April 2010 Archives

Harry was always an activist (here he is saying hello to the late Keith Cylar)

ADDENDA: I've now located* the original full image of the photograph I included above when I first did this entry, as well as the text which accompanied it, from a pre-summer issue of OutWeek published almost twenty years ago; this is Keith Cylar and Harry Wieder's reply to the photographer and activist Michael Wakefields's question about their ideal getaway:

"We would live in a world where we would then have the freedom to do more than just fantasize, where our fight to end AIDS has brought a reality, and there are countless sexual possibilities, especially for a militant sexual dwarf"

I've also added an image further into the entry, of Harry inside the maw of the beast, an ACT UP Monday night meeting

He described himself as a "Disabled, gay, Jewish, leftist, middle aged dwarf who ambulates with crutches", but Harry was much more. He was the essential activist, and he was much loved.

I first met him through ACT UP, where I sat next to him at a Monday night meeting, and after that he seemed to be everywhere, especially wherever there was something to be said to power. I was deeply proud to call him a friend.

I hadn't yet heard his own multifarious description of himself, but as I came to know better both the man and his work I watched his identity as an activist and as a man gradually enlarge in my own consciousness. Eventually I seemed to have assembled an image of all of his various hats and identities on my own, even adding "person of color" in my enthusiasm. I can't account for that add-on. Harry might have been a bit "swarthy", but I think it was his compassion and his natural affinity for the issues which affected blacks, or maybe there was even an ambiguous word from Harry himself. Then, only years later, when he told me where he then lived on the Lower East Side, in a home for the deaf, did I realize that his physical challenges included a hearing disability.

The news magazine OutWeek called Harry a "militant sexual dwarf" in a 1991 article which included the photo above. He's seen peeking into the swimsuit of Keith Cylar, one of the co-founders of Housing Works. Barry remembers, "he was [certainly] aggressively flirtatious".

We all loved him.

During all of his active life he worked to improve transportation for all so there was more than a little irony in the fact that he was struck down the night before last by a taxi on Essex Street, on the Lower East Side where he lived. It's one of the most dangerous of the stretches which had attracted his latest traffic-control activism, virtually up to the moment of his death. He was leaving a regular meeting of Community Board 3, one of several groups which has been concerned with the neighborhood's safety.

Board 3 will be joined by Community Board 2 at a public hearing scheduled by the NYC Department of Transportation for next Thursday on the issues of traffic and safety in the Village and the Lower East Side. Harry will certainly be a part of it.

Harry, waving from the front row during a 1990 ACT UP meeting [detail in a still from a video]

For more details: DNAinfo; The New York Post; Wall Street Journal (blog); the Lo-Down; Gothamist; The Edge (for starters)

When I first published this post I was unable to locate Michael Wakefield's original, uncropped image, but Bill Dobbs located it in the OutWeek archive and pointed me to it (it's on page 36); it now appears here at the top

[first image by Michaeld Wakefield from the OutWeek archive; the second from James Wentzy]


Today is the eighth anniversary of this blog.

I said it last year, and I'm delighted and incredibly privileged to say it again: This is also the anniversary of what turned out to be the most important event in my life, the night Barry and I met (now nineteen years ago).

Last year I also wrote, looking at the world outside our circle of close friends, that I was "more upbeat about the world" than I had been the year before, the eighth year of our second Bush, adding, "but only a bit". That hasn't changed, a bit.

And happy birthday, Paddy Johnson!

[the image is of a portion of the street number on the glass above one of the Art Deco entrances of the former Port Authority Commerce Building (1932), 111 Eighth Avenue the wall seen several feet behind the glass is covered with gold leaf]


Brothers Mike and Doug Starn's Metropolitan Museum roof installation, "Bambú: You Can't, You Don't, and You Won't Stop", opens today, April 27. Barry and I were at the press preview yesterday morning. I'm sharing here a few of the images with which I returned.

