R.B. Kitaj

By: Jerrold Freitag
October 29, 2012

R. B. Kitaj, “The Autumn of Central Paris (after Walter Benjamin)”, 1972 – 3

The Jewish-American émigré British Pop artist R.B. KITAJ (Ronald Brooks Kitaj, 1932-2007) painted for heavy readers: Schiele’s shameful bent hand, Miró’s weird blue, Freud’s desk, Kafka’s nerves, Cezanne’s trapped dusks. Employing an efficient plagiarism, he resurrected efficient nodes of other art and problems already solved and steamed on. But Kitaj’s massive theft towers over a ditzy little topic like plagiarism. His work makes us ask: There are so many refined thoughts lying around to pick up, why would you make more? Instead of reinventing the wheel, let’s keep working on this one. He believed in flashes of perfection — when one happens, we should hang on and repeat it. What this master draftsman and thought collector brings to the process is an outsider’s perspective: Looking at historical events with Kitaj is looking at someone else’s photos from vacation. You’re not standing where you remember; you’re off to the side. Or maybe you were hungover that day and missed the Yucatan monkey biting your sister-in-law. You get what a scene it was — and how one shouldn’t laugh at something so awful — but you just weren’t there. The joy is in never quite getting your head around it and then setting to work to do exactly that. Kitaj reminds us with terrible clarity that we don’t get to finish life; it finishes us.


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Ralph Bakshi.

READ MORE about members of the Postmodernist Generation (1924-33).

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