Image above by Philip-Lorca diCorcia
The collapse of the banking system explained, in just 59 minutes. Our crack economics team, the guys who explained the mortgage crisis, Alex Blumberg and NPR’s Adam Davidson are back to help all of us understand the news. For instance, when we talk about an insolvent bank what does it actually mean, and why are we giving hundreds of billions of dollars to rich bankers who screwed up their own businesses. Also, two guys go to New Jersey to look at a toxic asset.February 28th, 2009
By ROSE GEORGE
NY Times Published: February 27, 2009
IN the far reaches of Shaanxi Province in northern China, in an apple-producing village named Ganquanfang, I recently visited a house belonging to two cheery primary-school teachers, Zhang Min Shu and his wife, Wu Zhaoxian. Their house wasn’t exceptional — a spacious yard, several rooms — except for the bathroom. There, up a few steps on a tiled platform, sat a toilet unlike any I’d seen. Its pan was divided in two: solid waste went in the back, and the front compartment collected urine. The liquids and solids can, after a decent period of storage and composting, be applied to the fields as pathogen-free, expense-free fertilizer.
From being unsure of wanting a toilet near the house in the first place — which is why the bathroom is at the far end of their courtyard — the couple had become so delighted with it that they regretted not putting it next to the kitchen after all.
What does this have to do with you? Mr. Zhang and Ms. Wu’s weird toilet — known as a “urine diversion,” or NoMix (after a Swedish brand), toilet — may have things to teach us all.
In the industrialized world, most of us (except those who have septic tanks) rely on wastewater-treatment plants to remove our excrement from the drinking-water supply, in great volumes. (Toilets can use up to 30 percent of a household’s water supply.) This paradigm is rarely questioned, and I understand why: flush toilets, sewers and wastewater-treatment plants do a fine job of separating us from our potentially toxic waste, and eliminating cholera and other waterborne diseases. Without them, cities wouldn’t work.
But the paradigm is flawed. For a start, cleaning sewage guzzles energy. Sewage treatment in Britain uses a quarter of the energy generated by the country’s largest coal-fired power station.
Then there is the nutrient problem: Human excrement is rich in nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, which is why it has been a good fertilizer for millenniums and until surprisingly recently. (A 19th-century “sewage farm” in Pasadena, Calif., was renowned for its tasty walnuts.) But when sewage is dumped in the seas in great quantity, these nutrients can unbalance and sometimes suffocate life, contributing to dead zones (405 worldwide and counting, according to a recent study). Sewage, according to the United Nations Environment Program, is the biggest marine pollutant there is. Wastewater-treatment plants work to extract the nutrients before discharging sewage into water courses, but they can’t remove them all.
And there’s also the urine problem. Urine, like any liquid, is a headache for wastewater managers, because most sewer systems take water from street drains along with the toilet, shower and kitchen kind. Population growth is already taxing sewers. (London’s great network was built in the late 19th century with 25 percent extra capacity, but a system designed for three million people must now serve more than twice as many.) When a rainstorm suddenly sends millions of gallons of water into an already overloaded system, the extra must be stored or — if storage is lacking — discharged, untreated, into the nearest river or harbor. Each week, New York City sends about 800 Olympic-size swimming pools’ worth of sewage-polluted water into nearby waters because there’s nowhere else for it to go.
This probably won’t kill us, but it’s not ideal. Environmental scientists in California have calculated that sewage discharged near 28 Southern California beaches has contributed to up to 1.5 million excess gastrointestinal illnesses, costing as much as $51 million in health care. We can do better.
Urine might be one way forward. Before engineers scoff into their breakfast, consider that since at least 135,000 urine-diversion toilets are in use in Sweden and that a Swiss aquatic institute did a six-year study of urine separation that found in its favor. In Sweden, some of the collected urine — which contains 80 percent of the nutrients in excrement — is given to farmers, with little objection. “If they can use urine and it’s cheap, they’ll use it,” said Petter Jenssen, a professor at the Agricultural University of Norway.
The price of phosphorus fertilizers rose 50 percent in the past year in some parts of the world, as phosphate reserves, the largest of which are in Morocco and China, dwindle. (The gloomiest predictions suggest they’ll be gone in 100 years.) Although half of sewage sludge in the United States is already turned into cheap fertilizer known as “biosolids,” urine contains hardly any of the pathogens or heavy metals that critics of biosolids claim remain in mixed sewage, despite treatment.
