horses. On and near lucent rivers, we looked for swans. It’s raining. Most of the garden did well in our absence, a few things are withered and brown. The school year, unlike any other, [...] more

Constant Structure, Jennie C. Jones

Sunday, August 16, 2020

I have seen art. Detail, Unit Structures #2-3 [...] more

Turner Summer Somber

Monday, August 10, 2020

It is a bright hot day in August, but, when I settle to think, the mood this morning is somber like the brown below the sky's red line. [...] more

Memory that lives in the landscape -- John Constable

Friday, August 7, 2020

A painting I have been thinking about this week is John Constable’s The White Horse , which is a painting I used to love at the Frick Museum and to visit regularly for many years. At that time, the Frick did not allow pictures, and I never took them anyway, and so I have no detail photographs of the kind I now use to go back and look, and can only reproduce here this distant internet picture. [...] more

Essay in Lit Hub on Jane Austen, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Walking on the South Side

Friday, July 24, 2020

An essay of mine on lines from Jane Austen and Gwendolyn Brooks that keep me company on walking days in quarantine and during Black Lives Matter is up at Lit Hub today. https://lithub.com/on-jane-austens-politics-of-walking/ In the piece I've continued to think about the wonderful sculpture of Gwendolyn Brooks by Margot McMahon, with the collaboration of Nora Brooks Blakely that is here in our neighborhood. A entry of mine about the sculpture is in my art notebook at: https://rachelecohen.com/blog/The_Frederick_Project/c/851 [...] more

Suellen Rocca's Cha-Cha Couple Dance, Dance

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Last week, I discovered that Suellen Rocca had died in March of this year. Her paintings have been on my mind since, and I want to share this wonderful, exuberant one, called Cha-Cha Couple , which I saw many times at the Smart Museum of Art during their Time is Now show about art on the South Side of Chicago in the 1960s. [...] more

Suellen Rocca, I won't get to tell you this, but I love your work

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Because she was long based in Chicago and was a central figure in the Hairy Who, Suellen Rocca's work has been on display in different shows at the Smart Museum of Art and the Art Institute of Chicago over the last several years, and I've had a chance to sit with several pieces. [...] more

Ruth Asawa Sculpture in Air

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Today I was drawn to Ruth Asawa's wire sculptures, which I learned about (long after many else had) from the show at the Art Institute of Chicago, In a Cloud, In a Wall, In a Chair: Six Modernists in Mexico at Mid-Century . I went to the show several times, but only took a few photographs, and do not have the proper credit line for the group of sculptures, but the central form in the top picture is the one described in the credit line above, made in 1951. [...] more

Beckmann After War

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Not long after we moved to Chicago, I wrote a piece for the Virginia Quarterly Review 's nonfiction instagram project #VQR True Stories. The piece was about Beckmann's great triptych Actors, which is at the Harvard Art Museums, and I was having trouble finishing it, and I went to the Art Institute and happened upon this Beckmann drawing, Birdplay . [...] more

Tang Chang Calligraphic Blue

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Something about the blue in the Mary Cassatt I was looking at yesterday and the calligraphy in the Persian miniature I looked at before that made me think of an extraordinary calligraphic blue that I witnessed in a show at the Smart Museum of Art a couple of years ago. for Issa Lampe [...] more

Cassatt The Child's Bath

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Today, I am thinking about loving a child, and worrying about them. [...] more

Iskandar and the Seven Sages, from a Khamsa of Nizami

Saturday, June 27, 2020

I just have four pictures, each poor in its own way. But I can't even find the work in the Art Institute's files, or 'pinned' on the internet, so this is the only way to show it to you. I know nothing about it beyond my impression of its incredible fineness, the perfection of the relationship of the calligraphy to the image, the beauty of the colors, and the grace of the situation of the figures in the landscape-page. [...] more

Cleveland Hike Cézanne

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

This morning we walked with the children in a preserve south of Cleveland. There were stone steps that allowed you to climb up and down along the river which fell over slate ledges in striated curves. [...] more

Jongkind: A River in Summer

Monday, June 22, 2020

We are visiting family in Cleveland. The Cleveland Museum of Art will be one of the first to reopen, on June 30th. Ordinarily, we would go there. [...] more

Van Gogh's Room In Detail

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

It is nearly midnight. Dark out. Someone is setting off fireworks. In the house very quiet. I think of Van Gogh, to whom it was important to have these few rooms, with enough room for him to paint, and for Gauguin to come and be sheltered, these rooms in the yellow house in Arles. [...] more

Van Gogh's Room

Monday, June 15, 2020

Today there is a small glitch in the program that allows me to upload images as part of these notebook entries, and this changes how I can take you through Van Gogh's room — the square table with the blue pitcher in its bowl and the stoppered glass bottles, the open green casement window, the floor with its rough texture of green and brown, the two bright yellow straw chairs, the red cover on the bed, the row of pegs on the wall on which hang the blue work clothes and the soft-brimmed hat — [...] more

Weekend Glimpse, A single room, Van Gogh

Saturday, June 13, 2020

We are in our rooms in a different way. I think I am having the experience of realizing that this is not a matter of a few weeks or months that will soon be definitively over, but a matter of a year, or years. The room I want to think about is Van Gogh's. The Bedroom , 1889, belonging to the Art Institute of Chicago. On Monday, I will set to work with this room. Wishing you a weekend with time for [...] more

Graduated

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Yesterday and today, in our extended family, as for many families, our children graduated. Our children and their cousins left behind nursery school, second grade, kindergarten, sixth grade, a year of daycare, and the fourth grade in a planned home school. Their teachers and families made a moving effort to mark these changes which this year do not seem as visible, as tangible, as usual. Thinking about graduation, and gradual movement, my mind went to Claude Monet, who was one of the first painters I loved, and whose paintings our children love to [...] more

Kano School: Kyoto at Peace

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Continuing to think about the rare quality of light at Promontory Point on Sunday. Mellow clear June light of a temperate day. And also light imbued by the people who sat together, sheltered on the rock ledges of a public park, returned to our lake after months of sequestration, with an early tenuous sense that a less violent future might be possible. At first sight, you might think, as I did, that this screen has too much gold on it to take it seriously. I recoil from things which seem [...] more

Jeff Donaldson and Miles Davis: Report on a South Side Mood

Monday, June 8, 2020

Today I just want to report on a mood that the children and I happened into around 5:30 yesterday afternoon. A beautiful mood, such as I have never encountered before, fine and distinct. ** The children and I found the mood at Lake Michigan on Promontory Point, which was open yesterday for the first time in nearly three months. We got word from a friend that it was possible to go. We rode our bikes down around 5 in the afternoon. It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon and there [...] more

Weekend Glimpse Norman Lewis

Saturday, June 6, 2020

This work in pastel and ink by Norman Lewis caught my attention one day at the Smart Museum of Art. The story wears us down. Lewis grew up in Harlem, his parents were Bermudian, he studied with Augusta Savage. He worked alongside Pollock in the WPA and showed with Mark Rothko and went to the meetings of the Abstract Expressionists, he founded the gallery Cinque with Romare Bearden and Ernest Crichlow, he had shows in his lifetime at MoMA and the Whitney, but his work was not discussed [...] more

