Albert Mobilio

  • Hilma af Klint: Painting the Unseen

    THE PHRASE AHEAD OF THEIR TIME is often thrown around but almost never accurate or meaningful. There have been only a handful of writers and artists—the likes of Emily Dickinson, Laurence Sterne, Sun Ra, and Van Gogh—whose work became deeply consonant with the culture long after its completion. For instance, Sterne’s metafictional Tristram Shandy is a twentieth-century novel published in the middle of the eighteenth; the compressed grammar and linguistic materiality of Dickinson’s poems still fascinate Language poets. Add to any such list of visionaries the Swedish painter Hilma af Klint. Born

  • The Insanity Offense

    IN A VIDEO CLIP of Joseph “Crazy Joe” Gallo testifying at the McClellan Committee’s 1958 hearings on organized crime, the mobster wears a black shirt and dark oversize sunglasses. His hair is slicked back, and sly comedy can be detected in his repeated assertion of his Fifth Amendment rights—especially when the exasperated chairman asks, “Have you a father and a mother?” and Gallo hits his mark: “I respectfully decline to answer because I honestly believe my answer might tend to incriminate me.” The performance-ready look—lifted from Richard Widmark’s character Tommy Udo in the 1940s noir Kiss

  • Kerry James Marshall: Mastry

    KERRY JAMES MARSHALL’S 1980 painting A Portrait of the Artist as a Shadow of His Former Self sets out a thematic and stylistic program for decades of subversively distinctive work to follow. The black man in the painting is presented in a cartoonlike manner. His fedora is worn at a jaunty angle, yet scant distinguishing features emerge from the vibrantly deep black paint (Marshall employs three versions of this color, one made from tar, another from iron oxide, and yet another from the burning of teeth and bones) that fills the outline of his face, except for his eyes and shockingly white

  • Marcel Broodthaers: A Retrospective

    “I WANTED,” Marcel Broodthaers declared in his 1954 poem “Adieu, police!,” “to be an organ player / in the army of silence / but played hopscotch / on the pink dew of blood.” Either choice—each one an irresistibly visualized paradox—gives vivid testimony to the multifarious career of this Belgian artist who began as a poet and (after encasing fifty of his unsold volumes in plaster) became a sculptor, collagist, painter, filmmaker, and all-around provocateur who parodied the institutional qualities of a museum by creating one of his own in his Brussels studio. With strong roots in Surrealist

  • Nonsense and Sensibility

    Opinion about the English sense of humor can prove a handy means of cleaving any social gathering into two mutually uncomprehending factions—those that think it exists and those that don’t. Despite the debate’s rather low stakes (this isn’t surveillance versus security), it is a revealing one personality-wise, and if you’ve ever labored to convince someone that Monty Python’s fish-slapping dance is funny, you know the gap in sensibilities isn’t trivial. Glen Baxter’s drawings, which have been collected in over twenty books since the late ’70s, amply evidence his native clime’s tradition of

  • Alberto Burri: The Trauma of Painting

    A PARADOXICAL DILEMMA awaits the art restorer charged with repairing the damage done by time and mishap to an Alberto Burri painting, because his canvases were made by employing just those elements: aging, accident, and downright destruction. Trained as a doctor in his native Italy, Burri served as a medic during World War II, was captured in Tunisia, and was interned in a POW camp in Texas, which is where he began to paint. When he returned home, he found a culture beaten down by years of Fascist rule and a landscape blasted by Allied bombs. The ravages of war inform not only his technique

  • String Theory

    “My true vocation is preparation for death.” That was the reply offered by polymath, scholar, filmmaker, archivist, and painter Harry Smith when asked what among his many pursuits he believed to be his “truest.” “For that day,” he continued, “I’ll lie on my bed and see my life go before my eyes.” If Smith’s declaration evokes the gnomic, ironic, dissolute, and fanciful, it also characterizes an artist who prized his own obscurity (and the obscurity of his myriad and often uncompleted endeavors) even within the more rarefied cultural circles of the postwar decades. The underground’s underground

  • Divine Lines

    At a time when the notion of a poetic career—with its requisite curriculum vitae, residencies, prize panels, and sabbaticals—has long been in ascendancy, it can seem almost quaint to recall that poverty or a sad demise was once a not-uncommon fate for a poet (think Keats, Rimbaud, Sylvia Plath, Dylan Thomas, Anne Sexton, Hart Crane). John Wieners met such an end in 2002, when he collapsed returning from a party in Beacon Hill, Boston. He was taken to Massachusetts General Hospital, where, lacking identification, he lay unconscious for days and then was removed from the respirator. Almost until

  • Hiroshi Sugimoto: Seascapes

    PILOTS CALL IT “spatial-D,” short for spatial disorientation—the dizziness and inability to determine where your body is in space when you’re deprived of a clear visual horizon. The phenomenon can send a pilot into a tailspin; viewers of Hiroshi Sugimoto: Seascapes won’t crash anywhere, but they will find themselves inhabiting a perplexing limbo where sea and sky meet uncertainly, their borders blurred, and the nature of each realm is thrown into question. Sugimoto has often chosen subjects that confound predictable responses: His images of glowing white cinema screens (achieved by capturing

