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Mary Ann Caws

MARY ANN CAWS is Distinguished Professor of Comparative Literature, English, and French at the Graduate School of the City University of New York. Her many areas of interest in twentieth-century avant-garde literature and art include Surrealism, poets René Char and André Breton, Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury group, and artists Robert Motherwell, Joseph Cornell, and Pablo Picasso. Conceptually, one of her primary themes has been the relationship between image and text.

Guest Critic

Translating Communities

Picking up on a thread from the last Brooklyn Rail Critics Page, about haunting, and who and what haunts you, I first think of André Breton’s Nadja and its beginning: “Who am I? If this once I were to rely on a proverb, then perhaps everything would amount to knowing whom I ‘haunt.’”

In Conversation

JACOB COLLINS with MARY ANN CAWS: Thinking About Ateliers

Upon occasion and in some places, reading and looking seem to interconnect geographically, textually, visually, and personally with a kind of intensity. It seems to me to happen especially in the atelier system. With this in mind, I set out to visit the Grand Central Atelier in Long Island City, founded by the right-now-contemporary painter and teacher, Jacob Collins, a contemporary realist, known for his championship of the classical art revival.

A Night of Philosophy in NYC, 04-24-2015 7 P.M. To 7 A.M.

If philosophy takes in everything, it was all here on this night-morning. Of course, you might say to yourself, why just a night of philosophy, why not, perhaps, a day and a night, or several of each, or what about a life of it?

Mary Ann Caws

Linda Nochlin, certainly the most influential writer ever on feminist art, was also a poet. Maura Reilly's edition of The Linda Nochlin Reader in 2015 includes the celebrated essay “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists” seen freshly, thirty years after, and in fact all Nochlin's essays help the reader to see freshly—not just feminist art but details and fragments, bathers and politics, Courbet and realism, and more.

Max Ernst Big Brother: Teaching Staff for a School of Murderers

In the original title of Max Ernst’s extraordinary bronze statues of 1967, Corps enseignant pour une école de tueurs (Teaching Staff for a School of Murderers), there is no specific reference to a “Big Brother.”

Painters of the East End

Many of the European avant-garde artists who arrived in New York during World War II found themselves reaching out for a less expensive kind of living, and discovered larger studios in a rural landscape and waterscape on Long Island’s South Fork.

Seeing It Now

Kerstin Brätsch, “Blocked Radiant.”Before you even go in, on either side of the doors, you encounter this oxymoron: the doors are not blocked, but they are surrounded by panels designated as “blocked.” Wow.

SARAH PLIMPTON Black Light: New Works

Sarah Plimpton’s new work, Black Light, at the June Kelly Gallery is, like her other paintings and books, instantly recognizable. Never would you say: “Oh, isn’t this like…?”

Mary Ann Caws
on Leon Golub

Of course, in 1966 it would seem to require a necessary immensity to portray, in any possible way, the alliance of myth and antiquity: the battle of Greek gods and human giants against the background noise of Vietnam, so iconic and gigantic as they appear in Naples and Berlin, where I well remember gasping in front of the Pergamon frieze in the Pergamon Museum.

A Revolutionary Impulse: The Rise of the Russian Avant-Garde

Revolution has not been, at least recently and in my view, so colorfully demonstrated as here, in this staggering exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art.

James Rosenquist: His American Life

These seventeen paintings, early 1960s to early 1980s, each so clearly marked by Rosenquist’s experience painting billboards, are pop beyond pop. Riveting indeed and way beyond, each sporting flash points apparently unconnected. “I don’t do anecdote, I accumulate experiences,” says Rosenquist.

JON SCHUELER 1975 – 1981, The New York Years

After studying with the great and eccentric Clyfford Still at the California School of the Arts, exhibiting with the Abstract Expressionists in New York, and having endured stints of teaching on the East Coast and in the Midwest, Jon Schueler left New York in 1970 for the isolation and particular weather of the Scottish Highlands.

Where is Surrealism Now?

Rare are the pictures of André Breton lying down. This time he is reclining before Giorgio de Chirico’s Enigma of a Day (1933), as if indeed he himself were to be posing as one of those reclining Roman statues within the piazza, observing us observing him.

Endless Enigma: Eight Centuries of Fantastic Art

It is a fantastic feeling to have been here before, as we surely have, and to return here refreshed. In 1936 Alfred H. Barr, Jr. brought his Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism to the Museum of Modern Art, and traces of it survive and are now not just resurrected but, well, remembered. The present recall and revision set the same non-limits on the time and geographical framing, and so this exhibition is gratifyingly wide-ranging, from the twelfth-century to right now in 2018.

SURREAL ENCOUNTERS: COLLECTING THE MARVELOUS
Works from the Collections of Roland Penrose, Edward James, Gabrielle Keiller and Ulla and Heiner Pietzsch

An exhibition jointly organized by SNGMA, the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, and the Hamburger Kunsthalle, where it will be shown after the only United Kingdom showing in Edinburgh.