I'm not really drawn to openings (of any kind, galleries, performances or film) just for the sake of being there first. There has to be some other lure; it might be the prospect of being around creative friends. And only the promise of something very special, also something which almost has to be experienced in the relative isolation of a preview could normally bring me to the Upper East Side before noon, but there we were yesterday at 11 am, standing in the rain on the roof of the Met, and there wasn't a friend of any kind in sight.

Oh yes, I admit that I was also there because I was looking forward to some terrific, uncrowded photo opportunities, even if we weren't going to be able to scale the heights of the bamboo cloud surrounding us.

It turned out that the "Bambú" itself was friendly enough, even if the wet-blankets working at the underwriting desks of the museum's insurance company refused to let anyone enter the internal footpaths. It's a prohibition which can be expected to be applied, throughout the spring, summer and early fall, whenever the surfaces become wet.

The Starn's piece will not move across the roof, as did their earlier bamboo sculpture at the former Tallix factory in Beacon, New York. There the structure, assembled inside an enormous, 320-foot space, was continuously reconstructed by dismantling individual poles and carrying them down the floor to be reassembled into (another?) monumental piece, several times over and over, and then back again.

The forest at the Met will continue to grow in height throughout the spring and summer, and the existing paths constructed within it (in the sky, so to speak) will be extended further during at least much of that time. Visitors who are not so unfortunate as to show up on a drizzly day can expect to encounter a number of sturdy rock climbers, mustered from northern New England and the European Alps, working on the piece above their heads.

The other friendly faces we encountered were those of the Starns themselves. I've been encountering their work for more than 25 years, and I've never been disappointed by what I've seen as they've reconfigured the world around them. On Monday they were completely generous with their time and open to any queries from the press.

"Bambú" likely represents the most complete transformation of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Roof Garden in the twenty-three years of the space's history. It may also turn out to be the most successful, not least because for its visitors it's probably going to be the most exciting ever.

I thought it was a pretty awesome piece, not least for the fact that its rather serious scale depends on only a rather smallish carbon footprint, and for being a frankly ephemeral construction (ephemeral except in the memory of those who will experience it). The very fact that it was done at all is a remarkable accomplishment for the artists, the Museum, and, yes, that insurance company too.



Now I'm thinking about the piece as art. It's a maze, with elements both random and designed. It's a forest of natural, wooden materials, yet bound together with synthetic, nylon cords. But this "forest" has been planted in the middle of, and yet above, a great artificial metropolis by the hand of man alone. It has been accomplished through the borrowing of the products of nature as well as human genius. It displays attributes of chaos as well as order, and the contributions made by nature and by man both exhibit each of those. Every piece in it was assembled, arranged, and bound into place by artists, although working closely with their collaborators. Every element of the structure has an intelligence and a rhythm. Not one part of it is quite accidental or entirely superfluous.

The forest maze closes forever on October 31. I wish instead that we could flood the roof and watch it grow forever.




the artists: Doug (l.) and Mike


Even the tulips manage to look more genteel on the Upper East Side. This pink bower was spotted on Sunday gathered together in the tidy front garden of an elegant apartment building in the 70's.

gone, but surely not forgotten

It's Earth Day. It's also the day the White House and the City of New York decided to junk hundreds of bikes, the vehicles used by New Yorkers to reduce their carbon footprint.

From Gothamist, two hours ago:

Obama has no idea what he just got himself into. Someone sent this photo to the blog This Is FYF, which reports that "citing security concerns that bikes might be secret pipe bombs, NYPD officers clipped the locks of hundreds of bikes along Houston Street this morning in preparation for President Obama's speech at Cooper Union. The bikes were unceremoniously put in the back of the truck. Onlookers were not given information as to what would become of the bikes. Happy Earth Day!"

Those bikes are at least as important to their riders as cars are to their drivers, and, in some cases, represent as major an investment for their owners as a car does for those who like piloting their own multi-ton metal vehicles around the city. Would the NYPD be so cavalier in junking hundreds of those precious planet-scarring cars?

