Sunday, October 25, 2009

Greenlight: A Great New Bookstore in Brooklyn

New York City-- more specifically, Fort Greene in Brooklyn-- has a wonderful new independent bookstore: the Greenlight! (Full disclosure: I am a "community lender" to the Greenlight, i.e., I have a financial interest in the bookstore's success.) Hurrah!

Yesterday the Greenlight officially opened its doors at Fulton and South Portland in Ft. Greene...and what a grand opening it was. The place was thronged, and folks waited patiently in a drenching rain outside, a testament to the community's hunger for a quality bookstore.

Well designed, airy, with a very reader friendly vibe...and a great selection of fiction. One very interesting decision by owners Jessica and Rebecca: to shelve all fiction together, Proust next to Cherie Priest, Philip K. Dick by Dickens. Well done!

The lobster and canary wish all the best to the Greenlight. Greenlight is the first NYC indie bookstore to launch in quite a while, in the midst of a recession that is utterly changing the entire publishing/bookselling sector. I guess that it is one of the very few indies to start anywhere in the country over the past few years... bucking the trend, the Greenlight is a beacon in wintry times, a return to artisanal, impassioned bookselling and the creation of a close-knit but welcoming community of readers, authors and vendors.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Soulages: "Black is the Color of Painting's Origin"

The Pompidou Centre in Paris is mounting the largest show (October 14- March 8, 2010) it has ever done for a living French artist: Pierre Soulages, who turns 90 in December.

Soulages said this to Tobias Grey in the Financial Times last week (October 10/11):

" 'A cousin of mine, who is 100 years old, told ...the curator of this exhibition, that when I was a boy I dipped my paintbrush in the ink-well and began to paint swathes of black on a white sheet of paper. When my family asked me what I was doing, apparently I replied, "Painting snow." Of course that made everyone laugh. But I was a shy child and not trying to show off. Looking back now, I think I was trying to make the white paper appear whiter by laying down the black.'


'It astounded me that for 340 centuries men have been painting in black in some of the most obscure places on earth, caves pitched in absolute darkness...I wrote once that black is the colour of painting's origin. I don't think it's possible to refute this.' "

Monday, October 12, 2009

Matthew Cheney on Plot and Story in Strange Horizons

Matthew Cheney, one of the most astute commentators on speculative fiction (and much else besides), has a good essay in Strange Horizons on the relationship between plot and story. He riffs on some recent statements by John Grisham, who apparently feels that "literature" lacks plot or at least a respect for plot. Cheney offers words from Aristotle and the Russian formalist critic Shklovsky to suggest otherwise, and then demonstrates his points nicely with a quick reading of Peter Straub's work.

Strange Horizons is a must-read... and so is Cheney in his usual haunt, The Mumpsimus.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Why Ensor Still Matters: Buffy, Dawn of the Dead, and the Werewolf of London

A friend of mine--whose views on art I respect--said she thought the James Ensor show that just closed at the MoMa in NYC (and soon to open at the Musee d'Orsay, Paris) revealed just how "old-fashioned" he now appears. Her sense was that Ensor exemplifies Modernism grown long in the tooth, dingy old ivory compared to the Ron Arad show running on the MoMA's top floor.

I beg to differ. Ensor still has bite. Most famously, Ensor brought the ravenously inhuman, the bestial, to the surface of his bourgeois subjects. Beneath the imperial splendor and self-congratulatory rituals of European society in the late 19th and early 20th centuries lurked the demonic. Precisely Ensor's portrayal of the demonic sheathed in human form or stripped down to the skeletal is what drew the crowds to his paintings at the MoMA.

Deep inside, below our own smug rituals and American splendor, is a slithering queasiness that our humanity may be a mask slipping askew. Why else our current obsession with vampires, zombies and werewolves? Buffy, Twilight , the countless "dawn of the dead" retellings, werewolves of London, Lestat, the deluge of "urban fantasies" by Butcher, Saintcrow, and their many imitators....the undead, half-living and half-beast move within us...Ensor captured them 120 years ago as surely as our authors and cineastes do today.

For a superb multimedia presentation of the MoMA show, click here.

For an excellent discussion of the show, click here to read Sanford Schwartz in the September 24th New York Review of Books.

Lobster & Canary viewed the MoMA exhibit in July. They scribbled notes: "presages Nolde," "flattened foreground," "The Frightful Musicians, one holding a skull like a clapper," "delicate lines, skeleton in the mirror," "black chalk, hippogriff, a flea layered on top," "The Devils Dzitts and Hihahox, Led by Crazon, Riding a Wild Cat, Leading Christ into Hell," "reworking the paintings," "Steinberg," "My Aunt Dreams of Monsters," "danse macabre," "skeletons warming themselves by a stove," "masques," "chalky whites, jagged blues, reds."