Arakawa: Diagrams for the Imagination

Important to so many poets and thinkers and theorists, this brilliant Japanese erstwhile neo-Dada painter and thought-provoker has to be read (seen, but more fittingly, read) with enough leisure to have the visual-verbal complications, as beautiful as they are diagrammatic, permeate your imagination.

The Symbolist Vision

I was mesmerized by two totally new-to-me pieces: one by Schlüter, of the Austrian school, with a whopping skull, a candle, a watch, two books (whose titles are, of course, indecipherable), and a few other tools/signs weighted with symbolic mood.

Robert Motherwell: Early Paintings | Enormity of the Possible

Not far apart, about two minutes or a bit more by foot, depending on what friends you see along the way, are the two present exhibitions at Paul Kasmin Gallery, at 293 and 297 Tenth Avenue.

PHILIP HUGHES:
Vues d’en Haut

Philip Hughes, a British painter celebrated for his paintings of various walks, is exhibiting, in the Maison de la Truffe et du Vin here, some extraordinary works focusing on some “scenes from above”—in other words, scenes of the earth shot from the sky.

Brancusi & Duchamp: the Art of Dialogue

It would be difficult to come up with a more challenging duo than this one. The exhibition is packed with sculptures, photographs, objects, films, little magazines—nothing is lacking—but we could just stop where it starts: with those two gorgeous faces of Brancusi and Duchamp by Man Ray, from 1920 and 1934, preceded by a sweater-clad Brancusi rarely seen. Here we are given the proper spin to this remarkable dialogue.

SADE: Artists Under the Influence

Saying that the divine Marquis had something to do with eroticism is a bit like saying Donald Trump has a little something not to do with truth. Beloved for every brick literally there in the face of Man Ray’s imaginary portrait of 1970 with his baleful and fleshy stare, the Marquis de Sade has haunted every subsequent surrealist discoverer of his works and perpetually-imprisoned self.

Surrealism in Mexico

This wonderfully hung exhibition celebrates the wondrously worded “robust creative moment” when a group of internationally colorful surrealists left Europe for Mexico, fleeing World War II.

FIAT#LUX

At the Agora Gallery, there opened "an immersion exhibition" entitled FIAT#LUX where Chantal Westby's paintings merge with Lénaïc Mercier's multi-media installation, in a length of light.

Moon Dancers: Yup'ik Masks and the Surrealists

The Surrealists were impassioned by the idea of the spiritual, mental, and aesthetic connections between pre-modern societies.

Measuring the Weight with Richard Serra

You walk around, you compare the weight of the sculptures with the density of the black in his drawings, the way the curves fit into one another, the way it has an impact on your mind, and physical state.

Cruel Theater

Many of us know Antonin Artaud first from his face. Those high cheekbones, that deeply serious stance and gesture, holding up the Bible to the Joan played by the very great Falconetti in Dreyer’s Joan of Arc at the Stake as she is about to be burned. That encounter with the flames we might see as lasting beyond his performance.

The Noise of the Rain

It has always been the case, as long as I have—or anyone I know has—been reading the poems of Sarah Plimpton and looking at the (apparently) drastically simple forms of the drawings she constructs that are so instantly recognizable.

Undying Unica

And the walls they did indeed come a-tumbling down…crashing earthwards from the start of this narration of a to-be-mother, very much not-wanting-to have this child with whom she lives at the beginning, in a tower with some bats and ravens, in a “gruesome inner union.”

Approach of the Word

The language of poetry can’t be enclosed in any category, can’t be summed up in any function or formula. Neither instrument nor ornament, it scans a word carrying the ages and the fleeting space, founding both stone and history, welcoming their dust. It moves about in the energy that makes and breaks empires.

I Love Being A Gourmande

Given my solid reputation as a gourmande, many readers imagine me seated at a table, framed with patés and bottles, like the “Gourmand” of a famous poster. That’s too flattering. It’s actually embellishing the truth, taking me for a cordon bleu, while I am only able to manage one dish, and give some advice somewhat brightened up by enlightened gastronomy.

Two Poems from Earth Absolute and Other Texts

one day, after so many years of not waiting / like a divine promulgation a cloud / too heavy to pass breaks: it’s the flood

René Char - Resistance in Every Way

I am writing here as one of the numerous persons to whom René Char has given a reason for so many things, moral, psychological, and creative. And it’s of his life as a résistant that I’d like to write just a few words. He was not only a resistance fighter in the war—to which the Leaves of Hypnos bears witness—but a fighter all along on the moral plane, his whole life long.

The Collages of Helen Adam

Prepare to be astonished. How on earth, you wonder, can a Scot woman poet and collagist possessed of an overcomingly remarkable imagination, combined with an intense involvement in Scottish history, Dante, the Victorian Romance novel and art, and in really weird animals in various beings and doings, fit so perfectly, no matter how oddly, into the San Francisco Renaissance? Prepare to meet Helen Adam.

Stéphane Mallarmé's The Book and Un Coup de dés jamais n’abolira le Hasard

To take just the 72 pages of Stéphane Mallarmé’s Le Livre (originally posthumously published in French in 1957), at once fragmentary and yet feeling so completely itself, every time we encounter it, it seems a more astonishing piece of work.

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The Brooklyn Rail

NOV 2019

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