The rest of Sweden’s collected urine goes to municipal wastewater plants, but in much smaller volume so it’s easier to deal with. Research by Jac Wilsenach, now a civil engineer in South Africa, found that removing even half of the nutrient-rich urine enables the bacteria in the aeration tanks to munch all the nitrogen and phosphate matter in solid waste in a single day rather than the usual 30. Urine diversion also makes for richer sludge and produces more methane, which can be turned into gas or electricity, Mr. Wilsenach said. In short, separating urine turns a guzzler of energy into a net producer.
Putting urine to use is not new. A friend’s grandmother remembers the man coming round for the buckets 60 years ago in Yorkshire, which were then sold to the tanning industry. The flush toilet ended that, and no one — my friend’s nan included — wants outside privies again. “Any innovation in the toilet that increases owner responsibility is probably seen as downwardly mobile,” said Carol Steinfeld, of New Bedford, Mass., who imports NoMix toilets into the United States.
Then there’s the sitting problem: in most urine-diversion toilets, a man must empty his bladder sitting down. This wouldn’t be a problem in some countries — Germany recently introduced a toilet-seat alarm that admonishes standers to sit — but it has been in others. Professor Jenssen was flummoxed by one participant at a training workshop in Cuba who said firmly, “If a man sits, he is homosexual.”
For now, “ecological sanitation” — or more sustainable sewage disposal — thrives mostly in fast-industrializing countries like China and India, which have money to invest in alternatives but few sewers. A subculture of composting toilets exists in the United States, but only a few hundred urine-diversion toilets have been imported, Ms. Steinfeld said.
Necessity — whether occasioned by fertilizer prices, carbon footprints or crippling capital investments — could bring change. At a recent wastewater conference, I watched in astonishment as dour engineers rushed to question a speaker who had been talking about stabilization ponds, which clean sewage using water, flow control, bacteria and light. Normally, such things would be cast into the box of hippie-ish ecological sanitation. But to managers struggling with energy quotas and budget limitations, more sustainable, less energy-intensive sanitation may be starting to make sense.
As Mr. Zhang told me with a smile: “For me, whatever the toilet is, I use it. For example, here we eat wheat. When we go to the south of China, we eat rice. Otherwise we starve.”
It’s been more than 100 years since Teddy Roosevelt wondered aloud whether “civilized people ought to know how to dispose of the sewage in some other way than putting it into the drinking water.” The Zhang family toilet is not the perfect answer to Roosevelt, as it still uses some water, though 80 percent less than a regular flush toilet uses. But at least it’s the result of someone asking the right questions.
Rose George is the author of “The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters.”February 27th, 2009
“The Happy End of Franz Kafka’s ‘Amerika,’ ” a 1994 Kippenberger installation in the MoMA atrium.
By HOLLAND COTTER
NY Times Published: February 26, 2009
The career of the German artist Martin Kippenberger, who died in 1997 at 44, was a brief, bold, foot-to-the-floor episode of driving under the influence. What was he high on? Alcohol, ambition, disobedience, motion, compulsive sociability, history and art in its many forms.
Art in its many forms was what he made — specifically paintings, drawings, sculptures, photographs, prints, posters, books — all in madly prolific quantities. In every sense he took up a lot of space. And he continues to do so at the Museum of Modern Art, where his first — and excellent — American retrospective, “Martin Kippenberger: The Problem Perspective,” is spilling out of top-floor galleries and down into the atrium.
Kippenberger was born in 1953 in Dortmund. His father was a businessman; his mother, who died in a car accident in 1976, a doctor. He dropped out of school in his early teens, hit the road and never stopped. He lived in communes, did drugs, did therapy, studied window display, attended then quit art school.
He wanted to be an actor. (He said he looked like “Helmut Berger on a good day.”) Only after failing to break into films did he focus on art. And as an artist he was a performer, an entertainer, a provoker, as he was in life. At punk bars and biennials he was the juiced-up guy who made scintillating speeches, picked stupid fights and periodically dropped his pants. He was the same person in his art.
