Monday, March 2, 2009

Brooklyn in Winter

A recent trip to Williamsburgh and Dumbo to see some galleries ended up on Front Street, which can be a little too delightful in summer, now that it is being so developed. On this frigid winter day, just the right balance was struck among people in the street, things to see, and the scale of the Manhattan Bridge overhead, looming like a movie set.

The nicest part of the day was walking into Susan Bee's "Eye of the Storm" exhibition and finding Susan there! Her new paintings (see example above) have moved into a new area. Her familiar wavy seas and sexy femmes fatales are still there, but there are also starker areas, large unmodulated shapes that reminded me of Al Held's blunt, brightly colored, geometric paintings from the early 1960s. Susan pointed out that she is a sucker for clouds and paints them differently in almost every painting. It was true.

On Sunday there was a gathering for a new publication: A Tribute to Emma Bee Bernstein (1985-2008). This is a remarkable book by and about a remarkable young woman, who left us way too soon. The book has a striking cover by Susan, preface by Johanna Drucker, intro by Emma, interview w/ Susan by Emma & Nona Willis Aronowitz, a memoir about Emma by Susan, interview w/ Marjorie Perloff by Emma and Nona, postscript by Marjorie, text on Emma's poetry by Nona, an editor's note, several collages by Susan, and photos by and of Emma.

Johanna Drucker, in her introduction writes of Emma's writing, "Sometimes she shows a casual disregard for disciplining her large, raw talent. At moments she seems content to let it rip, to let the language and associations zigzag from marker to milepost while she asks, over and over agian, what does it mean to be a feminist in and for her generatioin? In other passages she feels inhibited by the tensions betwen academic language and its critical edge and the need to break through those conventions and speak in the vernacular. In other places, the text is tightly crafted, well-groomed and finished. The variation is as scenic as the terrain through which she moves..."

This is one of my favorite parts of Emma's text: "Gaze out the window. Notice the velvet black cows grazing on the ochre corn fields of Nebraska, snow capping the icy blue grand Tetons of Wyoming. Watch the fluorescent glow of fuchsia motel signs click off in the gray dawn, while sipping your complimentary coffee. Pull over to gawk at swirls of evergreen trees dipped in the brightest autumn fues, frosted with Montana mist."

But of course that is only the setting for richer quests, of a woman as woman and woman as part of a generation. Her perceptions on her era are acute. When she writes that "college graduates on the corporate career track replace spiritual pilgrimages to India with squeezing a Yoga class into a busy schedule, morning bong rips with after-work cocktails, moccasins with Manolos," you think have the picture. But she pulls you up short: "But we are not materialistic or apathetic. We are deeply self-aware and apocalyptic. Think Radiohead rather than Ravi Shankar..."

From Belladonna's Elders Series; available through Small Press Distribution ( or from Belladonna (

1 comment:

Jeffrey Cyphers Wright said...

Nice account. Great quotes from a talent who left us far too soon.