By THE NY TIMES EDITORIAL BOARD
Published: MARCH 10, 2014
Democrats have for too long been passive in the face of the vast amounts of corporate money, most of it secret, that are being spent to evict them from office and dismantle their policies. By far the largest voice in many of this year’s political races, for example, has been that of the Koch brothers, who have spent tens of millions of dollars peddling phony stories about the impact of health care reform, all in order to put Republicans in control of the Senate after the November elections.
Now Democrats are starting to fight back, deciding they should at least try to counter the tycoons with some low-cost speech of their own. Democrats may never have the same resources at their disposal — no party should — but they can use their political pulpits to stand up for a few basic principles, including the importance of widespread health-insurance coverage, environmental protection and safety-net programs.
The leader of this effort has been Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, who has delivered a series of blistering attacks against the Kochs and their ads on the Senate floor over the last few weeks. In addition, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has set up a website, www.kochaddiction.com, to remind voters of just what the Kochs stand for, and why they raised $407 million in the 2012 election. And individual candidates are making sure voters know who is paying for the ad blitz.
“The billionaire Koch brothers,” says one of the people quoted in an ad released Monday by Senator Mark Begich of Alaska, who has been the object of one of their blatantly false television barrages. “They come into our town, fire a refinery, just running it into the ground, leaving a mess.” Senator Kay Hagan of North Carolina reminds voters that the Kochs and their allies have pressed for high-end tax breaks that burden the middle class.
Mr. Reid’s comments have gone to the heart of the matter. In his most recent speech, he pointed out that the fundamental purpose of the Kochs’ spending is to rig the economic system for their benefit and for that of other oligarchs. They own an industrial network that ranks No. 14 on the list of the most toxic American air polluters, and got their money’s worth in 2010 by helping elect a Republican House majority that has resisted environmental regulation.
“That Republican majority is, in fact, working to gut the most important safeguards to keep cancer-causing toxins and pollution that cause sickness and death out of the air we breathe and the water we drink,” Mr. Reid said. “Without those safeguards, the Koch brothers would pass on the higher health care costs to middle-class Americans while padding their own pocketbooks.” He called it “un-American” to spend lavishly to preserve tax breaks and end workplace safety standards.
Republicans quickly rushed to the cameras to demand an apology on behalf of their benefactors, furious that anyone would dare interrupt an industrialist in the process of writing a check. But Mr. Reid made it clear no apology would be forthcoming.
What the Kochs want — and polls show they have a strong chance of getting it — is a Senate led by Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, now the minority leader, who promises in his latest campaign ad to “be the leader of the forces that take on the war on coal,” the most polluting power-plant fuel. Nothing could be better for the owners of Koch Carbon, and they are willing to spend whatever it takes to make it happen. But they are finally encountering some resistance.March 10th, 2014
Scorpion Pot # 1, 1996
ceramic, glaze, paint, and stainless steel
32 X 13 X 12 inches
Peter Shire | Scorpion Pots
March 9 through April 11, 2014
By PAGAN KENNEDY
NY Times Published: MARCH 8, 2014
IF you walk into a farm-supply store today, you’re likely to find a bag of antibiotic powder that claims to boost the growth of poultry and livestock. That’s because decades of agricultural research has shown that antibiotics seem to flip a switch in young animals’ bodies, helping them pack on pounds. Manufacturers brag about the miraculous effects of feeding antibiotics to chicks and nursing calves. Dusty agricultural journals attest to the ways in which the drugs can act like a kind of superfood to produce cheap meat.
But what if that meat is us? Recently, a group of medical investigators have begun to wonder whether antibiotics might cause the same growth promotion in humans. New evidence shows that America’s obesity epidemic may be connected to our high consumption of these drugs. But before we get to those findings, it’s helpful to start at the beginning, in 1948, when the wonder drugs were new — and big was beautiful.
That year, a biochemist named Thomas H. Jukes marveled at a pinch of golden powder in a vial. It was a new antibiotic named Aureomycin, and Mr. Jukes and his colleagues at Lederle Laboratories suspected that it would become a blockbuster, lifesaving drug. But they hoped to find other ways to profit from the powder as well. At the time, Lederle scientists had been searching for a food additive for farm animals, and Mr. Jukes believed that Aureomycin could be it. After raising chicks on Aureomycin-laced food and on ordinary mash, he found that the antibiotics did boost the chicks’ growth; some of them grew to weigh twice as much as the ones in the control group.
Mr. Jukes wanted more Aureomycin, but his bosses cut him off because the drug was in such high demand to treat human illnesses. So he hit on a novel solution. He picked through the laboratory’s dump to recover the slurry left over after the manufacture of the drug. He and his colleagues used those leftovers to carry on their experiments, now on pigs, sheep and cows. All of the animals gained weight. Trash, it turned out, could be transformed into meat.
You may be wondering whether it occurred to anyone back then that the powders would have the same effect on the human body. In fact, a number of scientists believed that antibiotics could stimulate growth in children. From our contemporary perspective, here’s where the story gets really strange: All this growth was regarded as a good thing. It was an era that celebrated monster-size animals, fat babies and big men. In 1955, a crowd gathered in a hotel ballroom to watch as feed salesmen climbed onto a scale; the men were competing to see who could gain the most weight in four months, in imitation of the cattle and hogs that ate their antibiotic-laced food. Pfizer sponsored the competition.
In 1954, Alexander Fleming — the Scottish biologist who discovered penicillin — visited the University of Minnesota. His American hosts proudly informed him that by feeding antibiotics to hogs, farmers had already saved millions of dollars in slop. But Fleming seemed disturbed by the thought of applying that logic to humans. “I can’t predict that feeding penicillin to babies will do society much good,” he said. “Making people larger might do more harm than good.”
Nonetheless, experiments were then being conducted on humans. In the 1950s, a team of scientists fed a steady diet of antibiotics to schoolchildren in Guatemala for more than a year,while Charles H. Carter, a doctor in Florida, tried a similar regimen on mentally disabled kids. Could the children, like the farm animals, grow larger? Yes, they could.
Mr. Jukes summarized Dr. Carter’s research in a monograph on nutrition and antibiotics: “Carter carried out a prolonged investigation of a study of the effects of administering 75 mg of chlortetracycline” — the chemical name for Aureomycin — “twice daily to mentally defective children for periods of up to three years at the Florida Farm Colony. The children were mentally deficient spastic cases and were almost entirely helpless,” he wrote. “The average yearly gain in weight for the supplemented group was 6.5 lb while the control group averaged 1.9 lb in yearly weight gain.”
Researchers also tried this out in a study of Navy recruits. “Nutritional effects of antibiotics have been noted for some time” in farm animals, the authors of the 1954 study wrote. But “to date there have been few studies of the nutritional effects in humans, and what little evidence is available is largely concerned with young children. The present report seems of interest, therefore, because of the results obtained in a controlled observation of several hundred young American males.” The Navy men who took a dose of antibiotics every morning for seven weeks gained more weight, on average, than the control group.
MEANWHILE, in agricultural circles, word of the miracle spread fast. Jay C. Hormel described imaginative experiments in livestock production to his company’s stockholders in 1951; soon the company began its own research. Hormel scientists cut baby piglets out of their mothers’ bellies and raised them in isolation, pumping them with food and antibiotics. And yes, this did make the pigs fatter.
Farms clamored for antibiotic slurry from drug companies, which was trucked directly to them in tanks. By 1954, Eli Lilly & Company had created an antibiotic feed additive for farm animals, as “an aid to digestion.” It was so much more than that. The drug-laced feeds allowed farmers to keep their animals indoors — because in addition to becoming meatier, the animals now could subsist in filthy conditions. The stage was set for the factory farm.
And yet, scientists still could not explain the mystery of antibiotics and weight gain. Nor did they try, really. According to Luis Caetano M. Antunes, a public health researcher at the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation in Brazil, the attitude was, “Who cares how it’s working?” Over the next few decades, while farms kept buying up antibiotics, the medical world largely lost interest in their fattening effects, and moved on.
In the last decade, however, scrutiny of antibiotics has increased. Overuse of the drugs has led to the rise of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria — salmonella in factory farms and staph infections in hospitals. Researchers have also begun to suspect that it may shed light on the obesity epidemic.
In 2002 Americans were about an inch taller and 24 pounds heavier than they were in the 1960s, and more than a third are now classified as obese. Of course, diet and lifestyle are prime culprits. But some scientists wonder whether there could be other reasons for this staggering transformation of the American body. Antibiotics might be the X factor — or one of them.
Martin J. Blaser, the director of the Human Microbiome Program and a professor of medicine and microbiology at New York University, is exploring that mystery. In 1980, he was the salmonella surveillance officer for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, going to farms to investigate outbreaks. He remembers marveling at the amount of antibiotic powder that farmers poured into feed. “I began to think, what is the meaning of this?” he told me.
Of course, while farm animals often eat a significant dose of antibiotics in food, the situation is different for human beings. By the time most meat reaches our table, it contains little or no antibiotics. So we receive our greatest exposure in the pills we take, rather than the food we eat. American kids are prescribed on average about one course of antibiotics every year, often for ear and chest infections. Could these intermittent high doses affect our metabolism?
Continue reading the main story
To find out, Dr. Blaser and his colleagues have spent years studying the effects of antibiotics on the growth of baby mice. In one experiment, his lab raised mice on both high-calorie food and antibiotics. “As we all know, our children’s diets have gotten a lot richer in recent decades,” he writes in a book, “Missing Microbes,” due out in April. At the same time, American children often are prescribed antibiotics. What happens when chocolate doughnuts mix with penicillin?
The results of the study were dramatic, particularly in female mice: They gained about twice as much body fat as the control-group mice who ate the same food. “For the female mice, the antibiotic exposure was the switch that converted more of those extra calories in the diet to fat, while the males grew more in terms of both muscle and fat,” Dr. Blaser writes. “The observations are consistent with the idea that the modern high-calorie diet alone is insufficient to explain the obesity epidemic and that antibiotics could be contributing.”
The Blaser lab also investigates whether antibiotics may be changing the animals’ microbiome — the trillions of bacteria that live inside their guts. These bacteria seem to play a role in all sorts of immune responses, and, crucially, in digesting food, making nutrients and maintaining a healthy weight. And antibiotics can kill them off: One recent study found that taking the antibiotic ciprofloxacin decimated entire populations of certain bugs in some patients’ digestive tracts — bacteria they might have been born with.
Until recently, scientists simply had no way to identify and sort these trillions of bacteria. But thanks to a new technique called high-throughput sequencing, we can now examine bacterial populations inside people. According to Ilseung Cho, a gastroenterologist who works with the Blaser lab, researchers are learning so much about the gut bugs that it is sometimes difficult to make sense of the blizzard of revelations. “Interpreting the volume of data being generated is as much a challenge as the scientific questions we are interested in asking,” he said.
Investigators are beginning to piece together a story about how gut bacteria shapes each life, beginning at birth, when infants are anointed with populations from their mothers’ microbiomes. Babies who are born by cesarean and never make that trip through the birth canal apparently never receive some key bugs from their mothers — possibly including those that help to maintain a healthy body weight. Children born by C-section are more likely to be obese in later life.
By the time we reach adulthood, we have developed our own distinct menagerie of bacteria. In fact, it doesn’t always make sense to speak of us and them. You are the condo that your bugs helped to build and design. The bugs redecorate you every day. They turn the thermostat up and down, and bang on your pipes.
In the Blaser lab and elsewhere, scientists are racing to take a census of the bugs in the human gut and — even more difficult — to figure out what effects they have on us. What if we could identify which species minimize the risk of diabetes, or confer protection against obesity? And what if we could figure out how to protect these crucial bacteria from antibiotics, or replace them after they’re killed off?
The results could represent an entirely new pharmacopoeia, drugs beyond our wildest dreams: Think of them as “anti-antibiotics.” Instead of destroying bugs, these new medicines would implant creatures inside us, like more sophisticated probiotics.
Dr. Cho looks forward to this new era of medicine. “I could say, ‘All right, I know that you’re at risk for developing colon cancer, and I can decrease that risk by giving you this bacteria and altering your microbiome.’ That would be amazing. We could prevent certain diseases before they happened.”
