Smoka, Mocha, Joka.

I’m sitting here wondering what the next post is going to be about because I don’t have a clue right now.  Trying to please the reader is like trying to aaaaaaaaaaaaaa ignite a cigar without a flame.  In short, I need a subject that will ignite the reader’s interest.  And that ain’t easy.

Hey!  I smoked a flavored cigar recently – a PDR 1878 Natural Roast Café Toro.  At first, I had my doubts.  I’m not accustomed to dip cigars.  But I had access. I also received a First Edition of Sylvia Plath’s Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams (1978).  Excellent copy.  It includes one of her most famous short stories (though she’s widely known for her exquisite poetry and her one published novel, The Bell Jar,1963) – “Mothers,” (1962).

So I open up the plastic bin where I keep flavored cigars and pick out one from the rough-hewn wooden red box – this, this Café toro.  I walk outside to the lounge, read –  the garage.  I amble in.  Once I feel comfortable, I put the flame to the tobacco – I draw in the air resulting in a cloud of faintly, Wonka-scented exhaled smoke. 

Powder!

That’s all I could think of at first.  You know the ground chocolate confection you mix with milk?  Briefly, it was kind of nostalgic – but a bit offputting as well.  Remember, I don’t usually smoke any infused, flavored, or whatever you want to call those types of cigars.

I was, I will admit, stē-unned.  This one was called Natural and it did taste, well, natural (but I really didn’t have a baseline.  I don’t drink coffee.).  There wasn’t any chemically concocted taste, either.  Rather the exotic roasted bean flavor was somehow miraculously married with fermented tobacco leaves (which we all know have some notes of chocolate in them anyway) came out tasting good!  Methinks you need a good palate to detect that.  Bing!

Because of a mailing/ordering mixup,  I never thought another book would show up the same day -but it did, by Bette Howland, a hardcover (2021).  But I already have a copy.  A softcover, as opposed to a paperback which is smaller than a softcover, and the quality of the paper is not high-grade at all.  Pulp.  But I didn’t need it.  So back it would go.  (And the bookseller is charging me a restocking fee of 15% to return it.  Do you believe that?)   Anyway, I got the book boxed up within fifteen minutes of my receiving it, got into the car, and dropped it off at the nearest post office.  A hardcover beats out a softcover any day for a book collector such as myself.  I’m really searching for an original edition of, Calm Sea and the Prosperous Voyage (1978).  Not a reprint.

So my taste buds are savagely salivating – dripping with chocolate, and a heady hint of coffee (Mocha) both creating exotic flavor experiences in my mouth and on my lips.  I smoked the cigar to the end and was not disappointed. 

I looked up the tobaccos and found out that the natural has an Ecuadorian Connecticut-shade wrapper,  Dominican Criollo binder, and a Dominican 98 filler.  

There are three strengths.  The medium has a sun-grown Claro wrapper,  a Dominican Criollo 98 binder,  and a Dominican Criollo 98 filler.  Finally, the dark roast is wrapped in Brazilian Maduro, the binder is Dominican Criollo 98 and balanced out with a Dominican Criollo 98/Nicaraguan Criollo 98 filler.  The cigars are gently arranged in 20 count boxes, and are available in three sizes: Corona ~ 5.25 × 44; Robusto ~ 5 × 52; and Toro ~ 6 × 52.

It’s odd that the reprint edition of the original Howland softcover is a deep-sea blue while the spine is a pale pink.  Hard to find on the shelves when I’m looking for blue.

So what to write about in the world of cigars?  The tsunami of cigar brands that continue to flood an already saturated market?  The new book about Lorraine Hansberry, the author of, The Raisin in the Sun, and its cultural connection to cigars?  Certainly not a puff-by-puff cigar review.   Perhaps a piece on all the backorders from major companies, or how about the obvious selfish, flagellating fragmentation of the Cigar Coalition?  Or maybe why I smoked a flavored cigar in the first place?   Who knows.  But I’ll find something – “in the way she moves .  . . .”  

Split.

