The Radar: Lauren Elkin

Lauren Elkin. Photo: Francesca Mantovani

  • Feb 25, 2022

In this month’s installment of the Radar—our uncommon cultural recommendations from friends and colleagues around the world—we look to the United Kingdom, where the writer and translator Lauren Elkin shares a few highlights on her calendar for late winter and early spring.

I did a bit of writing about Niki de Saint Phalle for the book I just finished writing (‘Art Monsters’—coming out next year from Chatto & Windus) and I’m gearing up to write an essay about Saint Phalle’s tarot garden in Tuscany, so it’s with great pleasure that I’m looking forward to reading Nicole Rudick’s forthcoming ‘What is Now Known Was Once Only Imagined: An (Auto)biography of Niki de Saint Phalle’ (Siglio).

Rudick, a wonderful art critic and the former editor of ‘The Paris Review,’ has apparently done a very cheeky thing and written a biography of Saint Phalle in the first person. I love that! Saint Phalle was a lively chronicler of her own life, in letters and memoirs and visual diaries, where she would occasionally LAUNCH into ALL CAPS for EFFECT and decorate the pages with doodles and typographical riffs. So Rudick has a wealth of material to draw from. Life-writing is rife with opportunities for experimentation, for opening outward the possibilities for capturing the self on the page. But biography can also be a bit of a debased genre—the best writers, I think, come to it trying to find a way out of it, either by going deep and detailed, as in Heather Clark’s recent biography of Sylvia Plath, or by making the whole thing up, as Virginia Woolf did with ‘Orlando’ (1928). I’m so curious to see what Rudick has done.

Niki de Saint Phalle, Double Tête, 1999. Courtesy Niki Charitable Art Foundation

‘What Is Now Known Was Once Only Imagined: An (Auto)biography of Niki de Saint Phalle’ by Nicole Rudick, Siglio, 2022

Meanwhile, out in the world, it’s finally feeling safe to go out to exhibitions, and with my manuscript done I finally have the time! So I’m looking forward to catching shows I should have seen by now but haven’t, like Helen Frankenthaler at the Dulwich Picture Gallery or Lubaina Himid at the Tate, or stuff that's just opened, like Louise Bourgeois at the Hayward, or Caroline Walker’s birth paintings at the Fitzrovia Chapel, and Celia Paul’s upcoming show at Victoria Miro. I really wish I had the time to make it up to Newcastle to see Sutapa Biswas at the BALTIC, which runs until 20 March. I had the pleasure of profiling Sutapa last fall, and I think she’s one of our most important, most underrated artists; this retrospective is long overdue.

Celia Paul, Looking Back: Bella, Me, Lucian, 2020 © Celia Paul. Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro

Sutapa Biswas, Light rain, 2015–21. Installation view, ‘Sutapa Biswas: Lumen,’ BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gatehead, 2021–22 © 2021 BALTIC. Photo: Rob Harris

Lauren Elkin is a writer and translator, most recently of ‘No. 92/91: Notes on a Parisian Commute’ (Semiotext(e)/Les Fugitives) and ‘Flâneuse: Women Walk the City’ (Chatto & Windus/FSG), which was a Radio 4 Book of the Week, a New York Times Notable Book of 2017, and a finalist for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel award for the art of the essay. Her next book, ‘Art Monsters: On Beauty and Excess’ (Chatto & Windus/FSG), argues for an aesthetics of monstrosity driving the work of feminist artists over the last century, and will be published in the summer of 2023. After twenty years in Paris, she now lives in London.

Elkin will participate in SAY SOMETHING, a conversation celebrating the exhibition, ‘Ida Applebroog. Right Up To Now 1969 – 2021,’ along with guest speakers Polly Braden, Hettie Judah, and Lou Stoppard, at Hauser & Wirth Somerset.