A boulder thought to have been used by early humans as a hammerstone.
PHOTOGRAPH BY THOMAS DEMÉRÉ / SAN DIEGO NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM
By Alan Burdick
The New Yorker Published: April 26, 2017
In 1992, Thomas Deméré, a paleontologist at the San Diego Natural History Museum, and several of his colleagues were called in to inspect an array of bones that had been unearthed by highway workers building Route 54, just south of the city. What turned up was the Pleistocene. The site was rich with fossils tens of thousands of years old, including the remains of a camel, a horse, a dire wolf, a ground sloth, and, most impressive, a mastodon. Today, the area stretches with ranch homes and water-restricted lawns; way back then, it was a broad floodplain with a single shallow ribbon of water winding through it. “It was a very nice place to live, I’d think, not far from the coastline,” Deméré said at a press conference yesterday.
For years now, Deméré and his collaborators have been studying specimens from the site with mounting astonishment. In 2014, James Paces, a research geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, determined that the mastodon remains were a hundred and thirty thousand years old. On its own, this fact would not be so surprising, but a recent examination of the animal’s bones suggests that they were smashed open with large cobbles, most likely for the marrow inside. What seemed at first to be a paleontological site, in other words, could be an archeological one. If that’s the case, then it predates some of the earliest evidence of hominins in North America by more than a hundred thousand years. Eleven scientists, including Deméré and Paces, joined to publish their results today in the journal Nature.
“The scholarship over the earliest occupation of America is a battlefield,” John McNabb, an archeologist at the University of Southampton, said by phone. (Nature asked McNabb to independently comment on the paper and the team’s results.) “But those folks are arguing about differences of two hundred years here and there. This is an order of magnitude beyond anything that’s been talked about before.” McNabb, who characterized himself as “skeptical,” predicted that the announcement would be met by “an uproar—outrage, anger, utter dismissal.” Still, he said, “If it is true, it changes everything about the occupation of the Americas and the story of the movement of people out of Africa.”
Deméré, at the press conference, conceded that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” and argued that the study “provides conclusive evidence that this is an archeological site.” The sediment in which the remains rested, a fine-grained silt, was laid down gradually by a slow-moving stream, which would not have been powerful enough to shift big stones or rearrange large bones. The cobbles that served as hammerstones and anvils, then, could not have entered the layer by natural means. And the bones and rocks showed cracks, scars, flakes, and abrasions typical of repeated battering. Careful comparison with bones from other sites, the authors suggested, ruled out damage inflicted by trampling or the gnawing of carnivores.
Using rocks to break apart large bones, either for the marrow or to create hardy tools, is an old hominin trick, dating back at least a million years in Africa. To make their case, Deméré and his colleagues tried their hand at it. In one experiment, they attached a rock to a long wooden handle and used it to break apart the bones of a dead elephant that they had been allowed to dig up. (“It was extremely fresh and smelled extremely bad,” Deméré said.) The fragments and fracturing that resulted were virtually identical to what they saw on the mastodon bones in San Diego. They conducted a similar experiment in Tanzania on the femur of an elephant that had died along a road. The video of the activity, with two Maasai men looking on as two white scientists hammer away with a rock club, resembles a fun-house version of a nature documentary.
The scientists I spoke to who were not part of the Nature team were quick to praise the authors’ credibility and the quality of their research. “They’ve taken the best body of evidence and explored it in a very logical manner,” McNabb said. “They have tried to falsify all the possible natural explanations and come to a point where they can’t see any other interpretation than human habitation. It’s just a question of whether they really have excluded everything possible.” But, he added, with “something as big and important as this, you need absolutely incontrovertible evidence, and there’s too much here associated with a question mark.” For instance, he found it strange that the hammerstones and anvils weren’t accompanied by the smaller, sharper stone tools also typically found at prehistoric butchery sites. “Disarticulating the leg of an elephant isn’t easy,” he said. “If you’re going to break into the bone, you have to cut through the hide and flesh first.”
Ariane Burke, an archeozoologist at the University of Montreal, said she was also struck by the absence of knapped stone tools. (In January, Burke co-authored a study suggesting that the first North Americans arrived from Siberia about twenty-four thousand years ago, some ten thousand years earlier than the previously accepted date.) She added that she’d be excited to see the team compare the activity at the mastodon site with sites of a similar age in Eurasia where woolly mammoths were butchered by humans, to see how the physical evidence compares. “I still find the site puzzling—you can say ‘intriguing’ if you don’t want to say ‘puzzling’—for various reasons,” she said. “One, of course, is the date. A hundred and thirty thousand years before present is unprecedented; there’s nothing in North America to compare it to.”
The looming question is who, or what, might have dismembered this mastodon so long ago. “The simple answer is, of course, we don’t know,” Deméré said. The researchers found no human remains at the site. The generally accepted theory for the settlement of North America has modern humans, Homo sapiens, entering across a land bridge connecting Siberia and Alaska between about twenty-seven thousand and eleven thousand years ago. But the bridge was ephemeral; around the time the mastodon’s bones were smashed, it would have been underwater, as a warm climate melted glaciers and raised sea levels. Back then, humans were still a fairly new and remote species. Homo sapiens were believed to have left Africa in several waves, the first no earlier than a hundred and thirty thousand years ago. They made it to China between eighty thousand and a hundred and twenty thousand years ago and to Australia by fifty thousand years ago; a later wave out of Africa reached Western Europe by about forty-two thousand years ago. For humans proper, North America would have been a bridge too far, too fast.
