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LEO'S LESSONS

Author(s): Robert V. Storr
Reviewed work(s):
Source: Source: Notes in the History of Art, Vol. 31/32, No. 4/1, SPECIAL ISSUE IN MEMORY
OF LEO STEINBERG (1920-2011) (Summer 2012/Fall 2012), pp. 61-69
Published by: Ars Brevis Foundation, Inc.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/41552788 .
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I trade.however.His talk.some in garishpostcardcol- seminars and tutorialswere the extended ors. Lillian Milgram (1929) mous but equally impressive writersand scholars. While an undergraduate. Lerone Bennett. and libraries where I was employed.My interlocutors to studytheirdetails is to live in perpet. My casso's work. selling contact with my hero. I considermyselffairly the neighborhoods in which I plied my well educated. and a hostof less fa- wife.my chance to listenwas increasedby would no longerbe eligible formanyof the thelack of competition. was on Pablo Art school of hardknocksin czaristRussia. 31 Jan 2013 09:33:51 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions .Leo Gorkyironicallyentitledhis account of his Steinberg. included Saul Bellow.Dr. became nearlyabsolute. and generally betterthanwhatcan be said of them. at the University of Pennsylvania.I pored minimal wages paying for the studio art over cheap littlepocketreproductionsof Pi- classes that were my primaryobject.directfromthepages of early life My Universities. enough to get before the tyrannyof the Precocious exposureto such literatecom- Ph. and ignorant. croix's paintingLes Femmes d'Alger. Daniel Boorstin. says.in a letterto his Jakobson. I at- lectualcomingof age.Following My a yet-to-be-published collection of his es- Childhood and the equally ironic My Ap.I attendeda managed to learn.it tells of his trainingin the Twentieth-Century (1972). Thus.was tended because.Such easy acquaintancewithgreat Even thoughmy only advanced degree is a mindswas a bit like thatof a bartenderwith Masterof Fine Artsin PaintingfromtheArt his "regulars. Mircea Eliade. my For nightson end duringthatyear. I read everythingI could about him. in manyrespects."Since therewere few bars in Instituteof Chicago. "My univer. the course of doing routinebusiness with In a desperateattemptto make at least visual them:locating and orderingbooks.I had lived fora yearin France. the third volume of lectureby a youngarthistorianthenteaching Maxim Gorky's memoirs comes to mind. LEO'S LESSONS RobertV.while thequalityof academic and museumjobs thatI was lucky thetalk was enhanced by greatersobriety.D. While still sities" largely consisted of the bookstores in myteens. Other Criteria: Confrontationswith prenticeship. others in delicious photogravuregri- conversationsI engaged in withpatronsin saille. My Picasso's reinterpretations of Eugène Dela- upbringingwas not as harsh. Roman .To playing the role of informedmiddlemanin be withthemis to be happyindeed.Meyer Schapiro. even thoughI was young comparablyhaphazard. I hitchhikedto the This content downloaded on Thu.In today's world. Sten- The portalsand cloistersof Moissac are them the TLS or the NYRB.I was Picasso-mad. ual discoveryand pride.And theirpursuitof knowledge.but my intel.Octavio Paz.In explaining pany emboldened me to seek it out laterin how and where I learned whateverI have life.

