UCLA Hammer Museum Livestream Video: In conversation with Dave Hickey (5.11.16)


Wayne Thiebaud’s “100 Year Old Clown”

Wayne Thiebaud, 100 Year-old Clown, 2020
Oil on canvas, 18 x 14 inches
2020 © Wayne Thiebaud/VAGA at ARS, NY
According to Wayne Thiebaud, his latest painting, which he cheekily named “100 Year-old clown,” is the summation of his clown series that has been in the works for the last five years. “Clowns” will be exhibited at the Laguna Art Museum December 6, 2020–April 4, 2012. My article “Past continuous” about the painting and its role in Thiebaud’s oeuvre was just published by The New Criterion.

An essay-length version of this article is forthcoming in the catalogue for the LAM “Wayne Thiebaud: Clowns” exhibition.

In Defense of Lecturing: Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Vladimir Nabokov

A recent article I wrote after the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was just published by the Athenaeum Review. Ginsburg credited this dexterity, and her understanding that language is more than a tool for communicating the semantic meaning, to the time she was an undergraduate at Cornell, where she attended the lectures by one of the greatest literary figures in the 20th century—Vladimir Nabokov.

Vladimir Nabokov writing at his desk, Cornell University, 1957. Photo: Cornell University Archives.

The power of images

An article for The New Criterion co-authored with friend and colleague Professor David Hawkes. It was recently republished in the New Discourses.

“The most ruthless, radical fringes of all great revolutions have drawn much of their initial support from more peaceful, moderate parties. They have also been unvaryingly efficient at eliminating their erstwhile allies once their purpose has been served. The English Independents ditched the Presbyterians, the French Jacobins guillotined the Girondins, the Russian Bolsheviks sent the Mensheviks to the gulag. To the immediate right of the extreme Left is often the most dangerous place to be. There are many liberal members of the American upper-middle class who would do well to remember that today.”

On George Orwell and J.K. Rowling

My latest contribution to The New Criterion is about what we can (and should) learn from George Orwell’s 1945 essay “Politics and the English Language.”

Ed Ruscha, Words…, 1987, acrylic on canvas, 64 x 64 inches. © Edward J. Ruscha IV

Wayne Thiebaud 100 Catalogue essay

Wayne Thiebaud 100: Paintings, Prints, and Drawings, is a forthcoming catalogue for the eponymous centennial exhibition at Sacramento’s Crocker Museum. In 1951 the Crocker also hosted Thiebaud’s first solo show entitled Influences on a Young Painter.

My contribution to the volume is an essay “Nothing is Unimportant” that presents Thiebaud’s most recent circus-themed body of work, putting it in the context of his persistent focus the craft of painting and the authenticity of human experience.

Why “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again” Executive Order is a Very Bad Idea

Arts and humanities quarterly Athenaeum Review published the online version of my essay “Classicism by Decree” which will also appear in print in the upcoming issue. The essay was prompted by a leaked draft of a new executive order “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again” meant to supplant the existing General Services Administration Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture. These were put in place in 1962 with  the aim of maximizing architectural innovation while upholding quality and longevity of construction. The new rules, once signed into law, will mandate that all federal buildings shall be erected in “classical architectural style.”

Given that all prominent 20th century examples of mandated classical-style implemented and enforced in the name of “the people” were part of larger ideological and political programs of totalitarian regimes,  “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again” calls, in the least, for skepticism, if not outright protest.

Nevada Supreme Court and Nevada Court of Appeals building, 408 E. Clark Ave., Las Vegas, Nevada. Yohan Lowie, EHB Companies, 2017. 

The New Criterion article on Wayne Thiebaud’s Clown series

Wayne Thiebaud is about to reveal his most recent body of work: a selection of paintings and drawings from the new clown series will be on view starting December 8th at the Paul Thiebaud Gallery in San Francisco. In conjunction with the exhibition, The New Criterion just published a new article I wrote on the evolution of the series. It appears in print in December issue (special art issue), and online.