The history of the NYPD's war on bikes tell us that for the men and women in blue today's crackdown on innocent parked bikes is a win-win situation: The cops get to pretend they're guarding us from terrorists, and at the same time they're reducing the actual number of bikes (and, perhaps more crucially, discouraging potential riders from thinking of bikes as a reasonable alternative to cars).

Has anyone noticed the stories in the media and the glossy posters telling us that in just about one week we can begin celebrating the fact that "May is Bike Month in New York City!"? Someone should share the information with the City authorities.

And perhaps in one final note here, prollyisnotprobably reminds us that Bicycling Magazine put NYC within the top ten on its list of the most cycling friendly cities in the country. The prollies had already suggested our city doesn't belong there.

RELATED: "NY activists drop rainforest banner at City Hall"

[image by Anthony Rebholz/Thisisfy via Gothamist]


UPDATE: [2 PM, APRIL 22, 2010] Both Tims were released a short while ago, after an arraignment in which each was charged with two misdemeanors: "Obstruction of Government Administration" and (a Parks violation) "Unlawful Posting of Sign"; each was also charged with one violation: "Disorderly Conduct"

ADDENDUM: [April 22, 2010] Tim Keating discusses the issues in this excellent Rainforest Relief video, recorded on a New York subway platform in April, 2008

Added six hours after this post was published: It's just like the late 80s and 90s: We're still having to learn to do stunts and run through hoops just to get the attention of elected officials, bureaucrats, journalists and the people who take and handle our money, in the hope of persuading them, or their handlers, to do what they should have been doing all along. It seems to be the new American way.

Two intrepid activists from the group, "Rainforests of New York" (yeah, New York rain forests: we're actually the country's #1 ongoing consumer of the irreplaceable wood from the planet's vanishing tropical rain forests) at midday today shimmied up two of the 40-foot flagpoles planted at the foot of City Hall Park. There the team, Tim Doody and Tim Keating, masterfully strung a handsome 150-square-foot banner broadcasting, to Mayor Bloomberg, the people of New York, tourists on foot and sitting in open-top buses, and by now the whole world, the gross hypocrisy of a city which talks green while refusing to acknowledge its dependence on "exotic wood" products purchased (with public money) from those whom our building appetites reward for continuing to destroy rain forests and altering the entire world climate.

The action was organized by Rainforest Relief and the New York Climate Action Group [NYCAG]

The banner was unfurled some time after noon, and it was still in place at 1:45 pm, well after the triumphant climbers had lowered themselves to the ground. They were arrested by gloved members of the "Police Emergency Service" while being hailed by the supportive lunchtime crowd, which then saw them driven off to the First Precinct.








[still from the documentary, "Before Stonewall"; it is not a picture of Harold and Clay]

UPDATE: County settles with Clay out of court

ADDENDUM: This is a link to a page on the NCLR site which includes a picture of the couple and more of a background on what they had together, and what was taken from them. Note also that Harold and Clay had taken the precaution of naming each other both beneficiaries of their respective estates and agents for medical decisions, and the authorities still proceeded as if they had no personal or legal relationship.

This is the basic story: Harold Scull, 88, and Clay Greene, 77, a couple for 25 years, and living together for 20 years, were physically and permanently separated, forcibly, when Harold was injured two years ago in a home accident. Clay was not permitted to see his partner or have any say in his care. Their property was summarily seized and auctioned off to pay for Harold's medical care and for the cost of the separate nursing homes to which the county had assigned them. Harold died a few months later and Clay was only informed of the fact days after. Neither had seen the other in the interim, and the home, possessions and virtually all property and personal mementos they shared had been disposed of by the county.

When I heard about these horrors via an email from a friend I first thought was that the account must be an invention, perhaps a cruel scam, but then, registering the integrity of my source, and seeing the story verified elsewhere, I was horrified and revolted. My stomach turned.

