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Good problems

Post #1122 • February 6, 2008, 12:43 PM • 26 Comments

1. Your students are so smart that you're going along with your course calendar and the usual speed, everyone sucks up the material like sponges, you turn around to solicit questions, and no one has any. They look at you with expressions that say, "Well, now what?" And even in your pleasure at having explained things so well (they didn't do it all by themselves, did they? Well, maybe they did...) you nevertheless get a feeling like the one from a dream in which you've ventured out of the house without your pants.

2. In the space of two years you come back from a life-threatening health crisis, marry, and not only keep working at the top of your game, you start a whole new one, and then you turn 52 to the amazement of people who, if they thought to do so, would have guessed a number smaller by eight. Happy birthday Terry, with wishes for many more.




February 6, 2008, 1:15 PM

You have truly taught well if those students remember your teachings 5, 10, 15 years in the future and are passing down your "legacy".



February 10, 2008, 12:58 PM

This comment does not fit this topic, but I have to put it somewhere. Besides, this is not much of a thread.

I went to the new Wilfredo Lam show at MAM here in Miami. I know it makes sense demographically, even more so than MAM's recent Rufino Tamayo show, but there ought to be better criteria (which no doubt MAM would claim to have used). I'm quite aware of Lam's reputation, especially in in the context of "Latin" art, but the proof is in the pudding, and this pudding was not much of a treat.

I suppose I should start off by saying that surrealism sucks. It was a dud of a movement, and it's beyond me how it got so far and hung around so long (they're still at it in Latin circles, even if only out of habit, like people who can't quit smoking).

Lam, born in Cuba to a Chinese immigrant father and a black mother, left the island at age 21 and spent all but a few years of his subsequent long life abroad, first in Spain but mainly in Paris. He was racially exotic; he focused on Afro-Cuban religious beliefs and related iconography using a kind of surrealist idiom, and he was taken up by the likes of Picasso and Breton, which didn't hurt his standing.

His style is characterized by jagged, angular, aggressive linear forms. He was at best a middling colorist, and the more "colorful" he gets, the worse it tends to be. Most of the work is heavily content- or symbol-dependent, yet the best visual effects are achieved by the simplest subjects, notably lone female figures. There's a lot of esoteric, cryptic, even hermetic imagery, feverishly or frantically intent on conveying some presumably meaningful message, but visually the work is limited, repetitive and does not wear well. Also, by now, it seems dated and even somewhat hackneyed. Lam had a long career, and he cranked out a lot of this same sort of stuff.

The show includes a couple of atypical but interesting curiosities: an early "traditional" figurative work (a portrait) which is tolerably competent in a prosaic and run-of-the-mill academic way, and a 1950s "AbEx" type piece which is embarrassingly amateurish and should have been kept mercifully out of public view.

There's a handful of reasonably successful paintings in his signature mode, but even those seem like good second-rate material from a vanished or expired period--despite the inevitable claims to the contrary in the exhibition literature.



February 10, 2008, 3:45 PM

I see a Lam once in a while that has something, some dash of color or craziness that comes across, but like you I could never get enthusistic. I try to see art for what it is but in Lam's case there are two things that resolutely get in the way and I can't do anything about it.

One is the abject reference to Picasso's paintings and drawings and sculpture of the late 20s - early 30s. Influence is fine but these are just too exact.

The other is that every time I see a Lam I see a Don Martin cartoon out ot the old MAD comics of the early 50s, about when it came out of the even older HUMBUG. I can't help it; it just happens.



February 10, 2008, 4:25 PM

I meant abject references, in plural. The paintings are not that similar to the actual Picasso paintings, but there are all kinds of bits and pieces that look like straightforward visual transcriptions.



February 10, 2008, 4:47 PM

I don't disagree with Jack's take on Lam. He was repetitive and lazy, using the human figure as an excuse to make one formally bland composition after another. However, I consider Surrealism to be such an open ended concept at this point historically that it is hard for me to dismiss it outright. Obviously if Jack is referring to Magritte, Dali, and a host of other mediocrities that painted a specific way and a specific content during a specific historical period, it is hard to argue with him. But I consider Surrealism or surrealism to be a fairly loose conceptual framework at this point historically, with reference to the way its core ideas, some of which appear in Freud's "Interpretation of Dreams" in a fairly coherent manner, have influenced a lot of artistic practice. Dream analysis, automatic writing, the return of the repressed, the fragility of conscious states, the nonsensical relationships between dreams and waking states of mind, the transformation of conscious life into the symbolic language of the unconscious...of course a lot of this stuff is passé, but we shouldn't discount the profound influence it has had on many great artists.



