When Phong Bui asked me to edit the Critics Page of the Brooklyn Rail I felt I could not refuse, since it’s the only art magazine I read anymore. Ezra Pound said culture is news that stays news, and for me the Brooklyn Rail is the news. The only problem was I only had three weeks to fill the pages. There were a number of projects lingering on my desk and I needed good impetus to finish them up. So what I have chosen to present in this issue is not a coherent critical statement but rather a group of “projects” that somehow found their way into my gravitational sphere over the past nine months.
“I almost never think of art in terms of value judgments,” the poet James Schuyler once said to me, and I’ve always considered these words of wisdom. I am generally suspicious of theoretical positions, as I consider artists to be teachers, and if you are coming from a set position you’re going to miss an important part of the story. In fact I think a critical position is largely unnecessary, unless you are the artist who is creating the work. “Vividness is self-selecting,” Kerouac said, and that’s good enough for me.
Certainly there are critical themes that run through this material: all of the artists speak of a strong sense of lineage, engaging the living traditions of jazz, poetry, and music. Shamanic traces animate the collaborations of Peter Lamborn Wilson and Tamara Gonzales. Charles Stein and Philip Taaffe discuss the primordial origins of form, and the artist’s responsibility to keep this impulse alive through a journey of images, glyphs, and symbols across historical time. Publisher Shiv Mirabito describes an artistic trajectory that lead from Allen Ginsberg’s farm to the holy men of India and Nepal. Henry Threadgill and Jason Moran speak of jazz ancestry and the need to engage that tradition in ways that are global, unsentimental, and unorthodox. Twenty-four year-old electronic musician Will Epstein offers his generational take on the survival and adaptation of the folk tradition in the digital age.
Art in the flow of life: I suppose that is what this section is about. And no one embodied this better than the late poet/artist Rene Ricard, who is prominently featured in this issue. Earlier this year his 44-year reign of terror in the art world came to a poignant close, a milestone for a great many of us. He was the fabulous fanatical exemplar of a fearless way of life, a one-man revolutionary of the mind.
I would like to express my gratitude to the amazing staff at the Brooklyn Rail, in particular Sara Roffino, Sara Christoph, Anna Tome, and Andrea Gordillo; designers Walter Chiu and Maggie Barrett, and music editors George Grella and Marshall Yarbrough. For their perspicacious editorial insights (not to mention personal warmth) I also thank Phong Bui and Nathlie Provosty. Lastly and most importantly, Jarrett Earnest has been the very beau ideal of wit, humor, and critical intelligence, and has made this endeavor a joy throughout.
The Chelsea Hotel
December 9, 2014