Yes, you’re in for a treat ... There are few voices that we can reliably read widely these days, but I would read Laing writing about proverbial paint drying (the collection is in fact quite paint-heavy), just as soon as I would read her write about the Grenfell Tower fire, The Fire This Time, or a refugee’s experience in England, The Abandoned Person’s Tale, all of which are included in Funny Weather ... Laing’s knowledge of her subjects is encyclopaedic, her awe is infectious, and her critical eye is reminiscent of the critic and author James Wood ... The articles included from the column she wrote for frieze magazine are often politically charged, deepened by their fresh artistic comparisons and laced with philosophical musings. The collection also includes the most thoughtful, well-researched and concise description of contemporary art that I have read, and I would urge everyone to read Free if you want it: British Conceptual Art if you think that contemporary art is distinctly Not Your Thing ... With a grace and benevolence similar to Sinéad Gleeson, she pens portraits of artists, writers and singers from the latter half of the 20th century which are rich in detail, suffused in empathy and astute in their socio-political contextualisation. To be drawn in a Laingish light is to be considered searchingly but always with a whole heart ... Her sensitivity to colour, coupled by her ever sharpening vocabulary leaves the reader scrambling to search for the artwork in question ... Her book reviews are, unsurprisingly, radiant ... gives the reader a tangible sense of the sprawling garden of work which Laing has planted. She is to the art world what David Attenborough is to nature: a worthy guide with both a macro and micro vision, fluent in her chosen tongue and always full of empathy and awe.
Laing herself is a watcher that would make [Grace] Paley proud. Her outward-looking essays are by far Funny Weather’s strongest. Among the book’s finest sections are 'Reading,' which is devoted to book criticism; 'Funny Weather: Frieze Columns,' which combine art criticism with cultural commentary; and 'Artists’ Lives,' a vivid series of biographical sketches ... Laing is remarkably good at conjuring paintings rather than summarizing them ... Laing is a tremendously gifted genre-mixer, and her writing flourishes most when its topic requires her both to observe and to imagine, if not invent ... Of Funny Weather’s essays, the Frieze columns are the bluntest, the oddest, and the best ... Funny Weather is an invitation to Laing’s imaginary museum, where minds if not bodies meet, and where true hospitality resides.
These essays showcase Laing as an imaginative and empathetic critic of the arts. She gets at texture, technique, feeling, and politics all at once. Her question is never 'Is this good?' but rather 'What might this do for someone?' Laing is always interested in a work's liberatory potential ... Not all of these essays are quite tall enough to ride. Many were previously published, often as columns in the art magazine Frieze, and don't fit naturally into the remit. The scattershot quality is often exciting — we jump from Freddie Mercury to gardening to migration to Ali Smith. But eventually the book feels like a labored attempt to impose retrospective order on work she had already done ... Funny Weather does not approach the beauty of, or the depth of feeling in, The Lonely City. But it does have its own more modest power. It's a pleasure to follow Laing as she pokes around companionably, examining the things that interest her and discarding the things that don't. Sometimes this feels irresolute. Laing is rarely if ever negative, nor is she the kind of critic who hands down judgments as if from on high. But having the last word, after all, means ending the conversation ... At her best, [Laing] turns criticism into an elevated form of hospitality: Like the host of a good party, Laing introduces you to someone, tells you what she likes about them, and then leaves you to make your own way in.
Most of the pieces in this volume fit more cleanly into one category or another, and in general the separation is well received. A dozen or so serve as wonderful little biographies of creative figures — writers and visual artists mainly, as well as filmmakers, performers and others ... Laing’s arts writing is sharp-minded, and her manner is generous toward both subject and reader ... These more personal, more poetical pieces may certainly persuade readers that the creative work she highlights, the product of open and tolerant minds, is on the side of right. Of course, getting through to people on the other side is a challenge that neither artwork nor rational argument can always meet. Still, Laing has faith in the role that art can play.
Much of the ground covered will be familiar to anyone who has read Laing’s other books—loneliness, alcoholism, gender relations and technology all loom large ... Laing is at her best when you feel her connection to her subjects—the section on Derek Jarman is outstanding ... Every essay is rich with forensic research, but never feels weighed down by it. There’s too much heart in Laing’s writing for that. She creates an atmosphere through detailed descriptions of particular moments and everyday actions ... Laing is no naive bluestocking—she is well aware that art isn’t a magic bullet ... She wants art to be unsettling, and it is a demanding read at times; it’s dense, but tempered by humour. As a result, this is also a thought-provoking, inspiring collection that you can go back to whenever the weather takes a funny turn.
