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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Art & Conscience

Death penality reflection: Lucinda Devlin: The Omega Suites photography by Lucinda Devlin, edited by Susanne Breidenbach, introduction by Barbara Rose`(Hardcover, 80 pages, 9.75 x 11.5 inches, 30 color illustrations) (Steidl) During the early 1990s, Lucinda Devlin systematically took photographs of gas chambers, injection rooms, electric chairs, and death row cells in the rural United States. She entitled the resulting series "The Omega Suites", alluding to the final letter of the Greek alphabet as a metaphor for the finality of execution. More than just a critique of the death penalty, Devlin's austere, haunting images extend that critique to an American society in which 70 percent of the citizens support the death penalty. In her photographs, death row and the death chambers are symbolic of American culture and the American psyche. An electric chair in one image, placed in the center of a room amid emptiness and clinical sterility, resembles nothing so much as a throne. Elsewhere, the somber cross-like stretcher used for lethal injections invokes the execution as religious ritual, complete with a captivated audience. Icy and compelling, these photographs paint a clearly defined picture of a world we often choose not to see.

Balthus by Jean Clair (Rizzoli) The French artist Balthus, considered one of the world's greatest realist painters, died at the age of 92, February 2001. Balthus, whose full name was Balthasar Klossowski de Rola, was known for his disturbing and erotic works of girls on the verge of womanhood. In the early 30s, he held exhibitions displaying his paintings of young women, groups of people and scenes from both the town and countryside.
Balthus inspired and influenced the art world for more than six decades but remained a mystery to all but a handful of intimate friends.

This volume provides a pretty full overview of his principal works and a biographical survey of his periods and styles. His relationships to the poet Rilke, as well as his secretive life are explored in many penetrating essays and colorful representative paintings.

 The Gauguin Answer Sheet: After Paul Gauguin's Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going by Dennis Finnell (University of Georgia Press) The painting “Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?” by Paul Gauguin, intended as  the painter's final artistic testimony, is the inspiration and framework for this book. In one way, The Gauguin An­swer Sheet focuses on the intricate de­tails of the painting and explores its lush Tahitian landscape and character, ‑a black dog, a pair of conspirators, a shy woman, a pleading Goddess, and a crouching mummy, among many  others. In another sense, the book deeply probes the underlying implica­tions of the painting and the personal associations it evokes.

 The poem's own questions, sug­gested by those in the painting's title, of are concerned with origins, identitiy,  and futures‑of the poet and other Finnell reflects on the plight of thris characters portrayed in Gauguin's  painting and imagines their thought, and feelings about life in the world  outside. Along with his ruminations  on these imagined characters, Finnell visits his own family history, reflecting on the lives of earlier generations, to affirm the shared nature of individu­als' origins and identities. Through his poetry, time and space, painting and history, and imagination and reality interconnect and offer an unusually imaginative, surprising work of art..
The two skeptical girls still cock their heads. "But where do we come from?"
A face is a guess and whose is more tender, yours of Tahitian dirt at Gauguin's hand, my freckled one? My face is as good as yours.
We come from Grandfather H, who was toothless, looked like Popeye, and tossed us ceilingward so we screamed to kingdom come, only to descend to Dutch rubs, whiskers on our fair cheeks, and our smallest toes screaming O! all the way home. We are legends, and we come stepping out of legends. He danced in St. Mary's Churchyard with a cross, having acted as an angel in the transubstantiation of a daughter's milking money into booze, his lifelong changing of whiskey into piss, all inside God's mansion.

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