Thursday, April 30, 2009

True Beauty, continued


Last night, I went to apexart to listen to a talk given by Dr. Berlet, the plastic surgeon (also formally trained in architecture) who was the curator of the exhibition I went to see last week.

Dr. Berlet noted that most people think of face lifts when they think of plastic surgery. He then elaborated on the variety and complexity of procedures that are done today. Interestingly, Dr. Berlet said that nasal surgery has been around the longest - dating back to 600 B.C., when the punishment for adultery was cutting off the offender's nose. Later in history, nasal surgery was needed by those who had lost their noses in duels, a common method of resolving disputes.
Because everyone has a different nose, Dr. Berlet said that rhinoplasty was his favorite surgery because it allowed for greater creativity. He also said that he enjoyed the challenge of liposuction, which he likened to sculpting. Breast augmentations, he said, did not require as much artistic talent, and therefore, he categorized them as somewhat routine.

I asked Dr. Berlet about the statistics regarding the number of male patients seeking plastic surgery. He said that there are approximately 400,000 women who seek plastic surgery per year, as compared to about 4,000 men, the latter of whom tend to request face lifts and liposuction, as well as procedures to correct their lower eyelids.

One of the audience members asked the doctor how his training in architecture influenced his plastic surgery. Dr. Berlet stated that as in architecture, one has to consider the algorithms and limits of possibility, i.e. when dealing with the human body, the surgeon is limited by blood supply and potential for scarring and thus, has to carefully consider the range of outcomes beforehand.

Steven Rand, the Executive Director of apexart, told me that for the past 20 years, he had wanted to invite a plastic surgeon to curate a show of this nature. For various reasons, it took this long to find a group of doctors who fit the bill of both surgeons and artists. I think it was well worth the wait. I Am Art will be on until May 9th.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Yoga Lessons


I came late to yoga, about nine years ago when I first moved to Washington D.C. I practiced off and on, while training for and eventually running the D.C. Marathon in 2002. Later that year, I moved to India, and in addition to the many activities that kept me occupied there, e.g. horse riding and dressage, I practiced yoga regularly with a lovely woman, who was also a very accomplished traditional Indian dancer. It was during this time that I really began to understand and appreciate the quiet concentration yoga required to achieve a pleasant, euphoric state of mind. My yoga practice was one of the many things I took with me upon leaving India in 2004. It helped me a great deal during my time in Iraq and then again, when I returned to Washington D.C.

For the past two years, I have continued yoga in Manhattan, but with more frequency (sometimes 5-6 times per week), more intensity, more focused effort, and with the highest level of instructors. Unfortunately, two excellent teachers left New York for warmer climates this year. If you ever find yourself in Miami wishing to practice yoga, please quickly contact Adrian Molina, a deeply spiritual instructor who will inspire you in many ways. If you find yourself in Los Angeles, do not hesitate to contact Sarah Court, another fine yoga teacher of the highest order.

I want to express my special thanks to these two teachers, all my past yoga teachers, and all my present teachers for giving me the tools to keep me calm during turbulent times, whether caused by wars, or by turmoil of an economic or emotional kind.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Art Market Roulette


This morning, I finished Lulu Meets God and Doubts Him, a novel that came out two years ago at the height of the latest art market boom, which attracted many new high roller art collectors to the arena. It was recommended by some Sotheby's classmates back in fall of 2007, but I never got around to reading it until the other day. The story mainly revolves around the title painting and those who compete to own it. However, it also paints thinly-veiled, humorous, accurate portraits/composites of real-life ubiquitous art world figures you can meet in New York and in other major art centers, e.g. the art dealer, the eccentric artist, the haughty gallerina, the nouveau riche hedge-fund art collector, and all of the people who love to hate them or want to be them. It was quite interesting, especially when read in the context of today's art market, which has certainly felt the recession crunch, though not to the extent one would expect, luxury market that it is. There are always people who have money to buy art, no matter the economic climate. And like every other market, the art market is cyclical.

My recent interest in Lulu was sparked by two art panels I attended last week, both of which assessed the current state of the art market. One was called Regrouping: Art World Professionals Examine the Art Market, and the other was The New Market for Old Masters. Please feel free to read my commentary on my former professor's website, Artworld Salon, which is described as an international "moderated discussion focused upon the fast-paced transformations currently taking place in the global art world."

Friday, April 24, 2009

A Night on Earth...with Jim Jarmusch


What would you do if you were suddenly face to face with a person you have greatly admired for 20 years? Someone whose unparalleled sensibilities you felt were in synch with your own?

This happened to me last night at NYU's Cantor Film Center as I stood patiently on the "waiting list" line with other fans of the director. Mr. Jarmusch arrived in his car and after alighting, asked those of us in line if we were waiting, we said yes, and he said "I hope you get in - I know that some of my friends won't be here. Thank you for coming." A class act.

