Part, #12 1964
oil on chipboard panel
panel: 13 x 15 3/8 in. (33 x 39.1 cm)
ORGANICS AND CUT-UPS, 1963 – 1965
12 September 2014 – 18 October 2014September 20th, 2014
NY Times Published: SEPT. 18, 2014
By David Brooks
Somebody recently asked me what I would do if I had $500 million to give away. My first thought was that I’d become a moderate version of the Koch brothers. I’d pay for independent candidates to run against Democratic or Republican members of Congress who veered too far into their party’s fever swamps.
But then I realized that if I really had that money, I’d want to affect a smaller number of people in a more personal and profound way. The big, established charities are already fighting disease and poverty as best they can, so in search of new directions I thought, oddly, of friendship.
Ancient writers from Aristotle to Cicero to Montaigne described friendship as the pre-eminent human institution. You can go without marriage, or justice, or honor, but friendship is indispensable to life. Each friendship, they continued, has positive social effects. Lovers face each other, but friends stand side-by-side, facing the world — often working on its behalf. Aristotle suggested that friendship is the cornerstone of society. Montaigne thought that it spreads universal warmth.
These writers probably romanticized friendship. One senses that they didn’t know how to have real conversations with the women in their lives, so they poured their whole emotional lives into male friendships. But I do think they were right in pointing out that friendship is a personal relationship that has radiating social and political benefits.
In the first place, friendship helps people make better judgments. So much of deep friendship is thinking through problems together: what job to take; whom to marry. Friendship allows you to see your own life but with a second sympathetic self.
Second, friends usually bring out better versions of each other. People feel unguarded and fluid with their close friends. If you’re hanging around with a friend, smarter and funnier thoughts tend to come burbling out.
Finally, people behave better if they know their friends are observing. Friendship is based, in part, on common tastes and interests, but it is also based on mutual admiration and reciprocity. People tend to want to live up to their friends’ high regard. People don’t have close friendships in any hope of selfish gain, but simply for the pleasure itself of feeling known and respected.
It’s also true that friendship is not in great shape in America today. In 1985, people tended to have about three really close friends, according to the General Social Survey. By 2004, according to research done at Duke University and the University of Arizona, they were reporting they had only two close confidants. The number of people who say they have no close confidants at all has tripled over that time.
People seem to have a harder time building friendships across class lines. As society becomes more unequal and segmented, invitations come to people on the basis of their job status. Middle-aged people have particular problems nurturing friendships and building new ones. They are so busy with work and kids that friendship gets squeezed out.
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So, in the fantasy world in which I have $500 million, I’d try to set up places that would cultivate friendships. I know a lot of people who have been involved in fellowship programs. They made friends who ended up utterly transforming their lives. I’d try to take those sorts of networking programs and make them less career oriented and more profound.
To do that, you have to get people out of their normal hunting grounds where their guard is up. You also probably want to give them challenging activities to do together. Nothing inspires friendship like selflessness and cooperation in moments of difficulty. You also want to give them moments when they can share confidences, about big ideas and small worries.
So I envision a string of adult camps or retreat centers (my oldest friendships were formed at summer camp, so I think in those terms). Groups of 20 or 30 would be brought together from all social and demographic groups, and secluded for two weeks. They’d prepare and clean up all their meals together, and eating the meals would go on for a while. In the morning, they would read about and discuss big topics. In the afternoons, they’d play sports, take hikes and build something complicated together. At night, there’d be a bar and music.
You couldn’t build a close friendship in that time, but you could plant the seeds for one. As with good fellowship programs, alumni networks would grow spontaneously over time.
People these days are flocking to conferences, ideas festivals and cruises that are really about building friendships, even if they don’t admit it explicitly. The goal of these intensity retreats would be to spark bonds between disparate individuals who, in the outside world, would be completely unlikely to know each other. The benefits of that social bridging, while unplannable, would ripple out in ways long and far-reaching.September 20th, 2014
Curated by Joanna Kleinberg Romanow
This group exhibition features sixteen artists who engage in sewing, knitting, and weaving to create a wide-range of works that activate the expressive and conceptual potential of line and illuminate affinities between the mediums of textile and drawing. Multi-generational in scope, Thread Lines brings together those pioneers who—challenging entrenched modernist hierarchies—first unraveled the distinction between textile and art with a new wave of contemporary practitioners who have inherited and expanded upon their groundbreaking gestures.
List of Participating Artists: Mónica Bengoa (b. 1969, Santiago, Chile), Louise Bourgeois (b. 1911, Paris, France- d. 2010, New York, NY), Sheila Hicks (b. 1934, Hastings, NE), Ellen Lesperance (b. 1971, Minneapolis, MN), Kimsooja (b. 1957, Taegu, Korea), Beryl Korot (b. 1945, New York, NY), Maria Lai (b. 1919, Ulassai, Sardinia- d. 2013, Cardedu, Sardinia), Sam Moyer (b. 1983, Chicago, IL), William J. O’Brien (b. 1975, Eastlake, OH), Robert Otto Epstein (b. 1979, Pittsburgh, PA), Jessica Rankin (b. 1971, Sydney, Australia), Elaine Reichek (b. 1943, New York, NY), Drew Shiflett (b. 1951, Chicago, IL), Alan Shields (b. 1944, Herington, KS- d. 2005, Shelter Island, NY), Lenore Tawney (b. 1907, Lorain, OH- d. 2007, New York, NY), and Anne Wilson (b. 1949, Detroit, MI).
Opens September 19 through December 14, 2014September 19th, 2014
NY Times Published: SEPT. 18, 2014
By Paul Krugman
This just in: Saving the planet would be cheap; it might even be free. But will anyone believe the good news?
I’ve just been reading two new reports on the economics of fighting climate change: a big study by a blue-ribbon international group, the New Climate Economy Project, and a working paper from the International Monetary Fund. Both claim that strong measures to limit carbon emissions would have hardly any negative effect on economic growth, and might actually lead to faster growth. This may sound too good to be true, but it isn’t. These are serious, careful analyses.
But you know that such assessments will be met with claims that it’s impossible to break the link between economic growth and ever-rising emissions of greenhouse gases, a position I think of as “climate despair.” The most dangerous proponents of climate despair are on the anti-environmentalist right. But they receive aid and comfort from other groups, including some on the left, who have their own reasons for getting it wrong.
Where is the new optimism about climate change and growth coming from? It has long been clear that a well-thought-out strategy of emissions control, in particular one that puts a price on carbon via either an emissions tax or a cap-and-trade scheme, would cost much less than the usual suspects want you to think. But the economics of climate protection look even better now than they did a few years ago.
On one side, there has been dramatic progress in renewable energy technology, with the costs of solar power, in particular, plunging, down by half just since 2010. Renewables have their limitations — basically, the sun doesn’t always shine, and the wind doesn’t always blow — but if you think that an economy getting a lot of its power from wind farms and solar panels is a hippie fantasy, you’re the one out of touch with reality.
On the other side, it turns out that putting a price on carbon would have large “co-benefits” — positive effects over and above the reduction in climate risks — and that these benefits would come fairly quickly. The most important of these co-benefits, according to the I.M.F. paper, would involve public health: burning coal causes many respiratory ailments, which drive up medical costs and reduce productivity.
And thanks to these co-benefits, the paper argues, one argument often made against carbon pricing — that it’s not worth doing unless we can get a global agreement — is wrong. Even without an international agreement, there are ample reasons to take action against the climate threat.