This is the kind of thing many might have thought could only exist as an invention, a hypothetical worse-case scenario constructed to help advance an understanding of the importance of securing the human rights of a large portion of humankind in this country, and beyond. It certainly wasn't something that happened in a civilized society today, to people like, well, us.

So, are we really living in post-Stonewall world?

The nightmare for Harold and Clay began only two years ago, and it didn't happen in, say, . . . Arkansas. I'm picking on that state because, for me, there the political is personal: Arkansas is where my partner Barry was born and grew up, but we refuse to visit friends and family there, for a number of reasons, many of them related to the primitive laws and customs it uses to condemn and endanger relationships like our own.

No, this story unfolded in California, and in fact in the San Francisco Bay area. Moreover, the local media, in the form of the Sonoma County, New York Times-owned paper, the Press Democrat, has refused to cover the story or the legal case being advanced by the surviving partner, Clay Greene.

It's pretty clear that queers still aren't safe anywhere in this country.

I'm copying here the account which appears on the site of the NCLR [National Center for Lesbian Rights]:

Greene v. County of Sonoma et al.

Clay and his partner of 20 years, Harold, lived in California. Clay and Harold made diligent efforts to protect their legal rights, and had their legal paperwork in placewills, powers of attorney, and medical directives, all naming each other. Harold was 88 years old and in frail medical condition, but still living at home with Clay, 77, who was in good health.

One evening, Harold fell down the front steps of their home and was taken to the hospital. Based on their medical directives alone, Clay should have been consulted in Harolds care from the first moment. Tragically, county and health care workers instead refused to allow Clay to see Harold in the hospital. The county then ultimately went one step further by isolating the couple from each other, placing the men in separate nursing homes.

Ignoring Clays significant role in Harolds life, the county continued to treat Harold like he had no family and went to court seeking the power to make financial decisions on his behalf. Outrageously, the county represented to the judge that Clay was merely Harolds roommate. The court denied their efforts, but did grant the county limited access to one of Harolds bank accounts to pay for his care.

What happened next is even more chilling: without authority, without determining the value of Clay and Harolds possessions accumulated over the course of their 20 years together or making any effort to determine which items belonged to whom, the county took everything Harold and Clay owned and auctioned off all of their belongings. Adding further insult to grave injury, the county removed Clay from his home and confined him to a nursing home against his will. The county workers then terminated Clay and Harold's lease and surrendered the home they had shared for many years to the landlord.

Three months after he was hospitalized, Harold died in the nursing home. Because of the countys actions, Clay missed the final months he should have had with his partner of 20 years. Compounding this tragedy, Clay has literally nothing left of the home he had shared with Harold or the life he was living up until the day that Harold fell, because he has been unable to recover any of his property. The only memento Clay has is a photo album that Harold painstakingly put together for Clay during the last three months of his life.

With the help of a dedicated and persistent court-appointed attorney, Anne Dennis of Santa Rosa, Clay was finally released from the nursing home. Ms. Dennis, along with Stephen O'Neill and Margaret Flynn of Tarkington, O'Neill, Barrack & Chong, now represent Clay in a lawsuit against the county, the auction company, and the nursing home, with technical assistance from NCLR. A trial date has been set for July 16, 2010 in the Superior Court for the County of Sonoma.

[there is a pdf link to the complaint filed in Clay Greene's name at the bottom of the NCLR page itself]

Suggested media contacts:

Catherine Barnett, Executive Editor, The Press Democrat

Arthur Sulzberger Jr., Chairman & Publisher of the New York Times

Richard Berke, Assistant Managing Editor of the New York Times

Adam Nagourney , the chief national political correspondent for the New York Times

[image from flickr]


Barry and I don't observe anything religious, but we can't help it if our historical memories kick in once in a while. Usually it involves a good meal, and there's definitely one of those in the works for tomorrow, which happens to be the day celebrated as Easter by some.

Easter has come to be associated with colored eggs, but I think it was only a coincidence that I came across these giants earlier this week.