Beauford Delaney Eyes

Friday, June 5, 2020

Drawing together the two paintings I’ve been considering this week – Delaney’s Untitled (Village Street) , 1948, and his Self-Portrait , 1944. Beauford Delaney, Untitled (Village Street), 1948, Terra Foundation of Art. All detail photos Rachel Cohen. Beauford Delaney, Self-Portrait, 1944, Art Institute of Chicago. All detail photos Rachel Cohen. When I was with Untitled (Village Street) , I noticed the repeating circles and ovals – lights, clouds, signs, puddles. [...] more

Delaney, Self-Portrait with a Red Hat

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Today, I just want to look at this self-portrait by Beauford Delaney, carefully, and from different distances. It was painted in 1944. Yesterday, I was writing about 1943 – the year when the Harlem insurrection broke out on the night after James Baldwin’s father’s funeral, which was also the day of Baldwin’s 19th birthday. When Beauford Delaney found the money to pay for the father’s burial, and Baldwin drove through the streets of shattered glass to the burial. And then left Harlem and moved down to the Village [...] more

Beauford Delaney and James Baldwin, Notes of Native Sons

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Between the thirties and the end of World War II, there was perhaps as radical a change in the psychological perspective of the Negro American toward America as there was between the Emancipation and 1930. —Amiri Baraka, Blues People: Negro Music in White America When I looked at this painting, painted in 1948, Beauford Delaney’s Untitled (Village Street) at length this winter, I was very struck by the way one side of the painting is very clearly in color, and the other very clearly emphasizes [...] more

Beauford Delaney and Protest

Monday, June 1, 2020

In these hard days, the sounds of our neighborhood are of the unusual silence of the pandemic, the birds singing, of sirens, both ambulance sirens and police sirens, of the 7 pm neighborhood pot-banging in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter protestors, the muffled greetings between neighbors, masked and at a distance, the imagined sounds of videos of police violence that I have not played, but have read about, the imagined sounds of protests that I have not attended, but feel I can hear from a few miles away, and the imagined sounds of shattering [...] more

Guest Post Lori Waxman

Fischli and Weiss and the Way Things Go  

Friday, May 29, 2020

I was delighted that the wonderful art critic Lori Waxman accepted my invitation to write the first guest post for the Frederick Project. Here is her reflection on Fischli and Weiss and the Way Things Go. — RC After the shelter-in-place order was issued here, one of the very first artworks I turned to was “The Way Things Go,” a 1987 film by the Swiss duo Peter Fischli and David Weiss. I watched it with my son, who is six years old and likes to make inventions out of random crap he [...] more

Centrale Montemartini, Bodies in Structured Space

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Yesterday, I thought about Michelangelo's designs for the Laurentian Library in Florence. I was interested that I came upon a thought of the strain that an idea of architectural space may put on a body. I hadn't quite thought to myself before that part of what interests me in certain Florentine ideas of space and design is that they demand something of my body as I move through them. When I let my mind rove about for what to look at next, I came to the Centrale Montemartini in Rome, a [...] more

Michelangelo, Stairs for a Library

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

While I was working on the biography I wrote of Bernard Berenson, which was published in 2013, I was able to go to Florence twice. This was before I had a phone with a camera, and I did not take pictures on these trips. Berenson’s lists of Italian paintings and painters are still foundational for all the work of identifying who painted what in the complicated annals of late Medieval and Renaissance art in Italy. He was extremely gifted at discerning the artistic personality that had been at work in a certain piece [...] more

Katayama Yokoku, Marking an Occasion

Monday, May 25, 2020

When I began going to museums with our daughter S, she always liked paintings of animals, and, from an early age, tigers. Sometimes, when I went without her, I would take a few pictures to bring home of things I thought she might especially like. It is for this reason that I have one photo of this magnificent tiger in a rainstorm, painted by Katayama Yokoku, who was a Kano school painter in the 18th century in Japan. S was two and a half when I took the picture, I was very pregnant, and thinking [...] more

Michelangelo on Sunday

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Two important exhibitions of Michelangelo drawings in recent years. The drawing below was in the show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman & Designer (Nov. 2017 - Feb 2018). It's a composition sketch for a planned sculptural relief at the church of San Lorenzo, the subject is St. Lawrence Coming Before the Emperor. The Emperor is enthroned on the viewer's left. Michelangelo began in red chalk, on the left, and then began to [...] more

Stockholder Rose's Inclination

Friday, May 22, 2020

Red was also painted on to the sidewalk. The red stretched up in a big painted arc on the back wall that curved up on to the ceiling and stretched toward the windows of the second floor, windows that you cannot really see from the lobby space below but which shone on the red. And red ran in the carpet under the tables where students sat and drank coffee, across the floor of the lobby, out the museum doors, and on to the sidewalk, where it was met by triangles of yellow, blue, green, and lavender. The [...] more

Vostell Concrete

Thursday, May 21, 2020

In the fall of 2016, when we had just arrived in Chicago, I began to get emails about a concrete car, a 1957 Cadillac encased in concrete, that would be traveling the streets of Chicago before being permanently parked in a University parking garage. This seemed promising and suggestive, and though I was unable to attend the parade, a small trail of reflection began. Concrete Traffic, Created 1970, Originally Installed 1970, Reinstalled 2016. Conceived by Wolf Vostell and created by Chicago artisans. Located at Campus North Parking Garage 5525 S Ellis Ave, Chicago. [...] more
Mondrian landscape

Mondrian Trees Reflected

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

This entry was written for, and is up today at, zoeryanprojects, more information below. ** I walked by this Mondrian one day at the Art Institute, just wandering with a friend. I am tall, and she is taller, carries herself like a long line and speaks in lineated prose, and, although she was in another room when I happened on this painting, the elongation of space was a part of my impression. I first became aware of the significance of trees for Mondrian [...] more

Vuillard and Vegetation

Monday, May 18, 2020

This week I want to think about vegetation and growth. I have been reading a long poem by Francis Ponge from Le Parti Pris de Choses , which my friend Massimo sent on to me – happily, since I cannot find my copy of it. In the poem “Faune et Flore” I find the line: “Il n’y a pas d’autre mouvement en eux que l’extension.” Extension is their only movement. It has rained enormously over the last few days. The last five springs have been the rainiest five years on [...] more

Weekend Glimpse Vuillard

Saturday, May 16, 2020

This painting by Édouard Vuillard is called Landscape: Window Overlooking the Woods . It was painted in 1899. It used to hang in a different room on the second floor of the Art Institute of Chicago, in a side room against a dark red wall. This was a quite wonderful color that brought out the richness and browns that are an important part of it. It is always nice to take a deep breath before [...] more

Morisot, Occasionally

Friday, May 15, 2020

I went to Québec City in the summer of 2018 to cover Berthe Morisot: Woman Impressionist. I had never been to Québec City before, and I had not been away from the children for two nights in a row. Our daughter was then six, and our son three and a half. Both Québec City and the Musée National des Beaux-Arts du Québec (MNBAQ) were built with French models in mind, and then also built to be of a different place. So the buildings and collection assembled into the MNBAQ are connected [...] more

If you think of each act, Pissarro

Thursday, May 14, 2020

If you think of each act. I mean, every time a person comes into contact with someone else or a living being, or the life of the world. Every time she talks to the cashier as she pays for groceries at the store, or calls the pharmacy about a prescription, every time she does or doesn’t nod to a person she passes as she’s out walking, every time she puts out bird seed or chases away a rat who has come to eat the bird seed, or decides to bring in the bird feeder for [...] more
Rembrandt Three Trees