Composed of collected essays, Funny Weather is a precursor to Crudo and a companion reader to it ... The personal may be political, but for Laing, the political is also banal ... the essays of Funny Weather span many disparate topics; they range from art and book reviews to personal writings about Laing’s upbringing to thoughts on the lives of artists ... In an essay on John Berger at the end of the book, she writes: 'Hospitality: the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors or strangers, a word that shares its origin with hospital, a place to treat sick or injured people.' This kind of argument is symptomatic of Laing’s critical shortcomings—it is a reading so strained and devoid of meaning she had to resort to a basic dictionary definition to fill up space ... This is my main objection to Laing—her broad strokes on fascism, death, and struggle barely register in her overfluffed prose, which is dominated by her bibliography ... Laing would rather overemphasize the politics of the personal than account for her own lack of solidarity with forces of meaningful reform. The problem is that you can’t.
Laing’s political earnestness...is leavened by empathy and an omnivorous curiosity – as was true of John Berger, whose tone and spirit Funny Weather often recalls, and who is eulogised in its pages ... Hers is not quite criticism in the manner of, say, the late Mark Fisher, with an idea in every sentence, but rather, a collation and relaying of perspectives and information – occasionally penetrating and generally celebratory. As a critic, Laing tends to drop her readers off at the door ... Laing’s prose is haunted with the zeitgeist’s uncertainty and disquietude. The more personally revealing pieces – on online loneliness, ageing and a period the author spent living feral – raise the affective stakes ... As is often the case with books of this kind, Funny Weather works best as a compendium of recommendations and reminders, if one with a distinctive chill running through it.
The kind of close attention [Laing] champions takes effort; it exacts a cost. But its rewards are equally sustaining. We survive through art, too ... Laing is as excellent a critic of the work that goes into work as she is of the art itself ... She writes masterfully incisive pen portraits, evoking in a few sharp strokes not only the public persona of the artist—but also the spirit, the troubled waters, beneath ... At a sentence level, this is startingly good ... the influence of Berger is keenly felt ... Laing’s writing is more sinuous and sly. She prefers to cast out her sentences in glittering loops, loops which run on and on, only to tighten unexpectedly, holding the reader fast, ensnared ... It is a shame, then, that some of the pieces fall back on a museum-catalogue didacticism to make their points ... Her thinking is, I think, at its keenest when it given room to stretch its legs ... some of the best pieces in Funny Weather are the longer, stand-alone essays. Here form cleaves closest to that enlarging, hospitable impulse that Laing herself celebrates in art. Ideas are permitted to roam, double back and wander: the reader is invited in, not handed a list of pronouncements at the door ... this shuttling between welcome and rejection, companionship and seclusion, sparks through Funny Weather. Laing has written a brave book, a fierce defence of openness, tolerance and the necessary high-wire act between fear of exposure and desire for communality that is buried in the pith of any creative life. She argues the artist must make space in the world for their vision, sometimes with sharp elbows, but once that vision is granted room, they have a duty—moral, artistic—to shuffle up for others as well.
Many of the pieces collected were commissioned as introductions to books or written as columns in the Guardian, frieze, and New Statesman, among others, and are addressed to readers assumed not to know much about figures as significant as Agnes Martin, David Hockney, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Hilary Mantel. The writing sometimes feels dutiful, and Laing seems a bit bored by her role as usher. We’re not sure what these figures mean to her. More often, fortunately, the writing captures the breathless sweep of Laing’s novelist voice, observing the way we keep living while the air burns and senile white men plot to bury us ... Four pieces leap out of this book especially, stabbing the reader with ideas and passion ... Throughout this book, Laing doesn’t ask readers to think about something other than their collective sense of powerlessness that does not produce a concerted front of resistance. She reminds us of it without shaming or virtue signaling. And she reminds us as well there is no such thing as distraction, maintaining that every moment in a person’s head has the weight of every other moment in that head. She values our precious and wasted moments, until there are no more moments, because we have died or the world has died. We think about the world dying all the time, Laing knows, and all the time we look at the sky, and plant iris bulbs, and stage stupid arguments with the people closest to us because peace is impossible and because friction reignites the tedium of existence. The gorgeous tedium of every day we are not detained at a border or made host to a virus flying free as a bird.