My mind has indeed bifurcated.  Officially. The numbers do not lie.  The thoughts in my brain are always whizzing about at such a blistering speed that I challenge Einstein’s Theory of Relativity that “no particle that has mass can travel as fast as the speed of light—about 186,000 miles per second.”

Ah but is a thought a particle?  No. Thoughts are “impulses of electricity . . . .”   How fast do electrical impulses move? Guessing from research, that depends on the size of the neuron but for the most part about 250 m.p.h.  S-L-O-W.

So what I think is fast – isn’t.  But in terms of recognition, it is – fast.  So in short, the changes that have taken place in my cranium may seem slow when compared to the speed of light, but in reality, they are more comparable to the leatherneck sea turtle when traveling on the land about 6 m.p.h.  This changes to about 21 m.p.h. In water. Still not fast – fast, but still not that slow. But a change nonetheless.

Point.  Cigars and Art are catching up with each other at what I consider a tremendous rate of speed.  The friends are increasing in number on social media and the communication between myself and other artists is growing exponentially.   Being asked to join art sites has been – even with my impatience, gotten out of control. I’m on long-term art crack. A slick thought of being out of my mind.

Point.  What is the point?   Growth.

Physically there are various differences in the shapes of cigars.  Figurado, Robusto, shaggy foot, smooth cap, there are cigars with caveman designs on them – no change in flavor, just appearance.  Same as art, I suppose. Although taste would be quite different. Taste in art means a preference.  Taste in cigars means, ah . . . having to do with the sensation of flavor in the mouth and on the tongue, etc., etc., etc.

What happens though is the shift has had such a noticeable effect on my consciousness, it’s like devouring donuts, and then one day the site of the fried desserts want to make me vomit.  

What do I do?  

Ponder this.

Can I fixate on both?   Donut. Coffeecake.  Green River.  Perrier Peach.  Maduro. Connecticut.  Lonsdale.  Gordo. Barberpole.  Some shit design.

Is satisfactionan element that needs to be discussed? Yes and no.

Cancel cigars? Accept art?

No.  And YES!

What, then?  Fusion during differentiation of muscle, bone, and trophoblast cells, during embryogenesis?”  (Google)

No, interest my man. Developmental dividends.  Of what? Desire. Lust. Passion.  A change, a metamorphosis? Morphing or collusion?  Shading or blacking out?

There is no explanation that will satisfy a cigar manager.  Nor a gallerist.

It’s f*@king FOCUS!

Deliberation.  Mass acceleration.  Pure glistening “Breaking Bad” powder-blue rock candy!  It’s the excitement that you’re not stuck. You can make transitions.  You can make the prayer a reality. Whatever you like and whatever you don’t like.  DO IT! Don’t be static, single, stagnant. To hell with the comments. You can’t hear them anyway if you have conviction.

PTL!  The mind is a magnificent gift.

So let your mind bifurcate.  Go for it!   SPLIT!

Find Out About Jane.

For years I’ve been smoking a cigar in the garage at night.  Sometimes I stay for an hour – or until well past midnight into the next day.  Too, I don’t usually light up just one, either – depending on my mood, whether I’m having a textual conversation, or just staring out the window contemplating what to make of this life.

Most of those hours in the lounge, are occupied by me writing.  Sometimes I have a purpose and other times I straightforwardly write about my current situation or choice to be an entrepreneur (cigar broker), a writer (freelance), or an artist (playful).

I have ideas in my head that spiral so fast and unbalanced that after I’ve written them down (verbatim) I can barely decipher whatever it is I just scribbled on the yellow, blue-lined paper.  I try to write legibly, but it’s useless.  And for many months to avoid confusion, I used a computer pad.  But even then, I discovered the finished article resulted in a concatenation of comments that would make William S. Burrough’s prose read like Shakespeare.  But I would edit what I wanted and post the damn thing anyway.