February 10, 2008, 5:07 PM

Lam's mature signature work is distinctive, but I can't get really excited about it visually. It leans too hard on symbolism, arcane references and implied or imposed meaning; the color is not very good, and the dominant linear element has a nearly incessant harshness and a monotony or repetitiveness that can become tiresome on repeated viewing.

He did have "something," and in occasional works this is concentrated or effective enough to command attention, but most of the time it's too generic, diffuse and even formulaic. The fact that the subject matter is relatively alien and offputting does not help, but that would be much less of an issue if the visual element was more successful.



February 10, 2008, 5:39 PM

Back to Lam...I always kind of liked the Lam painting they had hanging near the coatroom entrance in the old version of the MoMA. It had a long and tall row of skinny, whitish, symbolic figures squashed together with obscrure symbols floating everywhere, and an overwhelming pale green color covering the entire surface with different colored accents popping up here and there. An ex-painter friend of mine had a book with reproductions of his drawings and they were so derivative of a particular strain of Picasso's work, not unlike may of the figural drawings of Henry Moore, that in retrospect, they were pretty insignificant. But opie pointed this out already.



February 10, 2008, 6:05 PM

obscure not 'obscrure'.



February 10, 2008, 6:15 PM

Yes, Eric, I was referring to Surrealism as an art-historical, pickled, moldy and (mostly) dead movement personified by Dali, Ernst, Magritte and the rest of the dubious lot. Ugh.



February 11, 2008, 3:05 PM


your an asshole and a little bitch because you spoke to me last week and said so many lies that I just figured out you have no sense of what you speak and no morals whats so ever. As a matter of fact I spoke to your ex and she said the same thing.

grow up and be a man,




February 11, 2008, 3:39 PM

I always liked that Lam at MoMA too, Eric.
Miamians, is the Rubell show any good? Euro-...
Gina Ruggieri at Bruk, Charley Friedman at Diet and Rene Barge and Gustavo Matamoros at Dorsch, Jordan Massengale at Tachmes to re-see the white painting.
Anywhere else: anything that has knocked your socks off?


Katie Hoffman

February 11, 2008, 3:59 PM

Don't hold back, Sandy. Tell us how you really feel.



February 11, 2008, 4:10 PM

Is Sandy a bot or a real person? Bots can be so convincing nowadays. Off topic plug...My Freud review has been posted at I won't include a hyperlink because that would be gauche.



February 11, 2008, 4:22 PM

I think Franklin just made up Sandy to light a fire under us.

Truly devious & underhanded, I say.



February 11, 2008, 4:44 PM

Listen, if I can't get away from stupid tabloidy quarrels and goings-on even here, we're in serious trouble. If I see one more cover with Britney or Angelina or the Olsen twins on it, I'm likely to turn into Travis Bickle.



February 11, 2008, 4:45 PM

This is a fun gauche hyperlink.


Marc Country

February 11, 2008, 5:54 PM

... and here's a condescending one...



February 11, 2008, 7:51 PM

Sandy, it says something about modern life that upon hearing such an outburst, the first question I have to ask myself is, "Who?" Anyway, I have no idea who you are or what this is about, so you're welcome to contact me via my website and fill me in on the details. My apologies if I've caused you some kind of distress.

Sorry it's been quiet around here, people. I got crushed at work last week and today I went skiing at Bear Mountain. Skiing rocks. I had never done it and I'm totally stoked right now.



February 11, 2008, 8:13 PM

I am deeply disappointed Franklin. I thought we had some real dirt going here.



February 11, 2008, 8:17 PM

Also, tell us about "skiing rocks".

Is that a more dangerous form of skiing on sand? Or a hyped up euphemism of skipping pebbles on a pond? Or are they the rocks that crushed you at work?

C'mon! we are starved for CONTENT around here.


Marc Country

February 11, 2008, 10:46 PM

Dammit, Opie... sometimes you scare me. I was going to make the same damn joke about bad snow conditions, but of course, you beat me to it. Perhaps next time, use an exclamation point, Franklin. We're a far to literal bunch, here.


Marc Country

February 11, 2008, 10:47 PM

"Too" literal, I mean... (I welcome any condescending links anyone wants to post).



February 12, 2008, 4:43 AM

You know what they say, Marc - "great minds..."



February 12, 2008, 6:38 AM

So Franklin, you just use them, discard them and forget about them? Who do you think you are, Bill Clinton?



February 12, 2008, 7:21 AM

Apparently. You would think that I would at least recall the ill-gotten gains from my perfidy, but alas, no. My life is pretty short on intrigue.



February 13, 2008, 9:52 AM

Eric's Freud article.



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