Two decades ago I had dinner in Williamsburg, Va., with a business colleague and close friend of my father’s named Wilkinson, who had devoted much of his intellectual life to trying to solve the origins and purpose of Stonehenge.
Over cocktails, I began to question the old gent for the umpteenth time about his views on the Druids, the stones, the astrology of it all, when Wilkinson excused himself. After some minutes, I grew concerned and walked out on the restaurant patio in search of my guest, where I found him calmly urinating in a potted plant.
Wilkinson turned to me and smiled, "I just don’t care about Stonehenge anymore, Charlie." I entertained similar feelings about the Beach Boys’ seminal unreleased Smile album, after it was officially released, and I raved about it in Artnet Magazine. After 45 years, I had ceased to care. So imagine my chagrin when 30-something artist Erik den Breejen called me up to announce that his paintings based on Smile were debuting at the Freight & Volume gallery in Chelsea.
A bit bored, I made it over there, also aware that Freight & Volume is an operation devoted to the merger of visual art and text, a subject which, being a writer, I am skeptical about. Den Breejen uses a block print technique, loading up his canvases with Beach Boys lyrics and critiques thereof in waves of pastel colors.
Gallery manager Philip Dmochowski told me that the most expensive and largest Den Breejen goes for $12,500 and that Brian Wilson devotees have already bought a few for their rec rooms. I promised to get the word out, because the stuff is pretty darn cute, and to help F&V contact Smile lyricist Van Dyke Parks. After all, Den Breejen’s paintings are about his words.
Another subject that might feel exhausting is that of psychiatric practice to the 77-year-old New Yorker legend Janet Malcolm. After all, it is her life’s work, and she has been sued, attacked, as well as hosannaed, for her writing on the Freud archives and shrinkage in general.
Yet, Malcolm’s third solo exhibition at Lori Bookstein Fine Art consists of collages based on the office notes of an emigre shrink from the 1950s "which have recently come into my possession," as Malcolm writes in a terse gallery press release, accompanied by an equally vague essay by her New Yorker colleague Hilton Als. The work is competently executed enough to invite a mind to search for the identity of the shrink, in much the same way that old Wilkinson tried to divine the meaning of Stonehenge.
There are tantalizing mentions of actress Shelley Winters and artist Eva Hesse, all contextualized by Malcolm’s crisp visual judgment. But, wearily, I gave it up, the end of another year also being the end of searching for a week or two. Perhaps you can take up the quest for me, while listening to Smile on your iPod.
Erik den Breejen, "Smile," Dec. 10, 2011-Jan. 14, 2014, at Freight & Volume, 530 West 24th Street, New York, N.Y. 10011
Janet Malcolm, "Free Associations," Dec. 8, 2011-Jan. 14, 2012, at Lori Bookstein Fine Art, 138 10th Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10011
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).