Recently by Morgan Meis:

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A young poet killed himself in Cleveland on November 24, 1968. He did it with a .22 caliber rifle he’d owned since childhood. In the years leading up to his death, the poet often demonstrated to friends how he could operate the gun with his feet and put the muzzle against his forehead, right at the spot of his “third eye.” The poet’s name was d. a. levy, as he liked to spell it (he was born Darryl Alfred Levy). He was just 26 years old when he died.

Just a year before his death, levy was arrested by the Cleveland police. He’d been indicted in 1966. The specific charge was “contributing to the delinquency of a minor.” At a poetry reading, he allowed juveniles to read work deemed obscene by city officials. levy’s own poetry had its share of bad words, sex, and drugs. The poet was a public advocate for the legalization of marijuana. It all seems rather tame by today’s standard. But in Cleveland in 1968, the d. a. levy affair created quite a ruckus. His arrest brought national attention. Guys like Alan Ginsberg and Gary Snyder got involved in the case, advocating for the dismissal of the charges against levy. The call to “legalize levy” became a rallying cry at protests and on t-shirts and flyers, not just in Cleveland but around the country.

After his death, many people in Cleveland adopted levy as a kind of local hero. And there it should have ended, if history is any guide. A young poet takes his own life. A city mourns. The relentless wheel of history churns on, forgetting as it goes.

This summer, however, there is a show at the museum of contemporary art in Cleveland with the title “How To Remain Human.” That’s a line from one of levy’s poems. The poem is called “Suburban Monastery Death Poem.” It is 13 pages long. The poem is mostly a long rant about Cleveland. It is also a tortured love letter — as are most rants. It contains passages like the following:
More… “How To Remain Human”

Morgan Meis has a PhD in Philosophy and is a founding member of Flux Factory, an arts collective in New York. He has written for n+1, The Believer, Harper’s Magazine, and The Virginia Quarterly Review. He won the Whiting Award in 2013. Morgan is also an editor at 3 Quarks Daily, and a winner of a Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers grant. A book of Morgan’s selected essays can be found here. He can be reached at morganmeis@gmail.com.
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Hilton Kramer, longtime chief art critic for the New York Times, was never a shy man, at least in print. He thought of art criticism as a battle. There was a war, as Kramer saw it, between good art and bad art or – maybe more crucially – between art and non-art. Kramer saw himself as a warrior on the side of Art and The Good. In this war, it did not pay to be nice.

Reviewing an exhibit at the Whitney Museum by the young artist Richard Tuttle in 1975, Hilton Kramer wrote, “To Mies van der Rohe’s famous dictum that less is more, the art of Richard Tuttle offers definitive refutation. For in Mr. Tuttle’s work, less is unmistakably less.”
More… “Art/Not”

Morgan Meis has a PhD in Philosophy and is a founding member of Flux Factory, an arts collective in New York. He has written for n+1, The Believer, Harper’s Magazine, and The Virginia Quarterly Review. He won the Whiting Award in 2013. Morgan is also an editor at 3 Quarks Daily, and a winner of a Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers grant. A book of Morgan’s selected essays can be found here. He can be reached at morganmeis@gmail.com.
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If you are lucky, and if you happen to be on the Dutch shore of the North Sea, and if it is a windy day (a not-unusual occurrence), you just might see a new sort of creature walking down the beach. This creature will be walking in fits and starts, activated by gusts of wind, animated in one part of its “body” and then another. Atop the creature, you will see sheets of fabric that look like sails of a small ship. Upon closer inspection, you’ll notice that the rest of the creature is made entirely of plastic tubing, what’s known as PVC. PVC stands for “polyvinyl chloride.” The white plastic tubing you’ve seen in thousands of bathrooms and kitchens is PVC. Upon even closer inspection, you’ll notice that the creature is made of PVC and nothing else. You’ll ponder that for a moment. Nothing but PVC. How does it move, then? Isn’t there a motor somewhere? Aren’t there electronics on the inside telling the creature when and how to move? You’ll become shocked and disoriented by the realization that the creature isn’t controlled from anywhere else or by anyone else. It is simply walking of its own accord, having a little stroll on a windy day along the beaches of the North Sea, as if it were alive.
More… “Still Alive”

