April 4, 2012

Dear Tamara, and other letters about art


This month, Raphael Rubinstein is the guest editor of the Rail's ArtSeen section. Citing letters from Vincent van Gogh to his brother Theo, and the letters that Samuel Beckett wrote to Georges Duthuit about Bram van Velde's paintings, Rubinstein asked contributors to write a letter.

Perhaps the most important difference between a conventional exhibition review and a “letter review” is that a letter implies a response, or at least the hope for an answer; it is not the last word on a subject, but the opening of a dialogue.  Lately, as an art critic it has, at times, seemed hard to know who you are writing for, hard to visualize the audience that is, you hope, engaged by your writing. And if you don’t know who your readers are, it’s hard to instigate a productive conversation with them. My desire with this experiment is to stress the necessary bond between writers and readers, and to encourage direct relationships between potential correspondents not via fleeting, truncated messages within a commercialized network of “friends” but through an altogether different kind of posting. As Paul Chan has recently observed (in a piece about his staging of Beckett’s Godot in New Orleans), “a voice that desires a reply sounds different than an echo that wants attention.”

I wrote a fan letter to Tamara Gonzales, who has a show up at Norte Maar through April 29. Rereading it, I realize I probably should have spent a little more time editing ("warmth and fullness?" hmm..not quite right), but I think that's the nature of letters. Here's an excerpt.

Dear Tamara,
The other day, when I came out of the C-Town at Wyckoff and Dekalb, I saw a woman wearing beige leggings made of polyester lace that featured a big repeating flower pattern, and I thought of your paintings. I’ve seen your work around for a while—in group shows at Janet Kurnatowski and the Dependent Art Fair—and most recently took in your solo show at Norte Maar in Bushwick. As poet Elizabeth Bishop suggested in a letter to James Merrill after reading his 1954 book, Short Stories, perhaps rather than offering any kind of criticism, I should simply say thank you.... Read more

 Tamara Gonzales, installation views.

And here are links to all the letters:

A LETTER TO PHILIP GUSTON from David Rhodes
A LETTER TO MARTIN MULLIN from Carter Ratcliff
A LETTER TO CINDY SHERMAN from Christopher Stackhouse
A LETTER TO MOIRA DRYER from David Rhodes
SONIA ALMEIDA The Angle of the Sun’s Rays
JESUS RAFAEL SOTO Soto: Paris and Beyond 1950–1970
TAMARA GONZALES Untitled, An Exhibition of New Paintings
A LETTER TO BRYAN OSBURN from Trevor Winkfield
DJUNA BARNES Newspaper Fiction: The New York Journalism of Djuna Barnes, 1913 – 1919
LIONEL MAUNZ Receipt of Malice
A LETTER TO ROBERT SMITHSON from Greg Lindquist
A LETTER TO RAPHAEL RUBINSTEIN from Daniel Wiener
JOHN EVANS John Evans: 1984
MICHIEL CEULERS Des Malentendus et le temps perdu
MISSIVE TO FRANK O’HARA from Vincent Katz
WILLIAM ANTHONY Ironic Icons II  
HAPPENINGS: New York 1958–1963
THEO A. ROSENBLUM & CHELSEA SELTZER Two Heads are Better than One
ALEX BAG AND PATTERSON BECKWITH Cash from Chaos / Unicorns & Rainbows


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