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.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

December 11, 2017 Issue

Calvin Tomkins’ “Somewhere Different,” in this week’s issue, profiles painter Peter Doig. The piece has an ingenious structure, consisting of eight sections, each of which focuses on a key Doig painting, and, in the process, illuminates a portion of Doig’s personal history. For example, the first section, titled “Pelican (Stag), 2003,” tells the story of Doig’s “Pelican (Stag)” (“As the painting developed, he felt that it was getting too dark, so he put in the abstract fall of whitish-blue paint—it came from his memory of a Matisse painting he had seen at the Tate in 2002, ‘Shaft of Sunlight in the Woods of Trivaux’ ”); the second section, “Rain in the Port of Spain (White Oaks), 2015,” tells about Doig’s painting of the same name (“’Rain in the Port of Spain (White Oak),’ which is more than nine feet high and eleven feet wide, is dominated by a full-grown lion, pacing freely but somewhat glumly, head down, outside a yellow building with green doors and a barred green window. A ghostly human attendant approaches from around the corner”); and so on. Eight of Doig’s major works are discussed in detail, together with the backstories that led to their creation. My favorite is section eight, “Two Trees, 2017,” in which Tomkins attends the opening of a Doig exhibition at the Michael Werner Gallery. Tomkin’s “I,” which has been used sparingly in the previous sections, blooms in this one. Near the end of it, he says,

We returned to the front room, to have another look at “Two Trees.” The room is full of memories for me and for many others—this is where Leo Castelli showed Rauschenberg and Johns and the groundbreaking Pop and minimal artists in the nineteen-sixties.

“Somewhere Different” has an arresting, original structure, blending ekphrasis with biography, occasionally adding a dash of personal perspective. I enjoyed it immensely.

Postscript: The striking color photo of Doig, by Daniel Shea, illustrating Tompkins’ piece, is a strong candidate for my “Top Ten New Yorker Photographs of 2017.”

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