He produced many self-portraits, and several are in the MoMA show, which has been organized by Ann Goldstein of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles and Ann Temkin, MoMA’s chief curator of painting and sculpture.
In a 1981 photorealist painting he’s a matinee idol lounging on a discarded sofa beside a Manhattan street. (The picture is actually a self-portrait once removed: he hired an artist to paint it.) We see him a few years later in a photograph as a kind of sissy frontier scout wearing a fuzzy sweater and riding a too-small horse in what looks like the American Southwest.
With a series of 1988 paintings comes a change: no more young and svelte. Instead he’s a paunchy, pugnacious middle-aged Picasso in boxer shorts. And from this point on the line between self-depiction and self-debasement blurs. It’s hard to know what to make of a sculptural portrait of the artist as a crucified cartoon frog, a tiny beer stein dangling from his hand. (Pope Benedict XVI called a version of the piece in an Italian collection blasphemous.)
The artist as Spider-Man trying to bust out of his studio would seem more upbeat — if the superhero weren’t a skeletal, see-through being with a mask for a face. Finally, in 1996, Kippenberger drew himself posed as the doomed figures in Géricault’s painting “Raft of the Medusa.” Many artists have done old-man self-portraits. Kippenberger was doing dead-man self-portraits.
And, characteristically, he was doing them with a rash verve that marked his whole career. Right from the start he understood that as an artist he was appearing on the scene at the end of a drama rather than at the beginning. By the time he arrived, the defining impulses of late-20th-century art — Pop, Minimalism, Conceptualism, Neo-Expressionism — were old. So were the political ideologies like Socialism and Communism, and the utopianism of the 1960s, which, for better and worse, had shaped the world he knew.
Seemingly all that remained were leftover styles and ideas; bit parts and walk-ons. Kippenberger didn’t buy this. He knew that there are no small parts, only timid actors, and that with the right spices scraps make a great meal. In other words, he knew he had to take what was there, including the diminished role of the artist, and make something different, and large, and loud from it, and he did.
He turned his work into a late-modernist clearinghouse in which familiar styles, careers and ideas could be re-evaluated, pulled apart, rejected or recombined. He made his painting a database of art and ideas that he loved and despised: Socialist Realism, Picasso, Picabia, Nazi propaganda, punk, Pop, Joseph Beuys, Sigmar Polke and consumer culture, as well as concepts like progress, originality, consistency, success and failure.
He customized Neo-Expressionism, hot in Germany in the 1980s, into a klutzy, jokey style, all flat-footed brushwork and snide asides. He made figure painting, popular for its accessibility, hard to read. Was the image of the smiling fräulein in his “Likeable Communist Woman” a sendup or a nostalgic sigh?
He hammered away at abstraction. He gave an ostensibly nonpolitical geometric composition of black, red and yellow bars a bomb of a title: “With the Best Will in the World I Can’t See a Swastika.” He questioned the notion of abstraction as a transcendent medium by offering an all-white painting that sprouted a pair of latex feet.
He suggested that painting as a form, while useful, was overrated. To test the response he bought a small gray 1972 monochrome painting by Gerhard Richter, fitted it with metal legs and turned it into a coffee table, which became by default a sculpture and original Kippenberger. The response was strong.
He went further in an exploratory direction with sculpture, his breakthrough coming in 1987 with the debut of the “Peter” sculptures, “peter” being his term for objects that fit no known descriptive category.
The two dozen such sculptures clustered in the show are made from pieces of found furniture or industrial hardware to which additions or tweaks have been made. Shipping pallets become playpens (his mother died when pallets slid off a truck and hit her car), a steel loading cart is equipped with briefcases; a designer chair is elevated on a pedestal; a set of shelves on wheels hold bananas preserved in resin. It’s fun to scan them for references to artists like Richard Artschwager and Reinhard Mucha, or to think of them as a reproach to Donald Judd’s self-importantly pristine carpentry. And it’s nice to know that many “peters” were actually made by a longtime Kippenberger assistant, Michael Krebber, who now has a substantial career of his own.
Most important, though, is to see how a complex, theatrical, and new-feeling art can be made from ideas and materials already there. The grand demonstration of this phenomenon is the installation called “The Happy End of Franz Kafka’s ‘Amerika,’ ” which fills the MoMA atrium.
