Writer and musician.

Donald Judd at MoMA

I managed to get to “Judd” just under the wire, on a frigid January Saturday right after the New Year. Donald Judd, who died in 1994, has long been one of my favorite artists, as well as a primary influence on my own decidedly amateur artistic practice. I had seen only a scattered handful of his artworks before, and never more than one by itself, as part of a collection. Seeing the entire range of his output on display was an overwhelming experience.

With his metal and plexiglass boxes, cubes, stacks of shelves, and other manufactured objects which compose his…

Notes on a Catastrophic Year

Words fail in the face of 2020. So much has already nonetheless been written about this terrifying year, however, that trying to drum up more pipe-puffing armchair generalizations feels downright grotesque. There was, of course, no opera or baseball or museums or live music to enthuse about this year, which cuts the legs out from under this annual putative “best-of” list. Instead I will make a few notes, some of them painfully over-sharing, about my experience of this endlessly strange and cruel year.

Many people have observed that reading has been exceptionally difficult during the pandemic, which has been both…

Reading log; end of the year (decade? era? world?)

Dispatches, by Michael Herr. Like many people, I sense, I have occasionally had a hard time reading over the course of this disorienting and scarifying year, finding myself unable to bring my normally formidable reserves of concentration fully to bear on the matter at hand. At such times, I often turn, for relief, to re-reading books I have enjoyed in the past, which somehow feels mollifyingly easy and untaxing. …

Duquann Sweeney and the Currents of Urban Life

Jersey City artist and activist Duquann Sweeney has been quietly amassing a body of photography that displays a sure touch and a hard-earned beauty. Currently running at the Hoboken Historical Museum through March 7, “Dignity, Beauty, and Everything Between” announces the emergence of a energetic new talent and of a budding oeuvre of highly distinctive and striking image-making.

Largely self-taught, an autodidact and self-made scholar, Sweeney began taking photographs around his home neighborhood of hardscrabbe Bergen-Lafayette, New Jersey, several years ago, gradually refining his approach and experimenting with different techniques, until he had established a style and a visual signature…

(Reading) Journal of a Plague Year

Jean Baudrillard, Fragments. My desire to be the kind of guy who reads French cultural theorists is not quite equal to my ability to actually be the kind of guy who reads French cultural theorists; perhaps a whole book of aphorisms, I thought, as opposed to a dense and intricate argument, might make an attractive shortcut. So it was, and there is much here that I found profound and useful, although I sense here a current of irritated, reactionary anti-pluralism that felt off-putting at times.

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Jean Baudrillard in 2004. Photo by Pablo Secca.

Emma Copley Eisenberg, The Third Rainbow Girl: The Long Life of a Double Murder in…

Five Works by Black Writers, Musicians, and Artists that Changed the Way I See the World

As I join my colleagues in book publishing today in solidarity with the quest for racial justice, and in a call for better representation in the shamefully homogenous industry, I have been thinking about how I might best participate in the conversation. Since I am also a writer and a critic, I thought the most appropriate thing would be briefly to center, and celebrate, the work of some Black artists and creators. Here are five works that feel especially pertinent to the moment:

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“Blueschild Baby,” by George Cain, 1970. The creator of this stunning image, which is from the Dell mass market paperback, is not identified.

Blueschild Baby, George Cain (1970). Cain’s novel, recently re-issued by New York Review of Books, is a…

A Propaedeutic on My Drawings and Prints

The drawings and prints I have been making over the past half-decade or so are the tangible expressions of a set of ideas, theories, and motifs that I have accrued mentally, piecemeal, over years of making, thinking, and writing about art. This essay is meant to put some of these background ideas into outline.

I began writing this essay with a degree of ambivalence and even irritation. For many years I hewed to the idea that a piece of visual artwork should require no explanation, and that pure appreciation should occur only on a visual and formal level, with each…

Coronavirus notes; reading log

Jersey City, Day 10 of quarantine. The streets are eerily silent; the shrouding fog of this Sunday morning adds to a dreamlike sense of ongoing apocalypse. The novel coronavirus and the fear of COVID-19 infection have fundamentally re-shaped daily life in a way that inevitably affects our collective mental topologies. There has been so much already written about the virus and its effects on every facet of our lives that to spew forth more seems hardly appropriate, although I could not resist chipping in with a brief meditation.

Since I am fortunate enough to work in publishing, and since I…

A very personal look back at 2019 in books and music

Herewith a fragmented and … not “best-of list,” exactly; more like, notes on artifacts scattered in the wake of a most uncivil year:

Females, by Andrea Long Chu. This remarkable book, by a young trans scholar and activist, proceeds from the simple yet provocative idea that everyone, regardless of sex or gender, is inherently female. “All the dead are female,” Chu intones. “All the dying, too.” In Chu’s hands this head-spinning bit of gender ju jitsu becomes a springboard for a loose, funny, and wildly inventive anti-manifesto that takes Valerie Solanas’s nearly forgotten play Up Your Ass as a kind…

A return to publishing; a goodbye; a new project; a reading log

This has been, in many ways, the strangest, hardest summer I can remember, yet one blessed with at least one piece of terrific good news. As some readers here know, on July 17 I received a call from Dennis Johnson, the co-publisher of prestigious Brooklyn-based press Melville House, offering me a position of managing editor.

Not quite three days later, my mother died of cancer in a hospice facility in Dunmore, Pennsylvania.

Two such life-defining events of such diametric affect occurring within three days was emotionally whip-sawing, of course, and there is either too much or not enough to be…

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