October 2007 Archives

detail of Duke Riley's enormous mosaic of the current British flagship in New York waters*

We managed to slip into Magnan Projects this afternoon for a peek at the Duke Riley show, "After The Battle of Brooklyn", opening in just two days. Of course I was totally smitten with the work, even if much of it was still being put together. Don't miss it, even if you can't make it to the opening reception.

I almost never do this sort of thing and I'm not quite sure why I'm now posting this particular preview. It's not as if the artist needs the extra attention, especially thanks to the advance work of the NYPD, the US Coast Guard and the NYTimes. It's already pretty unlikely there will be any room to move inside the gallery on Thursday evening.

we note the carefully-rendered port-a-john and drink cup floating in foreground


Tonight Barry and I will be in conversation with the writer and critic Brian Sholis at the arts education and support forum, CUE Art Foundation, as part of its career development program for artists called "Meeting Artists' Needs".

The announced topic for the evening is "In the Public Eye: The Role of Today’s Critic". The event, scheduled from 6:30 to 8 pm, is free for CUE members and $5 for non-members. CUE is located at 511 West 25th Street on the ground floor. Tickets may be reserved here.

[image of logo from CUE]

Michael Williams Solitaire 2007 oil on canvas 38" x 58"


Michael Williams Cave 2007 oil on canvas 38" x 58"

Michael Williams Loddie oil on canvas 24" x 35"

Michael Williams Starry Night 2 2007 oil on canvas 38" x 58"

Michael Williams Cancuned 2007 oil on canvas 38" x 58"


Artists like this drive some people crazy. They can't figure out the difference between what he does and what they think they can do. I won't pretend I could explain it even to myself, but I won't question the difference is there when it's expressed as proudly as it is in Michael Williams's gorgeous, eccentric and absolutely delightful new oils.

We should all be able to approach color like this every day, as if it had just been invented. We should also be able to draw the world described by that color as he draws it here - like we had just been born and had opened our eyes for the first time.

Canada gallery is currently showing ten recent paintings by Williams in its handsome, newly-enlarged space on Chrystie Street. Before Saturday, when I visited this show, I had basically seen only one work by Williams, and Barry and I bought it a few hours later. If we had deeper pockets we'd be bringing home a companion for our "At Mr. McCook's" when this show ends November 18, but now that so many others can see and share in what excited us last winter that might be a little selfish.

I really like these paintings. They're a sheer delight on every level, and I can't stop looking at them. Part of it may be my affection, one I think I share with this Rhode Island artist, for the nonconformist New England character and aesthetic. There's also the reminder that I wasn't around when the Impressionists, the Post-Impressionists and the Abstractionists first made their impact, and I still want to be surprised, and stirred. Looking at the elements of Williams's floors, walls and skies and I can appreciate what it must have been like to be shown, say, a work by Van Gogh in 1890.

The colorful dabs and waves, the details, which enrich so much of the surface of these paintings are not just dabs and waves, details and surfaces; they're building blocks creating something quite new, and I'm glad I'm here this time to watch it happen.

Saori Tsukada, Katie Brook and Joseph Keckler: Everywoman/Everyman, Birth, Death

We saw John Moran's latest music-theater-dance work, "What If Saori Had a Party?", last night at PS122. This latest treasure by the composer responsible for the operas "Jack Benny!", "Book of the Dead (2nd Avenue)" and "The Manson Family: An Opera", among others, is put together on a very small physical scale and I think it must have lasted all of 40 minutes. The modest size is especially remarkable because "What If" addresses the largest question we are capable of addressing as human beings - our own mortality - even if it is inspired by Japanese anime/children's TV. It may be almost as baffling to us as its original inspiration is to an unintended audience, but I haven't been able to forget either the music or the moving images.

A computer voice tells Saori early in the libretto/score, "You should look at the calendar". It seems we can't have birthdays without dying in the end, and in the end that may actually be all for the best, even if it still leaves a lot of room in between for negotiation.

Performances continue at this East Village venue through next Sunday, November 4.

"No she ditn't!" says the girl in the opera to her friend, over and over again. Now we're back on 2nd Avenue, but actually we could be just about anywhere in urban America.

When we had returned home and were sitting down to supper we put on Moran's "Book of the Dead" (we have every CD he's ever produced) and listened carefully to every word, every sound, once again. With this underknown genius, words and both ambient and concrète sounds are the composed music itself; there is no distinction. I only wish I had also been able to see it when it was produced at the Public Theater in 2000 (the blurry stills I've seen are a terrible tease). Once again we immediately found ourselves totally immersed in an orchestrated world Moran has been able to make oddly both more familiar and more exotic than the one we normally inhabit.

The timing must be just a coincidence, but I seem to have put off my pumpkin shopping: I can't think of a more fitting way to begin a celebration of the eve of All-Hallows' Day or All Souls Day or, yes, the Day of the Dead, than a visit to "What If Saori Had a Party?" on 1st Avenue and an observance of [the] "Book of the Dead".

For more on Moran and an account of the last piece he had shown in New York, scroll halfway down through this entry. There's also this NYTimes piece from last year.