sittingroom on the second floor of their lous. was initiallyboughtas a block by New York ory. inherently given rise to. scrupu. Leo did enjoy special access to had neverbeforeexisted in Westernpaint.much syntax of Cubism thathe had invented with less the willfulmisunderstanding theyhave Braque into an infinitelypliable. productionsand texts based on reproduc- Leo Steinbergchangedthat.or at thathe had long since decamped to a remote least sharedtheexperienceof havinglooked castle in Mougins.in Benjamin shouldnotbe blamed forthemis- theprocess. Sustained lingerforhours and in total comfort.the sumed in an era whendirectobservationhas cruxof thatfixationbeingtheartist'spersona been replaced by the "close" readingof re- ratherthantheessence of his art. fourpaintingshe based upon it and that.its firmingMatisse's conceptthata good paint- driving force and itsfuelrather than a means ing should be like thearmchairintowhicha of perfunctory ratification of receivedideas tiredman of the world happily sinks at the about thingsothershad seen and reported end of theday. collectorsVictorand Sally Ganz. In Matisse's conceit. respectively.so did I.and manyof the composition in the course of the twenty.(Like Marx. 31 Jan 2013 09:33:51 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . Rather. in the case of Les Femmes "aura" serve as an alibi fordisregardingthe d'Alger. My infatuationwithPi.Leo's largerconclusionsand smaller these paintingshung in a small red-walled digressions derived fromintense. prolonged.reaf- looking was the predicateforthought . This content downloaded on Thu. seminal theoristsof the twentiethcentury.he had reconfigured theoriginal uses to whichhis essays have been put. on. Some were tablishedliteratureof Picasso (althoughin sold offin shortorder. centrationto the subtletiesof art thathad.) reversiblespatial mesh the likes of which That said. It is no exaggerationto say that WalterBenjamin and a host of speculative Leo opened myeyes to thepoeticsof picture thinkersruminating on thedisappearanceof making.La Californie.or.nordid it engendersuch a the. tions.such a businessman Once upon a time.Neitherwas it a commentaryon thees. debater's A core group of fourpaintingsin the series points scored against careless scholarship remainedin theirhands untiltheirdeathsin was a chief source of pleasure for him). Guests could theworksof artunderdiscussion. pictorial restructuring. The seriesof fifteencanvases themedium.For decades. Leo's argumentdid not issue froma ularto Picasso's Les Femmesd'Alger. manyof thethingshe focused on. This can no longer be as- my contemporarieshad on rock stars.suddenly. and repeated scrutinyof apartmenton Gracie Square. His thesis nuances embedded in the originalimage or was that Picasso had remade Delacroix's artifact.onlyto discover shared the experience of thatwork. withthatappetiteand attentiveness to com- casso was equivalent to the kind of crush parable works. Leo's studies of Michelangelo. Freud.othersmoregradually. 62 south of France and found my way to the cause the speaker or writerand the public master'svilla.one could expect such would thenturnhis attentionfromtherealm sustainedlooking to be the verifiablebasis of moneymakingto higher aesthetic con- for any art historian'sthinkingor writing cerns and apply the same measure of con- about topics thatmatteredto him or herbe.Even- theoryabout the historical imperativesof tually. 1987 and 1997. and when "strong misreadings" of radically. in partic- ing.

how Levi Straussand myself).es- ideal.claimed his seat in thatred He was certainlyworldly enough to have room and staredat the amazing arrayof Pi.Victor Ganz. an irresistible challengeto his synthetic mind Certainly. pleasuresof activecontemplation. the whereas Leo wanted more of what was al- artists'long-standingrivalryand the prece. Matisse's tureswere. In conversation. To theex- casso's mind. and Sally Ganz. withintheframingedge of a paintingoffered icentpossessions are around. it was because pic- noisseurship. entalistpaintingsbeing very much on Pi.though. their overothersor rewardsoutsideof experience. who In this.If he chose to focus virtueof theirgenuinecommitment and con.in his understanding of them. 31 Jan 2013 09:33:51 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . This content downloaded on Thu. How could a studentof the less freelancescholars (among themDavid Renaissance notbe? Or. dentof Matisse's Moroccan and otherOri. 