This week's OGR, David Rimanelli, is for my purposes the male counterpart to last week's, Jaja Hargreaves, by which I mean that his IG account elicits in me daily the same baffled reactions when I see his posts in my feed: How have I seen so much of so-and-so artist's work but never that piece?! I'm even almost sure I started following David a week after I followed Jaja. Substitute her fashion-centric focus for his art-world selections and I've (we've) got another reliable eye-opening, mind-expanding source of visual education and enjoyment.
Of course it should come as no surprise that David is so adept on Instagram and has everyone in the art scene following him, for look at his chops: he's been writing about art since 1988 and from 1993 to 1999 was a regular contributor to The New Yorker. Since 1997 he has been a contributing editor at Artforum, and has written for Bookforum, Interview, Texte zur Kunst, Vogue Paris, frieze, The New York Times, and Flash Art. David curates, he teaches, he reads, he clearly knows his stuff. If you're already aware of him then you know what I'm talking about. If not, I'm very pleased for you to now know him. -Wes Del Val
WDV: With which five people in the art world, living or dead, would you have liked to start a book club?
DR: The living and the dead in a book club together is itself an interesting notion. “Eldritch”? Maybe H.P. Lovecraft should be a member, though he seems to have been a disagreeable, quite objectionable person, and he belonged to no art world. (Whatever he was his hyperbolic racism and xenophobia stood out as exorbitant even in his own era, but even so: He was a huge influence on my sensibilities from a very young age, and he still delivers the goods.) At least one person like that should be in every book club. One monster per Jane Austen Society, etc. [My Jane Austen book club: Mary McCarthy, Elizabeth Hardwick, Raymond Williams, Henry James, and ___]
Let’s see…well among the dead, and I feel a little weird here, but I would like to have Robert Rosenblum. Perhaps his Transformations in Late Eighteenth Century Art could serve as the starting point, with its suggestions about historicism. Robert said that the late eighteenth century witnessed the first sort of sensibility that was in a sense promiscuous about historical periods—ancient Greece AND China during the Ming Dynasty AND the Natchez et cetera, etc. And how this promiscuous approach to history is still very much alive in our present [I think it was first published in the late ‘50s or early ‘60s.].
Brooks Adams, one of Robert’s students and an art critic and a droll wit. He might introduce The Memoirs of Madame de Boigne. His tone of voice I feel echoes that of the countess.
Cecily Brown would be great fun in a book club, and I would look forward to her “presentation” on Sade’s Justine, or perhaps on the Memoirs of Madame de la Tour du Pin.
My old college friend friend James Meyer, the art historian of the ‘60s and ‘70s, could
tell us about the Orphan of the Temple, la duchesse d’Angouleme: Marie Antoinette’s daughter, the one member of the royal family to survive the Terror. She has a memoir too.
Richard Howard who might give French tutorials, I need one desperately.
That’s a big emphasis on French culture there! Two questions: Is French history a favorite topic of yours to read about and did you know Richard Howard? If so, can you please share some memorable anecdotes about him? He was a hero of mine.
Yes I am a big francophile, though only in a rather bookish way. History, art, literature. And gossip. It’s not like I’m dying to be there much or ever. French is the only foreign language in which I’m somewhat and not really a lot but somewhat capable, to read at least. So I was able to read long novels, in high school and college at least. Once while I was living for a year in Los Angeles I rented this place in the Hollywood Hills from a Swiss man whose books in English were confined to workout manuals and colonic irrigation treatises, but he had some French books. I was so lonely and isolated then—I saw no one and lived in an inconvenient place and didn’t drive—I started to reread Madame Bovary in the original. I stumbled over so many words and I didn’t have a dictionary but even so I finished it very quickly, like in two days.
I didn’t know Richard Howard. Of course he’s been very important to me for his translations, probably that’s why he came to mind. I got my first translation of his when I was quite young, of Barthes’ On Racine. I still have it.
Which non-art critics’ writings are the most important to you and have made you a better writer?