But back to the main point: It’s easier to slash emissions than seemed possible even a few years ago, and reduced emissions would produce large benefits in the short-to-medium run. So saving the planet would be cheap and maybe even come free.
Enter the prophets of climate despair, who wave away all this analysis and declare that the only way to limit carbon emissions is to bring an end to economic growth.
You mostly hear this from people on the right, who normally say that free-market economies are endlessly flexible and creative. But when you propose putting a price on carbon, suddenly they insist that industry will be completely incapable of adapting to changed incentives. Why, it’s almost as if they’re looking for excuses to avoid confronting climate change, and, in particular, to avoid anything that hurts fossil-fuel interests, no matter how beneficial to everyone else.
But climate despair produces some odd bedfellows: Koch-fueled insistence that emission limits would kill economic growth is echoed by some who see this as an argument not against climate action, but against growth. You can find this attitude in the mostly European “degrowth” movement, or in American groups like the Post Carbon Institute; I’ve encountered claims that saving the planet requires an end to growth at left-leaning meetings on “rethinking economics.” To be fair, anti-growth environmentalism is a marginal position even on the left, but it’s widespread enough to call out nonetheless.
And you sometimes see hard scientists making arguments along the same lines, largely (I think) because they don’t understand what economic growth means. They think of it as a crude, physical thing, a matter simply of producing more stuff, and don’t take into account the many choices — about what to consume, about which technologies to use — that go into producing a dollar’s worth of G.D.P.
So here’s what you need to know: Climate despair is all wrong. The idea that economic growth and climate action are incompatible may sound hardheaded and realistic, but it’s actually a fuzzy-minded misconception. If we ever get past the special interests and ideology that have blocked action to save the planet, we’ll find that it’s cheaper and easier than almost anyone imagines.September 19th, 2014
Etude sur le, mouvement, 1959-1960,
Ink on paper, 34 7/8 x 25 x 1 inches
Through October 18, 2014September 18th, 2014
18 September—25 October 2014September 15th, 2014
Untitled (Orange Monochrome 02), 2014
signed, dated and titled verso
unique chromogenic print
60 x 48 inches
September 13 – October 25, 2014September 13th, 2014
By NICK BILTON
NY Times Published: SEPT. 10, 2014
When Steve Jobs was running Apple, he was known to call journalists to either pat them on the back for a recent article or, more often than not, explain how they got it wrong. I was on the receiving end of a few of those calls. But nothing shocked me more than something Mr. Jobs said to me in late 2010 after he had finished chewing me out for something I had written about an iPad shortcoming.
“So, your kids must love the iPad?” I asked Mr. Jobs, trying to change the subject. The company’s first tablet was just hitting the shelves. “They haven’t used it,” he told me. “We limit how much technology our kids use at home.”
I’m sure I responded with a gasp and dumbfounded silence. I had imagined the Jobs’s household was like a nerd’s paradise: that the walls were giant touch screens, the dining table was made from tiles of iPads and that iPods were handed out to guests like chocolates on a pillow.
Nope, Mr. Jobs told me, not even close.
Since then, I’ve met a number of technology chief executives and venture capitalists who say similar things: they strictly limit their children’s screen time, often banning all gadgets on school nights, and allocating ascetic time limits on weekends.
I was perplexed by this parenting style. After all, most parents seem to take the opposite approach, letting their children bathe in the glow of tablets, smartphones and computers, day and night.
Yet these tech C.E.O.’s seem to know something that the rest of us don’t.
Chris Anderson, the former editor of Wired and now chief executive of 3D Robotics, a drone maker, has instituted time limits and parental controls on every device in his home. “My kids accuse me and my wife of being fascists and overly concerned about tech, and they say that none of their friends have the same rules,” he said of his five children, 6 to 17. “That’s because we have seen the dangers of technology firsthand. I’ve seen it in myself, I don’t want to see that happen to my kids.”
The dangers he is referring to include exposure to harmful content like pornography, bullying from other kids, and perhaps worse of all, becoming addicted to their devices, just like their parents.
Alex Constantinople, the chief executive of the OutCast Agency, a tech-focused communications and marketing firm, said her youngest son, who is 5, is never allowed to use gadgets during the week, and her older children, 10 to 13, are allowed only 30 minutes a day on school nights.
Evan Williams, a founder of Blogger, Twitter and Medium, and his wife, Sara Williams, said that in lieu of iPads, their two young boys have hundreds of books (yes, physical ones) that they can pick up and read anytime.
So how do tech moms and dads determine the proper boundary for their children? In general, it is set by age.
Children under 10 seem to be most susceptible to becoming addicted, so these parents draw the line at not allowing any gadgets during the week. On weekends, there are limits of 30 minutes to two hours on iPad and smartphone use. And 10- to 14-year-olds are allowed to use computers on school nights, but only for homework.
“We have a strict no screen time during the week rule for our kids,” said Lesley Gold, founder and chief executive of the SutherlandGold Group, a tech media relations and analytics company. “But you have to make allowances as they get older and need a computer for school.”
Some parents also forbid teenagers from using social networks, except for services like Snapchat, which deletes messages after they have been sent. This way they don’t have to worry about saying something online that will haunt them later in life, one executive told me.
Although some non-tech parents I know give smartphones to children as young as 8, many who work in tech wait until their child is 14. While these teenagers can make calls and text, they are not given a data plan until 16. But there is one rule that is universal among the tech parents I polled.
“This is rule No. 1: There are no screens in the bedroom. Period. Ever,” Mr. Anderson said.
While some tech parents assign limits based on time, others are much stricter about what their children are allowed to do with screens.
Ali Partovi, a founder of iLike and adviser to Facebook, Dropbox and Zappos, said there should be a strong distinction between time spent “consuming,” like watching YouTube or playing video games, and time spent “creating” on screens.
“Just as I wouldn’t dream of limiting how much time a kid can spend with her paintbrushes, or playing her piano, or writing, I think it’s absurd to limit her time spent creating computer art, editing video, or computer programming,” he said.
Others said that outright bans could backfire and create a digital monster.
Dick Costolo, chief executive of Twitter, told me he and his wife approved of unlimited gadget use as long as their two teenage children were in the living room. They believe that too many time limits could have adverse effects on their children.
“When I was at the University of Michigan, there was this guy who lived in the dorm next to me and he had cases and cases of Coca-Cola and other sodas in his room,” Mr. Costolo said. “I later found out that it was because his parents had never let him have soda when he was growing up. If you don’t let your kids have some exposure to this stuff, what problems does it cause later?”
I never asked Mr. Jobs what his children did instead of using the gadgets he built, so I reached out to Walter Isaacson, the author of “Steve Jobs,” who spent a lot of time at their home.
“Every evening Steve made a point of having dinner at the big long table in their kitchen, discussing books and history and a variety of things,” he said. “No one ever pulled out an iPad or computer. The kids did not seem addicted at all to devices.”September 12th, 2014
An untitled Lee Krasner work from 1948
By KAREN ROSENBERG
NY Times Published: SEPT. 11, 2014
Critics think they have the last word, but sometimes art keeps talking. In 2008, while organizing the Jewish Museum’s boisterous survey of Abstract Expressionism, “Action/Abstraction: Pollock, de Kooning and American Art, 1940-1976,” the curator, Norman L. Kleeblatt, noticed that two paintings — Lee Krasner’s “Untitled” (1948) and Norman Lewis’s “Twilight Sounds” (1947) — seemed to be speaking to each other. He had the good sense to listen and, later, to orchestrate a deeper conversation. The result is “From the Margins: Lee Krasner and Norman Lewis, 1945-1952,” a nuanced, sensitive and profound exhibition.
