Culture: December 2002 Archives

The City still doesn't get it, or at least the police and the Daily News still fail to understand, making the second Union Square box incident this month look like it was as worthy as the first.

Ani Weinstein was arrested yesterday while taping a number of black boxes, labelled "FEAR ART," to the walls of Union Square station. She was booked with essentially the same charges made against Clinton Boisvert December 11 when he was arrested for taping boxes, labelled "FEAR," in the same subway station.

The Daily News headline read, "Another art hoax in Union Sq. subway," called Weinstein a " copycat prankster" and referred to each of the installations as a "stunt," but the news article at least allows that "investigators believe Weinstein acted to show solidarity with the art student [Boisvert]."

Boisvert told us that our fears are not being addressed rationally; Weinstein showed us that some of us still can't understand this, which more than confirms the original message and its imperative, and why it will have to be repeated again.

I thought it would be safe to read the feature article about Christo and Jeanne-Claude's The Gates Project for Central Park, even though the NYTimes account was written by the nasty Michael Kimmelman.

I was wrong. Half of the way through the piece in tuesday's edition he managed to find a way to return to the scene of his crime, when he pulled out all of the stops of his office to try to destroy the person, the idea and the art of Clinton Boisvert, the young artist who was recently arrested and jailed overnight, and who now faces up to a year in prison for his art.

"But public art does not consist only of artists leaving black boxes with "Fear" on them in subway stations. There's a fruitful territory between yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theater and erecting a statue of a forgotten hero holding a sword."
It's Mr. Kimmelman who is yelling "fire!" in a crowded theater. Boisvert does not threaten us; we are threatened by those who do not understand, pander to, manipulate or use our fears for their own ends, not those who show them and their sponsors for what they are. It is quite a different context, but Roosevelt's words in 1933 would serve us well today.
So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.

The very best of the Christian message, but we must hold it to be more than Christian.

I guess I didn't provoke much of a discussion with my post on the 18th about Clinton Boisvert's art, his jailing and a piece in the NYTimes written by their chief art critic.

The paper did not print my letter of outrage over a totally inappropriate attack on Boisvert, on his inappropriate art, and by implication on all inappropriate art in these times and this place, so now it's safe to post the letter here.

Yes, of course I had an opinion all along. What follows is essentially the text of my letter to the paper, edited for this space and for certain style adjustments, and stretched a bit.

Michael Kimmelman's piece on Clinton Boisvert's "FEAR" art project hoped to lump the artist with criminals or loonies, but succeeded more in betraying Kimmelman's own inadequacies and fears as a critic, both cultural and social.

The Times' chief art critic comes across sounding more like a Soviet apparatchnik frightened by the creativity and the outrage which threatens his comfort and his system than a man who might do something to help us understand this new world of ours.

In addition, he creates and repeats falsehoods in order to marginalize, denigrate and criminalize as one of those "hapless, fledgling art students" a man who managed to help us to understand ourselves, our world and our relationship to it, at a time when few have been so successful. Reactions since the discovery of "FEAR" have clearly shown how much we need some enlightenment.

Boisvert's boxes did not "spread panic," contrary to Kimmelman's hysterical assertion. They were installed in full public view by two young men in the middle of the day in a well-lighted busy subway station of the world's art capital. They were not hidden, not unmarked, not labelled "anthrax" and not labelled "free candy." The artist's and his friend's actual activities failed to alarm the thousands of New Yorkers who passed them by as sufficintly suspicious in nature to report. Only later in the day did a passer-by became interested and concerned enough to point out the boxes to a guard. The rest is now art and political history.

Four days ago I posted a reference to this story on my website and asked artist friends and others to express their opinions of the events, including their opinions of the NYTimes article. My initial puzzlement at finding only two brave comments was replaced by chagrin when I learned from another friend that it would be dangerous for many in the visual arts to cross Mr. Kimmelman, because he was simply too powerful in their world.

I'm admit I'm naive, but I still have to shout: What a terible indictment of the free and creative society we have built, and now think we are defending from the barbarians, that apparently art and even art commentary can be intimidated, and from inside the gates!

