For “Touchstones,” ARTnews asks creative figures from different disciplines—writers, musicians, filmmakers, chefs, and so on—about one artwork that has inspired them.
Kerry James Marshall, When Frustration Threatens Desire (1990)
I got put onto Kerry James Marshall a little late, but what drew me to him first-off was that he was from Birmingham, because that’s where I’m from. I felt crazy that I didn’t know about his work, and when I saw this painting in person, it reminded me of hoodoo-voodoo shit. That’s basically what he’s doing in this, with the black cat and the hands. I have family from Louisiana and Mississippi, and this just feels like “down South.” And it’s like he’s trying to say the hoodoo and the voodoo shit is all around, throughout the whole world.
Pink Siifu is a rapper and the creator of the new album (with Fly Anakin) $mokebreak and (solo) Negro.
Ed Paschke, Au Fond (1991)
One of my very first jobs was working as a studio assistant for Ed Paschke in Chicago. I was a fan of his work and was intending to be a visual artist. And it was such a privilege to be in his studio. He was such a good boss. I had so many bad bosses after that. I would stretch his canvases and clean his brushes and organize his archives, and just be around him as a painter. This is a piece that was on an easel in his workspace, and it has a lot of the elements that I love about his art. You can tell that there is the figurative element but, also, it’s in a different plane of existence. Ed’s work pushes through the two-dimensional plane of the canvas and asks us to step into a virtual space, which feels so prescient. I feel like he was painting people inside internet space before that space even existed.
Liz Phair is a rocker and creator of new album Soberish and classics including Exile in Guyville and Whitechocolatespaceegg.
Artist Unknown, Alexander Danilovich Menshikov, (ca. 1704)
This is one of my favorite objects in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The first time I saw it I burst out laughing and embarrassed myself because it’s just so preposterous-looking. There’s something terrifying about it, and it looks like Tim Robbins, which is super-weird. It’s by an unknown maker, and it has traveled through time and still has this really arresting and immediate power that is separate from whatever its history is. I find it to be shockingly alive.
Pat Mahoney is a drummer/singer, member of LCD Soundsystem, and creator (under the name Museum of Love) of the new album Life of Mammals.
Menashe Kadishman, Suspended (1977)
In my early years, the Storm King Art Center in Upstate New York was this mecca. There’s something about experiencing art in the way you do there—not in a gallery, with your body free (or freer) to move around. And then, just the vastness of the sculptures there. This one I remember seeing as a kid and just being like, “How? How?!!!” I could not understand how it physically works to have this enormity of metal suspended in space. It really spoke to making the impossible possible.
Merrill Garbus is a singer/multi-instrumentalist, member of Tune-Yards, and creator of the new album Sketchy and others including Bird-Brains.
Rickie Lee Jones
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, The Bed (1893)
I first saw this when I lived in Paris in the ’80s. I would walk the long and very hot bridge and streets to the Musée de l’Orangerie, and there it was on the second or third floor, up high, all by itself. I would study his face, and up close you can see her eyes very well. I would think, Look at them—they are so young. He loves her so. She is so exotic to him. The painter gave that to me: that moment, of looking in on this moment in bed, so intimate and yet not really erotic. The painter is watching and never experiencing all that he witnesses, all that he paints. This has the sad delight of someone watching.
Rickie Lee Jones is a singer/songwriter, author of the new memoir Last Chance Texaco, and creator of albums including Pirates.
John Körmeling, Hole in the Cloud (1989)
What I like about John Körmeling is that he reminds me of conceptual composers and musicians who created work that could exist simply as a notion, where a performance isn’t necessary for appreciation of the work. I’m thinking of the John Cage piece that goes on for hundreds of years, Yoko Ono’s aphorisms, or Brian Eno making suggestions for how to behave in the studio. Körmeling’s work occupies that space in a way that really appealed to me. Hole in the Cloud is a representation of something that obviously can’t actually be achieved. The weather is overcast—how do we deal with it? Let’s drill holes in the clouds!
Owen Pallett is a composer/violinist/singer and the creator of the recent album Island and others including (under the name Final Fantasy) He Poos Clouds.
Paul Delaroche, The Execution of Lady Jane Grey (1833)
As a teenager, I was filled with fury and unarticulated frustrations. Hormones were raging, and I was warring against my father. I was in London with my family on a vacation, and he took us to the National Gallery, where I saw this painting. It really captured my imagination because I felt that Lady Jane Grey looked like a martyr. I was in a very Gothic phase, when all I would listen to was Bauhaus and Siouxsie & the Banshees, and this painting spoke to that Gothic heart, through the murder of a young, innocent woman at the mercy of the patriarchy and the monarchy. It spoke to my sense of rebellion at the time, and it’s always really haunted me.
Shirley Manson is a singer, member of Garbage, and creator of the new album No Gods No Masters and classics including Garbage.