Foundations: Sculpture and Literature

Summer Reading List

In keeping with the literary theme of this summer’s Foundations exhibition, below is an annotated list of six recommended books that reveal the wide-ranging connections between artists and writers throughout the 20th century. Whether it be poetry, folklore, memoir, or historical fiction, readers are sure to find something of interest.

Be sure to visit Foundations: Literature and Sculpture this summer to discover further connections between literature and artists in the permanent collection.

Collected Poems and Other Verse
by Stéphane Mallarmé
Oxford University Press, 2006

The poetry of 19th-century French Symbolist Stéphane Mallarmé is often described as enigmatic, haunting, and ungraspable. But several artists took on the challenge of interpreting his work through illustrations and sculpture, including Henri Matisse and Christopher Wilmarth. In 1932 Matisse illustrated Mallarmé’s collection of 29 poems titled Poésies, in what would become the first of more than a dozen artist books or livres d’artistes (literary texts illustrated by important visual artists that became popular in France around the turn of the century) Matisse produced in his lifetime. Nearly 50 years later, Wilmarth likewise produced a suite of seven etchings in response to English translations of Mallarmé’s poetry. As a songwriter and poet himself, Wilmarth strongly identified with Mallarmé’s verses, as he described in a 1982 interview with The New York Times writer Grace Glueck: “[Mallarmé’s] imagination and reverie meant more to him than anything that was actually of this world. His work is about the anguish and longing of experience not fully realized, and I found something of myself in it.” Wilmarth would go on to produce a series of blown-glass sculptures titled Breath in the early 1980s that were inspired by the translated poems of Mallarmé.

Picasso and Apollinaire: The Persistence of Memory
by Peter Read
University of California Press, 2010

In his retelling of the friendship between artist Pablo Picasso and writer, poet, and art critic Guillaume Apollinaire, Peter Read reveals the deep and overlapping connections between modernist literature and the visual arts. The artist and writer first met in 1905 just as Picasso was transitioning from his Rose Period into a developing movement Apollinaire would define as Cubism. Picasso revered the writer as a catalyst and though their friendship was cut short by Apollinaire’s death in 1918, the artist would continue to honor his friend’s memory throughout his life—dabbling in poetry and envisioning monuments to the writer that would ultimately never come to fruition. Picasso described Apollinaire as a genius, who “lit up the darkness and showed us the way.” His plaster Head of a Woman (Fernande) of 1909, on view in the gallery adjacent to Roni Horn, dates to the early years of their friendship and represents the artist’s first attempt to translate into sculpture the faceted planes and multiple viewpoints developed in Cubist painting.

 A Moveable Feast
by Ernest Hemingway
Simon & Schuster, 2009

Ernest Hemingway’s autobiographical account of living in Paris in the 1920s provides an insider’s glimpse into Gertrude Stein’s salon, where the leading figures of art and literature intermingled, shared ideas, and—many claim—defined modernism. Several artists in the Nasher Collection were either collected by Stein or frequented her salon, including Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, and Honoré Daumier.

The Blood of Others
by Simone de Beauvoir
Penguin, 2002

Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti and French writer Simone de Beauvoir were close friends, each appearing in the work of the other: Giacometti drew and sculpted portraits after Beauvoir, and the writer modeled the character of sculptor Marcel in her 1945 novel The Blood of Others after Giacometti. A relatively minor character in a novel that follows the lives of several characters in Nazi-occupied Paris during World War II, Marcel nonetheless plays an important role as an artist who becomes aware of the political nature of his work following his imprisonment in a Nazi labor camp.

I’ll Tell You a Tale
by J. Frank Dobie
University of Texas Press, 1981

In his 1985 essay “Marfa, Texas” published in House and Garden Magazine, American artist Donald Judd describes his reasons for establishing the Chinati Foundation in the remote village of Marfa, Texas. In the first paragraph, Judd writes about his desire for open space near Mexico, continuing in the second paragraph: “I lived in Dallas for two years as a child and knew, as everyone did, that the West, which is the Southwest there, began beyond Fort Worth. The land was pretty empty, defined only by the names in the stories about Texas by J. Frank Dobie…” The Texan author J. Frank Dobie made a name for himself writing folklore, fiction, and a newspaper column, all devoted to life in the Southwest. Through Dobie, the West—and Texas, in particular—was mythologized in ways that captured the imagination of artists, in particular Judd, who established the Chinati Foundation in West Texas in 1986.

A Streetcar Named Desire

by Tennessee Williams
New Directions Publishing, 2004

Tony Smith’s marble sculpture For Dolores, also called Flores para los muertos (Flowers for the Dead), ca. 1973-75 takes its title in part from Tennessee Williams’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play A Streetcar Named Desire (first performed in 1947). Recounting the tumultuous life of Blanche Dubois as she attempts to reconcile with her sister and her brutish husband, A Streetcar Named Desire represents a turn in
theater toward psychodrama and realism, and earned Williams a place among the foremost playwrights of the 20th century. Williams and Smith were close friends—having met in Provincetown in 1942, the playwright stood in as best man in Smith’s wedding to Jane Lawrence a year later. In A Streetcar Named Desire, a Mexican flower seller calls out the line “Flores para los muertos” during a penultimate scene in which Blanche performs a soliloquy discussing her regrets, including the memorable line “the opposite [of death] is desire.”

 


Written by Leigh Arnold, Ph.D, Nasher Sculpture Center Associate Curator

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881–1973) Head of a Woman (Fernande), 1909 Plaster, 18 1/2 x 14 1/8 x 13 3/4 in. (47 x 35.9 x 34.9 cm) Raymond and Patsy Nasher Collection, Nasher Sculpture Center © 2017 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York Photo: David Heald
Auguste Rodin (French, 1840–1917) Hanako, 1908 Plaster, 6 3/4 x 4 5/8 x 5 1/2 in. (17.1 x 11.7 x 14 cm) Raymond and Patsy Nasher Collection, Nasher Sculpture Center
Honoré Daumier (French, 1808–1879) Ratapoil, c. 1850 (cast 1925) Bronze, 17 x 6 x 7 1/2 in. (43.2 x 15.2 x 19.1 cm) Raymond and Patsy Nasher Collection, Nasher Sculpture Center Photo: Tom Jenkins