Until then, it’s hard for him to know what to tell his patients. We know that antibiotics change us, but we still don’t know what to do about it. “It’s still too early to draw definitive conclusions,” Dr. Cho said. “And antibiotics remain a valuable resource that physicians use to fight infections.”
When I spoke to Mr. Antunes, the public health researcher in Brazil, he told me that his young daughter had just suffered through several bouts of ear infections. “It’s a no-brainer. You have to give her antibiotics.” And yet, he worried about how these drugs might affect her in years to come.
It has become common to chide doctors and patients for overusing antibiotics, but when the baby is wailing or you’re burning with fever, it’s hard to know what to do. While researchers work to unravel the connections between antibiotics and weight gain, they should also put their minds toward reducing the unnecessary use of antibiotics. One way to do that would be to provide patients with affordable tests that give immediate feedback about what kind of infection has taken hold in their body. Such tools, like a new kind of blood test, are now in development and could help to eliminate the “just in case” prescribing of antibiotics.
In the meantime, we are faced with the legacy of these drugs — the possibility that they have affected our size and shape, and made us different people.March 8th, 2014
March 7, 2014 — June 8, 2014March 6th, 2014
A selection of works by Magdalena Suarez Frimkess are on view at the artist’s first New York show at White Columns.
By DIEGO HADIS
NY Times Published MARCH 3, 2014
Though Magdalena Suarez Frimkess’s ceramics collaborations with her husband, Michael Frimkess, have drawn a following for many years — they’re in the collections of a number of institutions, including the Museum of Arts and Design and the Smithsonian — the 84-year-old Venice, Calif.-based artist has rarely exhibited her own work. But as her debut New York solo show, opening tonight at White Columns, demonstrates, her talent is as singular as the life she has led.
In her choice of motifs, the Venezuelan-born artist seems entirely unbound by convention. She’s just as likely to decorate one of her pieces with scenarios from Greco-Roman pottery as she is to feature Mickey and Minnie Mouse dancing the jitterbug. Though she often returns to the same imagery in her work, she never plans her subjects beforehand. “I just use whatever happens that day — it’s like a menu that you choose your food from,” she says. But if her work appears offhand and playful, there can be something unsettling about it as well. A frequent theme has Olive Oyl in trouble, getting kidnapped or dangled over a school of vicious sharks. Other pieces depict more quotidian scenes, borrowed from Mayan and Aztec codices, of women giving birth or looking into obsidian mirrors.
The stories that Suarez Frimkess portrays may not correlate directly to her own experiences, but her life has been eventful. Orphaned at the age of 7, she later enrolled at the School of Plastic Arts in Caracas but set her ambitions aside at 18 when she met a man with whom she had a son and a daughter. As the children grew older, she returned to study painting and sculpture at Catholic University in Santiago with several Fulbright students, including the California artist Paul Harris. He was so taken with her work that he described her as “the most daring sculptor now working in Chile” in a 1962 article for Art in America, and arranged for her to receive a fellowship to study in the United States. This drew her partner’s ire, and he gave her an ultimatum. The decision to attend the Clay Art Center in Port Chester, N.Y., was a wrenching one, and it would ultimately take her away from her children for decades. But it did bring her into contact with the Los Angeles-born ceramist who would become her husband and longtime collaborator, Michael Frimkess.
In 1971, after the couple moved to L.A., Frimkess developed multiple sclerosis. Producing his solo work became more difficult, and Suarez Frimkess set aside her own painting-and-sculpture practice to begin collaborating with her husband. In this new arrangement, he would throw his signature thin-walled, elegantly proportioned pots and she would glaze them. In his earlier solo work, even before Pop Art, Frimkess had decorated his pieces with images from popular culture, touching on multiculturalism, overpopulation and jazz. “He comes to it from a more ideological place,” says Karin Gulbran, who curated the White Columns exhibition (and also has a solo ceramics show opening there simultaneously). “She jumped in and took the subject matter in her own direction.”
Perhaps because Suarez Frimkess is self-taught, her own pieces have less in common with the work of other West Coast ceramists than the ones made with her husband do. “She’s not an outsider artist, but she is outside of the ceramics tradition,” Gulbran says. The way she makes and decorates her pieces bears this out: Her forms are more sculptural than functional, and although glazes are designed for dipping, Magdalena applies them like paint in a process that she likens to cloisonné.
The White Columns show comes at a time, half a century into their career, when Suarez Frimkess and her husband seem to be having a moment. Last year, a number of pieces were in “Grapevine~,” a standout exhibition of California ceramists at L.A.’s David Kordansky Gallery. South Willard, a men’s wear store and hub of that city’s arts community, has shown their work numerous times. And they are to be included in the Hammer Museum’s upcoming “Made in L.A. 2014″ biennial — which should help make apparent the couple’s influence on a younger generation of West Coast artists.
Magdalena Suarez Frimkess is on view at White Columns through April 19March 4th, 2014
Curated by Steven Baldi
H. Armstrong Roberts
March 14 – April 19, 2014
Opening Friday, March 14, 2014
Lens reflex brings together a group of works that I feel employ a sensitivity to the camera as a tool and a sensual use of the photographic apparatus. The works selected both allow and utilize the tool’s ability to create a tertiary, magic-like, presence within the objects it creates. The exhibition attempts to indirectly address the specificity of the camera and the mechanical process that produces an object which is separate yet tied to it.
- Steven Baldi, 2014
Matt Paweski, Slanted Plaques (teal)
Beech hardwood, steel, copper rivets, enamel, wax
The exhibition is conceived as a tribute to Frank Stella’s late 1970s series of paintings “Indian Birds,” and in particular to Khar Pidda (1978), published on the cover of Flash Art International no. 92-93 in 1979.
Elaine Cameron- Wier & Ben Schumacher
March 4th – April 5th
Opening March 4th 6-9pm
Flash Art NY Desk
630 9th Ave Suite 403
(between 44 and 45th St.)
Where else can you get a jug by George Ohr, a chalice by Georges Jouve,
a tea pot by Gio Ponti, a bowl by Gwyneth Paltrow, and a 16th century Halberd?
By GREG HAMPIKIAN
NY Times Published: FEB. 27, 2014
BOISE, Idaho — TO the chief counsel of the Idaho State Legislature:
In light of the bill permitting guns on our state’s college and university campuses, which is likely to be approved by the state House of Representatives in the coming days, I have a matter of practical concern that I hope you can help with: When may I shoot a student?
I am a biology professor, not a lawyer, and I had never considered bringing a gun to work until now. But since many of my students are likely to be armed, I thought it would be a good idea to even the playing field.
I have had encounters with disgruntled students over the years, some of whom seemed quite upset, but I always assumed that when they reached into their backpacks they were going for a pencil. Since I carry a pen to lecture, I did not feel outgunned; and because there are no working sharpeners in the lecture hall, the most they could get off is a single point. But now that we’ll all be packing heat, I would like legal instruction in the rules of classroom engagement.
At present, the harshest penalty available here at Boise State is expulsion, used only for the most heinous crimes, like cheating on Scantron exams. But now that lethal force is an option, I need to know which infractions may be treated as de facto capital crimes.
I assume that if a student shoots first, I am allowed to empty my clip; but given the velocity of firearms, and my aging reflexes, I’d like to be proactive. For example, if I am working out a long equation on the board and several students try to correct me using their laser sights, am I allowed to fire a warning shot?
If two armed students are arguing over who should be served next at the coffee bar and I sense escalating hostility, should I aim for the legs and remind them of the campus Shared-Values Statement (which reads, in part, “Boise State strives to provide a culture of civility and success where all feel safe and free from discrimination, harassment, threats or intimidation”)?
While our city police chief has expressed grave concerns about allowing guns on campus, I would point out that he already has one. I’m glad that you were not intimidated by him, and did not allow him to speak at the public hearing on the bill (though I really enjoyed the 40 minutes you gave to the National Rifle Association spokesman).
Knee-jerk reactions from law enforcement officials and university presidents are best set aside. Ignore, for example, the lame argument that some drunken frat boys will fire their weapons in violation of best practices. This view is based on stereotypical depictions of drunken frat boys, a group whose dignity no one seems willing to defend.
The problem, of course, is not that drunken frat boys will be armed; it is that they are drunken frat boys. Arming them is clearly not the issue. They would cause damage with or without guns. I would point out that urinating against a building or firing a few rounds into a sorority house are both violations of the same honor code.
In terms of the campus murder rate — zero at present — I think that we can all agree that guns don’t kill people, people with guns do. Which is why encouraging guns on campus makes so much sense. Bad guys go where there are no guns, so by adding guns to campus more bad guys will spend their year abroad in London. Britain has incredibly restrictive laws — their cops don’t even have guns! — and gun deaths there are a tiny fraction of what they are in America. It’s a perfect place for bad guys.
Some of my colleagues are concerned that you are encouraging firearms within a densely packed concentration of young people who are away from home for the first time, and are coincidentally the age associated with alcohol and drug experimentation, and the commission of felonies.
Once again, this reflects outdated thinking about students. My current students have grown up learning responsible weapon use through virtual training available on the Xbox and PlayStation. Far from being enamored of violence, many studies have shown, they are numb to it. These creative young minds will certainly be stimulated by access to more technology at the university, items like autoloaders, silencers and hollow points. I am sure that it has not escaped your attention that the library would make an excellent shooting range, and the bookstore could do with fewer books and more ammo choices.
I want to applaud the Legislature’s courage. On a final note: I hope its members will consider my amendment for bulletproof office windows and faculty body armor in Boise State blue and orange.February 28th, 2014
Karin Gulbran, 2014
Magdalena Suarez Frimkess
Robert Kitchen (curated by Vince Aletti)
March 4 – April 19, 2014
Opening reception: Monday, 3 March, 6-8pm
Blockbuster Bus Book
Company, Beverly Hills, Ca
Life-size photograph of a
greyhound bus – when unfolded
the massive photograph
measures 324,5 x 11,10 cm
and weighs 4,7 kg.
Folded and housed in original fiberboard box, designed by
Through March 22th 2014February 27th, 2014
By IAN LOVETT
NY Times Published: FEB. 25, 2014
LOS ANGELES — On a recent drizzly day, Esha Moya found herself standing outside a grocery store in South Los Angeles, her half-dozen paper bags falling apart in the rain, wishing she had a few small items that had been free and plentiful her entire life but are now banned in this city: plastic shopping bags.
“I hate this,” said Ms. Moya, a telemarketer and a mother of two. She has begun stockpiling plastic bags at home because paper bags “are always breaking,” she said. “It’s stupid, and it makes it really hard for us.”
A companion to shoppers for a half-century, the plastic bag is now under siege in California, where a growing number of policy makers have come to regard it as a symbol of environmental wastefulness.
Since 2007, plastic shopping bags have been banned in nearly 100 municipalities in the state, including Los Angeles, which at the start of this year became the largest city in the country to enforce such a ban. Paper bags, which are biodegradable and easier to recycle, are often available for a small fee.
And now, lawmakers in Sacramento are trying to make California the first state to approve a blanket ban on this most ubiquitous of consumer products.
“It has become increasingly clear to the public the environmental damage that single-use plastic bags have reaped,” said Alex Padilla, a state senator who is sponsoring legislation for a statewide ban. “This is the beginning of the phase-out of single-use plastic bags — period.”
Mr. Padilla’s measure would ban traditional single-use plastic bags at supermarkets, liquor stores and other locations where they have long been standbys. Paper bags and more robust, reusable plastic bags will be available for a 10-cent fee, with the goal of forcing shoppers to remember their canvas bags.
The case against plastic shopping bags is simple and, with more than 150 communities across the country embracing some kind of anti-bag laws, increasingly familiar. Plastic bags are used once or twice but can last up to a millennium. Only a small fraction of the bags are recycled, in large part because they jam sorting machines at recycling plants and so must be separated from other plastics. Many bags end up snagged on trees, stuck in storm drains or sitting in landfills.
In just a few years, local bans on plastic bags have spread from San Francisco to Honolulu to the North Shore of Massachusetts. Washington, D.C., has imposed a five-cent fee, and New York City has several times considered charging for bags, most recently last year, when the proposal died at the end of the city’s legislative session. The new mayor, Bill de Blasio, has expressed support for a ban on plastic bags.