Probably the ones that are actually really important and have truly affected my writing aren’t the ones I’d like to say. As for a better writer, I couldn’t say. I certainly read certain things with the idea that perhaps they would nourish my own prose style. I remember reading Lord Macaulay’s The History of England from the Accession of James the Second, and in the back of my mind I had the grandiose notion that his grand style might be…useful. That’s not why I read it though, obviously. I do like historians though. I want to read Clarendon’s History of the Rebellion, I must get a nice edition. (In a related way, I love Keynes’ The Economic Consequences of the Peace.) But I really doubt that anything you might consciously conceive as an influence to your writing, I’m pretty sure, is in fact the important one, and I would definitely side with Harold Bloom’s idea that probably the most profound influences are not conscious. They are repressed!
I’d say Susan Sontag was exceedingly important and influential for me. Hardly a novel generative figure but an inevitable one for me. I think I got to Against Interpretation and On Photography fairly early, in high school, maybe I was sixteen, and I still quite like a lot of her essays and some of her non-essays. Once I reviewed The Volcano Lover, and I can’t say as I remember my review I’m very fair with it, pretending as I did to be distant when Susan was doing all the things I dreamed about in writing and reading. Maybe I am rather deformed by Susan, I didn’t grow as a writer. I’m a critical bonsai tree.
Clement Greenberg, The complete essays in criticism in four volumes. Oh but that’s art criticism.
I loved the Fassbinder collection The Anarchy of the Imagination. I always liked that and once Jerry Saltz asked sort of this question in An Ideal Syllabus (Subtitled Artists, Critics and Curators Choose the Books We Need to Read. The collection of the series edited by art critic Jerry Saltz for frieze magazine came out in 1998. If you like OGR you would like this. –WDV) and I listed the Fassbinder, the Salons of Baudelaire, POPism: The Warhol Sixties, and the collected writings of Robert Smithson, and that’s still a good list for the student/”young me.”
Okay so I answered your question sloppily or disobediently, that stuff is very art critic-y.
I love Hilton Als as a writer, ever since The Women. I love the book reviews of V.S. Pritchett. Elizabeth Hardwick, Janet Malcolm—especially the Plath book, The Silent Woman. I want to say Joan Didion but I haven’t read her in a very long time, I should go back. What else? I love Benedetta Craveri’s Madame du Deffand and Her World—oh, she has to be in the book club. I have her most recent book, The Last Libertines from NYRB, but haven’t read it. Such a sucker for le dix-huitième. Leslie Fiedler’s Love and Death in the American Novel, Gilbert and Gubar’s The Madwoman in the Attic, Barthes’ S/Z (the best ever), Jules Laforgue’s Berlin: The City and the Court. I could go on and on and on.
So much there to make anyone a better writer!
What would be a cool dream museum exhibit around books?
Richard Prince and Fulton Ryder. Richard has been one of my most enduring contemporary-art preoccupations. I first saw a show around 1985, I was still in college, I think it was at Nature Morte or Cash/Newhouse, at any rate at one of the cooler, more conceptually-oriented East Village galleries. At that point, I didn’t know what appropriation was strictly speaking in its Douglas Crimp/”Pictures”/October senses, though that was incipient. But I loved the photographs, I thought: This is me. Anyway, one could corral a very impressive museum show about Richard Prince in relation to books. Fulton Ryder as his semi-secret gallery/bookstore/publisher would give numerous indications: his collaborations with Colin De Land as John Dogg and Why I Go to the Movies Alone; his and Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye; pulp novels and “Nurse Paintings”; and of course all of his artist books. I used to make a real effort at keeping abreast of them, to be a completist in this collection, but I couldn’t. So many. And that’s just the obvious stuff, one could do so much with this as an exhibition. Maybe someone will ask me to organize it? One more thing: I have this zine, The Masochist, and the most recent number of it is given over to Richard, so now I can even see myself inscribed in this art-bibliophile history.
I also had to abandon the completist route and am right with you on what a dream-come-true show that would be. I guess the closest the public has come to something like it is “American Prayer,” his 2011 exhibition at Paris’ Bibliotheque nationale de France, which was a look into his private library and influences. The book for that show is great. I’m so pleased to see Fulton Ryder active again, but of course knowing Richard it could disappear again as suddenly as it’s re-appeared, so if you want one of its productions I highly encourage non-hesitation.
