The curator, especially the curator of contemporary art, is a young figure in art history; we critics have thousands of years on them. Aristocrats, physicians, and clergymen proudly oversaw the connoisseurship and display of their own Wunderkammern in the early modern period, while at the Louvre, the first of the national museums established in the late eighteenth century, the décorateurs who hung paintings and installed sculptures were artists themselves. Audiences discovered new painting and sculpture at artist-juried exhibitions such as the Salon in Paris, and later at commercial art galleries; braver souls might first see the modernist avant-gardes in exhibitions artists organized on their own.
Only in the middle of the twentieth century did the curated exhibition take over from the salon, the dealership, and the independent show as the principal launch pad of contemporary art. In fits and starts, the professional curator arrogated responsibilities once held by the artist, the collector, the historian, or indeed the critic, becoming the figure who assigned meaning and importance to new art: someone the art historian Bruce Altshuler has called “the curator as creator.” Soon after, the curator stepped beyond the single museum or institution to become a roving organizer and analyst of contemporary art.
Yet no one could read Mizumura for long without realizing that her lament over her “unhappy” fate as a Japanese writer is at most half-serious. She may feel indignant on behalf of the Japanese language—and other national languages that she fears are being eclipsed by English—but she was never tempted to become a writer in English herself. On the contrary: in her polemical nonfiction work The Fall of Language in the Age of English, a best seller in Japan when it appeared in 2008, she writes that even though she lived in the US for twenty years, “I never felt comfortable with either American life or the English language.” Studying French, she says, was a way of parrying the English that surrounded her. She remained “the prisoner of an intense longing for home,” and that home always remained Japan: she was an exile, not an immigrant.
This experience lies at the center of the myth that Mizumura, like many writers, has constructed about her life and calling. As she says, “The kind of life I lived so affects everything about me that I can scarcely write a word without addressing it.” Indeed, A True Novel, a work of fiction that appeared in Japan in 2002 and in English translation in 2013, opens with an ostensibly autobiographical section in which we meet Minae, a Japanese teenager living unhappily on Long Island: “How could anyone allow himself to leave Japan, with all the neon delights of the Ginza and the fastest train in the world—a country in every way as good as America?” she wonders.
I had a fear when I started out that people would know I was Stephen King’s son, so I put on a mask and pretended I was someone else. But the stories always told the truth, the true truth. I think good stories always do. The stories I’ve written are all the inevitable product of their creative DNA: Bradbury and Block, Savini and Spielberg, Romero and Fango, Stan Lee and C.S. Lewis, and most of all, Tabitha and Stephen King.
The unhappy creator finds himself in the shadow of other, bigger artists and resents it. But if you’re lucky—and as I’ve already said, I’ve had more than my fair share of luck, and please God, let it hold—those other, bigger artists cast a light for you to find your way.
I should warn you, drinking too much tea can make you high and reckless.
I have seen chefs bouncing off the walls of my tasting rooms. Really. They get so revved up on the caffeine and the rush of new experiences that they’re unable to sit down. Uncaged from their chairs, they roam around the room, touching the hand-made cups, sniffing the tins of tea, looking in drawers.
It all starts demurely enough, with the sipping of tiny tasting-cups of tea no bigger than the circle made by your thumb and first finger. They might not always be expecting much, and they often play hard to impress. I manipulate my gaiwan—a traditional Chinese tea set. The pot is really a small cup with a lid. There is no spout, so all the aromas are kept within. To pour, you tilt the lid at a slight angle, just enough for the tea to flow, but keeping the leaves inside. It takes practice to use a gaiwan and not burn your fingers, but the skill allows you to manipulate a high leaf-to-water-ratio infusion quickly and precisely. I handle my pots the way chefs might show off their knife skills if I were in their kitchens.
Ask astronauts what spacewalking around the International Space Station is like, and they get a dreamy look on their faces almost instantly. They might say something about how the view “just takes your breath away.” Or that the experience “is what it truly feels like to be on top of the world.” That “nothing compares to being alone in the universe, to that moment of opening the hatch and pulling yourself outside into the universe.”
