What we admire in pirates—at least our fictional pirates—is that they so enjoy their villainy. They’re not sly or covert or subtle. Everything about them is over-the-top, histrionic: they glory in their infamy. While most of us drag ourselves through the daily dullness of our lives, they swagger, they pirouette, and, in the case of Captain Hook, even dance a tarantella. Like the trailblazer and the gunslinger, the pirate represents a New World ideal of freedom—a proud renegade living by his wits and his daring.
They would have torn us to pieces, those Bacchae.
Instead, they turned—bare-handed—
on our herd of grazing cattle.
A single woman pulled a mewling calf in two,
while others clawed apart a full-grown heifer.
There were spread ribs and broken hooves
and pieces of flesh hung
dripping from the trees.
“While it actually resembles no other city upon the face of the earth,” wrote Lafcadio Hearn of New Orleans, “it owns suggestions of towns in Italy, and in Spain, of cities in England and in Germany, of seaports in the Mediterranean, and of seaports in the tropics.” There’s no better illustration of this than the photographs of Richard Sexton.
Garry Winogrand was one of the last great street photojournalists. He was a populist photographer, a real egalitarian, and his photographs of people on the street show that any face can be interesting. Yet in a way his style is difficult, because the world he depicts is often so quotidian that you yourself wouldn’t stop to look at it. In his photographs of the street, the suburbs, airports, the rodeo, he shows a piece of American life where, to his credit, there’s no desire to be aesthetic, to be lovely: he’s just there, he records.
There has never been a better year to look at the work of Kazimir Malevich, a pioneer of abstract art often seen as the greatest Russian painter of the twentieth century. The exhibition now at London’s Tate Modern offers us the chance to not only Malevich’s Suprematist work but also his early work—in styles that include Fauvism, what he called Cubo-Futurism, and the Dada-like style he called Alogism—and the figurative paintings of his later years.