Culture: October 2003 Archives

sounds of the city: part of the audience for John Cage's "Music for Carillon"

I love John Cage's music, always have, but even I understand that not all of it is lovable.

Late Sunday afternoon it was totally delightful. Sunday evening was a different story. The "Music for Carillon" which engaged much of Fifth Avenue at dusk reflected both the beauty of his art and the playfullness of the man. There was no way for devotees to avoid the ambient sounds of a busy city and there was no way the busy city (or at least that part of it) could avoid the musical occasion.

Best parts: the smiles, and watching the music engage and sometimes totally arrest passersby, especially children; oh, and listening to the counterpoint added by the beep beep beep of the front-end loader across the street.

The NYTimes reviewer referred to the "humming Cagean symphony of the street." I wonder if he had also been at Saturday afternoon's performance by Margaret Leng Tan of Cage's "Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano".

That day's musical experience would have been perfection but for the regular interruption of rehearsal sounds and security guard radio conversations throughout. This time Zankel Hall's persistent subway sounds were totally overwhelmed by totally avoidable screw-ups. Ms. Tan briefly interrupted her performance early on and turned to the audience, smiling, to comment, "This is something of a Cagean moment." In spite of continual distractions, she went on to play magnificently for almost another hour. Unfortunately Cagean moments would not have been embraced even by Cage until the fifties, years after he had composed the delicate piece she was performing. Carnegie Hall owes her and the audience a formal apology.

Sunday night was . . . interesting. But for me, and also at least for the same Times reviewer, Jeremy Eichler, who had reported on the Carillon concert, it was a disappointment. Three extremely austere pieces were programmed for the evening, "Music for Three (by One)," excerpts from "James Joyce, Marcel Duchamp, Erik Satie: an Alphabet" and Cage's "Winter Music," was performed simultaneously with a solo vocal work from his "Song Books." Eichler laments:

More Cage followed that night at Zankel Hall, where 15 pianos were strewn across the stage and balconies, conjuring hopes of more exhilarating sonic anarchy, but alas it was not to be.

. . . .

It was of course a musical lecture on Zen-like awareness and Cage's theories of silence, and there are profound truths here if one is in the right frame of mind to receive them. Some in the audience seemed up for the task, sitting with eyes closed in poised reflection. This listener was not among them. For about 15 minutes I admired Cage's refusal to compromise, but I found the mandated stillness to be heavy-handed. After that I just kept hearing the subways coming and going beneath Zankel Hall, and wished I were on one of them.

Oh yes, these concerts were all part of the "When Morty Met John..." festival, of which the highlight was almost certainly Morton Feldman's Second Quartet. John Rockwell reviewed that performance, but he must have missed the "Sonatas and Interludes" excitement of that afternoon, because he praised Zankel Hall's "acoustically sealed" insulation and its impressive doors, writing that passing through them was "like entering a bank vault".

He praised the Flux Quartet for a remarkable performance, and he described the work itself as "an amazing composition one whose beauties (longeurs is a word that doesn't even apply) are still slowly revealing themselves, from performance to performance." [There have been exactly two since it was composed in 1983.]

The Quartet is approximately six hours in duration, so we will probably always have some wait between hearings, meaning there is at least little chance of tiring of it. I bought the CDs, so I guess that means I will enjoy testing that proposition.


Some people would like us to think that it's all about the literature of literature, but the rest of us would probably rather read books than reviews, even if (or apparently for some, especially if) the pen is wielded by Dale Peck.

Actually I don't even like to go to readings unless the book is the work of a friend, or someone who is as brilliant and provocative as, say, Gore Vidal - or Dale Peck. But here's a recommendation.

Dale is a friend, but he's also a great artist who never lets his readers get too comfortable, so I'm going to be at the Chelsea Barnes & Noble next Thursday at 7 o'clock expecting to be both patted and scratched.

He wrote today, "please come hear me read from 'What We Lost', my new memoir (or, as the Times Magazine would have it, novel)". With that reference and a look at the James Atlas piece itself you can see that, although I believe the book hasn't yet been reviewed outside of the trade publications, the dustup has already begun.

