This week: Christian Wiman, Brett Baker, visionary architecture & more.
“A Conversation with Christian Wiman: Survival is a Style,” presented by Redeemer West Side (February 4): In an April 2019 interview with David Yezzi, our former poetry editor, the poet Christian Wiman was careful not to overvalue his craft. “I don’t think that art is something that’s going to save you,” he says at one point. Later, he confesses that he doesn’t “feel much consolation in [his] own poems. . . . It’s unpleasant to even talk about them.” But it is the poet’s awareness of his own limitations that allows him, rather than impossibly striving to craft one “immortal poem” that would leave humanity in the dust, to achieve an elusive style that straddles the here and the elsewhere—in which gap such deeply human realities as faith and doubt reside. Head up to Redeemer West Side this Tuesday at 7 p.m. for a conversation with this learned poet about his new collection, Survival is a Style (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux). —RE
“Brett Baker: The Beauty at Hand” at Elizabeth Harris Gallery (through February 15): The French painter Eugène Delacroix, not particularly known for his modesty, is supposed to have claimed that he could “paint you the skin of Venus with mud, provided you let me surround it as I will.” A hundred or so years later, the German-American abstractionist Josef Albers made a similar point about the pleasure and delight one may find in exploring a color’s inherently relative powers: “I like to take a weak color and make it rich and beautiful by working on its neighbors. . . . Turning sand into gold, that’s my work and aim.” One contemporary artist whose work lies firmly in the tradition of Albers’s Bauhaus investigations, but perhaps also has more to do with the Romantic sensibility of a Delacroix than might be immediately obvious, is the painter Brett Baker. Baker’s heavily built-up abstractions in oil, often worked and reworked over the course of multiple years, keep in gripping tension the dual reality of paint as inert mud, and paint as transcendent light. Alternately quiet and animated, brooding and joyous, these loosely grid-based arrangements show us the possibilities of intelligently placed color. A selection of his recent paintings, still thick with the smell of undried oil, are currently on view at Elizabeth Harris in Chelsea, through February 15. —AS
Rough Ideas, by Stephen Hough (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux): The Englishman Stephen Hough is known foremost as a concert pianist. He also composes. He has also published a novel, dabbled in painting (enough to fill out an exhibition in 2012), and written extensively on music in The Times (London), The Telegraph, The Guardian, and elsewhere. Given this polymath’s achievement in so many fields, it redounds all the more to his credit that his latest book, Rough Ideas, is so refreshingly free of pretension. Composed of morsel-sized, easily digestible musings, the collection is organized around the theme of music and offers plenty in the way of variation: advice for amateurs, meditations on music history, personal vignettes, and detours into art, literature, religion, and more. A fascinating look into the mind of a real talent—and an eminently approachable one, which is all the more uncommon. —RE
Gallery Talk: “Jean-Jacques Lequeu: Visionary Architect. Drawings from the Bibliothèque nationale de France” at the Morgan Library (February 7): While many of the bad ideas of revolutionary France have beset the West ever since that intellectual conflagration, the same can’t be said of the period’s architecture. That daring experimental neoclassicism was mostly unbuilt, and what did appear has usually been treated as a novelty (think LeDoux’s saltworks at Arc-et-Senans). Among the strangest of the eighteenth-century group called “visionary architects” was Jean-Jacques Lequeu, now known more for his intense studies of human faces than his architectural drawings. The Morgan has just opened “Jean-Jacques Lequeu: Visionary Architect. Drawings from the Bibliothèque nationale de France,” which brings together sixty of his works. This Friday night, Jennifer Tonkovich, the Morgan’s Eugene and Clare Thaw Curator of Drawings and Prints, will give gallery talks at 6:30 and 7:30. —BR
“Roger Kimball introduces the February issue.” The Editor and Publisher of The New Criterion discusses highlights from this month’s issue and reads from its opening pages.
“Michael Anton on the war of ideas.” The scholar and former staffer for the National Security Council discusses the notion of a “liberal international order” and its place in the present-day war of ideas.
From the archive:
“The river grows muddied,” by Martin Greenberg (September 2000). On The Evolution of English Prose, 1700–1800: Style, Politeness and Print Culture, by Carey McIntosh.
“Pieces of Ocean Park,” by Amy Beth Wright. Tracing six of Diebenkorn’s works on paper to their origins in the south of France, 1978.