Culture: December 2004 Archives

Peter Hujar Susan Sontag [1974-1975]

Susan Sontag died on Tuesday.

Beginning almost twenty years ago I had included her as a part of the homeland I had just adopted and which she had acquired at birth. Because of my profound general "otherness" and two nearly-profound early family dislocations, while it may not strictly fit the meaning of the German das Heimat, my New York City home had come to mean everything for me.

In this Manhattan Heimat Susan Sontag was my neighbor. Physically she really was my neighbor, since she owned an apartment just two blocks away from mine. For years I saw her everywhere in the city, although we never met. Her mind and what she was doing with it had already ensured that she would mean much more to me than an ordinary neighbor normally could. And then one evening I walked through the aura with which I had surrounded her.

I had already seen Edgar Reitz's monumental first "Heimat," (most sections twice) when I eagerly subscribed to the first American screening of the thirteen episodes of "Zweite Heimat" at the Public Theater almost twelve years ago.

After arranging myself in the first row for a double feature of two episodes, I noticed that she was only a few seats to my left. Only by coincidence, I had brought her new book, "The Volcano Lover," with me to keep me occupied while waiting for the lights to go down. I think it was during the break that I gathered the courage to speak to her and ask if she might sign my copy.

I must have mumbled a few words, I hope not too gushing, about how much I admired both her writing and her bold social and political activism, and then we exchanged a few thoughts about the film, all of which escape me now, except that we discovered that we were both enormous fans of both epics. She signed the book, "for Barry and Jim - Susan Sontag 'Heimat 6&7' 7 July 1993."

On every other day I spotted her in the audience she was totally absorbed in conversations with various companions. I was saved from embarassing myself, but I seriously regret the lost opportunities. Gosh, I wish I could have gone with her to Sarajevo, but Barry has written from the heart about how much she became a part of our New York experience, of our own shared Heimat.

She will certainly be greatly missed by many.

It's late Tuesday night as I'm writing this. The death toll for all the shores around the Indian Ocean, the work of one wave over only a few hours, has now exceeded that of the U.S. military alone in Vietnam over a period of ten years. I'm already recalling Sontag's unassailable morality, her creative curiosity and her courageous voice as I think about the individual and community tragedies millions of people in southern Asia are enduring at this moment. What would Sontag say about our government's lame response? Colin Powell is absolutely wrong. We are stingy, very stingy, and we have been for decades.*

*The United States initially offered $15 million in relief to cover all of the nations affected (what we spend on the Iraq war every hour, and a fraction of the estimated cost of Bush's January 20 Nuremberg rally). Oh sure, after being ridiculed by people in a number of other countries, we've now apparently upped our commitment by another $20 million, although that figure is marked as a loan.

Radically contrary to popular U.S. opinion, the amount of our foreign aid, in terms of percentage of gross national product (approximately one tenth of one percent), is the lowest of any industrialized nation in the world. Incidently, Norway's contribution is proportionately almost ten times that of ours.

[image from Matthew Marks via artnet]

Two shows, both already gone, both video installations, but I'm not making anything of whatever other similarities they may have.

They are very different artists, doing very different work. Okay, there is singing in each of the pieces, but combining them in one post started out only as a device to make a decent-sized package for the few words I expected to be able to come up with separately for these two artists' very moving shows. Now I'm thinking that it kind of works.

Lutz Bacher Crimson & Clover (Over & Over) 2003 30:00 min video still

Lutz Bacher's "Crimson & Clover (Over & Over)," shown at Participant Inc. on Rivington Street on the Lower East Side, documents one of the performances within a memorial concert for the beloved art dealer Colin de Land at CBGB some time last year. Of course the video itself also played over and over, but it was continuously mesmerizing and the combination of its abstract and romantic beauty transcended the identities of the performers (Angelblood and others) and even the extraordinarily moving occasion.

The gallery had installed the work on its upper level and the screen occupied every inch of the far wall, top to bottom, from one side to the other. The otherwise empty room became a long, flickeringly-lit box frame for an extraordinary kaleidoscope of sound and light.