The NYTimes site includes an excerpt of the "memoir", of which this is itself an excerpt:

He must fall asleep then because when he opens his eyes the truck is stopped and the old man is not in the cab. He assumes they've stopped for gas until he sees a gnarled branch above the windshield like a jab of brown lightning and he sits up. To his right a row of leafless trees stretches up the side of a hill and to his left there is a white house, small and rectangular, its tiny second-story windows the shape of dominoes laid on their sides. Before he gets out of the cab he grabs the pillowcase containing his brothers' clothes and the old man's medicine, and the first thing he does is fall flat on his face because he can't feel his feet. Still half asleep, he sits on the crust of snow that covers the ground like stale cake frosting and takes off Jimmy's shoes. The ground is cold and hard beneath his bottom but the bottoms of his feet feel nothing at all, and, teetering, rudderless, he stands up and floats around the truck in his socks, the pillowcase less ballast than slack sail hanging down his back. A pitted two-track driveway runs around the house and up the hill toward a pair of barns and a tall round building that the boy recognizes instinctively as a silo even though it reminds him of a castle tower. At the foot of the silo he sees the old man talking to another man. Like the old man, this stranger is short and thin and has only half a dozen strands of hair slicked flat to his skull, but unlike the old man he stands absolutely still, one hand holding a pitchfork lightly but firmly, tines down, and a cap on the ground between the two men, bottom up like a busker's. The only thing that moves is his head, which shakes every once in a while, back and forth: no. The old man's legs are wobbling and his arms are flapping in the air, and as he wobbles toward them the boy is reminded of a seagull he saw once in the bay. The seagull's legs were trapped in a fishing net, and every time it flapped its wings its orange legs would lift out of the water trailing weed-draped mesh. Over and over the bird's legs had shaken like the old man's with its efforts to free itself but each time, exhausted, it splashed down again.

The old man and the stranger are still a good twenty yards away when the old man turns and reels toward the boy. His legs and arms make motions like the spokes of a rimless wheel, and he is shouting,

I won't let her send him away! Not my boy! Not my firstborn son! Not again!

He jerks right past the boy without seeming to see him, his doddering gait half step and half slide on the slick grade, and it seems pure chance that one of his flailing hands catches hold of the door handle, a veritable miracle that he is able to crack it open. The shotgun sound is like an echo of itself in the quiet air, and the boy whips his head from side to side as if he can find the original source. He is in the back of the house now. From this angle he sees that it is actually L-shaped. He can't see the farmhouse across the street, the mountain twenty miles to the south. He sees only a bulbous clump of gray-green evergreens and the tin-domed silo and the two barns and a patch of leafless woods at the top of the hill and then a big field studded with black-and-white and butter-brown cows. When the truck coughs into life one of the cows looks up from whatever thin strands it is pulling from the ground, looks first at the truck and then at the boy and then drops its head again and roots around for more grass—green grass, the boy can see, even from this distance. It is the middle of January and thin streaks of snow paint zebra stripes on soil hard as a city sidewalk, but the grass that grows from that soil is still green, and by the time the boy turns back to the truck it has backed out of the driveway, narrowly missing what looks like a fencepost with some kind of placard mounted atop it. The truck would have gone into the ditch on the far side of the road had there not been a tree there. Instead something glass breaks, a taillight that is not already broken perhaps, and when the old man shifts into first the boy hears first the transmission's grind and then the glass as it falls onto the road. The truck goes so slowly that had he wanted to the boy could have run after it, could probably have caught it even, even with his numb feet. But he just stands there swaying, watching the truck recede as if one of them, the truck or the boy, is on an ice floe borne away from the shore by a half-frozen current. By the time the truck disappears over the hill the stranger has walked down from the barns and walked on by. There is smoke coming from a chimney on the left wall of the house and the stranger's pitchfork makes a metallic ping each time it strikes the frozen ground.

Feeling floods into the boy's feet then, as if a pot of pasta water had tipped off the stove and spilled over them. He reels, bites back a cry of pain; catches his breath and catches his balance.