The show isn’t really a dialogue, in the conventional sense. But it bravely elides differences of gender, race and religion, finding that Krasner and Lewis — a Jewish woman and an African-American man — shared a visual language that was a subtler, more intimate dialect of Abstract Expressionism. And it does so while recognizing the cultural accents in both artists’ works, the influence of Hebrew writing on Krasner’s grids of glyphs and the connections to jazz in Lewis’s meandering lines.
Probably the most refreshing aspect of the show is the chance to see Krasner matched up with a man who is not her husband, Jackson Pollock. And Lewis, whom curators have too often shown as either a lone visionary or as part of a well-defined circle of black artists, also benefits from the pairing.
Building on a section of the 2008 show called “Blind Spots,” “From the Margins” also suggests that Krasner and Lewis were hidden in plain sight: Krasner as the spouse of an art celebrity, Lewis as a black artist whose paintings were more formal than political. (“I’m sure if I do succeed in painting the black experience, I won’t recognize it myself,” he said in a 1968 interview.)
Both Krasner (1908-1984) and Lewis (1909-1979) embraced abstraction in the 1940s, after early flirtations with Social Realism: They both had been involved in the Federal Art Project of the Works Progress Administration (and may even have met through that organization), and Lewis had been a member of the Harlem artists’ group 306 (which included the socially minded artists Romare Bearden and Jacob Lawrence.)
Some other formative influences are apparent in the show’s first room of paintings: for Krasner, it was the abstract painter and pedagogue Hans Hofmann; for Lewis, the Harlem art school director Augusta Savage. For both, Picasso and Mondrian. Krasner comes across as the more restless of the two painters, moving from the flat, interlocked shapes of “Lavender” (1942) to the dense, peaked brushwork of “Noon” (1947); Lewis seems to hit on his mature scuffed-and-scumbled style without much deliberation.
Even here, though, you can see what Mr. Kleeblatt has called a “magical synergy,” especially in two canvases that feature floating rectangular grids in a palette of reds and mauves.
More of these moments occur in the second room, the heart of the show, which brings together Krasner’s “Little Image” paintings and the “Little Figure” paintings of Lewis. It suggests not only an obvious common interest in diminutive imagery, but also an obsession with painting-as-writing (or, as the Abstract Expressionist progenitor John Graham called it, “écriture.”)
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With their neat rows of pictographs, the “Little Image” paintings relate clearly to Krasner’s religious education as a child of Jewish immigrants from Russia. She painted them from right to left, as Hebrew is written. But her glyphs can be read in a broader context, as evidence of a general interest in codes and ancient scripts. (A fascinating catalog essay, by Lisa Saltzman, mentions World War II cryptography and the effort to decipher clay tablets at Knossos as possible influences.)
Lewis’s “Little Figure” paintings can appear similarly impenetrable, with their bluesy palettes and jazzy noodlings. (Some, like “Magenta Haze,” make explicit reference to music.) Like Krasner’s “Little Image” paintings, they eschew the big, swashbuckling gestures of textbook Abstract Expressionism in favor of a wiry sgraffito (or occasionally, in Krasner’s case, a thin and tightly controlled drip).
Scale matters, too: These are intimate paintings, made in small, domestic spaces. (Krasner worked in the upstairs bedroom of the house she shared with Pollock in Springs, a bucolic East Hampton community; Lewis in his apartment on 125th Street.) And they come in very un-Abstract-Expressionist shapes and proportions: long, vertical canvases that resemble Asian scrolls, and even a tondo.
The homeyness of their work is reinforced by the installation, with such midcentury touches as mint green walls and Eames chairs in the museum’s wood-paneled second-floor galleries. (“Action/Abstraction,” by contrast, informed by the pronouncements of Clement Greenberg and Harold Rosenberg, was shown in the museum’s white-box ground-floor space.)
In the final gallery, which goes beyond the dates in the show’s title to accommodate a couple of works made in the 1960s, both artists do experiment with bigger canvases and brighter palettes. Krasner’s “Kufic” (1965) unleashes sweeping golden brush strokes, reminiscent of Arabic script, on a straw-hued ground. And Lewis’s “Alabama II” (1969) deploys a small, barely visible line of marching stick figures on a searing expanse of sunset pink, hinting at the struggle for civil rights while still insisting on being read as an abstract painting.
The show’s organizers (Mr. Kleeblatt, the museum’s chief curator, with an assistant curator, Stephen Brown) finish with a short audio program, which weaves together snippets of interviews with Krasner and Lewis. It’s an appropriate way to end “From the Margins,” an exemplary show that says to curators everywhere, keep listening.September 12th, 2014
September 12th, 2014
Pink Lady, 1963
Acrylic on canvas
84 1/2 x 58 inches (214.6 x 147.3 cm)
SEPTEMBER 11 – OCTOBER 18, 2014
September 13 – October 25, 2014
Opening Friday, September 12, 6:00 – 8:00 pm
Thanks to Jonathan MaghenSeptember 9th, 2014
Untitled (Top and Exterior Gates, DeWalt Mask M33.e), 2014
44 x 32 x 40.5 inches
111.8 x 81.3 x 102.9 cm
Through October 23, 2014September 7th, 2014
Credit Marion Fayolle
NY Times Published: SEPT. 5, 2014
BY T. M. Luhrmann
FLORENCE, Italy — WE think of our senses as hard-wired gateways to the world. Many years ago the social psychologist Daryl J. Bem described the knowledge we gain from our senses as “zero-order beliefs,” so taken for granted that we do not even notice them as beliefs. The sky is blue. The fan hums. Ice is cold. That’s the nature of reality, and it seems peculiar that different people with their senses intact would experience it subjectively.
Yet they do. In recent years anthropologists have begun to point out that sensory perception is culturally specific. “Sensory perception,” Constance Classen, the author of “The Deepest Sense: A Cultural History of Touch,” says, “is a cultural as well as physical act.” It’s a controversial claim made famous by Marshall McLuhan’s insistence that nonliterate societies were governed by spoken words and sound, while literate societies experienced words visually and so were dominated by sight. Few anthropologists would accept that straightforwardly today. But more and more are willing to argue that sensory perception is as much about the cultural training of attention as it is about biological capacity.
Now they have some quantitative evidence to support the point. Recently, a team of anthropologists and psychologists at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics and Radboud University, both in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, set out to discover how language and culture affected sensory awareness. Under the leadership of Asifa Majid and Stephen C. Levinson, they made up a kit of systematic stimuli for the traditional five senses: for sight, color chips and geometric forms; for hearing, pitch, amplitude and rhythm variations; for smell, a set of scratch-and-sniff cards; and so forth. They took these kits to over 20 cultural groups around the world. Their results upend some of our basic assumptions.
For example, it’s fairly common, in scientific literature, to find the view that “humans are astonishingly bad at odor identification and naming,” as a recent review of 30 years of experiments concluded. When ordinary people are presented with the smell of ordinary substances (coffee, peanut butter, chocolate), they correctly identify about half of them. That’s why we think of scent as a trigger for personal memory — leading to the recall of something specific, particular, uniquely our own.