Rembrandt – Somber

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Today three different messages of death reached me. A colleague’s father has died, from a long illness, not the coronavirus. It is very complicated for the son to go; he will have to quarantine away from his family on his return. At noon, I gave a virtual reading with another colleague, who lives on a block one block away from me. Both of us read about memorialization. After the reading, my colleague said that five households on his block - I can see the backs of these houses through my study window [...] more

Vidura Jang Bahadur Two Photographs Outside

Monday, May 11, 2020

On Friday I wrote about a show of works by photographer Vidura Jang Bahadur that has stayed with me. It was up in the spring of 2017 at the Muffler Shop at 359 E. Garfield in a University of Chicago-owned space here on the South Side. When I looked at the show, I began with the works that had been displayed in the interior space first, and my Friday entry concentrated mostly on those. Two works mounted outside were especially interesting, and I wanted to return to them today. The Muffler Shop sits [...] more

Weekend Glimpse: Cézanne Bouquet for Mother's Day

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Here is a Cézanne, The Vase of Tulips , from about 1890. It is at the Art Institute of Chicago. I took the photos. Happy Mother's Day [...] more
Jang Bahadur

Vidura Jang Bahadur On Photography

Friday, May 8, 2020

In the spring of 2017, Vidura Jang Bahadur installed a series of photographs he had taken at the Muffler Shop at 359 E. Garfield Blvd near Washington Park on the South Side. The building is owned by the University of Chicago and is a part of its art initiatives. Bahadur’s photographs were street photographs – of people at the lake shore and in the parks on the south side, of storefronts and prairie grasses, some portraits of an individual or a small group, some larger crowd gatherings. [...] more
Brooks McMahon

Gwendolyn Brooks in Our Neighborhood

Friday, July 24, 2020

I originally wrote this entry on May 6, 2020, and have reposted it in conjunction with a new piece up at Literary Hub that continues the walking around this sculpture that goes on being so important to me. That piece is at: Jane Austen, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Walking on the South Side May 6, 2020 In our neighborhood, at 46th and Greenwood, is Gwendolyn Brooks Park. And in Gwendolyn Brooks Park there is a statue of the poet, which is believed to be only the second statue of an African-American [...] more

Faith Ringgold Story Quilts

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

“On the Beach at St. Tropez” was the first Faith Ringgold story quilt I’d seen, and I was completely unprepared for the encounter. I was floored. And know what that expression means as I find it is the right one: it means my soul rushed down to the floor so that I could look up and take the measure of this. I had already read the wall text, so I knew that there was a character, Willia Marie Simone, an [...] more

Three Pissarros Over Time

Monday, May 4, 2020

A Pissarro landscape has a special quality. As in a Monet, the vegetation has a lift, but this is even a bit more pronounced, so that there is a strong space around the leaves, which have a kind of brio. Detail from Camille Pissarro, A Cowherd at Valhermeil, Auvers-sur-Oise, 1874. As in a Sisley, there are glints, and the overall effect is quite bright, but the strokes are not quite as thin as Sisley’s. Camille Pissarro, Cotes des [...] more

Weekend Countryside Pissarro

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Sunshine today put me in mind of three Pisssarros at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Camille Pissarro, A Cowherd at Valhermeil, Auvers-sur-Oise, 1874. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photos Rachel Cohen. And, second: Camille Pissarro, Jallais Hill, 1867. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photos Rachel Cohen. Third: Camille Pissarro, Cotes des Grouettes, near Pontoise, probably 1878. [...] more

Valeria Luiselli and Lola Álvarez Bravo, Montage, Part 2

Friday, May 1, 2020

Continuing the thought of yesterday. Two artists consider the topography of Mexico and Mexico City. Lola Álvarez Bravo in a photo-montage called Landscapes of Mexico from around 1954; Valeria Luiselli in an essay from around 2012 called “Flying Home.” [I’m using the translation by Christina MacSweeney; I don’t know what the essay was originally called in Spanish.] Both artists consider shifts in point of view that are hard to come by right now – you can’t get up into an airplane, or into the dusty reaches of a map archive, or to [...] more

Valeria Luiselli and Lola Álvarez Bravo, Changes in Scale, Part 1

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Low this morning, daunted by similar days and already anticipating the evening feeling that the day has slipped by without any of the things I meant to do getting done. I am aware that today was to have been a special day. We had been able to invite Valeria Luiselli to come to the University of Chicago, and she was to have arrived yesterday. Tonight would have been the large public event. I would have met her yesterday, be going over my introductory remarks now. These last few years, Luiselli has been a [...] more
Albers Six Prayers

Anni Albers Scripts

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

This week I seem to be thinking about art that thinks about writing. I spend a lot of my time thinking about how to write about art. A reversal is interesting: how art considers writing. Earlier this week, I looked at Tara Geer, and at Alberto Giacometti, both of whom use line in ways that think about writing. Today when I woke up what was in my mind was Anni Albers Study for Six Prayers, IV , which I saw a few times at the Art Institute last fall, in their [...] more

Giacometti Difficult Hand-Writing

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Writing of Tara Geer’s work yesterday put me in mind of Giacometti, whose line in drawings and in paintings also has a quality of being written. This is from the Geer of yesterday: Giacometti's hand: He, too, is calligraphic: These details are from a Giacometti that I spent a fair amount of time with at the Harvard Art Museums, a portrait of the art critic David Sylvester. I [...] more

Tara Geer At Home, Drawn

Monday, April 27, 2020

Tara Geer draws from life. There were some months, maybe years, where she spent hours up on the roof of her studio building on 133rd Street sketching the tar stains. She drew backpacks and socks, the buses in the city lot across the street, and the cobwebs in the freight elevator shaft. Right now she is sheltering with her family, and like many artists cannot get to her studio. The things she looks for are oblique, at odds. A relationship of the edges from [...] more
Geer Drawing

Weekend Space Tara Geer

Saturday, April 25, 2020

I met the artist Tara Geer at the MacDowell Colony in 2002. For the next nine years or so, we were both living in New York, and I spent quite a bit of time at her studio, looking. Eventually, I came to have three of her works, which are drawings. This is one that does not have a title, done before May of 2013, probably in early 2013 or late 2012. It is work that takes attention very seriously, and I hope, even through these photos, will offer contemplation, at the end of [...] more

Delaney and Morisot Ochre: This Week in Self-Portraits

Friday, April 24, 2020

Yesterday, looking at pictures of Beauford Delaney’s Untitled , 1965, I noticed a kind of ochre in the corner that I hadn’t remembered being part of the palette. It's down in the lower right corner, near the rosy orange, under the diagonal of green. Beauford Delaney, Untitled, 1965. Art Institute of Chicago. Photo Rachel Cohen. I have also been going through Morisot paintings this week, and her self-portrait, with its ochre, came into view. Berthe Morisot, Self-Portrait , 1885, Musée Marmottan Monet. Photos Rachel [...] more
Delaney

Beauford Delaney Close Looking

Thursday, April 23, 2020

I had about a half an hour with it. The kind people who work at the Art Institute of Chicago had arranged an appointment. It was in the director’s suite, behind an administrator, who typed away at her computer while I was looking and photographing. Which is by way of saying that the impression of calm is hard-won, mostly due to the painting, and to efforts of concentration. What a painting. It’s 21 x 26 inches (53.3 by 66 cm). A [...] more

