Culture: October 2002 Archives

The just-about-legendary, yet historical, New York socialist community, The Workman's Circle, or Der Arbeter Ring celebrates over one hundred years of caring. Now exhibiting the effects of its success, or at least those of its age, it looks for ways to attract the young. With the humor and optimism which its members have always exhibited, the director of fund-raising efforts explains the strategy, "I don't want to say younger people are smarter, however there is one thing: they're going to be around longer."

It's a wonderful story.

The beginnings:

It was started in a tenement on the Lower East Side.

A handful of immigrant socialists, most of them Yiddish-speaking laborers, gathered in the Essex Street home of Sam Greenberg, a cloak maker, wanting to find a way to take care of one another through sickness and death as they tried to gain footholds in a formidable country. In the process, these newcomers hoped to ease their loneliness.

Quickly their idea, the Workmen's Circle, caught on. People seemed to like joining a group that helped tide them through an illness yet allowed them to sit with friends over a glass of tea and argue a fine point of radical politics. Within 30 years, the organization gained 80,000 members around the country, joined with the garment unions to broaden the rights of American workers and started an early and absurdly cheap version of health insurance and dozens of Yiddish schools.

Jam Master Jay, the DJ of the rap group Run-DMC, was shot in the head and killed last night in a Queens recording studio.

"He has a little soul, to rock n' roll

Every record that he touches turns to gold

He's well conducted, self-instructed

His styles were plied, heavily constructed

Mechanically inclined, and if you don't mind

We add spice to your life, time after time

And think about times, where he's a long laster

We rock our rhymes for the Jam-Master."

"Jam Master Jammin'" (1985)

From the Run-DMC site:

Hey, Sad day. Of all the people to get caught in that sh*t. What a shame.
It's like Rap has lost their Beatle.


We sat in the first row for the Robert Wilson/Tom Waits "Woyzeck" last night. We're both getting impatient (at the least) with Wilson, but Waits' raw super-noir keeps him interesting. (This is their third collaboration, after "Black Rider" and "Alice.")

Misery's the River of the World
Misery's the River of the World
Everybody Row! Everybody Row!
Misery's the River of the World
Misery's the River of the World
Everybody Row! Everybody Row!
Everybody Row!

The first row meant we had the wonderful theatre in the pit as well as the fabulous Danish orchestra's scrowling, pluckering, scrinching, smuthering murooning sounds. Waits' music and words stuff is absolutely wonderful and worth the price of admission alone, but the cast was right on, as were the magical mechanicals which sometimes bedevil these Wilson things.

The costumes, the sets, the makeup, and the design conception were all diverting, and I suppose I mean that in the best sense (I did love the Drum Major's devilish red tail/coattails!), and the work was chuck-full of early twentieth-century German theatre references that really work with the 1837 Buechner text. For me, that text seems fresher and less perverse with each visit, whatever the medium.

The choreography (Wilson), especially the trademark stylized limb movements, was absolutely right, when it wasn't slowed to almost a halt. Barry said it hardly seemed right that even Berg's grand opera is shorter than Wilson's production, usually by over forty minutes.

I think there was a moral, but the whole experience was too jaggedly lush to leave any memory of it. Great, great fun.

Oh yes, seen in the audience and again at the reception following the performance: the great Isabella Rossellini and the indescribable (so I'll do lots of links) Slava Mogutin.

Ah, that's better.

I've been feeling so distanced from the visual arts thing for months, I was beginning to think I was going through another change of life (-style).
This afternoon's outing put the kibosh on that notion.

The galleries in Chelsea were at their best today. It was a wonderful day, and worth being pulled out of bed at the crack of ten a.m. by houseguests eager to go out to "brunch." Actually, I thought "brunch" had been replaced by something more, oh, edgy(?) during the years I've been sleeping late and preferring to defer to the cereal boxes on the top shelf.

What did we see?

There was Gustav Kluge at Klemens Gasser (Barry noted that German expressionism isn't dead after all).

There was a great show from David Shrigley at Anton Kern (Gee, it seems that Glasgow has created a special silly sweet sensibility shared by several of its sons).

