Features | Manny Farber and All That Jazz

By Jean-Pierre Gorin

In 2006, Jean-Pierre Gorin produced and directed a tribute to Manny Farber at the University of California, San Diego called Manny Farber and All That Jazz. An exhaustive affair, the evening included a panel discussion, live music, and excerpts from films such as Husbands, Comanche Station, and In a Lonely Place. The centerpiece of the event was a visual exploration of “Planet Manny,” constructed by Gorin using military mapping software that made extensive use of 4K technology to present 13 of Farber’s paintings of Farber’s from the abstract period to his most recent one (including the image on the cover, also detailed on the last page of this magazine, Sherlock Jr.). The technology allowed Gorin (and the audience) to travel through the pictures from the perspective that Farber had painted them. According to Gorin, “It never stopped and it looked like a painting by Manny.”

What follows is the introductory text to the program that Gorin distributed to the spectators. It can—and should—also used as a guide for anyone who cares to mount his or her own personal tribute. —MP

At the core of this evening, a few simple precepts:

1) It is impossible to reconcile the name Farber and the word “tribute” and the absurdity of heaping praise on such an artful cliché-dodger is self-evident. Yet once this impossible mandate has been accepted, apply to Farber’s work his own critical medicine: burrow into the work, extend the evening, collaging it with pace changes, multiple tones, and get as many different voices into it as possible.

2) Let the paintings be seen. Let the paintings be seen. Let the paintings be seen. Camp at Calit2. Make massive use of digital technology. Sacrifice as many animal farms as possible to this often inclement God, cross one’s fingers for computers not to crash, for smooth transitions and change-over, and savor the irony of using 4K wizardry to further the understanding of someone who is fundamentally a quill and ink, scissors and paste guy.

3) If and when the machine breaks down, remain persuaded that the evening would then achieve a true “Farberian” gait. In short, use whatever happens to endorse the be-bop dissonant harmony inherent to so many of Farber’s written and painted pieces.

4) Reset the clocks. Manny Farber is not a film critic who renounced film criticism and switched to painting. The absurd condescension that puts a hobbyist tag on Farber’s work simply denies its uniqueness. Farber is this extraordinary case of someone equally fluent in two practices, painting and writing, that inform and modify each other incessantly. It is his existence at the confluence of these two practices that makes his work so layered, contradictory, polyphonic. In short, a.l.i.v.e.

5) Reset the clocks. Manny Farber is not a film critic. To see him as a film critic is as absurd as seeing the philosopher Gilles Deleuze as a film critic when he writes Cinema: The Movement Image or The Time Image. Deleuze thinks via films through some fundamental problems raised by his practice as a philosopher. Farber is a painter and a writer who turned to film because film allowed him to ask and solve some fundamental questions raised by his practice as a painter and a writer. In short, thank you very much, like Walter Benjamin and a few others, Farber is a child of the century.

6) Reset the clocks. Manny Farber’s paintings are NEVER homage to the films or film directors he analyzed. They are always a meditation on how a film practice that essentially defines the function of the image as passage and disappearance could transform the practice of painting that has traditionally defined the image as appearance and fixity. Lo and behold, the meditation paid off: Looking at a Farber painting is to be trapped and seduced by systems of motion.

7) Reset the clocks. Manny Farber is not a diaristic painter. By this account Cézanne would be sent to the same hell for painting apples or traipsing to the Mont Saint Victoire. A handwritten note on the canvas is not simply a laundry note (however witty, cryptic, etc.) but an enticement to read that gets frustrated by an upside-down placement on the canvas, its half-erasure, or simply the nervousness and speed of the trace. Speed, speed, speed, at all cost…style, style, style over content any time of the day.

8) Reset the clocks. There is a fundamental playfulness and a pervading sense of pleasure that every inch of a Farber painting or article communicates. Try to get some of it in the way this evening will function. As Farber would say, “Go for tricks.”

9) Reset the clocks. One of the glories of Farber’s work is that it exists as a result of his constant interaction with the painter and writer Patricia Patterson. Stress how essential she has been in the elaboration of the Farber machine (choices of colors, patterns, words, sense of when a piece of writing or a painting has gelled and needs to be left alone). Risk the hypothesis that one should talk about Farber/Patterson as one talks about Straub/Huillet.

10) Strive to create an evening that does not only talk about Farber, but functions as a Farber, and leave the audience with this sense, diffuse or clear.