Poussin on Earth Day

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

It is Earth Day, and I want to think about the earth’s time. My colleague Kathleen Blackburn, who writes about the environment and works with the Fresh Water Lab at the University of Illinois, has drawn my attention to a book I have been thinking about without yet having read, Rob Nixon’s Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor. The thought is that we can understand and respond to crises with an immediate time horizon, but that we have a very hard time acting as if, even perceiving that, we’re in [...] more

William Walker Public Art

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Today I want to think about public art. Art that I can still go visit, that anyone can still go visit, even though all the museums are closed. Often vulnerable and often unprotected, and also, beautifully, always there. Even in the dark of night, in snow, in a pandemic. In our neighborhood of Hyde Park in Chicago, there is a masterwork at the 56th Street Metra Underpass. It is called Childhood is Without Prejudice , and it is one of the few surviving murals by William Walker, who was a foundational figure in mural art. [...] more
Morisot Daughter

Morisot – A Daughter at the Window

Monday, April 20, 2020

A daughter at the window is poignant. She is here with you, in the interior, but she is thinking of what lies beyond. Berthe Morisot, Cottage Interior, 1886. Musée d'Ixelles. Photos Rachel Cohen. Berthe Morisot painted and drew her daughter Julie probably several hundred times. There are masterpieces of Julie as a baby with her wet nurse, as a toddler swinging her foot in a chair, as a little girl with her father in the garden. I’ve studied three of Morisot’s daughter as a little [...] more

Noemi Pérez at the MCA Chicago

Routes and Territories

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Time is short today, but what I want to begin thinking about are some mural-sized works of charcoal on canvas that I saw in February at the Museum of Contemporary Art as part of their exhibition Routes and Territories . The artist is Noemi Pérez, who is from Colombia. Together, the set of pieces are called Panorama Catatumbo. She made them in two groups, one group from 2012 to 2016, the other in 2018. One of the 2018 panels was shown courtesy of the [...] more

Pissarro in Snow

Out of Season

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Snow this morning. This painting – Rabbit Warren at Pontoise, Snow by Camille Pissarro, 1879 – is a regular point of reference for me, one I visit fairly often at the Art Institute. I had thought that writing of it would wait until next year. (Will we be inside again? There are questions and predictions about future waves of the disease. Hard to grasp what the year will be.) Most winters I write a little about snow and painting because snow is painting [...] more

Gray Bird and Buddhist Monk

Frederick Project: Guidance

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

This morning I woke early, went to the kitchen. Out the window, in the still-brown bittersweet vine, a small gray bird, its feathers puffed out against the cold. It was 31 degrees, cold for spring. At this time of year, we have many migratory birds that pass through our garden for a few days. I know these gray ones come around this time. Yesterday I was saying to the children that this unseasonably cold weather would be unexpected for them. But then, I added, where it is coming from or going to would be cold [...] more
Cézanne, still life

Cézanne and Ponge: Wooden Table

Frederick Project: Tableau

Monday, April 13, 2020

The painting is called Still Life with Commode . It’s from 1887-88, a strong period of Cézanne’s work. He was fighting hard with his canvases, and able to do some of what mattered to him. He made two very similar versions of this painting, which was unusual for him; there is only one other still life pair where he worked through the same arrangement twice. So, the elements and their arrangement here were of unusual interest to him. The back of the picture is the commode. Which is [...] more

Weekend Glimpse Cézanne

Frederick Project: Glimpse

Saturday, April 11, 2020

It is the weekend again, and I am leaving a few images from a Cézanne still life at the Fogg Art Museum in Cambridge, Massachusetts for anyone who might pass by and be in need of a fine green, a modulating brown, yellow apples, and a sense of achieved stability. Wishing you peace, health, tranquility, resolve. [...] more
Wa Lehulere

Kemang Wa Lehulere: Sensibility

Frederick Project: Reconstruction

Friday, April 10, 2020

Late in 2016, when we had been living in Chicago for about six months, I went to the Art Institute, and wandered into a show of works by Kemang Wa Lehulere, who is from Capetown. The show was called In All My Wildest Dreams and was curated by Kate Nesin. [All photos are from the exhibition, I don't have titles for all the pieces.] In the first room there was a large installation. Old, small brown suitcases, some open, some closed. Cut pieces of green artificial grass. Porcelain dogs, something like German shepherds, but [...] more

Sargent Stone Water Stone Paper

Frederick Project: Materials

Thursday, April 9, 2020

In 2013, a show of John Singer Sargent watercolors. I saw it at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston; it was co-organized with, and also shown at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. These two institutions have the two finest collections of Sargent watercolors. These first details are from I Gesuati , ca. 1909. [Works shown in this post belong to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; except for two, belonging to the Brooklyn Museum, noted below.] It interested me that walls were so beautiful in his [...] more
Hiroshige

Hiroshige's Views of Kyoto

Frederick Project: Reconstruction

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

In December of 2019, I went to New York for a few days and various reasons, and I went twice to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I was covering their show Kyoto: Capital of Artistic Imagination , for which they had reinstalled their Japanese galleries with works from their permanent collection that partake in the long Kyoto tradition. Kyoto was for many centuries the capital of Japan – this capital was eventually shifted to Edo, which is now called Tokyo. The two cities were connected by a famously beautiful road, the Tokaido Road, and many [...] more
Lorenzetti, Fogg

Lorenzetti and Neighborhood

Frederick Project: Elegy

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

This week, the week of Passover and Easter, is a strange one. I think of it as a place in the year where time folds over itself. In our family, we observe Passover, the commemoration of the exodus. The story of enslavement and liberation told over and over down the generations. That story, the ritual of its retelling at a meal, is then the setting for the last supper, the prelude to an execution, and the foundation of the new testament, also celebrated in our family, by some [...] more
Xu Longsen

Xu Longsen and the sense of touch

Frederick Project: Felt

Monday, April 6, 2020

Over the weekend, I set out some pictures from Xu Longsen’s Light of Heaven exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago in 2018. The exhibition was installed throughout the museum’s rooms devoted to art from China and was in complex relationships with the other works. Xu Longsen  works in series and groups, and from my photographs and the museum's documentation, I can’t tell which pieces had which names. All the works are from 2016-2017 and are in the collection of the artist, Beijing. [...] more

Xu Longsen at the Art Institute

Frederick Project: Glimpse

Saturday, April 4, 2020

On weekends, I'm going to post some glimpsed works that I can take up in more detail come Monday. These are from an installation of works by Xu Longsen at the Art Institute of Chicago called Light of Heaven , which ran from Feb 1 - June 24, 2018. At the end, I am also including a photo of the wall text that gives the names of the installations that were in this space, a series of painted columns made of felt, all several feet taller than a person. [...] more

Jan Brueghel the Elder Dance

Frederick Project: Crowded

Friday, April 3, 2020

Yesterday I spent some five hours talking to people through screens – a zoom faculty meeting with twenty-five writers at their desks, facetime with my oldest friend, also a writer at a desk, zoom family meet-up for nine with breakout room for cousins. The day closed with a zoom nightcap for my husband and I and a dear friend in Cambridge. Grateful for friends, colleagues, family, health, nevertheless, by the end I was reeling with insubstantiality. This morning I followed my subconscious through the folders of my art photographs, choosing a trip to France six [...] more