We're also really excited about Kiniko Ivic's very sympathetic-pathetic paint things at Andrew Kreps. [No picture links; what are these galleries thinking?]

Oh and don't pass up Maurizio Cattalan's "Wrong Gallery" (the installation space is only about ten inches by thirty-six inches!) through the door immediately adjacent, where you will see a piece by Martin Creed, the Turner Prize guy the conservatives love to hate.

How often does a woman born in 1919 in Carinthia, Austria, get a solo show in Chelsea? Don't bother asking, but look in on the work of Maria Lassing at Petzel, especially the work on paper in the rear space.

I'm a sucker for good car stuff (It started while I was growing up in Detroit during its halcyon years), but even Barry liked the brilliant shapes and colors on Peter Cain's canvases at Matthew Marks on 22nd Street. Very sexy images from an artist we miss a lot.

Peter Campus innovative 1970's video work projections seemed today to be upstaging his current work at Leslie Tonkonow, but I have to admit we did not stay long enough to really see the new stuff on the small screens. Gotta go back.

I'm crazy about Yoshitomo Nara, and have been from the moment I first saw his tough little cartoon girl, several years back. Yes, she reminds me of my equally tough little sister years ago, but she and her gestures also seem more and more to represent at least one absolutely appropriate attitude to a more and more stupid and threatening world.

The young Israeli artist, Tomer Ganihar, has a provocative installation of photographs at Paul Rodgers/9W. He chronicles a group he refers to as the "New Jews," a "spontaneously emerging youth movement" in Israel.

We were both really enchanted with the show at Elizabeth Dee Gallery, where Rob Fischer has installed a fantastic shed/plane/boat/greenhouse/trailer construction I would really, really like to live with, if not in, on a permanent basis (but just where, other than in the field for which I would never trade my own cozy New York warren of rooms?). The small works on paper in the back and, in the reception nook, a lightbox-mounted photograph of hoary Minnesota boathouses looking like a model of a stone-age fishing village sans villagers, are a bit more portable and almost as wonderful.

If you are alive, dancing is a fundamental right, but dancing is illegal in almost any public place in New York City today.

Come to City Hall Park thursday (Halloween!) to help show that we can and will dance when and where we please. Repeal the absurd law!

The law states that an establishment must be licensed if the club features three or more musicians, or if any of the instruments is percussion or brass, or if there is three or more people moving in synchronized fashion.

In the late eighties, after a five year legal battle on behalf of the Musicians Union led by New York University Law Professor Paul Chevigny, the courts declared the three musician rule unconstitutional and accepted live music in zones where bars and restaurants are permitted. But nothing was done to lift the stigma of dancing.


Although there are currently over 5,000 liquor licenses in the five boroughs you can only dance in 296 places. You are not allowed to dance to the jukebox or DJ at your local bar. You are not allowed to move to the rock band or jazz act at your neighborhood club.

And while we're at it, can we finally get rid of the sunday "blue law" that won't let us buy wine or liquor on that special "holy day" observed by a few religious cults?

The news could not be more sad (even for me, and I have little interest in the Broadway musical form), unless it had included an announcement of the death of Betty Comden as well. In fact, Comden and Green were so much of a partnership it has always been more difficult to imagine either of them as one than as the two that even they insisted they were.

Mr. Green was artistically incomplete without Ms. Comden, and vice versa. They knew it and acknowledged it frequently. "Alone, nothing," Mr. Green once told The Washington Post. "Together, a household word, a legend, Romulus and Remus, Damon and Pythias, Loeb and Leopold — Mr. Words and Miss Words."

Mr. Words and Miss Words were so professionally inseparable, so committed to each other, so pleased to have their relationship and so happy to talk about it, that many people thought they were married. In 1954 a writer for The New York Times mistakenly referred to them as a "husband-wife" writing team.