Uncle Wallace? he says to the thin brown back retreating down the hill.

The stranger doesn't stop, doesn't turn around.

Get my hat, Dale, he says. At the door he pauses to look the boy up and down, and then he shakes his head one more time. In the failing light his scalp looks white and cold.

Don't forget your shoes, he says, and walks into the house.

For Dale's friends, fans, and the disgruntled too I suppose, the details for this reading and others scheduled across the country in the months ahead are these:

Wednesday, October 6 @ 7
Barnes and Noble Chelsea
675 Sixth Avenue, between 21st and 22nd
New York

Monday November 10 @ 6:30
Free Library of Philadelphia, Independence Branch

Tuesday, November 11 @ 7
Olsson's Dupont Circle
Washington, DC

Tuesday, November 18 @ 7:30
Wordsworth Bookstore
Cambridge, MA

Tuesday, January 6 @ 7
Barbara's Bookstore

Thursday, January 8 @ 7
Bound to be Read

Tuesday, January 13 @ 7:30
Cover Bookstore
(Cherry Creek location)

Saturday, January 17 @ 3
Elliot Bay

Monday, January 19 @ 7:30
Annie Bloom's Bookstore
Portland, Oregon

Thursday, January 22 @ 7
A Clean, Well-Lighted Place for Books
San Francisco

Sunday, January 25 @ 5
Obelisk Bookstore
San Diego

Tuesday, January 27 @ 7:30
B&N (West Pico location)
Los Angeles

Friday, January 30 @ 7
Book People

Tuesday, February 3 @ 7
Rainy Day Books
Kansas City


It's a six-hour-long string quartet in one movement, but Morton Feldman's second is both greater and less than the sum of its parts. Greater because it's ultimately much much more than a succession of minimalist pings and rrrr's, and less because hearing it live doesn't seem at all like being kept after school until nine o'clock at night. Even with my own abreviated experience with the work, I now completely understand Jan La Barbara's program note:

For the performers, to play a work like this is to live for a time inside the mind of the composer, to share, for an instant, that artistic sensibility. To listen to such a work is to come close to that experience, the sense of immersion in another’s mind.
As part of a series of concert events in New York this weekend called "When Morty Met John...", curated by La Barbara, which describes the extraordinary legacy of the work of Morton Feldman and John Cage and of their personal and musical friendship, the magnificent young Flux Quartet braved Morton Feldman's (yeah, "seminal") 1983 Second Quartet. The performance took place in beautiful new Zankel Hall, which has been blasted out of the bedrock below the much larger Carnegie Hall itself.

OK, Barry and I did actually leave before the piece had run its course, but that was for reasons totally unrelated to its merits. I think I can say that if anyone other than the performers themselves bore any kind of burden tonight it was the working Carnegie Hall staff, which had to hang around until past midnight, and which kept the bar open throughout the evening.

Zankel seems to be having some success in its announced intention of appealing to youth. The crowd this evening looked nothing like that you'd normally find around Lincoln Center, and in fact might have made even the youthful crowds which flock to Columbia University's Miller Theater these days look a little mature - or at least dowdily academic.

The members of Flux rivalled their rapt audience for cuteness, but there was no competition in the honors for heroism. No stops, no stretching, no snacks and above all no bathroom breaks for the four stalwart artists who generously shared their platform with shoeless and barefoot youths, cheeks of tan and pale (and a few of their elders), reclining around them on a couple of kilims and the bare boards themselves.

I haven't seen anything like it since Pandit Pran Nath performed in the sanctuary of the Cathedral of St. John's on acres of oriental carpet over a decade ago. This is my religion.

When everything comes to a halt, about a half hour from now, I would not be surprised if their enthusiastic audience seizes the players and carries them out of the auditorium on their shoulders in triumph. Laurels would be nice.

Morty would be very surprised, and John would be delighted.

Oh yes, there's a CD set, and even a DVD, of the Flux doing this piece. It's available through Mode Records.