Numerous times I have asked myself – “Why am I doing this?”  Why am I using my time to write about the interaction between cigars and culture?  Yet, without an answer, I can show you literally thousands of pages of twirly lines with black scratch outs and unreadable maps of lines and arrows going from this word to that word and from this sentence to that sentence – all for what? 

Right now I’ve slowed the posting to my blog to a snail’s pace.  Why?  Gloomily, I could say because there are few who really care what I write.  And that may be true.  But it isn’t!

But I think the honest answer the ink has slowly gone dry is because it is so difficult to attract the attention of the cigar-chomping community unless I write sugared reviews, manufacturing techniques, tips on the pairing of booze and cigars, and lastly – cloned profiles of the current rock star in the industry, (though that’s not too bad – the fifteen minutes of fame articles I can handle).  But I won’t!   

I am still a believer that there are those in the cigar coterie who have yet to be turned into butter knives by reading the same type of articles each month.

And so grasping onto hope is what keeps me in the game, both as a cigar broker –  and a writer.  At some point, the battle for blatant bifurcation will become crystal clear.  

READ ON!

Pepper dash Head Arrives

Incredible.  Some cigars take so long to finally appear in the market it’s a wonder that there’s any interest at all in the bloody thing when it’s finally released.  This wait was simply worth every empty promise and damned delay – the new addition to Isabela’s Exotic line the “Pepper-head” 6 x 60 Barber Pole.

Nestled peacefully in smooth wood boxes of 25, I imagined the rainbow of lights silently shooting out into the deep dark firmament as the box would be opened to glistening shards of cellophane reflectively revealing the tantalizing thick-to-thin ribbons of five-year-old aged tobacco just waiting to finally be caressed by the warm hands of a man who has dreamt of this moment in quiet wisps of nocturnal thought.

Shivers of excitement, like the slight tender touch of the nails of a woman on a man’s chest, ran up and down my spine as I sat in a rickety, metal patio chair in the front of the cigar lounge waiting to finally hold one.  The cigar’s creator slowly grasped the tails of cellophane and passed two over to me as the wind picked up and the shards of cold air increased my anticipation almost to the point of visible spasmodic shudders.

The sun was going down as twilight grew.  I was uncomfortable and wanted to leave so I could begin my journey home to my lounge where I would slip the cello off this magnificent tobacco conical miracle.  

I remember smiling, rising from the frigid metal chair and placing the two cigars in a plastic bag, and then into my sample case to ensure safe, warm travel.

Isabela’s “Pepper-head” did not disappoint.  I sat in my private lounge, and once the stripped aged cigar met the gentle warmth of the flame, I began to draw in what I hoped and prayed would be a rapturous cloud of smoke, overflowing with fascinating, striking, kinky flavors and essences of rare, spicy peppercorns from its organic, flowering  Piperaceae vine.

I held the dream in my mouth as my tongue gently released the smoke and as the bouquet filled the room I swooned with serious, sensual satisfaction.

Irv CigarBroker Manages Being Out Of Control.

Today Miles, E, and I installed my new! Heavy bag from Ringside®️ in the garage.  It wasn’t easy.  The bag weighs 100 pounds and comes with an ultra-durable Powerhide®️ covering.  When it was dropped off by FedEx, (ha!) the box was in a shambles.  (It was in a cardboard box that would have fit my Uncle Matt.)  Luckily, the bag itself was pristine, unscratched, and defect-free. 

We decided to hang it with an Outslayer®️ Professional Full Velcro®️ strap capable of holding 550 pounds.  Safe.  It’s as gorgeous as a strap can be.  Max?

Ok, the backstory.  Despite the pablum you’ve been fed, being a Cigar Broker is one of the hardest jobs on the planet.  It’s sales.  Enough said.  Stress wells up in you over the years and if you haven’t a release valve, the pressure inevitably builds up and is released in a variety of ways, some including:

Exhaustion or trouble sleeping.

Headaches, dizziness, or shaking.

High blood pressure.

Muscle tension or jaw clenching.

Stomach or digestive problems.

Trouble having sex.

Weak immune system.

Stress can also lead to emotional and mental symptoms like:

Anxiety or irritability.