Kafka’s novel was unfinished when he died, the narrative breaking off after its protagonist has arrived in the United States from Germany and has been taken for an interview at what purports to be a job agency for immigrants. In Kippenberger’s directorial hands the agency becomes a combination office, casino and sports arena, with dozens of sculpturally reconfigured tables and chairs on a sheet of green cloth the size of a basketball court.
It’s an exhilarating spectacle, as tough and daft as Kakfa’s book. (Don’t miss the overhead view from the sixth floor.) Like much of Kippenberger’s art it looks at first haphazard and slapdash, but isn’t. Every element has been carefully shaped and placed.
To see how fanatically detail minded Kippenberger could be, you need only look at drawings he did on hotel stationery picked up on his ceaseless trips and relocations. Some sheets hold diagrammatic plans for projects, others highly polished images in watercolor and ink: self-portraits, sexual fantasies, landscapes, cartoon vignettes. They could be by a dozen hands and brains, and that was just the look Kippenberger wanted: multitasking, data gathering, beyond the bogus authority of genre, taste and style.
Drawings for “The Raft of the Medusa” were among the last things he did. In a photograph of him posing as one of Géricault’s figures, he flings arms beseechingly, operatically open, as if to hit a high note, or catch a tossed bouquet. This is Martin the actor, the unembarrassable clown.
Physically, though, he looks awful; bloated and haggard, a big sick baby, a wreck. He had been self-destructing for years, but rather than pull back he kept stepping on the gas. Soon after the photo was taken he died of liver cancer, or cirrhosis, depending on who you read.
If messy and raucous aren’t your thing, and tidy objects are, Kippenberger is not for you. Sometimes when I come up against his drunk-and-disorderly divahood I think he’s not for me. But he is, absolutely, or the idea of him is, meaning the model he sets for what an artist can be and do. His multitudinous recyclings, insubordinate temperament and generosity seem unexpectedly right for a non-party-time time. With the MoMA respective a new generation of artists will get to know him. I can imagine more than a few hitching themselves to his manic star.
“Martin Kippenberger: The Problem Perspective” opens on Sunday and runs through May 11 at the Museum of Modern Art, (212) 708-9400, moma.org.February 27th, 2009
EFFE TABLE 1973
From the Metamobile series
28 1/2 x 78 3/4 x 32 1/8 in.
March 12- April 30, 2009
Italian Cultural Institute, San Francisco
Leading Italian industrial designer Enzo Mari is the subject of a retrospective exhibition of some of the furniture, lighting, utensils, games and graphics that have established him as a significant voice over half a century of thoughtful design and manufacturing.
Presented by the Italian Cultural Institute in San Francisco from March 12-April 30, the Enzo Mari exhibition is a small and impressive collection of designs that span Mr. Mari’s career. The exhibition at the Istituto comprises products from 13 different Italian and Japanese manufacturers (Alessi, Artemide, Corraini Arte Contemporanea ed edizioni, Danese, Driade, Hida Sangyo Co., Kartell, Magis, Muji, Poltrona Frau, Robots, Zani e Zani, Zanotta), that range from seating and shelving, to kitchen utensils, office accessories, children’s games and graphics.
The Enzo Mari exhibition is accompanied by a 64 page bilingual (English, Italian) exhibition catalogue with a preface by Hitoshi Abe, chair, UCLA Department of Architecture and Urban Design, an introduction by Francesca Valente, Director of the Istituto Italiano di Cultura of Los Angeles and a tribute by Massimo Vignelli.
Mr. Mari will be present at the opening.February 26th, 2009
By PAUL KRUGMAN
NY Times Published: February 27, 2009
Elections have consequences. President Obama’s new budget represents a huge break, not just with the policies of the past eight years, but with policy trends over the past 30 years. If he can get anything like the plan he announced on Thursday through Congress, he will set America on a fundamentally new course.
The budget will, among other things, come as a huge relief to Democrats who were starting to feel a bit of postpartisan depression. The stimulus bill that Congress passed may have been too weak and too focused on tax cuts. The administration’s refusal to get tough on the banks may be deeply disappointing. But fears that Mr. Obama would sacrifice progressive priorities in his budget plans, and satisfy himself with fiddling around the edges of the tax system, have now been banished.