Morgan Meis has a PhD in Philosophy and is a founding member of Flux Factory, an arts collective in New York. He has written for n+1, The Believer, Harper’s Magazine, and The Virginia Quarterly Review. He won the Whiting Award in 2013. Morgan is also an editor at 3 Quarks Daily, and a winner of a Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers grant. A book of Morgan’s selected essays can be found here. He can be reached at morganmeis@gmail.com.
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On a very clear day, blue sky, bright, bright sunlight, you’ll spy an amazing cloud. It is structured like a column. It is dense and white and billows upward, touching the outer limits of the firmament, seemingly. Probably it goes up only a few hundred feet. But the verticality of the cloud is what makes it so inspiring. Just going right up there. Up into the heavens over semi-rural Pennsylvania.

How did this cloud get here, in such an otherwise empty, blue sky? It is a miracle. More… “Updike Country”

Morgan Meis has a PhD in Philosophy and is a founding member of Flux Factory, an arts collective in New York. He has written for n+1, The Believer, Harper’s Magazine, and The Virginia Quarterly Review. He won the Whiting Award in 2013. Morgan is also an editor at 3 Quarks Daily, and a winner of a Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers grant. A book of Morgan’s selected essays can be found here. He can be reached at morganmeis@gmail.com.
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The highway from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Highway 1, looks like any other highway in the world. This fact alone is disconcerting. The road to Jerusalem should be special. Somewhere deep down I suppose I wanted it to be a dirt road, a cobblestone road, anything but a normal highway. I even fantasized that the ascent from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem would not happen by means of a road at all. It would just happen. In reality, it is a highway. A highway filled with too many cars and bastard truck drivers probing the limits of vehicular stability and good sense.

About two thirds of the way up to Jerusalem, however, an interesting and unusual sight does present itself. It is the sight of abandoned vehicles along the side of the road. They aren’t normal vehicles, passenger cars or trucks. The vehicles are painted in the telltale green that only gets slapped on things owned by the military. You don’t get much time to inspect these military vehicles as you drive by on the highway. It is hard to guess their purpose, though it looks like they’ve been there for a while, remnants from something that happened in the first half of the 20th century.
More… “The Road to Jerusalem”

Morgan Meis has a PhD in Philosophy and is a founding member of Flux Factory, an arts collective in New York. He has written for n+1, The Believer, Harper’s Magazine, and The Virginia Quarterly Review. He won the Whiting Award in 2013. Morgan is also an editor at 3 Quarks Daily, and a winner of a Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers grant. A book of Morgan’s selected essays can be found here. He can be reached at morganmeis@gmail.com.
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In a typical brain-spasm of deep insight, James Wood once wrote that V.S. Naipaul “is a writer who has a conservative vision but radical eyesight.” This, in an essay for The New Yorker a few years ago. The World Is What It Is: The Authorized Biography of V. S. Naipaul by Patrick French had just come out. The literary world was agog. Naipaul, never shy to air controversial opinions or disreputable thoughts, had given his biographer total access to his private life. This created some surprises. One surprise was a revelation about Naipaul’s affair with an Argentinian woman in the early 1970s. Here’s how George Packer described the episode in his review of the biography for The New York Times:

Naipaul and Margaret began an affair that set free all of his desires and fantasies. When his editor and friend Diana Athill scolded him, he replied, “I am having carnal pleasure for the first time in my life, are you saying I must give it up?” Carnal pleasure meant violence — in fact it was inextricable from beating Margaret up, degrading her in bed, turning the great man’s penis into an object of worship. How do we know these things? Because Naipaul tells them to his authorized biographer. “I was very violent with her for two days with my hand; my hand began to hurt. . . . She didn’t mind it at all. She thought of it in terms of my passion for her. Her face was bad. She couldn’t appear really in public. My hand was swollen. I was utterly helpless. I have enormous sympathy for people who do strange things out of passion.”

