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In “Quickness\,” the second chapter of Italo Calvino’s Six M
emos for the Next Millennium\, the author retells the ancient legend of the
Emperor Charlemagne who late in life fell in love with a German girl so pa
ssionately that he neglected his regal duties. This\, of course\, alarmed e
veryone at his court. Suddenly\, the girl died\, which was a relief for the
courtiers. However\, not before long\, the old emperor immediately fell in
love with her corpse and refused to allow its removal from his bedchamber.
Such macabre behavior prompted the Archbishop Turpin to examine the girl’s
dead body one night. To Turpin’s astonishment he found a ring with an inse
rt precious stone hidden underneath her tongue. And as soon as the ring was
in Turpin’s hand Charlemagne fell madly in love with him and quickly order
ed the corpse to be buried. Turpin\, needless to say\, was shocked by Charl
emagne’s display of such an unusual love for him. Driven both by embarrassm
ent and perplexity Turpin threw the ring into Lake Constance whereupon Char
lemagne fell deeply in love with the lake and would not leave its shores. i William Butler Yeats\, ed. Poems of William Blake\,
The Modern Library\, Boni and Liveright Publishers.
Calvino notes the striking improbability of the extraordinary s eries of events: The love of an old man for a young girl\, a necrophiliac o bsession and a homosexual impulse\, while in the end everything subsides in to melancholy contemplation\, with the old king staring in rapture at the l ake.i These episodes are yoked by a verbal link\, the word ‘love ’ or ‘passion\,’ which establishes continuity between different forms of at traction\,ii” and while the ring acts as narrative link\, and jo ins the disparate episodes together. It is the desire emanated by the ring that pulls the Emperor from lustful love to eternal contemplation.
From October 2010 to the present\, at the storefront window of 39 Grea t Jones Street on a quiet corner of the East Village\, there has been an on going event: every two months a single work by one artist\, from various ge nerations and persuasions\, has been displayed.
From Martin Bo yce’s (b. 1967) thoughtful and simplified sculptural repertoires\, distille d from early 20th century modernism to the essential\, sound biting text-ba sed poetry of John Giorno (b. 1936)\; from Wesley Martin Berg’s (b. 1984) d arkly romantic vision of images bred from folklore and popular culture to M atteo Callegari’s (b. 1979) graphic style that refutes any identifiable vis ual sign\; from the visceral/generative\, off-the-grid geometry of Wyatt Ka hn (b. 1983) to the hermaphroditic versatility of Alan Shields (b. 1944)\; from Bruno Gironcoli’s (b. 1936) awesome excessive synthesis of organic for ms and industrial/domestic objects to Ann Craven’s (b. 1967) renewable syst em of seriality infused with endless exploration of abstract mark-making an d representational imagery\; from the expressive monopoly of black and whit e cartoon faces and comic book characters viewed frontally by Joyce Pensato (b. 1941) to Josh Smith’s (b. 1976) anarchistic energy\, which clashes noi sily between personal gestures and impersonal reproductive images \; from t he silky yet concentrated/reductive /process- based/painterly form of Andre w Brischler (b. 1987) to the pure economy of Giorgio Griffa’s (b. 1936) nev er-ending brush marks on unbounded fields of raw canvases\; from Tamuna Sir biladze’s (b. 1971) uncensored expressionism to Davis Rhodes’s (b. 1983) er otic/Burgess-esque minimalism\; from the monumental intimacy of Ron Gorchov ’s (b. 1930) concave/convex saddle paintings to the conceptual/contextual s culptural impulse toward timeless hybridism of Ann Chu\; or from George Ort man’s (b. 1926) blunt and inventive harmony of vernacular autosymbolic imag ery and minimal structure to Kes Zapkus’s (b. 1938) codified yet non-hierar chical explosion of infinite push and pull of inner and outer images stemmi ng from his maximalist vision. What among these provides the point of conta ct and space of solace—that is\, the opportunity for one thing to relate to another—is the storefront window. Here\, singular contemplation is truncat ed\, a casualty of a perpetually shifting space. The viewing experience of such a project must be measured differently: various\, dissimilar duration with no unifying focal point. But in this rare occasion at Galerie Eva Pres enhuber\, in which all these works may be seen together for a first time\, outside of the storefront context\, each work may be viewed individually an d of a part of one unified space and time. Such an occasion is particularly special\, if we are\, as Henri Bergson suggests\, to regard the condition of time as a constant negotiation between matter and memory. The former is perceived in order to contextualize representation\; the latter evokes the mystery that resides in the past\; that is “image-remembrance\,” which is n ot contingent on or internal to the body.