For this budget allocates $634 billion over the next decade for health reform. That’s not enough to pay for universal coverage, but it’s an impressive start. And Mr. Obama plans to pay for health reform, not just with higher taxes on the affluent, but by putting a halt to the creeping privatization of Medicare, eliminating overpayments to insurance companies.
On another front, it’s also heartening to see that the budget projects $645 billion in revenues from the sale of emission allowances. After years of denial and delay by its predecessor, the Obama administration is signaling that it’s ready to take on climate change.
And these new priorities are laid out in a document whose clarity and plausibility seem almost incredible to those of us who grew accustomed to reading Bush-era budgets, which insulted our intelligence on every page. This is budgeting we can believe in.
Many will ask whether Mr. Obama can actually pull off the deficit reduction he promises. Can he actually reduce the red ink from $1.75 trillion this year to less than a third as much in 2013? Yes, he can.
Right now the deficit is huge thanks to temporary factors (at least we hope they’re temporary): a severe economic slump is depressing revenues and large sums have to be allocated both to fiscal stimulus and to financial rescues.
But if and when the crisis passes, the budget picture should improve dramatically. Bear in mind that from 2005 to 2007, that is, in the three years before the crisis, the federal deficit averaged only $243 billion a year. Now, during those years, revenues were inflated, to some degree, by the housing bubble. But it’s also true that we were spending more than $100 billion a year in Iraq.
So if Mr. Obama gets us out of Iraq (without bogging us down in an equally expensive Afghan quagmire) and manages to engineer a solid economic recovery — two big ifs, to be sure — getting the deficit down to around $500 billion by 2013 shouldn’t be at all difficult.
But won’t the deficit be swollen by interest on the debt run-up over the next few years? Not as much as you might think. Interest rates on long-term government debt are less than 4 percent, so even a trillion dollars of additional debt adds less than $40 billion a year to future deficits. And those interest costs are fully reflected in the budget documents.
So we have good priorities and plausible projections. What’s not to like about this budget? Basically, the long run outlook remains worrying.
According to the Obama administration’s budget projections, the ratio of federal debt to G.D.P., a widely used measure of the government’s financial position, will soar over the next few years, then more or less stabilize. But this stability will be achieved at a debt-to-G.D.P. ratio of around 60 percent. That wouldn’t be an extremely high debt level by international standards, but it would be the deepest in debt America has been since the years immediately following World War II. And it would leave us with considerably reduced room for maneuver if another crisis comes along.
Furthermore, the Obama budget only tells us about the next 10 years. That’s an improvement on Bush-era budgets, which looked only 5 years ahead. But America’s really big fiscal problems lurk over that budget horizon: sooner or later we’re going to have to come to grips with the forces driving up long-run spending — above all, the ever-rising cost of health care.
And even if fundamental health care reform brings costs under control, I at least find it hard to see how the federal government can meet its long-term obligations without some tax increases on the middle class. Whatever politicians may say now, there’s probably a value-added tax in our future.
But I don’t blame Mr. Obama for leaving some big questions unanswered in this budget. There’s only so much long-run thinking the political system can handle in the midst of a severe crisis; he has probably taken on all he can, for now. And this budget looks very, very good.February 26th, 2009
The Paul Rudolph building at Yale, above, has been saved from destruction in New Haven, Conn.
February 25, 2009
The Wall Street Journal
By ADA LOUISE HUXTABLE
For a maverick movement begun by little old ladies in tennis shoes fighting bulldozers in the urban renewal demolition wars of the 1960s, historic preservation has achieved some astounding successes, from the passage of landmarks preservation laws and the establishment of the National Trust for Historic Preservation to the recognition, restoration and reuse of an impressive part of this country’s architectural heritage. Guidelines have been established for a wide range of buildings, from the monumental to the vernacular — repair first, restore second, rebuild last; make clear what is new or added, and honor the original materials and construction.
But when the vernacular expanded to the popular and kitsch joined high art in the pantheon of taste, nothing, potentially, was unworthy of serious consideration and a good argument could be made for almost any building that had survived. The new cultural ideals were inclusive and pluralistic. Objective scholarship was sidelined for subjective, emotional associations fueled by partisan passions. Familiar standards simply fell apart, and so did the comfortable operating consensus of the preservation movement.