But earlier members of the genus Homo, including the species that eventually evolved into Neanderthals, had already left Africa and populated Eurasia. At the press conference, Deméré speculated that they or another species of Homo might have entered North America, if not by land bridge then by boat. Burke doesn’t think the existing evidence is compelling enough; there is no genetic indication that Neanderthals ever reached this continent and nothing to suggest that they were sailors. “I would not push that boat out into the water,” she said with a laugh. Deméré also mentioned the Denisovans, a cryptic hominin species that inhabited Western Siberia sixty or seventy thousand years ago. “It’s premature to start invoking the Denisovans given how little we know about them,” Burke cautioned.
And if one or another of these hominins did make it to San Diego, what happened to them? Did they come this far only to fade away, like so many ill-fated colonists? “We can become locally extinct,” Deméré said. Even so, he added, there may well be more evidence out there to find. He encouraged archeologists to look in older deposits than they typically explore, and for paleontologists to reëxamine museum collections that might contain evidence of hominin—or human—activity after all. “I like to say that a lot of this evidence has fallen into the academic cracks between archeology and paleontology,” Deméré said. Another possibility is that there is nothing to be found. How do you prove that something doesn’t exist? As Burke put it, “The believers will continue to believe, the disbelievers will continue to disbelieve, and the rest of us will sit in the middle and say, ‘We’d like to see more data.’ ”April 27th, 2017
April 27th, 2017
Invention, 2012, Oil on glass, 24 × 30 inches
Untitled (Greek Mask #2), 2017
Flashe, ink, paper on canvas
36 x 30 inches
APRIL 20 – MAY 21, 2017
Peter Shire, Scorpion, Black, 1996-2013, cone 06 clay and two part polyurethane with ceramic primer, and glazed lids with metal detail, 12 ¾ x 31 ½ x 12 in.
Friday, Apr 21, 2017
7pm – 9pm
MOCA Pacific Design Center
8687 Melrose Avenue West Hollywood, CA 90069
“Stand in the Stream,” film still, 2017
April 14 – May 20, 2017April 14th, 2017
Model-Nr.: 1421, Model-Nr.: 2401, Model-Nr. 92173, Model-Nr. 92182
Studio Rhein Verlag, Düsseldorf,
January 21, 2017, 2017
21 x 26 1/4 inches (53.3 x 66.7 cm)
Open Letter: The Family Drama Refunctioned? (From the Point of View of Production)
Through May 20, 2017
BY WILLY STALEY
NY TIMES PUBLISHED: APRIL 13, 2017
As we took a seat in the back of the Commissary, a restaurant on the Sony Pictures Studios lot, Mike Judge pointed out a man seated two booths away. It was Tom Rothman, the chairman of Sony Pictures and former head of Fox’s film division, where he oversaw the rocky release of Judge’s 2006 film, “Idiocracy.” The movie imagined America 500 years in the future, populated and ruled by absolute morons, its infrastructure crumbling, its cities piled high with trash, everyone anesthetized by impossibly stupid television like the hit show “Ow! My Balls!” Though the film finished shooting in 2004, the studio mothballed it for more than a year. When “Idiocracy” was finally released, it wasn’t screened for critics or promoted in any other way — there wasn’t even a trailer — and it was shown in only seven cities, New York not among them. The studio, it seemed, was fulfilling the bare minimum of its contractual obligations, as if hoping that the movie would just go away.
I asked Judge about a rumor that surrounds the film: that Fox spiked it because it lampooned so many of Fox’s advertisers, not to mention Fox News itself. (Its anchors, in the film, look as if they just walked in from a porn set.) Judge explained that, actually, the movie had tested abysmally with audiences. And because his first live-action film, “Office Space,” had become a hit despite initially bombing, Fox figured it might as well not bother with much marketing — that the movie would take off on its own or recoup its budget in the home-video market. But he’d heard the other version of the story too.
As if on cue, Rothman approached our table, wearing glasses and a pinkish Oxford, carrying an antique lacrosse stick with a tennis ball in the basket, cradling it back and forth as he talked. He was with a friend named Lars Tiffany, who was wearing a Virginia Lacrosse shirt and, as a matter of fact, had recently been installed as the head coach of men’s lacrosse at the University of Virginia, and had taken his team to the studio to meet Rothman. “This is Mike Judge himself,” Rothman said to Tiffany. Then Judge introduced me to Rothman, explaining that I was from The Times: “Be careful what you say.”
“You’re doing a profile of Mike?” Rothman asked, beaming with excitement, which seemed to be his default mode. “You can’t possibly do a profile of Mike without talking to me! About his [expletive] movie career! Goddamn right! ‘Office Space’! ‘Office Space’ and ‘Idiocracy’!” Judge, who speaks so softly I often found myself nudging my recorder closer to him, was beginning to tell Rothman that we had just been talking about “Idiocracy” when Rothman started up again. “O.K., so lemme just say, I’ll give you the simple answer: ‘Office Space’ is to his credit, and ‘Idiocracy’ is entirely my fault.” He turned to Judge. “Right?”
“I agree,” Judge said.
“He was [expletive] ahead of his time. As always. As always.”
“I should’ve made it 10 years later and set in the present.”
‘They don’t seem to get into it for the purpose of pure greed and trying to make money. They end up there.’
Rothman turned to me. “He had it. You’re gonna see it. How absolutely. Terri-fy-ingly. Prescient it is.” He was picking up momentum. “Right now? ‘Idiocracy’? One of the great documentaries of our era!” he said, physically punctuating his point in such a way that he managed to thump a diner sitting behind him with the lacrosse stick.
Calling “Idiocracy” a documentary is one of those jokes about Donald Trump that was made constantly in the latter months of 2016 and now reeks of a certain strain of ineffectual liberal smugness. Still, it’s an observation not entirely without merit. As recently as two years ago, the movie felt like a relic of the jingoistic Bush years, but then history shuddered in such a way as to render it clairvoyant. In “Idiocracy,” the secretary of state is sponsored by Carl’s Jr., a company whose chairman very nearly became our current secretary of labor. In 2505, the Oval Office is occupied by an ex-wrestler and porn star named Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho; our president has been on the business end of a Stone Cold Stunner and once appeared in a nonpornographic segment of an otherwise soft-core Playboy VHS tape, dumping sparkling wine onto a limousine. His name is a brand name, too.