The picture is of some of the ostrich and emu eggs being sold by Roaming Acres (Sussex County, New Jersey) at the Union Square greenmarket on every Friday. The off-white and the dark blue/green colors are achieved without benefit of coloring. The big birds responsible, while hardly native to these climes, are actually local stock (as they must be, by greenmarket regulations, and in their case also "all natural"). The farmer himself sells the big eggs (one ostrich egg equals 18-24 chicken eggs) both fresh and hollowed out. He also offers ostrich meat and handsome ostrich leather goods, but the emu are cherished for their eggs alone (both with and without original content).

This picture, or one similar, will probably soon find its way onto our food blog, since I picked up a frozen ostrich fillet while I was there. We already have an ostrich egg sitting on a table in the parlor, one I brought with me when I moved back from South Africa 35 years ago, but I have my eye on one of those dark emu beauties.

It's probably not technically a pop-up show. It's also not merely another spawn (if here a silver lining) of our continuing Great Recession, like most of the new spaces hosting new art in New York and elsewhere. Then could we be watching the birth of a Greenpoint Biannual, a shelter for the emerging artists' own periodic "cross section of contemporary art production", to borrow a phrase from the Whitney itself?

Barry and I were in the former Catholic St. Cecilia Convent last Sunday for the second time in six months. Once again Father Jim, the pastor of the parish had generously and visionarily turned the space over to some young curators and artists. The Round Robin Collective's "ECSTATIC", both an exhibition and a series of events and performances, assembled by a group of invited artists, ends its four-week run this Sunday. An excerpt from the statement which appears on the show's website:

While some of the participating artists' work deals directly with notions of ecstasy, the title of the show does not allude to an overt theme in the work presented; rather, it refers to the process of making and encountering art and the results produced from inspired relationships.


Three floors of the formerly-empty rooms of the nearly century-old building are filled by underknown artists with interesting new work in virtually every medium. I had been eagerly anticipating a visit, because of the pleasures we had encountered last September in the show put together by a different group of artists, but almost as soon as we walked in I thought I had died and gone to heaven. There are certainly great pleasures to be found in visiting museums and galleries, but they are nothing like those associated with the immediacy and serendipity of sharing in the work of good artists in any medium when they decide to put on a show with only a minimum of structure or system provided from without.

While some of the work may not completely unfold while competing with the intrusiveness of the abandoned-convent environment (just about the opposite of the clean white box so associated with the exhibition of art in the late twentieth century), in many if not most cases the circumstances of the installations seem ideal, oddly better than what a gallery might provide.

The list of artists includes: Lisa Boumstein-Smalley, Mary Billyou, Amanda Browder & Stuart Keeler, Caroline Burghardt, Lisa Caccioppoli, Ofri Cnaani, Chris Cobb, David Coyle, Jeff DeGolier, Martin Esteves, Gisela Insuaste, Jamie Kim, Stephanie Liner, Deirdre McConnell, Katherin McInnis, Emcee C.M., Master of None, Huong Ngo, Christopher Rose, Stephanie Rothenberg, Dorothy Royle, Matthew Spiegelman, Janos Stone, Cassie Thorton + Action Club, Jenny Vogel & David McBride, and Audra Wolowiec.

For more on "ECSTATIC", see Daniel Pearce's piece on IDIOM.

Stephanie Rothenberg

Stephanie Rothenberg installed a fairly-convincing office environment in a room just inside the front door of the convent. This image is of only one of a handful of posters suggesting advertising for an imagined employment agency. From the "Ecstatic" site:

Stephanie Rothenberg's interdisciplinary practice merges performance, installation and networked media to create provocative interactions that question the boundaries and social constructs of manufactured desires. Her recent work investigates new models of online labor and the virtualization of the global workplace, referencing post-colonial as well as DIY historical precedents.

