Rachel Cohen

1300-2020

Degan

Sophie's Painting

Sunday, July 30, 2017

My cousin Sophie is dying.  She is ninety.  It seems likely that she will die today, and I hurry to write those words to use the present tense one last time.  We were with her, all of us, at different moments in the last couple of weeks.  My mother is there now. Sophie loved painting.  She took painting classes in New York in the 1960s when she lived there, and there are still many of her paintings, some on squares of canvas with a cardboard backing, some directly on cardboard.  They seem insubstantial, but they have held [...] read more

Delaney

Abstraction and Eyes

Sunday, April 13, 2014

One of the unusual aspects of Beauford Delaney’s work as an abstract painter was that even late in his career, when he lived in Paris and had moved very fully into abstraction, he also painted very specific and characterful portraits.  These two kinds of paintings were shown together during his lifetime – at, for example, the Galerie Lambert on the Île St. Louis in 1964 – and have been shown so since his death – in particular at the Levis Gallery in Chelsea last year, an exhibition, that, regrettably, I was not in New York to see. [Here are [...] read more

El Greco

Morning Search

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

This morning, the urge to draft. Paged through some photos from the summer. A blurred and distorted picture, from inside a church in Venice. Had I seen this painting? By the other photos, it must have been from San Giacomo dell’Orio, across from the apartment where we stayed. But I could not recall it. So beautiful, though, and familiar as if through other paintings. The colors and tones like Veronese, mauves and golds. I had taken a picture of the diagram the church provides of its riches. There were two Veroneses, able to find pictures on-line, no, [...] read more

Geer

Tara Geer: Carrying Silence

Monday, August 12, 2013

At Glenn Horowitz, 87 Newtown Lane, East Hampton, NY, 11937, through September 3, 2013. Here is the first section of my catalog essay, "Looking at Tara Geer's Drawings": One way to begin is just by quietly trying to notice things. In “walk along the border,” your eye might be drawn by the smudges off to the left, or by the white surround and the sense of movement in the white surround. In my notes : white area with a little falling black squiggle; then other little black details, these somewhere between figures and lines, running on a diagonal from [...] read more

Giacometti

Giacometti and James Lord

Monday, April 2, 2018

Preparing for class this week, I reread James Lord’s book Giacometti: A Portrait . The book is broken into the eighteen sittings Lord did with Giacometti one fall, in September and October of 1964, for a painted portrait. Lord’s book was published the following year. The class has just begun, but the students and I intend to reflect on drawing, and especially on returning to the same work repeatedly, and I assigned the book in part because of its repetitiveness. It’s as if Giacometti is practicing painting Lord’s portrait – as he goes on, perhaps most of the times [...] read more

Giacometti at the New Fogg

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Giacometti made this portrait of the British art critic David Sylvester in 1960: I think a restful thing about Giacometti is the way different permutations of the same lines and shadings -- the same darkly scratched lines and the same shadings of gray, white, and black -- constitute both the figure and the ground.     A person is a coalescence.   And derives substantiality from the abstract.   The longer you look, the more humane this seems.   [...] read more

Giotto

Robbed at the Arena Chapel

Sunday, June 16, 2013

What was stolen were my minutes, fifteen of them. I’d been under the mistaken impression that for my twenty-seven euros – thirteen each for me and for M., one for the baby – we were to be vouchsafed half an hour in the presence of one of the greatest fresco sequences in the western world. I knew that we were to spend fifteen minutes cooling down in an air-conditioned portal prior to being allowed entry to the sacred place, but I counted on half an hour to try to snatch a few glimpses of Giotto’s eternal understanding. The [...] read more

Gorky

Second Gorky

Saturday, May 17, 2014

“There is my world.” – Arshile Gorky on Summation What would it be to begin without a location in time?  A letter or an email always begins with a date, even the hour; when I begin these entries my first instinct is always to situate in time – last Wednesday, after studying Ernst’s collages.  But I think part of the strangeness of Arshile Gorky’s Summation is that it avoids a location in time.  The experience is of many, local, whirring events or personages.  Maybe as the mind feels on waking in the night, though with more tranquility than [...] read more

Surrealism and Form

Sunday, November 3, 2013

There are other feelings for form, of course, but that doesn’t mean the Surrealists didn’t have formal feelings.  Form is often described in spatial terms, as arrangements of objects, as landscapes with prominent and receding features.  Perhaps the Surrealist feeling for form could be evoked by inversion: one could speak of a disarray of objects, or of interior landscapes in which prominence is, like that in dreams, more a matter of excitation and disturbance. This is not to say that when you look at, say, a Max Ernst collage, your eye is not still balancing the long pointed [...] read more

Passages: Schuyler and Gorky

Friday, November 15, 2013

Wandering, I found in James Schuyler ( Selected Art Writings , edited Simon Pettet, Black Sparrow Press: 1998) a short review of a retrospective of works by Arshile Gorky at the Janis Gallery in 1957, some ten years after Gorky's death.  The opening sentence gives practical details, the rest of the review is as follows: "Included are the compelling Self Portrait and another (and, it appears, abandoned) version of the Artist and His Mother. These pictures give weight and pause to the transition from his long apprenticeship to the electric and inward freedom of his last and finest [...] read more