More events on Sunday, October 26:

Feldman's "Triadic Memories" at Columbia's Miller Theatre 2:30
Cage's "Music for Carillon" [on Fifth Ave., and free!] at St. Thomas Church 5:15
An evening of Cage at Zankel Hall 7:30

[image from Preview/Musicview]


Wonderful, wonderful theater. Music theater. Opera. Whatever.

No, it's not a "musical". If it were, I would not have been in the audience tonight. It's pure art, especially if art must be both human and accessible to be truly pure.

But don't be afraid. If it's opera, it's what Puccini was for his audience a hundred years ago, not what Puccini represents today.

But it's only here one more evening - this time around.

David Rodwin's "Virtual Motion" can be seen tomorrow, Saturday, at LaMaMa for the last time. Sad enough that the entire run was only three days, sadder still that we didn't see it until tonight and can only write about it now.

I have no idea how Rodwin's art had escaped us until recently, especially since it relates to and is as exciting as the best work of some of our favorite modern theatrical composers, like Robert Ashley, Conrad Cummings, John Moran, and Mikel Rouse.

Rodwin created the music, the book, lyrics and the choreography, and produces, engineered and performs the piece solo. While he has created larger-scale work in the past, including one opera with a cast and crew of thirty, ". . . I knew I needed a simpler, more economical piece if I wanted my work to be seen by a larger, more diverse audience in more places." He's not competing with the Met, since its line of business is essentially that of a well-endowed museum of antiquities. "Virtual Motion" has already delighted people in over a dozen cities, and only some of those would ever be found in a traditional opera house.

In this latest piece the artist is an extraordinarily charismatic and beguiling presence on an almost totally bare stage, both bearing and born on gorgeous waves of live and recorded sounds combined. The music is totally integrated with the theatre in a shared contemporary humanity.

Well damn, the tickets are only $20, and it's only an hour and a half long, with intermission. Don't miss it. Years from now everyone will be talking about the birth at the turn of the century of this "new opera" form, but you shouldn't wait that long to find out what it's all about. Details:

La MaMa E.T.C.
The Annex
74 A East 4th Street
New York, NY 10003
Tickets: 212-352-3101

Tip: There's both audio and visual stuff on his website!

[image from jadelake]


isocrates, athens, 380 bc

Apropos nothing in particular, I wanted to record this wonderful legend we saw mounted on the wall of the Onassis Cultural Center while passing through the public passage at Olympic Tower this evening.

somewhat less than one half of Maria Marinelli's performance at d.u.m.b.o.

Maria Marinelli was also a part of the d.u.m.b.o. festival this past weekend where she was represented by a performance of "Arazzo," one of the four parts of her mixed media project, "IMPERO."

What I saw on Saturday was two women knitting separate long panels or "tapestries" in red yarn of an almost painfully bright hue. They were separated that afternoon by a full block's length of the same skein of thread each was incorporating into her work.

The two pieces being woven by the performers will eventually meet in the center where no more unused thread will remain. In order for one piece to be completed the other one must be destroyed.

in English, the name of the greater project is "EMPIRE." The artist explains, "This metaphor makes visible the paradigm by which every imperialistic culture operates."

"Women's work," indeed!

There was plenty of art - and entertainment [is that a problem?] - at the d.u.m.b.o. art under the bridge festival this past weekend even for those who didn't make it into the many open artists' studios. Much of it was about real estate. All of the very best outside stuff was conceptual.

One of my favorites was "Endangered Species," the work of Michelle Handelman and Vincent Baker, located under an arch of the neighborhood's eponymous Bridge.


Behind the heavy green-painted corrugated metal wall, and really down under manhattan bridge overpass was a wonderful sound installation of the cries of some very angry elephants. The curiosity quotient was strong, but nothing was actually visible beyond the barrier.

A small placque in the lower right of the picture identified the artists, and added:

harlem, soho, tribeca, the lower east side....we haven't forgotten.



