Wednesday, July 9, 2014
Art I'm Looking At: Current Exhibitions at the De Young, San Francisco
¢ Life, a large book of Ting's poetry. I had never heard of Ting or his book, but I very much enjoyed seeing this collaborative creation, which, published in 1964, is 50 years old this year. A remarkable group of 28 artists worked with Ting to illustrate with lithographs a collection of 61 of his ungrammatical, chaotic, evocative, sometimes comical poems--artists including familiar names like Asger Jorn, Karel Appel, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Joan Mitchell, James Rosenquist, Sam Francis, Tom Wesselman, Pierre Alechinsky, Jim Dine, Mel Ramos, and Robert Indiana, as well as some names less familiar to me. A lot of fun on many levels, the book is notable for Ting's exuberant poetry (some of it difficult to read on pages displayed upright well below eye level), for the lithographs, and for its very conception--as an interesting example of bookmaking (although the volume on display is unbound; 1¢ Life appears to have been conceived as a portfolio). It functions as a snapshot of lithography of the period, especially interesting for the inclusion of several artists not much accustomed to the medium. It's unclear to me whether Ting's odd use of language was a direct result of linguistic weaknesses or if he knew better and deliberately chose a pidgin-like idiom that evokes Hollywood caricatures of Chinese, non-native speakers of English. To give just one example, a verse from his poem "Go Back Infant" (illustrated by Karel Appel) reads (all in caps):
Syphilis from mother life from father
Electric chair and gas chamber from government
Can you fly
You female grow big breasts mangoes
Mink coat better than skin skin better than heart
Heart better than soul
Hair grease best
Woman not spring? Spring not perfume? Perfume not happiness?
In afternoon tea?
In beauty salon?
In television set?
Go back infant
Go back Angel
Strange, but often compelling language typifies the writing. The exhibition of Walasse Ting's 1¢ Life is showing through September 7, 2014.