Depression.

Panic attacks.

Sadness. (Cleveland Clinic)

********

So much for the romance (you know – swaying green fields of silken tobacco, etc.) But if you have a passion for cigars and an insatiable entrepreneurial spirit – you figure it out.  You have to. 

How?  I usually write.  But lately, with COVID, and dealing with those who think it’s a joke – I needed a bit more relief.  No.  Strike that . . . I needed a whole lot more relief.  Or quit.  And I ain’t no quitter.

The seed?  On Easter Sunday, E and I gave Miles a pair of Everlast®️ 14 ounce boxing gloves – blazing red.  They looked great.  He exercises at work on the company’s heavy bag.  So naturally, I tried the gloves on and I felt an instant spasm of excitement.

Three weeks later, I have a bag, a strap, and a pair of leather gloves (black, 16oz.) – and a zeal to start punching.  So this past Saturday we set it all up in the garage and the end result is a chilling orgasm of being out of control.

Take that, and that, and . . .  THAT . . .  and . . . that. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

True cigar lovers do not need punctuation to get this.

Comparing why I like a particular cigar to my inability to fully understand the plot of a movie can have its pinnacle in the idea of mysterious thought of how a particular film confuses me or how a specific brand of cigar draws me to it repeatedly by trying to comprehend what that magnetic attraction is – is thereby creating a silent void that genuinely pulls me into trying to figure it out (such as the palindrome “Hannah” which is the same be it spelled backward or forward – or how did it become what it is?) grabs me even tighter to try and untangle the reality of such a phenomenon such as the unexplainable essence if I may call it that of a blend because it is hardly attainable through the normal course of trusting the senses or intellect to battan down the actual reason it is unsolvable and not wanting to let go or give up on its baffling existence that will not or cannot penetrate my psyche or my awareness to answer the conundrum (which in and of itself is a polymorphous predicament) with a logical and satisfying resolution because despite the voluminous varieties of brands available – and the sheer number of ideas that can twist and turn a plot into an extreme existential experience that there really is no definitive conclusion as to why one movie is impossible to make sense or why the description of a brand’s piquancy is hopelessly stuck in ambered limbo i.e.my raison d’être to confidently compare the two.

The Perfect Place to Smoke a Cigar.

I miss New York more and more each day.  I was there in 2019, just before the pandemic hit, with my wife, E, and Miles, my son.  Lately, I can’t get my mind away from that trip.  So occasionally I pick out one of the photos that I took while there and post it on Facebook’s My Story.  Each glimpse of the photos, and the crystal clear memory of the moment I took it, mesmerizes my nervous system transporting me back to that exact second in time.

(Cigar fanatics please stay with me – this is what you call “a buildup.” )

Why do I adore the city so much?  Partially it’s an unknown, subconscious emotional attachment that I’ve had since I was a small boy.  Sometimes my Dad would bring me the “real” New York Times from the newsstand downstairs at the train station in Chicago.  As I held it in my hands, I could imagine myself picking up the evening edition at Grand Central because this paper was flown in that day and was the same one that was available in New York City – that day.  My emotions run high because my heart warms to its highest temperature each time I visit The Big Apple or even anticipate an upcoming visit.

The city is the quintessential concatenation of cultural chaos that no other famous metropolis can compare to.  None.  Of course, many cities offer various attractions, but New York City IS the attraction!  

I write this article to cheer me up as I slosh through this crazy, bizarre, fragmented world WE have unknowingly created.  As mentioned in the paragraph above, every time I see a photo of that trip I post one of them on My Story on Facebook thus “. . . releasing in my body oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin . . . often referred to as our ‘happy hormones.’”  (Google)  The end result is a solid recollection of a particular sound, aroma, or shivering experience (like seeing Billy Joel live at Madison Square Garden).

(Okay, cigar freaks, this is for you!) 