But without the surreal view of Earth, spacewalking isn’t much more than hours of maintenance work in a sweaty spacesuit. Follow the script laid out in the training back home. Listen to detailed instructions from mission control, carry out the task without screwing up, repeat. After a while, the magical becomes the mundane.
I arrived in New York in 2013 and moved into a rent-stabilized apartment on a prime stretch of Bank Street in the West Village. My circumstances suggested time travel: the cracking plaster on my living room walls and my monthly rent had barely been altered since the early Eighties. From my rear window, I gazed at the privacy-glass panes enclosing the four-story townhouse next door, formerly owned by A-Rod. I dropped downstairs to Little Marc Jacobs—the brand’s now-closed children’s clothing outpost, then in my building’s ground-floor—to pick up babysitting jobs with the store’s customers, later finding myself in the living rooms of their nearby townhouses, worth millions.
The apartment was never mine; my aunt’s friend had lived there for decades and wanted someone to watch over her place while she cared for her elderly parents in another state. Our landlord took a hands-off view of the arrangement, and, without qualms, I seized the nepotistic advantage that has for decades granted a shrinking and somewhat arbitrary class of New Yorkers access to affordable housing from bygone eras, even as the rest of the Village became increasingly expensive.
Of course we’ve heard this before. “We cannot say any longer that we are handicapped by lack of space or equipment or technology,” one of the museum’s chief curators told The New York Times on the occasion of the Modern’s 1980s supersizing. “We have enough exhibit space, storage space and study space so that our primary problem now is love, talent, energy and passion.”
Actually, the problem back then turned out to be that Pelli’s expansion transformed the Modern into what looked like a suburban shopping mall. It didn’t solve the problems of space, modernism or love. And neither did the expansion that replaced it.
I suspect droves of visitors to the new Modern will still try to make a beeline for “The Starry Night.” They’ll want to know where the museum starts. Sociologists and executives at Trader Joe’s will tell you that consumers don’t actually like having too many choices. The new layout will require lots of signs, staff in the halls to direct people, apps and maps. We’ll see if visitors find it liberating or confusing.
Mr. Wiener takes his duties seriously. Like the rest of the judges, he lives, breathes and believes in pizza. He was among his people: pizza people, who can toss dough acrobatically, drop technical terms like cornicione — it’s the edge of the crust — and wear shoes printed with pepperonis.
They also wear pizza-spangled socks, neon-colored pizza-covered pants, and sew-on patches of melting slices with a dagger through the middle, and all manner of tattoos: chubby-cheeked pizza-makers tossing dough, psychedelic slices, and at least one heart ribboned with the slogan “pizza for life.”
An adolescent named Adam Gordon is the protagonist of Ben Lerner’s new novel, The Topeka School. He shares this name with the narrator of Leaving the Atocha Station, Lerner’s debut novel from 2011. Leaving the Atocha Station was about the quarter-life crisis of a talented misanthrope; 10:04 (2014), Lerner’s second novel, was a negotiation with the success that Adam Gordon of Leaving the Atocha Station both desired and reviled. In 10:04, Lerner’s narrator, also named Ben, frets over how to act meaningfully in a world that often feels meaningless. Though we are more interconnected than ever, this phenomenon is most akin to the sensation of spiraling on a mass scale; daily life requires reckoning with being an actor in the thrall of forces far more powerful than any individual.
How We Fight for Our Lives is at once explicitly raunchy, mean, nuanced, loving and melancholy. It's sometimes hard to read and harder to put down. Jones' memoir effectively deep-sixes any illusions I had that it must've been a little easier in recent decades to come of age as a queer black boy in Texas. Granted, Jones' public high school is open-minded enough to host a touring production of The Laramie Project, the play about the hate-crime murder of Matthew Shepard; but what Jones takes away from that performance is that he'd better closet himself even more securely at school. Jones recalls his younger self realizing that, "Being a black gay boy is a death wish. And one day, if you're lucky, your life and death will become some artist's new 'project.'"