Happily, we did get in and were treated to two hours of this sublime director's commentary on his films, on life, on art. He is delightful, charming, highly intelligent, perceptive, funny, sensitive, esoteric...I will stop now before I embarrass myself, that is, if I haven't already. We were treated to a couple of sneak previews of his newest film, out next week, entitled The Limits of Control, featuring Bill Murray, an almost unrecognizable Tilda Swinton, Gael García Bernal, Isaach De Bankole, and John Hurt. After having seen all of this man's films, I cannot wait to see his latest.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

True Beauty


"Tis not a lip or eye, we beauty call, but the joint force and full result of all." -Alexander Pope

After a meeting in TriBeCa yesterday, I stopped in to apexart to see their current exhibition, entitled I Am Art: An Expression of the Visual & Artistic process of Plastic Surgery. As part of our Master's program, a group of Sotheby's classmates and I had done a case study of this non-profit arts organization back in 2007. Since then, I have made it a point to visit the gallery regularly.

One of the many pleasing things about apexart is the fact that they invite guest curators from all different fields to organize shows in their space. Some of these curators are atypical and in some cases, do not come from the fine art world - past examples have included writer Dave Eggers and musician David Byrne. I Am Art's curator, Dr. Anthony Berlet, is perhaps the most unusual - he is a plastic surgeon whose work, along with that of three of his colleagues, forms the basis for the current show.

Quite frankly, I was reluctant to view photographs of before and after shots and videos of plastic surgeries in progress. But as I cautiously made my way through the exhibition while Kerri (apexart's Director of Operations) answered all my questions and explained why various procedures had been done, I became fascinated with the artistry and skill of the surgeons. Whether performing a mastectomy, a rhinoplasty, a breast enhancement, a cleft palate correction, or grafting skin onto body parts that have been destroyed by cancer, these doctors use the intricate human body as their canvas. In this context, many of the "after" pictures I saw would qualify as works of art.

I encourage those of you who, like me, think that plastic surgery is abused to see this exhibition. The show offers a much different perspective on the necessary, life-saving plastic surgeries that are performed so often, but are overshadowed by media reports about actresses acquiring their latest faces.

For certain, I am not going to look down my nose (no pun intended) the next time the subject of plastic surgery comes up. Whether in the name of vanity or out of necessity, it is everyone's right to choose the way they want to present themselves to the world. In contrast to the Alexander Pope quote above, I will close with another quote, also from the exhibition's wall: "Lose my identity or character? You live with this f---ing nose!" - A patient.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Impressionism


Yesterday, a good friend and I went to a matinee performance of Impressionism, starring Joan Allen and Jeremy Irons. Here are my impressions.

One of the main currents of the story is reflected in the Impressionist painter Mary Cassatt's The Bath, visible on stage throughout most of the play. Drawing on Cassatt's signature "mother and child" theme, the play explored the relationship between art gallery owner Katharine Keenan (Joan Allen) and her mother, mostly done in flashbacks. Katharine lives her life in the same manner as the Impressionists hoped their paintings would be viewed, i.e. from a distance. As an adult, Katharine continues to replay the sadness-tinged mantras that her mother has taught her about life, which center around love and the father who abandoned them.

Katharine's emotions have stagnated and she is rather brittle until the day she meets Thomas Buckle (Jeremy Irons), a photographer (Realist) who has just returned from Africa. She agrees to hire him, based on moving photographs he shows her directly from his digital camera. Soon, his work is hanging in the gallery, and one of his portraits of an African boy serves as the backdrop for several scenes in which we discover Thomas' back story, which elaborates on his bond with the boy.
Impressionism marks Joan Allen's return to the stage after 20 years. While I never saw her on stage during her years with Chicago's Steppenwolf Theater, I enjoyed her understated screen performances in films such as Manhunter, The Upside of Anger, The Crucible, The Contender, and Pleasantville. Unfortunately, her fine acting was not evident in the performance I saw - she overacted the role of what was an already unlikeable character and I did not warm to her by the play's end. It was impossible for me to buy into the denouement, which was contrived, rushed. I would have written another scene before this one which would have made the actual ending more believable. Apparently, the audience approved of the ending and I even heard a few "aaawwws," which only made me cringe.

I would have been more hooked if the play had expanded on the background of Thomas' character, the more interesting of the two main roles, but then this would have been another play entirely.