Judge has been exploring the contours of American suckiness for his whole career, so it’s no surprise that in what most Americans would consider a difficult year, his vision resonates. But Judge has spent much of his time as a satirist focusing on less self-evidently stupid targets. In “Office Space,” it was the micromanagers who turned a central aspiration of the American dream — white-collar work — into a fluorescent-lit nightmare. Now, on “Silicon Valley,” entering its fourth season on HBO, it is the upward-failing sociopaths of the tech industry, who envelop their monopolistic ardor in homilies about changing the world. (As the show’s billionaire villain, Gavin Belson, once put it: “I don’t want to live in a world where someone else makes the world a better place better than we do.”) The not-so-hidden brutality of our managerial class has always fascinated Judge. It may even help explain the sudden interest in “Idiocracy” around the election: Of course those people would come to love such a meanspirited movie after losing to a guy capable of misspelling the word “tap.”
After lunch, Judge and I made our way back to his editing bay on the lot. HBO rents space from Sony for the production of “Silicon Valley,” and Judge was there putting together the first episode of the new season, working from a room with blackout curtains over windows that would otherwise look out onto a small warren where the R.V. from “Breaking Bad” is parked — alongside, somewhat less impressively, Walter White’s Pontiac Aztek. Judge sat down with his co-showrunner, Alec Berg, their assistants and his editor to watch the episode for what might as well have been the thousandth time.
“Silicon Valley” concerns a small start-up called Pied Piper that is constantly bullied by a tech giant called Hooli, when it is not being brought low by its own employees. The fourth season opens with Richard Hendricks, the lead character and company founder, trying once again to turn his visionary compression algorithm into a viable business. We all watched as he paid a visit to Monica, a partner at the venture-capital firm that backs him, but found that someone else had taken over her office. It’s immediately clear that this new occupant is less a dreamer than a destroyer of dreams, which is no simple feat considering he’s onscreen for all of 10 seconds. But the job of comedy writers, sometimes, is to draw in bold lines, as you would with stage makeup. The perfect details were all there: The guy leans back in his chair with a smug smirk, seated beneath a framed Tom Brady jersey, and — amazingly, considering the scene was shot weeks earlier — in his hands, he holds a lacrosse stick.
Mike Judge started his career as an animator working out of his house in Dallas in the early ’90s, and two very different shorts defined, early on, the twin poles of his comedic universe. The first cartoon he ever completed, in 1991, was called “Milton’s Office Space”; it runs about 90 seconds and begins with a man at his desk, saying to the camera, “I told Bill if they move my desk one more time, I’m quittin’.” Bill shows up — hair slicked back, suspenders — and, of course, asks Milton to move his desk. “If you could go ahead and just get it as far back into that corner as possible, that’d be terrific,” he says, leaning on the door frame, coffee mug in hand. “That way, we’ll have room for some more of those boxes.” The short ends with Milton alone once again. “Well, O.K.,” he says to no one in particular. “But I’m gonna set the building on fire.”
The other pole of Judge’s work can be found in the 1992 short “Frog Baseball,” his first starring the adolescent goons Beavis and Butt-Head. The two venture out into the Texas chaparral, strip malls fading into the distance, the landscape seeming to ask: What do you expect to happen? They catch a grasshopper and stick a firecracker “in its butt,” celebrating its demise by shouting the chord progression from “Iron Man.” They find a frog and hit it with a bat, its corpse coming to rest amid crushed beer cans and spent shotgun shells; the boys do “Smoke on the Water.” Then they find a poodle.
A consistent theme in Judge’s work is the problem of agency: People like Milton have too little; people like Beavis and Butt-Head have too much. But all of them are united by the destructive impulses that arise from their predicament — and by the fact that they’re based in reality. Frog baseball was something Judge once overheard a guy talking about at work. First, he thought: That stuff happens. Then he thought: Who would do this? Beavis and Butt-Head offered an answer to that question. As for Milton, he was based in part on a guy Judge worked with shortly after college, at an engineering firm in San Diego. “Milton” was an employee in the logistics department, and no one ever seemed to talk to him. One day, passing by on the way to the restroom, Judge decided to say hi, not realizing that doing so would unleash a torrent of rage. “If they move my desk one more time, I’m quittin’,” the man told Judge, before delivering a rant about his fish tank and its sunlight needs. Judge remembers thinking: “He’s not going anywhere. You could move his desk a hundred times; he’s not gonna quit.”
Judge did quit that job, after a year. It was his first after graduating from the University of California, San Diego, in 1985 with a degree in physics, and he hated it. He moved to Silicon Valley, where he lasted three months each at two different jobs. In a way, he felt tricked. When he was growing up in Albuquerque, everyone told him that if he wanted a lucrative and satisfying career, all he had to do was get a technical degree. “Guidance counselors just pound it into us: science, college, science,” he says. But he had a technical degree and could barely afford his rent. His next-door neighbor worked as an auto mechanic, and not only did he make more money than Judge, but he kept flexible hours and seemed to be substantially happier. (He would serve as inspiration for Lawrence, the construction-worker neighbor in “Office Space”; Judge’s neighbor in the other direction helped inspire Butt-Head.) “For so long,” Judge told me, “I was wondering how I was going to make a living that wasn’t going to make me miserable. That was my main concern in life.”
