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, April 13, 2016

Ellsworth Kelly's Photos

Ellsworth Kelly, Barn, Greenbush (1977)

A few weeks ago a wonderful capsule review of Ellsworth Kelly Photographs, an exhibition at Matthew Marks Gallery, New York City, appeared in The New Yorker’s “Goings On About Town,” stating:

The painter’s first posthumous exhibition—as modest as it is fascinating—consists of thirty-one small black-and-white photographs, which were printed before his death, last December. Taken between 1950 and 1982, they’re quick studies of doors, windows, walls, and barns, all featuring the same strong, graphic shapes that inspired his paintings. Seen through Kelly’s eyes, a raking shadow, a curved barrier, and a tilted screen are found art, no translation necessary. He nods to such great photographers of vernacular architecture as George Sheeler, Walker Evans, and Aaron Siskind, but—no surprise—Kelly had a remarkably clear and particular vision.

I relish that “no translation necessary.” It’s exactly what I most appreciate about photography – its capture of things as they are. Like Kelly, I’m drawn to old doors, windows, walls, and barns, but maybe for a different reason than he was. He saw these things in terms of shape: see Chris Wiley, "Joyful Forms: The Little-Known Photography of Ellsworth Kelly" (“Photo Booth,”, March 30, 2016). Whereas, for me, these eroded, weather-beaten, falling-down structures are all about time – the melancholy manifestation of life’s transiency.

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