A little more late Manet

Frederick Project: Fortitude

Monday, March 30, 2020

Yesterday, I began from Manet’s morning glories and nasturtiums to arrive at a letter he sent to Marthe Hoschedé, with a water color of a horse chestnut on it. Letter to Marthe Hoschedé, Decorated with a Chestnut , October 10, 1880, private collection. Detail photo Rachel Cohen. In the exhibition, at the museum, next to the letter with the horse chestnut, there hung a watercolor of plums. Today I’m going to begin there. Three Plums , 1880. Collection of Cecille Pulitzer. Detail photos Rachel Cohen. [...] more
Manet Morning Glories 1881

Late Manet

Frederick Project: Unfinished

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Last summer, the summer of 2019, the Art Institute of Chicago had a Manet show, Manet and Modern Beauty which I reviewed for Apollo Magazine . The paintings in the show were mostly from the late 1870s and early 1880s, a period when Manet’s touch and palette were lightening, he was interested in flowers and fashion, and he was also dying of complications of syphilis. Thus the tone was an odd combination of lightness, fluidity, melancholy, and decay. It was a very sad show. I had not realized that [...] more

iris Kensmil and Remy Jungerman Further Looking

Frederick Project: Before and After

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Yesterday I turned up a subject – a pavilion at the Venice Biennale with works by iris Kensmil and Remy Jungerman, curated by Benno Tempel. I decided to follow it through in the order of my experience: seeing the pavilion in June of 2019, having the sense of interest quickened, documenting something of what I saw, being offered materials which I glanced at, but kept, and then, some nine months later, paying another kind of attention, internet attention, which let me put together other layers of meaning. The installation was set up like [...] more

A Shawl for Morisot

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Last summer, the summer of 2018, I was immersed in the work of Berthe Morisot. I spent three days in Québec City, at the Musée national des beaux-arts de Québec, at the revelatory Morisot retrospective, which I reviewed for Apollo Magazine. https://www.apollo-magazine.com/berthe-morisot-comes-into-her-own/ I was one of the critics who called for a reconstitution of our understanding of Impressionism with Morisot centrally placed. I said that scholarship and consideration should be given to Morisot in relation to Manet, Degas, Renoir, and Monet, on all of whom she had considerable influence, both as [...] more

Folding Screen

Friday, August 17, 2018

I had a thought last week at the Metropolitan Museum's Poetry of Nature exhibit of Edo Paintings.  A most basic, untutored thought, but of interest to me.  Standing before a folding screen, on which was mounted Cranes and Pines, a work in ink and light color by Ogata Kōrin (1658-1716).  That a screen is a stylized geometry of the effects of landscape.  The sense one has, looking, that a curve of trees comes forward, that water both widens and recedes to the distance.  These effects are considered and commented upon by the angled folds of a screen. [...] more

Giacometti and James Lord

Monday, April 2, 2018

Preparing for class this week, I reread James Lord’s book Giacometti: A Portrait . The book is broken into the eighteen sittings Lord did with Giacometti one fall, in September and October of 1964, for a painted portrait. Lord’s book was published the following year. The class has just begun, but the students and I intend to reflect on drawing, and especially on returning to the same work repeatedly, and I assigned the book in part because of its repetitiveness. It’s as if Giacometti is practicing painting Lord’s portrait – as he goes on, perhaps most of the times [...] more

Sophie's Painting

Sunday, July 30, 2017

My cousin Sophie is dying.  She is ninety.  It seems likely that she will die today, and I hurry to write those words to use the present tense one last time.  We were with her, all of us, at different moments in the last couple of weeks.  My mother is there now. Sophie loved painting.  She took painting classes in New York in the 1960s when she lived there, and there are still many of her paintings, some on squares of canvas with a cardboard backing, some directly on cardboard.  They seem insubstantial, but they have held [...] more

Unsteady Hands

Friday, May 5, 2017

The prose fragment is a form capable of kindness.  After I thought of that sentence, I thought of reading Hervé Guibert again, with students, this quarter.  In his use, the fragment has so much discretion all along its edges.  We all exist beyond those edges.  It’s like sending a note when a call might be intrusive, or stepping aside the right degree, to make way but not to shun. It’s not that his writing is especially interested in kindness, but, in writing and photography, he is interested in recognition, both the kind you can accomplish steadily, and [...] more

Garden Windows

Sunday, February 19, 2017

I was standing in our kitchen this afternoon, and the light from the garden was coming through the windows, garden light, unlike any other, and I started to think of painted gardens.  How it is that sometimes the paint itself is even more beautiful than the real light. Yesterday and today the air is full of light, sixty-four degrees, sixty-seven degrees, days like April.  The trees are rushing to throw off their silver February garb.  Green shoots are already up in the garden, although next week it is to freeze. [...] more

Joan Mitchell: Cities in Winter

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Two weeks ago, I went to the Art Institute to spend some time in the new modern wing and my attention was caught by a Joan Mitchell from 1955 called City Landscape. Since the election I have been thinking about cities, and living in them, the ways that a city’s life may be dealt a blow. It is December in Chicago, and cold, and I saw the heart of the city, what the wall text calls “nerves and arteries” in the colors, so many, too many to look at all at once, that drip together into brown, that, [...] more

In Chicago

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

We have moved to Chicago. I went to the Art Institute soon after we arrived and was happy to see that the museum has a wonderful Berthe Morisot. I have wanted to keep thinking about her. I find that I remember vividly each experience I’ve had of her work in the last few years: two watercolors from the Clark, an exhibition at the Met that had several of her paintings, a visit to the Musée Marmottan while M played with S in the public gardens. The peculiar density of atmosphere that Morisot achieves seems like something to learn from. [...] more

Sargent Notes

Sunday, May 22, 2016

I am writing this in a notebook that has on the cover of it a part of a Sargent water color.  It's of a house, gray and brown mingled in the wash, with a roof speckled and dashed with white.  An ordinary small mountain house, to which a stone wall in the shape of an S rises. Watercolor is a medium in which it is easy to lose the structures of things, but here everything has the shape that is proper to it because it does not wish to be otherwise. They are what they are, the [...] more

Lenses

Monday, January 4, 2016

Today I got new lenses for my glasses.  After more than a month of squinting and blearing and pretending, my eyes knew themselves at last understood and the world came through with that almost bulging astonishing hyper-detail.  Learn the task again.  A half an hour, every few years, of seeing everything in the world at once. I was running errands and had not planned to go to the Fogg, but, feeling my sudden seeing, I turned left.  With which painting should I use this beautiful straining and adjusting sight?  I thought of a Beckmann triptych that has eluded [...] more

Summer of Hokusai

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The summer of Hokusai at the Museum of Fine Arts is over.  I made four brief visits, most with children; they were interested in their own ways.  I was only able to stand really still in front of perhaps twenty of the pieces altogether.  But I have the photographs and from those I can look back and work out something of what my eye and I were interested in.  Edges. Here is “Night Moon at Izumizaki.” Here is the stone bridge in detail. The places where people walk – the bridge, the sand in [...] more

Japanese Influence: Arthur Wesley Dow

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

At my parents’ home in Ann Arbor as spring was arriving, I had a few minutes in the University of Michigan art museum.  I was surprised by a painting of Arthur Wesley Dow’s – very lovely, and very Japanese in its loveliness. The wall text said that, in 1891, a year before he painted this picture, Dow had made a visit to the Boston Public Library, where he saw Japanese woodblock prints for the first time.  “One evening with Hokusai,” he said, “gave me more light on composition and decorative effect than years of study [...] more