He had an out: For a few years, he made a living playing stand-up bass with the blues guitarist Anson Funderburgh’s band. He moved to Dallas, where he bought a home for about $85,000 with his wife at the time. Back then, banks were still offering high-interest CDs that paid about 10 percent a year. Judge sat down one day to calculate how much he’d have to plow into one of these to avoid working for the rest of his life, living on interest alone. It was $360,000. This early-retirement scheme would be made irrelevant by the colossal success of “Beavis and Butt-Head,” which thrived in part by savagely roasting both MTV (the channel that aired it) and the generation its programming had spawned.
But Judge’s frustration with his early experience in the white-collar work force had only temporarily receded, and it would soon come rushing back in the form of “Office Space.” The 1999 film reprised the characters from the “Milton” short and expanded on the theme it explored: the way work not only robs you of your free will but also refashions that will in its own image. It’s such a brutal portrayal of workplace misery that its most useful points of comparison date back to when office culture was first unleashed on humanity. Many liken it to Herman Melville’s “Bartleby, the Scrivener” (a story Judge has not yet read), and I still recall a high-school English teacher invoking the movie in an effort to impress on the class what Franz Kafka’s life was like, toiling away by day at an insurance company in the twilight of the Hapsburg empire.
If you set aside his long-running TV show “King of the Hill,” which is much too loving to be considered satire, Judge’s corpus of work cleaves neatly into two pieces. In one, people are driven nearly to ruin in their efforts to escape the crush of immense managerial apparatuses (“Office Space,” “Extract”). In the other, we see the opposite — imbeciles left completely and terrifyingly to their own devices (“Beavis and Butt-Head,” “Idiocracy”). “Silicon Valley,” remarkably, fuses both of these impulses. The tech world it skewers is the most dynamic sector of our economy, possibly representing the greatest concentration of brainpower and capital ever seen in human history, creating products that insinuate their control into every last corner of our lives. And yet it’s nevertheless lousy with man-children who seem to want nothing more than the ability to prolong adolescence, theirs and ours alike, and have the means and the license and the asinine product ideas to do so. If “Idiocracy” imagined that America would one day amuse itself into ruin, then “Silicon Valley” offers a compelling case for how we’ll go about doing it — not in spite of our best and brightest, but because of them.
On a Tuesday morning in February, I found myself in a nearly empty Los Angeles Convention Center, where the “Silicon Valley” production team had fashioned about one-third of one hall into a mock industry convention. Staged for a scene in the show’s coming season, the event had 28 booths, among them Pied Piper’s and, across from it, one for a fictitious mobile game. The other 26, however, were completely real, with many staffed by actual employees. Square was there, along with Roku and Oculus and Nest, which brought a fire truck that had been painted baby blue by the guys from “Pimp My Ride.” There were companies I’d never heard of, like FLIR (thermal imaging), Mophie (portable chargers) and Equinix (“Interconnection to connect, protect and power the digital world”). A drone company called DJI had set up what can perhaps best be described as a go-go dancer cage for one of its quadcopters.
Looming above me was a 15-foot-tall four-legged mech, a full-body prosthesis fashioned from trellised white steel beams and hydraulic pumps. Behind it was a red R.V. with a helicopter on top of it, and all around were high-definition TVs playing promotional loops of other high-definition TVs installed in sumptuous settings. An employee of the company responsible for all this, Furrion, was explaining to me and a few “Silicon Valley” writers how this grab bag of contraptions all fit under the Hong Kong-based firm’s umbrella. Furrion had been involved mainly in yachts and then high-end audiovisual installations before deciding to “move toward lithium technology,” which led to robotics and to the mech, which he claimed, rather incredibly, could run 20 miles per hour. “The military actually wanted to, uh, arm it,” he told us. “But that’s not — we don’t — you know, we want to stay away from the military.” Then he paused and hedged: “As much as we can.” (Later, he said it was a previous project of his own that a military contractor had been curious about — a giant mechanical spider he created for Burning Man.)
In the middle of all this was Judge, whose appearance sits somewhere in the overlap between “aging surfer” (which he is) and “off-duty cop” (which he is certainly not). At 55, he’s trim with a powerful-looking upper body and somehow presents a sense of calm despite quivering with nervous energy. He sat at his monitors, eyes darting back and forth between the two feeds, legs pumping like pistons, chewing gum so furiously that I could, at times, see the muscles in his temples pulsating like an exposed heart. He has the habit, when making decisions, of clutching his skull as if it might otherwise split open. Anxious as he seemed, he never raised his voice and still laughed at the bits he liked, even on repeat viewings. (I asked him later, half-kidding, if directing stresses him out to the point that he still harbors fantasies about leaving the work force completely. “Oh, no, I do,” he said. “Totally.”)
The portrayal of the tech world on “Silicon Valley” might scan as absurd to anyone outside the industry, but within the valley the show is known and appreciated for its verisimilitude. Not only does it have a technical adviser in the writers’ room and on set; it also has a small research staff. Judge and Berg frequently meet with a network of contacts in the valley for material, in subjournalistic fashion, offering anonymity or compositing as cover to protect their sources. Thomas Middleditch, who plays Richard, told me he gets two responses from people in tech: They either love the show for its accuracy or find it so accurate that it’s too stressful to watch.
It could be said that a satire so beloved by its target must be a failure, but the valley’s embrace of the show underscores, in a way, the accuracy of the critique — a dynamic apparent at the convention. “You have to be careful,” warned Clay Tarver, a writer on the show, “because if you start talking to them, then they’ll start pitching you their thing. So I just don’t talk to anyone. It’s a pretty good rule of thumb here.” The actors, he said, are pitched all the time, wherever they go — which would be the equivalent of Christopher Guest being handed demo tapes by aspiring musicians who enjoyed his performance in “Spinal Tap.” Between takes, I watched a bearded employee of an electric-skateboard company enter full mall-kiosk-tout mode, aggressively selling Hollywood actors and extras on the merits of his product. Martin Starr, who plays Gilfoyle, took one for a spin and was then shown how the board’s battery popped out, making it convenient for air travel.