Near the window f ar from the crowded streets
You lean your naked eyes against its gla ss\, Watch the memories slide off.
You realize you have been walking too swiftly
Along the sidewalk far too long.
Take a sin gle encounter\, swing\;
You will be able to recount oblique lines\,
As if the memory of the material
Has been scratched onto the windowpane.
They straighten themselves out to form
Certain ge ometries that remind you of
William Blake’s Auguries of Innocence: To see a World in a grain of sand
And a Heaven in a wild flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hou r.iii
I refuse to temper my subversive spirit\,
To light the candle for the sake of seeing
Imperceptible contour s of an old church’s barrel vault.
Nor would I dare to touch the coo l\, smooth surface of
An unidentified object that resembles my own t orso and shoes.
Where did it come from so mysteriously?
Oh\, between the spaces of Daphne’s laurel leaves
There’s plenty of room for you to stay if you like.
Call it a space of enchantment. < br /> Do not close the window until you have
Rested your body and tol d the tales of love.
Love in a square.
Love in a triang le and a circle\,
Like Kandinsky who has forgotten Vologda
An d all of its fairy-tale power and splendor.
Amorini\, putti\, ground ed in flight.
Go away. I do not feel sad if
You have fo rgotten your passport to the other life.
Nor do I feel disappointed with only the frontal view of
An old church’s tympanum
(Just restored by my father last year)
Darkening slowly by a black sun.
A profile of a man\, wearing an unusual hat\,
Smoking a ci garette on the sidewalk\, asks me:
“How long is the walk from 31 Grea t Jones
To the Cloister where I can see the Mérode Altarpiece
By the Master of Flémalle?”
I say\, an hour in eternity:
“Between the space of the window and where
Joseph is making his mo usetraps
You will find clusters of geometry that
Could make y ou feel dizzy and lose your way...”
In this window you are inv ited to mourn the death of
The deviant queen Penthesilea\, valiant i n the wake of her grave mistake.
The rest of your friends stand in t he rain\, on the sidewalk\,
Forever. They ask among themselves “Wher e do emotions hide?”
Or “Do words have voices?”
Each watches t he water gush\,
Turn into black liquid\,
Form a fierce yet utt erly familiar face of cartoon character\,
Daffy Duck\, Mickey Mouse\ ,
Long before Lenny’s silly harmonics become phantoms.
I am ready to tell you my tales of love.
Each made with smeared color s\,
Painted in luminous red\, yellow\, and green\, subordinated with
Chromatics of grey\, black\, and all else allowed
For my furi ous longing to be understood.
I prefer to push the narratives hard < br /> To bury them below
THERE IS NO PICTORI AL MEMORY TO TAKE AWAY
FROM THESE ARTICULATED FIELDS OF SENSATION.
At the window you stand symmetrically\,
Motionless\, and notice the sign below:
“DANGER. NO CARS. VAULTED SIDEWALK.”
You call your mother in Güttigen and ask whether
She still look s abstractly into the depths of Lake Constance\,
Where Charlemagne s till refuses to leave the shore.
The window\, like a hidden ring\, c elebrates unrelated events that come and go
While each is\, IMMANCAB ILMENTE\, distinctly assertive of its own
Repetition and rhythm race s against time.
Now you remember what Baudelaire has warned us \,
What one can see out in the sunlight is always less interesting t han what goes on behind
a windowpane. In that black or luminous squar e life lives\, life dreams\, life suffers.iv
In ill -conceived and youthful foolishness
Lies a casualness toward destruc tion\,
And in a war against civilization
Lives the speed that fails to recognize
Its brief window of time.
We realiz e LIFE IS A KILLER.
Text and poem by Phong Bui
ii Charles Baudel aire\, Paris Spleen: 1869\, New Direction Publishing\, 1970\, pg. 77.
iii Italo Calvino\, Six Memos for the Next Millennium\, Harvard University Press\, 1988\, pg. 32.
i William Butler Yeats\, ed. Poems of William Blake\,
The Modern Library\, Boni and Liveright Publishers.