Albert Mobilio

  • Hildegard von Bingen: A Journey into the Images

    IN THE PAST FEW DECADES, the accomplishments of medieval polymath and visionary Hildegard von Bingen have gained widespread recognition. The Benedictine abbess was born in 1098 and, over the course of her long life, excelled as an artist, composer, and author. She extended the melodic range of sacred music, wrote sizable tomes that combined her deep studies of botany and medicine, and even found time to invent an alphabet. She also wrote and illustrated three works devoted to the apparitions she regularly beheld beginning at the age of five. The manuscript of Scivias (a contraction of the phrase

  • A Boy’s Own Story

    Even when a photograph of a wounded or suffering child becomes familiar, it retains the power to unsettle. The smudged face of a sharecropper’s daughter, children arrayed behind barbed wire at Auschwitz, a starving Biafran child, a nine-year-old girl seared by napalm in Vietnam—these images still disturb viewers and prompt strong responses. Yet, as Susan Sontag argued in On Photography, it’s difficult to measure their ultimate utility: “The knowledge gained through still photographs,” she wrote, “will always be some kind of sentimentalism, whether cynical or humanist.” That propensity for

  • Richard Diebenkorn: A Retrospective

    WITH ITS SOFT YET VIBRANT YELLOWS AND REDS in a floral-patterned wallpaper set against an array of angular blues, Recollections of a Visit to Leningrad, a 1965 painting by Richard Diebenkorn, evidences the profound influence of Matisse. Diebenkorn saw works by that artist in 1964 at the State Hermitage Museum and would come to share his strong geographic identification with a sunny locale, replacing the French Riviera with the state of California, his home for most of his creative life. Titled after the Santa Monica neighborhood where he kept a studio beginning in 1967, his widely acclaimed “

  • Some Trick

    The gold- and silver-colored crucifix that hung opposite my childhood bed was only one of many that adorned the walls of my home, my school, and, of course, the church I attended. On early-summer mornings the bright, filigreed metal caught the rays that leaked around a too-narrow window shade and the dying Christ glowed as if electrified. At age eight I understood the principle of reflected light but didn’t yet grasp the concept of an afterimage—the result of photoreceptors retaining an impression after the eye is closed or upon looking away from the object. After waking one morning, I allowed

  • Growth and Decay: Pripyat and the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone

    Novels and films tend to portray postapocalyptic cities as either devastated or abandoned. While the former might take inspiration from photos of Hiroshima or Dresden, places long emptied of people can be somewhat harder to imagine. What would Poughkeepsie or Staten Island look like years after a plague swept the planet? Some hint can be found in David McMillan’s photographs of the town of Pripyat, Ukraine, and the environs around the former Chernobyl nuclear power plant. In late April 1986, a reactor there suffered a catastrophic failure that spread radioactive material for thousands of miles

  • Jason Moran

    The roster of musicians—Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Max Roach, Charles Mingus, and many others—who played the Three Deuces nightclub on Manhattan’s 52nd Street from the 1940s through the ’50s nearly encompasses the whole of modern jazz history. Yet any trace of that iconic locale, as well as all the other jazz venues that once lined the block, has long been obliterated by office towers. Some redress for this cultural disregard can be found in Jason Moran’s installation STAGED: Three Deuces, which was featured at the 2015 Venice Biennale. A pianist, composer, and visual artist, Moran demonstrates

  • Henry Taylor: The Only Portrait I Ever Painted of My Momma Was Stolen

    Henry Taylor painted an impressive range of subjects that included close friends and total strangers, the famous and the unknown. It’s a gallery that includes Miles Davis and Eldridge Cleaver; the children of fellow artists; and anonymous figures (a panhandler, a child modeling a new dress) caught in scenes of daily life. He ranges through African American achievements and grievous injustices to depict, for instance, Alice Coachman (above), the first black woman to win an Olympic gold medal, as well as a lifeless Philando Castile in a 2017 work, The Times Thay Aint A Changing, Fast Enough! Like

  • Touch Wood

    In 1969 the painter Jack Whitten arrived in the town of Agia Galini, on the Greek island of Crete. Shortly before leaving New York he’d had a dream in which he was commanded to find a tree and carve it. From the bus window he spied the tree from his dream. He approached the owner, but because Whitten couldn’t speak Greek, the man thought he was saying he wanted to cut it down. Whitten came up with a plan to communicate his aim: “I went into the surrounding hills, found some wood and set up shop on the harbor beneath some trees.” The owner understood immediately and even lent Whitten his tools.

  • William L. Hawkins: An Imaginative Geography

    William L. Hawkins painted a near-encyclopedic array of subjects: animals both familiar and exotic, the Last Supper, cityscapes, stadiums, winter landscapes, Old West scenes, a bullfight, a jukebox, Jerusalem, the Statue of Liberty, the Nativity, the moon landing, and the rock of Gibraltar. Hawkins was a longtime resident of Columbus, Ohio, but his vision extends to distant locales, taking in everything from Bible history to Mr. T. On almost every one of his paintings you will find his date and place of birth (“William L. Hawkins Born KY July 27, 1895” or some variant thereof) prominently marked

  • Night and the City

    The tabloid photographer Arthur Fellig, better known as Weegee, produced many iconic New York City images, but one in particular, taken in December 1940 in the East Village, captures the quintessence of his life and career. The photo presents a slain gangster, one Lewis Sandano, facedown on the pavement, partially covered by what appears to be a crumpled and bloodied sheet of butcher paper; a policeman stands beside the corpse and takes notes with businesslike aplomb. But this otherwise ordinary crime-scene image offers a wry comedic twist—dominating the foreground of the frame, hovering over

