Let’s See

By PETER SCHJELDAHL

For years now, New Yorker readers have had the chance to read Peter Schjeldahl?s writings on exhibits of the well-known art greats — Alexander Calder, Dan Flavin, Paul Gaugin — as well as pondering his introductions to a shrewdly picked and eclectic array of contemporary artists like Vija Celimins, John Currin, and Mona Hatoum. In each of his pieces Schjeldahl has poked, prodded, situated, and editorialized, all in the service of struggling to articulate visceral responses to beauty. His profiles are compact, muscular, jaunty, knowledgeable. He?s a master of helping us see the nuance in canvases or sculptures or performance art, and his writing about artists is both personal and astute. ?Gaugin,? he notes darkly ?was not nice.? Now he?s produced a gallery full of his own thinking: a display of Schjedahls, even, and it?s a wonderful whirlwind tour, not only through worlds of art and artistic eras but also through the mind of a man who has spent his lifetime in search of access to the beautiful. Schjedahl writes first and foremost ?in praise of contradictory effects that baffle our rational minds.? He wants art to startle and hijack us out of daily life and into receptive, awe-filled submission. Because of this, his book is full of delicious one-liners that tickle the reader?s mind into synasethetic delight: Of the moody artist David Caspar Friedrich, Shjeldahl writes ?One doesn?t so much look at a Friedrich, as inhale it, like nicotine.? Inhale away. Tour Scheldahl?s personal gallery — and emerge expanded, enlightened, caressed, and renewed.