Martin Esteves Come to Mock Stay to Rock and Audra Woloweic howl and sounds of silence

The advertised sole purpose of this five-foot-tall phallic standing sculpture, the work of Martin Esteves, was to fulfill the role occasionally assigned to its medium: Something you bump into while looking at the art on the walls. In this case, neither the sculpture, which rocks on a soft base, nor the bumpee's soft rump would likely be harmed.

The filed-down vinyl records mounted on the wall are the work of Audra Woloweic, whose work addresses sounds, forms of communication and, according to the statement on her own site, "ephemeral moments of the everyday".

Jeff DeGolier Stride 2009 hair, woodglue, duracell batteries, hair, spraypaint, housepaint, electric motor, wire, glue bottle, etc. on found canvas

Jeff DeGolier's gently-animated piece appeared to be both an integral part of the disintegrating interior of the old building and its (please excuse the expression in this context) its transfiguration.

David B. Smith and Brina Thurston

David B. Smith collaborated with Brina Thurston to de-install her large site specific outdoor sculpture from a show ending at Socrates Sculpture Park, cut it into pieces small enough to fit into his car, and re-install it in a small residential room in the convent. The original sculpture, entitled Master-Station, is a life-size replica of a NYC subway entrance, complete with functioning globe lamps.

Janos Stone I Never Thought I Would Meet Someone Like You

Janos Stone's installation began with his creation of a monstrously-muscled heroic nude male figure upon which three distinct images were projected, changing male and female faces of porn actors at the top, pornographic videos in the center, and at the bottom a colorful Second Life figure. I've checked out his site since leaving "ECSTATIC" and we both visited with the artist on Friday night at his current show at SLAG Gallery, "LMIRL", and talked to him about his future projects. My head's now spinning.

David Coyle I Killed the Monster 2008 oil on canvas 24" x 20"

David Coyle's paintings appear somewhat unremarkable at first, but their severe honesty, humor, and (I don't think I've used this word before) painterly grace brought me back to their small cell-like room several times.

Mary Billyou Subspace Face

A simply-rigged monitor showed Mary Billyou's looped video combining a severe frontal view of the artist's own face with a simple matrix, and was a part of a larger installation with a strong historical context. While it was fairly mesmerizing it remained pretty enigmatic absent more information.

Dorothy Royle

Dorothy Royle's installation of a glass vase of hand-made forsythia branches just inside a window was literally an unfolding performance: The artist visits the site regularly to gradually open up, and wither. The label informed us also that ". . . bright green leaves will grow from ends of the strongest branches. Inevitably, some petals will fall".

Emcee C.M., Master of None Reading/Radio Room

The installation by this collaborative, which tells us that its work always "combines large-scale public, social and collaborative event-based projects with a more internal process of self-reflection through fiction, storytelling, and filmmaking. This corner of the building, titled "Reading/Radio Room", could easily cocoon a visitor for hours.

Ofri Cnaani

Ofri Cnaani's art evokes the magic of the ancient magic lantern, but she addresses gender, architectural space, myth and reality in seductive imagery and movement. I first encountered her work in 2008 and I find myself captivated once again.

Matthew Spiegelman

Matthew Spiegelman has assembled several lighting installations inside the convent, each of them abstracted from homey old lighting fixtures and each more infectiously joyful - and oddly spooky - than the next.

Amanda Browder Future Telling 2010 discarded (found): painted canvas, embroidery, marker, fur

Amanda Browder's piece was in a room which appeared to include both her own work and pieces done in collaboration with Stuart Keeler, but this piece appears to be identified as her own creation.

Cassie Thornton + Action Club

I haven't been able to track down anything on the installation identified as "Cassie Thornton + Action Club" (or, variously, "Action Team"), but the planned chaos of the broom closet-size installation pictured here, and the scrim composed of countless found objects of all sizes which has been assembled in front of the third-floor hallway window just beyond, somehow suggested an advanced postmodern intelligence, and the scrappy art which can ultimately humanize it.

[Janos Stone image from the artist]

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