Many consumers bristle at having to pay for a necessity that has always been free. “We’re already struggling,” Ms. Moya said as she waited in the rain for a taxi with her disintegrating paper bags, purchased for 10 cents each. “Groceries cost enough money. Then I have to pay for bags?”
The plastics industry has worked furiously to tap into that frustration. So far, the industry — behind millions of dollars spent lobbying lawmakers — has managed to beat back efforts to pass statewide bans in California and a handful of other states.
Hilex Poly, one of the nation’s largest manufacturers of plastic bags, singlehandedly spent more than $1 million lobbying against a bill to ban plastic bags in California in 2010. That bill failed, as did another attempt in 2013. Hilex Poly, based in Hartsville, S.C., has made political donations to every Democrat in the California Senate who joined Republicans in voting against last year’s bill.
Mark Daniels, a vice president at Hilex Poly, said a ban would cost the state up to 2,000 jobs.
“This is going to cost Californians millions and millions of dollars,” Mr. Daniels said of the current legislation. “They’re going to have to purchase millions of supposedly reusable bags from China.”
But support has been steadily growing in the California Legislature. The Los Angeles Times endorsed a statewide ban on Thursday, and several senators who voted against the ban last year have come out in support of it this year. Some environmentalists say they now believe they have the momentum to push bans across the country, starting with California.
“It’s very effective, and it’s very cost-effective,” said Kerrie Romanow, director of environmental services for San Jose, Calif.
Since San Jose’s ban took effect in 2012, plastic-bag litter in storm drains, which can contribute to flooding, has fallen by 89 percent. In unincorporated parts of Los Angeles County, large retail stores reported a drop in the use of paper bags since a similar ban, coupled with a 10-cent fee for paper bags, took effect.
“People are adapting very quickly,” Ms. Romanow said. “The days of a single candy bar getting its own plastic bag are over.”
Abbi Waxman, a television writer in Los Angeles, said she had tried for years to wean herself off plastic bags. But despite sidelong looks from grocery store cashiers, she seldom remembered to bring her cloth bags.
Then the 10-cent fee kicked in.
“Once they started charging me, that was the tipping point when I could actually remember to bring my bags,” said Ms. Waxman, 43, standing with a half-dozen reusable bags on a recent shopping trip.
“I have, I’m not kidding, about 40 reusable bags at home, because I feel so guilty when I come without them that I buy more each time,” she said.
Mr. Daniels, the Hilex Poly vice president, said the plastic bag had been unfairly scapegoated for a variety of environmental ills. Thin plastic bags are reused, he said: They are repurposed as lunch bags and trash can liners, and they come in handy for pet cleanup.
But other plastics manufacturers have begun to embrace the changes in their industry.
“The industry will be destroyed if it’s unwilling to evolve and change,” said Pete Grande, president of Command Packaging in Vernon, Calif., which is starting to produce more heavy-duty, reusable bags from recycled agricultural plastic.
Last year, Mr. Grande opposed the bill to ban single-use plastic bags in California. So did the two Democrats who represent Vernon in the State Senate.
This year, they all support the bill, which would allow stores to offer more durable plastic bags for a fee alongside paper ones at the checkout line.
“We lived for thousands of years without single-use plastic bags,” said Mr. Padilla, the bill’s sponsor. “I think we will be just fine without them.”
Thanks to Jonathan MaghenFebruary 25th, 2014
Mary Weatherford, Bonnard colors cave, 2011. Flashe on linen, 64 x 78 inches.
Simone Gad, Tracy Nakayama, Ruby Neri, Lauralee Pope, Mary Weatherford
Through June 8th, 2014February 24th, 2014
3500 block, Pico Boulevard
LA Weekly Published: Feb 21, 2014
By Jennifer Swann
L.A. artists have long been fascinated with the city’s iconic boulevards and colossal freeways. Ed Ruscha’s 1966 book of photos, “Every Building on the Sunset Strip,” documented just that. Catherine Opie’s mid-90s photo series “Freeways” commented on how the massive concrete structures divide communities and separate cities from suburbs. L.A. Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne has an entire column dedicated to exploring constantly-evolving boulevards like Crenshaw, which he says is still seen as the final dividing line between the poorer parts of South Los Angeles and the wealthier Westside.
In a 1998 episode of This American Life, former L.A. Weekly food critic Jonathan Gold mapped Pico Boulevard by visiting all of the places where he used to eat when he lived there in the 1980s – including Mr. Coleslaw Burger, which was long gone. He later wrote about the experience for the Weekly: “Precisely because Pico is so unremarked, because it is left alone like old lawn furniture moldering away in the side yard of a suburban house, it is at the center of entry-level capitalism in central Los Angeles, and one of the most vital food streets in the world.” In the This American Life episode, he admits becoming obsessed with the idea of Pico Boulevard. “Almost every ethnic group that exists in Los Angeles, you can find on Pico,” he says. “There’s specific blocks that are Guatemalan and Nicaraguan blocks and Salvadoran blocks. There are parts of Pico where you can drive for probably a mile without seeing a sign that isn’t in Korean.”
Inglesia Ebenezer, Pico Boulevard
The latest love letter to Pico Boulevard comes from 69-year-old artist John Humble, who’s lived and photographed Los Angeles since the early 1970s. His current exhibition, which runs through Saturday at Craig Krull Gallery in Bergamot Station and is simply titled “Pico Boulevard,” explores the nearly 16-mile stretch from the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica to Central Avenue in downtown’s fashion district.
While Pico Boulevard serves as the backdrop for Humble’s most recent exhibition, the city as subject matter is hardly new territory for the artist who was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts grant in 1972 to create a documentary survey of Los Angeles. Ever since then, he’s continued his mission of “trying to pinpoint what it is about Los Angeles that makes Los Angeles unique,” through photography studies of the L.A. River, Venice Beach, the I-105 Freeway interchange, and countless gas stations, billboards and truck stops around Wilmington and East L.A.
His photographs capture sprawling, unremarkable landscapes that he says reflect industrialization and mass-migration. “Oil barracks in the front yard, or an apartment right next to a factory,” he says of his subject matter. “It’s exciting. It’s weird. But when I turn onto the street, it’s like already my adrenaline starts to pump. First you put the camera up and then you wait for the serendipity.”
Growing up, Humble’s father was in the army and his family moved across America frequently. He had been enrolled in six elementary schools and started high school in Panama before finishing it in suburban Highland Park, Illinois and making a beeline for San Francisco Art Institute soon after.
For two decades after moving to L.A., Humble was a “freeway flyer,” a name given to the part-time instructors who commuted all over Southern California to teach at different colleges and universities during that time. He was eventually hired full time at Fullerton College, where he taught until retirement in 2006. The following year, he scored a solo show at the Getty, where he exhibited photos of his longtime muse: Los Angeles.
1250 South Brodway and Pico Boulevard
Like many Angelenos, Humble’s method of experiencing – and subsequently, photographing – the city is through his car window. In the 1970s, Humble traveled the city in his Volkswagen van, parking his car when he saw something he wanted to photograph and using the van’s roof as a tripod for his camera. He captured images this way not just in Los Angeles, but also in in Africa and Asia, where he lived in his van for a year and a half while photographing the landscapes. He’s since traded in his VW van for a more sensible Ford Explorer and he’s given up his 35 mm camera for a digital version, but the subject matter of his photos has remained largely consistent throughout the years.
Hi-Fashion, Pico Boulevard
Over the last year, Humble turned his lens to Pico Boulevard’s pockets of ethnic neighborhoods. “Pico starts near two luxury hotels in Santa Monica. Once you pass Fox studios, there’s a golf course, and a Jewish district, a Russian district, then Koreatown and Latino districts,” he says. “Then you practically pass through L.A. Live and you end up in the garment districts and then the Coca Cola bottling plant. It seemed to me to be an opportunity to take everything that I feel about L.A. and condense it into one street.”
Along the way, his camera captured a fire hydrant erupting in a vacant parking lot, a street-side memorial for a motorcyclist killed outside a car wash, a sign for a lost bird just underneath a freeway overpass near downtown, and a 12-foot-tall tropical bird painted on the side of Guatemalteca Market.
“Since I’m an artist and I’m not getting paid for this, I do it when I want,” says Humble, a retired instructor who keeps a photography studio in Santa Monica. He still strolls Venice Beach three times a week to shoot photos, including a new series documenting hand-made signs that say ‘no photos.’ “At this point in my life, I just have to go with what I see,” he says. “I just look out the window. It’s a visceral kind of way of looking at things.”February 21st, 2014
Through March 22th 2014February 21st, 2014
Left: Irving Blum, ca. 1962. Photo: Frank J. Thomas. Courtesy of the Frank J. Thomas Archive. Right: Everett Ellin, ca. 1958-1963. Everett Ellin papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
by Darcy Tell
East of Borneo
March 04, 2013
In many instances, what was happening in the East was simply more powerful, more convincing, and more intriguing. —Irving Blum
In the late fifties, the outlines of the Los Angeles art world were narrow by anybody’s standard. Unlike many regional cities of equivalent wealth, the city still lacked an independent encyclopedic museum. There were no modernist or contemporary art museums, just the lingering, humiliating memory of the short-lived Modern Institute of Art started by Vincent Price and others in 1947. UCLA had muffed the Arensberg-Scheyer donation in 1950. Contemporary art was mistrusted. The public ignored it, and conservatives—most vocally, government officials and figurative or “Sunday” painters—demonized it. Even so, an art market existed but just barely.
There were a few elite dealers in town by the late fifties. Frank Perls, a German refugee, opened in 1939. He was from a family of art merchants and established a thoroughly professional gallery that sold 19th- and 20th-century European art as well as contemporary and older work from California and the United States. Perls energetically supported the local art culture. He lectured, lent and rented art, judged competitions, and raised money. His letters show him to be humorous, opinionated, and, though completely aware of his adopted city’s provincialism, confident that it could—and would—become an important center someday.
Perls had quite a few colleagues, both immigrant and native-born, who operated in the same way. These men sold what we would now call blue-chip art, contemporary European and American work, regional paintings, and even antiquities. The secondary market—private, discreet—was a mainstay. These dealers kept track of who owned which valuable paintings, bought and sold, searched for new collectors, and looked after the old ones. This kind of business moved outward from its clients and the painstaking work of following collections and monitoring taste. Even so, it was not that uncommon for galleries in Southern California to show contemporary artists. When they did, however, they usually held shows of established artists, many of them from the East or at least outside LA. With gallery space so scarce and a market predisposed toward artists with reputations, the youngest Southern California artists were marginalized.
When it began in 1957, Ferus Gallery took little part in Los Angeles’s mainstream gallery culture. Founders Walter Hopps and artist Edward Kienholz settled on a space behind an antiques shop on La Cienega Boulevard and dedicated it to showing new work by local artists. Los Angeles at this time did not lack artists. Indeed, with Chouinard, Otis, and Art Center gathered around MacArthur Park, one relatively strong art system in the area was the schools. There was avant-garde activity, much of it in small venues (surf shacks, cafes), studios, and private spaces. From the beginning, the Ferus group played an important role in this insular, creative, and forward-looking scene. Ties were strong to the somewhat arcane and much more literary San Francisco Beat culture, and sales were not a priority; showing and fellowship were.
Enter Irving Blum, an ex-GI who had worked for Knoll in New York choosing modern paintings for its corporate interiors. Having concluded that he wanted to sell art, he decided “that to do a gallery in California might be a provocative thing” and traveled West. In 1958, after assessing the local scene, he took over Kienholz’s stake in Ferus. He and Hopps decided the gallery was “too primitive as it was,” so Blum moved the gallery out from its hideaway and into a pristine white space with street frontage. He culled the stable and consciously sought to give the gallery national exposure. “The other aspect that Walter had never attempted that I brought to bear was a decision within a year’s time that I wanted the gallery to take on not so much a California aspect. […] I wanted it to be considered in a larger way. And I thought that the only way I could achieve that would be to bring in people from back East.”
Blum refined his ideas over the next few years; as he put it, “I had to hit on a formula.” He was canny, finding “three or four people […] in the late fifties and early sixties” to tell him which artists to visit in New York. Bill Seitz, Dick Bellamy, Ivan Karp, and Henry Geldzahler were men on the list, figures in the New York gallery and museum world who knew the changing trends and would have been able to steer Blum to younger painters.