It turns out that the subjects of those 30 years of experiments were mostly English-speaking. Indeed, English speakers find it easy to identify the common color in milk and jasmine flowers (“white”) but not the common scent in, say, bat droppings and the leaf of ginger root. When the research team presented what should have been familiar scents to Americans — cinnamon, turpentine, lemon, rose and so forth — they were terrible at naming them. Americans, they wrote, said things like this when presented with the cinnamon scratch-and-sniff card: “I don’t know how to say that, sweet, yeah; I have tasted that gum like Big Red or something tastes like, what do I want to say? I can’t get the word. Jesus it’s like that gum smell like something like Big Red. Can I say that? O.K. Big Red, Big Red gum.”
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When the research team visited the Jahai, rain-forest foragers on the Malay Peninsula, they found that the Jahai were succinct and more accurate with the scratch-and-sniff cards. In fact, they were about as good at naming what they smelled as what they saw. They do, in fact, have an abstract term for the shared odor in bat droppings and the leaf of ginger root. Abstract odor terms are common among people on the Malay Peninsula.
The team also found that several communities — speakers of Persian, Turkish and Zapotec — used different metaphors than English and Dutch speakers to describe pitch, or frequency: Sounds were thin or thick rather than high or low. In later work, they demonstrated that the metaphors were powerful enough to disrupt perception. When Dutch speakers heard a tone while being shown a mismatched height bar (e.g., a high tone and a low bar) and were asked to sing the tone, they sang a lower tone. But the perception wasn’t influenced when they were shown a thin or thick bar. When Persian speakers heard a tone and were shown a bar of mismatched thickness, however, they misremembered the tone — but not when they were shown a bar mismatched for height.
The team also found that some of these differences could change over time. They taught the Dutch speakers to think about pitch as thin or thick, and soon these participants, too, found that their memory of a tone was affected by being shown a bar that was too thick or too thin. They found that younger Cantonese speakers had fewer words for tastes and smells than older ones, a shift attributed to rapid socioeconomic development and Western-style schooling.
I wrote this in Florence, Italy, a city famous as a feast for the senses. People say that Florence teaches you to see differently — that as the soft light moves across the ocher buildings, you see colors you never noticed before.
It taught Kevin Systrom, a co-founder of Instagram, to see differently. He attributes his inspiration to a photography class he took in Florence while at a Stanford study-abroad program about a decade ago. His teacher took away his state-of-the-art camera and insisted he use an old plastic one instead, to change the way he saw. He loved those photos, the vintage feel of them, and the way the buildings looked in the light. He set out to recreate that look in the app he built. And that has changed the way many of us now see as well.September 6th, 2014
Curated by Roger Herman
Catherine Ahearn, Roger Herman, James Iveson, Ravi Jackson, Calvin Steele Marcus, Ross McLain, Sarah Sarchin, Frank J. Stockton and Nate Zeidman
Opening Sunday September 7, 2014 5PM – 8PMSeptember 6th, 2014
Pierced Molten Elements
Basswood, dye, gouache
49 x 29 x 12 inches
September 6 – October 4, 2014September 6th, 2014
September 6th, 2014
SEPTEMBER 6 – OCTOBER 18, 2014September 5th, 2014
By RICHARD KEARNEY
NY Times Published: AUGUST 30, 2014
Are we losing our senses? In our increasingly virtual world, are we losing touch with the sense of touch itself? And if so, so what?
I recently had occasion to pose these questions to students in a college class I teach on eros — “from Plato to today.” Not surprisingly, the topic of physical contact and sex came up, and the conversation turned very much to “today.” A number of the students said that they regularly messaged online before having “real contact” with partners, perhaps using online dating and mating services like Match.com, OkCupid, SpeedDate.com and Tinder. They shared messaging acronyms that signaled their level of willingness to have sex, and under what conditions. They admitted to enjoying the relative anonymity of the one-off “hook up,” whose consummation required no preliminary close-quarters courtship rites or flirtation ceremonies, no culinary seduction, no caress, nothing — apart from the eventual “blind rut,” as James Joyce put it — requiring the presence of a functioning, sensitive body.
We noted the rather obvious paradox: The ostensible immediacy of sexual contact was in fact mediated digitally. And it was also noted that what is often thought of as a “materialist” culture was arguably the most “immaterialist” culture imaginable — vicarious, by proxy, and often voyeuristic.
Is today’s virtual dater and mater something like an updated version of Plato’s Gyges, who could see everything at a distance but was touched by nothing? Are we perhaps entering an age of “excarnation,” where we obsess about the body in increasingly disembodied ways? For if incarnation is the image become flesh, excarnation is flesh become image. Incarnation invests flesh; excarnation divests it.
In perhaps the first great works of human psychology, the “De Anima,” Aristotle pronounced touch the most universal of the senses. Even when we are asleep we are susceptible to changes in temperature and noise. Our bodies are always “on.” And touch is the most intelligent sense, Aristotle explained, because it is the most sensitive. When we touch someone or something we are exposed to what we touch. We are responsive to others because we are constantly in touch with them.
“Touch knows differences,” Aristotle insisted. It is the source of our most basic power to discriminate. The thin-skinned person is sensitive and intelligent; the thick-skinned, coarse and ignorant. Think of Odysseus and the Cyclops, Jacob and Esau. The power of touch. Even the Buddha, when challenged by Mara to reveal his authority, simply touches the ground. Our first intelligence is sensory refinement. And this primal sensibility is also what places us at risk in the world, exposing us to adventure and discovery.
Aristotle was challenging the dominant prejudice of his time, one he himself embraced in earlier works. The Platonic doctrine of the Academy held that sight was the highest sense, because it is the most distant and mediated; hence most theoretical, holding things at bay, mastering meaning from above. Touch, by contrast, was deemed the lowest sense because it is ostensibly immediate and thus subject to intrusions and pressures from the material world. Against this, Aristotle made his radical counterclaim that touch did indeed have a medium, namely “flesh.” And he insisted that flesh was not just some material organ but a complex mediating membrane that accounts for our primary sensings and evaluations.
Tactility is not blind immediacy — not merely sensorial but cognitive, too. Savoring is wisdom; in Latin, wisdom is “sapientia,” from “sapere,” to taste. These carnal senses make us human by keeping us in touch with things, by responding to people’s pain — as when the disguised Odysseus (whose name can be translated as “bearer of pain,”), returning to Ithaca, is recognized by his nursemaid, Eurycleia, at the touch of his childhood scar.
But Aristotle did not win this battle of ideas. The Platonists prevailed and the Western universe became a system governed by “the soul’s eye.” Sight came to dominate the hierarchy of the senses, and was quickly deemed the appropriate ally of theoretical ideas. Western philosophy thus sprang from a dualism between the intellectual senses, crowned by sight, and the lower “animal” senses, stigmatized by touch. And Western theology — though heralding the Christian message of Incarnation (“word made flesh”) — all too often confirmed the injurious dichotomy with its anti-carnal doctrines; prompting Nietzsche’s verdict that Christianity was “Platonism for the people” and “gave Eros poison to drink.” Thus opto-centrism prevailed for over 2,000 years, culminating in our contemporary culture of digital simulation and spectacle. The eye continues to rule in what Roland Barthes once called our “civilization of the image.” The world is no longer our oyster, but our screen.
For all the fascination with bodies, our current technology is arguably exacerbating our carnal alienation. While offering us enormous freedoms of fantasy and encounter, digital eros may also be removing us further from the flesh.
Pornography, for example, is now an industry worth tens of billions of dollars worldwide. Seen by some as a progressive sign of post-60s sexual liberation, pornography is, paradoxically, a twin of Puritanism. Both display an alienation from flesh — one replacing it with the virtuous, the other with the virtual. Each is out of touch with the body.
