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The Pope and the Wood are two homes connected by a walkway in the Kalorama neighborhood of Washington DC. In 2016 Jeff Bezos paid 23 million dollars cash for them and began a 12 million dollar renovation. A local news and society blog published the plans for the renovation shortly thereafter. In the architect’s rendering of the mansion’s extensive garden the circumference of each tree’s foliage is accounted for by irregular circles of varying size. These overlapping forms recall the gears and sprockets which lined the bowels of the huge apparatus that devoured and regurgitated Charlie Chaplin in his manic masterpiece Modern Times.

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The Zanni was an archetypal figure in Italian Commedia del Arte. At turns clumsy or cunning, he was usually a servant who performed as many tasks as his master required. As factotum the Zanni inhabited the role of the role switcher, one who typified the madcap energy of his genre and in so doing elaborated the affective dimension of wage labor. The word Zanni derives from the common name Gianni and begets the English adjective zany. Sianne Ngai posits the zany as one of the more prescient aesthetic criteria for an age when the boundary between work and leisure is increasingly hard to distinguish and even wasting time produces value for someone.

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A gamepiece represents a sub-genre of traditional Northern European still life painting. These works depicted the spoils of a hunt— dead herons, ducks, et al. — often set against the backdrop of an idyllic country estate.

Sometimes when standing before a gamepiece we find our gaze drawn past all the the finely articulated feathers and fur, the dewey petals and glittering silver, into the scene’s looser arcadian depths. Beyond their titular victims we come upon the tiny faceless aristocrats who dot their manicured grounds. Oh! To pause and contemplate those Grecian follies! To throw breadcrumbs to the swans that drift upon the lake’s crystalline surface! To marvel at those necks, a pair of languorous brushstrokes, bent towards our gaze’s humble offering.

That the owners of these works were not the landed gentry depicted, but rather the urban dwelling bourgeoisie who had already begun to supersede them is not besides the point.

We feel how the painting mirrors and perhaps exacerbates the aspirational gaze of the arriviste. It’s too bad that so much of life is oriented towards longing.

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Sometimes when I’m riding my bike to the studio, if there is no traffic behind me, I like to turn the handlebars this way and that, so that I zig zag slowly back and forth across the road. In these moments I feel more like a skier on a snowy mountain face than a harried commuter on a black stretch of pavement. Each time I change directions I’m headed nowhere at all, and so I revel in centripetal force’s gentle tug. Perhaps this is an example of what Elizabeth Grosz called “life becoming artistic.”

S.B. 2019

 

Sebastian Black (born 1985 in New York, USA) lives and works in New York.

He received his MFA from Columbia University in 2012. Solo exhibitions of his work have been held at C L E A R I N G New York and Brussels; Balice Hertling, Paris, FR; Croy Nielsen, Berlin, DE; and Karma, New York, USA. His work has been featured in group exhibitions at Kunsthalle Andtrax, Mallorca, ES; as well as Hauser & Wirth, Marlborough, JTT, Rachel Uffner, New York, USA. Sebastian Black’s work is part of the collections of Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris, FR; MAMCO, Geneva, CH; Modern Forms, London, UK.

His first monograph, Puppy Paintings, was recently published by Triangle Books.