About the same time Blum and Hopps were making over Ferus, another easterner established a gallery of contemporary art in Santa Monica. Everett Ellin was born in 1928 in Chicago. When he showed up in California, he had degrees in engineering (University of Michigan) and law (Harvard) and had served during the Korean War. He clerked for a California Supreme Court justice and then worked at Paramount and the William Morris agency. His Los Angeles art project started naturally enough through his girlfriend, the painter Joan Jacobs. She and her friends needed somebody to write contracts, and after he agreed, they urged Ellin to start a gallery. He opened in 1958 in Santa Monica, where he showed Jacobs and several other California artists.
Ellin took easily to dealing but, apparently knowing something of American art, was immediately drawn to New York. “Dying of curiosity to see the whole Abstract Expressionist environment in action,” he went to the city and made the rounds. In what was, by Ellin’s account, a lucky accident, dealer Sam Kootz told Ellin about a gallery job at French and Company, a blue-chip antiques business founded at the beginning of the century that was opening a contemporary art section. Kootz arranged an interview.
The eye behind the contemporary program at French and Company was Clement Greenberg, America’s most famous art critic. Clem, as he was known to his friends, needed money badly. However, at a time when the distinction between the commercial and intellectual was deadly serious, to the intellectual at least, he insisted that the gallery have a director to handle the details of selling so that he might maintain “his image as a connoisseur […] visionary .[…] and critic.” 14 After a quick interview, Ellin got the job.
The gallery, with a roster of New York’s most famous painters and a magnificent skylighted space, was extremely high-powered, as Ellin discovered. “I met all the collectors. I met all the museum people. I met the critics. I just dealt with everybody. Clem didn’t want to do any of that. And I had tremendous exposure because everybody came to David Smith [a retrospective at French and Company]. […] The attendance was unbelievable, and it didn’t stop for the entire run of the show. It was that way every day, and all the directors, all the museum directors, came and I got to meet them.” 15 More intangible but just as important, the methodical Ellin was exposed to New York’s gallery world at a very high level of commercial sophistication and intellectual ambition. Unfortunately, luxe decor and prestigious shows could hide the gallery’s shaky finances for only so long, and the contemporary section at French and Company folded in less than a year. 16 Ellin decided to open another gallery in Los Angeles. This time, he wanted to set himself apart from the galleries that were beginning to cluster on La Cienega, where Ferus had its new space, and he located on the Sunset Strip instead.
An exhibition announcement for the Everett Ellin Gallery’s inaugural exhibition, 1960. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Predictably, after his stint as Clem Greenberg’s protégé, Ellin created a program that explicitly stood on his “admiration for the New York School.” From September 1962 through December 1963, building on his experience at French and Company and intentionally carrying on his work there, he put on what he called ‘“museum-grade’” shows. These ambitious exhibitions included recent, historical, and earlier postwar works of very high—read New York—quality, often borrowed from dealers in the city.
The first was a drawing show that included work by one California artist, Frank Lobdell, among more famous painters from the East. Next, he opened a version of the large David Smith show he’d organized at French and Company, which had gotten great reviews during the New York run. Smith came out for the opening. In a Los Angeles Times interview, he talked art, giving readers serious, articulate intellectualizing delivered in classic Ab Ex style. He embraced abstraction, for example, but he told the Times there was room for “images of recognition […] as long as they are masterfully expressed.” To Smith, “Conviction,” as the headline read, was “all that counts.”
Ellin followed up the Smith exhibition with an eclectic program that reflected the variety of New York sources he relied on. He showed earlier modernists like Arp and several Dadaists, Helen Frankenthaler, Arshile Gorky, Jack Youngerman, and Jasper Johns. He also showed a few West Coast artists, including Joan Jacobs (by then his wife, who was much encouraged and admired by David Smith).
In March 1962, apparently at the request of dealer Virginia Dwan, Ellin exhibited work by Jean Tinguely and Niki de Saint-Phalle. As part of this show, Saint-Phalle staged her first American Action de Tir in an alley off the Sunset Strip near Ellin’s gallery, a performance in which she, aided by Tinguely and Kienholz, shot paint at a target 6 meters away. Saint-Phalle’s revolutionary act, which we now recognize as a harbinger of a new art world, at the time drew only short mention in the local press. Nor does it seem to have made much of an impression on Ellin; he never talked about it in later interviews and did not include it in the meticulous chronology he prepared to go with his papers when they were donated to the Smithsonian.
Ellin worked hard to project the sense of artistic conviction he had soaked up during his brief time on Madison Avenue, and his shows reflected the quality and variety of his connections. But whether they focused on Abstract Expressionist or avant-garde artists, Ellin’s elegant, serious shows did not make money. The central problem was that Los Angeles lacked the kind of customers he needed: men and women with some knowledge and, perhaps more important, confidence, whom he could develop as collectors. “I couldn’t really plan to continue doing the kind of shows I was doing. And it was really hard for me to think of having a gallery that did less […] once I set those standards and got into that groove and I could get any material I wanted.
“Everybody from New York thought that they were going to be getting Los Angeles collectors, and, you know, they did. The collectors in Los Angeles would learn from me and buy in New York.” He carried on through the end of 1963, when once again he got a great job in New York by accident. This time, he worked briefly for the Marlborough Gallery and its founder, Frank Lloyd. Next, he worked for the Guggenheim Museum, and finally, he organized, piloted, and led the Museum Computer Network, the first effort to systematize museum information in database form, the achievement for which Ellin remains most famous.
For a while there in the early sixties, it looked like a real solid art scene was developing in California. Even Henry Geldzahler [of the Metropolitan Museum] felt he had to make a trip once a year to check on what was happening. But there weren’t enough dealers there and the museums weren’t active enough, and the people just weren’t buying art—they were satisfied looking at the scenery, I guess. —Andy Warhol
In his 2004 interview, Ellin talked a little about his colleagues in Los Angeles and tried to explain why the art world in Los Angeles fell short. “Paul Kantor […] had a very elegant practice selling high-priced 20th-century pictures,” he said, “and Frank Perls had been around a long time.” However, it seemed to Ellin that “quite a few [LA] galleries […] were just making the motions. […] They didn’t have a particular message. They were doing all right, but there was so little there. We were not producing the collectors because we didn’t have the good stuff in Los Angeles.”
Ellin’s remark betrays his very specific point of view—that of a non-Angeleno engineer turned art dealer with a JD law degree from Harvard and values that he’d absorbed from his mentor Greenberg, Abstract Expressionist artist friends, and his immersion course in the conventions of Madison Avenue art-world theater. It also nicely sums up the deficiencies of the art world in Los Angeles at this time, as judged by people with experience of the East Coast art world and strong ideas of what constituted a serious art scene. To these men (most of them were men), the Los Angeles art world lacked the necessary ecology in the practical sense. Beyond that, over and over, like Ellin, they offered another, more free-floating criticism: Art culture in Los Angeles lacked the right attitude. Since the 1940s, Clem Greenberg, as he became the dominating presence on the American art scene, argued for the historical inevitability of abstraction and the imperative to advance modernism. Polemical and extremely aggressive—he now can seem like a figure from Cold War central casting, as do many of the artists in his ambit—Greenberg set the terms in which American painting was discussed and sometimes made. The sectors that made up the art world in these years must have felt Greenberg’s influence in slightly different ways, but they all felt it. By the late 1950s, for instance, artists all over the country were forcefully aware of Greenberg’s ambitious ideas, perhaps through reading or from exhibitions, teachers, or fellow painters. Imposed with absolute authority, these must have seemed bewilderingly large to many artists as they worked in their studios, but whether you loved or hated them, by the late fifties and into the sixties, even in distant Los Angeles, they were known by all to be art’s orthodoxy. As his friend and protégé David Smith told the Los Angeles Times, conviction was what mattered in your art. During the years that Greenberg championed postwar American painting so effectively, the expectation of intensity and aggressive self-assertion was extended to how artists behave. For dealers and collectors, especially in Los Angeles, the interplay of action and the imaginary was more complex.
To sell art, dealers often depend on—indeed create—a subtle atmosphere of associations. Projecting visually and with words ideas or traditions or tastes, the seller of art evokes a powerful set of images for buyers. This work does not depart fundamentally from what someone selling clothes does: To make a sale, dealers may affirm, charm, cajole, or directly manipulate a customer. With art as with clothes, any number of collective signifiers and individual tendencies can be in play.
As I’ve said, in Los Angeles at this time, everyone interested in contemporary art understood the dominant signifiers that had largely developed in New York. To, as Blum put it, “be considered in a larger way,” artists were expected to express the requisite sense of mission with intensity, self-confidence, and sense of consequence that Greenberg preached. To sell, dealers would as a matter of course project the same kind of associations to convince collectors to buy. For the Blums and Ellins, the intractable problem was that the larger world of Los Angeles—the world with the money—did not yet understand what insiders knew so well.
Compounding the problem in the city was the fact that both Ellin and Blum were operating at a time of major transition in the American art world. Andy Warhol described this new phase as the “late post–Abstract Expressionist days […] right before Pop,” a time in which young artists of many different tendencies were challenging Abstract Expressionism’s domination. Warhol gives hilarious descriptions of the surprisingly intense confrontations between older and younger New York in the very early 1960s. His funny and clear observations make you wonder, too, how the shift away from Abstract Expressionism played out in Los Angeles, a city full of imaginative artists and lacking in educated collectors, with the dealers in between.
During their years in the California market, Irving Blum and Everett Ellin each responded in a different way to the considerable problems of selling art in Los Angeles at this moment. The stolid Ellin looked backward and East: Most of the art he showed, borrowed from New York dealers, satisfied Greenbergian standards of artistic inquiry and the aspiration to be taken seriously. To convince and persuade the very few potential buyers, he simply reproduced the practices he’d learned on Madison Avenue. And he failed.
Blum was more flexible and forward-looking. He knew that Ferus needed added credibility to avoid being seen as a provincial gallery. As he put it, “I just didn’t want the stigma. My ambitions were greater than that.” So he tacked and trimmed nimbly to reposition the gallery, adapting what Ferus already had, moving to a redesigned white-box space on the street, purging the Beatnik-hipster aesthetic that had been influential at the gallery. Central to his plan of reinvention was to show New York as well as Los Angeles artists.
Interestingly, Blum projected the sense of serious purpose that was expected of a successful art gallery, but he didn’t actually change the program that much or diverge noticeably from what art institutions in the city were also doing at the time. Like Ellin, he drew on the advice of New York dealers, but I think the thing that set him apart was that he clearly perceived the shift in the art world, and Ellin did not. So, if Blum’s changes were not as radical as they appear in hindsight, and if he, like Ellin, eventually abandoned the LA art world, why is his work at Ferus Gallery remembered as a watershed of art culture in Los Angeles?
L: Poster for Ferus Gallery’s The Studs exhibition, Los Angeles, 1964. Courtesy of Hal Glicksman. R: Ferus Gallery (Billy Al Bengston, Allen Lynch, Robert Irwin, Craig Kauffman, John Altoon, Ed Kienholz, and Ed Moses, Los Angeles, 1958. Photo: Patricia Faure.
Irving Blum was not a great innovator; it’s probably more precise to call him a clever opportunist. Guided by his New York dealer acquaintance and with better instincts, he was more perceptive than Ellin about what was going on in American art. He took advice from knowledgeable people, as the story of how he came to show Warhol illustrates. In the early sixties, Warhol—who at the time was putting images from comics in his pictures—was trying to find a dealer in New York. Around 1961, Ivan Karp brought Blum to Warhol’s studio. Shown a Superman on canvas, Blum (perhaps still used to looking at Abstract Expressionist–style paintings) laughed. By the following year, though, everything had changed. Leo Castelli—who, by the way, was just developing his eventually metamorphic ideas about marketing contemporary American art —had just taken on Lichtenstein, and after a second visit, Blum offered Warhol a show, the artist’s first commercial exhibition.
Blum was also quicker to notice the ties developing between media (slicks or movies or television news), fashion, and contemporary art. Catching the new tilt toward irony, he played with representations of artists—in photographs, advertisements, and gallery ephemera—to promote Ferus and its stable. During the early Cold War era, the Abstract Expressionists had profited to some extent from media image-making. Blum (and his cronies) knowingly sent up the kind of photographs of intense brooding artists that had become familiar in the previous couple of decades.