THIS movement toward privatization and virtuality is explored in Spike Jonze’s recent movie “Her,” where a man falls in love with his operating system, which names itself Samantha. He can think of nothing else and becomes insanely jealous when he discovers that his virtual lover, Samantha, is also flirting with thousands of other subscribers. Eventually, Samantha feels so bad for him that she decides to supplement her digital persona with a real body by sending a surrogate lover. But the plan fails miserably — while the man touches the embodied lover he hears the virtual signals of Samantha in his ears and cannot bridge the gap. The split between digital absence and carnal presence is unbearable. Something is missing: love in the flesh.
The move toward excarnation is apparent in what is becoming more and more a fleshless society. In medicine, “bedside manner” and hand on pulse has ceded to the anonymous technologies of imaging in diagnosis and treatment. In war, hand-to-hand combat has been replaced by “targeted killing” via remote-controlled drones. If contemporary warfare renders us invulnerable to those who cannot touch us, can we make peace without a hand to shake? (Think of Mandela-de Klerk or Begin-Sadat).
Moreover, certain cyber engineers now envisage implanting transmission codes in brains so that we will not have to move a finger — or come into contact with another human being — to get what we want. The touch screen replaces touch itself. The cosmos shrinks to a private monitor; each viewer a disembodied self unto itself.
Full humanity requires the ability to sense and be sensed in turn: the power, as Shakespeare said, to “feel what wretches feel” — or, one might also add, what artists, cooks, musicians and lovers feel. We need to find our way in a tactile world again. We need to return from head to foot, from brain to fingertip, from iCloud to earth. To close the distance, so that eros is more about proximity than proxy. So that soul becomes flesh, where it belongs. Such a move, I submit, would radically alter our “sense” of sex in our digital civilization. It would enhance the role of empathy, vulnerability and sensitivity in the art of carnal love, and ideally, in all of human relations. Because to love or be loved truly is to be able to say, “I have been touched.”September 2nd, 2014
Mike Mandel, “People in Cars”
North Hollywood, 1970
Art in the San Fernando Valley, 1970-1990
August 25 – October 11, 2014
Opening Reception: Saturday, September 6 4-7pm
Judith F. Baca, Bob Bassler, Esteban Bojorquez, Hans Burkhardt, Karen Carson, Lynn E. Coleman, Fidel Danieli, John Divola, Dave Elder, Edie Ellis-Brown, Bruce Everett, Bruce Fier, Tom Fricano, Steve Galloway, Scott Grieger, June Harwood, Jeff Hilbers, James Hugunin (Dumb Ox), Channa Horwitz, Ken Jones, Karla Klarin, Gary Lloyd, Mike Mandel, Barry Markowitz, Jerry McMillan, Michael C. McMillen, Joe Messinger, R. Mutt, Stuart Rapeport, Stephen Seemayer, Ed Sievers, Rena Small, C.R. Stecyk III, Jon Swihart, Steve Thomsen, Michael Uhlenkott, Jeffrey Vallance, Robert E. von Sternberg, Benjamin Weissman, Robert Williams, and Suzanne Williams
Thanks to Jim SweetersAugust 31st, 2014
Doritos, Socks and Basketballs
September 6 to October 18, 2014August 31st, 2014
Darrick Doerner with Hui Trunks and Byrning Spear Surfboard, late 80′s
By Matt Warshaw
The Encyclopedia of Surfing
To this day, my 83-year-old mother makes fun of the way I used to worship Darrick Doerner. Lifts her eyebrows, arranges her wrinkled old dowager puss to approximate that of a know-it-all teenager, talks in a drawly early-’70s surf patois, imitating me imitating Darrick, and it is horrible. Horrible. Because it is so true.
Darrick lived a block or two north of Venice Blvd, near Lincoln, about a half-mile from my house. He didn’t grow up there. Just turned up one year, probably 1970, when I was 10 and he was 13. Darrick was best surfer in the neighborhood. Maybe the best surfer for his age in all of Santa Monica Bay, or all of California, or hell, maybe all of America. Jackie Dunn was the gold standard for child-star surfers at the time, and I’d seen Dunn in Cosmic Children, and Darrick smoked him.
Not only did Darrick have the surf chops, at 13 he was already in full possession of a quiet but prodigious confidence. Years later Derek Hynd would famously match big-wave surfers with their respective motivations (Foo did it for the glory, Bradshaw did it for the machismo), and he hit a bullseye in saying that Darrick rode “for the cool.” That’s certainly how he earned my worship in Venice. For example: Darrick and I were sitting in his room one afternoon when his tiny French mother sent him to the backyard to shovel up dog shit. I can’t remember what kind of dog they had, but the piles were huge and plentiful. He was clearly a few days behind on this chore. Darrick picked up a shovel but continued to linger, until his mother, from somewhere inside the house, yelled at him to get started, at which point he scooped up the nearest pile, gave me a flat look, and with a smooth flick of the his wrists launched the payload over his shoulder into the neighbor’s yard. Simple, mindless first-stage teen rebellion. But cool as fuck.
Another example, more to the point. The Sylmar Earthquake rattled all of Los Angeles County awake on February 9, 1971, and as a safety precaution the schools in our district were closed. Mid-morning, a few of us walked down to check the surf at Venice Jetty. It was big and a little ragged, and Darrick was sitting deep—way outside, behind the rocks deep—all alone. Five minutes passed, and a set bombed through that was half-again bigger than anything we’d yet seen. Double-overhead, maybe triple, somewhere in there, and just exploding. Gnarlier waves than I’d ever seen ridden at the Jetty, or anywhere else, and Darrick, not yet 14, was out solo. Rode three or four waves over the next hour, and was still out, still alone, when I went home for lunch.
A year or so later Darrick moved out of Venice, and a year or so after that he landed in Hawaii, where he did a big-wave apprenticeship under Tiger Espere and Eddie Aikau.
At some point along the way Darrick began to overplay his cool hand. Not the surfing part. He was the insider’s pick as the best Waimea surfer of the 1980s; throughout the ’90s and into the early ’00s, as a pioneering tow surfer, in waves that just a decade earlier had been located on the far side of the Unridden Realm, he rode with more courage and style than anybody except Laird Hamilton. No, I’m talking his appearances in Riding Giants and Strapped and a couple other movies, where Darrick took his naturally terse and steely demeanor, poured it into the Clint Eastwood slow cooker, and let it simmer for a day or two too long. The result wasn’t so much an extra-cool big-wave surfer, but something close an SNL parody of an extra-cool big-wave surfer.
Do I lash out? Maybe so. The last time I actually talked to Darrick was 1987. I deplaned in Honolulu that December as a card-carrying (God forgive me but I actually had business cards) member of the SURFER editorial staff, and rushed across the island with the rest of the slavering surf media Golden Horde for the annual North Shore clusterfuck. That very afternoon, finding out that Darrick was lifeguarding at Sunset Beach, I walked up to the orange tower, hand raised in greeting, voice perhaps a half-octave higher than normal, and said “Hey Darrick!” He looked down. Gave me that same flat look from when we were kids. A moment or two passed. I tried again. “Yeah, Darrick! It’s Matt! From Venice!” No change in expression. Then one eyebrow lifted up a half-millimeter, and it hit me all at once that Darrick had in fact recognized me from before I’d said anything; that he was the world’s coolest underground big-wave rider, and I was the striving glasses-wearing surf writer who he’d maybe have to pull sputtering out of the water at some point if I took three or four midsize northwest peaks on the head.
