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Vilaykorn Sayaphet Ninety-One 2014 oil on board 18" x 18"


Vilaykorn Sayaphet's show of new paintings, "Latmanikham & Thongsy", at English Kills Art Gallery is a treasure. These are 'pictures' in both the most elemental and the most profound workings of a totally inadequate word. The three images I happen to have taken while at the gallery are probably of paintings more abstract than some of the others, but they all suggest representation, and yet largely elude interpretation.

I think they are all described as oil on board, but most of the works incorporate collaged elements, and in some cases they display physical interruptions/mutilations of the (mostly found) panels themselves, as is the case with "18 Hours Straight", below. Sometimes they move a bit beyond the panels' perimeters, and occasionally they directly engage the artist's rough framing.


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Vilaykorn Sayaphet 18 Hours Straight 2014 oil on board 20" x 18"


They're all very beautiful, and I'm pretty sure unlike anything I've seen before.

Barry and I had intended to be at the opening reception late last month, but major travel plans, later aborted, kept us away. We weren't able to see it until this past weekend, and now it appears we're not the only ones excited about Sayaphet's Bushwick show. I expect his work will inspire another opening before very long, and we're not gong to want miss it.

Ben La Rocco has written a review for Hyperallergic which I discovered after I had decided to write this post; it's so good that I won't try to add to it, other than to suggest that people find their way to the gallery before "Latmanikham & Thongsy" closes on Sunday.


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Vilaykorn Sayaphet Van Gogh's Blue oil on board 14" x 14"


It was conceived as an important visual document, accessible to the public and to institutions, which would describe the faces of a community and a moment whose memory is already fading from our consciousness.

The Kickstarter for the project needs a real boost as it winds down now, with less than three days to go. If the book doesn't get published, I think it will be a genuine loss for activism today.

Of course if it does get published, it won't mean a cure for AIDS. Also, to be sure, "The AIDS activist project: A new book of portraits of AIDS activists from around the globe" is not a vanity project for the artist, Bill Bytsura, or for those members of the historical ACT UP whose beautiful portraits will be a part of it.

Its importance is greater than the authors of the project or the subjects included in the book.

Pictures are important for understanding a past and inspiring a future, but pictures assembled in a context are still more important, and take on a life of their own. ACT UP was a movement which exploded in the late 80s, and burgeoned through half of the next decade, responding creatively, and often heroically, to a life and death crisis which was being ignored by an establishment which appeared to be unmovable.

Its people and the community they formed, along with the AIDS crisis which galvanized them, may be ancient history to a generation struggling today worldwide with an indifference among the powerful arguably even broader in scale - if, perhaps, less deadly. There is much to be gained today from looking at the devices employed, their successes - along with their failures, by a movement which flourished twenty and more years back. There's also the courage and nobility of so many of its members, and the anger and the love which was always a part of the movement.

Bytsura's book would give a face to an entire generation of activists (although in fact people of all ages were included in its membership), and it could serve an entire new generation as both muster to resistance, and powerful inspiration for effective resistance. Please help to breathe life into it, and consider contributing to its publication.


Full disclosure: Billy has been a friend since the days of ACT UP at it peak, and Barry and I have several of his beautiful non-activist photographs in our collection. There is also this portrait of a very young me, at 50, in 1990.

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Yesterday we visited the first part of the third and final stage of New York City's richest park, the High Line. We went with a Berlin friend who is visiting New York to attend a tech design conference and was very eager to see it. In fact, I think it was the only thing he had mentioned when we asked what he would like to do while here. Berlin has an enormous amount of green space, and Nico, who has been to New York before, knows the poverty of our own.

There was a light drizzle all afternoon, which may explain my reluctance to capture more images than that of this faux-naturalistic arrangement of wild flowers somewhere above the tracks.

I generally love the rain, so the dampness probably can't explain my mild melancholy as we traced our path north above our neighborhood, starting at the 18th Street stairs. The number of new high-rise luxury apartments (they're always 'luxury apartments', aren't they?) which continue to spring up barely a few feet away from the re-conceived elevated garden path has always depressed me. Even before spotting the latest crop yesterday I had wondered, and only half in jest, when we would reach the critical mass which would block the sun altogether, preventing anything, even its iconic weeds, from surviving on what the New York Times calls "the cherished cause of Western Manhattanites".

Then I saw, straight ahead, the wall of the enormous under-construction high-rise which looms above the park exactly where it abruptly turns toward west, at 30th Street. We turned and walked toward the Hudson River, soon clearing its mass. The view was then completely open in that direction, as well as north to 34th Street and the Javits Convention Center, and even far to the east (especially once we arrived where the section curves to the north), above what had once been the West Side Yard. Open, that is, for now. Parts of the yards have already been covered in steel and concrete, in anticipation of the Hudson Yards Redevelopment Project, an enormous corporate investment for 'developing' the former rail yards with high rises. Some of the buildings planned will apparently rival the height of the Empire State Building, already beginning to take a back seat to the developments on 57th Street.

