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Stories by W.S. Di Piero

The Queen and her subjects

I haven’t owned a camera for 30 years and don’t yet have a smartphone. I’ve been writing about photography for 30 years, and when I was very young it shaped my sensibility in ways I’m ...

Portable Paintings

“Small paintings whisper to you. They tell a secret to you and you only.”

One of the great movie gangsters was also a smart, discriminating art collector. As Rico Bandello in Little Caesar (“Mother of Mercy, is this the end of Rico?”), Edward G. Robinson, born Emmanuel Goldenberg in ...

Street jam

Balboa Park’s got Women, War, and Industry and Staking Claim: A California Invitational.

In a dark room

The photography of Abelardo Morell

Abelardo Morell has used his house as his camera.

In from the cold

Diebenkorn wasn’t interested in psychological-erotic dynamics.

Richard Diebenkorn: The Berkeley Years 1953–1956, on view at the de Young Museum until September 29, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, San Francisco. 415-750-3600; deyoung.famsf.org Beyond Belief: 100 years of the Spiritual in Modern Art, ...

The image-maker

Fresh-faced Marilyn and Hitler’s buddy, Krupp.

Arnold Newman: Masterclass, on view at the San Diego Museum of Art until September 8. 1450 El Prado, Balboa Park. 619-232-7931; sdmart.org Mirrors were scarce in most mid-19th-century houses. Even by the 1840s, when a ...

The Graces

W.S. Di Piero proves photography is authentic fine art.

Mute testimony

Pictures of the Year International, on view at the Museum of Photographic Arts until September 22. 1649 El Prado, Balboa Park, 619-238-7559; mopa.org In Kinsasha, a troubled, impoverished city in the Democratic Republic of Congo, ...

Piranesi’s hoard of haunted spaces

The Arts of Piranesi, on view at the San Diego Museum of Art until July 7. 1450 El Prado, Balboa Park, 619-232-7931; sdmart.org You can’t always get what you want, and you can’t always determine ...

Strike-meister Bill Traylor

Bill Traylor: Drawings from the Collections of the High Museum of Art and the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, on view at the Mingei International Museum until May 12. 1439 El Prado, Balboa Park. 619-239-0003; ...

Thing itself

Jessica Lange: unseen, is on view at the Museum of Photographic Arts until May 19, 1649 El Prado, San Diego, 619-238-7559; mopa.org Jessica Lange and Jeff Bridges have two things in common, photography and King ...

The Caravaggio effect

Consider two decapitations

Caravaggio and His Legacy, on view at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art until February 10. 5905 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles. 323-857-6000; lacma.org In his 20s, in Rome, in the first decade of the ...

Mildly Hallucinated

Disturbing strangeness at the Museum of Photographic Arts.

Eavesdropper

I’ve been listening to the jazz pianist Dave McKenna, who died in 2008. He was a lyrical swing artist with some of Bill Evans’s melancholy, though he wasn’t as inventive as Evans and didn’t have ...

The Racial Memory of John Valadez

When I saw Ridley Scott’s film Prometheus, I was reminded that our best filmmakers are now nearly sole proprietors of the visionary mood. Scott’s movie, with its spectral holographic conjurings of mythic ancestors spiraling through ...

Pictorial Juice

While leafing through my latest issue of Vanity Fair, I sometimes think that for fashion models and celebrities the body is something they wear, as most of us wear a cocktail dress or tux. Their ...

Remnants of the Sun and Moon

D.H. Lawrence believed that the earth and sky gods are still with us, active in what he called our “blood consciousness,” but have been repressed by Christian “education.” In his novel The Plumed Serpent, two ...

Marfa Moments

Heavy metal art.

Author W.S. Di Piero stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Randy Quaid when the actor was on the lam. This was in Marfa, TX, where Di Piero stuck around to check out the work of Donald Judd.

Buddhas in Caves

Jewels signify the power of wisdom to dispel bad thinking, suffering, and ignorance.

Sweet, unbroken rhythm at the San Diego Museum of Art.

More Photographs Than Bricks

I will never develop a taste for the way most pictorialist imagery decorporealizes the body, vaporizing flesh and bone.

Next time you see a Ken Burns documentary, think of Lou Stoumen. It was Stoumen who invented a track that allowed a camera to slowly pan up and down while zooming in and out of ...

Cuddly Carrion

“Those who are not with us will be eaten by vultures.”

Art exhibitions serve an especially useful purpose if they revise our assumptions and rewrite established narratives, correcting for new information, shifting valuations, fresh polemical agendas, and the mysteries of shared taste. Without a foundational intellectual ...

Illuminations

“Color is the structural material I use to build the forms I am interested in.”

While sampling one of the “immersive environments” in Phenomenal: California Light, Space, Surface, currently at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, I suffered a mild panic attack, but don’t let that keep you away. ...

Big Black Sun

Art criticizes everything, especially the way art itself frames reality.

I know people who say they’re from the ’60s as some people say they’re from Paris or New York. It’s not descriptive, it’s declarative, proudly (or smugly) so, and vaguely definitive of their politics. I ...

I Gotta Use Words When I Talk to You

You get caught up in the nebular gas pulsing from an “e” or the windswept blur of an “o.”

Born in 1960, the African-American artist Glenn Ligon grew up in housing projects in the Bronx but attended the privileged, mostly white Walden School in Manhattan, a one-hour commute each way. Later, after majoring in ...

The Visceral Surge of Spanish Art

The most memorable pictures often entail misbehavior.

