This week: The “Bughouse” of Pound, painting unbound & more.


The Bughouse: The Poetry, Politics, and Madness of Ezra Pound, by Daniel Swift (Farrar, Straus & Giroux): Ezra Pound, one of the most beguiling and contradictory figures in literary history, continues to earn the attention of (and cause bewilderment in) critics and historians. After solidifying himself as a giant of modernist poetry, Pound infamously embraced the brutal Fascism of Italy’s Benito Mussolini. Declared insane in America after the Second World War in order to avoid lifetime imprisonment for his support of the Axis power, Pound was consigned to a mental institution where he continued to write, incredibly, acclaimed poetry. Daniel Swift’s new book The Bughouse takes its name from Pound’s response to winning the first Bollingen Prize, a national poetry award presented by the Library of Congress: “No comment from the bughouse.” The book tracks Pound’s life in the mental ward through the eyes of the luminaries who visited him there, such as T. S. Eliot, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, and John Berryman. —AS


Installation view, “Elizabeth Murray: Painting in the ’80s.” Photo: Tom Barratt.

“Elizabeth Murray: Painting in the ’80s” at Pace Gallery (through January 13, 2018): In the 1980s Elizabeth Murray (1940–2007) exploited the cracks of modernism with paintings that couldn’t help but crack up. Through fun shapes and funky colors, she cracked open her canvases in cartoonish burst and zig-zags. Now at Pace through January 13, 2018, “Elizabeth Murray: Painting in the ’80s” takes the picture plane on a full-throttle barnstorming joyride, beginning with the sloshing, shattered coffee cup of Wake Up (1981) on up through increasingly wild, expanding forms of oil on canvas that seemingly bend, crunch, and splat. —JP


The Emerson String Quartet at Lincoln Center (November 28): In the vast catalogue of music for string quartet, few composers explored the form’s capacity for raw intensity so deeply as Beethoven and Shostakovich: ​The latter was the twentieth century’s foremost master of the genre, putting into his fifteen quartets some of his most intimate and anguished feeling. The former, of course, helped bring the string quartet to maturity, towards the end of his career packing musical ideas of astonishing complexity into a compact instrumentation. This Tuesday, the Emerson String Quartet, one of the leading chamber ensembles of the last forty years, performs each composer’s thirteenth entry in the genre: Shostakovich’s Op. 138, a simple, achingly beautiful, and often disorienting piece, alongside Beethoven’s colossal Op. 130. Ending the program is Beethoven’s Große Fuge, a towering achievement of the quartet repertoire in its own right. Originally intended as the last movement of Op. 130 but stricken out when it was deemed too radical, this wild, charged masterwork is a challenge to the listener even today. ECS


John Lockwood Kipling, Tobacco jar in the form of a bear holding a tree stump, 1896, Terracotta, National Trust. Photo: National Trust Images / John Hammond.

“John Lockwood Kipling: Arts & Crafts in the Punjab and London,” at the Bard Graduate Center (through January 7, 2018): While Rudyard Kipling is justifiably studied and admired for his novels, short stories, and poetry, his father, John Lockwood Kipling, remains more obscure. Born the son of a North Yorkshire Methodist minister, Lockwood Kipling began his career as a pottery designer before taking on work as an architectural sculptor at the South Kensington Museum, now the V&A. After a successful stint there, Lockwood Kipling traveled with his wife, Alice, to Bombay, earning a professorship in architectural sculpture at the nascent Jeejeebhoy School of Art in 1865. Ten years later he established himself in Lahore as the principal of the Mayo School of Industrial Arts, which to this day remains the preeminent art school in Pakistan. This winter, an exhibition at the Bard Graduate Center traces the life and career of John Lockwood Kipling, collecting sundry works both by the master’s hand and by his talented students. The exhibition animates artistic life in the Raj through the remarkable objects that characterized artistic achievement in the Indian British Empire—from paintings to quilts to toys to architectural ornament. Set over three floors and with more than 250 objects included, the show rewards multiple visits. Following this commendable exhibition, John Lockwood Kipling’s name should be obscure no more. —BR


“Helen Frankenthaler: Saluting France” at Albertine Books (November 28): On Tuesday night at 7:00 P.M., John Elderfield (the former Chief Curator of Painting and Sculpture at The Museum of Modern Art), the painter Pat Steir, and the curator Douglas Dreishpoon will sit down at Albertine Books to discuss the important transatlantic aesthetic relationship between Helen Frankenthaler and early twentieth-century French art. Generally hailed as Frankenthaler’s most salient contribution to American painting, her “soak stain” technique opened up a new avenue within abstraction at the same time that it looked back at representational paintings by Matisse and other French painters that exulted in the uncontainable power of color over line. Condemnations of Frankenthaler’s painting—too pretty, too decorative, too “retinal,” and too feminine—are sharply reminiscent of those once hurled towards Matisse and others of his cohort. Of course, today, Frankenthaler’s position within the annals of art history, like that of Matisse, seems well-assured. The three eminent figures participating in tonight’s discussion are all intimately (and in different ways) connected with Frankenthaler’s work, so you can expect an enlightening evening at Albertine. —AS

Claude Monet, The Magpie, 1868–69Oil on canvasMusée d'OrsayParis

From the archive: “Monet’s magpie in the snow” by Jeffrey Meyers (March 2015). A new interpretation of Monet’s great work.

From the current issue: “Hall of flame” by James Panero.

Broadcast: Roger Kimball at The Heritage Foundation. Our Editor and Publisher traces the rise of populism in the United States and abroad.

Click here for a full archive of past Critic’s Notebooks.

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