Joanna Newsom’s February 2010 release on Drag City Records, Have One on Me, is no longer new news, but given the length of the album—its 18 tracks clock in at two hours—it requires a long, simmering listen. The album’s widespread reception in The New York Times and Frieze exposes Newsom’s crossover appeal and like Rodarte, whose fashion lines translate better in an artworld context than in terms of ready-to-wear street style, Newsom has been embraced in the arts, her elusive narratives and neo-Baroque orchestrations are motifs already familiar to contemporary art.
Newsom’s lyrics concern themselves with the stuff of pop songs, of love and loss, but they are enrobed with complex rhymes and fanciful metaphors that border on children’s fables—however tinged with the sorrowful fates of her “baby birch,” “kingfisher,” and “dog-sized horse.” All the various events described by Newsom focus on the body as a full vessel of complicated emotions, with bones as “soft as chalk,” a heart as “heavy as an oil drum,” and a pliability that allows her to be folded in the “cupboard with a bottle of champagne” by a former lover who still haunts her.
The concept of the body, however small, as containing the whole world is Newsom’s contribution to a year of turning inward, usually with an attempt, however unrealizable, with obtaining empathy with others, i.e. Marina Abramovic. The body as the entire world, although by no means a novel approach to songwriting, is one that converges the seemingly unceasing political and social disasters of our time with our just as significant disasters enacted on a personal scale.
Excerpts from exhibition reviews of the Soap Factory and Midway Contemporary Art in the May/June 2010 issue of ART PAPERS (At the time, I must have been preoccupied with fragility, performance, and fantasy.):
Language feels awkward, an ill-formed means of transcendence from this space with no verbal guidelines, just visual cues.
And yet, maybe these relationships, these meanings between objects, are mere phantoms, just the lies we tell ourselves to make sense of our surroundings.
Usually, I hesitate to say that art writing has rules, but there are some glaring mistakes that should be avoided or else your writing will, at the very least, lack conceptual heft and make you seem unaccustomed to writing about the world of images. However specific and nitpicking some of my advice may be, word choice is something to mull over if you want to have gripping and forceful prose. For Rule #1, see the previous post.
Rule # 2: Exhibit versus Exhibition
My preference for using the noun “exhibition” in contrast to “exhibit” is more than just a stylistic preference. In terms of art, exhibition is more palatable for me because an exhibit can refer to any public display of objects, such as at a trade fair or even a primary school science fair. Another dilemma that stems from using “exhibit” is the confusion that can arise from this term since it is both a noun and a verb.
In terms of remaining consistent with the terminology common to the rest of the art world, no one in museums or galleries refers to “exhibit catalogues,” but rather “exhibition catalogues.” Historically, the Crystal Palace was held at The Great Exhibition of 1851, not The Great Exhibit of 1851. The Exhibitionist is a new and exciting journal published “by curators for curators” and I love that the title playfully touches on the commonalities among curating, performance, and extravagant displays of self-publicity.
From the Oxford Dictionary of English (2nd edition), to exhibit is to “offer, furnish, administer; submit to view, display.” Exactly. Stick with “to exhibit,” but leave “exhibit” at home when you’re out at the museum.
Don DeLillo’s short story “Baader-Meinhof” was first published in 2002. Like the two unnamed characters in the text who cannot escape the lure of Gerhard Richter’s Baader-Meinhof painting series, returning to the museum day after day as if caught in a trance, my thoughts for the past few days have been haunted by DeLillo’s story and the seriousness it casts upon art, intimacy, and the terror that comes from, quite simply, just being alive.
Deborah Treisman, in discussion with Chang rae-Lee in The New Yorker‘s Fiction Podcast, commented that Don DeLillo, for a time, would make two piles for story ideas: one called “art,” the other, “terror.”
“Baader Meinhof” was published in The Guardian in April of 2002.
Chang rae-Lee read aloud “Baader Meinhof” for the April 2010 edition of The New Yorker Fiction Podcast.