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Mysteries of the Rectangle: Essays on Painting

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 17, 2006

    Hustvedt Gives the Paintings Back to Us

    Siri Hustvedt is a fine writer and an even finer essayist. She is able to communicate volumes of historical and observational information while reassuring the reader that what she is sharing is not THE way of approaching her subject, but rather merely HER musings about art and the concept of the meaning of art. It is a relaxing manner of writing, allowing the reader to learn from her inquiries and research, yet encouraging the reader to personally move in front of a painting and pause long enough to experience that frozen moment in time surrounded safely by a 'Rectangle' of frame, and discover the personal mysteries that travel from the eye to the mind and heart. After a typically personal declaration of an introduction that boldly suggests that each of us is as fair a judge of art as she or as art historians, Hustvedt sets out to explore different artists and share her own confrontations with their art, and in doing so she describes in the most sincere manner a means of art appreciation for the beginner to the devotee. Beginning with a student exposure to a small painting, 'The Tempest' by Giorgione, Hustvedt writes about how memory plays a role in the way we respond to art. From there she examines her own reaction to Vermeer's 'Woman with a Pearl Necklace', a painting that for years has befuddled art historians. But in this encounter with the Vermeer, Hustvedt finds a recreation of the Annunciation and compares Vermeer's mysterious painting about the concept of light from some special place announcing the otherworldly pregnancy of a young girl. It is stunning writing. Goya has long drawn Hustvedt's attention, especially to the late work 'Los Caprichos' which she examines in detail, sharing her own interpretation about the influence of Goya's health: Goya probably suffered from Meniere's disease - inner ear dysfunction causing tinnitus, dizziness, vomiting, vertigo, abnormal eye movements, and deafness. But she does not assign the total impact of 'Los Caprichos' to that sickness. Instead she languishes about Goya's response to the Church, to delusions and illogical monsters, to bizarre depictions of bodily functions, and yet each of these aspects pulsates positively within the series that makes the set of etchings one of the great art works of history. Hustvedt also discusses the still life paintings through history to the present, including a brilliant essay on Morandi and one on Joan Mitchell, and closes her set of art lessons/aids with a discussion of Gerhard Richter. Each of these extended essays are accompanied by color art reproductions of the works discussed and the design of the book is an artwork in and of itself. As evidence of Siri Hustvedt's dignity this book includes a Colophon that attributes the design and typography of the volume to William Drental and Don Whelan of Winterhouse Studios, Falls Village, Connecticut. It is a quiet homage to the art of book making that is entirely in keeping with the first class presentation of this beautiful and important book. Highly Recommended. Grady Harp

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