The New Criterion, Volume 38 Number 4

Wayne Thiebaud,  Clown and Dog, n.d., Black brush ink on paper, ARS (Artists Rights Society).

With Wayne Thiebaud at the opening reception of “Clowns,” Paul Thiebaud Gallery, December 7, 2019.

“Forever Landscape” Mini-Course at the Laguna Art Museum

On November 13th I will begin a mini-course on the subject of landscape painting as part of Laguna Art Museum Lunchtime Lecture Series. I hope those of you within driving distance could join us for a single lecture, or for all five. To see detailed descriptions of each lecture, please click on the links below.

Forever Landscape

Landscape is at once one of the most popular and the most misunderstood genres in painting. On the surface, it seems deceptively simple: after all, what is there to the “portrait” of nature? Yet, once we take a closer look at the history of landscape in Western painting from the early 1800s to the present day, the complexity and diversity of the genre manifests itself very clearly—landscape painting has been anything but a straightforward reflection of nature on the canvas. Forever Landscape will explore the fascinating and complex development of the genre, its centuries-long evolution from decorative, symbolic, quasi-religious and socially-charged, to the technique-oriented, lyrical, expressive and abstract. Far from being a quaint relic of the past, landscape painting is as prominent today as it has ever been—its currency and necessity underscored by looming environmental threats and nature-averse technological progress.


Remizov Symposium at Amherst College

A decade after my first book Beyond Symbolism and Surrealism: Alexei Remizov’s Synthetic Art was published by Northwestern University Press, Amherst Center for Russian Culture held their second Remizov Research Symposium. The Center also mounted a concurrent exhibition of Remizov’s graphic work from the collection, first one in the United States, since Thomas P. Whitney’s generous gift of his Remizov archive to the Russian Center in the mid 1980s. This gift was marked by the first Remizov symposium, which more or less introduced Remizov’s graphic legacy to the public.

Because most of his visual art ended up in private collections, at the time of the first symposium at Amherst, Remizov’s illustrated albums were virtually unknown. Even when I started researching Remizov’s illustrated albums ten years on, in the mid-90s, he was still seen as a writer who drew “on the side.” My book aimed to show how this was not the case, and how Remizov, who could not fit his creative élan entirely within the bounds of the visual or literary, experimented with graphic art, eventually inventing a new genre of handwritten, illustrated albums that mix india-ink and watercolor drawings with collages and texts. It was wonderful to see such a rise of interest in Remizov’s drawings and illustrated albums, and to hear colleagues’ though-provoking presentations on the various aspects of his visual legacy. I participated with a paper on Remizov’s use of the fourth dimension, mediated by his readings of Pyotr Ouspensky, Gaston de Pawlowski and Maurice Maeterlinck.

Wayne Thiebaud’s Clown Series: Hour of the Clown

About four years ago, Wayne Thiebaud, the nonagenarian painter best known for his still lifes and landscapes, began to depict what he calls “clown memories.” These works in progress presently include approximately fifty paintings, twenty drawings, and six etchings. They are a response to the outside world, as well as another new segment in Thiebaud’s decades-long career as a painter. The New Criterion just published my article on the series, giving its readers an exclusive peek at several of the works in it.

“Ancient Romans believed in the “hour of the wolf”—a point on the cusp of night and dawn, when demons had the upper hand. In modern times, the concept of this magic hour was re-introduced by Ingmar Bergman’s 1968 horror movie, The Hour of the Wolf, which told a story of a painter disturbed by visions. Since then, the phrase has also been used to describe a more generic state of psychological urgency, where the only option is to face reality and to reflect on it, unsettling as it may be. The twentieth century had its share of lupine hours, but in its current incarnation, the demonic is farcical rather than sinister. As I have mentioned elsewhere, today’s evil is comparatively frivolous, and its way to hearts and minds lies through distraction and trivia. Today, it seems, the Huxleyan entertainment utopia is more relevant than the Orwellian surveillance dystopia. The clown has replaced the wolf.”