Jesper Just Bliss and Heaven 2004 6:30 min video still

Over in Chelsea Perry Rubinstein had installed three videos by the young Danish artist Jesper Just. The work got a lot of attention from critics and for good reason. I was pretty much taken with each of them, perhaps even shamelesssly, but maybe I'm just very vulnerable to this sort of genuine sentiment when it is mixed so brilliantly with the wacky context established by the artist here.

And great production values, too.

For more on Just, see this discussion and this awesome five-minute video opera.

[second image from Galleri Christina Wilson]


I haven't seen the January Art in America, but I've heard, through subscribers who have already received their copies, about the "FRONT PAGE" article, "Art in the Blogosphere." The issue still hasn't reached the stores, and there's nothing on their site, but I did receive a scanned image from one generous blogger.

Barry writes that I've achieved fame in the print media.

[for more on the story see Joy garnett]

This modest site,, is one of twelve included in a list assembled for the magazine by Raphael Rubinstein, who writes in his introduction, ". . . there are now quite a few interesting art-related blogs. Here is a list, briefly annotated, of those that I've found to be worth regular visits."

My first reaction was shock, especially when I heard how short the list was. When I finally saw it I realized that a number of important people weren't there. If the list actually means anything, I think it's quite unfair. I can only explain my inclusion as something of a fluke, especially since I'm "not in the industry" (in the words of a friend who is, Michael Gillespie). Not only do I have no academic credentials in the fine arts, but I'm also neither a working artist nor a critic, I'm not selling anything, and I can buy very little.

I'm a fan.

Then I thought (again, if the list actually means anything), wow!, the blogosphere makes it pretty easy to become slightly famous. Without the financial resources, the connections, real talent or probably even the will to get "published," a lot of people now see the stuff I upload.

If I can do that, almost anyone should be able to. I wonder if this world is ready for us.


But I'm not going to let the pressure get to me. (the audience is hushed here) This is going to remain the very independent, subjective and idiosyncratic arts-politics-and-whatever blog it's been for two and a half years. With the arts I write only about (some of) the things that please me; with everything else it could be praise, condemnation, plain observation, or just a silly whim. I also try to amuse with decent images whenever possible, while trying to avoid overwhelming bandwidth with their size or number.



Lital Mehr was holding down the fort at Bill Brady's ATM Gallery on Avenue B and East 10th Street a week ago when we stopped in to see the first New York solo show of an exciting young Tokyo artist, Chie Fukao. The two images above are details of a gallery installation which almost defies description. The exhibition includes photographs, collages, drawings, sewn clothing and other materials, sculpture, and found objects, some of the pieces the creation of her mother or younger sister.

Several of her works on canvas represent something of a culmination of a process in which Fukao passed one image through several media in succession. Those pieces may be the most sophisticated in a show which has absolutely no clunkers, but on this first visit I was most excited about the softer stuff suspended from hangers or pegs, or left lying on the gallery floor.

It's a little messy, but absolutely lovely, and you know you're in a very new world the moment you walk through the door. I'm going to want to see more of it.

In the middle of our conversation that afternoon Lital said something about how absolutely fearless Bill was about taking chances, above all in trusting an artist no less than his own good judgment. She's absolutely right. We've been fascinated watching it happen. It's what makes ATM so important.

[images from ATM gallery]


A lot has changed in 65 years. The country which built this great skyscraper now seems to have decided it can do so much better without wisdom or knowledge; we're in for a very bumpy ride.

I took the photograph at dusk, while walking across town on Monday. The image is of Lee Lawrie's sculpture relief above the front entrance of the RCA Building (today sometimes thoughtlessly referred to as the GE Building) on Rockefeller Plaza. According to the Rockefeller Center Visitor's Guide, the William Blake-inspired figure represents Wisdom, who rules over man's knowledge and interprets the laws of nature. The compass points to the light and sound waves of the cast glass screen below. The inscription is based on Isaiah 33:6

Blockbox BRD.jpg

"Der Kampf ist vobei, die Wunden sind offen" ("The battle is over, the wounds are open")

The 2001 German film, "Black Box BRD," is in a documentary form, and it uses the Baader-Meinhof/RAF story as structure. Barry recently found it in a regular Sundance Film Channel email and recorded it. He had thought the human story (one victim and one activist, along with the people who knew them) was fictional and that is what he had told me.