I tried to heed Tarver’s advice as I wandered around the faux-convention in the late afternoon, but I wound up failing. The initial pressure of the morning had given way to boredom among the extras and start-up employees. At the edge of the set, a man sat in a three-wheeled conveyance called a Vanderhall Laguna, looking vaguely disappointed. I walked by the Roku booth, where the “employees” were lounging on the carpet, looking at their phones. They were extras, it turned out, and when I asked why Roku hadn’t bothered sending real employees, their answer was interrupted by a voice from the next booth: “Because Roku doesn’t have an exciting product to talk about!”
It was the skateboard guy again. Though his prop lanyard identified him as Chris Riddle, he introduced himself as Dave. I couldn’t help liking him, and we fell into conversation as Judge and the cast prepared a shot at Pied Piper’s booth. Dave was impressed with how true to life the booth was, especially its use of AstroTurf. He had just been at the CES trade show in Las Vegas, he said, and AstroTurf was definitely the hallmark of a shabby booth. (Unknown to him, the “Silicon Valley” team had been there, too.) It would’ve been even more accurate, he said, if it had Ikea furniture — and from there, all of a sudden, I was being pitched. Dave had run to Ikea that very morning, he said, because a Best Buy in Mountain View had decided to sell his product, and he’d had to give them all his promotional fixtures; in fact, Dave said, he had big plans to place the board in dozens more stores. Then he added something strange: He said he’d spoken with a procurer for a Police Department about using the skateboards for patrols.
The entire conversation seemed to bolster Judge’s case for verisimilitude-as-satire. The implicit suggestion of “Silicon Valley” is that if you want to see how the tech world’s ostensibly freewheeling nature conceals a willingness to be party to systems of bureaucratic and governmental control — not to mention how it runs on a crass sort of hucksterism, and how it might represent a terrible misallocation of wealth and intellect — all you really need to do is look straight at it.
When Judge was casting “Silicon Valley,” nearly every actor who wound up in the principal cast first auditioned for the part of Erlich Bachman, the Falstaffian stoner who, in his avarice, chauvinism and arrogance, epitomizes Silicon Valley’s strange id. Judge held auditions in a conference room with frosted glass windows, and when T.J. Miller — who eventually landed the part — walked by, Judge saw his silhouette pass and started laughing. “If someone’s silhouette can make you laugh,” he told me, “they’re probably pretty funny.” We tend to think of funniness as a quality inherently tied to extroversion. But Judge isn’t like that at all. He’s surprisingly reserved and — while often funny — doesn’t really crack jokes. His is a sense of humor that renders the expression literal: He knows funny when he sees it, but he tries not to get in its way.
A couple of weeks after I visited the set of “Silicon Valley,” we met for dinner in Santa Monica, at a restaurant on the Third Street Promenade. We drank Coors Lights, and for the most part, Judge entertained me with anecdotes, including one about meeting Andrew Mason, who founded Groupon. Mason had played in punk bands, and the company he started, originally called the Point, was intended to help people organize around social causes. Early on, though, its users realized they could band together to save money, so Mason reoriented the company around that purpose. Eventually he realized he could just go directly to other companies to ask for discount deals, then sell those to groups of users. “Before I knew it,” Judge recalled him saying, “I was selling coupons.” Judge sympathizes with members of the tech world, he explained, because they’re not like Wall Street guys — they actually build things people use. “They don’t seem to get into it for the purpose of pure greed and trying to make money,” he said. “They end up there.”
In “Silicon Valley,” Richard’s efforts to avoid “ending up there” act as the propellant for the show’s drama. He outmaneuvers a frivolous lawsuit from Hooli, copycat products from better-capitalized companies and a Pied Piper chairman who wants to turn quick profits by putting his revolutionary algorithm in a boring piece of hardware. The valley is portrayed as adept at just about everything except fostering innovation — it would rather squash it, steal it or cram it into a box. It isn’t until the second half of Season 3 that Richard finally overcomes the venality of his peers to release a consumer version of his supposedly world-changing technology — which is when he discovers that most civilians just aren’t sophisticated enough to understand what it does or how to use it.
Judge has said that one reliable source of comedy for him is the way humanity simply isn’t prepared for modernity, which ensnares us in vast systems of control in order to sustain itself. What he couldn’t have imagined while making “Idiocracy” in the early 2000s was that technology was about to thrust humanity into an era for which we are even more ill equipped. It was around that moment that Silicon Valley inventions — blogging platforms, social media, YouTube — began sweeping away old orders and gatekeepers in a way that was both exhilarating (because we were more in charge of our destiny than ever before) and mortifying (because we were, well, more in charge of our destiny than ever before). “Idiocracy” was released the same year that Time magazine heralded this new age by naming us all the Person of the Year. A decade later, Donald Trump earned that honor, along with the presidency. If anything can explain the short time horizon on which “Idiocracy” and reality merged — if you believe they have — perhaps it is that technology left us completely, terrifyingly, to our own devices.
Over dinner, Judge told me that he now fears “Idiocracy” was a little optimistic — maybe the country won’t even exist in 2505. Then he told me the best story of the night. He was location-scouting for the movie at a reform school, though he didn’t know it was a reform school at the time. He looked around and thought the students there looked, in his words, “kinda stupid,” and figured they might be of use to him. In the “Idiocracy” universe, the most popular movie in America, and the winner of eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, consists entirely of a man’s buttocks, passing gas intermittently for 90 minutes. Judge had made a 35-millimeter print of this movie-within-a-movie — just a few minutes of it — for a scene that takes place in a theater, and he wound up recruiting 250 of the “juvenile delinquents” to fill the seats. Judge figured he’d have to do a bit of directing to get the proper response from these extras — that context-free flatulence wouldn’t actually be that funny — but the kids surprised him. “They just start laughing,” he told me. “And they just keep laughing.”