Moran's CDs are very hard to find, unless you manage to get to a performance, but inside my copy of "Book of the Dead" there's a small slip of paper with the suggestion that those who are interested could write to [email protected], and fill in the subject-header: "CD-Orders". I don't know whether this will still work.

[image by Rachel Roberts from PS122]

untitled (sushi tray) 2007

untitled (bubble and foam) 2007

Hany Armanious Basic Construction 2007 PVC 19" x 11" x 11" [installation view]

I'm starting with an image that isn't even part of Hany Armanious's first solo outing at Foxy Production. I spotted this flamboyant little piece sitting on a table in the low light of the gallery's rear office. It's very different from the shapes and materials included in the show itself, and yet it clearly has more than its creator's fertile imagination in common with the much larger and earthier work gathered in the equally-darkened main exhibition space under the off-putting rubric, "Year of the Pig Sty".

I was already primed to appreciate whatever Armanious might do for this show, having liked very much his work the gallery had shown early this spring at the Armory show. On the other hand, I don't think anything could have prepared me for what even the press release [required reading here] has to confess looks like "a shocking vista of filth and disarray".

In Armanious’ provocative work, perverse actions take place upon unexpected materials, resulting in enigmatic objects, scenes and associations. Like a pranksterish alchemist, he transforms the process of casting into a witty and symbolic practice. His detours and digressions through the fictional systems he constructs, paradoxically foster both confusion and engagement.

I loved it. I only worried that the more casual or less adventurous gallery visitor, staying on the outside of the glass front door, might read the messy darkened space as the doleful site of an abandoned shop, or the only slightly happier scene of an installation somehow gone awry.

"Basic Construction", the pure white, water-molded PVC sculpture resting on a table in the back of the gallery has the elegance of a rococo porcelain figurine, although it has abandoned any pretense of the kind of naturalistic representation which bound eighteenth-century models; this fancy is pure form - and the eye, delighted, imagines it taking wing.

"Year of the Pig Sty" is about the casting objects with a much more grounded approach (pun almost intended). At the same time it appears to be as much about the possible, what hasn't happened yet, as it is about actually building things. Armanious is still in the process of making stuff here, or at least showing us how stuff might be made (since it seems very unlikely he's going to pick up where he's left off), although I don't think he's telling us why. Still, I think I'm hooked, and I probably won't be alone. There's more room for our wits and imaginations among these peculiar orchestrations of mud, steel, plastic and felt - and still more mud - than there is in most artist-led mystery tours.

The gallery's site has more images of work in this show and of other work by the artist.

Hany Armanious Year of the Pigsty 2007 real mud, formply, wood, silicone, pigment, polyurethane, slingshot, dimensions variable [detail of installation]

Hany Armanious Year of the Pigsty 2007 real mud, silicone, pigment, epoxy, polyurethane, cardboard, plaster, snooker table pockets, dimensions variable [detail of installation]

Hany Armanious Year of the Pigsty 2007 real mud, epoxy, metal clamps, formply, fringing, chain, electrical components, wood, 71 lightbulbs, 1538 real mud bricks, resin, felt, dimensions variable [detail of installation]

Hany Armanious Year of the Pigsty 2007 polystyrene, real mud, silicon, dirt, shredded plastic 40" x 112" x 75" [large detail of installation]

Bryan Zanisnik Remembrance of Things Past 2007 video [still from instalaltion]

Bryan Zanisnik Family Reunion 2007 video [still from installation]

Bryan Zanisnik's show at Priska Juschka, "80 Year War", may be totally charming but it's also very compelling for reasons I haven't quite been able to explain to myself. I say this even after having experienced the work twice: Barry and I were first taken with it when we saw an earlier form of it in Zanisnik's Hunter College studio.

The gallery's press release explains the project, which is displayed in the space as two DVD videos and several digital C-prints:

In this exhibition, Zanisnik will present two videos from his series 80 Year War—a video project that he initiated with his grandmother between the ages of 13 and 15. In this work, he filmed his grandmother and parents re-enacting several plots of war, immigration, and gangster predicaments. Rather than perceiving the original footage as raw material, Zanisnik considered it an archive from which he pulled various portions without manipulating them. Thus, culled from eight hours of overall footage, these short videos are the result of an extensive and insightful editing process.
No, it's probably not just about seeing this entire delightful family indulging the ripe fantasies of an imaginative son and grandson, and I'm pretty sure it's not the suggestion of environmental consciousness, its recycled-materials aspect. I'm thinking more of the fact that we're looking at footage assembled from video the adult artist had shot when he was in his early teens: How could art be a more fundamental and direct expression of its creator's Bildung? I also can't forget the oddly-sweet, safe moving pictures and dialog of Zanisnik's games, and comparing their innocence with the ugly, dangerous reality of the world which was unfolding as the child became an adult.

What does the decision to mount this kind of work say about a young artist's self-confidence? I'm happy to say that it was more than warranted, and I can't wait to see what's next.

I'm thinking a blood-red ink would be more appropriate about now

Well of course he and Bush get along. Although he was presented the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 "for his consistent resistance to the use of violence," the Dalai Lama (aka Tenzin Gyatso) supports war, including the Iraq war. Of course by now we know that the Dali Lama supports everything. It's what makes him so popular.

