Rachel Cohen

Stockholder Rose's Inclination

Stockholder Rose039s Inclination

Jessica Stockholder, Rose's Inclination, 2015–2016, Paint, carpet, fragment of Judy Ledgerwood's painting, branches, rope, Plexiglas, light fixtures, hardware, extension cord, mulch, Smart Museum foyer, courtyard, sidewalks, and beyond. Commissioned by the Smart Museum of Art, The University of Chicago. Courtesy of the artist, Mitchell-Innes & Nash Gallery, and Kavi Gupta Gallery. Detail photos Rachel Cohen.

Red was also painted on to the sidewalk. The red stretched up in a big painted arc on the back wall that curved up on to the ceiling and stretched toward the windows of the second floor, windows that you cannot really see from the lobby space below but which shone on the red. And red ran in the carpet under the tables where students sat and drank coffee, across the floor of the lobby, out the museum doors, and on to the sidewalk, where it was met by triangles of yellow, blue, green, and lavender. The work felt red.

Inside, up on the wall that faced the great red curve there were lights, a great many of them, electric lamp lights of different kinds, and stretching across that space there were ropes, thick nylon ones of green and black, and there was a sort of large woven talisman, suspended among the ropes, and made of tree branches and of orange and other colored yarn. The whole thing was a very unusual combination of loftiness and invocation and wryness, and it made me laugh.

Rose’s Inclination by Jessica Stockholder, was installed at the Smart Museum of Art for two years, from 2015-2017, and was there when we arrived in Chicago, so that it became the museum for me. Three years have passed since it came down, but I still sometimes miss it when I walk into the lobby. And the way I miss it is a little like the way I miss the large, gangly, beautifully soft viburnum that had to come out of our garden because of the beetles, and which had a personality that was a part of the whole. But Rose’s Inclination was much larger and more intelligent – she had a force and dynamism.

When I stood looking up at Rose’s Inclination, I sometimes thought of Marcel Duchamp’s alter ego, Rrose Sélavy (Rose, c’est la vie) and of his Large Glass with the intricate relationships among the absurd parts that nevertheless give a sense of bodies and personalities.

The whole system of Rose was there in Rose’s Inclination, the lamps and ropes and paint and branches she needed for the currents of her energy and ambition to flow. And Rose even seemed to have outgrown her artist, which suggested a fearlessness on the part of the artist that was very delightful – to see an artist with such powers at work and at play at once.

I’m not sure I can think of another work I’ve seen that actually seemed to grow, not just to move, but actually to share with plants the activity of growing before one’s eyes. In this week, where I am thinking about vegetation, about Vuillard, Mondrian, Vostell, about plants and the kinds of abstract understanding they make available, about material — tapestry, paint, water, concrete, leaves and stems — and the way it may derive itself and send itself forth — this week, I have been leaning forward to get back to Rose's Inclination.

Jessica Stockholder is a colleague at the University of Chicago, and a wonderful writer. The wall text she wrote for Rose’s Inclination was not especially large, and was an indispensable part of the experience. This is how the wall text looked.

Here is the artist's writing in full:

Rose’s Inclination is to reach up and out. She slips under and over, and weaves into the landscape while flapping towards the sky.

She is painted on the walls, embodied by carpet on the floor, and her spirited entry into the world is carried by daylight streaming in through glass and by lamplight. Her essence is flapping in the wind as the doors are opened and closed.

Rose plays a part in the Smart foyer. She includes visitors, tables, chairs, a remnant of Judy Ledgerwood's painting, and coffee in her drama. She acknowledges and mirrors her surroundings; she is contained by the museum, and wears it like a close fitting jacket, though she is bursting through the seams. At times she is reminiscent of plant parts pushing through material so slowly that the eye can’t detect the motion.

She is like the plant in the Little Shop of Horrors film growing bigger and bigger and more demanding. She is greedy and hungry. Her infiltration of the ground creates instability. The design of the building, the Smart courtyard, and by extension the sidewalks, and the grid of the city, could morph at any moment. The cumulous cloud of subjectivity that is each one of us—clattering words in mind and falling out of mouth—feelings in body, filling self-awareness and driving action—pass through her rosy glow.