He turned to his director of photography and wondered aloud why they were even bothering with “Idiocracy.” Couldn’t they just release this?April 13th, 2017
Untitled (Clay for John Mason), 2016
Stoneware and Glaze
10 X 8 X 4 inches
Clay for John Mason
April 9 – May 11, 2017
Opening Reception: Sunday, April 9. 3-5 pmApril 5th, 2017
Thanks to Jonathan MaghenApril 1st, 2017
Seeking Myself, 2017
March 17, 2017 through April 16, 2017March 17th, 2017
“Untitled (Study For Picasso),” one of the works featured in “Steve Wolfe: Remembering Steve.” Credit Steve Wolfe; Farzad Owrang and Luhring Augustine, New York
By ROBERTA SMITH
NY Times Published: MARCH 9, 2017
Steve Wolfe, an artist who died last year at 60, was known for the small, select library of trompe l’oeil books he created. From his first solo show in 1989, Wolfe’s sculptures and wall pieces were all-but-perfect replicas of worn, well-used copies of modern classics and artist monographs and catalogs — usually his own — tweaked to within a hair of the original. Initially anonymous and ordinary in appearance, these copies become exquisitely personal as you grasp the level of skill and commitment required to make them. They are labors of love.
That love permeates “Steve Wolfe: Remembering Steve,” a memorial exhibition at Luhring Augustine. It is the first show of the artist’s work in New York since 2009, when the Whitney mounted an exhibition of studies for the books, and the first show since 2003 to include any of the book pieces themselves. The writers here include Leo Tolstoy and Henry James, James Joyce and Gertrude Stein, and Allen Ginsberg and Jean Genet. The catalogs feature the work of Pollock, Warhol and Walker Evans. Also included are a few of Wolfe’s trompe vinyl records, among them Patti Smith’s “Horses,” an LP, and the 45-r.p.m. single of the Beatles’ “Help.”
Seen together, these works form a poignant self-portrait. The show opens with Wolfe’s rendition of Joyce’s “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,” its green cover gently creased, like aged skin. It pays tribute to the various writers and artists, many of them gay, who, it seems safe to say, formed Wolfe’s understanding of himself as an artist and as a gay man.
For the most part, Wolfe made his book pieces from a combination of oil paint, modeling paste, lithography or screen prints and carved, painted wood, a thorough mixing of media to fashion work that melds art with literature and music. If a cover had a metallic finish, like Kenneth Anger’s “Hollywood Babylon,” he also used bronze-casting.
The first clue to the specialness of Wolfe’s “painted sculptures” (his words) is that they hang on the wall, inviting scrutiny and savoring that usually reveal signs of artifice and process. These are especially evident in the studies, which vary often, but not strictly, according to book type. Studies for books with black-and-white covers tend to be executed in graphite. Those for paperbacks usually depict only the front, as with Nabokov’s “Speak Memory,” whose white cover Wolfe set aflutter with brushwork. For hardback books (but also some paperbacks), their typically ragged dust jackets are usually splayed open to expose front, back and spine — more than in the final piece. One example, Gertrude Stein’s 1948 monograph on Picasso, plays with perception: You can’t tell if the textured brushwork of the painting on the cover is meant to show Wolfe’s hand or imitate Picasso’s.
In all the final pieces, you simultaneously contemplate the love of the book as text and as design, and the life of the book as an object — a mass-produced one worn to a state of uniqueness before Wolfe began making his copy, memorializing one point in its particular disintegration.
Often there is a resonant dovetailing between the condition of a book and its subject and design. For example, the white dust jacket of “Walker Evans American Photographs,” a 1962 catalog from the Museum of Modern Art, has appropriately suffered light damage: a permanent shadow creeps across the front.
Wolfe’s rendition of the familiar Penguin paperback of Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” is of a copy swollen to twice its size. It has, in effect, blossomed, the way Anna did when she fell in love with Vronsky. The pages fan outward delicately, like the gills on a mushroom. The book wasn’t submerged in water — nothing so crude. It was Wolfe’s beach reading one summer, consumed in high humidity and often “with wet fingers,” he once said. The drifting snow in the cover image — taken from a 19th-century Russian print — is beautifully painted.
Wolfe’s books honor the exacting labor of cherished writers and artists by returning the favor. But they are also hidden in their labors of love, enacting the frequent need for homosexual attractions and bonds to remain undeclared. This show brings a new clarity and depth to Wolfe’s art, through its attentive selection and installation, and because it is now, sadly, finite, fixed. But perhaps we give ourselves to it more fully because it’s all that is left.March 16th, 2017
By DANNY HAKIM
NY Times Published: MARCH 14, 2017
The reputation of Roundup, whose active ingredient is the world’s most widely used weed killer, took a hit on Tuesday when a federal court unsealed documents raising questions about its safety and the research practices of its manufacturer, the chemical giant Monsanto.
Roundup and similar products are used around the world on everything from row crops to home gardens. It is Monsanto’s flagship product, and industry-funded research has long found it to be relatively safe. A case in federal court in San Francisco has challenged that conclusion, building on the findings of an international panel that claimed Roundup’s main ingredient might cause cancer.
The court documents included Monsanto’s internal emails and email traffic between the company and federal regulators. The records suggested that Monsanto had ghostwritten research that was later attributed to academics and indicated that a senior official at the Environmental Protection Agency had worked to quash a review of Roundup’s main ingredient, glyphosate, that was to have been conducted by the United States Department of Health and Human Services.
The documents also revealed that there was some disagreement within the E.P.A. over its own safety assessment.
