Pick up a copy of painter R. B. Kitaj’s First Diasporist Manifesto if you want to have some sense of the kind of oddball heterodoxy that an artist may feel compelled to invent for himself right now.[1] This is a confusing and challenging time, a time when all the general ideas that were derived from the specificity of Cubism appear to have failed. I say right now, but Kitaj’s book is not, to his credit, an I-was-born-yesterday confession. Kitaj, who’s fifty-seven, has been at it for decades: painting, exhibiting, and from time to time proselytizing on behalf of his friends, a crowd of more or less representational painters who are more or less based in London. His book is a bit of a postmodern event, but it’s also a modern event, proof that even as everything changes there aren’t all that many possible kinds of thoughts to have anyway, and in the end is the...


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