Monthly Archives: January 2018

At the Strangers’ Gate

I just finished reading Adam Gopnik‘s latest book At the Strangers’ Gate:  Arrivals in New York.  For anyone interested in art, and particularly contemporary art, I encourage you to read it.

Let me just say, however, that there may be some bias at work here.  I’m a huge fan of Gopnik’s writing.  I find it easily accessible , despite his  knowledge and creative thought that far surpass my capabilities and capacities. He is a superb essay writer:  in Paris to the Moon, the book about his family’s years living in France, he ably discussed politics, philosophy and history, while grounding the narrative in the quotidienne-his daily life with his beloved, Martha and their children.

I may also be biased because he speaks fondly and respectfully of Canada.  American born, he was raised  in Montreal;  Martha is Canadian born.  In 2011, he delivered (and subsequently published) the fiftieth anniversary Massey Lectures for the Canadian Broadcasting Company entitled Winter:  Five Windows on the Season.  (Is there anything more Canadian than discussing the weather?)

At the Strangers' Gate: Arrivals in New York, Adam Gopnik

At the Strangers’ Gate: Arrivals in New York, Adam Gopnik

In the chapter SoHo, 1983  Gopnik begins by recounting the story of how he and Martha were able to secure an apartment in SoHo.  It remains the strangest and luckiest thing that has ever happened to us.  He reports that… The SoHo we moved to in 1983 was still a village, a village of art.  He makes the case that New York, and specifically SoHo, was the art capital of the world in the 1980’s.  He discusses how the art produced was a product of its environment, and, of course, the cultural and economic influences of the decade.  He provides an insider’s view of the era with engaging physical descriptions and anecdotes:  This is how a Saturday morning in SoHo would unfold in the middle years of the 1980s…… you would inevitably bump into friends, eyes set professionally aslant from the work of looking, and exchange a warm greeting and a few terse words about the things just seen.

It’s his reflections about the art and art making, the dealers and buyers, and, really, the meaning of art at a specific time, in a specific place, that are most insightful.  The social life of those Saturday mornings was at least as important as the chance for solitary looking.  All art serves a double function, and the double function of American visual art by the eighties was as both a mark of generational identity and a luxury good for the wealthy.

At the Strangers’ Gate serves a double function, too.  It’s an entertaining, amusing read (you won’t want to miss the candy factory story)  as well as an insightful analysis of art, artists and culture in North America.

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Emily Carr: DFP

After walking through the brightly lit rooms of  Entangled:  Two Views on Contemporary Canadian Painting  (previous post) at the Vancouver Art Gallery I wandered into a cozy, dimly lit space displaying Emily Carr paintings in the show   空/Emptiness: Emily Carr and Lui Shou Kwan.

The paintings are gorgeous:  the Vancouver Art Gallery has some of the best examples of Carr’s work I’ve seen.  They are damn fine paintings–bold, strong, studied.

Grey, 1931-32 Emily Carr

Grey, 1931-32 Emily Carr

untitled (Tree on a Rocky Profile) 1922-25 Emily Carr

untitled (Tree on a Rocky Profile) 1922-25 Emily Carr

A Young Tree, 1931 Emily Carr

A Young Tree, 1931 Emily Carr

This is work to be experienced in person. Many of us have seen her art reproduced on mugs, greeting cards and book bags and think we know it.   I have thought, “Oh, yeah.  Emily Carr.  Eccentric west coast woman painting trees.”  Then I encounter some of these paintings and think, “Wow. Gorgeous. Lush. Remarkable…….. I wish she hadn’t had such a struggle to make a living, and could have spent more time painting.”  (Sad and sobering facts:  Carr could not always make a living from her artwork, and spent much time and energy for many years managing tenants in a rental house and engaging in other schemes to earn money.  In 2015 one of her paintings sold at auction for $1.53 million. Click here for a National Post article about the sale.)

It seems I have a short memory, for I have expressed the very same views about her paintings in other posts I’ve written.  Click here and here to read other brief postings about her works.

untitled, 1931-32 Emily Carr

untitled, 1931-32 Emily Carr

Abstract Tree Forms, 1931-32 Emily Carr

Abstract Tree Forms, 1931-32 Emily Carr

Emily might be horrified to know her images are on greeting cards, magnets and bookmarks.  Or maybe she would have laughed at the irony of it.