Okay, even if we're both pretty familiar with German history and German culture, maybe our memories for news names and disasters is somewhat wanting, because only after we finished watching the film this evening and did some on-line searching did we find that it was entirely based on fact. It sure makes a difference in how one sees the "actors" if only later do you realize they were playing themselves. Now I find myself running most of the scenes of the film through my mind over and over again.

I thought it was an interesting and pretty successful attempt at making its two historical extremes sympathetic. The Deutsche Bank honcho ends up as an idealist, not so far from where the young revolutionary began, and the revolutionary just may have lost his soul before he died.

But in the end I'm not sure that it makes much difference to my appreciation of the filmmakers' accomplishment whether the characterizations of the two protagonists is accurate or not. Neither Alfred Herrhausen nor Wolfgang Grams are really important as individuals to most of the members of its intended audience. What may matter to us most is the gift of imagining for a moment that the archetypes they represent might be more complex than what is usually presented to us.

[quote appears on the film's website homepage]

Carlos Roque, detail, Processed Normal Without Frames 2004, fifteen drawings, permanent ink and color pencils on paper


Great show! Joymore is the kind of gallery you hope to find in Williamsburg (or anywhere else on the planet you may be at the moment) but it's still a big surprise when you do. Typically the principal lives in the space, and is totally committed to the artists whose work is being shared with you. You probably haven't seen the work anywhere else - yet.

Inside the gallery, where we found a stunning group show of five artists, we spoke to Melissa Schubeck, who brought Joymore from Chicago. A quick check on line reveals that she's pretty familiar with alternative space and alternative artists. In an email she sent today I learned further that Joymore began as a gallery space there in 2000, and that the name was also attached to a number of public art projects she curated. In the last year she was joined by a partner, John Henley.

In Williamsburg, where she will be on her own again, she plans to continue the project space in addition to curating public art projects in alternative environments. It looks like great fun!

Chicago's loss is our gain for sure.

Actually I already knew some of the work of Andrew Jeffrey Wright. One year ago Barry and I had gone home with two small drawings from a show at Champion Fine Arts curated by Reed Anderson. Even within the smaller dimensions of Joymore's rooms he still manages to show two very different kinds of work on Grand Street. Excellent stuff.

Carlos Roque happened to be sitting in the back room working while we were there last Sunday, so I was able to tell him how fine I thought his wall of mostly black and white drawings were.

Pedro Velez's photographs and drawings would probably confound almost anyone on a first visit, but the mind really wants to know more. Gotta go back.

Josh Kline is responsible for a large digital, faux-heroic glacial landscape which covers the wall facing the entrance.

Oh yes, there's also an outside sculpture space, a wonderfully luxurious appendage in a space this small. It had been raining the day we visited, and in spite of the abstraction of its form Devon Costello's "Glacier" looked very good with a shallow pool on its base.

[image from Joymore]

galleries of the Barnes Foundation

In a compact, tightly-argued piece in this morning's NYTimes Roberta Smith puts the brouhaha over the disposition of the collection of the Barnes Foundation into a clear perspective.

Once more we are reminded that no one really owns art, that all collectors are temporary custodians. And the greater the art, the less any one person, especially a dead one, can control its destiny.

In the end, art belongs to the people it inspires, the people who use it to understand themselves and the world better - and the people who use it to create more art, and the possibility of more inspiration.

I feel compelled to add here that my respects come from someone who really loves old hinges but hasn't been to Merion, Pennsylvania.

[image from]

Thomas Allen Lure chromogenic print 20" x 24"

Thomas Allen Swell 2004 chromogenic print 20" x 24"

Books and the images they inspire, captured and re-configured here a second time. Thomas Allen has a very smart, and very elegant, show at the very fine new Foley Gallery on West 27th Street. He makes the oddest assortment of books sing, visually, in a way we may not have heard since childhood.

While you're there, make sure you look around in the other two small-ish spaces, where there are still more treasures to be seen. You probably haven't seen these artists anywhere else - yet.