And so it was that Ferus gave us, tongue-in-cheek, “The Studs” and other images of hypermacho artists presented with a California spin. This new photographic convention—made up of so many familiar, indeed evergreen, icons of Los Angeles art of this period—came right out of the battle against the Abstract Expressionists, whose “toughness,” as Warhol called it, went with their “agonized, anguished art.”
In the end, neither dealer stayed in business. Blum is often singled out as the man whose gallery started it all, and his time at Ferus also left a set of memorable, and still effective, images. He figured out a way to make his gallery appear more convincingly to be part of the bigger national world of images. During his tenure, the collectors he needed to survive were not convinced by his projections, but he had made a start at the beginning of a decade in which, finally, the Los Angeles art world started to catch up, as Andy Warhol later said.
Thanks to Basil KatzFebruary 21st, 2014
Please join us this Sunday afternoon to celebrate the release of artist Steven Baldi’s new book Documentation,
designed by Harsh Patel and published by Gottlund Verlag.
Documentation is a catalog of Steven Baldi’s 2012 exhibition at Thomas Duncan Gallery. The publication is an in-depth look at the role photography has on exhibition perception.
Featuring photographs of the works in the exhibition, as well as installation images of the changing sculptural configurations and a conversation between the artist and Matt Sheridan Smith.
Bob’s coffee and donuts will be served.
Steven Baldi Documentation signing and release
Sunday February 23, 3–5pm.
8038 W. 3rd St.
LA, CA 90048
Warren and Alix MacKenzie. Photo: Everyday Art Quarterly, No. 27, 1953
By Alex Lauer
Walker Art Center
As the inevitable retrospective pieces on Warren MacKenzie are published as he turns 90 today, February 16, it’s important to remember that he thinks it’s foolish to consider his functional pottery works of art. At least, that’s what his artist statement declares, although he adds this caveat: “… but I do hope that they communicate something of what I feel regarding personal expression in pottery.”
In Design Quarterly, released in conjunction with MacKenzie’s 1961 show at the Walker, editor Meg Torbert wrote that his work is “completely dedicated to art, yet … pursued for the express purpose of sales.” Looking back on a career approaching 70 years, how do we comprehend the seemingly opposing views MacKenzie and Torbert are presenting? It’s best that we eschew the classification of art or non-art and view MacKenzie’s pottery in terms of individual experience.
Installation shot of Pottery by Alix and Warren MacKenzie, 1961
Putting his career in the simplest of terms, MacKenzie just loves to make pots. His fascination with this form of independent creation began at the Art Institute of Chicago and continued in St. Ives, England. He and Alix MacKenzie, his first wife, spent two years there learning from renowned potter Bernard Leach. This defining experience and his subsequent partnership with Alix led to his artistic process of throwing between 50 and 200 pots a day. This was a normal output for him when his work was first shown at the Walker in the 1954 show MacKenzie Ceramics.
MacKenzie’s work has been shown here four times, and always through MacKenzie Pottery, the name he and Alix adopted after they converted a barn into a studio in Stillwater, Minnesota. Their last and most comprehensive Walker show, Pottery by Warren and Alix MacKenzie, was on display 52 years ago.
“I think it was a good exhibition for our work at that time,” MacKenzie told Robert Silberman of the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art in 2002. “It wasn’t a great exhibition if I look back on it now. At that time it was the best we could do, I’d say.”
But coming from a potter known for saying “The first 10,000 pots are difficult and then it gets a little bit easier,” this shouldn’t necessarily be seen as a criticism of the show. It is a nod to the progression of a traditional potter — one who makes accessible objects for everyday use — where the artist learns more about the making of pots with every piece. There is no threshold at 10,000 or 100,000 pots — an output that MacKenzie has undoubtedly exceeded — where the art is perfected and nothing more can be learned or experienced. Mackenzie Ceramics marked a point on the development of MacKenzie as a potter, as did Pottery by Warren and Alix MacKenzie, as do each of the days he continues to sit at his Leach wheel and throw clay.
Fig. 4 (left) and fig. 5 (right) as printed in Design Quarterly, No. 54, 1962, accompanied by Warren and Alix MacKenzie’s commentary: “On the shoulder of each of these pots, extra feldspar and wood ash were powdered over the wet clay. On pot No. 4 the glaze produced is almost pure feldspar, giving a milky, heavily cracked surface. The wood ash on No. 5 reacted in two ways, by melting into the glaze and, in some places, by resisting the fire and popping out as a dry surface. The watery, irregular quality of the glaze itself in contrast to the dry areas is related to natural relationships which most of us see every day such as rocks and water, or branch and leaf.”
Each of the four times work from MacKenzie Pottery was exhibited at the Walker, the pieces were equally meant to be sold as admired, but the idea of the sale has been a contentious aspect of his career. As Torbert noted, MacKenzie’s aim has always been to give the general public access to his work. Unfortunately, as his name recognition grew — and the value of his pottery with it — it became impossible for him to distribute his work as he desired. For instance, the honor system he set up in a Stillwater showroom was taken advantage of by people who bought more than was allowed and then resold items online for profit. The problem with his work fetching high prices on secondary markets, besides the money going to someone other than MacKenzie, is that the objects become more precious and less likely to be used in day-to-day life.
Warren and Alix MacKenzie in their Stillwater studio. Printed in the September 10, 1961, issue of the Minneapolis Sunday Tribune. Photo: Wayne Bell
MacKenzie challenged the idea that sophisticated art cannot be an everyday object. Looking at a pot he has made, with its irregularity of form and uneven glaze, you may think it looks like any old pot; but looking does not lead to understanding. To drink from, to eat out of, to wash a Warren MacKenzie pot is to understand it.
In conjunction with the 1961 show at the Walker, MacKenzie wrote an essay titled Some potter thoughts by Warren MacKenzie, in which he offered a simple instruction on getting to the essence of their pottery: “In the final analysis it is our work that should communicate what we have to say about pottery, and if these words are more confusing than helpful, I can only ask that you examine and live with the pots to see what they can say to you.”
Warren and Alix in their Stillwater studio. Photo: Wayne Bell
In celebration of Warren MacKenzie’s birthday, and his life’s work, Walker Executive Director Olga Viso extends her wishes. ”We are happy to join in the chorus of celebratory reflections about Warren as he turns 90. He is one of Minnesota’s most inspiring and beloved makers whose work has had a deep impact far beyond Minnesota. Happy birthday, Warren, from all of us at the Walker Art Center!”
Thanks to Matt ConnorsFebruary 16th, 2014
By Kenan Malik
NY Times Published: FEB. 14, 2014
LONDON — The British queen is down to her last pennies. Well, actually, her last millions of pennies.
Last month, the Public Accounts Committee — Parliament’s watchdog on public spending — published a damning survey of the state of the royal finances. The queen had spent down her “reserve fund,” a savings account built up by years of surplus public subsidy, to “a historically low level” of only £1 million ($1.6 million), from £35.3 million in 2001.
Trying to make sense of the royal finances is like trying to eat spaghetti with a spoon. Here’s the puzzle: Queen Elizabeth II is often described, by some measures, as one of the richest people in the world. Among her private property is Balmoral Castle, her residence in the Scottish Highlands, which was purchased, together with a 50,000-acre estate, by Prince Albert for Queen Victoria in 1848. Queen Elizabeth also owns stud farms, personal art and fine jewelry. According to Forbes magazine, her personal worth is $500 million.
If the queen is so wealthy, how can she be strapped for cash? In 2010, it emerged that the queen had even privately applied to a government fund normally reserved for low-income families to help with Buckingham Palace’s heating bills. Turning the request down, a government official commented, “I also feel a bit uneasy about the probable adverse press coverage if the palace were given a grant at the expense of, say, a hospital.” Why is the queen reduced to acting as if she lived in public housing?
The short answer is that she does live in public housing — just in an exceptionally grand manner.
The queen does not own Buckingham Palace; the nation does. It follows that, wealthy as she is, the queen sees no reason to pay for the upkeep of the palace, since she lives there by virtue of her public duties.
Behind this tussle over who pays for what is the fundamental ambiguity of a parliamentary democracy headed by a hereditary monarch. This historic anomaly is the key to unraveling the mysteries of the royal finances. It explains how we can have a queen who is privately so very rich, yet who publicly pleads poverty.
The modern muddle began in 1760. King George III found himself £3 million in debt — a colossal sum, equivalent to more than £500 million in today’s money. To extricate himself, he surrendered to the government the management of, and revenues from, most of his property. In return, he received a fixed annual payment, known as the Civil List.
This was, in essence, how the British government subsidized the royal household for 250 years — until 2012, when Parliament abolished the Civil List and replaced it with the Sovereign Grant. Ostensibly, this was to rationalize the royal finances: The Civil List was the main source of state funding for the royal family, yet it was supplemented by a host of other grants — to cover palace maintenance, communications and travel costs. The Royal Yacht Britannia, for instance, was separately funded to the tune of £11 million a year, until it was retired by Prime Minister Tony Blair in 1997 as a cost-cutting measure.
The Sovereign Grant was designed to sweep all that away. Rather than the queen’s receiving the Civil List and a suite of subsidies, the level of the grant is simply set at a 15 percent cut of the profits from the Crown Estate. It is a remunerative new arrangement, which projects an income steadily rising to £37.9 million this year, from £36.1 million for 2013.
Despite its name, the Crown Estate is a vast property portfolio that belongs to the crown as an embodiment of the state, and not to the reigning monarch as an individual. Among the assets held by the nation that the queen enjoys in her role as the sovereign are Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, the world-renowned royal art collection and the Crown Jewels.
The queen could, if she so desired, sell Balmoral Castle tomorrow, as it is her private property. But she could not sell the Crown Jewels; she has no legal title to them.
If the monarchy were abolished tomorrow, Buckingham Palace and the royal art collection would, as before, be public property. But the queen would not be obliged — as the humorist Sue Townsend imagined in her 1992 novel “The Queen and I” — to live in a slum: Her personal wealth would enable her to keep company with Russian oligarchs and Saudi royalty indefinitely.
The Sovereign Grant seemed to simplify things, but it did nothing to resolve the constitutional fudge. Many within the royal family clearly look upon the Crown Estate as their personal property. And in directly linking royal income to the estate, the grant appeared to some to legitimize the monarch’s claim to it.
And there are still hidden subsidies. The Duchies of Lancaster and Cornwall, for example, are huge property holdings “held in trust” for the sovereign and the heir to the throne, respectively, and are distinct from the Crown Estate. Last year, the queen received £12.7 million from the Duchy of Lancaster, and the Prince of Wales £19.1 million from the Duchy of Cornwall. And both were exempt from business taxes.
Such “lost revenues,” argues the anti-monarchy campaign group Republic, should be regarded as state handouts to the queen. On this basis, Republic estimates the total cost of the monarchy to the taxpayer is more than £200 million a year.
In the background to such a lavish public subsidy of the monarchy is the austerity imposed by the government since 2010, a program that has generated considerable popular anger. There is hostility, too, toward the social privilege of government ministers.
Yet, little of this fury has spilled over into outrage about royal funding. Fewer than one in five Britons wants a republic, a figure that has not changed for half a century. In contrast, a poll last year found that 45 percent of the British public showed “strong support” for the monarchy, up from 27 percent in 2006.
For royalists, who point to how the economy benefits from tourism through royal pageantry, the monarchy provides value for money. And it is better, they say, to have a nonpolitical head of state who can unite the nation, rather than an elected politician who would divide it. For some, the very idea that M.P.’s should scrutinize the queen’s finances verges on impertinence.
Yet the notion of the monarchy as an apolitical institution is preposterous. Its very existence proclaims that an accident of birth matters more than the democratic will. If the royalists have a point, however, it may be this: Their contempt for democracy captures a public mood that is deeply cynical about politicians, who are seen as venal and corrupt. Some suggest that when Queen Elizabeth is eventually replaced by the far less popular Charles, support for the monarchy will plummet. But even when rage at the Windsors was at its height, in the wake of their cack-handed response to the death of Princess Diana in 1997, there was little enthusiasm for a republican alternative.
