“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.

Wayne Thiebaud’s New Clown Series

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.”

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


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.

On “A ‘new’ Vermeer in Dresden”

My latest article for The New Criterion explores how one of Vermeer’s iconic paintings known for its minimalist subtlety, was, in fact, didactic and obvious. The “Girl Reading a Letter At an Open Window,” now in Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, originally contained an image of a giant Cupid painting on the back wall. The Cupid was overpainted after Vermeer’s death, adding to the mystery of the subject matter. Now the work is undergoing restoration to its original, unambiguously campy love-story state.


Scholars and Scandals

Professor Paglia is in the news again. This time, some of the students at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, her home institution where she has been teaching for over three decades, launched a petition demanding she “should be removed from UArts faculty and replaced by a queer person of color.”

Here is my review of her latest book Provocations (Pantheon, 2018), in which I tried to contextualize Paglia’s recent writings on sex, gender, art, education and the #MeToo within the last three decades of her scholarship, as well as her writing for the wider public. I think that the irony of what is happening right now is that the passage of time had proven Camille Paglia to be right on many accounts. She is certainly a provocateur, or provocatrice, as the case may be, but in my view she is hardly a controversial person.

Bob Ross and the art historical canon

If we take Henri Matisse’s famous assertion that art should be something like a good armchair in which to rest from physical fatigue at face value, we might end up with something approaching the “happy [x]” philosophy of Bob Ross, whose message was perfectly suited for television—the medium which help to spread it. I discuss the Bob Ross phenomenon, and its implications for today’s American culture, in my latest article for The New Criterion.

Annie Lapin: The Archeology of Meaning

Miles McEnery Gallery’s latest publication contains an essay I wrote about the Los Angeles based painter Annie Lapin. In the essay, I place Lapin’s latest body of work “The Art of Heads and Hands” in the context of Henri Focillon’s theories about the life of forms in art. Hard copy of the catalogue is available through the gallery.

Summer reading suggestions

A couple of months ago I came across a fascinating little book published by Frieze in 1998. It was a bibliography intended to help young artists to become better young artists. The material was solicited from a few dozen art world people (artists, critics, curators) by Jerry Saltz, who also edited the volume. The same week I came across a more current mini-bibliography, also for the benefit of young artist. My article on the contrast between the two, and what this contrasts tells us about the shift of values, was just published in The New Criterion.


Tony DeLap Retrospective at the Laguna Art Museum

One of the bast museum shows I have seen in a while turned out to be a retrospective of a local artist in a local museum. My review of it is on The New Criterion site.


On the latest decision-making by the University of Wisconsin bureaucracy

My alma mater, UW-Madison, has been making some very unsettling choices lately. More on that in my latest blog post  “The user-centric university” in The New Criterion dispatches section.