  • Tales of the Brothers Grimm: Drawings by Natalie Frank

    “CHILD ABUSE, INCEST, rape, fierce sibling rivalry, animal brutalization, rebellion, fratricide”—no, this isn’t the sign-in sheet at the gates of hell; these are the subjects of fairy tales penned by the Brothers Grimm as listed in Jack Zipes’s introduction to this gloriously macabre illustrated selection. The all-too-familiar versions of “Snow White,” “Hansel and Gretel,” and “Cinderella” are not the stories that Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm collected in a series of editions beginning in 1812. Even in that less fastidious time, the bloody mayhem was judged to be a bit much for children, and subsequent

  • Dark Knees

    EVEN MARK COHEN’S early photographs look utterly contemporary. Most of the images in this volume, which spans 1969 to 2012, date from the ’70s and early ’80s, but their seemingly haphazard visual style—oddly canted perspectives, complex compositions, and a general fixation on disconnected parts of people and things—suggests nothing so much as the smartphone videos that are now a mainstay of our journalistic and voyeuristic consumption. Cohen seems to have anticipated this disorienting jumble of perspectives when he began taking photographs in his native Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, decades ago.

  • Type 42: Fame Is the Name of the Game

    IN THE SPRING OF 2012, artist Jason Brinkerhoff found a cache of some 950 Polaroids devoted to television images from the 1960s and early ’70s. The photos—the book’s title takes its name from a popular Polaroid film stock, Type 42—gathered in this sampling from that collection are mostly of actresses appearing on what is probably a modest-size black-and-white television. Each actress has been shot during a close-up, and her name (whether famous, or quite obscure) has been inked on the snapshot’s border. Although attempts to trace the archive back to its creator have proved fruitless, a few

  • Collected Letters

    What is the wordness of a word? Is a word the sum of its letters—the way they look arrayed on a sign or page? Or is a word its sound when spoken, the feel of its syllables on the tongue and in the ear? Or is the essence found primarily in a word’s meaning, its service as a vehicle for communication? These are questions that typically occupy poets—whether composing epics to be recited around campfires, songs to be sung by troubadours, or intricate typographic displays for readers to puzzle over, poets have long been attuned to the shape and sound of language. Such focus, though, is hardly confined

  • Cosmigraphics: Picturing Space Through Time

    TO PARAPHRASE astronomer Carl Sagan, there are one hundred billion galaxies, each containing one hundred billion stars, in our “vast and awesome universe.” Accepting the existence of something so incomprehensible is nearly tantamount to believing in God, and, much like that human yearning to know a Supreme Being, our attempts to understand the cosmos date back millennia. Cosmigraphics’ compilation of images of our solar system, our galaxy, and the whole enchilada ranges from Ptolemy’s geocentric conception, from AD 150, to maps so specialized that they only record, for instance, the spectral

  • The River Book

    IN A 1999 EPISODE of The Simpsons, Homer attempts to build a backyard barbecue but instead ends up with a hodgepodge mess, a jumble soon hailed as great art. This genial parody (Jasper Johns has a speaking role) of found art depicted “creations” that are, in fact, hardly far from the mark. Found art and assemblage can sometimes appear to be work easily (or in Homer’s case, accidentally) accomplished, in part because the materials are so familiar and the presiding aesthetic prizes spontaneity. These two volumes, offering a generous sampling from the West Coast painter, collagist, poet, and

  • Not Poetry

    If the past couple of decades have seen poetry slip ever further out of the literary conversation (notices in mainstream book reviews often seem pointed at reassuring even avid readers that nothing’s happened since they parsed Wallace Stevens in college), the genre itself might be said to be laboring at self-erasure. And that actually counts as a promising development. While the conventions of an essay, novel, or memoir have always been elastic, verse has traditionally been defined by specifics enumerated down to the very syllable. A generation of poets, one including figures such as Susan

  • The Essential Cy Twombly

    ON VIEW at the Museum of Modern Art (New York), Cy Twombly’s 1955 painting Academy is a work you can look at, and into, for a long time. Providing an early example of the calculated offhandedness that came to distinguish both his style and technique (he employed not paint but pencil on a drop cloth rather than a canvas), Academy rewards close scrutiny, as it reveals expressive layer upon layer of choreographed lines. In fact, so lively is the dance that it tests the viewer’s certainty that the picture isn’t moving. That a former Army cryptologist might produce work requiring careful discernment

  • Post Modern

    From our current vantage, it’s not hard to acknowledge that one of the presiding spirits of early-twenty-first-century art is Ray Johnson’s. Collagist, painter, poet, and the originator of mail art, Johnson took up the appropriative strategies of Marcel Duchamp and Jasper Johns, infused them with John Cage’s ideas about Zen and chance, and energized the mix with his own brand of deadpan Conceptualism. The art he made beginning in the early 1950s until his death in 1995 purposefully merged artist, artmaking, and art object in ways that were once disquieting but are now considered routine. The

  • Saul Leiter: Early Black and White

    UNTIL RECENTLY, Saul Leiter was rarely named among the first rank of photographers (Garry Winogrand, Helen Levitt, Weegee) who roamed New York’s streets recording the extraordinary ordinariness of life in the big city. When he died last fall at the age of eighty-nine, notice had just begun to be paid—exhibitions and books were followed by Tomas Leach’s well-received documentary, In No Great Hurry: 13 Lessons in Life with Saul Leiter. The photographer’s relative obscurity was owed, in part, to his inclinations—in the film, Leiter asks, “What makes anyone think that I’m any good? I’m not carried