Summer Reading List | Nate Lerner
Summer Reading List | Nate Lerner
As a photographer working primarily in modalities focusing on the human-altered landscape, Carleton Watkins looms large as influence and inspiration. I found it odd that no one had undertaken a comprehensive biography of such an important figure, until I learned in the prologue to Tyler Green’s book that his entire archive was destroyed in the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. Thankfully, Green (probably best known as host of the Modern Art Notes podcast) obsessively searched libraries and historical sites for primary sources with which to piece a life story together. What emerged is a fascinating study of Watkins as an artist and, equally interestingly, a picture of the various forces that shaped the ideas and ideologies of the American West and the nation more broadly. Green’s casual and at times hyperbolic prose style could occasionally benefit from a sensitive editor, but it’s nice to read something with a rigorous, academic bent that clearly didn’t originate as a dissertation. Given the lack of an extant archive, the author is forced to make plenty of inferences and suppositions, most of which seem plausible if also necessarily speculative. His concept of “cultural unionism,” whereby California adopts the values of the Union states and as a result advances culturally and economically, is compelling if not entirely convincing. The book is best when providing close analysis of Watkins’ work – Green’s enthusiasm is infectious, and the image that emerges of how a nation treats its land and its artists is highly relevant in our present moment.
Aside from material, my primary tools as an artist are time, light, and frame/plane, but it is time that fascinates me most. I came late to the artworld, and without the benefit of a foundation in art history and theory. As such, I’ve been spending the past few years soaking up everything I can. I first found Kubler’s name in a piece by Robert Smithson, and it seems he was also an influence on Ad Reinhardt and John Baldessari. Kubler is no longer as sexy as Baudrillard, Merleau Ponty, Benjamin, and the like, but the dense strata of ideas presented in The Shape of Time are worthy of consideration (even if some of the more specific postulations regarding timescales might ultimately be best discarded in light of the advent of the internet, among other things). Anyone interested in issues of the relationship between artists and the objects they create, genius vs. talent, invention and innovation, the impact of technology on aesthetic, the propagation of objects and ideas, and considerations of historical time, will find something of interest in this small book.
Confession: I may have picked this up because of the cover art. I don’t read enough literary fiction, and I’ll be perfectly content to never see another page from the white men of PoMo satire – DeLillo, Pynchon, Auster, and their inheritors all do nothing for me. Well, this is (sort of) satire, and (sort of) postmodern, but I devoured it in two days. Not much happens in the novel: with the aid of a terrible psychiatrist, a woman decides to medicate herself into a stupor and hibernate for a full year. It’s funny, sad, beautifully written, and should resonate with anyone who has ever experienced “better” living through chemistry or has had the profound desire to sleep through the next procession of global catastrophes and workplace tedium. And if you haven’t felt these things, read it anyway; ultimately, this is about what good fiction can do.
Nate Lerner studied photography with Marion Belanger at Wesleyan University (MALS, 2017). Based in New Haven, CT, he is interested in place, culture, and time as reflected through natural and built environments — the spaces/ideas we create and the ways that we inhabit or abandon them. His work concerns human experiences of the sublime and the mundane (put differently, magic and trauma), especially the moments where those geographies intersect. Trained as a composer in the conservatory tradition of western art music, he is particularly interested in how form and sequence (i.e., rhythm) shape content and inform viewer responses. Currently a director at Wesleyan University, his 10+ years of management experience in higher education have limited bearing on his artistic practice.
Lerner’s work lives in the flatfile at Artspace New Haven and in several private collections; most recently, it was exhibited in the group show In Plain Sight/Site, curated by Niama Safia Sandy for Artspace New Haven (November-March 2019). [Read this blog’s review of this show here.] His latest photobook, You Give Me Fever, is available on Amazon.
Interested in submitting your list of summer reads? Check out the directions here.