ROBERT RAUSCHENBERG, Autobiography, 1968
The three panels of this large offset lithograph by Robert Rauschenberg from 1968 titled Autobiography are displayed vertically and exceed 16 feet in height. They were printed with the type of press used to make commercial billboards. The three panels are layered with seemingly disparate images that, on closer examination, are probably thematically grouped. The top panel features a composite X-ray of Rauschenberg's own body superimposed with the artist's astrological chart, suggesting both the present and the future. The center panel deals with the artist's past; at its center is a photosilkscreen of the artist as a two-year-old boy with his parents boating on a bayou near his home in Port Arthur, Texas. Surrounding this photosilkscreen is a labyrinthine oval of handwritten text narrating events in the artist's life. The lower panel seems to address artistic creativity and is dominated by an enlarged photograph of Rauschenberg during his 1963 performance "Pelican," in which he wears rollerskates and a parachute on a wooden armature harnessed to his back. Rauschenberg was one of several performers and he also choreographed this performance. This particular image suggests both movement and flight, which are themes carried through in Rauschenberg's art and life.

Autobiography's visual overlay of seemingly discrete and unrelated appropriated images is quintessential Rauschenberg, but the emphasis on personal or autobiographical subject matter is not. The vision underlying Rauschenberg's aesthetic has often been interpreted to mean that meaning itself is created through accidental, improvised, intuited, and even illogical juxtapositions and associations. In that sense, what Rauschenberg offers us in Autobiography are images he had at hand but they are also images of personal significance to him. Rauschenberg once stated: "I don't want my personality to come out through the piece . . . I want my [work] to be [a] reflection of life . . . your self-visualization is a reflection of your surroundings."

[image and text from Philadelphia Art Alliance]

We went to a performance at BAM of Charles Mee's "bobrauschenbergamerica" tonight. Barry and I both found that like much of this wonderful man's work, which I've now been enjoying for several decades, this evening of theater, which was created and performed by SITI Company and directed by Anne Bogart, took a while to come together. Barry thinks it's Mee's plan, and I think I agree.

When it was finally assembled it was magnificent.

I haven't seen a decent review in the media, so I won't link to any tonight, and I don't have the nerve to try one myself, but I will at least say that I was eventually overcome by the piece' sweet sincerity and delighted with its amazing sense of place. In a dramatic account of the world which produced Robert Rauschenberg's art that would seem to mean a mission was accomplished.

But it didn't come easily. It was about halfway through an evening punched through with scattershot American vignettes, at once both perverse and ordinary, that I began to cry. The tears were for the sometime beauty and goodness of this people and for how much has been lost in recent decades, but they were also tears of joy.

Admittedly the play and its performance basically ignored the ugliness and the evil that was also a part of what we regard as the simpler, mid-century America, and it's assignment was not to dwell on how much the bad stuff remains or has multiplied today. Still, when the stage was emptied tonight, only warmth and especially hope remained behind. Amazingly, there was no sugar on the floor of the theater, but there was also not a wit of jingoism in the air, no rhetoric of any stripe. Quite an accomplishment that, especially these days.

The most moving moment in the theater this evening was an oration whose conceit is that it begins by appearing to be an actor's address to the audience about this play, but it very soon becomes clear that it is much more. Barney O'Hanlon played Carl, who speaks to the museum visitors immediately after his assassination.

What follows is the complete oration, delivered near the end of the evening, a beautiful ode to art and artists in general, and the art and the artists of this strange people in particular.

[Carl, who has been lying on the stage dead, sits up and gives a speech welcoming everyone to an art opening, while we hear cement mixers, pounding, banging, clanking, sawing.]

How we put the show together.
First, I want to welcome everyone
I'm glad you could all come tonight.
We don't often get to do a show like this
where we can just put on whatever we like
figure OK what the hell
lets just do whatever we feel like
and hope you'll enjoy it.
I often feel those of us who are in the museum world
are particularly blessed.
Because we get to explore our feelings
whatever they may be
that's a sort of freedom.
You know, that's how it is to deal with art
because art is made in the freedom of the imagination
with no rules
it's the only human activity like that
where it can do no one any harm
so it is possible to be completely free
and see what it may be that people think and feel
when they are completely free
in a way, what it is to be human when a human being is free
and so art lets us practice freedom
and helps us know what it is to be free
and so what it is to be human.