I stood at the base of the lifeguard tower. Darrick made no move to come down. There was a stilted exchange of pleasantries, then I walked back to my rented car, ears burning beneath my demi-mullet.
I won’t lie. It hurt.August 31st, 2014
Photographs by Sebastian Zimmermann
SLIDE SHOW|12 Photos
By JOHN LELAND
NY Times Published AUG. 29, 2014
Here’s something you rarely see: New York psychotherapists in their offices in August. It took Sebastian Zimmermann, a psychiatrist on the Upper West Side, 13 years to produce “Fifty Shrinks,” a book of portraits depicting “therapists in their natural habitats.” Dr. Zimmermann, who began studying photography as an outlet to counterbalance all the trauma and drama he was taking in as a therapist, said he was struck by the diversity of spaces in which his colleagues worked.
“These are private offices that people don’t generally see,” he said. “Even therapists might not ever see the inside of 50 offices.” Décor ranged from the bright country cabinetry of Jamieson Webster, who in the book described the encounter between therapist and patient as “an experience of falling,” to the folding-chair minimalism of Michael Eigen, who said his design aesthetic arose as an extension of his “beatnik background.”
Yet Dr. Zimmerman noticed some constants. “The box of tissues is always there,” he said. “If you don’t have that and the patient cries and you have to leave the office and get a tissue, that’s not the best thing, as many of us have discovered.” He also came across plenty of orchids and Persian rugs, he said. “And the couch is always there. Even when people don’t use them.”
After starting the project, Dr. Zimmermann gave more thought to the interior of his own office. “I realized over time that it’s important to make patients feel safe and comfortable,” he said. “As I saw all these different types of offices, I started to do that more. I do have a couch, but no one lies down on it. I have a nature scene and pale green walls.”August 30th, 2014
6th September – 5th OctoberAugust 27th, 2014
A black-footed ferret at Fort Belknap in 2013. Credit Jonathan Proctor/Defenders of Wildlife
By NATE SCHWEBER
NY Times Published: AUG. 25, 2014
FORT BELKNAP AGENCY, Mont. — In the employee directory of the Fort Belknap Reservation, Bronc Speak Thunder’s title is buffalo wrangler.
In 2012, Mr. Speak Thunder drove a livestock trailer in a convoy from Yellowstone National Park that returned genetically pure bison to tribal land in northeastern Montana for the first time in 140 years. Mr. Speak Thunder, 32, is one of a growing number of younger Native Americans who are helping to restore native animals to tribal lands across the Northern Great Plains, in the Dakotas, Montana and parts of Nebraska.
They include people like Robert Goodman, an Oglala Lakota Sioux, who moved away from his reservation in the early 2000s and earned a degree in wildlife management. When he graduated in 2005, he could not find work in that field, so he took a job in construction in Rapid City, S.D.
Then he learned of work that would bring him home. The parks and recreation department of the Pine Ridge Reservation, where he grew up, needed someone to help restore rare native wildlife — including the swift fox, a small, tan wild dog revered for its cleverness. In 2009, Mr. Goodman held a six-pound transplant by its scruff and showed it by firelight to a circle of tribal elders, members of a reconvened warrior society that had disbanded when the foxes disappeared.
“I have never been that traditional,” said Mr. Goodman, 33, who released that fox and others into the wild after the ceremony. “But that was spiritual to me.”
For a native wildlife reintroduction to work, native habitat is needed, biologists say. On the Northern Great Plains, that habitat is the original grass, never sliced by a farmer’s plow.
Unplowed temperate grassland is the least protected large ecosystem on earth, according to the American Prairie Reserve, a nonprofit organization dedicated to grassland preservation. Tribes on America’s Northern Plains, however, have left their grasslands largely intact.
More than 70 percent of tribal land in the Northern Plains is unplowed, compared with around 60 percent of private land, the World Wildlife Fund said. Around 90 million acres of unplowed grasses remain on the Northern Plains. Tribes on 14 reservations here saved about 10 percent of that 90 million — an area bigger than New Jersey and Massachusetts combined.
“Tribes are to be applauded for saving so much habitat,” said Dean E. Biggins, a wildlife biologist for the United States Geological Survey.
Wildlife stewardship on the Northern Plains’ prairies, bluffs and badlands is spread fairly evenly among private, public and tribal lands, conservationists say. But for a few of the rarest native animals, tribal land has been more welcoming.
The swift fox, for example, was once considered for listing as an endangered species after it was killed in droves by agricultural poison and coyotes that proliferated after the elimination of wolves. Now it has been reintroduced in six habitats, four on tribal lands.
“I felt a sense of pride trying to get these little guys to survive,” said Les Bighorn, 54, a tribe member and game warden at Montana’s Fort Peck Reservation who in 2005 led a reintroduction of swift foxes.
Mr. Speak Thunder, who took part in the bison convoy, agreed. “A lot of younger folks are searching, seeking out interesting experiences,” he said. “I have a lot of friends who just want to ride with me some days and help out.”
Over the last four years in Montana, the tribes at Fort Peck and Fort Belknap, along with the tycoon and philanthropist Ted Turner, saved dozens of bison that had migrated from Yellowstone. Once the food staple of Native Americans on the Great Plains, bison were virtually exterminated in the late 19th century; the Yellowstone bison are genetic descendants of the only ones that escaped in the wild.
This spring, by contrast, Yellowstone officials captured about 300 bison and sent them to slaughterhouses. Al Nash, a park spokesman, said they were culled after state and federal agencies “worked together to address bison management issues.” The cattle industry opposes wild bison for fear the animals might compete with domestic cows for grass, damage fences or spread disease.
Emily Boyd-Valandra, 29, a wildlife biologist at the Rosebud Sioux Reservation in South Dakota, is emblematic of new tribal wildlife managers working around the Northern Plains. She went to college and studied ecology. (Nationwide, the rate of indigenous people in America attending college has doubled since 1970, according to the American Indian College Fund.)
Diploma in hand, Ms. Boyd-Valandra moved home, took a job with her tribe’s department of game, fish and parks, and found a place for what she called “education to bridge the gap between traditional culture and science.”
Blending her college lessons with the reverence for native animals she absorbed from her elders, she helped safeguard black-footed ferrets on her reservation from threats like disease and habitat fragmentation. The animal was twice declared extinct after its primary prey, the prairie dog, was wiped out across 97 percent of its historic range; since 2000, ferrets have been reintroduced in 13 American habitats, five of them on tribal land.
“Now that we’re getting our own people back here,” Ms. Boyd-Valandra said, “you get the work and also the passion and the connection.” One of her mentors is Shaun Grassel, 42, a biologist for the Lower Brule Indian Reservation in South Dakota. “What’s happening gives me a lot of hope,” he said.
Though each reservation is sovereign, wildlife restoration has been guided to a degree by grants from the federal government. Since 2002, the Fish and Wildlife Service has given $60 million to 170 tribes for 300 projects that aided unique Western species, including gray wolves, bighorn sheep, Lahontan cutthroat trout and bison.
“Tribal land in the U.S. is about equal to all our national wildlife refuges,” said D. J. Monette of the wildlife agency. “So tribes really have an equal opportunity to protect critters.”
Nonprofit conservation organizations have also helped. But tribe leaders say that what drives their efforts is a cultural memory that was passed down from ancestors who knew the land before European settlement — when it teemed with wildlife.
“Part of our connection with the land is to put animals back,” said Mark Azure, 54, the president of the Fort Belknap tribe. “And as Indian people, we can use Indian country.”
