What is The New Yorker? I know it’s a great magazine and that it’s a tremendous source of pleasure in my life. But what exactly is it? This blog’s premise is that The New Yorker is a work of art, as worthy of comment and analysis as, say, Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” Each week I review one or more aspects of the magazine’s latest issue. I suppose it’s possible to describe and analyze an entire issue, but I prefer to keep my reviews brief, and so I usually focus on just one or two pieces, to explore in each the signature style of its author. A piece by Nick Paumgarten is not like a piece by Dana Goodyear, and neither is like a piece by Ian Frazier. One could not mistake Finnegan for Friend, or Bilger for Lepore, or Collins for Khatchadourian. Each has found a style, and it is that style that I respond to as I read, and want to understand and describe.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

March 16, 2015 Issue

Reviewing the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s "The Plains Indians: Artists of Earth and Sky" in this week’s issue, Peter Schjeldahl calls it a “wondrous show.” He says,

Just about everything in the exactingly selected and elegantly installed show—war clubs, shields, garments, headdresses, many pipes, bags, a saddle blanket, a bear-claw necklace, dolls, cradleboards—impresses as a peak artistic achievement. ["Moving Pictures," The New Yorker, March 16, 2015]

I agree. Looking at the 131 artifacts on display at the Met’s website, I find them transfixing. I love the materials they’re made of: native tanned leather, porcupine quills, glass beads, pigment, horsehair, human hair, grizzly bear claws, maidenhair fern, pinewood, brass tacks, bird skin, blue jay feathers, field horsetail, brass bells, ermine skin, wool cloth, silk ribbon, to name just a few.

Of an exquisite Eastern Plains horned headdress (circa 1780) made of split bison horns, sinew, deer hair, horsehair, porcupine quills, glass beads, wood, metal cones, cotton cloth, rawhide, birch back, silk ribbon, and pigment, Schjeldahl says, “The formal integration of so many elements into a shapely accoutrement of authority smacks of genius.” The same could be said for many of the show’s objects. 

Oglala Lakota Feather Headdress (circa 1865)
I think my favorite piece is the Oglala Lakota feather headdress (circa 1865) composed of eagle feathers, native tanned leather, rawhide, wool cloth and yarn, cotton cloth, glass beads, ermine, silk ribbon and horsehair. There’s poetry in that list! And the profusion of black-and-white eagle feathers embedded in the red cloth is ravishing. The whole collection is ravishing! “Looking and looking, I always feel I have only begun to look.” That’s what Schjeldahl said about his experience of Vermeer ("The Sphinx," The New Yorker, April 26, 2001). That expresses exactly how I feel, looking at this extraordinary exhibition of Plains Indian art.

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