There’s only one thing that – for me,  makes New York absolutely perfect.  And that is walking down a crowded street with Miles, smoking a free Martinez handmade cigar (gifted to me by José), fresh from the factory located at 171 W 29th St. while heading back to Sassoon’s to see how a hairdresser can make a beautiful woman even more beautiful.

Two Pet Peeves.

Two things that really tick me off are a cigar that has a tight draw, and a used book with writing or underlining of any kind on the pages. 

Case in point:  I just received “Kafka Was the Rage: A Greenwich Village Memoir,” by Anatole Broyard.  It’s a paperback and with my cash credits, I paid only 99 cents (for shipping) – the actual cost of the book was $4.79 (the exact amount of my credit).   

Now, this is the first time this has ever happened to me.  As a book collector, I trust the seller’s general description of the book that’s for sale.  It’s important to be exact.  Strike that.  No.  Condition is critical to me as a collector and crucial to my enjoying the read.

Why?  Lines under sentences (and this former book owner went gonzo) or blots of ink, smudges, or even bent pages are all distractions to the flow when I read the book because my eyes are drawn to these imperfections.  But do I throw the book out?  Absolutely not.  (I’ll explain below.)

Same with a cigar that has a kink in it so the draw isn’t velvety smooth – it obliterates the experience.  In fact, see that cigar in the photo above?  I can get more air out of a dry chicken bone that has been encased in plumber’s putty than I can from that stopped-up cigar.  Do I throw it away?  Absolutely not.

I’ll tell you what I do.  I fiddle with it for just a few minutes.  But, as a cigar broker (and one with very little patience), I have the advantage of going back downstairs and reopening the box or unzipping the bag and picking out a new one.  Once my choice is made, and after snipping off the end, I toast the foot and try it again.  Nine times out of ten the second one is fine.  Rarely do I find more than one bad cigar in a lot.

How long did that take me?  I have a small house.  So in a few minutes, I’m sitting back in the garage enjoying the cigar – and staring at the f#@king book that’s been zebra-ed to death wondering what to do with it.

So what do I do?  I would ordinarily bring up the website I purchased the book from and fill out the order form to return the book and ask for a credit on my account.  But this particular company will not pay for the return postage.  So will I send it back?  No.  It becomes a cost situation concatenated with common sense.  (Forget the 99 cents – it’s the principle here.) 

What I will do is go back to the same website where I bought the tagged book from, find another copy that’s in better condition and order it again (often a small note with the reorder about the damaged book will shame the bookseller to use the money I paid for the new one as a “credit courtesy” for being a discounter douchebag – no guarantee, however).

Point of all this?  Time and level of angst.  Time lost from the plugged cigar – a mere few minutes.  Level of angst in waiting for the book in better condition to arrive – approximately a week.  

What’s the point of all this? 

A fine smoke, and I did get the credit – without having to return the book.  

Smoke it for yourself.

Normally I’ll read a book before I comment on any portion of it, but in this case, I have to mention a most revealing quote from the review (TLS 2.26.21), that when paraphrased, will raise a red flag to all those who write and read cigar reviews, or attempt to predict to like or dislike a particular blend without lighting up.

The book is by Guy Davenport, a well-known American writer, and was originally published by Harper Collins in 1989.  Its title, “A Balthus Notebook,” is about the oft-misunderstood Polish-French artist, Balthasar Klosowski de Rola – known as Balthus.

It’s a short book of only 112 pages but covers an enormous amount of material about the painter.  

At one point the reviewer, Harry Strawson, quotes Davenport, “The ‘arrogance of insisting’ (on an artwork’s meaning) ‘closes off curiosity, perception, the adventure of discovery.’”

This latter paragraph can easily be paraphrased to read: “The arrogance of suggesting or meticulously attempting to describe a cigar blend’s flavor closes off ‘curiosity, perception, and the adventure of discovery.’”

And to wit – it’s the bloody truth.

So try ‘em all for yourself.  Otherwise, you’ll never really know.

Clear, concise critiques.