Today I accidentally came across a post I wrote four years ago at about the time of the last visit to the White House of the West's vagabond Tibetan saint obsession [what I call the bandwagon/group-think syndrome]. I think it was already the smiling Gyatso's second audience with Bush, and at that time I excerpted a report on the Guardian site:

The Dalai Lama said Wednesday that the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan may have been justified to win a larger peace, but that is it too soon to judge whether the Iraq war was warranted.

"I think history will tell," he said in an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday, just after he met with President Bush.

I've looked everywhere online, but I couldn't find any sign that history has told His vacuous Holiness anything yet.

I'll end by confessing that I'm no longer capable of being surprised by another form of hypocrisy, that of our peace-lovers in Congress pretending to be fired up about a Chinese-occupied Tibet while they continue to pursue the ruination and occupation of their own, equally-defenseless victim state in the Middle East.

[image of the Dalia Lama's handprint from mmothra]

Lucas Moran Fishing Net 2007 oil and spray paint on canvas 24" x 30"

Lucas Moran Summer Jam 2007 oil, spray paint and galkyd on canvas 62" x 84"

Lucas Moran Untitled 2007 oil, spray paint and galkyd on canvas 18" x 24"

Because of a lot of distractions, only some related to visits to galleries, I'm way behind on a lot of my self-assigned postings, and I've wanted to do at least a quick post about Lucas Moran's show at Buia, "From Here On Out", for several weeks now. The artist's small to medium-sized canvases exhibit a mix of tangled shapes and extravagant colors worked, and sometimes alarmingly distressed, in oil and spray paint, here and there including galkyd, and occasionally revealing traces of powdered sandstone.

These paintings broadcast equal elements of chaos and order and remain fundamentally non-pictorial even if they don't leave our imagination to wander totally unattended: Many include both subtle and conspicuous graffiti and pop art components - sometimes both - welcome interlopers which focus Moran's abstraction, dragging us into an exotic, alien world whose gritty seductiveness is intensified by the artist's ability to manipulate the mixed media with such wicked skill.

Lucas Moran Untitled 2007 oil, spray paint, sandstone and galkyd on canvas 62" x 50" [detail]

[full image]

More good stuff on Moran from Tom Moody.

[thumbnail image from the gallery]

war is never what we expect it to be: Dresden, stacked bodies after 1945 Allied firebombing

We despair.

Four and a half years ago Barry and I each decided that we were retiring from both direct and indirect political action. We had just gone into the streets along with almost a million of our neighbors to protest the Bush regime's plans for an unprovoked war against a small, almost defenseless state on the other side of the planet only to see the media virtually ignore the the demonstration and our two senators go on to support the the cynical, naked aggression in spite of polls which showed the majority of the people in New York State opposed it.

I don't even sign petitions any more.

So why should I be surprised today to see that almost everyone else may have made the same decision? Americans now seem to be sitting this one out. They're still answering the pollster's questions, and in spite of the statistical bump favoring the war in its early stages, they still don't like it, even if that's as far as they're willing to go.

Some four weeks ago, upon hearing the news of the latest failure of our so-called Democratic Congress to do absolutely anything to end a war which three quarters of Americans now oppose, Barry said to me, "That's exactly why I'm now so estranged from political life". I'm there too, but I'm sickened as he is by so much more than just the war itself: There are the cold Constitutional issues of course, which no one seems interested in dealing with, but the war and its hundreds of thousands of deaths and maimings, millions of refugees, and incalculable numbers of destroyed lives is only the most spectacular part of an even broader system of terror which has been corrupting us all. This is a campaign which threatens people everywhere in the world including of course our own communities, a vicious but also incredibly stupid and dangerous crusade unleashed in our name after September 11. We have prisons and countless "interrogations" consciously designed by our elected officials and governmental institutions to exist outside of any known system of justice. "I see no sense of outrage by the people running our government", Barry continued. "They show absolutely no sense of outrage."

In fact neither of us sees much evidence of outrage anywhere within our borders, including an absence among ordinary citizens. In spite of the fact that we don't have the kind of motivation which a fully-developed police state might provide, we, that is all Americans, have become very good at being "good Germans".*

I started writing this post in mid-September but only got as far as a short mock-up. Frank Rich's passionate Op-Ed piece in Sunday's NYTimes [conveniently, the online text has direct links to his references] made me go back to my notes. Rich uses the phrase "Good Germans" in his headline without fully defining it, but he does do an excellent job of shattering any illusions of innocence we might still retain.

We do torture people. We can no longer deny it. This may be the first time you've seen Andrew Sullivan's name used on this blog (and I'd like it to be the last), but Rich links to our lazy mainstream media's designated homosexual spokesperson to illustrate the connection between the administration's "interrogation" practice and that of the Nazis.

