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Raphael Rubinstein

Raphael Rubinstein is the author of The Miraculous (Paper Monument, 2014) and A Geniza (Granary Books, 2015). He is currently writing a book about the Jewish-Egyptian writer Edmond Jabès. A Professor of Critical Studies at the University of Houston School of Art, he divides his time between Houston and New York.

Guest Critic

To Whom It Must Concern

I’m sure that sometimes you’ve asked: “Who am I writing for?” The answer may have been: for the artist, for the “viewing public,” for curious collectors, for posterity, for yourself (perhaps in order to understand something otherwise ungraspable about the work). But what happens if you ask: “Who am I writing to?”

Letter to the Editor

In his review of Eliot Weinberger’s Oranges and Peanuts For Sale (September 2009), Michael Sandlin describes Vicente Huidobro, George Oppen and Gu Cheng as “obscure long-deceased poets.”

In Conversation

James Harithas with Raphael Rubinstein

It must have been around 1997 that I was having lunch with Jim Harithas and Norman Bluhm on Mercer Street in SoHo and I described to them an exhibition I’d just seen at the Drawing Center.

In Conversation


Can the same painting give us difficulty and joie de vivre? If you have ever encountered a painting by Shirley Jaffe, you know the answer to this question.

Poem Beginning with a Line from Robert Ashley

it was an almost perfect place to be 15 years ago

In Conversation

CHARLINE VON HEYL with Raphael Rubinstein

Breaking expectations, Charline von Heyl demonstrates that you can be an enthusiastic scavenger of bygone eras in art while producing paintings that look, and are, completely contemporary.

In Conversation

HOLLY ZAUSNER with Raphael Rubinstein

A few days before Holly Zausner’s exhibition of recent collages and film opened at Postmasters (June 21 – August 3), Raphael Rubinstein visited the artist in her New York studio to talk about her work across various media and why she decided to title the show A Small Criminal Enterprise.

In Conversation

PIERRE BURAGLIO with Raphael Rubinstein

During the “events” of May 1968, when students and workers brought the French nation to a standstill and almost toppled the government of Charles de Gaulle, the streets were filled with punchy, quickly produced posters and flyers.

In Conversation

GUILLERMO KUITCA with Raphael Rubinstein

Painter Guillermo Kuitca sits down with Raphael Rubinstein to discuss the recent "Family Idiot" paintings, curatorial collaborations with the Cartier Foundation, and the shifting reception of Latin American art in the US.

In Search of the Miraculous

His public is shocked when this abstract painter living on the Côte d’Azur paints a series of canvases unlike anything he has ever done before. In contrast to the restrained, geometric compositions for which he is known, these canvases present crudely drawn figures against dark, roughly painted backgrounds.


Art that comments on its own medium and art that comments on political events are often assigned to separate categories, attracting different audiences, different kinds of critical responses, different ways of looking.

JONATHAN GAMS (1951-2009)

When Jon Gams, proprietor of Hard Press Editions, died on November 7th at the age of 57, the world of independent publishing lost one of its most notable figures. It may take some time, but one day the contribution that Jon made to contemporary art and literature will be more widely recognized.

Renewable Energy for Criticism

For too long, perhaps, we art critics have chastised ourselves, honoring the great achievements of the past only to discount the present state of our beleaguered practice. There are many good reasons for this attitude, many high marks of understanding, prescience, influence, and revelation that we can compare to subsequent moments of diminished powers.


Until this exhibition I had never seen a work by Sven Lukin, an artist who began showing in New York in the early 1960s and was widely recognized at the time for his innovative painting-sculpture hybrids.

“The Poetics of Wattage, after Alighiero e Boetti”

Once a year this poem / will be temporarily transformed / from a self-descriptive exercise / written in the plainest language / into something altogether different

Bernard Piffaretti

Until this current show at Lisson, French painter Bernard Piffaretti hadn’t had a solo exhibition in New York since 2002 (at Cheim and Read). That’s 17 years ago. Far, far too long a time to pass without seeing the work of an artist who is one of the great painters of his generation (born in 1955).

