Culture: January 2003 Archives

But it's about art, not economics, except that the works are priced very economically. In fact nothing costs more than $99. These are serious artists are serious, even when they are being very funny. We know a number of them in several of their generous capacities. The full and very timely name of the show is Recession 2003 $99 Show and it's Curated by Tim Thyzel at the very special Cynthia Broan Gallery, 423 W. 14th St., February 1 to March 10, or as long as supplies last. The gallery is open tuesday through saturday from 12 to 6. Cash and carry, yet "buyers will be asked that unique items remain on display for the first week so that viewers have an opportunity to see the show in its entirety" [from the Gallery site]

"I know a lot of group shows may look like thrift shop tag sales but this actually is one."
-Douglas Kelly, of "The Douglas Kelly Show" fame

No, it's not a political post this time, but the name of a show. We're finally going to get a chance to see our friend David Driver and a gaggle of other brilliants in "People Are Wrong!" at Joe's Pub this saturday!

People Are Wrong! is a manic and joyful celebration of melody and musical fable. Based on a true story, this original cautionary tale of a charismatic cult leader masquerading as a landscape artist in a rural upstate town is told entirely in song.

Starring the brilliant downtown chanteur David Driver (Rent, Fire at Keaton's Bar & Grill), John Flansburgh (They Might Be Giants), Maggie Moore (Hedwig & The Angry Inch) and Chris Anderson (Muckafurguson), People are Wrong! Introduces the songwriting talents of Julia Greenberg and Robin Goldwasser to the musical stage.

"It had its way with me and left me wanting more"
-John Cameron Mitchell, creator of Hedwig

"A cult above the others... Zingy!"
-James Rado, lyricist of Hair

For more details and titilations, see their website.

Joe's Pub at the Public Theater
425 Lafayette Street (at Astor Place)
Two shows: 7:00 pm and 9:30 pm

Did I hear that I had no interest in sports? It turns out the stories have been exagerated. Find one that pushes the right buttons and I'm there!

I resisted the impulse to type, "ice yachts" in the caption line, because of the class implications of the word, but in fact, like many sports associated with monied classes, ice boating has always attracted, and offered full and just about equal roles to, people of every social status. Just be enthusastic and good, and the rich will pay the way (unless you're a woman, of course, but this is finally changing).

My father's interest in ice boating and my own childhood memories of his exploits in Wisconsin may have something to do with the attraction of these wind machines, but who could be indifferent to the sight, even the idea, of these beautiful wooden wraiths skimming across wintry landscapes at up to a hundred miles per hour* on the power of wind alone, soundless but for the whish of their huge blades across the ice? And I haven't even mentioned the stimulus of the clear cold air and the perfect excuse to embrace it. On top of it all, this past weekend the boats were lovingly-maintained or restored beauties up to 120 years old! Ok, they are yachts.

The two teams had agreed to race only the old-fashioned wooden boats known as gaff rigs, some of them a century old. From a distance, the rigs resemble 19th-century schooners, with dark spruce masts and tall parchment-colored sails.

Up close, they are more like gigantic wooden crossbows, with a long main beam and a transverse spar running across it for stability.

After a running start and a leap into the cockpit, the boats accelerate at panic-inducing speed. They can go up to six times the speed of the wind — any ice boater can explain the physics to you. And at just 30 miles per hour, the cold cuts exposed skin like a knife and the runners clatter like skipped stones on water.


* "The current ice speed record was set in 1943 at 145 mph (230 km/h) by John D. Buckstaff. It is thought that the record was set in 70 mph (112.7 km/h) winds in Wisconsin USA." [Statistics are quoted from this UK site, where photographs and other tidbits can be found.]

From Dingercity by Charles Goldman.

It's exciting, I can move it around as I please, and it's very beautiful. When I first saw it as part of Charles' wonderful installation last summer, I could not help thinking of the missing Towers, and even now I see these little pieces of wood as both more human and more grand than anything which once occupied, or even now is imagined might occupy, their site.

John Berger, the Anglo-French writer and critic, recently wrote this, for a site which asks writers, artists and civic leaders for their words on what Bush has called "the first war of the twenty-first century:


I write in a night of shame.

Many fear that U.S. military forces will soon be launching its “preventive” war against Iraq. Others hope that this can be avoided. Between the announced decisions and the secret calculations, everything is kept unclear, since lies prepare the way for missiles.

By shame I do not mean individual guilt. Shame, as I’m coming to understand it, is a species feeling which, in the long run, corrodes the capacity for hope and prevents us looking far ahead. We look down at our feet, thinking only of the next small step.

The shame begins with the contestation (which we all acknowledge somewhere but, out of powerlessness, dismiss) that much of the present suffering could be alleviated or avoided if certain realistic and relatively simple decisions were taken.

To understand and take in what is happening, an inter-disciplinary vision is necessary in order to connect the “fields” which conventional arguments keep separate. The precondition for thinking on a global scale is to see the unity of the unnecessary suffering taking place. Any such vision is bound to be, in the original sense of the word, political.

I write in the night, but I see not only the tyranny. If that were so, I would probably not have the courage to continue. I see people sleeping, stirring, getting up to drink water, whispering their projects or their fears, making love, praying, cooking something whilst the rest of the family is asleep, in Baghdad and Chicago. (Yes, I see too the forever invincible Kurds, 4000 of whom were gassed – with US compliance – by Saddam Hussein.) I see pastry cooks working in Teheran and the shepherds, thought of as bandits, sleeping beside their sheep in Sardinia, I see a man in the Friedrichshain quarter of Berlin sitting in his pyjamas with a bottle of beer reading Heidegger and he has the hands of a proletarian, I see a small boat of illegal immigrants off the Spanish coast near Alicante, I see a mother in Mali, her name is Aya which means Born on Friday, swaying her baby to sleep.