As Andrew Sullivan, once a Bush cheerleader, observed last weekend in The Sunday Times of London, "America’'s “'enhanced interrogation”' techniques have a grotesque provenance: “'Verschärfte Vernehmung', enhanced or intensified interrogation, was the exact term innovated by the Gestapo to describe what became known as the ‘third degree.’ It left no marks. It included hypothermia, stress positions and long-time sleep deprivation." ”

We apparently do commit war crimes, and we hire mercenaries. Rich believes the tale of our well-paid hired guns is "a leading indicator of every element of the war's failure", and sometimes the worst stories can't be swept under the carpet. Three weeks after the Nisour Square massacre of 17 Iraqis, the Times columnist skillfully parses the more recent killing on Tuesday, by members of another private security firm, of the two women driving a car in Baghdad in these words:

The gunmen who mowed down the two Christian women worked for a Dubai-based company managed by Australians, registered in Singapore and enlisted as a subcontractor by an American contractor headquartered in North Carolina. This is a plot out of “"Syriana"” by way of “"Chinatown".” There will be no trial. We will never find out what happened.

We're now "laundering" our atrocities! Is anyone out there following this?

Actually, almost all of us are going about our business as if nothing is happening. We're not lying down on the tracks in front of troop transports. We're not wearing badges announcing our identification with the muslim "other". We're not beating down the doors of the NSA demanding that we be "interrogated" about our loyalty to the "Homeland". We're not running standing in front of a Marine Sergeant's M-16 as he tries to search the home of a frightened Iraqi family.

Yes, these are heroic acts, and perhaps they're completely preposterous in the twenty-first century, but I don't even see or hear us talking about resistance in any form.

The rest of the world is following this very closely. We don't look good. We're already paying for our cowardice, and the bill is not going to get any smaller. Rich's column concludes with a warning and an appeal:

Our humanity has been compromised by those who use Gestapo tactics in our war. The longer we stand idly by while they do so, the more we resemble those "“good Germans"” who professed ignorance of their own Gestapo. It’'s up to us to wake up our somnambulant Congress to challenge administration policy every day. Let the war’'s last supporters filibuster all night if they want to. There is nothing left to lose except whatever remains of our country’'s good name.

I have to end by saying I just don't share his Frank Capra optimism. How can we as ordinary Americans expect to have any impact on government policy when we have neither democracy nor the stomach for serious revolt?

Borrowing the definition found in Wikipedia: The 'good Germans were the citizens of Nazi Germany who, after 1945, claimed not to have supported the regime, even if they made no effort to oppose it. Today the term has been given a broader application, one which refers to people in any country who observe reprehensible things being done by their government but nevertheless remain silent and do not challenge or impede them.

[image from erichufschmid via airamericaradio]

In the middle of the Times city room in The Power of the Press (Columbia Pictures, 1928), the city editor (Robert Edison) congratulates cub reporter Clem Rogers (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) for getting his first page-one story as the more seasoned reporters gripe that it was all beginner's luck.

Sometimes the news about the news is the best news.

In the NYTimes today we learn about the formation of a well-funded and independent, non-profit group of investigative reporters who will give away their work to individual news organizations, those in which its work will "make the strongest impression". Beginning early next year Pro Publica will operate out of a newsroom in New York City with 24 journalists and a staff of about a dozen more on an annual budget of $10 million.

[Paul E. Steiger, previously top editor of The Wall Street Journal and soon to be Pro Publica’s president and editor-in-chief] said he envisions a mix of accomplished reporters and editors, including some hired from major publications, and talented people with only a few years’ experience, so that the group will become a training ground for investigative reporters. He would not say specifically where he is shopping for talent, but did not rule out The Journal.
I don't see how the project could fail. Both commercial and non-profit news organizations are cutting costs and neglecting the kind of journalism which will be Pro Publica's meat and potatoes. If one outlet declines to pick up the coverage they offer, another will. At the very least the one which turned down the story will be asked why it isn't covering it. And there's no reason why this thing would have to be confined to the print media.
Mr. Steiger said that relationships with publications could be tricky, requiring the flexibility to make each comfortable.

In most cases, he said, Pro Publica will appeal to a newspaper or magazine while a project is under way, to gauge interest and how much oversight the publication wants. In others, he said, his group might present more or less finished products to other outlets.

If Pro Publica and a publication cannot agree on how to approach a topic, or what can be written about it, he said, his group will look for another outlet, or publish its reporting on its own Web site.

Did I mention that the the plan is to do "long-term projects, uncovering misdeeds in government, business and organizations". Quoting Steiger, describing how Pro Publica hopes to fill a vacuum in almost all current news coverage: “It is the deep-dive stuff and the aggressive follow-up that is most challenged in the budget process".

The money comes from Herbert M. and Marion O. Sandler (California mortgage lending, savings and loans), described as major donors to the Democratic Party and critics of President Bush.

Mr. Sandler [who will serve as chairman of the group] said his interest in investigative journalism has been abetted by friendships with reporters in the field.

“Both my father and my older brother always focused on the underdog, justice, ethics, what’s right,” Mr. Sandler said. “All of my life I’ve been driven crazy whenever I encounter corruption, malfeasance, mendacity, but particularly where those in power take advantage of those who have few resources.”

Old-school progressive journalism breathes again, paradoxically funded by a pair of "financial honchos" and directed by a successful Wall Street Journal editor. This is not exactly "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington", but then nothing ever was.

