Basquiat (Emmerling)

My father once told me that Picasso used to doodle on the checks he wrote in order to give people pause. Should they cash it or wait to see what a Picasso doodle might be worth? Apocryphal or otherwise, the story has always interested me. Does the public make an artist’s reputation? Or does the artist make his (I’ll use that pronoun since I’m writing about Basquiat) own? Or do the times make the artist? Or the market? And what of the cliched but recurring artist who dies young?

Sometimes, we can intersect with a piece of art when we’re not ready for it or its moment has passed. I was aware of Basquiat. I think I even saw an exhibit of his in a London gallery. I knew there was a movie about him. But I think I was finally ready for him. Paging through his pictures and reading Emmerling’s insightful and biased text, I was struck by the intensity of his art and his connection to the likes of Joe Louis and Charlie Parker, artists in their own right who were, like Basquiat, taken advantage of by those around him. His pictures are intense and thought provoking. I wish he’d lived past 27. It seems like he had a lot more to say.


On Creativity (Adria)

I was very inspired this exhibit (Ć -notes-creativity) at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Cleveland. It has caused me to try to take notes in a more visual way, and it has really caused me to think about the way we tend to silo our personal and professional lives. The images themselves are great to have, but the best part of the book is the interview with Adria that opens it. In it, he talks about the language of cooking and the way constantly asking the question “why?” helps him reconsider everything about how cooking happens, not only the food that is made, but also the tools we use to make and eat it. Richard Hamilton’s essay is interesting, but Adria’s ideas about creativity and its implications for education interested me the most.

Hank Willis Thomas: Pitch Blackness (Guzman and Kelley)

I first found Thomas’ work at the amazing Cleveland Museum of Art (, and I was just stunned. The audacity and originality (and downright truth) of The Branded series just floored me. So I drove to see the second part of the exhibit at the Transformer Station ( This, too, was equally thrilling. Thomas’ work is provocative. I put one of his postcards up in my classroom, and the students gravitated to it. Was it real?

This is art as part of an urgent conversation. As much as I am a basketball fan, Thomas’ images of potential draft picks and (separately) Michael Jordan are hard to look at and hard to look away from.

The essays here are fine. Kelley’s was definitely more insightful than Guzman’s. The real star here is Thomas’ work. You can’t look; you can’t look away.

Anselm Kiefer (Rosenthal)

When I was wandering around the Cleveland Museum of Art for the first time, I saw this picture, and it stopped me cold.

I stared at a long time – the depth of it, the mixture of materials, the seemingly apocalyptic setting. Then I approached the label and read the title (“Lot’s Wife”) and background. It remains a key fixture of my visits there. It’s in a perfect location. I looked in the gift shop for a copy, but the print couldn’t capture its 3-dimensionality, its depth.

Then I saw this one at the Toledo Museum of Art.

And I knew I had to see and know more. So I found this book at Loganberry Books , a great bookstore (

The images are astounding. I enjoyed watching his work evolve. I was less enthralled by Rosenthal’s accompanying essay. Granted, the chronological structure must have been limiting, but his insights about patterns, particular images, use of materials (etc.) were rarely helpful. I mostly just wanted to look at the pictures. And now I can do that anytime I want.

Carrie Mae Weems (Yale University Press, publisher)

I was so moved by Weems’ exhibit at the Cleveland Museum of Art ( that I was, for only the second time in my museum going life, prompted to buy the huge, overpriced book in the museum gift store. And I didn’t read the first one – just flipped through it. This one, I read. It seemed like Yale must have asked several notable critics to offer short essays on Weems’ work, and they were fine, if a bit redundant. And why no interview with Weems?

The real power here is the chance to examine Weems’ work, which includes her own writing.