Harriet Korman: Permeable/Resistant

When asked how she starts one of her recent quadrant-based paintings, Harriet Korman replies that her first step is to “find the center.” She does so without the assistance of any measuring device, relying solely on her hand and eye to determine the point from which she will begin building out her right-angled bands of color.


First paradox: that real events produce unreal spaces, i.e., fluid dynamics of various substances, guided by the artist, result in images of sheer fantasy, views onto imaginary landscapes.

L’École de 8 Rue Saint-Victor

I’m writing these lines in late September just a few hours after learning that Shirley Jaffe died in Paris at the age of ninety-two. Last week, knowing that she had little time left, I flew to France to see her one last time.

Bartleby on Carmine Street

When I started renting movies from Evergreen Video it occupied the second story of a dilapidated building on West Houston Street. On the ground floor was Martin’s Bar and Grill, a tenebrous and seedy drinking establishment that seemed like a relic of some earlier version of downtown Manhattan, even thought at the time—the early 1990s—there were still many such survivals: Italian bakeries, Irish bars, Portuguese groceries, Puerto Rican bodegas, second-hand bookstores run by ash-sprinkled Jewish men who often reminded me of my father, miniscule record stores dedicated to particular genres or eras, boutiques whose stocks of clothes hadn’t been updated since the early 1970s.

On the Current Symbolic Status of Oil

As Duncan Smith notes toward the end of “On the Current Symbolic Status of Oil,” the essay was written during the Iran Hostage Crisis, that’s to say 1979–1980. It’s always helpful to know when a text was composed but in this case the dating is crucial: Smith’s virtuosic ode to oil in all its cultural, psychological and political ramifications was written in the midst of an energy crisis when, as a result of the U.S. halting oil imports from Iran, there was a panic that led to the doubling of oil prices and long lines at gas stations around the country.

Accordion Chamber Music

you've lived like the Argo


Raphael Rubinstein is the author of The Miraculous (Paper Monument, 2014) and A Geniza (Granary Books, 2015). He is currently writing a book about the Jewish-Egyptian writer Edmond Jabès. A Professor of Critical Studies at the University of Houston School of Art, he divides his time between Houston and New York.

Illusion is a Gangstergirl

Illusion is a gangstergirl the sensitive killer’s tattoo spelled out

Five Poems

Drunk in the next room screaming/”I’m going blind” every night…

Accordion Chamber Music

(four short movements after Max Beckmann’s The Argonauts)

1. [Greenwich Village, SoHo, Harlem]

The classmate of a 15-year-old New Yorker cuts school to hang out in Greenwich Village for the day.

2. [NoHo, SoHo, Queens, Hudson River Piers]

The first section of the eight-story, 103-year-old hotel collapsed at 5:10 pm on a Friday afternoon in August

3. [Battery Park City]

A 13-year-old girl and her parents survive the 50-day siege of Budapest by the Soviet Army

4. [Washington Heights]

Apart from brief excursions into the subway or the city’s parks, this artist shoots her videos entirely in her home

5. [SoHo, Broadway, and various other points]

At the age of 25 a young man leaves his native Japan for New York to pursue musical studies with a charismatic avant-garde jazz percussionist.

6. [Downtown, West 57th Street]

During the summer of 1953 while New York City is suffering through a record-breaking heat wave, a 55-year-old artist known for her superb drawing skills (honed during years working alongside a famed European modernist) tosses aside pencil and pen for a new technique: making ink rubbings of the city under her feet.

7. [Lower Broadway]

It’s the mid-1970s. A young abstract painter who has moved to New York from Southern California finds a studio near City Hall on Lower Broadway.

8. [Chelsea]

In the Chelsea townhouse where she has been living and working since the late 1950s an artist now in her 90s returns again and again to the subject that has obsessed her for decades

9. [Lower East Side]

It’s the evening of October 22, 1962 and President Kennedy has just announced in a televised address “that it shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union.”