Les Débâcles, first

Monday, February 23, 2015

débâcle: the violent flood that follows when the river ice melts in spring In the winter of 1879-1880 the weather was unusually stormy and cold.  All along the Seine there were record quantities of snow and ice.  That winter, Claude Monet was at Vétheuil, a village near Argenteuil and to the northwest of Paris.  Monet was living in straitened circumstances with his children; his beloved wife Camille had died earlier that year, in September.  The remaining Monets were sharing a household with Alice Hoschedé and her children.  The winter was so fierce that even at Christmas it was [...] more

Second in a Series

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Bath is a print, or a series of prints, made by Mary Cassatt in 1891 – at the height of her powers and at a moment when her interest in Japanese prints opened a wonderful set of visual ideas in her mind. Her powers were considerable.  When Pissarro visited her studio in April of that year he wrote of her work to his son Lucien (the two Pissarros had been experimenting with prints themselves.) You remember the effects you strove for at Eragny?  Well, Miss Cassatt has realized just such effects, and admirably: the [...] more

Giacometti at the New Fogg

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Giacometti made this portrait of the British art critic David Sylvester in 1960: I think a restful thing about Giacometti is the way different permutations of the same lines and shadings -- the same darkly scratched lines and the same shadings of gray, white, and black -- constitute both the figure and the ground.     A person is a coalescence.   And derives substantiality from the abstract.   The longer you look, the more humane this seems.   [...] more

Carbon and Water, Goya's Ivories

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Something to look for at the MFA’s Goya show (through January 19th, 2015) are the odd small miniatures on ivory that Goya did almost as a set of exercises at the end of his life. There are several of them scattered through the exhibition. Although they were apparently also a feature of the Frick’s late Goya show eight years ago, to me they came as a revelation. The strangeness of their matter is the first thing to say about them. They are made with black carbon spread over ivory. Goya then dropped water onto the carbon, washing it away into [...] more

Catalog of Time: Time and Tide

Friday, October 10, 2014

Suspension, one of the time-qualities a painter may achieve, is particularly pronounced in Boudin’s Low Tide at Deauville .  Sky over the land, figures near and in the water, boats awaiting the wind.  Just at low tide there is a pause, the water holds steady, and then it’s as if the whole scene takes a next breath, and everything begins to flow the other way. Time and tide, I find, are not the distinct words I always took them for.  Time and tide wait for no man.  Those two great forces, I always thought, time and [...] more

A little further with Degas

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Many of Degas’ paintings and drawings of racehorses have titles that name the same moment.  The one at the Clark Museum is called “Before the Race.”  Degas, we are often told, wanted to capture the feeling of motion in painting.  The moments before a horserace are astonishingly dense with motion, not the wild free motion of the race, but the expectation of it.  I think people who love races love the combination – before and during – the anticipatory pausing steps, a taut potential that then gallops free. Great paintings work continually along the tense edge between stillness and [...] more

Delacroix's Palette

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The final studio in which Delacroix worked is also, spatially, the last in a series of seclusions.  It’s a wonderful large square, lit by immense skylights, and surrounded by gardens that Delacroix filled with a profusion of flowers, their colors of his own careful choosing.  The studio building is behind, and separate from, the apartment in which Delacroix lived. This apartment is itself on a private courtyard holding quiet entrances for a few buildings.  The courtyard is off a small quiet square, really a slight geometric expansion of a narrow street, the Rue Furstenberg, an untrafficked byway not far [...] more

Morisot in Paris

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

At the Musée Marmottan last week a chance to really see Morisot: a whole room of the paintings; a smaller room with fifteen watercolors and a selection of works she owned; drawings by the artist and by members of her family; and a special exhibition of paintings from private collections that contained several further canvases. [Edouard Manet at the Isle of Wight, c1875]         Struck, afresh, by the strange quality of paint as she used it. Very thick, the strokes seeming to hang almost like banners in the air, sometimes gauzier as curtains, but sometimes [...] more

Second Gorky

Saturday, May 17, 2014

“There is my world.” – Arshile Gorky on Summation What would it be to begin without a location in time?  A letter or an email always begins with a date, even the hour; when I begin these entries my first instinct is always to situate in time – last Wednesday, after studying Ernst’s collages.  But I think part of the strangeness of Arshile Gorky’s Summation is that it avoids a location in time.  The experience is of many, local, whirring events or personages.  Maybe as the mind feels on waking in the night, though with more tranquility [...] more

Abstraction and Eyes

Sunday, April 13, 2014

One of the unusual aspects of Beauford Delaney’s work as an abstract painter was that even late in his career, when he lived in Paris and had moved very fully into abstraction, he also painted very specific and characterful portraits.  These two kinds of paintings were shown together during his lifetime – at, for example, the Galerie Lambert on the Île St. Louis in 1964 – and have been shown so since his death – in particular at the Levis Gallery in Chelsea last year, an exhibition, that, regrettably, I was not in New York to see. [Here are [...] more

Toward Spring

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

In The Times this morning, an item suggesting that blossoming in the New York City parks will be unusually overlapping this season.  I remember this from certain springs.  In general it would be so carefully painted in Central Park – first the yellow forsythia, then delicate whites and rose of cherry and dogwood, then the heavier magnolias.  But that occasionally these would run together.  The effects could be beautiful, but sometimes I remember thinking that the palettes jarred, and that I preferred the slow procession, each tree gravely taking its turn to step forward.Here, though, we long for [...] more

At the Milliner's

Saturday, March 22, 2014

A lady, and a hat.  The lady is Mary Cassatt.  She posed for Degas, she is supposed to have said, “only once in a while when he finds the movement difficult and the model cannot seem to get his idea.” Is the difficult movement here that of the woman herself, coming to an understanding with the hat? Or is it the movement across the barrier, the mirror, between her and the shop assistant, who hands her another hat. These shop assistants were not allowed to sit down – they still don’t, sit down, women working in shops.  Here it means [...] more

Ornament and Negative Space

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The trio of Degas portraits currently at the MFA (written about here two weeks ago) has drawn my attention back to Degas.  In half an hour with the Degas at the Metropolitan Museum, and on a quick return visit to those at the MFA, I found myself concentrating on the negative spaces, what happens beyond the edges of the figures, and on the things between things. I looked closely at Edmondo and Therese Mobilli , the portrait Degas made of his sister and her husband about 1865, and at Duchessa di Montejasi, with her daughters Elena and [...] more

Tiepolo's Time

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Reading Roberto Calasso’s Tiepolo Pink persuaded me to look carefully, for the first time, at the Tiepolo oil sketches that fill almost a room at the Metropolitan Museum. As ever, I had less time than I would have liked. Was astonished by their upwardness. Sense of being drawn up into the sky – the whole company, nymphs and swans and chariots upward, upward, into the vast swirl of the heavens. Calasso’s book in a revelatory sense about time.  Father Time a recurring figure in Tiepolo’s oeuvre – and shown here.  I believe the older man in [...] more

