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Emily Oren


City Journal: Why Painting Is a Lot Like Tennis

WITH THIS ISSUE WE INTRODUCE A NEW DEPARTMENT. IN CITY JOURNAL, COLUMNIST EMILY OREN WILL REPORT ON THE VISUAL CULTURE OF NEW YORK. (NOW AND THEN UNDER THE SAME HEADING WE'LL INCLUDE REPORTS FROM OTHER PLACES.) COMING IN THE MAY/JUNE ISSUE: A FRESH LOOK AT STAINED GLASS. AND IN JULY AUGUST: A VISIT TO A NEWLY CONSTRUCTED KOREAN PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH IN QUEENS, ONE OF THE MOST RADICALLY DESIGNED BUILDINGS TO APPEAR IN THE CITY IN DECADES. OREN IS A FIRST-YEAR STUDENT OF ARCHITECTURE AT COOPER UNION. HER HOME CHURCH IS HOLY CROSS ANTIOCHIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH IN CANTONSVILLE, MARYLAND.

"Were these our seats?" says my friend Penley, just a little too loudly. The woman in front of him has moved our belongings onto one chair and is now occupying the other one, in pretended ignorance of the plight she has put us in. New Yorkers, I've learned, can be subtle with their incivility. Especially at art shows.

"I think so," I reply, in a tone designed to make the squatter uncomfortable. We continue this obviously staged dialogue for a minute or so, but the woman ignores us and continues her conversation. We're going to have to get another chair from the back.

We are here to listen to Eric Fischl. He is an artist, mostly a painter, famous for his vernacular, suburban backdrops that depict scenes bordering on the taboo and dangerous, and often hinting at the allegorical although the viewer can't always readily unpack the immediately suggestive imagery.

Fischl is very distinguished looking, with a black blazer over a black dress T-shirt and suit pants. His graying hair is longish, brushing his shoulders at times; he has that Richard Gere look about him, and I think that he could definitely pass for an onscreen presence. He waits patiently while someone delivers the obligatory aggrandizing introduction; then he steps to the microphone.

"Can everyone hear me?" he asks, with the confidence of a high-school debater who knows he's about to give a decisive rebuttal. There is a chorus of "no," "yes", ...

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