The plummy walls of the San Diego Museum of Art give the exhibition they surround, From El Greco to Dalí, a velvet jewel-case warmth. If the rooms were full of Goya’s ferocious Caprichos or Disasters ...

Human Passing

We’re cognizant of but normally don’t heed the fact that we’re hostages of fortune. I sometimes think photography was invented as a memory aid to press upon us that unhappy fact. The first batch of ...

Home Is Where the Art Is

When the American furniture manufacturer Gustav Stickley returned from a trip to England in 1897, he brought back an idea promulgated by John Ruskin (social reformer, connoisseur, premier art critic of his day) and William ...

If You Don't Dig

A Medusa has moved into my neighborhood. I live in San Francisco, three blocks from Haight Street. I don’t go down there much because it’s sordid with shoe stores, out-of-towners, homeless folk, and all-purpose muckiness. ...

Welder at Work

Some clichés smell okay, others stink. Whenever I hear a California enthusiast hyperventilating about how the West Coast is culturally “cutting edge” and so “out there,” I remember that the last time David Smith (the ...

The Way We Were

The atrium at the Museum of Photographic Arts offers an essay on what we thought we were as a people during the ’50s and ’60s. Constellated images by several photographers tell us that, before anything ...

Flaunt It: Racy Women from Regal Times at SDMA

As a warm-up before you see the splashy Gainsborough exhibition running at the San Diego Museum of Art, make a pass at Fragonard’s late 1770s Blindman’s Buff in the Timken. In a vaguely bucolic setting, ...

Woodwork by Hodgkin

I’m sitting on a bench in the San Diego Museum of Art, which has just opened an exhibition by the British painter Howard Hodgkin. Pretty quiet here, only four other warm bodies, one of them ...

Floating World

When in 1853 Admiral Perry and what the Japanese called his “black fleet” (the ships were painted black and their coal-stoked engines puffed black smoke) sailed into Yokohoma Harbor, he couldn’t have known he’d be ...

Double Vision

When Henry Luce launched LIFE magazine in 1936, he was on a storytelling mission. He said he wanted to edit photographs “into a coherent story and harness the main stream of optical consciousness.” He wanted ...

The Lush Life of Toulouse-Lautrec

Don’t get the wrong idea. I don’t frequent adult entertainment establishments. Not anymore. But whenever I drive from the airport to Balboa Park, while going up Laurel I sometimes give a friendly nod to Pure ...

Rock photography at the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park

Not being a musician or performer, I have no idea what it’s like to be in a life that lurches from on-the-road lulls between gigs to the raw, over-the-top energy of performance. Like most of ...

Hero Worship

We usually think of the Greek gods as figures, as human embodiments, but to the Greek mind the gods were also, above all, states or conditions of being. Poseidon is god of the sea, yes, ...

States of Mind

Photography is a great dumping ground of sentimental clichés. Lovebirds, autumn leaves, maternity-ward prune-faces, sublime mountain streams, birthday antics... Fill in the list. Grand illusion-maker that it is, and connoisseur of the uncanny, photography is ...

Poet of Joy

By the 1880s, Renoir was well established and well to do. He’d already fought what he called les combats de l’impressionisme and triumphed as the impressionist with the most glamorous palette, the sunniest disposition, and ...

See For Yourself

Tough times, tightened belts, tighter budgets — from households and big industry to small businesses and major museums. No surprise that in a time of unstable markets, museums everywhere — threatened by leaner endowments, stiffer ...

Rembrandt All Over

In the late 1640s and 1650s, the Netherlands’ prosperous Golden Age dimmed. Hundreds of businesses failed, and a major recession enfeebled the entire society. Even Rembrandt, renowned and rich, hit a wall, partly of his ...

Claiming Space

A few years ago, when the Museum of Contemporary Art downtown converted the Santa Fe Depot’s old baggage-claim area, it did what museums all over the country have been doing in recent years, from remote, ...

Shooting the Moon

One of Ansel Adams’s most familiar and famous images, Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, is the photographic equivalent of Aaron Copeland’s orchestral suite Appalachian Spring, John Ford’s movie Stagecoach, or Edward Hopper’s painting of a corner ...

Considered Beautiful

In 1810, a black Khoisan woman from South Africa named (by her slave-master) Saartjie Baartman was brought to London and became an entertainment sensation. Kept in a cage, she was exhibited seminude in sideshows and ...

How Many Words Is a Picture Worth?

Photographs and words have been doing their rather stiff box-step dance since the beginning. In the 1840s, Henry Fox Talbot, inventor of the negative-to-positive process, published The Pencil of Nature, a collection of photographs accompanied ...

Vaporous Volumes

Asilk thread seams together the Irish poet William Butler Yeats, the tarot, feminism, and Alfred Stieglitz, the photographer whose impresario activities in the early 20th Century promoted American modernism and the careers of Charles Demuth, ...

The Ghost Brought Inside the Flesh

I’ve seen every cut of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, and yet when I watched his new-absolutely-last-I-promise director’s cut, I’d never felt so pierced by the importance of photographs in the movie. The Terrell Corporation manufactures ...

Oversoul

When the painter Asher Durand first journeyed to New York as a teenager in 1817, from his rural home in Essex County, New Jersey, the city was a knockabout place of 10,000 souls — without ...

Hell-Bent Voracity

Why is it that the most intimate, mysterious performance photographs are of jazz musicians? Maybe because two things get exposed at once: the expressiveness of the body (Mingus knitting his brow, Charlie Parker sweating, Roy ...

Leica Spirit

During off hours while working as a clerk at the Budapest stock exchange before the outbreak of the Great War, the young André Kertész took photographs and began to nurse ambitions about making it his ...