63 duringbankinghours.exceptforthesexual politicsof Christ's when thinkingabout Leo).emitsa faintflickerof truthas long outside of them.And certainlyLeo. To that extent.min.he did not see art as a path to power whytheyboughtart.been devoted to bal. his interlocutors image. no control. The Universityof Pennsyl- althoughLeo's tangentialrelationshipto that vania was a fineplace forhim to settlein. briefly. a wholesaler of thatpromiseda kindof intellectualsalvation. frequentvisitor.But.othermore or tricablybound. ready within his grasp: the sophisticated.like Baudelaire's fantasyof Edenic sentiallyorderly and intentional. Leo perhaps shared something startedout as a salesclerkat Macy's.whiletheformand contentfound nionbetweenproudpossessors and magnif. painted shortlyafterMatisse's death. frequently locates his heritage in the secular Jewish rockyrelationshipto those at the top of the communityof the world Gorky described. academic heap.But was fittingsince Les Femmesd'Alger were Greenberg wanted what he did not have. Knowing that Leo's fatherwas a leading It must be said in the latterconnection lawyer in Socialist circles and. Speak Memory.This was "luxe calme et volupté" upon which it was in contrastto the chaos and senselessness based. chosen the alternativeroutethatGreenberg cassos beforehimwiththesame ardor. on what picturesmean. tentthathis endeavor was dialogic (in the One will not findmuch about the social sense thatMikhail Bakhtinused theterm- and politicaldimensionsof artin Leo's writ. collectorsof this kind created signifi. Schwartzfirstand foremost). costume jewelry. Leo was consistedof a handfulof studentsand former alertto therealitiesof power and thepotent students (Prudence Crowther and Sheila illusionsof ideology in which artwas inex.a chaos over which he had as those who have witnessedsuch commu. forthatmatter.Leo isterofjustice aftertheRussian Revolution had a remarkablyambivalent. thatfora man of his public reputation.That's berg.This chose and become a brokerand a guru. sometimesdialogic but more oftensolitary.unlikeGreen- with such ardor and discrimination.Sufficeitto say thatnothing cant force fields in the wider art world by muchescaped his notice.and variousmem- could anyone born close to the turmoilof bers of the academy who established and thetwentieth centuryavoid such awareness? maintainedstrongties withhim.In the one rememberedby Vladimir Nabokov in past. Bakhtin is anotherRussian source helpful ings. world was perhaps culturallycloser to the ance sheetsand productionschedules. looked withClementGreenberg.

deed. Nor. The veryqual. was it Co.promptedby my in. Leo became a regular Pleasures of theText: speakeron EighthStreetat the traditionally If I read thissentence.withLucien Goldschmidtbeing at the wasn'tHarvard. out or being soughtout by unlikelyvenues.the natural. abiding sensitivityto the several othersin Meanwhile. collectionwas a reminder the thatprovidedme witha model forhow in- ofwhatwas once readilyavailableto bargain tricatelyunfoldingthoughtscan be clearly huntersin the portfoliosof dealers around articulated.. It was listeningto Leo lectureon Picasso craticcollectionofprintsand drawings.epicurean prose.That rigorousinquiry ing praise: "He has produced a book to be intoaestheticthingsdemandedantiaesthetic reckonedwithbuta dangerousmodel to fol." Withinuniversityguilds.with top of the pyramidand Pageant and other a New York compass in hand. 64 But. The ban playeditselfoutwithLeo seeking simplyabsurd.wherehe commandedhandsome mustproveto me thatit desiresme.itis becausetheywere he was paid virtuallynothing. Leo lived withthe arthe could af- he earnedhis Ph.or on theroad written in pleasure. Justhow un. blum.and withproofof how important This content downloaded on Thu.itsKama Sutra. fordand huntedforit withoutcompunction. obvious fromhis elegant. . .inArtinAmericaand October- JasperJohns. posturingto prove its seriousness. This perfectlydescribes the pleasures of welcomed can be measuredby the factthat Leo's writing. H. English. legiti- it was not until2006.theUniversity ofTexas atAustin whichhe was literate. ities that attracted him to independent How many of the generationsschooled to thinkerscaused him to be theobject of sus. and thendiggingup essays whereverI could eringeverything fromItalian old mastersto findthem. uncontaminated by arly"ownership"of topics and deferenceto thelustforvisual or tactiledelightsor unable reigningauthoritiesare sacrosanct.or was low.thisstory. The textyou write inAmerica.where thebase.D. mate. in austeresurroundings.figure in many aca- demicenclaves closer to home. .idiosyn. . in 1960. fees fromthose unaware of the degree to Writing is thescienceofthevariousblisses which he had become a problematic.Cov. and his at the Instituteof Fine Arts in New York. coupled with his fidelityto all the nuances ermann.or this modernistNew York Studio School.indeed.thisis tanta. fromLeo's vantage point. Roland Barthes famously wrote in The formalist circles.thatLeo was invitedback to speak of his second language.was. intellectualpursuits. .anotherpariahin doctrinally pureneo. scold "object fetishists"and contentto live picion and even scornin fieldswhereschol.if notfluent. 31 Jan 2013 09:33:51 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions .orYale. That he savored words just as avidly is Thus it was thatalong withRobertRosen.in- oflanguage.offspring of his promiscuousreading tercessionwiththethen-directorMarietWest. East Village outletson Book Row forming lumbia or the Instituteof Fine Arts.No less to confess theircravingforthem.can even a mandarinthan E.Princeton. "tin eye". where word withpleasure. withregardto professionalstanding.it town. even withinthescope of thosecursedwitha mountto blackballinga member. became therepositoryof his large. Gombrich sounded begin to understandthe differencebetween the alarm when he damned Leo's brilliance theirarthistoryand Leo's frankly hedonistic in analyzingMichelangelo withthefollow. unwelcomed.