I've seen a number of good posts on the issues surrounding Boisvert's project and reaction to it, but one of my favorite comments is Barry's cautionary verbal take, "Especially while living under the Bush regime, I'm alarmed by art critics talking about art being criminal."

Alright, calling especially all artists and arterinas out there! The [black "FEAR" box] story has been bugging me since I first heard that a subway station had been evacuated on account of what was obviously an artist's installation.

What do we think about Clinton Boisvert's art project?

[This link includes a picture of one of the 37 boxes.]

And what do we think about the take of The New York Times chief art critic, published today?

I'm witholding my own thoughts for now, partly because I haven't finished assembling them yet.

It seems that even our beloved Santa Claus has been dragged into the growing world resistance to American commercial and political hegemony.


Yea indeed for Austria, where there is a campaign to throw out the fat old elf. The impulse is not really so much about putting Christ back into Christmas as it is about saving local culture and tradition, especially since only one in five people in traditionally most "Catholic Austria" attends church on sundays.

Members of the group said the Santa Claus phenomenon had exploded in the last three years. They attribute it to globalization, which brings Christmas television shows and movies to Austria, as well as to worldwide holiday marketing campaigns by American corporations.

The same trends turned Halloween, once observed here only as a day to remember the dead, into a major commercial holiday.

"Santa Claus has been used by commercial interests to generate consumption at Christmas," said Philipp Tengg, a former seminarian, who started the Pro-Christkind Association and is its chief spokesman.

Mr. Tengg noted that the modern likeness of Santa is a creation of the Coca-Cola Company, which uses the figure, conveniently dressed in Coke's red-and-white corporate colors, to sell its product in winter. Santa, it seems, is viewed here as another example of the corrosive global reach of American multinationals.

Yeah, if the campaign is succesful, this would be the guy's second sentence of exile.
The cult of St. Nicholas ebbed in Protestant parts of Europe [JAW--and even in the areas which remained Roman Catholic] after the Reformation, with the exception of Holland, which reconfigured him as kindly Sinterklass. The Dutch brought him to the New World, where the English-speaking population adopted him as Santa Claus.

We really try to ignore the more commercial propiquus/ubiquitous/iniquitous holidays (which will remain nameless) ourselves, in favor of the solstice, but sometimes you just want to give, er, a gift. How about real art, I mean real art? The gift that keeps on giving, especially if it's work by artists still very much living.

Throwing out a few suggestions for New York City sources where you cannot go wrong, in a few cases regardless of the size of your purse, and where even the very informed, helpful and always beautiful shopgirls and shopboys are as deserving as all the other parties involved in your transaction:

1.) Plus Ultra, a very cool, small Gallery in Williamsburg, will be throwing a timely "fundraising holiday party" December 19, 2002 from 7-9 pm at a loft in Manhattan. Each patron with $150 will go home with a great piece of tomorrow's cultural heritage today. Email me for more information.

2.) Printed Matter, a nonprofit in Chelsea, is a great source for gifts of "publications made by artists in a book-like format" in all price ranges. Great browsing.

3.) Pierogi 2000 a legendary nonprofit space in Williamsburg, just two short blocks from the first "L" stop outside Manhattan, has an enormous stash of important work in their famous flat files, where you are free to browse at your own pace, at prices even other starving artists can support, and do.

4.) LFL Gallery in Chelsea, at their new location on 24th Street, has their own flat file treasure, and the very charming Zach will welcome your curiosity.

5.) K48-3, "The Teen Issue," a fantastic new glossy zine and CD, Scott Hug's collaboration with other artists, writers and musicians, is available at fine stores in the area, including St. Mark's Book Store, Other Music, Mondo Kim's, Dia Center for the Arts, Printed Matter, alife, New Museum, MOMA Design Store, See Hear and Isa. Be, you and your loved ones, the very first on your blocks to own one.

6.) Mixed Greens, a lively gallery in Chelsea and art website throughout the galaxy, is also being "holiday-ish" this month, with a sale where you can easily take home beautiful light-weight packages that are not "light weight!" Explore the website.