Reading French’s biography, some praised Naipaul’s honesty. Others felt disgust. It has always been so with Naipaul. He splits opinions, drives a wedge into what might otherwise be polite literary conversations. Nearly everyone who has read Naipaul has strong feelings about him. No side ever fully wins the debate. The Naipaul Question has been a live one for more than forty years.
More… “The Naipaul Question”

Morgan Meis has a PhD in Philosophy and is a founding member of Flux Factory, an arts collective in New York. He has written for n+1, The Believer, Harper’s Magazine, and The Virginia Quarterly Review. He won the Whiting Award in 2013. Morgan is also an editor at 3 Quarks Daily, and a winner of a Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers grant. A book of Morgan’s selected essays can be found here. He can be reached at morganmeis@gmail.com.
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More than forty years ago, on the eighth floor of an auditorium in Dayton’s department store in Minneapolis, the artist Red Grooms created a unique installation. He called it The Discount Store (1970). The work was commissioned by the Walker Art Center, which was still in the process of building its now-famous permanent home in Minneapolis. With great foresight, The Walker Center also commissioned a documentary film (by Al Kraning) on Grooms’ project. Watching the film gives some idea of what it must have been like to experience the artwork.

Grooms constructed The Discount Store after visiting a Target Discount store in Crystal, MN. He created huge, ten-foot tall wooden cut-out figures to represent the various costumers in the store. He painted the walls to look like aisles filled with an abundance of cheap goods — everything from toys, to soap, to guns (Target used to sell guns… More…

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El Greco is confusing. He is one of the few universally acknowledged great artists of history who does not fit into any of the established art movements or categories. Given his time period (late 16th – early 17th centuries), his art should fit into the early Baroque. But it does not. One characteristic of all the artists we now call Baroque is a fidelity to the physical presence of bodies. Think of Caravaggio’s light-splashed naturalism, the glow on the cheeks of the young boy-models that he dressed up in all manner of costumes. Or think of Rubens’ fleshy obsession with the might and heft of the human form, the huge canvases like giant meat towers made of bodies laboring at some common task.

El Greco, by contrast, painted unnatural bodies. They aren’t the sorts of bodies that exist in this, our world. El Greco’s bodies are longer and stretchier than those we encounter in daily life. He portrayed the human form as you might see it in a vision or a mystical trance. He looked at painting, it would seem, in the same way that his contemporary — the great mystic Saint Theresa of Ávila — looked at prayer. They were both seeking spiritual ecstasy.
More… “The Cretan Paradox”

Morgan Meis has a PhD in Philosophy and is a founding member of Flux Factory, an arts collective in New York. He has written for n+1, The Believer, Harper’s Magazine, and The Virginia Quarterly Review. He won the Whiting Award in 2013. Morgan is also an editor at 3 Quarks Daily, and a winner of a Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers grant. A book of Morgan’s selected essays can be found here. He can be reached at morganmeis@gmail.com.
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One day in the summer of 1896, Maxim Gorky’s mind was blown. Gorky was attending a Russian fair and had gone to visit an exhibit by a couple of Frenchmen known as the Lumiére Brothers. Sitting in a darkened room, Gorky saw what seemed to him a photograph of the streets of Paris projected onto a large screen. It was a nice photograph, but Gorky was not particularly impressed. He’d seen plenty of photographs before. Then the damn thing began to flicker and come to life. This was something new.

Gorky watched what was happening on the screen in deepening amazement. He wrote about the experience a couple of days later:

Carriages coming from somewhere in the perspective of the picture are moving straight at you, into the darkness in which you sit; somewhere from afar people appear and loom larger as they come closer to you; in the foreground… More…

You can smell the photographs of Larry Sultan. My wife noticed this before I did. She is a Western person (she grew up in Las Vegas). That’s to say, she’s a desert person, as am I (Los Angeles). So it makes sense that she could smell Sultan’s pictures. Most of the photographs of Larry Sultan (currently on display at LACMA’s retrospective Larry Sultan: Here and Home) are thick with the San Fernando Valley in North Los Angeles, where Sultan grew up.

Larry Sultan: Here and Home” at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Through March 22.

The San Fernando Valley, otherwise known to Angelinos simply as “The Valley,” is Ground Zero for West Coast suburbia. There are tract homes, model housing developments, vast stretches of concrete highway stretching out into the horizon. But if you look… More…