The platform of the Hudson Yards Project will be at the same height as our much-vaunted 'aerial greenway', and the new buildings will actually present the only views available from this third section of the park - except for the window to the west, toward the Hudson, between 30th and 34th streets (the proximity of the West Wide Highway and Hudson River Park would seem to ensure that view at least remains).

The best part about the new section? I would say it's the fact that, in its more natural-looking state, it really is, more than the first two sections do, a bit more like what attracted people to the abandoned West Side Line in the first place.

The worst part? The certain knowledge that much of what makes it special now will be reduced, co-opted by the capitalist greed which cynically adopted the park in the end.

Also, for me this paragraph is probably the brightest section of the Times story linked in the third paragraph above [neither the Mayor nor his parks commissioner attended last month's formal opening of the section]:

Mr. de Blasio, a Brooklynite who prefers the scruffier fields of Prospect Park, is less focused on forging new urban green space than on reviving old ones. He has called for wealthy private conservancies -- similar to the one that oversees the High Line -- to share financial resources with impoverished parks around the city.

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strictly speaking, the phrase was, Qu'ils mangent de la brioche*


Air France cancelled our holiday.

Only early this afternoon, when I had fortuitously come upon a news article in the front section of the Sunday New York Times did I become aware even of the possibility of a disruption in our plans for a two-week holiday. The Times, even with a deadline some 15 hours earlier than my reading of it, seemed pretty certain there would be no Air France flights on the day we were scheduled to fly out of JFK. That would be tomorrow.

As of five o'clock today (September 14), we had still received no notice from Air France that either of their flights we had scheduled to get us from New York to Lisbon via Paris has been cancelled, although immediately after reading the report in the Times, we checked the carrier's own web site and saw that the flight from Paris to Lisbon was definitely cancelled.

We were unable to find an alternative to that flight, or to the original flight plan overall. We found nothing which could get us to Lisbon in less than 18 to 24 hours on a carrier which wasn't scary. Our plan had taken a great deal of time and effort to assemble, and serious money for the tickets. Now we had no choice but to cancel the entire trip, including hotels, car rental, and our two round trip tickets (four Air France flights), as well as the passion which went into its planning.

The demands of the pilots, as I understand them, seem to me to be both reasonable - and exceptionally unselfish. According to the New York Times article, they are "seeking to ensure that the 250 new pilots the group aims to hire for [Transavia, its newly-expanded] budget carrier over the next five years will be employed under the same contract as those flying under the main Air France brand.".

Just because they are real people, and not corporations, and people to whom we entrust our lives every time we fly, I wish the pilots well.

We're not thinking good thoughts about their employer however. Air France just might be as incompetent in business as it is disrespectful of real people, and shoddy in its treatment of good customers. Incompetent, because the dispute should never have gotten to this point, (and not even because it will cost the corporation something like $26M a day to refuse the pilots' demands), and its corporate peremptoriness will now be displayed in the full glare of daylight; disrespectful because of its lack of communication with its customers; and shoddy because it has refused to refund the considerable cost of fares paid for services they themselves withdrew without any notice, offering us only a voucher good for one year.


* with apologies to Marie Antoinette, as the phrase's connection to her is completely apocryphal


ADDENDUM: Air France has now refunded the money we paid for our fares, by crediting the card used to pay for the trip.

The pilots strike is now apparently over, although without an agreement, after two weeks which disrupted the travel plans of nearly a million people, and may have cost the airline close to half a billion dollars. It's not certain that anyone involved gained anything.


[image from Wikipedia]

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untitled (Bertoias) 2012


I spotted this group in the MoMA Sculpture Garden today at about 5:30, when friends and I were leaving the museum. The Bertoia chairs were waiting patiently for the audience to assemble.

but the shame of sentencing the man to prison, and it endures today

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Henry Cowell at the Forest Theater, Carmel, 1913 (we were all once very young)


Henry Cowell, born in the last years of the 19h century, was a brilliant composer, one of the wildest, most original of the 20th century, and his work remains radical today in the 21st. He was also a magnificent pianist, in great demand all over the world while still in his 20s. Two months after his 40th birthday he was arrested in his Menlo Park home on a 'morals' charge, and two months after that he began a 15-year term in San Quentin prison. He was paroled after four, and pardoned two years after that.

Joel Sachs' short 2013 account of Cowell's public martyrdom is essential reading on the subject. The year before Sachs had published a major study of the composer, musician and theorist: "Henry Cowell: A Man Made of Music".

I have not read the book. As someone very much on the outside of musical theory, even outside of musical practice, I'm not likely to, and yet, as a fan and as a queer, I feel very connected to Cowell's story.