Degas Portrait Trio

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

At the MFA right now, a trio of Degas portraits are not to be missed.  They can be stumbled upon in a narrow blue-green corridor on the second floor, next to the sealed off construction zone that is normally Impressionism.  It is as if three of the finest musicians – one at the beginning of his career, one at the end – happened to all be passing through a town on the same night and to have the idea of playing some chamber music – and you happened to be staying at the hotel and to walk by the [...] more

Snow

Saturday, February 15, 2014

* At this time last year, in the days when my father was dying, it snowed and snowed.   From the hospital windows, it had its beauty.  The hallway near the elevators had windows that looked down on to a sort of large courtyard, not rustic, but still made precise by the snow. People crossed and you would see dark footprints.  These would then be covered.  The footprints and their being covered, traces of particular steps and shoes, then again white -- the tiny brevity of each passing figure, of the length of time in which [...] more

An Early Interview

Thursday, February 6, 2014

In college (when I was an ardent feminist, and also somewhat uncomfortable about bodies),  it seemed hard to like, or even to tolerate, the works of Max Ernst.  I’m not even sure I knew which paintings were his.  Now I am surprised that I seem not to have encountered even the most famous instances of his ravaging vision, like the Ange du Foyeur, let alone the collages of Une Semaine de Bonté that have absorbed my attention in recent years.     The first time I remember suddenly seeing Ernst, what he could do as a painter, [...] more

Close Observation

Monday, January 20, 2014

A woman, long blue shirt carefully tied over striped skirt, sits in a red chair.  She leans a little to her right, our left, elbow on the arm of chair.  Her hands are folded. Cézanne’s way of painting faces means that you can look at them or not.  Everything has surfaces and depths.  Much of the meaning of the figure is not in the face.  The folded hands are important and beautiful. Between the forefingers and thumbs are a green that relates them to the skirt below, a blue consonant with the blue shirt above.  Shapes of laced fingers [...] more

Acquisition and Time

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Working on a talk to be given at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum – about the collection of Italian pictures that Gardner acquired with significant help from Bernard Berenson – has been the occasion for thinking again about the collector’s passion.  When one stands in a gallery in front of a picture one is not only affected by the passions of the painter, or made aware of the forces of history, one is directly confronted with provenance, namely, by what combination of human passions did this object come to be here ?   Isabella Gardner’s letters to Berenson came dashing [...] more

Feeling the Air, II

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

In New York in the fall, making my way through the reorganized back rooms of 19th century European art at the Metropolitan Museum, I was pleased by two landscape recoveries.  Wonderful oil sketches by Constable that used to hang scattered in obscurity, somewhere past the Corots, have been hung together, with prominence.  And three Daubignys, for many years unviewable, now hang in a row, constituting a quiet assertion, long missing at the museum, that this is a painter worth contemplating.     Constable and Daubigny are tied together in various ways.  An important exhibition of Constable’s oil paintings [...] more

Turner before Monet

Sunday, December 29, 2013

In Cleveland for the holidays, M. and I walked through the galleries of the art museum, and stumbled upon Turner’s The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons, 16 October, 1834 . If I’d seen it before, I’d entirely forgotten.  A painting of great power and intricacy. Turner one of those rare colorists who seems, to me, to have control within the color – especially here of red that really burns at the heart of the painting and of the expanding cloud of yellow and white. The color has shape and density, symmetry and modulation.  It is [...] more

Monet at Work

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

I hadn’t appreciated what it meant to Monet to work in a series.  I knew the haystacks and the cathedrals and the water lilies showed different times of day – that you could see the morning in the yellow light along one edge of a bridge or doorframe and the evening in the lavender along the other – but I hadn’t really thought through how Monet would then actually have to work on them. I assumed, I think, that he began, say on a morning painting of haystacks, finished that one and then moved on to one of the [...] more

A First Glimpse of Sargent and Monet

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

In a book on Monet’s series paintings of London (between 1900 and 1904 he made almost a hundred paintings of three subjects: the Waterloo Bridge, the Charing Cross Bridge, the Houses of Parliament) I read this cursory paragraph:  The successful portrait painter Sargent, who urged Monet to show in London in the early 1890s, may have encouraged the artist’s professional interest in London.  He was very much in evidence when Monet was in London and assisted him in making arrangements, dined with him, and provided social contacts – some of whom may have been intended as potential patrons. [1] [...] more

Feeling the Air, I

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

I’ve had a few conversations recently with people who are not that interested in painting. They say, reasonably, that in museums they are overwhelmed by the profusion, or that only really contemporary painting is strange enough to compel their attention, or that in front of paintings long and loudly admired their eyes feel veiled by expectations and history.  It feels odd to say in the face of these large and genuine concerns that when I am at a museum I am often merely after a small, fine sensation.  The movement of light and air.  That’s all.  I know this [...] more

Passages: Pissarro

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Camille Pissarro, theorist and mentor of the Impressionist movement, was known for giving sound advice.  Here are some of his thoughts as later recollected by the painter Louis Le Bail (in Rewald, The History of Impressionism ).  They’re in the order that Le Bail wrote them down in, but I’ve broken them into territories, and set them to some iphone details I took of the last Pissarro I looked at, Pontoise, the Road to Gisors in Winter , 1873, at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston:Look for the kind of nature that suits your temperament.   The motif [...] more

Open to the Public

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Last Friday at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum I had a notion of looking for her Sargents, to keep company with the sense of the artist developing in my mind because of the watercolor show at the MFA.  On entering the Gardner I must have half-noticed a small poster with a Venetian-looking Sargent on it, but this didn’t entirely register. I went first to the new wing to look at the Sophie Calle show Last Seen, about the great theft of pictures from the Gardner in 1990.   This show I liked very much.  Simple, a photograph of a person [...] more

Passages: Schuyler and Gorky

Friday, November 15, 2013

Wandering, I found in James Schuyler (Selected Art Writings , edited Simon Pettet, Black Sparrow Press: 1998) a short review of a retrospective of works by Arshile Gorky at the Janis Gallery in 1957, some ten years after Gorky's death.  The opening sentence gives practical details, the rest of the review is as follows: "Included are the compelling Self Portrait and another (and, it appears, abandoned) version of the Artist and His Mother. These pictures give weight and pause to the transition from his long apprenticeship to the electric and inward freedom of his [...] more

At Nadar's (but he was already gone)

Monday, November 11, 2013

Possibly it was somewhere in two decades of reading and rereading Susan Sontag’s On Photography that I absorbed a small but suggestive misimpression.  In the midst of a passage on the relationship between photography and painting, she devotes a long footnote to Impressionism.  This footnote begins, unexceptionably, “the large influence that photography exercised upon the Impressionists is a commonplace of art history.”[i] Rereading the rest of the footnote I see, as is often the case with Sontag, that I have been thinking about what it contains for a long time without even remembering that she [...] more

Surrealism and Form

Sunday, November 3, 2013

There are other feelings for form, of course, but that doesn’t mean the Surrealists didn’t have formal feelings.  Form is often described in spatial terms, as arrangements of objects, as landscapes with prominent and receding features.  Perhaps the Surrealist feeling for form could be evoked by inversion: one could speak of a disarray of objects, or of interior landscapes in which prominence is, like that in dreams, more a matter of excitation and disturbance.This is not to say that when you look at, say, a Max Ernst collage, your eye is not still balancing the long pointed beak of [...] more