What have you read recently that you’re not embarrassed to say you knew very little about until now?
Well, in a non-specialist way, I think I know something about John Singer Sargent, but I enjoyed immensely Julian Barnes’ book about Dr. Pozzi, The Man in the Red Coat. After this, I read his book about Shostakovich, a composer that I know in a vague Greatest-20th-Century listicle way but really not a lot. It’s not really a work of history or criticism per se, well it’s a novel, but it serves as history/criticism for me and no doubt that’s part of the Barnesian idea. He’s really been a big person for me, I read Flaubert’s Parrot when it came out. This just occurs to me now. Michael Fried’s book about Madame Bovary and Salammbô, Flaubert’s “Gueuloir,” was the best sort of criticism, as I thought I knew both novels pretty well, and even so I got a lot out of it, especially with regard to the Cathaginian phantasmagoria. I have the recent collection of D.H. Lawrence’s prose with me, I read around it for great bits. I had thought I loathed Lawrence, but Geoff Dyer’s Out of Sheer Rage was fantastic. I love this sort of history and criticism and autobiography, taking genre distinctions and sort of putting them in a light acid bath, dissolving somewhat—I guess I show my hand, I wish I could write like this. He has a Tarkovsky book and yeah I love Tarkovsky, so read it yeah. And finally, Journey to the Abyss: the Diaries of Count Harry Kessler 1880-1918, though I just acquired it & I haven’t learned much yet but I know I will, plus it’s a nice complement to Alex Ross’ Wagnerism. I know it’s going to be just heaven.
I admire your honesty as a long-time writer for showing your hand like that, it’s such a welcome trait to see.
What are the three best non-specialist books from the past five years for general smart readers about any aspect of art?
For some reason I’m coming to this question last, but here are a few books I might recommend to the interested non-specialist: Double Vision: The Unerring Eye of Art World Avatars Dominique and John de Menil by William Middleton. The Art of Cruelty: A Reckoning by Maggie Nelson. Douglas Crimp’s Before Pictures is great. October goes to the peep show. Ninth Street Women is soooooo perfect for this. What else, off the top of my head, would make a nice gift for someone? Claire Bishop’s Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship. Perfect for the pointy-headed neophyte. Likewise Hito Steyerl’s The Wretched of the Screen—that title! Too good. Oh, and Gary Indiana’s Vile Days. Because you just have to. I was going to add Blake Gopnik’s Warhol biography, which I haven’t read though I’m sure it’s a terrific resource—I have so many Warhol books, catalogues, and I still buy them but this book is, I don’t know, 900 pages? But I’m glad I have it here. And I would recommend it because at least one totally brilliant person, Simon Linke, enthusiastically liked it, but I would add Gary’s withering [“withering” autofill] review in Harper’s.
Yes, Gary’s review of it was pure Gary and I hope this prompts people to look it up.
What reading material gets you to open your wallet these days because you must own it and/or you wish to support the people behind it?
The Judd catalogue from the Modern
Alex Ross’ Wagnerism
Several old books purchased last weekend at Alabaster Books on 4th Avenue, including volume one of Atget: Old France for $75; my third copy of Paul McCarthy’s Propo [$45]; the collected poems of Noel Coward, with song lyrics; a quite old paperback copy of Hugh Kenner’s The Pound Era [$30]; a nice book on Kiki Smith editions, beautiful design, [$100]; Durling’s translation of Petrach, a book I had in college and I don’t know why but just wanted to have again, though it remains unopened.
Shout out to Alabaster! Poor Alabaster, most people overlook it in favor of the Strand around the corner, but it is a wonderful shop and should not be dismissed OR missed when a great reader is in the vicinity. What do you particularly like about it?
The last time I was there, a few weeks ago, it was after stopping by the Strand, I wanted to buy something there as an absurdly modest gesture of support in this moment of their travails, but it was too hectic, it made me nervous, pandemic etc., so I left. Alabaster is maybe a block away, and though it is small I didn’t feel nervous. It’s a wonderful surcease, the somewhat dim interior, my favorite sections [poetry, the art and photo books, literary criticism], the unbelievably nice young man at the desk. It was very mental-health enabling; I bought lots.