[images from the Foley Gallery]

Jordan Wolfson Infinite Melancholy 2003 video, 4 minute loop, still image of installation projection

The title's a handful. Lombard-Freid's "The Festival of Dreams (part 1): Songs of Innocence & Experience" is a small group (four artists) show, but there's a promise of more to come. Based on the quality of the work there now, I'll be anticipating part 2.

The Kenneth Anger film stills are as beautiful as you might expect (actually, more beautiful than I expected), but the paintings by Cornelius Quabeck are a delight, and the Jordan Wolfson video in the back is awesome (you need to hear the piano), regardless of your connection to Christopher Reeve.

Cornelius Qualbeck Phunga (Camo) 2004 charcoal and spraypaint on canvas 90.5" x 60"

Jenny Laden Adina (armchair) 2004 watercolor on Mylar 42" x 32"

I've been looking at Jenny Laden's work for a few years, and it's never looked as good as it does now. Gorgeous. She has a show right now at Jeff Bailey and it runs until December 23. These images and those on the gallery site itself only hint at the beauty of her paintings. They have to be seen directly. Her beautiful subjects are described with great delicacy and clearly with much love, and her medium leaves the still-liquid colors of their features floating without any ground whatsoever.

The color shown below in the photo representing a detail of "Ann (sweater)" comes closest to that in the work itself.

Jenny Laden Ann (sweater) 2004 watercolor on Mylar 42" x 30"

Jenny Laden Ann (sweater) 2004 watercolor on mylar, detail

Nelson Leirner Maracană (2003) plaster, ceramic and plastic, 120" x 130" x 9.5"

Nelson Leirner Figurativismo Abstrato (2004) sticker on wood, 67" x 86.5", detail

Ooops. Tardy again. Nelson Leirner's show at Roebling Hall's new space in Chelsea closes tomorrow, and since it was alrady extended a few weeks I have absolutely no excuse for posting so late.

The gallery describes the show as the Brazilian artist's North American gallery debut, so maybe I can be excused for thinking I was looking at the work of a very young man. Leirner was born in 1932, so I suppose I was a little off.

". . . socially conscious conceptualism," reads part of the press release, but there's great fun in a visit to the world he has created to skewer economic imperialism.

[first image at the top from the Roebling Hall site]

Richard Jackson Dick's Deer (2004) large detail of installation

Umm. I'm somewhat without words here. And I'm not even going to alude to the full-size, spinning structure, "Living Room," in the front of the gallery.

So go look for yourself.

Haswellediger is a gallery which really shouldn't be ignored, but it looks like it's never going to be easy paying attention. I like that.

Just to make it easier - or more difficult - this time there's a concurrent exhibition at Foundation 20 21. Haven't been there yet, but the heritage and the location alone is a draw. It's an "outgrowth" of Thread Waxing Space and it's inside the National Arts Club.

Momoyo Torimitsu Horizons (2004) mixed media, detail of installation

Robert Boyd, Patriot Act (Xanadu: A Place Where Dreams Come True) (2004) DVD, still from video

Riiko Sakkinen Colonialism (2004) mixed media, installation view

UPDATE (December 11): The show has been extended for another week, until December 18. And tonight, saturday, at 6 o'clock, the gallery will host New York Political Artists Town Hall Meeting #1 (NYPATHM1).

Only one more day to see how "Democracy Was Fun." The White Box show closes tomorrow, but the hangover will continue. This group exhibition, curated by Juan Puntes and Raul Zamudio, packs the kind of political wallop we've come to expect from this fearless little non-profit space on West 26th Street. But there are some outstanding pieces of art here as well.

I'm sure I'm missing a lot, but right now I'm thinking of the riveting and accelerative video by Robert Boyd, which manages to stop all traffic entering the gallery space; Jane Benson's camouflage garlands over the ramp running from the door; Tim Hawkinson's flattened rubber pachyderm "Seal"; Rainer Ganahl's outrage, in paper and ceramic, over the corruption of language and the death of dialogue; Riiko Sakkinen's inspired adaptation of the simplest found materials; Momoyo Torimitsu's field of tiny competing salarymen; and Conrad Atkinson's horrendously-exquisite porcelain land mines on the gallery's front windowsill.