On to some positive impressions. The scenic design was minimal, nicely portraying an art gallery, and later an African village. The projection design was gorgeous, consisting of a scrim which had Impressionist paintings projected onto it. Each scene was introduced with a new set of artwork, meant to convey the upcoming action and this was done very effectively. The juxtaposition of Katharine the Impressionist and Thomas the Realist was strong. I also liked that the play highlighted how every individual, whether trained in art or not, forms their own opinions of art based on personal experience. They see what they want to see, no matter what the artist's intentions were.

I read that Joan Allen has just finished filming Georgia O'Keeffe, in which she again stars with Jeremy Irons. Perhaps their chemistry will be more effective and their story more believable on film.

One final note - although I do not consider myself a stage door groupie, the prospect of seeing Jeremy Irons up close and personal was an opportunity that was too good to pass up. So after the play, we waited patiently and watched as the supporting actors (including Marsha Mason) came out, a few understudies, and finally we were left to watch James Gandolfini, Jeff Daniels, and Marcia Gay Harden sign Playbills at the theater next door where they had just finished a performance of God of Carnage (a play that my friend and I had seen in London last year and which starred Ralph Fiennes). Just as we began to resign ourselves to the possibility that Mr. Irons and Ms. Allen had made their getaway out the back door, someone spotted Irons walking briskly in the other direction. Readers, grown adults ran after him in hot pursuit. Of course, being of a more rational mind, my friend and I sauntered over slowly, thinking that if we happened to get there and he was still signing, there would be no harm in asking him to sign one more, and this he pleasantly did. Still, there were some disgruntled people who were peeved that Irons tried to make a clandestine exit in an attempt to avoid his fans, one of whom I happened to speak with. She was so overcome by the fact that Irons said a few words to her while signing her Playbill, that she broke down in tears and was shaking. He had definitely made an impression on her.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

India



It was with great reluctance this morning that I left the Good Ship Ibis, central character of Sea of Poppies, the first in a three-part series by Indian writer Amitov Ghosh. The story centers around the ship and its cargo, comprised of pilgrims, prisoners, and poppy-derivatives, namely opium. I experienced the full gamut of human emotions - from rage to calm, from hate to love, from acute terror and panic to loathing and disgust, from sadness to happiness and peace. But above all, I felt nostalgia for India, a country where I spent two years of my life, experienced all of these emotions daily, and which I have thought about every day since leaving nearly five years ago. I could devote much time to writing about this country (more so than I have already done elsewhere), but instead will limit myself to some brief memories here.

At the very end of Sea of Poppies, there is something which I had never heard of before: a chrestomathy, an anthology used to study the development of a language. In the footnotes, I discovered that the compiler of this particular chrestomathy, one of the passengers on the Ibis, was an ancestor of the novel's author. A large part of the story centers around characters from wide-ranging backgrounds who are thrown together on the ship and must find ways to communicate. The chrestomathy charts the course of how their Pidgin language derived from English, Hindustani, Persian, Hindu, Malay, Arabic, and Chinese, among others. The footnotes also reference a previous attempt to document the origin of English-Hindu words, a dictionary called Hobson-Jobson.

When I lived in India, there was a lovely Englishman by the name of Nigel Hankin, who among other things, carried on the tradition of collating English-Hindu word origins in his book, Hanklin Janklin, a play on the name of the earlier dictionary. Nigel was famous then for conducting esoteric walking tours of Delhi, providing encyclopedic commentary along the way. Nigel had lived in the city since WWII, when on his way to Burma with the British Navy, the war came to an end. He stayed in Mumbai, then made his way up to Delhi, where he became a beloved fixture in the city, well-known and loved by many. I was fortunate to have met him on one of these tours when some expatriot friends and I chose to do the standard-issue tour which took us through the winding mazes of Old Delhi's spice market, among many other sites. I was saddened to hear that Nigel had passed away last year. He was truly a jewel in the crown.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

A Little Night Music

I played the clarinet in junior high school. I enjoyed it a lot and our band even went on tour! We only had a couple of gigs, but the memories of how much fun it was to be on the road and perform before a live audience have remained with me to this day. Although I no longer play, I love to hear live music any chance I get, and especially like to observe the interaction among the band members, how they play together and become one.

Last night, I went with some friends to see the charming and gifted Rachael Sage on the Lower East Side at Rockwood Music Hall, a tiny but mighty venue that promotes both established performers as well as up-and-comers. There is no cover charge, but you are expected to buy a drink and contribute to the champagne bucket that is passed around for tips. Ms. Sage falls into the "established" category of musicians, having played with John Lee Hooker when she was a student at Stanford University. Judy Collins described Sage's music as "a great gift of incredible beauty," and rock producer Tony Visconti has described her as "incredibly talented." I would describe Sage's sound and style as similar to that of Tori Amos.

