Every August, the public library in my hometown of Blue Hill, Maine holds a wet paint auction. Local artists, some seasoned, some aspiring, go out in the early morning to find their subjects: the dawn on the mudflats; blue islands slouching across the horizon; the nostalgic white pentagon of the post office. The landscape of Maine—glacially gouged, furred with pines—precludes other muses, offering up endless variations on its theme with every change of the light, season, and tide. It is relentlessly consumed, reproduced, and sold, albeit in a less extractive way than the mining and lumber industries once used it.
A running series of brief dispatches by New York Review writers documenting the coronavirus outbreak with regular updates from around the world, including Michael Greenberg in Brooklyn, Raquel Salas Rivera in San Juan, Aida Alami in Paris, Rahmane Idrissa in Niamey, Verlyn Klinkenborg in East Chatham, Tolu Ogunlesi in Lagos, Merve Emre in Oxford, Yasmine El Rashidi in Cairo, Keija Parssinen in Granville, E. Tammy Kim in Brooklyn, Adam Foulds in Toronto, Tom Bachtell in Chicago, Ivan Sršen in Zagreb, Sue Halpern in Ripton, Michael S. Roth in Middletown, Ben Mauk in Penang, Martin Filler in Southampton, Eula Biss in Evanston, Richard Ford in East Boothbay, George Weld in Brooklyn, Nilanjana Roy in New Delhi, Ursula Lindsey in Amman, Zoë Schlanger in Brooklyn, Dominique Eddé in Beirut, Lucy McKeon in Brooklyn, Yiyun Li in Princeton, Caitlin L. Chandler in Berlin, Nick Laird in Kerhonkson, Alma Guillermoprieto in Bogotá, Lucy Jakub in Northampton, Rachael Bedard in Brooklyn, Hari Kunzru in Brooklyn, Minae Mizumura in Tokyo, Jenny Uglow in Keswick, Sylvia Poggioli in Rome, and more.
Since the 1990s, Walton Ford has been retrospectively caught up in the nineteenth century’s obsession with nature, back when the mountains were crawling with lions, and the sky was full of birds. His new series “Barbary,” on display at Kasmin’s new gallery in Chelsea, is a study of the Barbary lion. Ford is never interested merely in the natural world, but in the way humans have documented, exploited, and repurposed it, and how these species have been mythologized, even as most of them have disappeared from the wild. Ford makes paintings of paintings of animals.
This year, After Man was republished, a book by the Scottish geologist Dougal Dixon that imagines how other species will evolve after humans go extinct, fifty million years in the future. It’s a premise that has aged well, as anxiety over our long-term damage to the planet grows; the book has been reissued a dozen times since its publication in 1981. Dixon’s taxonomy is far from comprehensive (he neglects the oceans, plant life, and insects) but as a thought-experiment, After Man is an effective primer on evolutionary genetics and natural selection. Still, he sometimes wonders whether people see his work simply “as picture books of funny animals.”
Young people dressed in bright puffer jackets and pom pom hats were accompanied by older chaperones, some wearing buttons and stickers, and holding signs that conveyed simple messages of urgency: Protect kids, not guns, Books not bullets, and Arms for hugging, not for killing (in the uneven crayon scrawl of a seven-year-old named Henry).
Ernst Haeckel’s intention was to make the natural forms of elusive organisms accessible to artists, and supply them with a new visual vocabulary of protists, mollusks, trilobites, siphonophores, fungi, and echinoderms. In his first book are jellyfish that look like flowers, protists that resemble Fabergé eggs, presented like crown jewels on black velvet, the seeming cosmic vastness of the images belying their actual, microscopic size. Haeckel’s name has not endured as well as the words that he coined—among them, phylum, ecology, and stem cell. But artists took heed. Art Nouveau is crowded with the natural arabesques and patterns that seduced Haeckel.