This little list is neither exhaustive nor is it necessarily presriptive, but I am confident that it will bring pleasure to anyone who checks it out. I admit it's posted as a quick thought, and as an attempt to at least partly substitute for the genuine cheer I miss in working hard to avoid the forced cheer of this season.

Maybe I'll just go out into the woods now and bring some greens back into our little cottage, to celebrate the coming rebirth of the sun.

We'll be waiting for at least a few more years, and maybe we'll wait forever, but at least some of us know what we are waiting for.

The New York Philharmonic was 160 years old on Saturday, with more history than any other American orchestra and most European ones as well. Played before an A-list audience at Avery Fisher Hall, the anniversary program was a collection of music with the savory smell of comfort food: no initiatives, not much to tweak the imagination, instead an earnest recapitulation of the long-ago discovered and the well remembered.
This City deserves so much more. Inspired leadership could ignite this magnificent institution and those whom it has failed so miserably through the extraordinary banality and elitism of the programs and the direction it has pursued for years. NYTimes Reviewer Bernard Holland joins virtually every music critic in New York with his barely polite references to the new music director, Lorin Maazel (beginning a four-year contract with the orchestra) in an account which summarizes the current state of a Philharmonic pleased to be held in comfortable captivity by its handlers.
The New York Philharmonic is like an island that sits off the coast of the city's musical life. One looks back to Mr. Boulez's regime in the 1970's to find any real relevance, any true plan or purpose for this magnificent orchestra other than self-containment and survival. It is by nature a great shiny machine, although stubborn conductorial minds can force it to rise above itself. And deep within its collective psyche, I think, a shiny machine is what the Philharmonic wants to be. Mr. Maazel is like a mirror. This orchestra, its board, its administration and faithful subscribers look into it and see themselves. They find it a pleasing image.

Barry and I will be scampering about the galleries in Chelsea tomorrow, but only after a hop down to Tribeca and the Apex Gallery, where the artist Nancy Hwang will be offering gift-wrapping services to Apex visitors, who can in turn offer their finger to help hold a bow as they talk with Hwang while their presents are prepared. As in her other projects, Hwang’s services are offered as a courtesy.

We have no boxes for Nancy, both of us being Xmas resistors, so we will only be voyeurs this time.

Click onto "current show" near the top of this page, and look for December 7.

We were part of a very lucky audience at John Jay College last night where Trisha Brown Dance Company, Simon Keenlyside and Pedja Muzijevic opened with their production of Franz Schubert's magnificent "Winterreise" (winter journey).

There are five more performances, through the thirteenth of December, and I could not recomend it more highly.

Wonderful music of course, and both it and the dark melancholy of the texts seems more modern in the somber days of the third millennium than it might ever have before, but it comes with the perfect sympathy of Muzijevic's piano, with Brown's brilliant choreography, three very, very beautiful young dancers (Brandi Norton, Seth Parker and Lionel Popkin), Elizabeth Cannon's costumes-you'd-want-to-wear-if-you looked-so-good and Jennifer Tipton's lighting.

Igniting the whole and garnering the hearts of the audience is the strong, wonderful baritone who not incidently manages at once to look both studly and cute, boyish and stalwart, indeed ageless. Keenlyside more than holds his own with the dancers in his beautiful and controlled movements, and occasionally breaks out in breathtaking leaps and bounds all the while performing vocally in peak form for seventy minutes straight.

Is it necessary to stage or choreograph an evening of songs? Schubert himself didn't even think of them as an integral set, and there is no narrative unity, but they have often been presented in concert and recordings as a cycle, so while the answer is obviously no, I will say that I had never understood them so well as individual pieces or as a set until I heard and saw them performed as they were last evening.

By the way, we saw Keenlyside as the beautiful eponymous lead in Britten's "Billy Budd" in Vienna this fall. Yes, grand opera, lieder and he can dance too!

The "Winterreise" reviews won't appear for another day or so. In the interim, and in supplement, there is this interesting preview article from the NYTimes.

For more, see Keenlyside's biography and this review of a "Winterreise" in London absent the choreography.

For tickets [hurry, before the reviews hit the streets and the ether] see John Jay College.

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

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