Crash (John Matos) Mass Media (1983) acrylic and spray paint on canvas, detail with admirer

McDermott & McGough A Friend of Dorothy (1986) oil on canvas, large detail

Nelson Sullivan My Life in Video (1982-1989) still from the video (Lahoma Van Zant)

"Imagine a village where everybody is an artist, nobody has or needs a steady job, and anyone can be the art world's Next Big Thing." The New Museum of Contemporary Art calls it "East Village USA." The real show closed years ago, but tomorrow the museum is giving us all another chance to go there, and for some of us it's a little like going home - once again without the complications of mom and dad.

This welcome retrospective of an entire exotic little world describes why I had to leave a very comfortable life in Rhode Island (no, mom and dad were not there). I just had to be in New York, even if it was going to be uncomfortable.

It doesn't just look like a museum, and it's not so very new or contemporary, but the show is a delight. I say it's not so museum-like because it's not just about the painters, sculptors and photographers who shocked and seduced Uptown spectators for a few years before success, or extraordinary wear and tear, erased the energy of a small age: A good part of the exhibition is devoted to the brilliant performance and club scene which was the environment in which the visual arts flourished - then as in every great creative era. Lots of video monitors are spread around the rooms, but this time they don't really screen video art or art documentaries. Even if so many of the little giants on those screens aren't around today, last night I preferred to imagine I was in a room next door watching their live performances remotely.

Some of my favorite things from the whole show (many of them real surprises) after only a preview peek: The work of Crash, Nelson Sullivan, Paul Thek, Arch Connelly, Peter Halley, Rodney Alan Greenblat, Sue Coe, Jimmy De Sana, Tseng Kwong Chi, Ethyl Eichelberger, Frank Moore and Jim Self, and Klaus Nomi.

ADDENDUM: Oh yes, there's at least one perfect installation, of a perfect Nan Goldin. I lay awake last night and again this morning, thinking about it. It's by itself on the wall of an almost totally darkened landing above a staircase heading down to the club-like installation of most of the performance videos. The photograph is lit from above like an old master in a wealthy collector's study. Worshipful.

CORRECTION: I had originally identified the lady in the video still as Christina, but Sullivan's archivist and editor, Robert Coddington, set me, well, straight.

[Nan Goldin link thanks to Charles T. Downey, via Bloggy]



Darrel Morris has been extended at lyonsweirgallery until December 18th, even though (not surprising) most of the work on view may already be sold.

Much of the exhibition consists of small works on paper, some with heartbreakingly-sensitive short texts, and many of these same images are duplicated in works whose medium is embroidery and fiber applique.

The gallery site has a short description of the artist's background.

Morris, who teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, was raised in rural Kentucky amongst people who made quilts and braided rugs out of necessity. This work served as an introduction to the use of sewing as an expressive and artistic medium.

In a series of small-scale works (generally no more than five by seven inches), Morris embroiders scenes from his boyhood and other’s. He then appliqués the embroidery onto fabric cut from clothing, most often his own. This choice of materials and approach places the work itself within a social structure while generating an edgy awkwardness.

Often utilizing a raw but self-deprecating sense of humor, Morris creates complex commentaries on social inequities and lopsided power struggles. Despite the somber topics, however, Morris’ elaborately and colorfully embroidered images of men and boys – rendered like characters in comic strips – result in narratives which are powerful and humorous, if often forlorn.

There was no list available when we visited the gallery, so the images shown above cannot be identified further. Their dimensions are very modest, approximately 8.5 x 7 inches.

Gloria Steinem, Winter Miller and Mandy Siegfried on the set of "The Penetration Play" in the Mint Theater space last night

It was supposed to be an evening of theatre. It was, but it ended with much more.

Winter Miller's "The Penetration Play," was the second play produced by the new collective, 13P (Thirteen Playwrights). Last night there was the promise of a "conversation" following the play, which was something like a feminist/queer drawing-room comedy. It was a promise very much fulfilled when Gloria Steinem, who had been sitting behind me for an hour and a half, walked onto the set and sat down with the producer, the young playwright and the three women actors. In a big change from the usual routine of these events, the audience was not solicited for input; as it turned out, the conversation was sufficiently animated without us.

