NYC: March 2010 Archives

Chinese Wild Ginger Asarum Splendens

Spring comes to the sunless recesses of our roof garden.

I must leave to others, meaning anyone who can plant or is able to overlook gardens touched directly by the rays of our life-sustaining star, the delights of brightly-colored bulb flowers. Our own garden pleasures are more subtle, and sometimes more exotic.

The odd growth shown above is apparently a flower, but there is always only one (it's in a pot after all). It appears each year at this time within the very healthy clump of evergreen wild Chinese ginger which has naturalized itself in one of our terrace pots. It's surprisingly hard, or woody, to the touch. It is, as might be easily imagined, even more bizarre before it actually opens to (barely) announce itself: The first time I spotted it, at least five years ago, I thought it was a piece of debris fallen from an upstairs window. I was about to pull it out when I noticed that it was somehow connected to the tangle of shiny green leaves all around it which had miraculously survived the winter unaltered.

With all respect to the excellent mushroom and the magical truffle, this node? appears to be somewhere on the evolutionary ladder between fungi and what we think of when we say "flower", regardless of its actual botanical status. While it certainly suggests a sexual appurtenance, it also looks like it would have no interest in, and no chance of, attracting the reproductive ministrations of a bee.

all heck breaks loose as Powhida exceeds the estimate

A number of art enthusiasts found their way to Winkleman gallery, and a Saturday in "#class", this past weekend to take part in the (unbilled) "T-Bill Gaming" event. Tom Sanford and William Powhida had set up a projector and screen linked to a laptop, allowing gallery visitors follow the Phillips de Pury auction, "NOW: Art of the 21st Century", in a live simulcast which began at noon.

Fans were invited, Sanford's own blog had announced, to participate in a "relational aesthetics art project" involving "the sometimes-overlooked art of book making". We had been invited to "watch the excitement unfold as shadowy and anonymous international art patrons determine the actual market value, not only of the works, but also of the hundreds of artists themselves!"

Fully in the spirit of the month-long project created by Powhida and Jen Dalton, the installation was described as an attempt "to make the world of contemporary art auctions more accessible to the Average Joe on the streets of Chelsea."

The excitement in the gallery was building for hours as the auctioneer moved closer and closer to lot #257, a drawing by Powhida, "Untitled (Dana Schutz), which the artist had donated to a Momenta Art benefit five years ago. All heck broke loose when it went for $1,900 ($2,375 including 20% premium, and before taxes). The piece exceeded the high end of the auction house estimate. Since only a few years earlier someone had taken it home for $150, it certainly represented a good "investment" for its original owner, even if neither its author nor the non-profit space to which he had gifted it shared one penny of the bounty.

At some time in the midst of the excitement buildup the artist himself was heard to say:

No artist should have to watch this

For the artists and their friends and confederates in class that afternoon it was good fun, but mixed with the fun were melancholy thoughts framed by the sudden and direct confrontation with the reality of the art market. Inside the auction gallery however it all appeared to be only about money.

I'm sure we all had far more fun in class than did the crowd a few blocks south. I have a decent amount of experience with New England antique and estate auctions, and some familiarity with New York art auctions produced by a slightly less prestigious house than this one. I had always associated auctions with great fun and drama, even for the parsimonious participant, so I was shocked at how hurried and perfunctory the proceedings were on Saturday. Not a whit of drama - and no wit - came from the podium. The only excitement generated by the house (as opposed to that created by our own party on 27th Street) happened when the man in the $5000 suit, who normally finds himself selling off Picassos and Rauschenbergs, started the bidding on one item at $9 (it finally sold for $100).

the gamers

bets placed

the board

Diego Rivera Agrarian Leader Zapata 1931 fresco 7' 9.75" x 6' 2" [large detail taken from a slightly oblique angle, of the painting in MoMA's collection]

Of course there was Rivera, and Kahlo, but most of the other committed pinko commies hanging around inside the Museum of Modern Art have been largely hidden from our history, from the institutional history of MoMA, and from the history of the art and the artists themselves.

Leading a tour of the Museum on 53rd Street this past Monday, artist and teacher Yevgeniy Fiks started to sort things out for the record. Barry and I were extremely fortunate to be a part of the discreet group of enthusiasts which he directed in a "Communist Tour of MoMA".

One of my favorite parts? Enjoying the fact that any number of other museum visitors who happened near us were learning more than they had bargained for when they walked into the galleries of the permanent collection that afternoon.

If you missed the road trip clear your calendar for Fiks' presentation, "Communist Modern Artists and the Art Market" at Winkleman gallery March 12, another event in William Powhida and Jen Bartlett's month-long project, "#class".

I've uploaded below images taken at a few of our stops (devotions, secular "stations"), and Barry has a more narrative report, assembled from his notes, on his own site.

Jacob Lawrence

Jackson Pollock

Henri Matisse

Marc Chagall

up against the wall, spread over the hood, or face down on the ground; then into the computer

From 2004 through 2009, in a policy that has gotten completely out of control, New York City police officers stopped people on the street and checked them out nearly three million times, frisking and otherwise humiliating many of them.

Upward of 90 percent of the people stopped are completely innocent of any wrongdoing. And yet the New York Police Department is compounding this intolerable indignity by compiling an enormous and permanent computerized database of these encounters between innocent New Yorkers and the police.

Not only are most of the people innocent, but a vast majority are either black or Hispanic. There is no defense for this policy. It’s a gruesome, racist practice that should offend all New Yorkers, and it should cease.

These are the first angry paragraphs of Bob Herbert's righteous and powerful Op-Ed piece in today's Times, "Watching Certain People".

And none of this is even news! Why do most New Yorkers continue to be indifferent to what's being perpetrated within what is generally considered to be one of the world's most diverse and most liberal societies?

Herbert's outrage is rightly directed at the racism so dramatically demonstrated by the statistics, but we would be ashamed of and alarmed by the police tactics themselves even if they were exercised within a completely homogeneous society.

While no one is contending that the practices of the New York City Police Department [NYPD] are equivalent to those of the Geheime Staatspolizei [Gestapo], the Ministerium für Staatssicherheit [Stasi], or the Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti [KGB], how much emulation of the tactics used by systems we call totalitarian will we tolerate in our guardians? Do we care at all as long as we think "decent people" aren't being harassed, intimidated, and permanently documented?

New York City has taken its cue from the nation's irrational and hysterical response to the events of 9/11, the so-called "Patriot Act", and produced a number of its own unconstitutional police toys in the name of "security", some of them (as in the case of the federal operations) with absolutely no relationship to terrorism, or indeed patriots, and none of them able to promise safety to their white middle-class or wealthy authors in any event.

At what point will we know it's gone too far? If we're indifferent to what's happening or simply not paying attention, how will we know when the land of the free and the home of the brave has actually become a military/police state, its population cowed into submission by fear of the other, to be hunted down in its midst or somewhere on the other side of the planet?

[image, illustrating NYPD stop-frisk statistics for the first half of 2009, from]

This page is an archive of entries in the NYC category from March 2010.

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