10. [Brooklyn Heights]

The year that Marilyn Monroe marries Joe DiMaggio, that Elvis Presley releases “That’s All Right,” that the first mass polio vaccinations begin, that Frank O’Hara publishes his prose poem “Meditations in an Emergency”

11. (Harlem)

Troubled by a remark recently made to her by a social worker—that avant-garde art doesn’t have anything to do with black people—an artist conceives of a conceptual project that will engage New York City’s African-American community. To this end she enters a float in the African American Day parade, a Harlem procession that occurs every September along Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard.

12. (Chelsea, Fifth Avenue)

It’s the summer of 2016. A gallery on West 20th Street offers its space for a month to a political action committee started by two artists. The show features art works that will be diffused as billboards and advertisements to engage voters in the November election.

13. (Meat Packing District)

A young artist enters a museum on the opening day of a biennial exhibition of contemporary art. He makes his way to one work in the show, a well-known painter’s depiction of a murdered 14-year-old boy lying in a coffin. Inspired by an infamous 1955 lynching, the painting is titled Open Casket.

14. (NoHo)

After being stranded in Japan throughout the Second World War, during which he survives the 1943 firebombing of Tokyo (for the rest of his life whenever he sees something that has been burned he mistakes it for a human body), a Korean artist returns home to join the faculty of a new university fine art department.

15. (East Village, Union Square)

At 2:50 AM on a September night in 1983 a 25-year-old artist is arrested by NYPD Transit Police for writing graffiti in the First Avenue station of the L Train. When police officers bring him, bound at the ankles and with an elastic strap running hog-tie-style from his hands to his feet, into the Union Square Police Station they decide that he is mentally disturbed and must be transferred to Bellevue Hospital.

16. (Tribeca)

A French sculptor who has moved to the United States immerses himself in the New York art world. Before long he acquires a network of fellow artists, a loft in what was then a desolate neighborhood below Canal Street, and a respected gallery to exhibit and, with luck, sell his work.

17. (The East Village, the Subway)

A Brazilian artist in his early 30s relocates to New York where he furnishes his East Village apartment with mattresses that he surrounds with sheer fabric hangings. Soon it becomes a haven for experiments in art-making, love-making, drug-taking and gender-fucking.

18. (Chelsea)

One windy day in the mid-1990s, less than ten years after leaving the Soviet Union for life in the West, a husband-and-wife artist team grab a video camera and descend from their studio into the mostly deserted streets of Chelsea.

19. (The East Village, Queens)

Of this artist’s early years there is very little happiness to be reported and the same is true of the years—what few there were—that followed

20. (Canal Street)

When he dies of a drug overdose at 33 during a vacation in the Maldives, a German artist, lately resident in New York, leaves behind in his Düsseldorf studio a sequence of 40 aluminum panels painted in bands of red, yellow and black.

21. (Downtown)

A young artist full of admiration for Mark Rothko and abstraction in general is unsatisfied with her own paintings because they don’t seem to address the pressing problems in the world around her.

22. (The East Village and Points Beyond)

A poet living in the East Village launches a write-in campaign for the 1992 Presidential Election. Promising to turn all her “upcoming art events, readings and performances until election day into political events,” she folds her campaign into the tour of a one-woman show titled “Leaving New York” that takes her to 28 States.

23. (Midtown, Times Square, Washington Square Park, Madison Square Garden)

Over the course of nine consecutive days in 2005, an artist stages performances at nine different sites around the city. At each location she holds up a handmade protest sign, usually carrying a slogan from a past protest, though her intention is not to re-create historic events. Instead, she freely transposes slogans and sites.

24. (Park Avenue)

An artist makes a painting based on a screenshot of an Instagram post. In the post (and in the painting) we can see a young woman apparently being prepared for a photo shoot or a television appearance.

25. (SoHo)

In a neighborhood that decades before was home to countless artists and galleries but has long since been dominated by pricey condos and showrooms for global luxury brands, worry over impending anti-racism protests convinces most businesses in the area, already reeling from a pandemic, to board up every inch of their storefronts with plywood.


The Brooklyn Rail

OCT 2020

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