The files were unsealed by Judge Vince Chhabria, who is presiding over litigation brought by people who claim to have developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma as a result of exposure to glyphosate. The litigation was touched off by a determination made nearly two years ago by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a branch of the World Health Organization, that glyphosate was a probable carcinogen, citing research linking it to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Court records show that Monsanto was tipped off to the determination by a deputy division director at the E.P.A., Jess Rowland, months beforehand. That led the company to prepare a public relations assault on the finding well in advance of its publication. Monsanto executives, in their internal email traffic, also said Mr. Rowland had promised to beat back an effort by the Department of Health and Human Services to conduct its own review.
Dan Jenkins, a Monsanto executive, said in an email in 2015 that Mr. Rowland, referring to the other agency’s potential review, had told him, “If I can kill this, I should get a medal.” The review never took place. In another email, Mr. Jenkins noted to a colleague that Mr. Rowland was planning to retire and said he “could be useful as we move forward with ongoing glyphosate defense.”
The safety of glyphosate is not settled science. A number of agencies, including the European Food Safety Agency and the E.P.A., have disagreed with the international cancer agency, playing down concerns of a cancer risk, and Monsanto has vigorously defended glyphosate.
But the court records also reveal a level of debate within the E.P.A. The agency’s Office of Research and Development raised some concern about the robustness of an assessment carried out by the agency’s Office of Pesticide Programs, where Mr. Rowland was a senior official at the time, and recommended in December 2015 that it take steps to “strengthen” its “human health assessment.”
In a statement, Monsanto said, “Glyphosate is not a carcinogen.”
It added: “The allegation that glyphosate can cause cancer in humans is inconsistent with decades of comprehensive safety reviews by the leading regulatory authorities around the world. The plaintiffs have submitted isolated documents that are taken out of context.”
The E.P.A. had no immediate comment, and Mr. Rowland could not be reached immediately.
Monsanto also rebutted suggestions that the disclosures highlighted concerns that the academic research it underwrites is compromised. Monsanto frequently cites such research to back up its safety claims on Roundup and pesticides.
In one email unsealed Tuesday, William F. Heydens, a Monsanto executive, told other company officials that they could ghostwrite research on glyphosate by hiring academics to put their names on papers that were actually written by Monsanto. “We would be keeping the cost down by us doing the writing and they would just edit & sign their names so to speak,” Mr. Heydens wrote, citing a previous instance in which he said the company had done this.
Asked about the exchange, Monsanto said in a second statement that its “scientists did not ghostwrite the paper” that was referred to or previous work, adding that a paper that eventually appeared “underwent the journal’s rigorous peer review process before it was published.”
David Kirkland, one of the scientists mentioned in the email, said in an interview, “I would not publish a document that had been written by someone else.” He added, “We had no interaction with Monsanto at all during the process of reviewing the data and writing the papers.”
The disclosures are the latest to raise concerns about the integrity of academic research financed by agrochemical companies. Last year, a review by The New York Times showed how the industry can manipulate academic research or misstate findings. Declarations of interest included in a Monsanto-financed paper on glyphosate that appeared in the journal Critical Reviews in Toxicology said panel members were recruited by a consulting firm. Email traffic made public shows that Monsanto officials discussed and debated scientists who should be considered, and shaped the project.
“I think it’s important that people hold Monsanto accountable when they say one thing and it’s completely contradicted by very frank internal documents,” said Timothy Litzenburg of the Miller Firm, one of the law firms handling the litigation.
The issue of glyphosate’s safety is not a trivial one for Americans. Over the last two decades, Monsanto has genetically re-engineered corn, soybeans and cotton so it is much easier to spray them with the weed killer, and some 220 million pounds of glyphosate were used in 2015 in the United States.
“People should know that there are superb scientists in the world who would disagree with Monsanto and some of the regulatory agencies’ evaluations, and even E.P.A. has disagreement within the agency,” said Robin Greenwald, a lawyer at Weitz & Luxembourg, which is also involved in the litigation. “Even in the E.U., there’s been a lot of disagreement among the countries. It’s not so simple as Monsanto makes it out to be.“March 16th, 2017
“Tlunh Datsi,” a work from 1984 by Mr. Durham
By JORI FINKEL
NY Times Published: MARCH 10, 2017
LOS ANGELES — It was a big night for the 76-year-old American artist Jimmie Durham. That evening, Jan. 28, was the opening of his retrospective at the Hammer Museum here, eagerly anticipated because he has not had a solo show in the United States in 22 years.
Along with collectors and curators, dozens of artists came to see the works firsthand: Charles Gaines, Liz Glynn, Tacita Dean and Andrea Fraser included. Crowds surrounded a small army of gangly, totemic wood sculptures enlivened with clothing, animal skulls and paint. They lined up to see an equally unruly life-size self-portrait — a funky assemblage that parodied a “job wanted” ad, with handwritten notes on a canvas body promoting the artist’s attributes. The words “useless nipple,” “12 hobbies!” and “I am basically lighthearted” ran across his chest. The work had a shell for an ear and a turquoise stone for an eye.
But viewers had to make do with the self-portrait, because the artist with bright blue eyes and a wry, self-deprecating sense of humor was nowhere to be seen. Mr. Durham, a Cherokee Indian, has not stepped foot in the United States since 1995, the year of his last New York gallery show, at Nicole Klagsbrun. Given his history as an activist critical of the United States government, dating to his leadership in the American Indian Movement in the 1970s, published reports have said he was living in a self-imposed exile in Europe.
“That’s not really the case,” Mr. Durham explained in a rare interview, conducted over three Skype video calls from Naples, Italy, where he and his partner, the artist Maria Thereza Alves, have turned a 12th-century convent, more recently used as a leather factory, into a studio with living quarters. He said he couldn’t visit Los Angeles this year on doctor’s orders.
