Published by Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego (2003)
Manny Farber (1917–2008) was an American painter and film critic. He was recognized nationally for his witty and stubbornly opinionated writing as the film critic for the New Republic and The Nation. Manny Farber is also much admired as a painter and teacher. This catalogue, About Face shows the intersection of these two important aspects of Farber’s life. Published on the occasion of his retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego which traveled to PS1 Contemporary Art Center, Long Island, New York and Austin Museum of Art, Texas. About Face includes full color images of his paintings as well as personal photographs, timeline and complete biography.
About the Artist
Cinematic, featuring still-life imagery, Farber’s paintings are driven by a relentless engagement with process more than a desire to speak of film or flowers. The viewer is pulled up close by messages scribed into the paint, alternately deadpan and unexpectedly revealing, surly and self-deprecating. The missives record the nagging details of composing a painting, things that need to be done, fragments of conversation, and the anxious and very funny narratives of dreams. Scattered across the paintings like untethered thoughts and ebullient wise cracks, these dispatches conspire with the wily, witty, and far from chance encounters of objects to discombobulate the observer. Here exposed to the eavesdropping eye, the notes take time to read. Lingering over the writing, the viewer is immersed in passages of painting, enveloped emphatically in the artist’s process of looking, of making an image. With an impressive variety of fruit, flowers, rebar rods and old-master pictures as his props, his table-top compositions are a feast to behold. The perspective is distinct as he arranges objects on a horizontal surface that is lifted upright for display. With each composition there seems to be no end to what Farber is able to do with his unusual way of seeing. Operating on multiple levels Farber’s paintings for all their apparent spontaneity are tautly structured. At once grand and supple, contrary and generous the paintings record the process of their making – they are unwavering embodiments of doubt and decisiveness.
After Farber’s passing on August 18, 2008, several friends, admirers and critics wrote beautiful passages in honor of the man and his work, here are a select few:
“With most artist, after their death, the reputation recedes. But I believe his art will continue to grow in importance. We’ll be hearing about Manny Farber’s art for decades. There are only a few artists that you believe in fully, and I believe fully in his art.”
– Hugh Davies, director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego
“He wasn’t ever going to try to hit you over the head with meaning or message, by trying to create what he pejoratively referred to as “masterpiece art. But like the great Italian painter Giorgio Morandi, he gave humble forms a second life, a glow that invested them with a large beauty.”
– Robert L. Pincus, art critic for the San Diego Union-Tribune
“Eventually his paintings became lushly colored spreads of flowers and fruit, often studded with reproductions of old-master paintings in books and on postcards as well as scrawled noted on scraps of paper. Their surfaces were too painterly to be trompe l’oeil, but too deliberately distributed not to be construed as some sort of text.”
– Luc Sante for Artforum