It was at this moment of disequilibrium that modernist architecture came under attack, its aging landmarks threatened with destruction. These buildings broke with every convention of design and construction, but beyond disagreements about criteria, there were the failed experimental technologies of a now historic avant-garde. Preservationists were faced with a whole new set of problems.
Yale University has a singular collection of iconic modernist monuments, all in need of serious repair. Demolition was never an option for buildings by Louis Kahn, Eero Saarinen, Gordon Bunshaft, Philip Johnson and Paul Rudolph, and an ambitious restoration program began with the exemplary renewal of Kahn’s University Art Gallery two years ago. Work was recently completed on Paul Rudolph’s Art and Architecture Building, one of the most famously controversial landmarks of the 20th century.
The Rudolph building, designed and constructed from 1958 to 1963, shares a vertiginous history with another important mid-20th-century landmark, Boston’s City Hall, a competition-winning design by Kallmann, McKinnell & Knowles also built in the 1960s. Initially celebrated and subsequently reviled, both buildings are in the same Brutalist style. The name Brutalism — from the French béton brut, the raw concrete used by Le Corbusier and favored by modernists — is more commonly used today as a term of opprobrium by a public that profoundly dislikes the style’s rough textures and powerful forms.
Boston detests its City Hall. Attacks on the beleaguered building include calls for its demolition by a mayor determined to get rid of it and a public persistently unconverted to modernism and particularly hostile to the Brutalist aesthetic. (Déjà vu, anyone? Its predecessor, Boston’s Victorian City Hall, was similarly detested and eventually saved and successfully recycled. Tastes change as surely as the seasons, only it takes a little longer.) The current City Hall is being systematically and willfully destroyed by abusive neglect, aggravated malfunction, and spreading bureaucratic blight.
In conspicuous contrast, Yale’s building has been sympathetically and beautifully restored and updated for use by the architecture school. Rededicated on Nov. 8, 2008, 45 years to the day of its grand opening, it has been renamed Paul Rudolph Hall in honor of its architect (1918-1997), whose reputation has also suffered wild swings. The trip from Boston to New Haven might as well be measured in light years as in miles; Boston remains obdurately clueless.
Rudolph’s building was never trouble free. Too small from the start, it was a terrible fit for the painting and sculpture departments crammed into it. There were no climate controls. Unsympathetic remodeling sabotaged the architect’s vision. According to Robert A.M. Stern, the dean of the architecture school, who initiated and championed the restoration, the building was in such a terminal state of dysfunction and disrepair that only the high cost and extreme difficulty of demolishing solid concrete saved it.
The most controversial part of the project has been a new addition housing the Jeffrey Loria Center for the History of Art and the Robert B. Haas Family Arts Library. Both the restoration and the addition are the work of Charles Gwathmey, of Gwathmey Siegel & Associates, and while the restoration has received critical praise, the addition has been judged harshly. The Gwathmey design is intentionally restrained and recessive. But next to Rudolph’s brilliant, virtuoso performance, its more conventional modernism has a disappointingly generic blandness. That is both inevitable and irrelevant. It doesn’t compete, nor is it meant to, because nothing can. There is just no contest with that powerful, one-off masterpiece. And there’s no point in adding up the score.
The first rule in such a charged architectural situation, as in medicine, is do no harm; the addition honors that directive and does what it is supposed to do very well. The new construction provides superior research and teaching facilities with daylit offices on single loaded corridors with views. It skillfully incorporates the upgraded services that could not be threaded through the old solid concrete walls. A shared entrance and circulation core afford a transition that works smoothly, although the change subverts the strong focus and balance of the original entrance and plan. Rudolph’s building is pure, theatrical drama. Mr. Gwathmey’s is cool, neutral efficiency.
Many of the preservation problems were due to Rudolph’s “modernism.” Boldly unconventional in concept, plan, materials and execution, the building’s untested and experimental components had not only disintegrated beyond repair, but were inferior to subsequent advances in basic building technology. It made no sense, nor was it possible, to seek matching replacements. The structure was essentially stripped to its frame and rebuilt.
