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Ray Pride

By Ray Pride

A piece on the passing of critical eras and more on Manny Farber [UPDATED.]

Mannyshow208.jpgA second consideration of the work of Manny Farber is my column this week at Newcity: “His collage of language is as restive and fidgety as the work of an artist like Rauschenberg: unexpected clashes of unpredictable beauty. His language is exact and striking: crunch and bite with a rasp like bones rubbed together. Farber, who first and foremost considered himself a painter, drew equally from high art and pop forms like boxing and jazz and comic strips, with a style that was eclectic, wide-eyed, gruff, grounded, hardly flighty, seldom grandiloquent, certainly not badinage, not at all jeremiad. But still there’s certainty in the music of his sentences. Farber’s prose has a ruthlessness and precision that bespeaks hours bare-fist punching at the Royal portable and then slashing slivers with scissors and basting with paste an ever-more accomplished cut-up. He conceded that his effects are like the layering and smearing and reworking of layers of paint, that he is “unable to write anything at all without extraordinary amounts of rewriting.”” Also, former Farber teaching assistant Carrie Rickey recollects. “With his Mojave of a forehead and cactus-flower ears, Manny (I can call him that: he was my teacher, I was his teaching assistant) resembled a cross between Walter Matthau and Elmer Fudd and was as engaging as both. A onetime football player nicknamed “snake hips” for the way he eluded tackles, the guy born in the Arizona bordertown of Douglas attended Berkeley High (two years ahead of Pauline Kael), the University of California and Stanford before making his way East… So many Manecdotes, as his teaching assistants used to call Manny stories. Here’s one. The place: New York. The time: 1980. I had taken Manny to a screening of a limp Australian film at the Rizzoli Screening Room on Fifth Avenue. In search of dinner, we strolled down the avenue, past Sak’s and its fabled windows. As we talked about criticism (and how the Australian film defied it) Manny did not fail to notice the mannequins and the backdrops. Shoulder-padded women’s clothes with inverted-pyramid silhouettes (like Russian-modernist geometry) in front of what looked like Kenneth Noland striped paintings, retro man-in-the-grey-flannel suit menswear in front of Frank Stella-like chevrons. He stopped and said, “You know, I lived through Russian constructivism, ’50s conservatism and ’60s abstraction sequentially. Now I’m reliving it all at once.” He paused, cradling forehead in hand. “Say,” he asked, “Did I just define postmodernism?” Plus: Eric Gelbert in a convincing description of Farber’s paintings (which seems to be missing its JPEGs). But: here’s a reproduction of one of Farber’s Budd Boetticher paintings. Plus: a trove of unpublished Farber, consisting of over 100 pages of photocopies of a Donald Phelps’ “For Now” magazine. [H/t Jonathan Rosenbaum.] [More of my piece here.]

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