Elizabeth Gumport

  • The Secret Histories

    Halfway through Mean, Myriam Gurba’s coming-of-age memoir, an elderly woman named Muffins asks a teenage Gurba what she plans to do with her body when she dies. One of Gurba’s fellow volunteers at a local art museum, Muffins is also a representative of the Poseidon Society, which she describes as “an organization that advocates cremation. It’s the forward-thinking way of dealing with your remains. We also contract burials at sea.” Muffins hands over a business card and lowers her voice: “There are certain places where we’re not supposed to dispose. I can make those disposals happen.” The scene

  • A City of One’s Own

    The Men in My Life, Vivian Gornick’s 2008 collection of critical writing, begins with an essay on the nineteenth-century British novelist George Gissing. Gornick particularly admires his novel The Odd Women (1893). In the book’s feminist reformer, Rhoda Nunn, Gornick writes, “I see myself, and others of my generation, plain.” Caught between her ideological opposition to marriage and the uncertainties of taking a lover, Nunn falters, and “she becomes,” as Gornick puts it, “a walking embodiment of the gap between theory and practice.” This gap is familiar territory for Gornick: In her work as a

  • Portrait of an I

    Kathy Acker met media theorist McKenzie Wark in 1995, when Acker was on tour in Australia. A novelist, essayist, and performance artist, Acker first made a name for herself in the New York art world of the 1970s, achieving widespread notoriety in 1984 when a mainstream press published the thrilling, anarchic novel Blood and Guts in High School. Acker was widely regarded as both inheritor and innovator of the literary avant-garde, and like many of her later books, Blood and Guts in High School appropriated text and themes from classic works, filtering them through the voices of multiple

  • Closely Watched Frames

    "In my doctor's office I hold up a worksheet and ask him how many I have to fill out before I feel better," the author and artist Leanne Shapton writes in her 2012 memoir, Swimming Studies, recalling a visit to her therapist. A former competitive swimmer who twice made Olympic trials, Shapton feels adrift after quitting the sport—no longer the athlete she was and not yet the artist she will soon become. Her therapist tells her: a hundred. "I get it, like laps," Shapton writes. "I settle in, blinker myself, count the laps. Six months and a hundred and fifty worksheets later I feel better."

  • Wilhelm Sasnal

    LAST SEPTEMBER, shortly before the Whitechapel Gallery mounted an exhibition of Wilhelm Sasnal’s work, Phaidon’s website posted a list of songs the Polish artist listens to while painting. Many of the tracks are ominously monotone, uniform in mood, sound, or structure—there’s no resolution, no cure for what ails. Even Elvis’s “Blue Moon,” second on Sasnal’s list, omits Rodgers and Hart’s final verse, in which a lover appears and the blue moon turns gold; instead, the song remains steadfastly lovelorn.

    So does “Hollow Hills,” the Bauhaus track that inspired Sasnal to become an artist. He’d copy

  • culture February 17, 2012

    Female Trouble

    Where Art Belongs, the title of Chris Kraus’s latest collection of essays, sounds corrective. As if, instead of in its proper place, art is elsewhere. It has been mislaid, like a cell phone. Or perhaps, like a vase, not so much lost as thoughtlessly positioned. Where is art, and who put it there?

    Anyone who has read Kraus’s earlier work can guess who she’ll bring in for questioning. “Until recently,” Kraus wrote in her previous essay collection, 2004’s Video Green: Los Angeles Art and the Triumph of Nothingness, “there was absolutely no chance of developing an art career in Los Angeles without