— Jessica Stockholder

Weekend Glimpse: Cézanne Bouquet for Mother's Day

Weekend Glimpse Ceacutezanne Bouquet for Mother039s Day

Here is a Cézanne, The Vase of Tulips, from about 1890. It is at the Art Institute of Chicago. I took the photos.

Happy Mother's Day

Faith Ringgold Story Quilts

Faith Ringgold Story Quilts

Faith Ringgold, On the Beach at St. Tropez, From the series, The French Collection, 1991. Collection of Patricia Blanchet and Ed Bradley. Detail photos Rachel Cohen.

“On the Beach at St. Tropez” was the first Faith Ringgold story quilt I’d seen, and I was completely unprepared for the encounter.

I was floored. And know what that expression means as I find it is the right one: it means my soul rushed down to the floor so that I could look up and take the measure of this.

I had already read the wall text, so I knew that there was a character, Willia Marie Simone, an African-American artist who had gone to Paris in the 1920s and had a wonderful, historically very nearly possible but not quite, life in art.

Willia Marie Simone had known Gertrude Stein and James Baldwin and other people in the Paris settings where I had also tried to depict Stein and Baldwin in my first book. I knew that territory of imagination well, and I had thought about different kinds of impersonation that may open in that vicinity.

I looked for a while at the color.

And then I began to read the words. And I laughed out. It was so funny, the tone. This character, her audacity, and self-involvement, the way she said absolutely true things and self-serving things and loving things and perceptive things and things ground out of economic and racial reality and how she seemed alive to people and their bodies.

I wrote about On the Beach at St. Tropez almost as soon as I started doing this project, this museums-are-closed-and-what-do-I-want-to-look-at-in-the-room-of-my-computer project. But the pictures I had taken weren’t sharp enough to show the text. I could find the wit in the swimmers' faces, the loungers' bodies, but the deliberateness I knew was there was hard to bring through.

A kind colleague from the Smart Museum, Berit Ness, saw my post and sent over a higher-resolution image. And I read the text eagerly. But then I couldn’t quite find the humor and boldness that had been so strong in my first impression.

I’ve read through it several times over the last six weeks. The closest I come to getting the impression back is when I scroll across the image with the words still in my mind. It was the impression of both together that gave the language its tone. Read with the painting, it’s a speaking voice. You are the child getting the letter, from this mother, yours, who sent you off to live with Aunt Melissa so that she could paint and go to the beach at St. Tropez, but who lives in this realm of vividness that is like no other thing in life, and you are also the knowing person in a museum who feels the inextinguishable rightness of this written personality, the slyness and tenderness of the faces and gestures here observed, and you can laugh.

Here is a kind of center of the story quilt. The text is numbered, and the passages below are 10, 11, 12, 13, 14.

10 is at the base of a column of space with the central figure watching the young man lying below her, then under the woman in the green bathing suit lounging on blue towel.

I find the line breaks are important:

10. You are such a beautiful boy, my son, and if you want to judge

me it is your choice to do so. But it will only make us both

sad. I cannot change my past or yours. I abhor criticism. It is

so useless to be judged in your later years, when you have

no time to change. We must learn to change all that is amer

à doux, bitter to sweet.


Not too long after we moved here, I bought, at the 57th Street Bookstore, a book of poems for children called Bronzeville Boys and Girls. The poems are by Gwendolyn Brooks. Each is about a child, and the title of the poem is the child’s name, and sometimes something about the child. “Narcissa,” “Vern,” “Robert, Who is Often a Stranger to Himself,” “Eunice in the Evening.”

It was only while we have been in shelter, and reading those poems again, that I realized that the illustrations in our book are part of a new edition from 2007, and were made by Faith Ringgold.