... Throughout his career, Mr. Green deferred to Ms. Comden and attributed the team's success to her. She was always "unforgivably responsible," he told The New York Herald Tribune in 1961. "She is always on time for everything, while I am late for anything. To make matters worse, she invariably appears at, say, producers' conferences, with our latest work of dialogue or lyrics neatly typed and arranged in readable form." He added that "without directly confronting me with my inadequacies, she has always humiliated me fair to distraction. You see, I have lived for years in the shadow of an overwhelming suspicion that all our collaborations have, in reality, been solo efforts, written in toto by Betty alone — an untenable position for me."

Ms. Comden said she was not the secret to the team's triumphs; they were. "Everything is together," she explained. "We don't divide the work up. We develop a mental radar, bounce lines off each other." She said that she could not envision a life without the collaboration. Years after it all started, she confessed that "we can still be delighted by something the other says or does."


Yes, I know there is a drama and perhaps a real tragedy being played out in Moscow as I write this, but I read this item about the beleagured wine industry in Chechnya this morning before the news about the hostage taking. I still much prefer to think about one of mankind's most benign occupations, that of the vintner, than to dwell on the evils still being done in the name of nationalism, greed and power.

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 began a tumultuous decade that left Chechnya's wine industry, like much of the republic, in shambles.

Some here say the industry's decline began earlier, with President Mikhail S. Gorbachev's anti-alcohol campaign in 1986, which resulted in thousands of vineyards across the Soviet Union being tilled under.

But it quickened, all agree, when Chechnya's first president, Dzhokhar Dudayev, declared the republic independent and began to restore Muslim traditions. His government stopped supporting the wineries.

... Of all the factors, though, fighting has caused the greatest toll. The two wars in Chechnya — the first from 1994 to 1996, the second from 1999 and still grinding on — destroyed thousands of acres of vineyards and several wineries, including the main one in the capital, Grozny.

It's all so very very sad, and so unnecessary.

Enough is sometimes more than enough. The keepers of St. Paul's Chapel across the street from the World Trade Center site say that they don't know what to do about the improvised shrine visitors have made of the fence surrounding the beautiful historical landmark and generous community ministry.

I had assumed that the first anniversary of the destruction it witnessed would be the signal for reclaiming whatever normalcy can now be sustained downtown, but the gentle parish says it still waits for a consensus from the community, apparently the world community, on what to do.
Leave it to a New Yorker to put it into perspective.

To the Editor:

Re "How to Say `Enough,' Gracefully; Trinity Church Ponders Future of a Sept. 11 Memorial" (news article, Oct. 11):

St. Paul's Chapel near ground zero needs to serve the community. If people want to honor the dead, a rain-soaked teddy bear is an ill-fitting memorial. Perhaps they should take a cue from the work that went on at the chapel after Sept. 11. Volunteering is the best way to commemorate those who lost their lives.
New York, Oct. 11, 2002 describes it, "GI Joe Commandeers Barbie's Dream House."

From the J.C. Penny catalog. Seriously!

Just whose family home are they imagining trashed by our hero? Is it in Nablus? Baghdad? Manila? Bogota? San Francisco?

"Holidays ahead!" Indeed.

The world needs Ray Johnson right now. Ok, at least I do.

Ray is gone, but what he left behind, that part of his art which could survive him, is now more accessible than perhaps ever before.

The very human, even intimate, scale, the intelligence, the child-like innocence and playfulness, the humor and silliness, the perfect lines and impossibly right compositions, the virtually total absence of commerce, the uncompromising commitment, the refusal to remain in two, three or any number of conventional dimensions, the magnificent queerness, the simple beauty, it all remains to both cheer and excite us today.

This past friday I was able to attend a press preview of an exceptional new Ray Johnson film documentary, "How to Draw a Bunny," opening at the Film Forum October 9. I had already been somewhat familiar with his work and the general outlines of his life (they were basically the same thing while he lived), but I left the theater a complete acolyte. If the film was very good as a film, its purpose, further opening Ray's art to a larger world, was really its great unselfish success.

There is currently a show of his work at Feigen Contemporary, his understanding and sort-of long-suffering gallery, but my cold has delayed my visit to West 20th Street.

There is also at least one major book available.



"Chuck Close: When the phone rings, every time, for a split second, I think it may be Ray. It's very sad."

This page is an archive of entries in the Culture category from October 2002.

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