But, still, it often seems to me almost miraculous
how we can put things here in the museum
and ordinary folks
my mom and dad and my own neighbors
and I myself
will come to see things
sometimes things that I myself find completely incomprehensible
and really offensive
people will come to our museum
and think: oh, that's interesting
or, oh, that's stupid
but they don't really hold it against the show
they just move on and look at something else and think
oh that's cool.
And I wonder:
how do we get away with that?
And I think well, we are a free people
that's why
and we understand that
in a way maybe other people in the world don't
we like an adventure
often we might think
well, that's a piece of junk
but that's how this fellow sees the world
and there's a certain pleasure in seeing things from his point of view
we are a patient people
no matter what you hear people say
and a tolerant people
and a fearless, open people
that's how it is for us

I think that's how it is to be an American.

We're all unique.
It's a precious thing to compare ourselves to nothing else.
This is my working attitude.
I don't feel shame in my joy.

[He looks confused.]

I started out here knowing what I meant to say
and now I have to say
I don't know what I said.

But I'd just like to welcome you
and let you know
we're all glad to be here with you tonight
to share this with you
and we hope you have a swell evening.

[The text can be found on Charles Mee's own wonderful site, which amazingly and very generously makes all of his work available to the public]

FOLLOW UP on "two shades of green"

Yesterday it was an article in New York magazine which triggered my despairing post about developments at the World Trade Center site. Today it's the New York Times. Why are they getting upset only now, when it's almost certainly too late to stop the grinding gears of business-as-too-usual as we stand on the side awaiting the arrival of banality-and-much-worse?

The first paragraph of the following quote appears as the introduction to the piece in the NYTimes print edition this morning, but is curiously missing on the website, depriving David Dunlap's text of much of its sense for electronic readers, and even producing quite a different spin.

The faces staring upin horror that morning from the streets of Lower Manhattan were every color. So were the faces staring out from the "missing" fliers around the city. But the hands drawing the plans for the new World Trade Center are almost all white.

What may have been lost in the transition are voices; voices that might have questioned basic assumptions about a program in which skyscraping commercial development is to accompany the memorial, cultural and open spaces; voices that might have asked whether a public domain under tight control is truly public.

The New York architect J. Max Bond Jr., whom the paper describes as "both black and an éminence grise in architectural circles," advocates a process which would include not just minority voices but those of poets, philosophers and artists.

He also takes issue with proposals to put pseudo public spaces in private hands, [a development which has increasingly burdened New York over the last few decades], and suggests that opening participation in decision making to the larger community would have exposed such follies.

Many designs for the site called for gardens, shops, museums, restaurants and viewing platforms on high floors or at the top of buildings. But Mr. Bond said any space under strict scrutiny was not universally welcoming.

"It's always been difficult for young blacks, for young Hispanics, for anyone who looks aberrant to get access to the upper realms of Wall Street towers," he said. "For a city of immigrants, the public realm is more than ever now the street. If I'm a Dominican kid and my immigration papers are not quite right, I'll never go up there because I'll never dare show my fake ID.

"All these public spaces are going to be like shopping malls: privately controlled. You won't be able to wear a T-shirt that says, `Down with Ashcroft' because that will be viewed as hostile or threatening."

And on the subject of skyscraper superlatives Bond's comments show the full extent of his modern humanism:
"There's a macho thing that keeps coming out: we should build a building that tall to show them," he said. "Not everyone shares that sensibility. It's a particularly male, Western sensibility.

"I'm not saying people of color are wiser. But women, people of color, gays, immigrants have all had to look at themselves. They have experienced the underside of society in a much more profound way.

"Architecture inevitably involves all the larger issues of society."

Including, obviously, the issue of who really retains the power.

Tim Rollins and K.O.S., untitled, from Prometheus Bound, 1997
[image not in the show at Art Resources Transfer]

It's a gorgeous mini-retrospective, or, better, a retrospective of the smaller-scale parts of 20 years of collaboration. Tim Rollins's work with the Kids of Survival (K.O.S.), studies in this case, mostly on paper alone, are now being shown in three rooms at the Art Resources Transfer (A.R.T.) space in Chelsea until November 15.