“I wish I could have come for the show,” he said. “I have had many stupid problems over the last three years: strokes and broken bones and this and that. And I’m not quite over them.”
Still, he acknowledged that he stopped living in New York in the 1980s — and gave up having a gallery there soon after, just as he was gaining a foothold in the market — in large part out of frustration with the art world’s increasing commercialization. “I guess you could call leaving New York a statement or position in that I didn’t want to be judged by my monetary success. I didn’t want to be a part of the American dream.”
He was also fed up at being pigeonholed as a Cherokee artist. “I am perfectly willing to be called Cherokee,” he said, speaking slowly, thoughtfully. “But I’m not a Cherokee artist or Indian artist, no more than Brancusi was a Romanian artist.”
While acknowledging such political complexities, the Hammer show, “Jimmie Durham: At the Center of the World” (on view through May 7 before it travels to the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and the Whitney Museum of American Art) does try to bring Mr. Durham’s work back into a broadly American context.
“I consider him to be one of the most important American sculptors today, alongside David Hammons, and yet because he moved to Europe, he’s not really put into that category,” said Anne Ellegood, the show’s curator.
Mr. Durham also has a growing fan base among artists. “Instead of overinflated, overhyped, oversized installations passing as art, Jimmie Durham’s work is authentic, modest and funny,” Judy Chicago noted after seeing the show. “Plus he has the most uncanny sensitivity to materials.” She was particularly moved by a recent assemblage that combines found objects and Murano glass “in an amazing way to express the vulnerability of the body that comes with aging.”
Born to a Cherokee family in rural Arkansas, the fourth of five children, Mr. Durham was resourceful from an early age. His father was a construction worker who made his own furniture. His children followed him into the tool shed.
“As a child, I didn’t do art, but I made many things — every kind of toy, every kind of tool,” he said, mentioning wood slingshots and small animal traps. During our conversation, he retrieved some small carving knives made by his father and held them in front of the computer screen.
“He was absolutely fanatic about his tools,” Mr. Durham said. “He didn’t approve of the way I worked. He wanted things to be nicely finished, which I don’t like necessarily. And I don’t mind using the tools badly or in ways you shouldn’t,” like hitting an ax head with a hammer to shave off a layer of wood.
Wood and stone have long been the mainstays of his sculpture. Found animal skulls, painted in bright colors or encrusted with beads or stones, prove another important medium, with the skulls of an armadillo, skunk, dog and moose appearing in the Hammer show.
He dates this interest to a visit to the Coushatta reservation in East Texas as a teenager. He spotted a deer skull, painted blue and mounted to a tree: “I was just astounded by it,” he said. “I felt it was part of something extremely serious and special.”
After enrolling at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Geneva in 1970, he began incorporating the skulls into art. He remembers finding a dead badger on the side of a road leading to France. “I went back home and got my good knife and skinned the badger,” he said. “I took the head off, boiled the meat, made something out of the skin and made an artwork out of the skull. I used everything.”
In 1974, he became the director of the International Indian Treaty Council, an organization founded during an American Indian Movement meeting at Standing Rock, N.D., to promote the sovereignty and rights of “native nations” across the world. He resigned five years later, citing leadership problems. (As for current Standing Rock protests against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, he said he wished he could do something concrete to help: “I have friends there, and I think the last thing they need is my words.”)
As he began showing his artwork more frequently in New York, he struggled with its reception. One series from 1982, canvas paintings incorporating documentary photographs of Indian hardships, proved too popular with a mainly white audience — “too easy, too entertaining,” he said. “The paintings were always semiabstract, and the photos were always horrible things happening on or around Indian reservations.”
His work began to confront Native American stereotypes. In 1985, he built museum-like displays of faux-Indian specimens. One was a handprint on paper made with red paint and his blood; another was “Pocahontas underwear,” a garment he made of dyed-red chicken feathers and beads, putting Native American craft materials to startling use.
But Mr. Durham grew frustrated by the general tendency, especially during the heyday of multiculturalism, to read his art biographically. Recent work — including photographs, drawings, vitrines and video — tends to be more enigmatic or abstract, with a 2012 series combining carved wood blocks and metal machine parts found in his studio into dynamic forms that resemble Brancusi columns out of whack.
Mr. Durham first met Ms. Ellegood in 2006. She was a curator at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden and had the idea of pairing him with the artist Sam Durant to represent the United States at its Venice Biennale pavilion. But when questions arose about the fact that Mr. Durham is not registered as a citizen with the Cherokee Nation, he withdrew from the project.
His lack of registration also fueled an allegation by a retired Cherokee judge, cited on Mr. Durham’s Wikipedia page, that he is a “poser” and not really Cherokee. Mr. Durham pointed out that “many Cherokees are not registered. My family didn’t even think about registering.” He criticized tribal enrollment efforts, originally backed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, as a “tool of apartheid.”
Mr. Durham continued to show in Europe while Ms. Ellegood pursued a new idea: an American retrospective. Three years ago, he finally agreed. “She wore me down,” he said, laughing.
She took the title of the current show from a long-running series by Mr. Durham highlighting the absurdity of any nation’s or culture’s claims of superiority. For years, he has been making poles “to mark the center of the world” and placing them in odd spots in the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Belgium, France, Germany, South Korea and even Siberia.
As seen at the entrance of the Hammer show, the lightweight poles typically consist of a single piece of carved wood, with a hand mirror attached. One interpretation is that the mirror implicates the viewer as complicit in a classic power play of defining who is insider and who is outsider. But Mr. Durham had a more lighthearted take. It’s natural to be a touch vain, he suggested: “You want to be able to look your best when you’re at the center of the world.”March 11th, 2017