Sage is an all-around artist who plays the piano (self-taught), writes lyrics, and interacts generously with her fellow musicians. And she has a great sense of humor combined with an easy grace - one of my favorite moments of the evening was her spontaneous reaction to repeated interruptions from an avid, wine-sated fan who she knew by name. After calling out, "Ed, is that you?" she spontaneously sang a little tune to him. Another moment (slightly embarrassing for me) occurred earlier in the evening when she happened to be standing by the bathroom door - I did not know who she was at this point. After several unsuccessful attempts to lock the door behind me, I asked her to guard it for me. She assured me that the door locked and encouraged me to persevere.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Pierogi (or Pelmeni?) and a Play


Never one to pass up free entertainment, I went with some friends last night to hear a reading of The River Nun, one of 12 work-in-progress plays that audiences can see as part of The Public Theater's The 2008 Emerging Writers Group Spotlight Series, in which 12 playwrights were chosen from a pool of over 700 applicants. Those interested need only telephone to get two free tickets.

The River Nun was a moving portrayal of the strife in Nigeria caused by international oil companies' destruction of the country's natural environment, in this case, of the river. For background, I recommend Sebastian Junger's 2007 Vanity Fair article, Blood Oil, to get a sense of the combination of factors that have led to the country's current situation.
I enjoyed the play and the actors were all excellent, but I wished that the playwright had been present to have a Q & A session afterwards. Giving the audience the chance to provide feedback, since the play was a work in progress, would have been a useful exercise. More importantly, it would have been enlightening to discover the playwright's motivation and inspiration for choosing this particular topic.

Before the play, we had a light supper at the delightful, friendly Veselka, which bills itself as offering "Ukrainian soul food in the heart of the East Village." The choice of venue was my idea as I have never met a dumpling I didn't like, no matter its country of origin. At a Ukrainian restaurant, though, why are the dumplings called pierogi (Polish), when they should be called varenyky (Ukrainian) or at the very least (Ukraine having been part of the Former Soviet Union) pelmeni (Russian)? And why was there bigos, a typical Hungarian dish? And can someone explain the arugula and goat cheese-filled pierogi? My guess is that Veselka wants to entice a wider variety of diners. There is no need to do this - if you're going to be Ukrainian, be Ukrainian - people will continue to come just as they have since 1954. I daresay my friend, Drew, who wrote The Bradt Guide to the Ukraine, would agree with me.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Comfort Music


What is your comfort music? The following examples are special not only for their ability to raise me "out of my mental wheelchair," as Dr. Oliver Sacks says in his book, Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, but also for the circumstances under which I obtained the music. For example, years ago, I bought Massive Attack's CD, 100th Window, in Goa, India, and am taken back to this slightly unreal place whenever I listen to it. Ditto for Mezzanine, which I heard live in its entirety by Massive Attack at The 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. I bought a CD that exists nowhere else directly from the DJ at the Buddha Bar in Amman, Jordan. Every time I listen to any of my other Buddha Bar CDs - purchased from a colleague who got them in Pakistan - I am transported to India. Portishead's Dummy immediately takes me back to Iraq, as does Buena Vista Social Club.

I listen to Cecilia Bartoli, Ella Fitzgerald, The Beatles, Radiohead, R.E.M., Cesaria Evora, Schubert and Chopin, and so many others with the same fervor, each time recalling so many people, places, and things.

Fahrenheit 451


Last night, instead of going to The Strand to hear Jeff Koons talk about his work, I went to a free screening of Fahrenheit 451, hosted by the Secular Humanist Society of New York. I found especially moving the very last scene, where all the characters wandered in a snowstorm, reciting the literature they had committed to memory, not interacting with each other at all. I thought about how once read, books remain in our heads indefinitely. I wondered about whether Kindle would ever replace the pleasure of holding a musty, delicate book in one's hands. And about whether I could ever get rid of the hundreds of books I own and which are in storage. Even though I have read them all, the answer is probably no.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Compulsions


Every day on my way to a fairly healthy compulsion (exercising at the gym), I pass by an Off-Track Betting (OTB) establishment and marvel at the collection of cigarette butts, crushed coffee cups formerly gripped by jittery hands, losing slips of paper, and empty bottles of booze that litter the pavement - all forensic evidence of the compulsions linked to the gambling that goes on inside. To compound the situation, the OTB place is nestled between a bar and a bank, and I have often seen ragged looking folks with tired eyes scuttle back and forth among all three.

While I have never feel the compulsion to gamble, I do feel compelled to buy books. One of my favorite bookstores in the city is The Strand, the last of the 4th Avenue bookstores. It is nearly impossible for me to leave the store without purchasing at least one book - often, several - despite the mantra in my head when I enter: I'm not buying anything this time. I'm just looking.