Since mid-March, every day, almost every day, that we are sheltering, one or the other of us takes the children and we walk to Gwendolyn Brooks Park, which is about six blocks away, and we look at the sculpture of her there by Margret McMahon, that McMahon made in close collaboration with Gwendolyn Brooks’s daughter Nora Brooks Blakely. Every day, I try to think about how to write about Gwendolyn Brooks. I do not know how to write about Gwendolyn Brooks.

Bronzeville Boys and Girls, words and paintings, is a masterpiece. Because of the Ringgolds, you may hear the voices in ways you didn’t expect. Tomorrow, I will try to think about the sounds of this.

Faith Ringgold at St. Tropez

Frederick Project: Colors and History

Ringgold Smart

Faith Ringgold, On the Beach at St. Tropez, From the series, The French Collection, 1991. Collection of Patricia Blanchet and Ed Bradley. Photo Rachel Cohen.

Thinking of intense experiences of color in the last few months. Immediately Faith Ringgold. Her painted canvas and quilt On the Beach at St. Tropez, from the series of twelve story-quilts The French Collection, which came as a revelation in the Smart Museum of Art’s show called Down Time: On the Art of Retreat this past fall.

You walked into the gallery and were literally flooded with color.

Ringgold paints on canvas then stitches the canvas to quilt, finishes the backs with cotton batting. A bravura painter, years of careful experiments with pigment to get the skin tones she wanted, the flatnesses and depths of water, cloth, patterns.

You are also immediately aware of the story – border of carefully written incidents running along the edges. The stories are about Willia Marie Simone, a fictional character with some qualities of the painter and some of the painter’s mother and some that are the character’s own. (I will try to decipher one of the stories for a later entry, my pictures are smaller than I had thought.) Willia Marie Simone ran away to Paris at the age of 16, in the 1920s, and had a storied life. The work is so very witty.

There are many articles that follow a well-worn, useful, but somehow insufficient path, explicating how, in this series, Faith Ringgold insists on the place of African-American women and artists who have been left out of history and museums. Looking at this quilt, the size of a wall, its flooding colors, my impression was more of something that shrugs its shoulders and rises.

It’s all there, really: the quilters of Gee’s Bend, making their glorious abstractions from the worn clothes of their families who labored; the bathers of Cézanne and Degas stretching back to the bodies of the Italian Renaissance; the rogue persona storytellers in Zora Neale Hurston and Fernando Pessoa; all these kinds of work that Ringgold had done her training with, and had loved enough to do justice to them (meaning that she saw them whole, with their beauties and the things they failed to see). She knew them, and had thrown them over her shoulder, so that art could rise anew.

Color tells stories that cannot be abstracted from history – joyful as a child in sand, forceful as a woman at the height of her powers, unforgetting as age.

Down Time: On the Art of Retreat at the Smart Museum of Art was curated by Leslie Wilson in collaboration with the students University of Chicago's department of art history's course Exhibition in Practice.

Close Observation

Close Observation

Paul Cézanne, Woman in a Red Armchair, about 1877, MFA, Boston

A woman, long blue shirt carefully tied over striped skirt, sits in a red chair.  She leans a little to her right, our left, elbow on the arm of chair.  Her hands are folded.

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Cézanne’s way of painting faces means that you can look at them or not.  Everything has surfaces and depths.  Much of the meaning of the figure is not in the face.  The folded hands are important and beautiful.

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Between the forefingers and thumbs are a green that relates them to the skirt below, a blue consonant with the blue shirt above.  Shapes of laced fingers echo shape of dark what seems to be locket or pendant about neck.

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Somewhere Roger Fry writes about the courage of Cézanne’s face-on verticality.  The painting ought to be static, there is so little motion in the way the figure and face are arranged.  All the motion has to come from the paint itself.

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The red armchair.  Faces, designs, flowers in it.  Begins to have an unusual kind of softness around her.

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The model is Hortense Fiquet, for many years his mistress and eventually his wife.  He painted her almost thirty times.

The skirt.

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Another place of conjunction.  Red tassel over yellow wall with blue wainscoting, edge of blue shirt over skirt.  All this is beautiful, orderly, loved, observed, and yet paint.

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