[image and caption from IJPC]

Modified Bicycle
a long way from Williamsburg

I found this image searching Google while preparing my post about Ashley Gilbertson's book. It's from a photo-sharing site in an album maintained by a Marine photo journalist, Staff Sergeant Chad McMeen. This is the photographer's own caption:

This Marine customized his bicycle beyone the point most are capable of. By extending the front forks and welding the rear swingarm in a lower angle he was able to position himself feet above the ground. Somehow with a backpack, bulky jacket and rifle slung across his body he managed to mount the bike and ride effortless.

[image from webshots]




[four stills from the video installation of the film, "Captured"]

How do you write about a chronicler with a soul? How do you write about a bard with a camera? We can't begin to understand the importance of people like this until they are gone. Maybe it has to wait until we are gone as well, but in the meantime we can give it a try.

I'd have to see this show, "The Lower East Side", for its historical and political importance, even if the photographs didn't have their own beauty. And they do.

Clayton Patterson (okay, it's already the legendary Clayton Patterson) is currently represented by some of his sculpture, a tiny sampling of his enormous archive of photographs, and an excerpt from a documentary video in a show at Kinz, Tillou + Feigen, a gallery whose heritage, through Richard L. Feigen and Feigen Contemporary is itself pretty legendary.

The sculptures assembled from found materials are documents themselves, setting the entire installation in a specific time and space. The photographs are intense portraits, both candid and posed, of the Lower East Side community stretching from the early 80's to the present. To anyone who did not know this city before the mid-90's, or who might be unfamiliar with the neighborhood now, many will look like they must have been invented. In fact they are all perfectly true, and astonishingly intimate.

The same must be said of a film, "Captured", shown on a television monitor in the smaller space. Its subject is Patterson and the neighborhood he calls home and which he has looked after for almost three decades. It was put together by Dan Levin, Ben Solomon and Jenner Furst, largely using Patterson's own footage, and excerpts are being played in the gallery through the duration of the show. Patterson's photographs can be seen on the gallery site. Here I'm only showing stills from the film, except for this one image:

Clayton Patterson Untitled (grunge girl) 1992/2007 C-print

By the way, if you're very young, on the street, and want to have a distinctive style, wouldn't it make sense to find your own? That's why I was struck by the resemblance between this 1992 "Grunge Girl" captured by Patterson, and this 2002 "Billy", who was part of Bradley McCallum and Jacqueline Tarry's show at Marvelli gallery three years ago (the couple is now represented by Caren Golden).

[image at the bottom from ktfgallery]

the once and future president

I'm not arguing he should be nominated and elected this time because he won the Nobel Peace Prize, but because winning the Nobel Peace Prize can make it happen.

Why Al Gore, and not anyone from within the current field of designed and positioned candidates? To begin, because I can't support much of what I'm hearing from any of the three current "frontrunners"; to continue, because I believe Gore says what he thinks, not what he thinks others think he should say; and to conclude, because he would be elected.

Although I can't know what was going on in his mind at the time, I realize that I might have to advance one doubt about Gore's reputation for plain speaking: Had the man we voted for once before* been candid and upright about the truth in November and December of 2000 the world would be a much better place today, and we would now be thinking about who should succeed a President Gore.

Although not "we", since as a New Yorker I could pull the handle for Nader without affecting the Electoral College votes.

ps: I'm also pretty happy with what Richardson is saying, I've always thought Kucinich had it right on just about everything, and Mike Gravel should be getting more of a hearing. I'm still really disturbed about the Democratic Party as it now exists, and while I don't know how or whether I could reconcile that with a Gore, Richardson, Kucinich or Gravel candidacy, it could be very exciting finding out.

[image from classicalvalues]

The captured fighter claimed to be a student who had gotten stuck in Falluja. A marine responded. "Yeah, right, University of Jihad, motherfucker."

What the fuck

It's a hot title, only partially-disguised by the military alphabet code. Ashley Gilbertson's "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot: A Photographer's Chronicle of the Iraq War", is a devastating account in photographs and text of the human tragedy of the U.S. presence in Iraq.

This book (in visual arts terms, his first solo outing, after appearances in several compilations) is also a portrayal of an infernal war engine which has destroyed a small, weak nation and threatens to waste our own. While adding to the numbers of individual Iraqi victims it continues to churn up and spit out its own people, like the profoundly-damaged veterans visited back home by Nina Berman in her book and photo exhibition, "Purple Hearts".

In Iraq Gilbertson worked physically with dangers, artistic handicaps and challenges which Berman experienced mostly psychologically inside the U.S. through her friendships with and documentation of neglected and abused American veterans once they were deposited home - perhaps the most horrific "unintended consequences" of an insane, premeditated war. Gilbertson has spent much of the last four and a half years living virtually on his own in the chaos of Iraq armed only with his camera, its function significantly hamstrung by the guys in the white hats: The Pentagon itself imposes significant formal restraints of all kinds on any journalists who venture into a combat zone which it pretends to control, but Gilbertson also was prevented from including virtually any images of dead Americans ("Publishers Weekly" says it's because the victims' fellow soldiers forbade photographs). The book does however include a number of bloody and messy scenes of death and destruction, most victims already removed, and there are many images of dead or injured Iraqis.

But the combination of Gilbertson's art and humanity, the power of both the photographs and the commentary which accompanies them, more than meets the challenges of his courageous, self-imposed assignment. These are the images which will survive the war, and which will continue to haunt and condemn a people which devised and tolerated it.