If cigar reviews were written as clear and concise as this article reproduced from the March 16th, 2020 New Yorker magazine – it would be interesting to see how the resultant critique would influence the sales of the brand.  (Warning: The article refers to a time in world history that is considered one of humankind’s most shocking atrocities. If you can’t hande facts – scroll by.)

********

The Dark Revelations of Gerhard Richter.

Though the artist was previously indirect in his references to the horrors of the Third Reich, he has reason to focus on them now, in a retrospective at the Met Breuer.

By Peter Schjeldahl

March 9, 2020

“Birkenau.”* The dread name—of the main death facilities at Auschwitz—entitles four large abstract paintings and four full-sized digital reproductions of them in the last gallery of “Painting After All,” a peculiarly solemn Gerhard Richter retrospective at the Met Breuer. The works are based on four clandestine photographs that were smuggled out of the concentration camp in 1944. Two, taken from the shadowed exit of a gas chamber, show naked corpses strewn on the ground and smoke rising from bodies afire in a trench beyond them. Men in uniform stand at ease—two appear to chat—amid the shambles. Richter first saw the images in the fifties. He encountered them again in 2008 and kept the worst of them hanging in his studio in Cologne. In 2014, he projected them onto canvas and traced them. As he worked, they became illegible. The finished paintings exemplify Richter’s frequent style of densely layered, dragged pigments. They are unusually harsh in aspect, with clashing red and green, sickly whites, and grim blacks. But you’d hardly guess, by looking (at) their awful inspiration.

“Richter’s “Birkenau” is a provocation—who dares take history’s ultimate obscenity as a theme, or even an allusion, for art?—but one that makes biographical sense. Born in Dresden in 1932, Richter is haunted, like many of his German contemporaries, by memories and associations from the Third Reich and the Second World War. Previously indirect in his references to the horror, he has reason to focus on it now, for a show that comes late in his life, and which he says might be the last one of his six-decade career as a chameleon stylist and visual philosopher of painting. (He’s eighty-eight and, not well enough to travel, did not attend the opening.) The shock of “Birkenau” retroactively exposes a thread of sorrow and guilt through (sic) an art of invariably subtle, at times teasing, ambiguities. His photographic images transposed to canvas and painterly techniques that exploit chance have often seemed deliberately arbitrary as if to forswear feeling. He brings to everything an attitude of radical skepticism. But it has dawned on many of us, over the years, that plenty of emotion, like banked fire, underlies his restless ways.

“Heretofore, Richter’s only overt reference to the Holocaust was a suite of touching illustrations for an edition of “The Diary of Anne Frank,” picturing Frank’s face in a range of styles, which he made in 1957, while he was unhappily apprenticed as a Socialist Realist painter in East Germany. (The illustrations are not in the show.) Having glimpsed free-world art when he was permitted visits to exhibitions in the West, he fled via East Berlin in 1961, shortly before the Wall went up. He was soon in Düsseldorf, in the thick of an avant-garde that was both piqued and excited by Pop art and the traditions of Dada. “Capitalist Realism,” he and some new friends, including the brilliant Sigmar Polke, termed their response, which, among other things, degraded the glossiness of advertising material to matte grunge. Richter took to painting copies of banal black-and-white photographs, smearing the paint to emphasize the change of (the) medium. Among a number of these in the show are paintings from family snapshots that touch on Richter’s and Germany’s dire past.

“One, “Uncle Rudi” (1965), is of a relative—in uniform and smiling goofily—who died fighting in the war. Another, “Aunt Marianne” (painted in 1965 and rendered as a luminous digital print in 2018), shows a woman cradling baby Gerhard in her arms; she was adjudged schizophrenic, imprisoned, and then killed in a Nazi eugenics program. Keeping company with those poignancies is “Mr. Heyde” (1965), taken from a news photograph of the concentration-camp psychiatrist Werner Heyde being arrested, in 1959, after fourteen years of maintaining a false identity. (He hanged himself in prison in 1964.) Richter wouldn’t have expected viewers to recognize those subjects readily, and he was at no pains to explain them. Their meaning stayed personal, with roots in his boyhood, when he was enlisted in the junior auxiliary of the Hitler Youth and his father served in the Wehrmacht. Not until “Birkenau” would he palpate the wound again.