In the past, reverence for the monarchy was rooted in a sense of deference and an acceptance of hierarchy. Today, deference has been replaced by cynicism — but as long as the public despises politicians and favors the royals, one of the richest families in the world will continue to live luxuriously at the taxpayers’ expense.February 15th, 2014
By EDWARD FRENKEL
February 14, 2014
IN Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel “The Master and Margarita,” the protagonist, a writer, burns a manuscript in a moment of despair, only to find out later from the Devil that “manuscripts don’t burn.” While you might appreciate this romantic sentiment, there is of course no reason to think that it is true. Nikolai Gogol apparently burned the second volume of “Dead Souls,” and it has been lost forever. Likewise, if Bulgakov had burned his manuscript, we would have never known “Master and Margarita.” No other author would have written the same novel.
But there is one area of human endeavor that comes close to exemplifying the maxim “manuscripts don’t burn.” That area is mathematics. If Pythagoras had not lived, or if his work had been destroyed, someone else eventually would have discovered the same Pythagorean theorem. Moreover, this theorem means the same thing to everyone today as it meant 2,500 years ago, and will mean the same thing to everyone a thousand years from now — no matter what advances occur in technology or what new evidence emerges. Mathematical knowledge is unlike any other knowledge. Its truths are objective, necessary and timeless.
What kinds of things are mathematical entities and theorems, that they are knowable in this way? Do they exist somewhere, a set of immaterial objects in the enchanted gardens of the Platonic world, waiting to be discovered? Or are they mere creations of the human mind?
This question has divided thinkers for centuries. It seems spooky to suggest that mathematical entities actually exist in and of themselves. But if math is only a product of the human imagination, how do we all end up agreeing on exactly the same math? Some might argue that mathematical entities are like chess pieces, elaborate fictions in a game invented by humans. But unlike chess, mathematics is indispensable to scientific theories describing our universe. And yet there are many mathematical concepts — from esoteric numerical systems to infinite-dimensional spaces — that we don’t currently find in the world around us. In what sense do they exist?
Many mathematicians, when pressed, admit to being Platonists. The great logician Kurt Gödel argued that mathematical concepts and ideas “form an objective reality of their own, which we cannot create or change, but only perceive and describe.” But if this is true, how do humans manage to access this hidden reality?
We don’t know. But one fanciful possibility is that we live in a computer simulation based on the laws of mathematics — not in what we commonly take to be the real world. According to this theory, some highly advanced computer programmer of the future has devised this simulation, and we are unknowingly part of it. Thus when we discover a mathematical truth, we are simply discovering aspects of the code that the programmer used.
This may strike you as very unlikely. But the Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom has argued that we are more likely to be in such a simulation than not. If such simulations are possible in theory, he reasons, then eventually humans will create them — presumably many of them. If this is so, in time there will be many more simulated worlds than nonsimulated ones. Statistically speaking, therefore, we are more likely to be living in a simulated world than the real one.
Very clever. But is there any way to empirically test this hypothesis?
Indeed, there may be. In a recent paper, “Constraints on the Universe as a Numerical Simulation,” the physicists Silas R. Beane, Zohreh Davoudi and Martin J. Savage outline a possible method for detecting that our world is actually a computer simulation. Physicists have been creating their own computer simulations of the forces of nature for years — on a tiny scale, the size of an atomic nucleus. They use a three-dimensional grid to model a little chunk of the universe; then they run the program to see what happens. This way, they have been able to simulate the motion and collisions of elementary particles.
But these computer simulations, Professor Beane and his colleagues observe, generate slight but distinctive anomalies — certain kinds of asymmetries. Might we be able to detect these same distinctive anomalies in the actual universe, they wondered? In their paper, they suggest that a closer look at cosmic rays, those high-energy particles coming to Earth’s atmosphere from outside the solar system, may reveal similar asymmetries. If so, this would indicate that we might — just might — ourselves be in someone else’s computer simulation.
Are we prepared to take the “red pill,” as Neo did in “The Matrix,” to see the truth behind the illusion — to see “how deep the rabbit hole goes”? Perhaps not yet. The jury is still out on the simulation hypothesis. But even if it proves too far-fetched, the possibility of the Platonic nature of mathematical ideas remains — and may hold the key to understanding our own reality.
Thanks to Dave FeltsFebruary 15th, 2014
NY Times Published: FEB. 13, 2014
By Paul Krugman
Now that the Congressional Budget Office has explicitly denied saying that Obamacare destroys jobs, some (though by no means all) Republicans have stopped lying about that issue and turned to a different argument. O.K., they concede, any reduction in working hours because of health reform will be a voluntary choice by the workers themselves — but it’s still a bad thing because, as Representative Paul Ryan puts it, they’ll lose “the dignity of work.”
So let’s talk about what that means in 21st-century America.
It’s all very well to talk in the abstract about the dignity of work, but to suggest that workers can have equal dignity despite huge inequality in pay is just silly. In 2012, the top 40 hedge fund managers and traders were paid a combined $16.7 billion, equivalent to the wages of 400,000 ordinary workers. Given that kind of disparity, can anyone really believe in the equal dignity of work?
In fact, the people who seem least inclined to respect the efforts of ordinary workers are the winners of the wealth lottery. Over the past few months, we’ve been harangued by a procession of angry billionaires, furious that they’re not receiving the deference, the acknowledgment of their superiority, that they believe is their due. For example, last week the investor Sam Zell went on CNN Money to defend the 1 percent against “envy,” and he asserted that “the 1 percent work harder. The 1 percent are much bigger factors in all forms of our society.” Dignity for all!
And there’s another group that doesn’t respect workers: Republican politicians. In 2012, Representative Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, infamously marked Labor Day with a Twitter post celebrating … people who start their own businesses. Perhaps Mr. Cantor was chastened by the backlash to that post; at a recent G.O.P. retreat, he reportedly urged his colleagues to show some respect for Americans who don’t own businesses, who work for someone else. The clear implication was that they haven’t shown that kind of respect in the past.
On the whole, working Americans are better at appreciating their own worth than either the wealthy or conservative politicians are at showing them even minimal respect. Still, tens of millions of Americans know from experience that hard work isn’t enough to provide financial security or a decent education for their children, and many either couldn’t get health insurance or were desperately afraid of losing jobs that came with insurance until the Affordable Care Act kicked in last month. In the face of that kind of everyday struggle, talk about the dignity of work rings hollow.
So what would give working Americans more dignity in their lives, despite huge income disparities? How about assuring them that the essentials — health care, opportunity for their children, a minimal income — will be there even if their boss fires them or their jobs are shipped overseas?
Think about it: Has anything done as much to enhance the dignity of American seniors, to rescue them from the penury and dependence that were once so common among the elderly, as Social Security and Medicare? Inside the Beltway, fiscal scolds have turned “entitlements” into a bad word, but it’s precisely the fact that Americans are entitled to collect Social Security and be covered by Medicare, no questions asked, that makes these programs so empowering and liberating.
Conversely, the drive by conservatives to dismantle much of the social safety net, to replace it with minimal programs and private charity, is, in effect, an effort to strip away the dignity of lower-income workers.
And it’s something else: an assault on their freedom.
Modern American conservatives talk a lot about freedom, and deride liberals for advocating a “nanny state.” But when it comes to Americans down on their luck, conservatives become insultingly paternalistic, as comfortable congressmen lecture struggling families on the dignity of work. And they also become advocates of highly intrusive government. For example, House Republicans tried to introduce a provision into the farm bill that would have allowed states to mandate drug testing for food stamp recipients. (A commenter on my blog suggested mandatory drug tests for employees of too-big-to-fail financial institutions, which receive large implicit subsidies. Now that would really cause a panic.)
The truth is that if you really care about the dignity and freedom of American workers, you should favor more, not fewer, entitlements, a stronger, not weaker, social safety net.
And you should, in particular, support and celebrate health reform. Never mind all those claims that Obamacare is slavery; the reality is that the Affordable Care Act will empower millions of Americans, giving them exactly the kind of dignity and freedom politicians only pretend to love.February 14th, 2014
Thanks to Steve HadleyFebruary 14th, 2014
February 13th, 2014
Billy Al Bengston (left) and Frank Gehry (right) on the rooftop of Gehry’s office in Santa Monica, ca. 1970. Photographer unknown. Image courtesy of and © Billy Al Bengston.
by Aram Moshayedi
East of Borneo Published: February 04, 2014
On the occasion of a ten-year survey of his paintings at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1968, artist Billy Al Bengston enlisted the help of architect Frank Gehry to design the exhibition’s scenography and create an architectural armature upon which the show could hang. Complemented by a now rare and coveted catalog by Ed Ruscha, Bengston’s presentation at LACMA proved to be the most substantial articulation to date of the painter’s commitment to the context of display as a form of mediation and experience. The exhibition design included reused discarded wall fragments from the museum’s past exhibitions, borrowed furniture and home accents, posters from the Black Power movement, and a life-size wax figure made in Bengston’s likeness by the nearby Hollywood Wax Museum. In retrospect, the paintings appear to almost be an afterthought in an installation conceived and executed by two friends and collaborators, one that privileged the conditions under which pictures are viewed, and sometimes overlooked, in the conventions of museology.
The following conversation took place at the Santa Monica office of Gehry Partners in the summer of 2012. Reflecting back on a relationship that has spanned nearly five decades, it provides an opportunity to consider early collaborations between artists and architects, the genealogy of artistic trends that sought to expose the limitations of painting and the mediating principles of museum display, and the ways in which Gehry’s and Bengston’s practices have been historicized and understood as part of an inherently formalist brand of art in Los Angeles.
ARAM MOSHAYEDI: Let’s talk about your collaboration at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1968. Although the exhibition was billed as a ten-year survey of Billy’s paintings, it’s clear that Frank’s exhibition design was dominant and central to the execution of the show. How did the idea for this collaboration come about?
FRANK GEHRY: To start, there was no budget. We had a museum director, Ken Donahue, who was a nice, bumbly guy but a dinosaur in terms of the art stuff that was going on. His curator was none other than Maurice Tuchman. I think probably Billy proposed me to them.
BILLY AL BENGSTON: No, I didn’t propose anything. I said, “He’s doing it.”
FG: I was a hanger-on to the art scene because the architects that I was collegiate with at the time thought I was nuts. Even my friends at the time and those who are still my friends—some of them are dead—thought I was weird, but I didn’t know I was weird. And when the art guys embraced me, I was declared weird by association probably.
Installation photo of Billy Al Bengston’s exhibition at LACMA, 1968. Photo © Museum Associates/LACMA.
AM: Did the architecture world not offer the same kind of support network that the art world seemed to provide?
FG: Well, I probably could have found the support, but it probably would have been a disaster for my life if I had gotten it. This way, I became somebody that was freer. They didn’t know they were opening these paths for me, and I didn’t know it at the time. I was like a blotter, and I was just picking up on the kind of willingness to experiment, to go where nobody went, to try things and not be able to explain them.
AM: Billy, for this project at LACMA, what was the attraction you had toward collaborating with an architect, Frank, rather than another artist?
BAB: Well, let’s put this in perspective. I can tell you, it was a very small world, and Frank is only telling you about what happened in his world. In our world at that time, I shared a studio with Ken Price, and we worked and we smoked cigarettes and drank black coffee. That was it. For lunch, he’d have a Heath bar and I’d have a Snickers bar. That was it. Then we got a ping-pong table, so we’d surf, play ping-pong, and work, smoke and drink black coffee. That’s it. That was what we did for three or four years. That’s all we could afford to do. It was a very small world. At that time, there were so few interesting people that there was a gravitational pull, and Frank was part of the interesting people. None of us knew at the time that he thought anything of us. And we didn’t know that Frank was going to become the foremost artist of our time.
AM: Tuchman once mentioned another exhibition that you worked on at LACMA called “Art Treasures from Japan.” Did you do exhibition design for many of the shows there?
BAB: He did a lot of exhibitions at LACMA, and they were all very conservative until he got to me.
FG: I’ve told this story a million times, but the architecture teachers at USC in the 1950s were returning GIs—architecture graduates but who had been in the army. They saw Japan and all those beautiful temples in Nara and Kyoto. And the language was transportable, so they had an aesthetic that they could transport and build here quickly. Greg Walsh, who became my partner, had lived in Japan during his navy tenure and was totally a Japanophile, so when the LA County Museum was given “Art Treasures of Japan” to do, they asked us to do the installation. Walsh was close friends with the curator of Asian art.