I first came across Gilbertson's work when I was trying to locate online one of his images for a post I wanted to do on a subject illustrated by one of his photographs. I had seen the picture in the print edition of the NYTimes, but I couldn't find it anywhere on the paper's web site, probably because it had only appeared as an image with a short caption. I emailed the artist. He wasn't certain which shot I was asking about, but he graciously forwarded me several jpegs, with a very short note, apologizing for its brevity with the explanation, "out in the badlands right now so can't talk. Sorry." I was impressed. Now I wanted to see more of his work, and I absolutely had to meet him.

The book arrived today; I get my second wish next week.

Gilbertson will be celebrating the book's publication with a signing event and gallery opening at Gallerybar on the Lower East Side, next Thursday, October 18. The party is from 7 to 11, at 120 Orchard Street, but the exhibition of photographs from "W-T-F" continues for six weeks.

A member of the POB [Public Order Battalion] sits in front of a poster depicting Muqtada al-Sadr. he is paid and armed by the Iraqi and American governments: his allegiance lies with al-Sadr and the Mahdi army.

Corporal Joel Chaverri during a break in combat.

Inside the Grand Mosque, marines treat the young woman injured in the attack on her family's car.

A marine slides down the marble handrail in Saddam's palace in Tikrit.

[the captions are from "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot"; the images are from Gilbertson]

untitled (women's) 2007

ArtCal Zine home page screen grab

Omigosh, I'm not sure I can stand the excitement. ArtCal now has a real zine! No, I'm really serious about my enthusiasm: I think this thing is really cool. ArtCal is becoming less an appendage of its editors and more community-driven, but it's still only the beginning. Watch for additional forms of editorial content and visitor interchanges in the future.

Barry and the the managing Zine editor, Bosko Blagojevic, have been working wonders, and at the moment we have a very smooth vehicle and a number of eager contributors in the pipeline, many of them artists themselves, busy now putting together articles.

Look for "FROM THE ZINE" on the middle of the right-hand side of the ArtCal home page, just above "CULTURE PUNDITS BLOG POSTS". Individual pieces will be scrolling down from the top of the zine page as they are published. For a look at the complete list, click onto any one of those already showing or onto the words "FROM THE ZINE" at the top of the box. Older entries will be archived and easily retrieved through different searches. To avoid missing out on anything, you may also subscribe to a feed, as I just did.

There's going to be no real limit to either the geographical reach of subject material or the idiosyncratic style of writing in the Zine portion of ArtCal, so expect to be surprised.

[image from ArtCal]

say no to the no

Lately you may have noticed a decline in posts here about gallery shows. There's a reason: I'm not feeling it just now.

I'm going to sound like a grouch, if not just a scold, but my concern about a recent development in the world of exhibiting art has begun to affect my disposition or mood even when I'm not looking at art or writing about it. And I don't like it one bit.

While I don't think visual artists themselves have a problem with visibility, it seems that some of their galleries do. It may only be anecdotal evidence, but there appears to be a growing tendency among exhibitors to restrict or prohibit photography. I have been blogging about the visual arts for nearly five years, almost always including in these posts my own images of the shows I visit.

Because of my own recent experience, and that of others, with galleries trying to control visual access to their artist's work, for some time I have been feeling very sensitive about carrying my camera into an exhibition space, any exhibition space. I was in Chelsea yesterday when the incident which inspired this post occurred. Prior to it there was a moment in another gallery when I probably misunderstood the interest expressed by the attendant in my photographing work. I tensed for a moment, believing I was being challenged, but much later Barry told me he thought it was a totally friendly inquiry, that she only wanted to see what I might write about the show.

It did set me up for the real encounter we experienced in the gallery we visited only minutes later. Although I was now feeling a little shell shocked, I had already gone ahead and captured some images of that show when I was asked by the woman at the front desk, "This isn't for publication, is it?". After I explained my purpose she replied by way of an explanation of her question that she had been instructed to tell people that "images are not supposed to be used for publication". Little more was said and everything still remained more or less unresolved when we left shortly after.

I don't need the harassment, and no one else does either. I go to gallery shows to see art, and I bring my camera with me in order to share what I see with others who might be encouraged to pay a visit themselves or who might not be able to experience it themselves. I try to capture and upload my own image of work I see because I believe a work of art can and should be seen in many ways, and that it has nothing to lose and much to be gained from encounters with multiple and differing observations.

I have always felt comfortable around art, I have always felt comfortable in gallery environments, and I have always done what I could to help others share this comfort. I pretend no special propagative powers in the arts, and I claim no special rights of access, as an acolyte, a writer or a photographer. I believe that no casual visitor to a gallery should have to report to a desk in hopes of being able to demonstrate her or his worthiness for license to use a camera unobtrusively.