Democracy is a proposal (rarely realised) about decision making; it has little to do with election campaigns. Its promise is that political decisions be made after, and in the light of, consultation with the governed. This is dependent upon the governed being adequately informed about the issues in question, and upon the decision makers having the capacity and will to listen and take account of what they have heard. Democracy should not be confused with the “freedom” of binary choices, the publication of opinion polls or the crowding of people into statistics. These are its pretense.

Today the fundamental decisions, which effect the unnecessary pain increasingly suffered across the planet, have been and are taken unilaterally without any open consultation or participation.

The new tyranny, like other recent ones, depends, to a large degree, on a systematic abuse of language. Together we have to reclaim our hijacked words and reject the tyranny’s nefarious euphemisms; if we do not, we will be left with only the word shame.

This is written in the night. In war the dark is on nobody’s side, in love the dark confirms that we are together.

©John Berger 2003. His most recent book of essays is THE SHAPE OF A POCKET (Bloomsbury, London and Pantheon, New York)

The Icelandic artist, Hlynur Hallsson, has, in an extrordinary gracious gesture, included my name along with those of a New York artist/curator and a German curator as part of his email announcement of his current show in Reykjavik ["20 pages Catalog with text from Horst Griese, James Wagner, Paul T Werner and more. ISBN 9979-60-826-9"]. I had been impressed with a NYTimes account of Hallsson's installation in Marfa, Texas, so I posted some words inspired by admiration and respect for his art and what I could divine even then of his good humor and charm. He found my blog and thanked me for those comments. The installation had created quite a stir last summer in a sleepy, yet somehow jumpy, in our post-September-11 way, West Texas town.

I love conceptual art so much I can like it even without actually seeing, hearing or feeling whatever its it is, and sometimes it's better only reading about it, but damn, I wish I could get to that show in Reykjavik!

Bengie is the name of the leader of the Jokers, a South Brooklyn street gang of the 50's immortalized in the photographs of Bruce Davidson. In "The City" section today the NYTimes has more than a full page of Tom Vanderbilt's text, with photographs from Davidson, devoted to Davidson's career. [Click onto "Slide Show: The Picture Man" and go to the third photograph for a heart-stopping image of Bengie, but don't miss the others.]

The Lost World of a Street Gang

In his 1959 series "Brooklyn Gang," published originally in Esquire with a text by Norman Mailer, and in 1998 as a book, Mr. Davidson entered the lives of a South Brooklyn street gang called the Jokers whose usual haunt was a local candy store.

"They had had a rumble that was written up in the newspaper, and I went out and offered to take photographs of their wounds, in color," he said. He stayed on. "They had a youth board worker with them, and I had a tendency to come when I knew he wasn't going to be around." Mr. Davidson was 25 at the time, living in a one-room walkup in Greenwich Village.

"I had a kitchen/darkroom combination with a red light in my refrigerator," he said. "I had a mattress on the floor, no girlfriend, and lived like a monk."

The photographs today portray a lost world of stickball and boardwalks, of Vaseline hair and rolled sleeves, Kent Filters and Karl Droge Big Squeeze Ices, basement dances and Susie the Elephant Skin Girl at Coney Island. The atmosphere was tight and intense, filled with flinty looks and an almost accidental glamour, where tattoos were more a fierce indoctrination than a calculated lifestyle choice.

As with his other projects, Mr. Davidson needed entry, and he got it in the form of the gang leader, known as Bengie.

"He was kind of a brilliant visual guy," Mr. Davidson said. "He took me to this roof, and I remember thinking, 'This kid's going to throw me off the roof and then rob me,' but he's pointing down at the stickball game and saying, 'Get that,' and saying: 'Oh, there's the Statue of Liberty. You can see it through all these television antennas.' "

The images of that summer have an eternal quality to them, as if the gang might still be drinking beer in paper cups on the beach, but the Jokers' world was already beginning to change. Heroin was making an entrance; one gang member died from an overdose at 19.

A few years ago, Bengie got in touch with Mr. Davidson.

"I went out with him to the old neighborhood," the photographer said. The candy store where the gang used to hang out was gone. "He took me for a cafe latte." The neighborhood had changed, and so had the Jokers; Bengie is now a drug counselor, and Mr. Davidson's wife is writing a book about his life.

In the apartment, Ms. Davidson pointed to a photo of Bengie back then, glaring out from a wall, standing beneath a thermometer that says "Have a Pepsi." "You can see the frustration," she said. "He's so angry. He looked right out at Bruce, and the thermometer behind him seems to be registering his anger, rage and depression."

Interesting take on the HBO series, "Oz" from a letter in tomorrow's NYTimes "Arts & Leisure" section:


I like "Oz" for many reasons, but I suspect that it touches something in me that the article ["In the Brutal World of 'Oz.' a Rare Place for Women" by K.A. Dilday {Jan. 5}] did not mention: As someone who went to college in the mid-60's, when women were locked into the dorms at night to protect us from the men, who suffered no such restrictions, I find the sight of violent men behind bars deeply comforting.

Mary McKenny
San Rafael, Calif.

Without taking anything from Ms. McKenny, for the record, I feel compelled to admit that, while I was a man in college in the 60's, I too was locked into the dorm at night. Also for the record, I must admit that while there I enjoyed neither the horrors nor the rough pleasures of "Oz."

". . . I knew that I could never again raise my voice agains the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government. . . . for the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent."

-Martin Luther King, Jr., April, 1967, Riverside Church, New York

His website, that is. It looks great and of course the work is great.

Barry supplied the technology, and Charles and he created the design.

I'm outrageously enthusiastic about both of them and their work, and it's totally independent of relationship and friendship.

This page is an archive of entries in the Culture category from January 2003.

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