I almost began this post by saying “Modern art leaves me cold,” but recent months have led me to reevaluate this position. Over Christmas in Texas, I visited the Rothko Chapel in Houston and Donald Judd’s Fifteen Untitled Works in Concretein Marfa. The former I expected to enjoy, as I’ve long loved Rothko. But Judd’s works have stayed with me in a way that continues to surprise me. I imagine it’s their emptiness. How much of the work is concrete, and how much is air—the atmosphere, the horizon you see when you look into and through them? The artist both gives a literal frame for your answer and then gets out of the way. How very like the best theology.
So perhaps I was excited, without even quite knowing why, to visit Dia:Beacon this past Saturday, a museum located in a former Nabisco box-printing factory (surely somewhere Warhol, whose works are currently on display, is enjoying that fact) beside the still-mostly-frozen Hudson River. The hours shift seasonally to respond to the availability of natural light. The river and the empty trees beside it set the tone for the museum itself: it’s spacious, even at its busiest, and color is not the dominant element in most of the works on display (even in the case of the Warhols and, to a lesser extent, the lightworks of Dan Flavin), and the viewer is left to generate much of the experience in a way that I experienced not as intimidating or abstruse as I often do, but as generous and evocative. The day was cold, but bright, affording a wonderful opportunity to stay inside and look at some art. I’ll come back to Richard Serra’s Torqued Ellipseslater in a poetry post (eta: done!), and focus on a few that I really liked.
If not, just enjoy this poem I wrote, inspired by the apocryphal story of St. Valentine baptizing St. Lucilla as depicted in the Mannerist painting St. Valentine Baptizing St. Lucilla (1575) by Jacopo Dal Ponte.
I went to the Philadelphia Museum of Art yesterday and came across this painting by Edgar Degas, Interior.I tend to associate Degas with his paintings of ballet dancers, so this violent, heartbreaking scene was especially poignant.
I wrote the following poem, “Interior (After Degas),” to process it.
I have seen Neko Case live more times than any other artist (if you count New Pornographers shows, which I do, because they definitely count). She’s fierce and darkly funny. She breaks the rules of songwriting so subtly that you don’t even notice it until you realize that you haven’t heard a verse-chorus-verse structure in the last seven songs. Her Twitter feed is real AF and also amplifies the voices of other women artists. Her house burned down and she wrote one of her best songs, “Bad Luck,” about it. She’s a badass mofo and I wish she was my neighbor. I pounced on her 2018 release, Hell-On, as soon as it was available, and grabbed tickets to her show at the Beacon Theatre. So it was inevitable that when I looked back on 2018 in music, I’d have something to say about Neko Case. I’m going to say it about “Curse of the I-5 Corridor.”
I remember a few stretches of my life similarly: long strings of late, lonely nights, full of words but as jejune as a dry socket. My freshman year of high school, my sophomore year of college, and, especially, in my early thirties. It was then that I was trying, with results that careered from hilarious to painful to harrowing to joyful, to date in New York City, and I had to construct a cynical veneer, flimsy as plywood, to nail over a heart that always felt like the engorged, lurid red organ of Catholic iconography. Dating was a goddamn hurricane and my OKCupid profile was boarded up and spray-painted with NOT GOING ANYWHERE in neon pink.
The day after Hozier released “Movement,” I was leaving the Christopher Columbus Educational Campus near Pelham Parkway in the Bronx, one of the old behemoth school buildings located on a tree-lined stretch of Astor Avenue. I had been there a couple of weeks before, and it was peak fall: every color of leaf you’d care to see, lipstick reds and goldenrod yellows and burnt siennas, set to a soundtrack of Iron and Wine, the Clientele, Bon Iver, and more.
But on this particular day, the day after Hozier released “Movement,” the weather had taken a dramatic pivot towards winter. Leaves were swept down from the august trees by the wind. Thousands and thousands of my fellow commuters were about to be trapped on roads and railways that weren’t prepared for a pre-Thanksgiving snowfall. And I stepped out of Columbus, headphones safely tucked away under the hood of my puffer coat, just as the bridge of “Movement” was concluding and the majestic percussion line leading into the final chorus was about to explode and reverberate through the pivot between minor and major chords. And it was snowing. Real, honest-to-God, wet, white snow, the kind that makes you appreciate your Bean Boots, the kind that promises Christmas and cocoa and the impending pleasure of watching the snow from behind your living room window while you sip something hot and spiked. And I walked down the steps of the building, out into the snow, and it was like the song had come down from heaven to manifest a wildly out-of-season storm.