Beginning with the first two much earlier incidents, which were spaced in time at some distance from the other more recent examples, I have encountered or been told about prohibitions broadcast by the following galleries, although it is likely that there are others with similar policies:

303 Gallery (one show)
Gagosian (one show) UPDATE: it's now all shows
Capla Kesting
Jonathan LeVine
Pace on West 22nd Street (but not Pace Prints)
Paul Kasmin
I will not be writing about shows hosted by these galleries when they maintain camera prohibitions. This saddens me almost as much as the triggering affronts discomforted me. Each of the galleries may claim to have adopted restrictions for their own good reasons, but whether a visitor is using a camera (without flash or tripod) as a personal notebook, a sketchbook, an online diary, a flickr gallery, a blog or for any other benign purpose, the effect on the artist is equally malefic, even if the fan can just walk out. Any possible malignant purpose on the photographer's side, imagined or real, can be dealt with by other means, without directing a massive preemptive blow to the art being shown, or an enthusiasm for art.

Galleries (and museums, too) must not be converted into hostile environments.

Finally, I will say here that I absolutely do not have to be an art blogger. It consumes a huge amount of my time, no one is paying me, and I have an enormous number of other important interests. If these shortsighted camera restrictions become more general within the gallery community, I will no longer post about shows at all. I have no interest in being associated with anything which encourages more opaqueness in the display of works of visual art. In addition, if I continue to be nervous about even going into galleries (I'm almost never without my camera in my hand no matter where I am), I may decide to give up altogether a routine that once gave me such great pleasure.

HAPPY UPDATE: The gallery Pavel Zoubok had a photo-prohibition at the time this post was written, but has since changed its policy

[image from stanford recycling center]

John Singer Sargent Ethel Smyth 1901 pastel

If this hundred-year-old opera had always enjoyed the success it deserves today I'd probably be whining about the endless parade of productions of La Boheme, Aida, La Traviata, Carmen and The Wreckers. As it turned out, for reasons I now find inexplicable, the last of the works I just named never made it. Dame Ethel Smyth's wonderful opera had in fact never been performed anywhere in the Western Hemisphere until last Sunday afternoon.

Barry and I are huge fans of Leon Botstein's programs with the American Symphony Orchestra. For us it's about "new music", but surprise! Here the pleasures of unfamiliar musical genius arrive via a well-prepared trip backward in time. The Orchestra's mission under Botstein's direction is more usually described as the resurrection of large-scale symphonic or operatic works from the previous two centuries, music which has been neglected, presumably unjustly. The audience may not always agree, but it's never left without help in mustering its response: In advance of each concert the music director supplies absolutely vital and articulate notes on the works themselves, as well as the context of their original creation and subsequent neglect.

All of this explains why I've been a subscriber since 1991, when Botstein began his current tenure as music director and principal conductor. So we would have been in Avery Fisher Hall on Sunday regardless of what the program was, but this one promised to be a particular treat.

"The Wreckers" was composed by a privileged and educated fierce Victorian English lesbian suffragette who was once imprisoned for her activism but otherwise lived and worked in friendship with some of the European cultural giants of her age. The opera's theme, perhaps more topical in 2007 than at the time of its composition (1903-04), is the horrors of which a provincial, fanatically-religious, self-regarding community is capable. Botstein's essay in the program notes suggested that it's the first worthy opera written by a Brit in almost two hundred years. Of course I was interested.

Reviewing the afternoon's performance and the opera itself for the NYTimes Bernard Holland seems to have been almost as enthusiastic as I was, about both the performance and the opera itself, and he appears to agree its oblivion was a big mistake:

“The Wreckers” gets your attention. It charges at the audience with all guns blazing, and tramples the weak and the hesitant in its path with a story of pillaged ships and triangular loves.

Smyth (1858-1944) was determined to fill as big a physical and emotional space as eight singers and a big chorus and orchestra could manage. Everyone onstage seemed to rage with Ethel Smyth fever, pouring out nonstop fervor in one relentless fortissimo after another.
. . . .

“The Wreckers” is not aimless cannon fire; Smyth knew what she was doing. Her orchestra makes winds whistle, waves roll and crash, and fog creep over the rocks in dark minor chords. From the land we hear hornpipes and sea chanteys in the distance. All the elements of a complete oceanography are present and rationally arranged.

But while I thought the work was a real keeper, and I'm dying to see it fully-staged, Holland, apparently viewing it only from the vantage of the succeeding one hundred years (a considerable advantage over poor Smyth) ends a very enthusiastic review of the merits of the piece itself with a bizarre non sequitur:
Does “The Wreckers” get a third chance? At some point, I am sure. It is not a deathless work, and too much exposure might do it more harm than good. Too much value is put on permanence anyway. “Disposable” is not a dirty word. People got their money’s worth on Sunday and should perhaps let “The Wreckers” go back to sleep.
Only in the American world of opera world is the word "deathless" always confined to the teeny list which begins with La Boheme, Aida, La Traviata and Carmen.

For more information about Smyth and her opera, see the American Symphony Orchestra's site, and click onto links for the two essays at the bottom, under "Dialogues & Extensions".

The image below, a late-eighteenth-century painting by George Morland, describes a somewhat brighter version of the dark setting of Smyth's opera.

George Morland The Wreckers 1790-1799

[first image from de.wikipedia; second image from the National Gallery of Canada via sandstead]

Roy Batty's epiphany

Last night I spent far too much time worrying about how to express the depth of my broader frustration and despair before posting the latest version of my regular fulminations over Guantanamo. I should have waited until this morning, when I opened Newsday, and read John Anderson's review of the "Blade Runner: The Final Cut".