You nailed its particular appeals and I’m sure they were very pleased when you walked out with lots.
What books are coming out in the next six months which you’re most excited about?
Motley Stones by Adalbert Stifter, from NYRB next spring. Stifter found an unlikely booster to his readership in Thomas Bernhard, whose typically bejeweled and hilarious evisceration of his fellow Austrian writer in Old Masters is a model of seductive hatred.
If price were no barrier, what would you start adding to your personal library?
Every expensive or rare book or just my old books that I have lost over the years, lost or sold. Well not every but many, to re-collect my past for one. I guess if price were no barrier that could mean maybe I had the means to move to a bigger place? It’s a perpetual Battle of the Books here but they aren’t at war with each other, they’re at war with me. If I could show you a picture…it’s nuts. Fun too but nuts a lot.
When I was a child, every month we went to New York—”the City” as many in the Tri-state area would say—for the weekend. Visits to the old Brentano’s on Fifth and also the old Scribner’s, also on Fifth, and Doubleday, also on Fifth, and Rizzoli, which then had locations on either Fifth or 57th Street, I can’t remember, were the rule. I remember buying L’amour bleu there. Super-gay for someone just on the cusp of adolescence, and no one batted an eye, such was the munificence of that dispensation, which was both generous and indifferent. I got whatever I wanted. This precocity with respect to l’amour bleu-type things was, to my mind, remarkable as my own actual “intimate” life was very retarded (I was in college when I lost my virginity, and just typing that phrase makes me giggle). On the one hand: Notre-Dame-des-Fleurs in the original. On the other: “Oh my God no, Kay Ishiwa is having sex with Jeffrey Cantor? NOOOOOO!!!”
I just looked up L’amour bleu online; it’s a common old book, easy to acquire, not even expensive. I don’t really want it, for what, to remember thinking at 14, They do that? But Rizzoli also carried these particular Skira books, oversized and coming in “silk-upholstered” boxes. I had a couple, I remember one, Tamara de Lempicka; I think Arcimboldo was another.
Whose posts on Instagram about books consistently get the most likes from you?
I think the only one I follow is @karmabooks. I look at a lot of booksellers, maybe I follow more than that one. I wanted to follow Ursus but it’s not really for me, and it’s a nostalgic, sentimental thing, remembering when I used to shop there altogether too much. So many nice things but not cheap. I’m going to take a look now. That was such a great store, though I know many people disliked it, I think.
Wow, just Karma? I mean they’re wonderful and a must-follow, but surprised only one.
There are others, I realize, looking over my follow list, but they aren’t very revealing. David Zwirner Books? D.A.P.? But really, that I don’t or didn’t follow doesn’t indicate a lack of interest on my part. I used to follow absurdly few, for a long time, that was itself perhaps an affectation and not a special or interesting one. I used to follow hardly any galleries, and no museums at all. So you see what I mean.
What books have you started and stopped multiple times but you just know you will one day finish them?
Pretentious but true [pretentious and obvious even more like it]: Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Gibbon is a challenge and I have read a lot of it, but I don’t know when I’ll finish it. Yes it is very long, but I think it’s also a matter of how much of Gibbon’s sui generis style one can take, say 600 pages at each attempt?
Lukacs, History and Class Consciousness
Erwin Panofsky, Early Netherlandish Painting [I’m probably lying but I do have a nice hardcover Bollingen edition in two volumes]
The Devil Wears Prada. I did have that book lying around forever but I never read it. I saw the movie. A friend told me I was horribly vulgar just seeing it. Well not quite that but he refused to see it: He remained absolutely loyal to Mrs. Schaffer. (i.e. Anna Wintour, ex wife of David Schaffer –WDV)
Since no one writes letters anymore I don’t know what that augurs for future books of correspondence amongst writers today, like the rich trove we have from the past, so whose email exchanges from the last decade between two people in the book world do you wish you could read?
Emails? Hillary/Huma, duh.
Not exactly book world folk, but it’s an answer which would intrigue a lot of people (still? I think?) so let’s stick with it. Thanks David!