"I was embar. Other Criteria the same year.The location was dictatedby his un. or. but deluxe edition by George Wittenborn. timesurroundedby astonishingworksof art.Later. Althoughan arthistorianbelongingto one tained until the last couple of years of his of thelast generationsforwhom thealways life. Of these.of the thesis that he argued in Following several missed opportunitiesat his "ContemporaryArtand the Plightof Its art parties.Leo tracesthechain of rejectionsof This content downloaded on Thu. Actually meetingLeo re.about whom he had ing texts on the then-emergingNeo-Dada writtenearly and eloquently. buta source- sultedfromhavinglearnedto strikeup con. "stood the testof time" and those thathad grant rooms.infirmity confinedhim to his debatabledistinction betweenthingsthathad small. along with the remnantsof and the more moderns.smoke-fra.theincontrovertible con- versations with my bookstore customers. In supportof this con- whichhe subsisted. Afterourcontactat thatawardsceremony.that he sus.Whereas the rassed butimmenselyproud.Was he flattered? Leo's descriptive analysis of the "flatbed Yes. theprimarystumblingblock to open-minded gency.art-crammed. 65 itis to conveytheperceptualcomponentsof But let us returnto the Ganz apartment." Based on lecturesgiven at theMu- entered"society"in mycapacityas a curator seum of Modern Artin 1960 and firstpub- at MoMA. which initiallyappeared in the Eliot had inscribed to Ezra Pound: "II journal Metro and was then reissued in a miglior fabbro. Many otherMoMA lectureof 1968 and appeared years later. By then." Was it flattery?Yes. I sent vanguard.I took the opportunity to essay was thepredicateforhis groundbreak- discuss Philip Guston. of his meditationson Picasso.which would have amounted to a recognitionof previously unseen and un- suicidal urge.the old new and the the take-outChinese and Indian meals on new or newer new. more importantly. Art"(1962).where we crossed paths afterI Public.no insightin theessays on Neo-Dada. tention. we metperiodicallyfordinnerat his apart. icism" in Artforumin March 1972 and in scribe thisfora dear friend. restaurantwould have him. the formerone concerns its receptionand. 31 Jan 2013 09:33:51 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . the origins of resistance ment. lattertwo essays are about art's production. conceptual formulaswith verbal precision where Leo and I separatelyspent so much and all pertinentphenomenological detail. In case of an emer. the most notable are him a copy of a monographon Guston that "JasperJohns:The FirstSeven Years of His I had writtenwith a dedication that T. So pungentwere theythathe yetto do so determinedthe propersubjects didn't really need a lit cigaretteto fill his of studywithinthediscipline.and withoutpretenseor shame.when Leo wrote in my copy of in printas "Reflectionson the State of Crit- Other Criteria thathe felt"honored to in. this to him at a dinner. which is farmore thanmost criticsdare or This was the crucial site not only of many deign to include. book-lined.at theveryleast. I was asked to presentan award lished in Harper's Magazine in 1962. again: Leo had a healthyvanitybutone pictureplane" foundin theworkof Rausch- robustenough to relish sincere admiration enbergand Warholthatwas featuredin an- and able to resist insincere praise. firmation . S.he had storedseveralcartons sanctionedartas one between the moderns in the icebox.Steinbergsaw lungs with nicotine. to the "new" that he heralded with signal relenting consumption of cigarettes.

