Barry Schwabsky

  • Pierre Fatumbi Verger: United States of America 1934 & 1937

    BORN IN 1902, Pierre Verger became a successful photojournalist in his native France, in 1934 cofounding an agency whose members included the likes of Robert Capa and Henri Cartier-Bresson. He lived mainly in Brazil from 1946 until his death fifty years later, and in his adopted country devoted himself to ethnography, writing many books. But he was not a disinterested observer; fascinated by the persistence of Yoruba culture in the New World, he was initiated into the Candomblé religion, and after studying in Benin, he became a Babalaô or high priest of the Ifá oracle, and was accorded the new

  • Jens Risom: A Seat at the Table

    IF FRENCH MODERNISM IS RATIONAL, Italian modernism sensual, German modernism ideological, and Danish modernism comfortable, what’s American modernism? I’d say it’s Danish. That’s because of Jens Risom, the Danish-born and -trained designer who, twenty-three years old on the eve of World War II, boarded a freighter bound for New York. There, according to Vicky Lowry in Jens Risom: A Seat at the Table, the first monograph on his work, the young man “quickly discovered that there wasn’t really any interesting contemporary American furniture to study and learn from”—an exaggeration, maybe, but it’s

  • Timeline Regained

    Princeton English professor Jeff Nunokawa has five thousand Facebook friends. I am one of them. If you are one of the other 4,999, it may be because you know his scholarly writings, such as The Afterlife of Property (1994) or Tame Passions of Wilde (2003). More likely, though, you’ve been drawn in by the brief, sometimes enigmatic meditations—Nunokawa calls them essays—he has been publishing daily on the social-networking site since 2007, a selection of which he’s now gathered in print as Note Book. The structure of Nunokawa’s daily entry is usually fivefold: a numbered title, followed by a

  • Citizens Divided

    IN HER ESSAY for Segregation Story, the companion publication to the current exhibition of the same name at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, the journalist Charlayne Hunter-Gault described a recent encounter with some Brooklyn middle school students. When she mentioned the segregated water fountains in her hometown of Atlanta in the 1950s, one of the kids asked whether the water in the “colored” fountain tasted different from the water in the “white” one.

    Tasted different to whom, I wonder? Maybe the forbidden sip would have been sweeter for certain members of either group. For others, the

  • White Noise

    Unheard melodies are sweeter, proposed John Keats, and Craig Dworkin, it seems, can only agree. In his new book, No Medium, Dworkin, a poet and critic who has been among the most active proponents of “conceptual poetry,” treats silent scores and mute records, books with blank pages, white canvases, erased drawings, and other such “foster-children of Silence and slow Time.” He considers, among many other works, Robert Rauschenberg’s “White Paintings” of 1951, Aram Saroyan’s untitled 1968 publication of a ream of blank typing paper, and Tom Friedman’s 1,000 Hours of Staring, 1992–97, an unmarked

  • Burning Man

    Trying to make art creates a host of problems. One of the best ways of handling these, as John Baldessari seems to have realized in the mid-1960s, is to let the problems be someone else's. Then art becomes like the news. "I just read it and laugh," Baldessari once reflected, "say, what the hell is going on?" Not everyone reads the news with such aloofness, of course (or then again maybe we do, since we manage to down our breakfasts while perusing the latest in war, murder, and economic collapse). And probably few artists read the discourses of art—practical, critical, theoretical—with the

  • Desolation Angles

    LEWIS BALTZ WILL PROBABLY always be associated with an exhibition that very few people ever saw, 1975’s “New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape”—or at least with its title, which seems to encapsulate both the subject matter (landscape in the widest possible context) and the stance (a quasi-scientific objectivity). The aesthetic of the New Topographics was embodied not only in Baltz’s work, but in that of many of the nine other photographers included in the show, among them Robert Adams and Joe Deal. The show has been profoundly influential, especially through what its

  • Recovery Mission

    It might seem, on opening A Fast Life, that Tim Dlugos was born fully formed from the head of Frank O’Hara. Dlugos was undeniably an original, but his sophistication and finesse—acquired while he was still a student at La Salle College and immersing himself in the work of the New York School poets—showed from the very beginning, when he started writing at the age of twenty in 1970. His collected poems reveal no big stylistic breaks, no eureka moment when the poet turns the corner from juvenilia to maturity, but rather a continuous deepening of a consistent aesthetic. His life, on the other

  • culture January 14, 2011

    Tree of Codes by Jonathan Safran Foer

    “Erase often, if you hope to write something worth rereading,” quoth Horace. Modern authors, perhaps under the influence of the Duchampian concept of the readymade, have been using their erasers in ways the old Roman could never have imagined. Subtractive composition has become a genre of its own in recent decades, its early major examples (in English at least) being the British artist Tom Phillips’s A Humument, derived from an otherwise forgotten late Victorian novel called A Human Document—the first of several versions of Phillips’s book was published in 1970—and the American poet Ronald

  • Great Sensations

    Sens-Plastique is a book beyond classification, and the same might be said of its author. Malcolm de Chazal was born on Mauritius in 1902 to an old and prosperous colonial family resident there since the eighteenth century. A surprising number of Rosicrucians and Swedenborgians dot his lineage, and one might detect some echoes of their beliefs in his own eccentric thought. Except for a few years studying engineering in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, he spent his life on the island, working first in the sugar industry and then as a civil servant. Chazal’s first writings concerned political economy,