I had planned to go to The Strand this evening and hear the artist Jeff Koons talk about his work and his two books, but the event was sold out. Although the evening would have been enjoyable, I was somewhat relieved because I did not have to purchase the $40 book, which was a requirement to reserve a spot at the reading.

In these times, I have rediscovered an institution that many others have been aware of and have used for awhile - namely, the public library. Last week, I checked out the branch down the street from me and left with several current (and free) books. I am thoroughly enjoying the one I am reading now, Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh, an author I first began reading when I lived in India. I am only about one third of the way through the book, but I am already dreading the day when it will end and therefore, am rationing myself to a limited number of pages per day. It is fitting that one of the subjects of this excellent book is opium addiction, speaking of compulsions.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Byzantium




Just over three years ago, I had the opportunity to visit Turkey for ten days. Officially, it was my break from Iraq, where I had spent a total of nine months during 2004 - 2005. Although I was based in Istanbul during my trip, I also ventured out to see the magnificent sites of Ephesus, Didyma, and Prienne along the coast. Aside from the Temple and Oracle of Apollo and other ruins, my favorite memory was paddling out to a fish farm in the Aegean Sea with the owner's son, tiptoeing gingerly on the wooden frames of the fish nets, and deciding which unlucky (but tasty) fish 30 feet under would be my meal in an hour.

In Istanbul, I stayed at the youth hostel for adults known as The Kybele Hotel, where I met a Japanese artist, an English NASCAR fan, a Russian couple in publishing, an artist from San Francisco, and of course, Mike, the hotel's eccentric owner, who with his family made all of us feel welcome, inviting us for the Eid Al-Fitr meal. In addition to viewing The Grand Bazaar, the Catacombs, The Blue Mosque, The Hagia Sophia, experiencing several traditional Turkish hammams (baths), eating fantastic food, buying carpets, hearing vying calls to prayer from three different mosques, and looking at art, I poked my head into the former Sultanahmet Prison (the first jailhouse in the Ottoman Empire), now known as The Four Seasons Hotel. If you enter knowing what it formerly was, the sinister atmosphere quickly takes hold. I imagine it is quite lovely if you don't.

Contrary to popular belief, this prison was not the one that Billy Hayes, the protagonist of both the autobiographical novel, Midnight Express, and the film of the same name, was incarcerated in from 1970 - 1975 for possession and attempted smuggling of hashish. Having an entirely different experience of Turkey than mine, Hayes spent his time in Sagmalcilar Prison, which was built in the 1960s and housed transferred prisoners formerly held in Sultanahmet.

I finally saw this film in its entirety last night at The Rubin Museum of Art, as part of the ongoing film series, Cabaret Cinema. What was a film about a Turkish prison doing in a museum that features Himalayan art, you ask? As the moderator explained, there is a Tibetan god devoted specifically to human fears, e.g. fear of snakes, fear of drowning (Alfred Hitchcock's Lifeboat is coming up), and fear of false imprisonment, which is of course where Midnight Express fits in. In addition to these collective fears, what new ones have we accumulated in this day and age? Do fears ever change?

In keeping with my Byzantium theme, I have decided to attend Easter mass tomorrow at St. Bart's, a "prime example of Byzantine ecclesiastical architecture," according to its website.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Be It Ever So Humble

The news about the Manhattan housing market in yesterdays' NYT article probably did not come as a surprise to many observers, who had begun noticing the signs of a downturn six months ago. The article's focus is on buyers of real estate; however, there has been a parallel downward movement in prices in the rental market as well.

For a couple of reasons, I began the hunt for another rental apartment back in January. I thought I needed a change of neighborhood and that I could find a cheaper place. I looked at 28 places, finally found one I liked, and gave my notice to my current landlady. That apartment fell through due to circumstances which are not important, except that they enabled me to achieve the following: namely, my landlady and broker offered to lower my rent by $500 per month. They chose this amount because I mentioned in my notice to vacate that almost all of the places I had looked at were at least that much cheaper.

So, I happily agreed to the new terms, and am now paying the exact same rent for my large furnished studio alcove apartment (which has laundry facilities, a doorman, an elevator, excellent security, a high-floor with lots of light and a view, and is convenient to everything) that I paid for my place in Dupont Circle three years ago. I should mention that the latter apartment paled in comparison in the amenities department.

While I'm not advocating that you go through the stress that I had to go through in order to achieve my results, I am encouraging you to try out your negotiating skills no matter what market you happen to be in. Think about it. In this economy, it is worth a try.

As confirmation of the above, this just in...

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

An afternoon on the Lower East Side...

...in which I attended the opening of The New Museum's The Generational: Younger Than Jesus show, and my usual sweep of LES galleries.