Looking for Daubigny

Monday, October 28, 2013

For a long time when I went to the Met with a feeling for Daubigny, I went to the basement.  Although the museum owns thirteen paintings by Charles-François Daubigny, only one was on display, a part of the Robert Lehman Collection, itself displaced during years of construction. The painting was of an evening scene by a river. Across the river were two small figures, women, I remember them as washerwoman. Nearer, and more prominent, a line of dark ducks who swam purposefully toward their evening’s rest.  Nearer still, three birds on the bank, who have already settled. The sky’s [...] more

In the far reaches: Calvino

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Posted here and at the 92nd Street Y as part of their 75th Anniversary celebration: http://92yondemand.org/Topic/75-at-75/ If I were trying to explain to someone what happens when you are reading Calvino and then sit down to write and find that, somehow inevitably, a strange derivation of Calvino has pervaded your own style, I would say that, first of all, you notice that your adjectives are different. Their purpose now is to distinguish types, genres, members of phyla, not to describe a person you would know on the street. Choosing names for characters you find that the names [...] more

Watercolor: Translucence and Resolution

Friday, October 11, 2013

On Tuesday the baby and I saw the John Singer Sargent watercolors now up at the MFA.  The baby saw much to please her.  In addition to the particularly nice low cushioned gray benches, she liked best the room labeled “watercraft,” and in particular this image of boats, also my favorite: We seemed both drawn to it simultaneously, though how much each might have anticipated the other’s preference is hard to determine.  She could see immediately that it was boats and then called out the colors – first, her favorite, “orange!” and then, another color she particularly likes, [...] more

On Photography II

Saturday, October 5, 2013

[This is the second installment of visual notes on this Pissarro, documented by iphone.] Stretch of cultivated field down to earth: Shape of path as it curves back: Shape of hill crest, cypressed, below sky: Step back to look at whole again: Dark paint, just dashed on, group of trees: Really dark, low dark hole, yellow grass across lower right corner: Look again at dark paint just dashed on of upper tree: Once having looked at these two dark areas, upper tree, lower hole, the whole right side of the picture has beautiful [...] more

On Photography I

Saturday, October 5, 2013

After years of scorning people who come to museums and take pictures – souvenir-hunters! they don’t even look at the paintings! – on Tuesday I found myself in the Impressionist rooms at the Met zealously photographing details with my iphone held up in front of the canvases.  I had two impulses, or justifications: it seemed expedient – I was in New York for a day only, had a mere hour with the pictures – this was a way to take notes.  And at the same time, or even before the thought of expediency occurred to me, I also knew [...] more

First in a Series

Sunday, September 29, 2013

On a fleeting visit to the Cleveland Museum of Art late last December – five women of three generations, including the baby and her much-admired five-year-old cousin L. – I caught a first glimpse of something that seemed suddenly very interesting, or rather it was as if I had already for a while been interested and had come upon the occasion when a dim returning attraction becomes a definite line to pursue. We were a small cloud of Brownian motion bounding and rebounding in that museum’s great atrium, recently-completed, and its great white rooms – it was almost by accident [...] more

Medals

Friday, September 20, 2013

Walking through the gallery, struck from the first with what felt like a wind of invention, a strong wind with particles of sand in it, it was at about the tenth image that I noticed that not only did this lion have a medal (and it was a giant medal, ridiculous, but not without pathos, because he also seemed to be a gentleman now fallen on such hard times that he might be a wandering beggar, his ailing daughter clinging to his arm, and the fact that he had retained the medal, such a large one, seemed to suggest [...] more

Shopping in Style

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Impressionists were my first painters, as I think they were many peoples'.  They required no explanation.  I liked them.  I came early to painting and at twelve was fervently memorizing schools, dates, palettes, styles, as other children at that age remember scores, teams, clothes, lyrics.  The works of each painter moved in my mind like small rushing galaxies; at museums, I knew a Degas or a Monet across a room.  As one grows older one comes to like bitter tastes.  The first sweet passions of youth, even if still felt now and again in private, seem soft, insufficient, [...] more

Trying to be Taught

Friday, September 13, 2013

Reading about the early years in the lives of the Impressionists – the period in the late 1850s and early 1860s when they began to arrive and to meet one another in Paris – I have been thinking about the necessity and difficulty of finding teachers.  Unlike writing, the craft of painting has always been passed on in ateliers and schools.  Sometimes it seems like every painter in the mid-17th century in the Netherlands spent a productive period in Rembrandt’s studio.  Painting is an apprentice trade.  You watch the hand of a master and [...] more

Une Semaine de Bonté

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Some weeks after my father’s death I thought that I might at last begin my piece on Max Ernst’s Une Semaine de Bonté , but I didn’t.  I did spend some hours studying the images in the catalog of the complete collages, a massive black-spined book with thick cardboard covers that seem the gates to an inaccessible realm.  And it was a right time to be in contact with the images again, and to begin a small private inquiry into Ernst and Surrealism, but I couldn’t really write then, and I didn’t.The show, at the Musée d’Orsay in the [...] more

Passages: Dewey

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Here are two passages I've been struck by recently in reading John Dewey's Art as Experience .  (Perigree Trade Paperbacks, Berkeley Publishing Group, Penguin, originally published 1934, edition August 2005 p84, p98.) Throughout the book, Dewey argues that esthetic experience is a heightening of every day experience, that all experience has, immanently, the possibilities of order and understanding that are reached in esthetic experience.  This continuity used to be more commonly felt and understood when many people were engaged in crafts, and when the arts had not become specialized, cordoned-off areas.  Dewey argues for re-establishing the sense of continuity [...] more
Tara Geer, walk along the border, 2013

Tara Geer: Carrying Silence

Monday, August 12, 2013

At Glenn Horowitz, 87 Newtown Lane, East Hampton, NY, 11937, through September 3, 2013. Here is the first section of my catalog essay, "Looking at Tara Geer's Drawings": One way to begin is just by quietly trying to notice things. In “walk along the border,” your eye might be drawn by the smudges off to the left, or by the white surround and the sense of movement in the white surround. In my notes : white area with a little falling black squiggle; then other little black details, these somewhere between figures and lines, running on a diagonal [...] more

Some Pages Into August, 2013

Monday, August 12, 2013

Some books with which I'm underway: John Dewey, Art as Experience . Brenda Wineapple, Ecstatic Nation: Confidence, Crisis, and Compromise, 1848-1877. Rachel Kushner, The Flamethrowers . John Rewald, A History of Impressionism.   [...] more

Robbed at the Arena Chapel

Sunday, June 16, 2013

What was stolen were my minutes, fifteen of them. I’d been under the mistaken impression that for my twenty-seven euros – thirteen each for me and for M., one for the baby – we were to be vouchsafed half an hour in the presence of one of the greatest fresco sequences in the western world. I knew that we were to spend fifteen minutes cooling down in an air-conditioned portal prior to being allowed entry to the sacred place, but I counted on half an hour to try to snatch a few glimpses of Giotto’s eternal understanding. The bell, [...] more

The Large Bathers II

Thursday, May 9, 2013

After I had been looking at the Large Bathers for a while, I noticed the swimmer.  Clearly a figure: head, hair, flesh tones, mostly submerged, but swimming through the water.  I saw that the painter had been careful to frame this figure, not only by the water's blue, but in the way that it is seen through the arms of the seated figures of the painting's center.  One detailed hand is angled out right over the swimmer, almost pointing to it.  Why was this degree of emphasis used?  From the swimmer the eye goes back to the man [...] more