What for me had until now been available only in scattered glimpses of separate projects is now assembled in what admittedly is still only a tantalizing suggestion of the larger, finished pieces in each. But what a treat these suggestions are!

Each of the 40 works is inspired by and is physically lying upon the text of a major literary work or musical composition. Art has seldom been so literate, especially if we remember that the Tim Rollins and K.O.S. collective is as much about teaching as it is about painting and drawing.

The artists' chronology begins with a 1983 delicate sketch of Jesse Owens on a page of Mein Kampf. Chapter: "Race." It ends with Bush II in 2003, drawn as a two-legged squirel stretched across a page of Animal Farm which includes the creatures' Seven Commandments, which begin with, "1. Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy."

In betwen there is Aeschylus, Ray Bradbury, Dante, Hawthorne, Haydn, Kafka, Stoker, Strauss, Wells and dozens of others, all of them beautifully illustrated and intelligently and powerfully amplified in the process. It's a great treat, and a moving encounter on any level.

A.R.T. is located at 210 11th Avenue, between 24th and 25th Streets, on the fourth floor, and open Tuesday though Saturday from 11 until 6. 212-691-5956

[image from Dia Art Foundation]

Kelly and money.

The results are in, ladies and gentlemen.

Forget two years of agony and hopes for resolution, two years of arguments and competitions, two years of talk and spin, we now have an answer. The World Trade Center site is going to look nothing like what we wanted, what we were told we would get, what we should have.

Liebeskind's design, whatever its value, is dead, even if Liebeskind, complicit in his own defeat, is still there for cover (and surely a fat paycheck). The public be damned, money is talking, and the conversation isn't pretty or smart, because Larry Silverstein is in charge.

We're going to have to suffer years, actually decades, of construction messes in order to end up saddled with a huge affront, the usual New York contemporary corporate high-rise junk. There is no coherent plan, no monumental architecture, no humanity, no spirit, and not even a cold aesthetic geometry survives.

Last week I was once again struck by the absolute rightness of Ellsworth Kelly's magnificent WTC site proposal in his 'Ground Zero', when I visited the Whitney Museum, which is currently displaying his "red green blue work." The simple newsheet collage he sent to the NYTimes architectural critic Herbert Muschamp early in September has been donated to the Museum. It hangs, modestly-framed and almost invisible, near the elevators in the lobby.

Sublime. It's what we need right now. We can build towers on other lots. There's nothing to keep us from getting Kelly's green, except the money that talks.

Phil Collins, holiday in someone else's misery II 2003

Phil Collins, abbas amini 2003

These are two more images from the current show at Maccarone Inc.

Phil Collins, enduring freedom 2002
[the image is not part of the current NY show]

Phil Collins, fov evevr 2003
[image currently at Maccarone Inc.]

I've been very bad. Barry and I went to the Phil Collins show at Maccarone Inc. last Sunday, and I'm only getting around to writing about it a week later.

It's a wonderful, intelligent gallery and an exciting space, particularly right for this aesthetic. Rough. No, tough, but with much warmth. Collins's work is breathtaking, and its presence in these rooms is just right. We arrived on a beautiful fall afternoon, in the full light of day. I hope you schedule something similar. You'll be on vibrant eastern Canal Street, just before the entrance to the Manhattan Bridge.

Collins's images are incredibly powerful even if you're ignorant of their context. The context, at least for some of the work in this show, that dealing with asylum-seekers, refugees and the displaced, is provided by an incredible video running on the ground floor. I had gotten all of the way up the stairs before Angela told us that the raw storefront space below was now part of the gallery. We headed back down to view an extended, much-violated and frightened Kosovo family being shuffled around a large couch for a group photograph, but not before we watched one boy, a beautiful injured teenager who was unable to remember much of anything about his assault, being questioned about the scars he shyly revealed to the camera.