My first visit to The New Museum was back in December 2007 as one of many bleary-eyed guests at 7 am on a Sunday morning. The show was called Unmonumental and I did not love it, though I tried. On subsequent visits over the past 1 1/2 years, the exhibitions got only slightly better, seemed a bit more coherent. The last time I was at the museum (before today) was back in August, when some friends and I went to see the film Captured in the theater on its lower level, a film which had nothing to do with the museum itself, but a film which inspired me to wander around the Lower East Side over a period of several weeks shooting many rolls of film. No exhibition in the museum had inspired me to do anything except to despair a little and wonder about the future of art.

I won't lie - I did not want to see a show whose only theme was that the 50 artists were all under the age of 33, the age at which Jesus died. It was a bit gimmicky, coinciding neatly with Easter week. But readers, I liked this show a lot more than I expected. Although some of the art was of a difficult Conceptual kind or Duchamp-inspired (and therefore, one is made to feel like a Philistine if one doesn't "get" it - infuriating for those of us who DO get it, but just not quite like that), much of the work was provocative, inspiring.

Every floor had pieces which revealed the artists' classical training, thought processes, and pride in their work. On the fourth floor, I especially liked Hamburg artist Kerstin Bratsch's paintings as well as Polish artist Anna Molska's Kazimir Malevich-inspired film. On the third floor, Texan Ryan Trecartin's video and installation pieces were as difficult for me to comprehend as the first time I saw his work at Elizabeth Dee's Chelsea gallery in 2007, but I found myself drawn to its chaos nonetheless. My favorite work on this floor was French artist Cyprien Gaillard's film Desniansky Raion (2007), which was accompanied by wonderful music. This haunting film showed various housing projects in Belgrade, St. Petersburg, France, and Kiev.

On the second floor, another intriguing film was Israeli artist Keren Cytter's Der Spiegel (The Mirror) which according to the wall text, was inspired by French New Wave cinema. Also on the second floor was a piece that initially made me roll my eyes, but after reading the explanation of Mexican artist Adriana Lara's Installation (Banana Peel) 2008, I began to comprehend what she may have been trying to say. According to the wall text, each morning a New Museum employee is instructed to eat a banana and leave the peel in the designated area - this could be interpreted as the artist's desire to mar the traditional pristine "White Cube" of the museum space. I asked one of the guards if anyone had slipped on the peel yet and she said that a few had come close, but said that the show had just opened, so it was still early. Chinese artist Chu Yun's This is Silke (2009) captured my attention and the attention of many other guests. For this piece, the artist paid a series of female volunteers from the ages of 18 - 40 to ingest a sleeping pill and sleep for a period of time on a platform bed under a fluffy white duvet. Needless to say, This is Silke has changed several times by now, which is why the piece is officially titled, This is XX.

I spoke with a museum guest who was visiting from Norway and asked him what he thought of the show. He liked the building and the informal atmosphere. He found the title of the show to be appropriate and inspiring, i.e. that a person can create something meaningful before the age of 33. I have to agree with him and would only add this: Dear New Museum, I am beginning to like you.

My usual round of LES galleries: Luxe Gallery, Smith-Stewart, 11 Rivington, Thierry Goldberg, Salon 94 Freeman's. Lehmann Maupin was closed to prepare for an upcoming show by Hernan Bas, an artist whose work I first encountered at The Rubell Collection in Miami in December 2007. I was so pleased to meet and talk to the artist Shalom Neuman at Fusion Arts, as well as to Francis James, an art historian and collector who was manning the gallery.

It was a great day.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Flora and Fauna

Inspired by the spring-like weather and by one of the books I'm currently reading, Finding Beauty in a Broken World, I went for a long walk through Central Park today. After wandering through the lower half of the park, I ended up in The Ramble and found a good bench from which to observe my surroundings.

Fauna - Turtles and squirrels. Bird-watchers with their high-powered binoculars and cameras patiently waited to spot their elusive "prey." Sparrows, starlings, pigeons, robins, and finches, the odd cardinal and a few random jays. I am waiting impatiently for mockingbirds.

Flora - Most of the trees were still brown and gray with large piles of dead leaves strewn at their bases. However, buds, new leaves, and flowers had begun to appear on others like the forsythias, the magnolias, the flowering crab apple trees, and dogwoods. No cherry blossoms yet. There were daffodils, little blue flowers, and some lovely pink flowers that looked like bougainvillea (but can't be) on the west side of the park. I am waiting impatiently for peonies, due next month.