  • Thomas Struth

    THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN looking and seeing—between mere perception of surfaces and an understanding of their meanings—is a division that photographic art is especially disposed to explore. Photographers have long pressed against their art’s presumed documentary function, creating a subjective sense of the seen by applying the tools of their craft. This persona-driven approach was challenged by Bernd and Hilla Becher, founders of the Düsseldorf School of Photography, whose students included Thomas Ruff, Andreas Gursky, Candida Höfer, and Thomas Struth. Known for their typological studies of

  • Ballenesque: Roger Ballen; A Retrospective

    AMONG THE EARLIEST IMAGES displayed in this sizable account of Roger Ballen’s nearly fifty-year career is Dead Cat, New York, 1970. In the foreground of the photo, a feline—mouth agape, teeth bared, its body stretched as if scampering toward the viewer—lies on the side of a country road. The blur of a car racing away in the upper-left corner of the frame provides a witty counterpoint to the animal’s eternally stalled dash. Thus, at the outset of his career, Ballen was already compelled by the motifs that would energize his work for several decades to come: animals, lurid corporeality, and

  • California Infernal: Anton LaVey & Jayne Mansfield as Portrayed by Walter Fischer

    THE BIBLE-THUMPING condemnations of pre-Code Hollywood declared its racy films to be wicked enticements cast before innocent eyes. The overheated rhetoric was of a piece with the films themselves: Sin as a showstopper has always proved to be profitable for preachers as well as moviemakers. A preacher of a different sort, Anton LaVey, took cues from both the moguls and the ministers to found the Church of Satan and author The Satanic Bible. From Hollywood, he borrowed the splashy opening—for instance, by ordaining the beginning of the “Age of Satan” on Walpurgisnacht in 1966. With his shaved

  • Weird Séance

    They saw dead people. They heard them too. When summoned, dead people rang bells, wrote on slates, levitated tables. Sometimes their faces hovered in the air. The dead made this commotion for their parents, children, siblings, and friends at the behest of gifted individuals capable of readily communing with the world beyond. If the movement associated with this phenomenon, known as spiritualism—which was popular to varying degrees from the mid-nineteenth to the early twentieth century—now appears a quaint relic of a benighted past, we should consider the vigorous currency of aura reading,

  • Rauschenberg / Dante: Drawing a Modern Inferno

    THE VIVID DESCRIPTIONS of human suffering in Dante’s Inferno have long attracted visual artists. It’s no surprise that Sandro Botticelli, Gustave Doré, William Blake, Auguste Rodin, and Salvador Dalí all tried their hand at depicting the Italian poet’s demonic landscape. That dark world is rich in dramatic occasion (“an old man, his hair white with age, cried out: / ‘Woe unto you, you wicked souls’”) and irresistibly pictorial (“These wretches . . . / naked and beset / by stinging flies and wasps / that made their faces stream with blood, / which, mingled with their tears, / was gathered at

  • Unpopular Mechanics

    Children's picture books are often our first acquaintance with storytelling. In a board book devoted, say, to trucks, what appears to an adult to be a series of discrete images will, for a preverbal child, provide a narrative: Embedded in the facing images of a pickup and a monster truck is likely a tale of growth and diminishment, or maybe simplification and elaboration. Of course, this is a rough surmise; we can't be sure exactly what's going on inside the kid's head. But we can assume a basic human impulse to look for order and imbue it with meaning. In 1977, Larry Sultan and Mike Mandel,

  • The Drawings of Susan Te Kahurangi King

    ONE OF MY MOST MEMORABLE apparitions—the sort cast and staged by a certain ill-tasting mushroom—starred Bullwinkle the moose, who demonstrated his ability to grow his already prominent snout to boa-constrictor length. I can still recall that disturbingly phallic vision nearly forty-five years later. My cartoon grotesque comes to mind as I page through this volume devoted to the hallucinatory drawings of Susan Te Kahurangi King. Born in New Zealand in 1951, King became well known in 2008 when her methodically detailed images began to circulate online. The artist, whose earliest work was done

  • All You Need Is Lovecraft

    Like many authors—Charles Bukowski, Kathy Acker, Jack Kerouac, Ayn Rand, Philip K. Dick, to name a few—who have attracted cultish followings, H. P. Lovecraft has a biography that feels essential to and inextricable from his work's singular vision. In Lovecraft's case that biography is almost unbelievably morbid. He was born in 1890 to parents who both died in mental asylums. Lovecraft himself was a sickly child and lifelong loner. Unheralded at his death at the age of forty-six in 1937, the Providence native published chiefly in small magazines and gained eventual recognition due to the efforts

  • Langdon Clay: Cars—New York City, 1974–1976 and Henry Wessel: Traffic/Sunset Park/Continental Divide

    IT WOULD BE DIFFICULT to say which is a greater source of nostalgic longing—classic American cars or the gritty New York of the 1970s. These fond memories are a bit of a puzzle, because the time they celebrate was hardly a golden age. Both the cars and the town, judged from our current vantage, were dangerous, environmentally damaging, and back then taken to be prima facie evidence of American excess and decay. Of course, those negatives probably constitute the very reason for the longing, our desire being for indulgence and abjection rather than prudence. In Cars—New York City, 1974–1976,

  • Self Composed

    A few of the paradoxes that animate the texts in Mary Ruefle's My Private Property are embedded in the title itself. The proclamation that property is private is typically intended to ward off intruders, whether it appears on the cover of an adolescent's diary or is posted on a fence around an inviting lake. The contents or terrain within are to be kept unknown to outsiders. But for Ruefle the peremptory-sounding phrase functions instead as an invitation. The book is for sale and readily perused, and the tone—confessional yet dispassionately precise, elegantly ruminative—allows us to read the