They are among the most mysterious paintings. But it is very hard to say why. Nothing much happens in the paintings. People engage in simple tasks. A man and a woman sit at a table and speak. A woman smiles. A woman reads a letter. A girl looks at us over her left shoulder. A woman sews. A woman pours some milk out of a jug. That’s it. One task, one episode, one moment in each painting.

Vermeer used various painterly tricks to make these moments — these mundane tasks — look special. He expended a great deal of time and energy capturing the effects of light. He studied the way light comes in through a window, bathing a room. He seems to have painted most of his pictures in one or two rooms in his own home. He knew that light well. He analyzed that light, meditated on it…. More…

What is so American about Edward Hopper?

This is the question I pondered at this huge retrospective of his work in the heart of Paris. There seems to be a Hopper retrospective ever few years or so in the United States. His images have become so familiar, so iconic in their simple compositions and their isolated characters sitting silently in public and private spaces. His most famous painting, “Nighthawks” (1942), has been reproduced and caricatured so often you are surprised when you actually stand in front of it, the dramatic contrasting light between the diner’s inner, yellow hues and the shadowy street never match a reproduction. The painting practically glows from the interior outward, the light indistinct in source. It seems as if the whole canvas must be illuminated from behind. “Nighthawks,” like many of his works of the era, have become iconic of the mid-century era, their compositions inspiring… More…

Back in June, when the sun was rising at 4:30 a.m. and setting after I went to sleep, I was having a little solstice dinner. It didn’t really feel like the summer solstice, even with the sun trying to rile you from bed at ungodly hours. Summer in Berlin is temperate and wet. There’s only one week or so that blazes through and leaves you gasping on your kitchen tile floor, or — like one pregnant woman in Germany — losing your shit on the un-air conditioned public train, taking off your shoe, and using it to pound through the window. But that never happens until mid-July. In June, you’re still wearing your leather jacket and you are able to do things like make a roast for the solstice and drink a Spanish red. And because there the sun feels vague rather than relentlessly mutating your skin cells into pre-cancerous… More…

 

Olafur Eliasson likes light. He also likes color. He likes to combine light and color and then sometimes he likes darkness, the absence of light. The first room I walked into at his major MoMA/P.S.1 exhibit has a spinning prism in the middle. It throws colored strips of light onto the white walls, and when people walk around the room they too become colored. They also create black shadows on the walls. It turns out that people like to see themselves in different colors and that they also like to see their own shadows. They delight in it, really. I guess we’ve always known that. But Eliasson confirms the fact. People run around the room giggling and they take pictures constantly with phones, with digital cameras. Down the hall, an oval room changes color while, again, all the… More…