Installation photo of Billy Al Bengston’s exhibition at LACMA, 1968. Photo © Museum Associates/LACMA.
AM: Did the success of that project lend some credibility to the idea of collaborating on Billy’s show?
FG: The curators at LACMA knew I could get it done, but they were worried because at the time I was using plywood, chain-link, corrugated materials, and things like that in my designs. They said there was no budget to buy materials and that I had to work pretty much in the norm. So I asked them to take me down to their storeroom, where they had piles of plywood with paint on them. I asked what they were doing with the plywood and they didn’t know, so I took it and made his exhibition.
AM: So the colors throughout the installation were entirely inherited from the recycled materials?
BAB: Yes, they were all random and placed randomly. At that time, the museum would put up temporary plywood walls, which would be painted depending on the show. There was a lot of leftover paint in powder blue, as I recall. Quite a bit of rust, a little bit of yellow, and then some natural. So Frank designed this thing, but when the museum started putting up these used walls, they said to me, “Don’t worry, we’re going to paint them.” But I said no, and then Frank showed up.
FG: They thought I was going to want them painted, but I didn’t. The day that [LACMA director] Donahue finally came in to see it, I think he almost had a heart attack.
AM: You mentioned Maurice Tuchman before as the curator, but didn’t James Monte also play a part in the curation of the exhibition?
BAB: Monte was the curator that was called on, but actually Tuchman did it. He was the head curator. But as far as I’m concerned, nobody curated the show.
FG: No, there was nobody. We did the show ourselves, and it was super. It was serendipitous that I went down, found the goddamn plywood, and pulled it up; and it was cheap so they couldn’t deny it. They didn’t have any money to do anything new, and I said we would use the old materials. I guess maybe I told them we’d paint it, but then when it got up it looked so great that we kept it up. It scared Tuchman a bit, but at the time he was pretty willing to try things.
BAB: I didn’t have any problem with Tuchman at all.
FG: No, he was open to stuff, and he knew artists. He knew how artists worked, so he was relatively supportive.
AM: The idea of creating a space that resembled a studio or a domestic space in the context of a museum seemed to be a radical gesture, but also, Billy, in terms of how your paintings are understood and discussed, the exhibition at LACMA seems to stand out as an attempt to control the reception of your paintings, to define the space in which they were viewed. Did you consider this gesture as a response to the conventions around the display of paintings within the museum?
BAB: It wasn’t radical at all. The point is that at the time nobody walked around a museum with earphones, and there was no definition of what everything was or meant. Today, everything is spoon-fed, but in those days you had to look. Today, nobody looks. They just listen and walk around and bump into other people. But even then, nobody actually got close enough to see anything. They’ve always just stood back at a certain distance to look at something on the wall. That’s the reason I wanted to install my work in the way that we did. The experience of going to a museum is a totally synthetic situation—walking around, looking at things, standing on your feet. The best a museum does is to put in one these uncomfortable benches in the middle where they don’t belong.
Installation photo of Billy Al Bengston’s exhibition at LACMA, 1968. Photo © Museum Associates/LACMA.
AM: You mentioned before that there was no real curatorial oversight at any point in the exhibition, but it also seems like you were both taking liberties that weren’t necessarily consensual or that Billy, in particular, wasn’t even aware were happening despite the fact that it was his paintings that were the intended objects to display.
FOG: It wasn’t that Billy wasn’t in control. If he said no, it wouldn’t have happened.
AM: From what I’ve read about the installation, it seems that there was an issue about the furniture. Was there a disagreement between the two of you about the function of the furniture in the show?
FG: The biggest and only real issue happened with the furniture. I assumed Billy would help me get the furniture for the installation, but he didn’t at first. He said he didn’t want to be any part of it and that he didn’t even want to hang the show. But Tuchman said that he had to finish the installation, and we still hadn’t brought in the furniture we said we would. I didn’t know where to find the furniture, so somebody in my office suggested that we rent it, and that’s what we did. We called a rental place and asked for four living rooms. I just said to bring whatever kind of furniture was popular at the time.
BAB: I assumed you said whatever was the cheapest.
FG: I didn’t pick the furniture; they just sent four living rooms and put it all in the museum. Tuchman called me and said that I had made the greatest artwork ever but by accident and that it wasn’t relevant to this show. At that point, there were still no paintings installed, so to take average furniture like that, put it in a museum, and set up living rooms—it looked like some kind of tableau that I don’t know who would’ve done. By accident it was very powerful but also very irritating. The furniture was in your face.
AM: Would it have potentially outdone the paintings?
FG: It was just this funny plywood environment with funny carpet and then this furniture.
AM: Ed Ruscha later said that it felt too much like home.
FG: That was in regard to the installation after. He didn’t see the first sets of furniture. Nobody saw it except for Tuchman, who was freaked on two levels because it did something by accident—I didn’t design it—and it made a statement other than what we intended to make.
We tried to get it out of there before Billy saw it, but we weren’t so lucky. Billy saw it and didn’t get an explanation that it was a mistake, so he thought it was my idea to do the furniture in that way. He started yelling at me and calling me all kinds of things. It freaked me out because, as you can imagine, I loved Billy. I wanted to make this the best thing ever for him. I was worried about bombing in their world because of this thing. If I bombed, they wouldn’t let me in anymore. There was a lot riding on it for me. It was a heavy thing. And when he came and started yelling, I just—
BAB: I just said, “Get this shit out of here.”
FG: Then he just did it on his own.
BAB: I borrowed all the furniture.
FG: He did what we wanted to do in the first place, and it was great. I had spent all those years at Billy’s studio, and every month he would change the decor. The biggest tragedy is that we didn’t photograph all of his stuff. Talk about a decorator— I wouldn’t want him to be considered a decorator, but that’s where I learned a lot about my own aesthetic, by watching him change his studio all the time.
AM: Was the objective of the installation to turn Billy’s paintings into a form of decoration? Billy, do you have problems with your painting practice being described as decoration?
BAB: I don’t have a problem with that.
AM: It’s obvious that you consider the paintings as secondary objects.
BAB: The paintings are secondary until you sit down and look at them. When I was younger, I thought I was making something new, but the only thing I was doing was reinterpreting the materials and making a decorative object that didn’t have a specific meaning. Paintings are primarily decoration until you sit down and look at them, and most paintings, if you put them in the wrong light, don’t look how they were intended. If a painting needs a light fixture or if it needs a certain wall or something, then it is another thing entirely. So my thinking was to make something that does not need any specific kind of light.
Installation photo of Billy Al Bengston’s exhibition at LACMA, 1968. Photo © Museum Associates/LACMA.
AM: Where did the idea of including a life-size wax model of Billy come into the plan for the exhibition?
FG: Just by accident one night at some party in Hollywood with John Altoon, I met this guy named Spoony Singh, who owned the Hollywood Wax Museum. We all got drunk, and I told him about the show, and I told him about Billy. In my mind, Billy was a big thing—I thought everybody knew who he was—but this guy didn’t have a clue who Billy was. He did it anyway, though.
AM: Did Spoony Singh see any significance to a show at LACMA even if he didn’t know who the artist was?
FG: No, not at all. I told him after the show he could put it in the Hollywood Wax Museum, but he just looked at me. I assumed he would be interested, but he wasn’t. He just made the wax figure, and that was it.
AM: What was the little figure placed right next to the wax figure of Billy?
BAB: A friend of mine who was an acolyte racer gave it to me at the show’s opening, so I put it down there. I have no idea what it is. It’s a little sculpture of me going into a turn on a motorcycle; it was his concept. I don’t even think Frank knew about it.
FG: That’s the first time I’ve seen it.
BAB: Frank hasn’t yet mentioned the foremost part of the exhibition—the guards, who inevitably were a pain in the ass in those days. I happened to be very involved with the Black Power movement so I made decisions that were based on my relationship with the guards, who at the time were mostly black. I put in a comfortable couch, a television set, and where some of the walls were not open, I took out the plywood so they could see everything in the exhibition without having to move off the couch.
Installation photo of Billy Al Bengston’s exhibition at LACMA, 1968. Photo © Museum Associates/LACMA.
AM: And how did the guards respond to this?
BAB: They were responsive in part because a little section in the exhibition included a lot of Eldridge Cleaver posters and stuff like that. But I also had full run of the museum, which is entirely different from today. I could come in at midnight and do everything myself without needing to ask anyone for anything. I would come in at any hour of the day and night because I got access without having to go through the curators or anybody, and I could do damn near anything I wanted to.
AM: Even though it would be contrived to situate this project within the context of institutional critique, it seems as if there was an attempt to address the specific context and conditions of museum display. The exhibition seems inherently antagonistic and self-critical, perhaps even foreshadowing a brand of work that came of age in the 1970s. Would that seem accurate now in retrospect?
BAB: That’s interpretation.
AM: It’s also a historical fact.
BAB: Of course, but really what we were trying to do was to make chicken salad out of chicken shit because we were forced to do so. Studios function that way. A studio is a place where you can take a piece of shit and think of how to fix it.
AM: But, specifically, what you are describing with this exhibition is an engagement with the conditions of painting, rather than the history of painting itself—describing your paintings as though they are almost a byproduct of the way you consider museum lighting, for example.
BAB: In a way, they are.
FG: It seems that they could have been painted anywhere because Billy realized at an early moment how Hollywood and the media had overpowered the whole world and changed the lives of everyone. He got into it for a minute and couldn’t take it. He realized what it was, so he slammed the door on the whole thing. Some of us knew how to manage it, but Billy just wanted to be left alone. He couldn’t deal with it.
AM: Do you think part of this was about undermining some kind of significance that a ten-year survey was meant to imply? I remember you once saying that your original idea was to make your paintings available in bins for visitors to rummage through, for instance. That idea and what you ended up doing at LACMA seem like a withdrawal from participation or an attempt to not play the game. Is it that you weren’t really even interested in doing a show with the museum?
BAB: Well, showing didn’t mean anything. It really didn’t, I don’t think. The things that mattered to me was that Ruscha did the catalog and got paid for it and Frank did the installation and got paid for it.
AM: Frank, do you remember what you were paid?
FG: Maybe $2,000.
AM: And, Billy, did you get paid for your part?
BAB: No, and the museum didn’t buy anything. At the time, there was really nothing to be accomplished in the art world. If you go back and look at the financial records, you’ll see that nobody was making any money and nobody had fancy studios.
FG: I think all of us had tendencies to be self-destructive because of our insecurities about what we were doing. We didn’t know what we were doing.
Installation photo of Billy Al Bengston’s exhibition at LACMA, 1968. Photo © Museum Associates/LACMA.
AM: Do you think the fact that LACMA had a relatively short history by 1968—that it had been in that location for only three years—had anything to do with your ambivalence? Did this new institution afford you both the opportunity to think about what the display of culture meant in a way that had never existed in the city before then?
FG: Sure, putting the work in LACMA gave it credibility.
BAB: You have to think that way when you walk into a place that looks like that.
AM: Do you mean that it is a place that’s not made for you, not set up, say, how a studio is set up?
FG: In the case of the Guggenheim in Bilbao, I worked with a brilliant director and it was always about making a place with the art in mind. But after it opened, there was a museum directors’ meeting in London where they passed a resolution to never build museums like that because it was architecture competing with the art. I didn’t get another museum for a long time after. People like Glenn Lowry would say publicly: We don’t want another Frank Gehry. But artists like Cy Twombly would call me from Bilbao and say that their show there was the best they’d ever had. Hockney sent me a nice note about it, and Rauschenberg liked it, so there was a kind of disconnect from what the museum directors said. The artists always told me that they didn’t want sterile white rooms; they wanted something to work against. But museum curators and directors just want the white cube because it’s easy to do and they don’t have to think. They just go and put it up and get out, and it’s cheap to change from show to show. Some stuff just dies in that environment.
BAB: The only thing that doesn’t die in that environment is stuff that’s designed for it, and that is no good.
AM: You mean that a kind of work that is made with its presentation in mind?