Given our current emergency, Laing’s thesis can make the reader wistful ... Yet Laing writes of her creative subjects in a winning, passionate voice that proves both soothing and galvanizing, especially amid a panic ... Where other critics might shy from such exuberant stances (there are no bad reviews in the collection), Laing isn’t interested in tepid assessments ... Laing’s subjects are popularly acclaimed figures, whose work has already been widely accepted by institutions and art history. If this creates a sense of safety among her choices, it also makes her book more accessible ... The writer displays an omnivorous cultural appetite throughout her collected essays ... Laing’s broad selection of subjects is political in its own way. If she embraces art of all media, certain themes prevail. By collecting a number of essays that center on queerness, anti-capitalism, feminism and ecological action, Laing sketches her own vision of today’s most interesting aesthetic projects and most urgent issues. It’s not just art we need in an emergency, but writers, like Laing, who gently guide our eyes to what’s out there.
These disparate musings are brought together by her question: 'Can art do anything, especially during periods of crisis?' Laing has written through Brexit, the AIDS crisis, Trump’s election, Charlottesville and racist killings by the American police. Her questions remain deeply resonant today. In this surreal time, Laing offers questions that many creative people are asking themselves: What is the role of art and artists during a pandemic? What is the role of viewers and witnesses of art? ... The individual essays provide glimmers of life, suffering, pain, pleasure, and incredible willpower of past and present artists ... The collage is loosely bound into eight sections, but the links between artists, artistic phenomenon, technique, and cultural movement are tenuous. Laing’s curatorial drive takes readers into all corners of contemporary art and literature, but the larger questions about art and politics remain unanswered ... At times, the pieces feel scattered and without a cumulative arch towards addressing the question she sets out to answer ... Nonetheless, the breadth of Funny Weather isn’t without power. The extent of Laing’s curiosity and hunger for information is radical and exhilarating. The sheer volume and quantity of artists that are recorded and revered in Funny Weather creates its own version of hope—there are so many ways art can instill hope or collective anger or drive action in times of need ... With museums and galleries temporarily or permanently closed, Funny Weather offers a generous outlet for imagination and creativity. Even in a pre-pandemic world where one could go to the Whitney and look at a Pollock or walk through a Sarah Lucas exhibit, Laing provides windows into the personal lives of artists which add nuance and contextual meaning beyond museum labels and gallery blurbs.Laing is a knowledgeable and trustworthy tour guide in Funny Weather, introducing us to artists, artwork, and stories that we are then responsible for making meaning of in the context of our own lives.
Olivia Laing’s non-fiction has become well-known for the way it moves by means of allusive shifts, hybridity, and pooling ideas, making a roaming, discursive inspection of one broad primary subject (rivers, alcoholism, loneliness). Her latest book...is at once less equivocal, more heterogeneous and more declarative in approach ... The pieces themselves, most of them portraits in Laing’s signature style, are magnetic for their warmth, and the self-strewing ease with which they slip between biography, criticism and memoir ... There is...an unavoidable awkwardness that comes from recruiting your past essays to make a case for art 'now' that responds to the crises of the past five years ... Reading Funny Weather during lockdown heightens its sense of prescience ... Consistently, Laing’s essays are urgent, compassionate, enlivening and acutely perceptive, and that’s true whether or not we encounter them 'in an emergency'.
Though this collection of essays was planned and written long before Covid-19 became our dominant reality, Olivia Laing might seem ahead of the curve ... Her words seem balefully accurate, given what has now overtaken us. Yet amid all this turmoil, art can help, Laing suggests ... The most satisfying of these pieces show us artists who lit a beacon in the most arduous of circumstances. Laing is a generous guide, and her appraisals can be insightful ... Most of the pieces in Funny Weather began as journalism. Not all deserve a repeat airing. Laing’s profiles tend to the formulaic; many of her reviews glance off her subjects rather than fully penetrating them. The best essay collections — reminiscent of Joan Didion or even Martin Amis — offer a quizzical intelligence on the loose, cruising for surprise and enchantment, occasionally violence. Too few of these articles, however, contain that vital element of daring. And it’s not clear how they speak to the theme. Can David Hockney’s art really be read as a response to emergency? Can David Bowie’s? ... Nonetheless, Funny Weather poses a powerful and important question, one that’s been nagging away at many of us this past month or so. With bookshops closed, theatres dark and museums shuttered, what is art’s role when we’re running short of PPE and ICU beds? As Laing phrases it: 'Can art do anything, especially during periods of crisis?'