I was born the year Cowell's family, friends and many major composers and musicians were finally able to persuade the California authorities to release him early. Unfortunately, for the rest of us the nightmare was still not over. I remember very well the era of entrapment, prison, and violence that continued for another generation, and beyond. Brutal laws and brutish attitudes warped the personalities, aspirations, careers, dreams and loves of millions, when they did not actually physically cripple or murder the victims. I was lucky to have escaped physically, but there was serious internal scarring. Some of my friends were less fortunate.

Sadly, the hatred and the violence continues all over the world, and it has not disappeared in the U.S.


Note: I published this post after hearing a piece by Cowell this morning on the excellent internet station, Counterstream Radio. "Atlantis" was composed for dance; it includes a small ensemble and three singers moaning wordlessly in sexually explicit ways. The mission and the operations of both Counterstream and its parent, New Music USA, are described by their names. Cowell's music lives today; it's still going against the stream and it's still new.


[image from OUPblog]

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lines (empire) 2014


The sun is able to reach this wall, fifteen feet from the window, only secondhand: It needs the help of a casement across the street, propped opened at just the right angle.

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untitled (kale wave) 2013


I saw this wave of ornamental kale assembled inside the pedestrianized area of Broadway just to the east of the Flatiron Building today, and snapped this picture with my phone camera. The little guys were waiting to be distributed around the neighborhood, where they will be transplanted into large pots or sidewalk cuts, usually at the base of a small tree. One of New York's ways of recognizing the arrival of fall is to replace the flowering plants which had graced the streets during the summer (yeah, things certainly have changed around here since the 70s and early 80s).

I love kale, and I think I appreciate the ornamental kind almost as well, but I can never quite empty my head of the knowledge that even these plants are actually quite edible. In a pinch they could ward off starvation, but lets hope it won't be a long hard winter.

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Leo Borchard (b. March 31, 1899, Moscow - d. August 23, 1945, Berlin)


On this day in 1945 the conductor Leo Borchard was killed by an American sentry in occupied Berlin while the musician was being driven home after conducting a concert of the Berlin Philharmonic. His British driver had misinterpreted the sentry's hand signal to stop.*

Three months earlier the artist had been appointed to replace the somewhat-compromised, and now-exiled Wilhelm Fürtwangler as musical director of the orchestra. At the time of Borchard's death he had conducted 22 hugely-welcome and greatly-acclaimed concerts, wining the affections of the traumatized population of the shattered city.

Born in Moscow to an ethnic German family in 1899, Borchard grew up in St. Petersburg, studying there before moving to Berlin, after the Russian Revolution, in 1920. In the German capital he was enjoying an increasingly important conducting career, which included promoting the music of young composers, when he was declared undesirable by the Nazi regime in 1935, for protecting Jewish musicians and for being "politically unreliable".

He remained in the city, hiding his identity, and gave music lessons in his apartment. He also became a member of the German resistance, and, along with his stunningly-beautiful partner, the author Ruth Andreas-Friedrich, formed the humanitarian resistance group, Onkel Emil ("Onkel Emil" was their warning signal), a secret network which committed sabotage, destroyed Nazi propaganda materials and broadcast their own leaflets - and those of the tragic "White Rose". They expertly created fake medical certificates which would enable the bearer to avoid military service. They rescued war resisters, political enemies of the regime and, above all, Jews, finding hiding places, procuring food, supplying false identity cards, and supporting families which would otherwise be without resources or protection..

I first heard about Borchard years ago while reading the memoirs of various members of the Widerstand, some of whom referred to him, always with love and admiration - for both the man and his art. At the time I could find very little information about either. Although even now very little has turned up, there are a precious few recordings, and at least one video.

I've also learned about the two memoirs** written by Andreas-Friedrich, one about her experience during the war, the other about Berlin in the years immediately following. I expect to read them both.


*
Borchard wasn't the only victim of American security forces in Europe that year: Anton Webern was killed three weeks later in Mittersill, near Salzburg, on September 15th. The composer had gone there from Vienna to be safe, but that night, just before the military curfew, when he stepped outside his house in order to smoke a cigar, he was shot by an American Army soldier, in circumstances which are not really clear to this day..


**
"Berlin Underground, 1938-1945", and "Battleground Berlin: Diaries 1945-1948"


[image from Discogs]

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detail of Stampflehmbauweise (rammed-earth process) wall


Berlin's Kapelle der Versöhnung (chapel of the reconciliation) was built on the exact site of the Versöhnungskirche, which had survived the Anglo-American bombings of Berlin but not the pathology of the GDR. The 1895 church was destroyed in 1985 in order to improve the security of the wall standing adjacent to it. The history is a little complex, making the story of the new chapel, and its construction, even richer than it might be otherwise.

Today the Kapelle is a part of the Berlin Wall Memorial on Bernauer Strasse.

The image at the top shows pieces of various materials (which here or elsewhere include stone, tile glass) which came from the rubble of the original church.

This is a view of the entire chapel, the rammed-earth wall can be detected behind the vertical square-section raw wood slats:

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