California Literary Review


Madness and Mesmerism: Charles Deas Revisited


November 14th, 2011

Put as simply as possible, Matthews thought he was being tortured and his thoughts disrupted by remote control, via magnetic currents produced by a machine called the “air loom.” Matthew’s “air loom” was operated by a gang of seven: villainous Bill the King, wisecracking Jack the Schoolmaster, crude Sir Archy, the enigmatic Middle Man, scheming Augusta, poor, maltreated Charlotte, and the sinister Glove Woman, the most skilled operator of the machine.

Art Review: Robert Adams: The Place We Live, Denver Art Museum


November 10th, 2011

The photographs in the retrospective are animated by the yearning for a sense of place, of belonging and by regret at seeing that place forever slipping out of reach, as a consequence of environmental heedlessness and of the inevitable passage of time.

Art Review: Stieglitz and His Artists: Matisse to O’Keeffe, The Metropolitan Museum of Art


November 6th, 2011

Beginning with paintings, drawings and a limited number of sculptures by such “wild men” as Matisse, Picasso and Brancusi, Stieglitz went on to champion works created by American painters in the years following World War I. His one-man crusade met with a very mixed reception. Many in the New York art establishment viewed Stieglitz as a cultural anarchist, intent on dynamiting the Beaux-Arts foundation of American art.

Art Review: Charles Dickens at 200, The Morgan Library and Museum


October 19th, 2011

Dickens’ novels probed the social ills of Victorian England in order to create unforgettable images of human misery and redemption in the minds of the literary public. Conscious of how the accompanying illustrations to his text would help in this respect, Dickens worked very closely with the artists who provided these memorable pictures.

Art Review: de Kooning: A Retrospective, MoMA


September 29th, 2011

De Kooning exhibited six “Bitch Goddess” paintings when most American men preferred to watch Marilyn Monroe stand over a steam vent. These paintings, as Robert Harris observed, are rooted in the “simultaneous desire for and fear of women.” De Kooning may not have intended to paint Woman I to express these suppressed emotions. But that is what he put on the canvas and he may have been as perplexed as his critics as to how it got there.

Maryhill Museum of Art, One Hundred Miles East of Portland


September 27th, 2011

Mannequins in pale satins and gauzy tulle pose in a lofty attic whose roof has been torn open as if by an air raid, revealing a black and white cityscape seen as if from the angle of a pilot.

Book Review: Floating Worlds: The Letters of Edward Gorey and Peter F. Neumeyer


September 15th, 2011

Neumeyer responded with scholarly esprit, but he was hard put to equal his partner’s digressions. The works of Jorge Luis Borges, the wonders of Japanese court poetry, the inadequacy of The Yellow Submarine – having found a sympathetic spirit, Gorey let loose a torrent of opinions about anything in his path.

Purity and Danger: The Many Lives of the Italian Renaissance


August 25th, 2011

More importantly, the good-for-you, vitamin-enriched Renaissance we know today is itself a fairly recent, and largely American, historical construction.

Art Review: Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus, Philadelphia Museum of Art


August 8th, 2011

Living in close proximity to the growing Jewish population of Amsterdam, the biblically-minded Rembrandt experienced an artistic epiphany of lasting significance. Why not paint the portrait of Jesus, a 1st Century Jew from Galilee, using a live model with Jewish features? The resulting portraits, seven out of a likely eight that were painted, now grace the walls of a landmark exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Art Review: Avant-Garde Art in Everyday Life, Art Institute of Chicago


August 7th, 2011

Stasis, whether in art, life, economics or political culture, was distasteful and to be done away with. Having spent much of the 1920’s doing typographic and book design as well as designing toys and puppets, Sutnar was well-placed to bring his left-of-center, democracy-inspired radicalism to everything from porcelain to book covers.

Beauty & Bounty: American Art in the Age of Exploration, Seattle Art Museum


July 21st, 2011

The highlight of the gallery would have to be the three paintings by lesser-known artist Martin Johnson Heade. In comparison with the majestic landscapes of mountains, waterfalls and canyons, the rather unremarkable marshlands and haystacks seem out of place. Yet, thanks to a rather humorous and talented Heade, the swirling haystacks and strange storm clouds leave the viewer with an eerie sense of calm, much like the sensation one feels before a summer storm.

Stacey Steers’ Night Hunter


July 8th, 2011

Here, Gish finds herself amidst a riot of Freudian imagery – snakes, earthworms, and phallic blades of grass; mysterious pulsating eggs that seem to ooze blood. Among the few touches of color (added by hand) are splashes of red in Gish’s clothes (and oozing from those eggs). These, along with the old house deep in a tangled wood which forms the setting, evoke Little Red Riding Hood, perhaps the modern world’s favorite fable of sexual awakening and sexual danger.

Art Review: Marvelous Mud at the Denver Art Museum


July 7th, 2011

Marajó is a vast island lying at the mouth of the Amazon, much of which is underwater during seasonal floods. Between 400 and 1300 AD, a culture flourished here on artificial mounds built to rise above the flood waters. The current indigenous inhabitants disclaim any connection to the earlier residents; the makers of these objects had vanished before their ancestors arrived, they say.

Collab: Four Decades of Giving Modern and Contemporary Design, Philadelphia Museum of Art


June 9th, 2011

Put them together as an integrated unit and you have a masterpiece. And in doing so, you have a vivid testimonial to Nelson’s famous 1965 evocation of “junk” as the “crowning glory” of modern consumer culture, “the symbol as clear a statement as the pyramids, the Parthenon, the cathedrals … the rusty, lovely, brilliant symbol of the dying years of your time. Junk is your ultimate landscape.”

Art Review: Chihuly: Through the Looking Glass, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston


June 6th, 2011

The pieces presented in this forty-year retrospective are bright and smooth, often dauntingly large, and composed of multiple parts that cluster together like organisms in an ecosystem or diverse components within a cell. They are frequently plantlike, vital and faintly menacing, and sport attachments that suggest insect pincers or lobster claws. They’re organic and goofy, as if they’d grown themselves, rather than being made. Yet at the same time there is something stubbornly artificial in their fantastic symmetries.

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