In late 2013, during the painful federal sequestration that forced layoffs on reservations, Mr. Azure authorized the reintroduction of 32 bison from Yellowstone and 32 black-footed ferrets. That helped secure several thousand dollars from the nonprofit Defenders of Wildlife and kept some tribe members at work on the reintroduction projects, providing employment through an economic dip and advancing the tribe’s long-term vision of native ecosystem restoration. The next project is an aviary for eagles.
One night last fall, Kristy Bly, 42, a biologist from the World Wildlife Fund, visited the reservation to check on the transplanted black-footed ferrets. Mena Limpy-Goings, 39, a tribe member, asked to ride along because she had never seen one.
They drove around a bison pasture under the Northern Lights for hours, until the spotlight mounted on Ms. Bly’s pickup reflected off the eyes of a ferret dancing atop a prairie dog burrow.
“Yee-hoo!” Ms. Bly cheered. “You’re looking at one of only 500 alive in the wild.”
Ms. Limpy-Goings hugged herself.
“It is,” she said, “more beautiful than I ever imagined.”August 26th, 2014
Credit Alec Doherty
By CHARLES J. MOORE
NY Times Published: AUG. 25, 2014
LOS ANGELES — The world is awash in plastic. It’s in our cars and our carpets, we wrap it around the food we eat and virtually every other product we consume; it has become a key lubricant of globalization — but it’s choking our future in ways that most of us are barely aware.
I have just returned with a team of scientists from six weeks at sea conducting research in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch — one of five major garbage patches drifting in the oceans north and south of the Equator at the latitude of our great terrestrial deserts. Although it was my 10th voyage to the area, I was utterly shocked to see the enormous increase in the quantity of plastic waste since my last trip in 2009. Plastics of every description, from toothbrushes to tires to unidentifiable fragments too numerous to count floated past our marine research vessel Alguita for hundreds of miles without end. We even came upon a floating island bolstered by dozens of plastic buoys used in oyster aquaculture that had solid areas you could walk on.
Plastics are now one of the most common pollutants of ocean waters worldwide. Pushed by winds, tides and currents, plastic particles form with other debris into large swirling glutinous accumulation zones, known to oceanographers as gyres, which comprise as much as 40 percent of the planet’s ocean surface — roughly 25 percent of the entire earth.
No scientist, environmentalist, entrepreneur, national or international government agency has yet been able to establish a comprehensive way of recycling the plastic trash that covers our land and inevitably blows and washes down to the sea. In a 2010 study I conducted of the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers, we extrapolated that some 2.3 billion pieces of plastic — from polystyrene foam to tiny fragments and pellets — had flowed from Southern California’s urban centers into its coastal waters in just three days of sampling.
The deleterious consequences of humanity’s “plastic footprint” are many, some known and some yet to be discovered. We know that plastics biodegrade exceptionally slowly, breaking into tiny fragments in a centuries-long process. We know that plastic debris entangles and slowly kills millions of sea creatures; that hundreds of species mistake plastics for their natural food, ingesting toxicants that cause liver and stomach abnormalities in fish and birds, often choking them to death. We know that one of the main bait fish in the ocean, the lantern fish, eats copious quantities of plastic fragments, threatening their future as a nutritious food source to the tuna, salmon, and other pelagic fish we consume, adding to the increasing amount of synthetic chemicals unknown before 1950 that we now carry in our bodies.
We suspect that more animals are killed by vagrant plastic waste than by even climate change — a hypothesis that needs to be seriously tested. During our most recent voyage, we studied the effects of pollution, taking blood and liver samples from fish as we searched for invasive species and plastic-linked pollutants that cause protein and hormone abnormalities. While we hope our studies will yield important contributions to scientific knowledge, they address but a small part of a broader issue.
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The reality is that only by preventing manmade debris — most of which is disposable plastic — from getting into the ocean in the first place will a measurable reduction in the ocean’s plastic load be accomplished. Clean-up schemes are legion, but have never been put into practice in the garbage patches.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the United States supports environmentalist groups that remove debris from beaches. But the sieve-like skimmers they use, no matter how technologically sophisticated, will never be able to clean up remote garbage gyres: There’s too much turbulent ocean dispersing and mixing up the mess. We should use skimmers in the coastal zone, especially at the mouths of urban rivers where tons of stuff enters the ocean daily, but it’s not a matter that can be compared to encircling massive oil slicks with containment booms.
The problem is compounded by the aquaculture industry, which uses enormous amounts of plastic in its floats, nets, lines and tubes. The most common floats and tubes I’ve found in the deep ocean and on Hawaiian beaches come from huge sea-urchin and oyster farms like the one that created the oyster-buoy island we discovered. Those buoys were torn from their moorings by the tsunami that walloped Japan on March 11, 2011. But no regulatory remedies exist to deal with tons of plastic equipment lost accidentally and in storms. Government and industry organizations purporting to certify sustainably farmed seafood, despite their dozens of pages of standards, fail to mention gear that is lost and floats away. Governments, which are rightly concerned with depletion of marine food sources, should ensure that plastic from cages, buoys and other equipment used for aquaculture does not escape into the waters.
But, in the end, the real challenge is to combat an economic model that thrives on wasteful products and packaging, and leaves the associated problem of clean-up costs. Changing the way we produce and consume plastics is a challenge greater than reining in our production of carbon dioxide.
Plastics are a nightmare to recycle. They are very hard to clean. They can melt at low temperatures, so impurities are not vaporized. It makes no difference whether a synthetic polymer like polyethylene is derived from petroleum or plants; it is still a persistent pollutant. Biodegradable plastics exist, but manufacturers are quick to point out that marine degradable does not mean “marine disposable.”
Scientists in Britain and the Netherlands have proposed to cut plastic pollution by the institution of a “circular economy.” The basic concept is that products must be designed with end-of-life recovery in mind. They propose a precycling premium to provide incentives to eliminate the possibility that a product will become waste.
In the United States, especially in California, the focus has been on so-called structural controls, such as covering gutters and catch basins with 5-millimeter screens. This has reduced the amount of debris flowing down rivers to the sea. Activists around the world are lobbying for bans on the most polluting plastics — the bottles, bags and containers that deliver food and drink. Many have been successful. In California, nearly 100 municipalities have passed ordinances banning throwaway plastic bags and the Senate is considering a statewide ban.
Until we shut off the flow of plastic to the sea, the newest global threat to our Anthropocene age will only get worse.
Charles J. Moore is a captain in the U.S. merchant marine and founder of the Algalita Marine Research and Education Institute in Long Beach, California.August 26th, 2014
Curated by Olivian Cha and Eli Diner
September 7th-October 18th, 2014
Reception: Sunday, September 7th, 6 to 8 pmAugust 22nd, 2014
Frank Romero mural created along the Hollywood Freeway downtown in conjunction with the 1984 Olympics
By JESSICA GELT
Los Angeles Times Published: August 20, 2014
The party Aug. 24 has a name: “The Olympic Freeway Murals: Celebrating 30 Years.” The guests of honor: nine of the country’s most lauded muralists, gathered together for the first time in three decades, to commemorate the anniversary of artwork they painted for the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles.
The Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles event coincides with a massive project to restore the giant artworks. The celebration will include the unveiling of a limited-edition Olympic Freeway Murals box set of photography by John Humble, not to mention the presence of such Olympic athletes as gold medal swimmer John Naber and boxer Paul Gonzales.