“It feels heavy-handed of me (though on this occasion Richter quite asks for it) to be zeroing in on some specific content of his art, which always shades subjects with undecidable intention. That goes for early images of tabloid sensations, such as yearbook-style portraits of eight nurses who were murdered on a single night in Chicago, in 1966, and forty-eight deadpan copies of photographs of famous artists and intellectuals. The latter served, perhaps, as marmoreal father figures for a largely fatherless generation. (It’s estimated that more than four million German men died in the war.) Uncertainty clings, as well, to later works, including jittery cityscapes that may be bombed ruins or simply indistinct views of an intact metropolis; landscapes that could be either sarcastic or sincere (sic) revisitations to German Romanticism (I vote for wistful); funereal paintings of candles and skulls; and ravishing photo-realist pictures, true to the hues of color film, of subjects including members of his family. One of these last, from 1988, portraying his daughter Betty from behind, seems to (sic) me the single most beautiful painting made by anyone in the last (sic) half century. It is not in the present show. Nor is “October 18, 1977,” Richter’s famous series drawn from photographs of the Baader-Meinhof terrorist gang, in life and, as suicides in prison, death. Those darkling images will always tug at our general assessments of Richter. Whatever his reason for taking on a subject that was charged, at the time, with conflicting political passions, I believe that the work asserts an artist’s license to transcend partisan judgment, independent of opinions that may even include his own.

“Irony blankets Richter’s career. He is a darling of the contemporary art market, with his works selling at auction for tens of millions of dollars. But his longtime best friend, and a co-curator of this show, is the critic Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, a hard-bitten apostle of Frankfurt School anti-capitalist, all but anti-aesthetic, political theory. In a notorious interview, in 1986, Buchloh insisted on interpreting Richter’s art as (sic) historical critique skewering the bourgeois decadence of painting, and Richter placidly declared his wholehearted allegiance to Western painting’s grand tradition. Richter said, “The reason I don’t argue in ‘socio-political terms’ is that I want to produce a picture and not an ideology.” He declines to claim any subversive intent, even for his occasional work in odd formats, such as stark charts of random colors and the use of transparent glass in place of (the) canvas—two predilections that came together in his successful commission, in 2007, of an immense stained-glass window for Cologne Cathedral, proving that the experiments had been exploratory rather than tendentious. I like to imagine Buchloh as a negative conscience perched on Richter’s shoulder, amusingly scandalized as the artist hews again and yet again to ancient values of meaningfulness and pleasure.

“While never forsaking representation—as seen at the Met Breuer in portraits of his third wife, Sabine Moritz, and their three children, which radiate Titianesque color—Richter took up chromatic abstraction in the seventies, overlaying brushed, slathered, and scraped swaths of paint. I remember hating those on my first sight of them, circa 1980. They seemed to me sloppy travesties of Abstract Expressionism, and pointless: inferior coals to the Newcastle of Willem de Kooning. Gradually, I caught their drift as pragmatic explorations of painterly phenomena: ur-paintings. Not only condoning but soliciting accident, Richter attends to the multifarious effects of layered paint that has been repeatedly smashed and dragged, wet-in-wet. He appraises the results with an exercise of taste, deciding what to keep and what to efface. In this, his true predecessor is Jackson Pollock, who, dripping paint, collaborated with chance and monitored the results.

“At last I saw, as I still see, Richter’s abstractions as miraculously, often staggeringly, beautiful, with an air of having come into being through a will of their own, happening to—rather than issuing from—their creator. They provide the chief pleasures of the show, which excludes the more brazen of his subjects—there are none of his early borrowings from pornography, for example—and the most seductive of his color-photograph transformations, including floral still-lifes. The selection favors eerie minor keys, as seems appropriate for being a retrospective bathed in the terrible resonance of “Birkenau.” ♦

*(“Birkenau” 2014 by Gerhard Richter)