Domesticated Fauna - I especially had fun watching dogs in the park. How so many different breeds could have descended from canis lupus boggles the mind. I saw a very interesting 2007 series on PBS last year called Dogs That Changed the World. It all started when Queen Victoria was given the gift of a Pekingese dog that had been smuggled out of China. Once the photograph of the queen with her dog became public, it became the fashion for women in England to show off their own lap dogs. Advances in technology and machinery courtesy of the Industrial Revolution, a growing wealthy middle class as a direct result, and an abundance of leisure time created hobbies such as dog breeding, which then filled the time formerly used for chores and housework.

Anyone visiting a dog park can easily see the wide range of breeds there are today. Unfortunately, the animals have been so line-bred (aka in-bred) for specialized purposes or for no purpose at all, that their physiology is not as robust as that of the mongrel, for example, whose genetic structure fares better against illness and disease.

The PBS show also addressed the fact that the majority of dogs today are pets and only a relatively small percentage of them are used for their original, intended purpose, i.e. to work. Whether guarding, shepherding, hunting, or killing, few dogs actually perform these functions on a regular basis. However, they are hard-wired to do these jobs and cannot help but act according to their man-made natures. For example, as I was about to leave the park and was walking along with an apple core in my hand, looking for a garbage can, a chocolate Labrador Retriever came up behind me quietly and snatched it out of my hand. Yes, it was food that any dog would want, but this one had a bead on my Macintosh, just as any good hunting dog would.

Speaking of flora and fauna, there is an interesting article in the May issue of Vanity Fair about Theodore Roosevelt, who many believe was an enemy of both. Nevertheless, as the article points out, the former president was directly responsible for setting aside more than 230 million acres for posterity. (Sorry, no link available online to this article.)

Things that Begin with J

J is for Jim and J is for Jarmusch. I have seen a number of Jim Jarmusch films while living or traveling overseas - the first was Stranger Than Paradise, which I saw in Budapest in 1989. I remember being the only one in the entire audience who laughed out loud. At first, I put this down to problems with language translation. But during my time in Poland from 1990 - 1992, I had the chance to see a week-long series of Jarmusch films at the local theater in my town and once again, the only sound to be heard from the audience was my laughter. It happened again in Paris in 1996, when I saw Dead Man, one of my favorites. So I concluded that the language barrier was the problem with understanding the subtle humor in these films.

Having now seen almost every film that Jarmusch has directed or otherwise been involved with, with the exception of the above, all in the United States, I've come to the conclusion that the language barrier may not be the issue here, i.e. I don't think that many American viewers always appreciate the drier-than-dry wit and humor that have become such hallmarks of Jarmusch films. It has been a year since I saw him in anything - he and his wife Sara Driver were part of a documentary about the life of the late Joe Strummer of The Clash - so I was pleased to discover that Jarmusch's upcoming film, The Limits of Control, will open next month. But what was it that got me thinking at all about Jarmusch?

J is for Jane (Hotel). Last weekend, family and friends were in town for my recent graduation from Sotheby's Institute of Art/The University of Manchester. After dining several times at my favorite restaurant in the West Village, Jarnac (J is for Jarnac), we wandered around the neighborhood and stumbled upon The Jane Hotel, which used to be a sailor's boarding house, housed Titanic survivors, and contained the now-closed club, Socialista. You immediately get a sense of the place as you step into the lobby and are greeted by bellhops and desk clerks from the past, a forlorn-looking dining area, and a stag's head and tapestry on the walls. This scene was what made me recall Jarmusch's film, Mystery Train, which also takes place in a run-down hotel with a lot of character. The tiny rooms and claustrophobia-inducing hallways at the Jane are similar to those on a ship. Right now, there are only single rooms available for about $60-70 per night. Doubles are planned for June.

Finally, J is for Jadis. Last night, some friends and I celebrated at this little wine bar on the Lower East Side. Good ambiance, good conversation spoken at an acceptable decibel level, good (not ear-splitting) background music, good lighting, good wine. And no TVs, something to be thankful for in this screen-obsessed city.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Sunshine Cleaning and Flannery O'Connor

I finally figured out what caused me to dig through the many boxes in storage at my brother's house in search of my collection of Flannery O'Connor stories. A few days before the search, I had seen the film Sunshine Cleaning with a good friend who had won two tickets to a sneak preview. My initial thoughts were that the movie neatly checked the requisite "quirky" and "idiosyncratic" boxes that propel a film onto the Sundance stage. Round up a bunch of oddball characters, throw in some family issues, hire Alan Arkin, set the film in a remote, little-known place, and you have an instant hit. In this case, however, the recipe did not work for me. Upon reflection, I realized that I wished the film had gone further and deeper, truly bizarre, like a Flannery O'Connor short story - a so-called grotesque. One thing O'Connor might have appreciated here was the subject of cleaning up after violent deaths, a theme I can't ever remember having seen addressed before.

