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 Matthew Trammell is not like a piece by James Wood, and neither is like a piece by Peter Schjeldahl. One could not mistake Finnegan for Frazier, or Lepore for Paumgarten, or Goodyear 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.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

September 21, 2015 Issue

Perusing The New Yorker Festival program, I see that for $120 I could tour The Whitney Museum with Peter Schjeldahl. That appeals to me. But it’s a lot of dough. Better to sit back, save my money, and vicariously enjoy the tours he gives in his reviews. Reading Schjeldahl is like being in the company of an inspired guide. “Notice, incidentally, how the rods meet the base,” he says of a Picasso sculpture, in his wonderful "Another Dimension," a review of MoMA’s Picasso Sculpture, in this week’s issue. He continues:

As always, when a Picasso sculpture rests on more than one point each footing conveys a specific weight and tension, like the precisely gauged step of a ballerina. It presses down or strains upward in a way that gives otherwise inexplicable animation to the forms above. Few other sculptors play so acutely with gravity.

I love it when Schjeldahl directs my attention like that. Regarding Picasso’s six casts of Glass of Absinthe, he says,

Each incorporates a differently designed spoon and is differently slathered or dappled with paint. The brushwork, especially in sprightly dot patterns, blurs the objects’ contours, rendering them approximate in ways that wittily invoke intoxication. But these are true sculptures, as judged by the essential test that they function in the round. Circle them. Each shift in viewpoint discovers a distinct formal configuration and image. Picasso here steps into the history of the art that, in order to move a viewer, requires a viewer to move.

Circle them. Schjeldahl’s voice on the page seems to be speaking directly to me. It’s a voice to which I respond with immediate understanding and pleasure.

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