I adore Steinem (incidently, at 70, she's still one of the most beautiful women alive). Last night she totally dominated a stage which had been created and made real by five other people sitting with her (in one sense of course without her pioneering feminism its scenario might have been unimaginable today).

In just the few minutes reserved for discussion the author of "Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions" captivated her audience with half a dozen observations seemingly as original as they were sensible.

Everything she said was related to Miller's play, and my favorite thought, regardless of how hoary its history might be, seemed to leave her lips as the inspiration of the moment. She was speaking about the decisions women (I would include men as well) make about the conflicting claims of independence and family. She lamented that so many women still err in giving birth to children before giving birth to themselves. The results can be disastrous for everybody.

[ref. the scale of the photo image, hey, it's a small theatre; I was in the front row with my feet touching a stage raised only six inches above the floor]

Gautam Bhatia Escape to the Good Life (2002) charcoal on paper 17" x 70.5"

Yes, it is a group show of contemporary Indian artists, but it's not an Indian art show. Thomas Erben has curated a show in his own gallery of work which would be as much at home in any collection in the West as it already is in India's most sophisticated public and private precincts. This is very good stuff, represented in at least half a dozen media.

China is already hot. Maybe now it's India's turn. I have no idea why we haven't seen a mainstream media review of this show yet, but that almost certainly won't happen again.

I've put up images here of just two of the works which excited me most. I highly recommend going to the gallery site itself for an animated preview of Sonia Khurana's extraordinary video.

Sonia Khurana Bird (1999/2000) video, no sound, still from the work

[images from Thomas Erben Gallery]

view of the upward reaches of the Library room inside the building of the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen, including detail of a faux-marble pillar and the ironwork which supports the huge skylight with its gilt-decorated opening mechanisms.

Bill Dobbs got me out of the apartment earlier than usual on Sunday. The incentive was the 17th annual Independent & Small Press Book Fair and, probably no less important, its venue, the century-old building occupied by the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen. The Society itself was founded in 1785, the library in 1820, although those 184 years still make it only the second oldest "private" library in New York. That title goes to the New York Society Library, organized in 1754.

It was great fun, and the fact that I left with my wallet only a little lighter than when I entered these wonderful spaces is no measure of the temptations available. It does say something about the event's attractions for the impecunious reader. I'll be back next year and I'll try to bring other small-bookies.

A small, random selection of some sightings:

Susanna Cuyler's delightful little books (I bought a few items off her table, including "La Derniere Fleur," an illustrated very short story of James Thurber, translated by Albert Camus)

A new illustrated New York subway book from Israelowitz Publishing

Many children's books, but the table which stood out from all the others included "It's Just a Plant: a children's story of marijuana," from

Some great vintage images, postcard size, next to the Paris Review table (I bought the one which shows George Plimpton with some friends at a sidewalk cafe, fifteen saucers stacked in front of him, looking all of fifteen himself)

"The Itinerary of Benjamin Tudela: Travels in the Middle Ages," a twelfth-century journal of the travels of a Spanish rabbi through Europe, Asia and Africa, in a faithful translation from the Hebrew. I took this beautiful book home, but it was only one of at least a dozen on the table of Italica Press which will still tempt me. Oh yes, their address would amuse almost anyone: 595 Main Street, New York, NY. My own puzzlement disappeared when it was explained that New York's Main Street is on Roosevelt Island

Lucky DeBellevue untitled (2004) chenille stems and plastic ball 31" x 11" x 82.5" detail view

The gallery show closed three weeks ago, on the day I visited it and snapped this picture, but the image continues to attract me, both in the memory of it and in my regular glimpses of it as I scroll through my image upload file - reasons enough to re-visit it now and get it out there.

This is a detail of a gorgeous work by Lucky DeBellevue. It was included in a very good show, "When the lights go out...", mounted by Cohan and Leslie in mid-October. The press release said that his sculptures ". . . resemble many known forms but represent nothing." I like that.

We've both loved his work for years, but the only chenille stems Barry and I have in our apartment are those which compose an Eric Doeringer Lucky DeBellevue "Bootleg." We do however cherish a small ink drawing by DeBellevue himself.

This page is an archive of entries in the Culture category from December 2004.

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