Laing is good at helping her reader draw connections ... Borrowing from the theorist Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Laing describes her project in these essays as 'reparative reading', driven by 'a seeking of pleasure rather than an avoidance of pain'. This can lead her to make unconvincingly optimistic statements like 'art equals language equals life', and to flatten out the ambiguities that make her writing interesting. Her essays are at their most enjoyable when at their most open and suggestive.
In recent years, Olivia Laing has become well-regarded for her books that combine criticism with her own life experiences. Her new collection is less cohesive than those book-length explorations, but it nevertheless touches on many of these same themes ... Throughout this book, issues of sexuality, gender, addiction and the specter of AIDS arise repeatedly. Certainly names and even anecdotes about specific figures come up more than once, which is perhaps an inevitable characteristic of a collection like this, in which pieces were never really meant to be read side-by-side or even in quick succession. However, Funny Weather is eminently well-suited to dipping into, perhaps guided by the topics and figures outlined in its thorough index, since readers are likely to discover something interesting regardless of where in the collection they land. I know that as I read, Laing prompted me to look up the work of visual artists about whom she writes and with whose work I was less familiar. Her writing effectively piques curiosity and encourages further engagement with her subjects.
Laing is an intelligent and acute writer, and this book is certainly interesting and assuredly well-written ... certainly eclectic in its topics ... Does it cohere? To an extent, yes ... She is all for 'the anonymous, the cobbled together, the hand-me-down, the postscript; the collaborations between strangers that marry jubilantly, that don’t quite fit'. It is what I would call a traditionally avant-garde ideal, rarely realised. The polymorphous perverse, the bricolage, can seem somewhat old hat sometimes. In terms of production, I suppose one good thing about the internet is that if you can’t immediately visualise Agnes Martin or Derek Jarman’s garden (there are no illustrations), then you can be taken there (and your interest will be noted) ... We all have our lodestones. I would have been more intrigued by a book where Laing takes on other figures that chime with her concerns – Beuys, say, or Leigh Bowery – or even what she does not like. Her moral clarion for compassion is admirable, but it seems a bad fit with the denunciations in the book of those with whom she disagrees.
... bracing, unflinching essays ... Readers will value Laing’s talent for writing with equal discernment about the very different media of painting and sculpture on the one hand and fiction on the other. She draws perceptive insights from the biographical details of the artists’ lives, sketching them in incisive profiles ... An excellent introduction both to the work of a fine cultural critic and to the creative figures discussed.
A stellar collection ... A graceful stylist and superb reporter, the author is a journalist in the spirit of Michael Dirda, who calls himself “an appreciator” rather than a critic, and Laing includes no negative reviews here. Nonetheless, there’s plenty of first-rate arts criticism in her appreciations of painters like David Hockney and Jean-Michel Basquiat and novelists Patricia Highsmith and Sally Rooney along with musings on topics like gardening and a standout essay on the surrealistic horrors faced by an asylum-seeking refugee who spent 11 years 'trapped in Britain’s infinite detention system' ... Disease and death stalk her pages, but she brings a fresh and humane eye even to ills exhaustively covered elsewhere ... Laing sinks only briefly into lit-crit jargon in discussions of 'reparative reading,' and sometimes her enthusiasms run away with her ... Still, the author’s praise never appears less than genuine or unsupported by deep observation, and she consistently shows the talent James Wood ascribed to Mantel: She has 'the maddeningly unteachable gift of being interesting' ... Vibrant commentary on art and society by a writer with a sharp eye for the offbeat.
This timely collection from Laing...asks 'Can art do anything, especially during periods of crisis?' ... Thanks to the short length of her essays, she’s able to cover a lot of ground, touching on, in addition to the AIDS crisis, climate change, gender, and in two especially biting selections, the plight of refugees in the U.K. and the Grenfell Tower fire in London ... Laing soars in her writing on Maggie Nelson ... As a collection that aims to exemplify 'new ways of seeing” to break through a 'spin cycle of terrified paranoia,' this will leave readers eager to reengage with art they know well, and explore art as yet new to them.