Still, the stars of the show remain the men and women whose artworks are again enjoying their day in the bright Los Angeles sun.
“Why do we wait to celebrate them until they die?” asks the conservancy’s executive director, Isabel Rojas-Williams. “Why not celebrate them while they’re still painting and making history?”
The 1984 summer arts team is indeed an accomplished bunch. Street artists Willie Herrón III, Richard Wyatt, Kent Twitchell, Glenn Avila, Frank Romero, John Wehrle, Judy Baca, Roderick Sykes and Alonzo Davis all will be present Sunday. Terry Schoonhoven died in 2001, but his widow, Sheila, will attend.
As part of the Olympic Arts Festival, they created 10 vivid murals along the 110 and 101 freeways. Before the year was through, however, vandals had begun to deface the artworks. Time marched on, and the damage got worse. Layer upon layer of graffiti piled up, and three murals were destroyed by highway construction or the elements. Beginning in 2007, Caltrans started covering the murals with gray paint to prevent further damage.
In early 2012, the Mural Conservancy launched the effort to restore the remaining seven in time for the 30th anniversary. Today, five are finished and two remain to be done.
“I didn’t realize it, but it’s archaeology, and I’m an archaeologist,” Herrón says of the restoration process, which he’s overseen. “I know what I’m looking for, but it isn’t until I find it that I know it.”
The process involves the careful removal of the gray paint and graffiti until Herrón suddenly uncovers a swath of the original paint. He does this until any further removal would damage the artist’s work. What he can’t uncover, he carefully re-creates. It’s painstaking work, but he believes in it.
“I always thought of my art as something I’d pass down to my children so they’d have a sense of who I was,” he says. “I always thought my art had to be something permanent. And as long as the wall is still there and the city still cares, then it will be.”
Late on a recent afternoon inside Southern California Edison’s stunning Art Deco building in downtown Los Angeles, Herrón is meeting with Wyatt, Twitchell and Rojas-Williams to discuss the restoration process and the state of modern muralism in light of this summer’s mural-versary.
The group says Los Angeles experienced a mural renaissance in the 1970s, thanks to a proliferation of paint on walls across the city, most of it put there by ethnically diverse artists. The vast city soon became known as a mural capital of the world. That heyday is gone, however, with murals replaced by the more ephemeral breed of street art known as aerosol art.
Because aerosol art is created with spray paint, the artists were lumped together with graffiti taggers, though aerosol artists saw themselves in a different league. Today, the Olympic muralists say, both aerosol artists and graffiti artists have come of age and have developed a healthy respect for the lasting nature of murals.
“It just takes a minority to destroy murals and turn them from oases of art to graffiti-ridden blights,” says Twitchell, rubbing his snow white beard thoughtfully. “Then people see murals and equate them with ugliness, and that changed the way people thought about murals.”
Restoration and, more important, maintenance, is changing that thinking. Like historic architecture in modern cities, murals are once again rising to the surface, only now they are artistic time capsules.
Although his Olympic mural was destroyed, Wyatt is thrilled to see the other works come back. For him, it signals a newfound legitimacy for an oft-maligned art form.
“We were drawn to put art in places where people wouldn’t necessarily expect to find it,” he says of his start in muralism in the ’70s. “There was a counter-narrative where people in the quote art world didn’t consider it fine art.”
Adds Twitchell: “We were in a gallery, but the gallery was where it belonged: in the city.”August 20th, 2014
John Fisher, who retired two years ago after 39 years as a city Department of Transportation engineer and assistant general manager, shows vintage street signs at the Caltrans building in downtown Los Angeles. He amassed a collection of the designs and donated them for display. (Cheryl A. Guerrero / Los Angeles Times)
By BOB POOL
LA Times Published August 18, 2014
The story of Los Angeles’ street signs is hidden safely away on the ninth floor of Caltrans’ downtown headquarters:
Hand-stenciled wooden two-by-fours like those that originated in the 1890s, their white block lettering set against a dark blue background. The shotgun-style placards first erected in the 1940s. The blade style that surfaced in the ’60s.
Ten different designs have popped up over the decades on the corner poles and posts marking Los Angeles’ 40,000 intersections.
And the biggest fan of those 178,000 or so street name signs is John Fisher, who retired two years ago after 39 years as a city Department of Transportation engineer and assistant general manager.
Fisher, 66, of South Pasadena, amassed a collection of the designs and donated them for display. Eight are hanging in frames on a conference room wall. More signs and other historic transportation documents are displayed in glass cases in a nearby hallway.
“This one is my favorite,” said Fisher, pointing to a porcelain shotgun-style marker salvaged from the 800 block of North Alameda Street.
“This was in front of Union Station near Los Angeles Street, and is in the style used roughly between 1938 and 1940. It has filigree work on the top, and the bottom is dropped in the center. It was a very attractive sign.”
Fisher said the filigree metalwork — also used on signs during the late ’20s — “was kind of reflective of the Jazz Era and the Art Deco period.”
It was the inspiration, Fisher said, for the newer signs like the one outside the Caltrans building at 1st and Main streets. The block number is on the rounded center portion, at the bottom, and the city seal is displayed up top. Those signs began appearing in 2010.
Because of budget concerns, the seal-clad signs are installed only when developments prompt the redesign or widening of a street, said city transportation engineer John Sam. They cost about $100 apiece.
According to Fisher, Los Angeles’ first street sign style — the wooden board variety — was in use until the start of World War II.
“They were installed at first on all streets … [but] in time they were used only on residential streets,” he said. “Porcelain enamel signs were used in more of the urban area’s main thoroughfares.”
His collection includes a wooden sign for Encino Avenue that he figures was installed in 1940 and used until the 1990s.
The oldest sign in Fisher’s collection is an Auto Club marker that was erected in front of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in 1925. It pointed the way to Los Angeles (71/2 miles), Santa Monica (81/2 miles in the opposite direction) and Venice (11 miles.)
“I got it in the ’70s for $100, from an old traffic engineer. … It is typical of what the Auto Club had all over Southern California,” he said. “They installed signs before jurisdictions did, or Caltrans, which used to be the Division of Highways.”
In the 1920s, the city switched to metal signs — blade-shaped porcelain enamel with white lettering on a blue background.
Fisher’s display includes a trapezoidal sign for Golden Avenue that was installed in the late 1920s. Above it is a sign salvaged from Missouri Avenue that features an elongated bottom.
“I’ve heard it called two names: the ‘bird nest sign,’ because we’d find many birds’ nests between the two panels … [and] the ‘shotgun sign’ because of its shape.” Fisher said. That style, which went up all over the city between 1946 and 1962, “reflected the technology of the times.”
But that particular variety came in one size only, which meant the city had to squish together lettering for longer street names such as “Mississippi” or “Santa Monica,” he said. Manufacturers began phasing out the porcelain signs in favor of metal ones because the enamel paint emitted fumes when baked and lacked the necessary reflective qualities mandated under federal rules.
Fisher’s collection includes a Maple Avenue sign that was embedded in a concrete curb face in 1925. It was salvaged in 1990, when Washington Boulevard was widened for construction of the Metro Blue Line. There’s also an early 1970s Ord Street sign printed in English as well as Chinese.
In his garage at home, Fisher has kept a selection of old signs for himself, including some antique U.S. route shields from the 1930s. But his best are on view at the Department of Transportation.
“I wanted to make sure we had a permanent display here,” he said. “I was very attached to the department, and thought that maintaining its legacy and heritage and history was important.”August 19th, 2014