On the third floor are intimate but incredibly strong images of people who answered a newspaper advertisement asking for people who would agree to strip for his camera in a hotel room rented for the purpose. Collins is from Northern Ireland and has lived in parts of the former Yugoslavvia and other parts of the world which have suffered from ethnic violence. The hotel was in Basque San Sebastian. The results apparently surprised even the artist.

Collins's larger body of work is about the impact of social and political conflicts on human beings everywhere in the world, and it's also about his own relationship to his subjects. He is able to remove himself from the people he photographs only far enough to complete his record. He remains involved, and we are drawn in along with him, never to leave altogether.

Only after we were already home did I think about the fact that we had no idea what the photographs were selling for. In fact, were they actually for sale? It had not occurred to either of us that what we had seen might have any relationship to commerce. I still haven't asked, but I'll be going back.

Visit Maccarone and Collin's work. I think you still have all of this month. Sorry, the website isn't finished yet. The gallery, located at 45 Canal Street, near Chrystie, is open Wednesday through Sunday from noon until 6. You'll see three floors of an old mercantile building and a great artist's humanity - and much of the greater humanity, including the inhuman parts.

From Maccarone's third floor, Barry included

[Enduring Freedom image from Kerlin Gallery, Missing from fashionoffice]

A group of caskets moves up Broadway today, holding remains beyond just bones

Yes, New York had slaves, and apparently they weren't all barbers and musicians.

Some of them, all still anonymous, are being returned tomorrow to the downtown Manhattan site of their burial in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries

Twelve years after workers accidentally uncovered a burial ground for colonial era blacks in downtown Manhattan, the remains arrived Friday, headed for the empty lot where they were first discovered.

The remains, scheduled to be reinterred Saturday, arrived at Pier 11 at Wall Street on three police boats, in four small wooden coffins carved in Ghana. New York was the last stop on a five-city procession.

After a ceremony at South Street Seaport, the coffins were scheduled to be taken by procession to the African Burial Ground, located at the intersection of Duane and Elk streets.

Without a lot of in-the-face activism on the part of some dedicated New Yorkers over the last 12 years, we would hardly be aware of this part of our history even today.
Initially, the federal government tried not to comply with legal mandates about what to do in such a situation. But African American New Yorkers, including then Mayor David Dinkins, pressed the government to respect the remains found there and to find a way to honor this sacred space. After vigils and protests and religious observances and meetings held at the site by many in the community, construction was halted until all the remains could be unearthed and moved to be studied, with the promise that they would be re-interred back at the site.
Brian Lehrer devoted part of his WNYC program this morning to the early history of Africans in New York and the events of today and tomorrow. What scientists found in 10 years study of the bones now being brought back to New York was evidence of disease and the stress of carrying heavy loads. It was established that most were born in Africa, specifically west and central Africa, and that both the death rate and the rate of reproduction were extrordinarily poor. The data suggests that the slaves were treated as expendable, and that attrition was addressed by bringing in more.

The NYTimes devoted half of a page to the story in yesterday's editions.

Not one of the skeletons in the burial ground could be linked to a person with a name, [urban anthropologist Dr. Sherrill D.] Wilson said. She says this is evidence that "these people were undocumented because they were viewed as a disposable population." Also, she said, almost half of the bodies found were children, which suggests "they were literally worked to death."
Slavery ended in New York in 1827, but the story continues.

For more information, including that about events this week, see the African Burial Ground site.


It was during the Brian Leher Show, in a section not included in the on-line report linked above, that I heard about several caucasian bodies found buried with the others.

How could that be, in a 6-acre cemetary which the city had made necessary because blacks were not allowed to bury their own in the same ground with whites?

In 1741 New York thought it was the victim of a slave conspiracy or uprising, because of a series of unexplained fires. When the hysteria had subsided, 31 slaves and 5 free whites, suspected sympathizers or accomplices, had been executed. The authorities decided to visit the worst possible humiliation upon the caucasians; they were interred along with the slaves.

Africans customarily buried their dead facing west. The bodies of the sympathizers appeared to be lovingly laid facing east, the custom of their time and people.

[image from REUTERS/Chip East]

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

previous archive: Culture: September 2003

next archiveCulture: November 2003