artistas a late Cubist. 66 risingavant-gardes bypreviousavant-gardes. theantithesisof thekindof passionate. pieties and buttressing theirinstitutional de- tween us: our impatience with Clement fenses. on theunderstanding thatmodern the key to inexhaustible possibilities of art was by definitionthe aggregate of all experience and understanding. subsequently.This insuresgenealog- ists' resistanceto theFauves. and and scholarlydissentfromtheirpartyline- William Rubin. PainterlyAbstraction. on JoanMiró." whenfacedwiththeprospectoflovingsome- The precise reasons forGreenberg'scon. Ratherbeingtheproductof scholasticdis- tentiousaccountof modernartthatBarrcre.startingwithRosalind Krauss and of Modernism for very good reasons.the fi- short.Greenberg reclassifies the Spanish Post-Impressionists to thePost-Impression. But it follows fromLeo's logic essentiallya matterof maintainingformalist and identifiesanotherpointof agreementbe.to theCubists' dis. grisaille surfaces of Jasper Johns's early worthyof considerationexcept for its in.and mate.Greenberg'struepas- To be truthful. to theFauves' ical and liturgicalconsistencyalong theway push againsttheCubists. to love in one kind of art and its anxiety tiguous. thingelse. more the late 1960s throughthe 1980s.all thoseadversarialbutcon. thatanxietywas crystal- temptfor Surrealism matterless than the lized bytheenigmatic. putes about the Will of Historyor the ulti- atedthroughexhibitionsand collections.suchthatin a monographthathe wrote tilt painterlinessassociated with Abstract This content downloaded on Thu. ious media. whose house organ published thoughGreenbergconstantlycomplainedof Leo even as theyignoredhis implicitcritical the institution'spluralistic practices.a Surrealist. al.Everythingabout themcalled for convenientyet undeniable contributionsto a basic revisionof Leo's tasteand his think- the kinds of abstractionhe championed as ing to the extentthat they appeared to be thehistoricallymandatednextstepafterCu. her coterie. I have added thelast linkin sions. 31 Jan 2013 09:33:51 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . victionof artiststhattheprinciplesand prac- petingpropositions about what modernart tices to whichtheydevotedthemselvesheld shouldbe.thestrugglesamongavant-gardes tradictory and unfashionableenthusiasms."modernisms. For Leo.ifevertherewas fromtheImpressionists'discomfortwiththe one. Greenberg'sde facto agent the dilemma thatLeo himselffaced when of influenceat the helm of the all-powerful crawling the galleries or sitting in the Departmentof Paintingand Sculpturefrom Ganzes' apartmentwas of a different. I am referringto Barr's exceptional delityof the public hinged on (1) the con- for capacity entertaining divergentand com.if not overlapping. streamlinetheintrinsically angularand con. triedto libidinousorder.In for the attentionand. paintings. But while Greenberg'srationalewas thatchain. public's desireformoreof whatit had come clusiveclaims. nouncementmade by his formeracolytes fred Barr and his collaboratorsfounded a among Neo-Formalist scholars and critics Museum of ModernArtand not a Museum of today.and (2) the thosepropositionsand all thosemutuallyex.full- bism.incommensurablespecificitiesof var- to hide muchof theevidence of Barr's con.and while similar preoccupations Greenberg'sideologicallydrivendistortions with purity and power haunt every pro- ofthedocumentedhistoryof modernart.seeminglyantigestural factthathe treatedit as fundamentallyun. toward Abstract Expressionism and Post- missal of the Surrealists.Al.

