Visual Art 89 Cents of Christopher Knight
posted by June 24 at 11:05 AMon
Looking for a little break from art, I went on Saturday to a mall. After a little while, I began to tire of it, to remember that malls aren’t a break. (I often suffer from this forgetting, and then this remembering.) I found myself listlessly sniffing a Mexican chocolate candle at a gift shop when a cartoon speech box caught my eye: “The Mall in Peril,” it read, with the words “Christopher Knight” underneath. This was on the cover of a little 5-by-7 pamphlet with a black-and-white photograph on the cover and the words “ARTS BŁK” printed at the top in red.
Was this my Christopher Knight? The LA Times art critic? I mean, he isn’t mine, but he felt like mine in this environment. What was he doing on the sale rack with the fish-shaped napkin rings and strings of novelty lights?
I picked him up and confirmed, yes, this was him. His writing was marked down, from $1.49 to 89 cents.
On the back of the pamphlet was the explanation of what this little thing is:
BŁK (Pronunciation: book), n. an inexpensive pamphlet containing one provocative essay, short story, portfolio of pictures, collection of poems, or other surprising entertainment, readable in the time it takes to drink a cup of coffee.
The next morning, over the instructed single cup of coffee, I read “The Mall in Peril” by Christopher Knight. It’s a terrific essay from 2005 (I’m not sure whether it is a reprint; Knight wrote something similar but not the same two years earlier for Newsday).
In Knight’s clear, slightly pugnacious style with black-and-white images of anti-Vietnam protesters, the 1901 proposed treatment of the National Mall, the AIDS Memorial Quilt in 1996, an 1853 landscape by Church, a scrim installation in a gallery by Robert Irwin from 1971, and the successful Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the awful World War II Memorial on the Mall, Knight narrates precisely why empty space is essential to the American soul.
And he lays out how, disastrously, it’s being eroded on the National Mall.
It was an eventful cup of coffee.
I considered going back and rescuing every copy of this thing from the gift shop, where surely nobody is going to find it. I’d become its distributor myself. This seemed … weird. So I resolved simply to tell you to find it and buy it.