Wednesday, November 28, 2007

d.c. diary

I spent the recent holiday with relatives in some desolate D.C. suburb, which honestly was not so much fun. But I did get the chance to consume a couple stray bits of culture. Some brief notes then.

First, and most significantly, I saw Morris Louis Now, a small retrospective, at the Hirschhorn. I have nothing original or intellectual to say about the man or his work right now. (I have too many other writing projects at the moment. Also, I'm just at a loss for words.) But I will say that these stained acrylic on canvas abstractions are among the most gorgeous things that I've seen this year. Their combination of cool analytic order and deeply sensuous color is intoxicating. I wish I could go back. I particularly like the wide empty spaces of his late late work (bare canvas!).

My favorites might be the so-called "unfurled" series, in which the artist dripped diagonal rivers of thinned (but saturated) color from the side edges. Here is an example. It's an intriguing compositional device; I'm not sure where else in the history of art it can be found. In Chinese painting, perhaps?

From the museum site linked to above:
The exhibition presents major paintings dating from the early 1950s until his death in late 1962, the years Louis developed an innovative method of painting by staining his unprimed canvases with thinned washes of acrylic pigments. The artist, who was born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1912, studied at the Maryland Institute of Fine and Applied Arts. As a young man he painted in a realist manner; only in his forties did he find his signature style. Even in cramped quarters in Washington D.C., Louis was able to make large paintings, achieving an exuberant, lyrical celebration of colors hovering in white space. Louis became an inspirational figure for other artists in the Color Field movement in the 1960s, notably Kenneth Noland and Helen Frankenthaler.
According to the same source, Louis has not had a retro since 1986 (when I was a kid), which is shocking. Needless to say, I am unable to compare this one with others. But the size and selection felt perfect to me, given that a little of his work goes such a long way.

And I read a short novel: Mark Dunn's fun, wordplay-laden Ella Minnow Pea. The book is written as series of letters, most of them between two teenage girl cousins: Ella and Tassie. The events described therein take place on Nollop, a fictional island off the South Carolina coast. The island is named after Nevin Nollop, the author (also fictional) of the sentence "the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog," which is a pangram, containing all the letters of the alphabet. As evinced by the exchanged epistles, with their alliteration and ornate, precious usage, the islanders have an unusual fondness for language. (This is entertaining some times and annoying at others.)

Nevin is worshiped as a godlike figure, and when letters start falling off of his memorial statue
off of the pangramthey are successively banned by the superstitious, tyrannical Council. First time offenders get off with a mere scolding, but a second violation brings a choice of flogging or the stockade. A third time brings expulsion from the would-be linguistic utopia. The novel tells of the progressive devolution of the society as a result of communicative breakdown and the departure of people (voluntarily or otherwise). The letterswith some exceptionsfollow the law lipogrammatically, with humorous results. Later sections are clouded with increasingly evasive, absurd substitutions and mispellings.

Ella must demythologize Mr. Nollop in order to discredit the theocracy. To this end, she endevours to find another pangrammatic sentence with 32 or fewer letters. She is assisted in this task by others, including the renegade councilman Rederick Lyttle (hah) and Stateside scholar Nate Warren (with the predictable love story between Tassie and the latter). I'm sure you can guess how things turn out.

Ella is lighthearted and light-weight as a satire of theocracy and censorship. The wordplay, and the writing more generally, was however, a joy to read.

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3 Comments:

Blogger Sunil said...

Great writing. Liked the read. Gives me more places to see in an already attraction crowded DC...

12:03 PM  
Blogger arthur said...

The writing seems a bit too flashy to me, although that was probably deliberate.

12:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Love the main page. Do you think it will always be this way?

4:47 AM  

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