Amy Adams' delicately-nuanced performance as Rose Lorkowski, a single, down-on-her-luck mother charged with more than just her son to look after, was moving. However, Rose's sister (played by Emily Blunt) and their father (played by Alan Arkin) struck me as being those problematic, in this case, rather shallow, characters that the protagonist must endure to move through the story with grace.

The film did get under my skin though, otherwise why would I have hunted for the grotesques? I'm not sure that the introduction of a Christian theme - a staple in O'Connor's stories - into Sunshine Cleaning would have made the film a complete success for me either. In fact, I'm not sure what would have. I am glad, though, that it put me back in touch with one of my favorite writers.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Sous Les Etoiles


In the April 2009 issue of Art in America, there is an excellent, in-depth series of articles about a group of artists who came to the fore in the 1970's and 1980's and began to meld Conceptual Art with photography in ways that were not always embraced by critics and the public. It's only been relatively recently that photography in general has been looked upon as a legitimate art form in and of itself.

On the same day that my copy of AiA came in the mail, I received an email from the SoHo gallery Sous Les Etoiles, inviting me to attend the opening of German photographer Wolfram Ruoff's first solo exhibition, Pure Lines. I first learned of Sous Les Etoiles last spring when a friend and I attended the Affordable Art Fair in Chelsea, at which this French gallery had a booth. I remember being impressed by their extensive collection of photography.

Last night at the Pure Lines show, I noted that in addition to the traditional method of displaying the art on the walls, the artwork could also be viewed on computer terminals throughout the gallery. It felt a little like I was intruding into the gallery employees' private offices, but the welcoming gallery staff dispelled that notion and encouraged everyone to browse.

The photographs show busy street scenes in Tokyo and Kolkata (Calcutta) and almost all of the figures and buildings are outlined in white, creating a ghostly effect that highlights the simultaneous connection and separation of both to and from each other. I asked the very pleasant Mr. Ruoff about his background and what inspired him to create these images. He told me that his former career as an architect influenced his desire to depict how people in various locales interact with the structures they encounter. He also said that there came a point in his past when he had to decide whether to pursue architecture or photography and happily (for him and for us) he chose the latter. Mr. Ruoff still calls upon his architectural skills, however, and successfully blends the two worlds as evidenced by the lovely compositions contained by AutoCAD-like outlines. The images convey what it means to be together and alone in the midst of others. I hope that Mr. Ruoff continues this series to include scenes of cities such as New York, London, Paris, and Mexico City, where architecture and people both gently and violently collide.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

A word about Jeremy Piven

When I saw the TV trailers for the comedy, Cupid, I thought that the premise sounded familiar. I realized that some network people had had the temerity to resurrect this show, which first aired about 10 years ago, starred Jeremy Piven, and was on for only a few seasons before getting cancelled.

Back then, I was living in Chicago and was "in between gigs," as they say, so I decided to do some extra work on a number of the television series that were being filmed in and around Chicago. Cupid was one of those and one day, I got to meet Mr. Piven, who ran his lines with me for a particular scene in one of the exquisite rooms in The Chicago Cultural Center. It so happened that I looked like one of the actors and so the director asked me to hang out as a stand-in while they did the lighting on us. [By the way, I do not have the patience - or the talent - to be an actor. It requires a lot of down time, but on the up side, I will vouch that the food service is quite delicious.]

So, in this current clime of Piven-haters, I want to put my two cents in and just say that for the brief time that I "worked" with him, he could not have been sweeter and more professional. Having no experience whatsoever with what fame and fortune can do to a person, and acknowledging that 10 years is a long time, I can surmise that he could have buckled under the weight of his subsequent films like Grosse Point Blank (a real treat), an intriguing series he did for public television some years back which chronicled his time in India, and of course, Entourage on HBO. Leaving Speed-the-Plow abruptly due to alleged mercury poisoning resulted in the acerbic comment by David Mamet, the director, who said that he had no doubt that Piven would be able to find work as a thermometer. And now this - a resurrected Cupid that pales in comparison to the original version.

Although I am not now nor have ever been privy to the private life of Jeremy Piven, I just want to say: leave the guy alone.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Welcome!

I hope you will enjoy what will become a journal and only very slightly solipsistic collection of my ideas on art, culture, philosophy, life, food, travel, etc. I further hope that this will evolve into a conversation and in this vein, I welcome your insightful thoughts and comments.



Just some topics off the top of my head: Sunshine Cleaning, the short stories of Flannery O'Connor, the Bonnard exhibition at The Met, the current exhibition at the Grey Gallery, Judith Thurman, the play reasons to be pretty, the TV show Cupid (wasn't Jeremy Piven in the original version of this?), my newly minted Sotheby's Institute of Art Master's degree in Art Business and whether or not this translates into employment...okay, that's enough for a start.