Goya

Carbon and Water, Goya's Ivories

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Something to look for at the MFA’s Goya show (through January 19th, 2015) are the odd small miniatures on ivory that Goya did almost as a set of exercises at the end of his life. There are several of them scattered through the exhibition. Although they were apparently also a feature of the Frick’s late Goya show eight years ago, to me they came as a revelation. The strangeness of their matter is the first thing to say about them. They are made with black carbon spread over ivory. Goya then dropped water onto the carbon, washing it away into [...] read more

Guibert

Unsteady Hands

Friday, May 5, 2017

The prose fragment is a form capable of kindness.  After I thought of that sentence, I thought of reading Hervé Guibert again, with students, this quarter.  In his use, the fragment has so much discretion all along its edges.  We all exist beyond those edges.  It’s like sending a note when a call might be intrusive, or stepping aside the right degree, to make way but not to shun. It’s not that his writing is especially interested in kindness, but, in writing and photography, he is interested in recognition, both the kind you can accomplish steadily, and [...] read more

Hunter

Elliott Hunter

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Yesterday, at the Smart Museum, “The Time is Now!” I was immediately struck by this painting: A large square, four feet by four feet. Each inch compels. The painter is Elliott Hunter. It was made in 1967, and is called Grasshopper . Twice, recently, I have seen grasshoppers on the pavement. Once along the curved inlet behind the bus stop at 47th and Lake Park. Holding very still, I thought as if recognizing the coming cold. A second, not far from the Pot Belly Sandwich place as I was hurrying through the parking lot, to [...] read more

Max Ernst

An Early Interview

Thursday, February 6, 2014

In college (when I was an ardent feminist, and also somewhat uncomfortable about bodies),  it seemed hard to like, or even to tolerate, the works of Max Ernst.  I’m not even sure I knew which paintings were his.  Now I am surprised that I seem not to have encountered even the most famous instances of his ravaging vision, like the Ange du Foyeur, let alone the collages of Une Semaine de Bonté that have absorbed my attention in recent years.     The first time I remember suddenly seeing Ernst, what he could do as a painter, how ferocious [...] read more

Medals

Friday, September 20, 2013

Walking through the gallery, struck from the first with what felt like a wind of invention, a strong wind with particles of sand in it, it was at about the tenth image that I noticed that not only did this lion have a medal (and it was a giant medal, ridiculous, but not without pathos, because he also seemed to be a gentleman now fallen on such hard times that he might be a wandering beggar, his ailing daughter clinging to his arm, and the fact that he had retained the medal, such a large one, seemed to suggest [...] read more

Une Semaine de Bonté

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Some weeks after my father’s death I thought that I might at last begin my piece on Max Ernst’s Une Semaine de Bonté , but I didn’t.  I did spend some hours studying the images in the catalog of the complete collages, a massive black-spined book with thick cardboard covers that seem the gates to an inaccessible realm.  And it was a right time to be in contact with the images again, and to begin a small private inquiry into Ernst and Surrealism, but I couldn’t really write then, and I didn’t. The show, at the Musée d’Orsay [...] read more

Mitchell

Joan Mitchell: Cities in Winter

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Two weeks ago, I went to the Art Institute to spend some time in the new modern wing and my attention was caught by a Joan Mitchell from 1955 called City Landscape. Since the election I have been thinking about cities, and living in them, the ways that a city’s life may be dealt a blow. It is December in Chicago, and cold, and I saw the heart of the city, what the wall text calls “nerves and arteries” in the colors, so many, too many to look at all at once, that drip together into brown, that, [...] read more

Self-Portraits

Acquisition and Time

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Working on a talk to be given at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum – about the collection of Italian pictures that Gardner acquired with significant help from Bernard Berenson – has been the occasion for thinking again about the collector’s passion.  When one stands in a gallery in front of a picture one is not only affected by the passions of the painter, or made aware of the forces of history, one is directly confronted with provenance, namely, by what combination of human passions did this object come to be here ?   Isabella Gardner’s letters to Berenson came dashing [...] read more

Thin Air

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

We are in the air. The baby and I. She sleeps in my right arm; I type with my left thumb. Clouds below discrete cotton floaters, at our level cirrus band and behind that at sky's horizon higher piled.  Despite glimpsed majesty, in airplane capsule thoughts inward, my mother, her grief, my father's study, which I cleaned while home, naturally, as if straightening a desk nearly my own, books and notes, small discoveries, the text by Confucius, a picture of my sister her head thrown back in happiness. I forget that I am often in the sky. The way clouds [...] read more

Autobiography Today

Friday, April 26, 2013

When I was teaching more, my students, undergraduates and graduates, people who were somewhere between eighteen and seventy-six years old, were all writing their memoirs.  I railed against this at first, particularly with younger students; such was my reputation for impatience with the form that I even had students hesitatingly ask if it would be all right to use the first person.  I did see that this was a somewhat ridiculous position for an admirer of Montaigne and David Foster Wallace to be in.   I conceived of different ways to explain the distinction: between essays full of the writers’ [...] read more

Tiepolo

Tiepolo's Time

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Reading Roberto Calasso’s Tiepolo Pink persuaded me to look carefully, for the first time, at the Tiepolo oil sketches that fill almost a room at the Metropolitan Museum. As ever, I had less time than I would have liked. Was astonished by their upwardness. Sense of being drawn up into the sky – the whole company, nymphs and swans and chariots upward, upward, into the vast swirl of the heavens. Calasso’s book in a revelatory sense about time.  Father Time a recurring figure in Tiepolo’s oeuvre – and shown here.  I believe the older man in blue between [...] read more