Anderson ends his report on what is billed as the director Ridley Scott's definitive version of the dark 1982 classic with this:

One of the its more chilling moments foreshadows our current climate with a kind of clairvoyance.

"Quite an experience to live in fear," says Rutger Hauer's rampaging Replicant, for whom we have no small amount of sympathy. "That's what it's like to be a slave." Here, "Blade Runner" not only foreshadows a post-industrial world, but seems to critique the post-9/11 world as well.

[image from cogeco]


This post is part of a series begun on May 21, 2007, which will continue until the U.S. concentration camps at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere around the world have been razed.

Many of us learned years ago that we don't live in a democracy, but until 2006 some might still have thought the Democratic Party would pretend to respect its own name. And couldn't we once assume, regardless of what they actually did, that Democrats would at least talk like liberals?

Voters gave the party majorities in both houses of Congress nearly a year ago, but absolutely nothing has been accomplished on the three most critical national issues of our time. I'm referring to the War in Iraq, for whose termination the election was a referendum, but which has in fact been expanded; to the Military Commissions Act of October 2006, which wiped out Habeas Corpus; and to the network of concentration camps we've established around the world since 9/11, the most visible of which is that at Guantanamo Bay.

The Democrats helped the Republicans create each of these cynical outrages, which together now represent the greatest continuing threat to our national security. The party has been unwilling to put an end to any of them, and most Democratic politicians don't even pretend to oppose the Constitutional assault called the "Patriot Act" or the continuing atrocities of state-sponsored torture. Conscience, principle and courage are not to be found anywhere.

And what of Guantanamo Bay itself? It now belongs to the Democrats.

So what's going on here?

Did the citizen die along with the Constitution? Is there nothing that those with eyes and minds can do? Should I or anyone else outside the greasy corridors of power even bother to bring up these subjects any longer? Does it serve any purpose to remind ourselves of the shame and humiliation these horrors bring down upon all of us with the passage of each day?

[fabric color swatch, otherwise unrelated to Guantanamo, from froggtoggs]

Noah Lyon's print mural, wrapped around a wall above his colorful booth

Slavs & Tatars poster ("the money, it's not so smart, says the Tajik guy")

Soiled Mattress and the Springs, sounding here more hardcore than laid-back, accompanied by Matthew Thurber's drawings

I know the images above may not seem to represent the primary focus of the New York Art Book Fair, but even under ideal circumstances I find it very difficult to get an interesting photograph of a book. Representing both a challenge and an obstacle, last weekend's covered market, had thousands of them. Spread over two floors of the old Dia space in Chelsea, every book demanded a look or a reading and, in some cases, even a hearing. There was also the challenge an excited crowd can present to any attempt at photo documentation (or vice versa).

Incidentally the creators of work shown in all three images actually were hawking books of some kind. Lyon was showing his own beautiful printed and handmade volumes in addition to his work in other media; the Moscow collaborative, Slavs & Tatars, displayed books, posters and T-shirts, all of which were reminders of the rest of the world's ignorance and long neglect of the richness of a multicultural Eurasia; and the the punk/lounge trio Soiled Mattress and the Springs were invited to help launch the new arts magazine, ANP Quarterly.

I've decided that art book fairs are even more exhausting than straight art fairs: I'm sure it has almost everything to do with what the crowded, small-scale displays can do to the eyes and the head.

But nothing will keep us away from another incarnation of this one. Barry and I saw some great stuff, met some wonderful people (books, art, a little music and the people who love those things - what's not to like?), went home with a few goodies - and an even longer wish list - and had at least as much fun as we did last year, at the first appearance of the fair, which was created and run by Printed Matter.

Michael Cline Picket 2007 oil on linen 62" x 36"


In time, Michael Cline's jaw-dropping show of oils at Daniel Reich, "Folks", may be recorded as a cultural benchmark, both aesthetic and social, for offering us such a peculiar and powerful window onto the darker and neglected side of this urban moment. It certainly will not be forgotten by those who experience the paintings.

These sacred/profane altarpieces go where the photographer's art cannot.

lights out

The pink cupcake is dark tonight. Dead. And long may it rest, in oblivion.

I was immediately sorry for what the closing of Burgers & Cupcakes might mean to its employees, but minutes after I heard the news from Barry that the restaurant had closed (he had seen the sign on the window this evening) I told him that I actually felt sorry for the owners.

Then he reminded me that one of them had referred to that paragon of neighborhood aesthetics and sensitivity, the Sixth Avenue branch of the huge Caliente Cab Company chain, as a model for what they described as (if not in the same word) their own landmark sign, a giant spotlighted, revolving cupcake poised on top of an illegal canopy above the curb. Now I can feel totally comfortable saying that anyone who could argue that the archtypical Village monstrosity was an appropriate model for a new, improved 23rd Street totally deserves to go out of business.

We had a celebratory toast before a late supper tonight.

With no thanks to our City Council representative.

UPDATES: Today the giant cupcake itself is nowhere to be seen, although the illegal canopy on which it once rotated remains in place. [reporting from the scene on Tuesday, October 2] Now [later this afternoon] we've heard that someone had paid $400 to take it away.

This page is an archive of entries from October 2007 listed from newest to oldest.

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