Staff Book Reviewer Spencer Dew is the author of the short story collection Songs of Insurgency (Vagabond Press, 2008), Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres (Another New Calligraphy, 2010), and the critical study Learning for Revolution: The Work of Kathy Acker (San Diego State University Press, forthcoming 2011). Dew is also a regular reviewer for Rain Taxi Review of Books. His Web site is spencerdew.com.
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“My name is Mary and Mary is my museum,” says a voice that is not unassociated with Mary Cassatt and which, in any case, represents a kind of curatorial presence here, in this enthralling assortment of stories, each connected to a “Color Plate” or memory of an image from art history, works by Manet and Degas and Toulouse-Latrec and Cassatt herself. The collection, on one level, seems to function, though Cassatt, as “stories that matter to her, stories unworried about why the gold gears of their clockwork mesh. Let them mesh lovely, she thinks.”
These gears that mesh are not textual translations of the paintings to which they are coupled, though each piece begins with a brief italicized musing on the picture itself before launching off on its own unique path, in some way inspired by the theme or tone or emotional effect of the painting. “At the Moulin Rouge,” for instance, leads to a story of American diners and Halloween deaths; also by Toulouse-Latrec, “The Laundress” is paired, here, with a story of a girl at a Laundromat who has “just invested in good panties. No Hanes Her Way. No Costco multi-pack. These panties she’d invested in were brightly colored, words such as ‘cherry’ an ‘organic’ were embroidered on the crotch; these panties were thongs, low rise, bikini-style, and so on and so forth.”
“All her new panties tumbled in the dryer, bright lights of silk and cotton,” and we have a story acknowledging the gifts and powers of painting while resolutely rooted in narrative, language, sound, the implied story and the articulated idea. Golaski is concerned, as the paintings he studies are concerned, with color, with wonder, with the awe-struck perception and imaginary flights of childhood. And—to return to those steaming moist panties flung against the glass—with the erotics of looking, the sheer sensuality, whether of the human body glimpsed in an intimate moment or the objects of our world seen in their ineluctable physicality. “All the objects in the studio shine: glass, porcelain, metal, oysters, glass, the oily surface of a lemon, pale blue china, lead, and velvet,” Golaski writes, introducing one so-called “still life,” which, while technically static on the canvas still “speaks movement.” What’s true for a tray of fresh-baked pizza nuggets or paper ballerinas arranged inside a shadowbox is true, too, for a row of whores hefting their skirts for medical inspection. Not that women, in Golaski’s gaze, become objects, but, in his terms, they become a “source” (not a “muse”), thus, Toulouse-Latrec’s “Woman Fixing Her Stocking” segues into a revelry on a girl changing out of her high school uniform; an image is caressingly described, the contemplated. An epiphany is gestured toward in words. As another narrative voice declares, “My beloved husband is a voyeur. A marriage vow: I must become a voyeur also.” “This isn’t ogling,” what Golaski does, but an ecstasy of the visual.
The prime subjects for many of the works in this virtual gallery are light itself, color, the medium of paint. Golaski explores these, as well. In one story, a woman at the opera studies a shadow on the wall, “silver like photo-silver, a silver gelatin print,” and while “When she watched the rectangle on the wall to her left, she was not watching the opera per se” she is entranced by something as lush, as compelling. It is with such subtleties that Golaski most impresses; while he’s gorgeous on “the allure of the accident” or those undergarments cycling around, he’s even stronger on those unpicturable things: the “heavy nostalgia” of watching discarded videocassettes with a loved one, or, even more, those post-coital feelings, as in a tremendous scene where a man’s wife lies on her back and “pictures a glass jar, a large jar ... emerging from her ribs, just below her breasts.” But this book is worth buying simply for the scene, in response to Cassatt’s “Five O’Clock Tea,” where two ten-year-old not-quite friends experience, together, something so marvelous, so moving....
“I despised conventional art,” the Cassatt-esque voice declares at one point, “I began to live.” Golaski, likewise, pushes into innovation, shaping a new form with discipline and spark. The result is a remarkable gallery, the sort of museum that fills you with the need to hide inside its corridors at closing, only to have more time, alone, through the night, to wander its halls, ponder its wonders.
Official Adam Golaski Web Site
Official Rose Metal Press Web Site