FG: I was on Charlie Rose a few years ago with Renzo Piano, and Charlie was trying to figure out the difference between Renzo’s work and mine as far as museums. He said the rap on me is that my museums compete with the art and, of course, the other two architects on the show came to my defense and said, oh no. But Charlie still pressed, so I said the marketplace decides. And he looked at me and he said, “What do you mean?” And I said, “Well, I did Bilbao, and I never got another museum.” So he turns to Renzo, and Renzo kind of shrugs on camera, and I say, “The defense rests.” That’s on camera. Then Charlie asks, “What about the artists? Don’t they weigh in?” And I said, “Look, if you’re an artist and the Museum of Modern Art is going to give you a show, you’re not going to complain.” When the taping of the show ended, guess who is sitting in the front row? Ellsworth Kelly. And he came up to me and said, “You’re goddamn right. I hate MoMA.”February 12th, 2014
Leonard Knight created Salvation Mountain near the Salton Sea. For decades he slept in his truck, happy to live without lights or running water. “Love Jesus and keep it simple,” he said. (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times / May 12, 2010)
By Tony Perry
NY Times February 10, 2014
Leonard Knight, the lean and sturdy New Englander who spent three decades joyously painting religious slogans on a tall mound of adobe he called Salvation Mountain in the Imperial Valley desert, died Monday at age 82.
Knight died at a convalescent hospital in eastern San Diego County where he had been a resident for more than two years. He had suffered the ravages of diabetes, along with other ailments of old age.
His death was announced on his Salvation Mountain Facebook page by his devoted followers who have been attempting to preserve his labor of love east of the Salton Sea near the squatter village called Slab City.
Until his health declined, Knight had lived in the back of his truck, sharing his space with a variety of cats without names, undeterred by the brutal desert heat or howling winds.
“Love Jesus and keep it simple,” he once said, explaining his philosophy of life.
The mountain is a sloping, terraced hill about three stories tall and 100 feet long and crowned with a cross. The property is owned by the state, but efforts to oust Knight have long since been abandoned.
Knight’s message on his mountain was simple: “God Is Love.”
Much of the paint was donated by “snowbirds” arriving in the area for the winter warmth. “God has a way of supplying my needs,” Knight said.
In his native Vermont, he had been a welder, handyman, guitar teacher, painter and body-and-fender man. He arrived in Slab City in the early 1980s — with his truck, an old tractor, and a hot-air balloon that he had once thought would be his conveyance for a cross-country float.
Although he never sought attention, numerous newspaper stories brought him a kind of celebrity that he cherished.
To his amazement, he became a favorite of folk art aficionados. His truck was dismantled and taken to a museum in Baltimore for display. His picture was the cover shot for the book “Self-Made Worlds: Visionary Folk Art Environments.” Documentary films were made about Knight and his mountain.
Along with painting his mountain, he wrote songs and strummed his guitar:
“I’m happy here in Slab City
Old Hobo road is dead
Those iron trees and I are the same
We’ve both got roots so deep.”
He never sought to proselytize. He greeted visitors cheerfully.
“If somebody gave me $100,000 a week to move somewhere and live in a mansion and be a big shot, I’d refuse it,” he said. “I want to be right here. It’s amazing, isn’t it?”
An Army veteran of the Korean War, Knight reportedly will be buried at one of the national cemeteries in San Diego.February 10th, 2014
NY Times Published: FEB. 9, 2014
BY: Paul Krugman
Back in 1987 my Princeton colleague Alan Blinder published a very good book titled “Hard Heads, Soft Hearts.” It was, as you might guess, a call for tough-minded but compassionate economic policy. Unfortunately, what we actually got — especially, although not only, from Republicans — was the opposite. And it’s difficult to find a better example of the hardhearted, softheaded nature of today’s G.O.P. than what happened last week, as Senate Republicans once again used the filibuster to block aid to the long-term unemployed.
What do we know about long-term unemployment in America?
First, it’s still at near-record levels. Historically, the long-term unemployed — those out of work for 27 weeks or more — have usually been between 10 and 20 percent of total unemployment. Today the number is 35.8 percent. Yet extended unemployment benefits, which went into effect in 2008, have now been allowed to lapse. As a result, few of the long-term unemployed are receiving any kind of support.
Second, if you think the typical long-term unemployed American is one of Those People — nonwhite, poorly educated, etc. — you’re wrong, according to research by the Urban Institute’s Josh Mitchell. Half of the long-term unemployed are non-Hispanic whites. College graduates are less likely to lose their jobs than workers with less education, but once they do they are actually a bit more likely than others to join the ranks of the long-term unemployed. And workers over 45 are especially likely to spend a long time unemployed.
Third, in a weak job market long-term unemployment tends to be self-perpetuating, because employers in effect discriminate against the jobless. Many people have suspected that this was the case, and last year Rand Ghayad of Northeastern University provided a dramatic confirmation. He sent out thousands of fictitious résumés in response to job ads, and found that potential employers were drastically less likely to respond if the fictitious applicant had been out of work more than six months, even if he or she was better qualified than other applicants.
What all of this suggests is that the long-term unemployed are mainly victims of circumstances — ordinary American workers who had the bad luck to lose their jobs (which can happen to anyone) at a time of extraordinary labor market weakness, with three times as many people seeking jobs as there are job openings. Once that happened, the very fact of their unemployment made it very hard to find a new job.
So how can politicians justify cutting off modest financial aid to their unlucky fellow citizens?
Some Republicans justified last week’s filibuster with the tired old argument that we can’t afford to increase the deficit. Actually, Democrats paired the benefits extension with measures to increase tax receipts. But in any case this is a bizarre objection at a time when federal deficits are not just falling, but clearly falling too fast, holding back economic recovery.
For the most part, however, Republicans justify refusal to help the unemployed by asserting that we have so much long-term unemployment because people aren’t trying hard enough to find jobs, and that extended benefits are part of the reason for that lack of effort.
People who say things like this — people like, for example, Senator Rand Paul — probably imagine that they’re being tough-minded and realistic. In fact, however, they’re peddling a fantasy at odds with all the evidence. For example: if unemployment is high because people are unwilling to work, reducing the supply of labor, why aren’t wages going up?
But evidence has a well-known liberal bias. The more their economic doctrine fails — remember how the Fed’s actions were supposed to produce runaway inflation? — the more fiercely conservatives cling to that doctrine. More than five years after a financial crisis plunged the Western world into what looks increasingly like a quasi-permanent slump, making nonsense of free-market orthodoxy, it’s hard to find a leading Republican who has changed his or her mind on, well, anything.
And this imperviousness to evidence goes along with a stunning lack of compassion.
If you follow debates over unemployment, it’s striking how hard it is to find anyone on the Republican side even hinting at sympathy for the long-term jobless. Being unemployed is always presented as a choice, as something that only happens to losers who don’t really want to work. Indeed, one often gets the sense that contempt for the unemployed comes first, that the supposed justifications for tough policies are after-the-fact rationalizations.
The result is that millions of Americans have in effect been written off — rejected by potential employers, abandoned by politicians whose fuzzy-mindedness is matched only by the hardness of their hearts.February 10th, 2014
By BLAIN ROBERTS and ETHAN J. KYTLE
NY Times Published: FEB. 9, 2014
FRESNO, Calif. — EVERY Saturday in late December and January, as reports of brutal temperatures and historic snowfalls streamed in from family in Vermont, New York and even southern Louisiana, we made weekly pilgrimages to our local beer garden to enjoy craft brews and unseasonably warm afternoons.
Normal winters here in Fresno, in the heart of California’s Central Valley, bring average highs in the 50s, steady periods of rain and drizzle, and the dense, bone-chilling Tule fog that can blanket the valley for days and even weeks on end.
But not this year. Instead, early 2014 gave us cloudless skies and midday temperatures in the 70s. By the end of January, it seemed like April, with spring trees in full bloom.
We fretted over the anomalous weather, to be sure. A high-pressure system parked off the Alaskan coast had produced not just our high temperatures but also soaring levels of fine particulate matter in the air and more than 50 rainless days, worsening a three-year drought, the most severe in half a millennium. If it’s this bad in January, we wondered, what’s it going to be like in July? But then we’d return to the beer taps, or meander over to peruse food truck menus.
Life in the Central Valley revolves around two intricately related concerns: the quality of the air and the quantity of the water. Although Fresno is the state’s fifth-largest city, it is really just a sprawling farm town in the middle of the nation’s most productive agricultural region, often called “America’s fruit basket.” Surrounded by mountains, which trap the pollution created by a surging population, interstate transportation and tens of thousands of farms, the valley has noxious air, even on good days.
The political atmosphere surrounding crop irrigation is equally toxic. Some farms in the western Valley — crippled by cuts in water allocations, salt buildup in the soil and depleted aquifers — now resemble the dust bowl that drove so many Tom Joads here in the 1930s. Farmers line highways with signs insisting that “food grows where water flows,” while environmentalists counter that the agriculture industry consumes 75 percent of the water transported by California’s byzantine water system.
Locals assess the situation in numbers and colors. Meteorologists compile and trade rainfall statistics with all the regularity and precision of batting averages, but without any of the fun. The air quality index — ranging from a “healthy” green to a “hazardous” maroon — occupies an ominous presence in the day, not unlike the color-coded terrorism alert scale adopted after 9/11.
Experts offer dire warnings. The current drought has already eclipsed previous water crises, like the one in 1977, which a meteorologist friend, translating into language we understand as historians, likened to the “Great Depression” of droughts. Most Californians depend on the Sierra Nevada for their water supply, but the snowpack there was just 15 percent of normal in early February. And the dry conditions are likely to make the polluted air in the Central Valley — which contributes to high rates of asthma and the spread of Valley Fever, a potentially fatal airborne fungus — even worse.
The current crisis raises the obvious question: How long can we continue to grow a third of the nation’s fruit and vegetables?
Tom Willey — an organic farmer from nearby Madera with the genial manner and snowy beard of a Golden State Santa Claus — certainly wonders. For six and a half years, he and his wife, Denesse, have provided most of our family’s fresh produce through their community-supported agriculture program. The Willeys taught us to appreciate kohlrabi and even turned our 5-year-old into a fan of brussels sprouts, which she likes to eat straight from the farm box.
Twenty years ago, the water table under the Willeys’ farm measured 120 feet. But a well test in late January revealed that it is now 60 feet lower. Half of that decline, Tom estimates, has occurred in the last two years.
The Willeys have done what they can to cope. They’ve cut back on less profitable crops, and they are already dedicated practitioners of sustainable agriculture. But many farmers aren’t, and the future is worrisome. Pumping from aquifers is so intense that the ground in parts of the valley is sinking about a foot a year. Once aquifers compress, they can never fill with water again. It’s no surprise Tom Willey wakes every morning with a lump in his throat. When we ask which farmers will survive the summer, he responds quite simply: those who dig the deepest and pump the hardest.
Yet for all the doom around us, here in Fresno itself it is hard to find evidence that the drought is changing the behavior of city dwellers. Locals have made a few concessions, though mainly to mitigate the effects of the bad air. The two of us, for instance, have skipped afternoon jogs to ease the strain on our lungs.
And while religious communities around the valley organized a day of prayer and fasting, entreating God to send rain, concrete efforts to solve the water problem are less apparent. Gov. Jerry Brown has called on all Californians to reduce their water use by 20 percent, but residential lawns, seeded each year with winter ryegrass, continue to glow in brilliant, bright-green hues, kept alive by sprinkler systems that are activated in the dark of night.
Fresnans have long resisted water-saving measures, clinging tenaciously to a flat rate, all-you-can-use system. Nudged by state and federal officials, Fresno began outfitting new homes with water meters in the early 1990s, but voters passed a ballot initiative prohibiting the city from actually reading them. It took two decades for all area homes to acquire meters and for the city to start monitoring the units. To its credit, Fresno has a watering schedule, limiting when residents can water their lawns. But enforcement, to put it charitably, is lax.
Our behavior here in the valley feels untenable and self-destructive, and for much of it we are to blame. But we also find support among an enthusiastic group of enablers: tens of millions of American shoppers who devour the lettuce and raisins, carrots and tomatoes, almonds and pistachios grown in our fields.
Rain showers moved in Thursday morning, for the third time in a week. The faithful will see signs of divine intervention, but it seems clear we need to stage one of our own. These storms brought less than two inches of rain — merely a drop in our tired, leaky bucket.February 10th, 2014