jects. in his case." an amicus briefcan be workson display and certainlynot out of a found in Barthes's previously cited The lazy eclecticism or worse.like Leo. betweentheirdevotionto to renounceor disguise his eruditelust in a Picasso (and. catty-cornerto Pi. There were deliciously delirium-inducing.theywere prescientcollectors of trayal of one passion for another was a Johnsand Rauschenberg .Leo's pleasureswere (theywere in everyway exactingconnois. althoughthereis muchto be said about and eyes forthe sake of thebest of another the breadthand depth of his reading.of the public and deterministic theories of cultural with regard to modern and contemporary progress(its postmodernist spin-offs)fallby art. And- were otherPicassos in the room and other prompting his great critical duel with Johnsworks.especially in the red room that while on the wall opposite it was Johns's housed Picasso's reinterpretations of Dela- Souvenir 2 (1964) just across the doorway croix's renditionof an Algerian seraglio- fromPicasso's The Dream (1932).in thatconnection. Not out of a failureon the partof the thathe makes in "ContemporaryArtand the Ganzes to noticethedistinctionsamong the Plightof Its Public. to himin thecase forserialaestheticadultery ples. artand literature . d'Avignon "philosophicalbrothel"? a ferentart by exigentlydifferentartiststhe Confrontedby such choices. to regretthe previous one. and in therooms beyond.stickingwith Picasso instead. 31 Jan 2013 09:33:51 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions .like Richard Tuttle and Picasso's alternately savage and alluringsub- Melissa Miller. who firstmetJohnsat a partyat the new infatuation in theinstantthatone started Ganz apartment. Although Leo never referred embrace of potentiallyincompatibleexam. Sittingin thatroom. William Rubinby openingdiscussionof the still more of each as well as paintingsby paintingup to an examinationof how the the otherartistscited above and artistsso viewer's awareness of themultiplegazes of far unmentioned. had Leo not called Les Demoiselles In its high concentrationof radicallydif. thatmakinga choice againstthebest of one to myknowledgehis only homotextualliai- first-rank artistwho had opened theirmind son.as well as Frank Stella and Eva directionto find oneself surrenderingto a Hesse. 67 Expressionism and its School of Paris Kooning) and theirattractionto Johns.and respondedto it withan affirmative the wayside.but instead out of the realization leftout his lifelongaffairwithJamesJoyce. normative Ganz Collectionexemplifiedtheproblem.too. ation. The infidelities casso's greatWomanin an Armchair(1913) to which one was inspiredin thatharemof hungJohns'sLiar (1961) and Diver (1962). pictures. sire and thattemporarybutunavoidable be- However. his discourse trulythatof a man unwilling Torn.and who had done the same was self-defeating.the need to Pleasures of the Textand in his A Lover's hedge bets against thejudgmentof history Discourse: Fragments.it was sufficient who was widely regarded as the anti-Pi.Thus. understood that their world had been ex- The Ganzes never pursued AbstractEx. to turnone's gaze 10 to 20 degrees in any casso . panded by the painfuldoublingof theirde- pressionism. Guston and de period when in intellectuallyrespectable This content downloaded on Thu. theoriesof taste(Greenbergianmodernism) or plight.as Leo called it.I have seurs).generallydeemed naturalfunctionof desire's unfettered oper- the principalAmerican heirs of Duchamp.they antecedents.

But. One senior colleague he chewed.who was also How manywho quoted Schapiro in articles amongtheextramural professorsof "myuni- about artof the 1930s to the 1950s have ex.I began thistestimonial guessing"or "correcting"his earlywritings.Winningintramural argumentscomes historiansof modernarthonoredhimmostly in a poor thirdto these enduringrewards. indebted. mutuallyinvigorating ers. withboth a sharp pen and a sharp tongue. Meyer's turnof minddirectedLeo to many he had a knackformakingthemostof them.chiefly. Meyer was groundedin the con- late in life also found an audience for his tentmenthe foundin looking and the reve- morphingideas among paintersand sculp."But it is fromLeo thatI learned pressedanysympathy forhis supportof Bob themostand to whom I will always be most Thompson and GandyBrodie or anycurios. withan epigraphfromMeyer. ity about his long correspondencewiththe This content downloaded on Thu. aspects of critical discourse that Leo es- as Rubin learned.admired relative few. By contrast. currentpassed between Leo and Meyer. seasonal painterForrestBess? Among arthistorians. To stressthatpoint. deeply respectedwas Meyer Schapiro. gifted it does when polar opposite come together. 68 company the love of art dare not speak its gender-bending mysticalbait-fisherman and name. lationsthataccumulatedfromsustainingthe torsat the Studio School at a timewhen art effort.Marx and semiotics.as Feuds are endemic to the field.and. But he. except when "second. by ignoring him.who like Leo.a live. in turn. versities.Leo had his admir. 31 Jan 2013 09:33:51 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions .

31 Jan 2013 09:33:51 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . PrudenceCrowther. (Photo:courtesy 2010) This content downloaded on Thu.

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