At the Café Central

Andrew Forge

  • First Diasporist Manifesto by R.B. Kitaj
    Thames and Hudson, 128 pp, £7.95, May 1989, ISBN 0 500 27543 2
  • Reported Sightings: Art Chronicles, 1957-1987 by John Ashbery, edited by David Bergman
    Carcanet, 417 pp, £25.00, February 1990, ISBN 0 85635 807 X

For as long as he has been exhibiting Kitaj has been publishing commentary on his pictures. With him the two activities interlock, coming closer to the idea of the calligram that Foucault played with in his essay on Magritte than to anything that we usually expect from artists’ statements, almost always touched as they are with bravado in the face of the incompatibility of words and pictures. The calligram ‘sets the most perfect trap ... It guarantees capture, as neither discourse alone nor a pure drawing could do.’ So Kitaj has made as if to trap us in his meanings – except that his continual revisions and re interpretations promise escape. Five years ago he wrote that he had become ‘an interested Jew’. This was in the catalogue that announced a group of pictures he called a Jewish Passion. He wrote of the chimney form that many of them contained as ‘my own very primitive attempt at an equivalent symbol, like the cross’.

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