Ah, Valentine’s Day 2021: love and contagion are in the air.
All of us at any given moment alight on the relationship spectrum somewhere between, “Don’t have one,” and, “Recently out of one.” Despite thinking that you are in control, where you land on the continuum depends more on circumstance, timing and luck. Even a blind pig finds an acorn now and again. Dating is difficult in the best of times and now getting into or staying in a relationship has been made even more challenging. Zoom has made initial conversations less romantic and more like a bottom-line interview. Meanwhile, some of those in committed relationships are finding out that a familiarity now exacerbated by quarantining really does breed contempt.
Hope however, springs eternal. Below are three gift suggestions for three types of relationships. The books will speak volumes for you or at least start a conversation that might strengthen your relationship or helpfully liberate you. Let’s start at the end.
1. The Mature Relationship In Trouble
Seven years deep now, you are dreading the upcoming day of obligatory romantic gestures. You are not exactly clear on why you’ve drifted apart, but now constant proximity has turned small fault lines into the crushing of tectonic plates. Maybe it’s the job loss and financial anxieties. Maybe you have just now realized how much you hate the way they slurp their almond milk at the bottom of their cereal bowl… every goddamn morning at the same goddamn time! No matter, you are prepared to move on. “V-Day” for you can also stand for “Victory Day, Me.”
Get your significant other Good Dreams Bad Dreams: American Mythologies. This coffee table tome is beautifully bound, with well reproduced images, showcasing artists who have spent their creative time analyzing American pop culture in a post-Warhol landscape. 1960’s Pop Art brought consumerism to our attention with a Dada-inspired wink and a nod. Noted artists of the 1980’s such as John Baldessari, George Condo, Julian Schnabel and David Salle likewise derided their own capitalist enclaves, laughing their way to the bank in an art world that was done with the solipsism of performance and conceptual art from the 1970’s.
Edited by Massimiliano Giona, the artistic director of the New Museum in New York who also directed the 2013 Venice Biennale, Good Dreams, Bad Dreams: American Mythologies features important works by 20th- and 21st-century artists such as Lutz Bacher, Rachel Harrison, Klara Lidén, Joyce Pensato and Amanda Ross-Ho as well as those noted above.
In any relationship there is myth and reality. If you are lucky (see the next gift idea) you will live a happy combination of the two. If your partner doesn’t understand that the book’s theme is a hint that you no longer want to live the myth of your romance, you can reveal the harsh reality that they need to get their own coffee table on which to set it.
2. The Relationship That Is Working
Relationship terminology is telling. We say things like, “It’s working,” or, “It’s not working,” or, “We’re working on that,” or, “We Worked it out.” It’s the language of power dynamics disguised as diplomacy. We speak about relationships as “committed” or “dominated.” It’s the lexicon born of a war of the heart in which the rules of engagement — as in all wars — are best when they ultimately seek to balance the self-interests of two sides in a peaceful, harmonious coexistence. At worst it’s the language of conquest, plain and simple. No two countries have shared a border without conflict. But enduring international relations are built on a strong mutual trust, respect for boundaries and equitable trade. The foundation of those three pillars is an unflinching understanding and celebration of those across the border.
Get your partner the two-volume biography The Lives of Lucian Freud by the British art critic William Feaver. The second volume subtitled Fame has just been published. (The first volume was subtitled The Restless Years and appeared in 2019.) Grandson of Sigmund, Lucian’s mastery of figurative painting is a tough love kind of portraiture. Harshly depicting people in varied vulnerable states of nudity, Freud achieves devastatingly unsentimental and revealing portraiture. He looks at his subjects completely as individuals.
Feaver, an intimate contemporary of Freud, brings an insider’s take on the painter whose work commands multi-millions at auction. Feaver presents stories of the famed sitters and their relationships to the artist as they race around the studios, bars and bedrooms in mid- to late 20th century London. For those less inclined to high society intrigue, there is also a scholarly discussion on Freud’s role in the loose coalition referred to as the London School of painting which includes Francis Bacon, David Hockney and R.B. Kitaj among other luminaries.
Your partner will recognize that you see and love them for who they truly are and that you are having a hell of a great time swirling about your own private London with them.
3. The Relationship You Are Hoping To Grow
You were lucky enough to meet at the pre-pandemic office but then work-from-home (WFH) quickly became WTF. You’re both Zoom’d and IM’d out but are getting to know each other perhaps better than if you had begun dating IRL; ending up in bed only to complicate matters before you were ready. As the lovers described in the previous paragraphs can attest, people change or at least their moods, ambitions, sexual appetites and finances will vary over time.
Get your lover-to-be Phillip Guston Now, the new catalogue from the upcoming exhibition at the National Gallery in D.C. Guston’s work shifted stylistically over decades from Depression-era muralist to abstract expressionist to tragicomic contemporary master. As the editors of Art in America wrote, “Guston’s enduring appeal rests in the permissions he offers artists. He encourages them to drastically change their work in midstream, to examine their personal relationship to evil, to embrace discredited styles and genres, and to accept and even revel in their own ambivalence about the meaning of art.”
As a vaccine may help finally accelerate your relationship, the book will be a reminder that things will indeed change but that change needn’t be for the worst — and can in fact lead to exciting discoveries for both of you.
Happy Valentine’s Day! Please shop locally!