The Brooklyn Rail

OCT 2010

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OCT 2010 Issue

To Whom It May Concern

I’ve always thought that almost anything anybody needed to know about criticism was hidden (in plain sight) in Jill Johnston’s “Marmalade Me.” Writing in the 1960s about art that was changing what the world thought art could be, she changed what we thought criticism could be—and that was just her warm up. She died, age 81, on September 18.

–Claudia La Rocco

To Whom It May Concern,

Really I can’t go on with this. It seems suddenly absurd.

I can’t find anything not to agree with. Maybe it was when you said Cunningham without Cage would be like the Bible without God that I got the bright idea to start thinking about your columns as my bible.

She’s not on the list of people you’re supposed to swallow whole. How do you digest somebody who wrote insulting poetry to Allan Kaprow? It won’t teach you how to be a proper, housebroken critic (to be heard and not seen).

Critics, remember, we must be very clear on this, are not artists.

The night I found out, I was staying in a house upstate with five women and two cats, only one of whom would let you pet her but two of whom were (and are!) real committed lesbians, and I thought, well, this is good, maybe it’s true what you said that all women are lesbians except those that don’t know it yet. That’s fine with me.

Also I had just a few weeks ago finished Eileen Myles’s “Inferno” and so this art & writing & life stuff was especially on my mind. “It lives in the present, it breathes there and that’s how you let anyone in…As soon as the poem ceases to be about anything, when it even stops saving things, stops being such a damn collector, it becomes an invite to the only refuge which is the impossible moment of being alive.”

In closing, I would like to repeat something else:

So understanding that there is nothing to understand, or not understanding the not-understanding? but understand in a second order understanding, that you understand that you never understand, but can you accept even that you wouldn’t understand this paradox of the entity of understanding and not-understanding?

please clarify.

Oh, Jill.


Claudia La Rocco

CLAUDIA LA ROCCO writes about performance for the New York Times and is the founder of, which won a 2011 Arts Writers Grant. She is a member of Off The Park press, where she is editing an anthology of poems by painters. She is on the faculty of the School of Visual Art's graduate program in Art Criticism and Writing.


The Brooklyn Rail

OCT 2010

All Issues