Because this degree of reconstruction skews our ideas about authenticity, it undermines a defining principle of preservation. For traditional restoration, old quarries can be reopened and old techniques revived to stay true to history. It is the retention or reuse of the original fabric that separates the genuine artifact from the Disney replica. For modernist buildings, the challenge and the process are disturbingly different. Replacement and reconstruction are increasingly necessary for obsolete materials and technologies. This requires unprecedented judgment calls, tailored to each individual structure.
As an example, the only way that New York’s landmark Lever House could be saved was to completely remove its deteriorated curtain wall. Repairs were no longer possible, and the technology of glass, metal framing, and sealant had advanced beyond anything available in the 1950s; this required some compromises with the replacement parts to maintain the original appearance. Since curtain-wall construction is a defining characteristic of modernism, there is a paradox here: Take away the façade and you’ve lost the building, but once the façade has failed, the only way to keep the building’s signal contribution and ensure its continued viability is to replicate and update the original skin — a classic Catch-22. To treat it as an object of nostalgia achieves only a temporary stay of execution.
Yale’s carefully stated goal was to “restore the building to its original intention,” an acknowledgement of the dilemma and the impossibility of a faithful return to the 1960s. By now the original intention was hard to discern. The process was described as “a mix of literal restoration, interpretive renovation, and sensitive intervention.” There were (or had been) 37 levels on 10 floors, focused on two spectacular central spaces that were partitioned, cut up, filled in, and otherwise mutilated over the years. Students expressed their hostility with jerry-built interventions, and in 1969 a studio fire of mysterious origin finished the job. It was the building everyone loved to hate.
The stepped levels, low walls and connecting bridges of the open plan were in violation of today’s Americans With Disabilities Act and current building regulations; everything had to be brought up to code, from accessibility to performance standards. The glowing orange carpet that once blanketed the floors in vibrant contrast to the rough gray concrete has been reproduced from a surviving two-inch square. The dramatic central space has been reopened, and a copy of the giant statue of Minerva presides again over the soaring heart of the building. The rescued and revived structure is now described in Yale’s official releases as “a masterpiece of space, light, and mass.”
Nothing is the same when you reach the 21st century. Suddenly a 20th-century heritage is in crisis and in desperate need of a revised, realistic agenda to keep its landmarks useful and alive.February 26th, 2009
found on and-a-half
I was riding my bike around in Copenhagen, taking pictures of shop windows, when a man came out of a really beautiful violin workshop and asked if I was English, because I looked very english. I asked if I could keep taking pictures, and he invited me inside to see his set up, his gun, and to tell me how he hates artists and has been sad for a very long time.
one of my favorite blog posts
and a half
February 25th, 2009
A Kogi barbecue truck in Venice Beach, Calif.
By JENNIFER STEINHAUER
NY Times Published: February 24, 2009
AS the sun begins to sink behind the Santa Monica Mountains and the northbound traffic thickens on the 405 freeway, the hungry refresh their browsers.
After obsessively checking the Twitter postings of the Korean taco maker to see where the truck will park next, they begin lining up — throngs of college students, club habitués, couples on dates and guys having conversations about spec scripts.
And they wait, sometimes well beyond an hour, all for the pleasure of spicy bites of pork, chicken or tofu soaked in red chili flake vinaigrette, short ribs doused in sesame-chili salsa roja or perhaps a blood sausage sautéed with kimchi, all of it wrapped in a soft taco shell.
The food at Kogi Korean BBQ-To-Go, the taco vendor that has overtaken Los Angeles, does not fit into any known culinary category. One man overheard on his cellphone as he waited in line on a recent night said it best: “It’s like this Korean Mexican fusion thing of crazy deliciousness.”
The truck is a clear cult hit in Los Angeles, drawing more buzz than any new restaurant. A sister vehicle and a taco stand within a Culver City bar were recently added to quell the crowds, which Kogi’s owner put at about 400 customers a night.
Kogi, the brainchild of two chefs, has entered the city’s gastro-universe at just the right moment. Its tacos and burritos are recession-friendly at $2 a pop. The truck capitalizes on emerging technology by sending out Twitter alerts so fans know where to find it at any given time.
Yet Kogi’s popularity and the sophistication of its street food also demonstrate the emerging firepower of this city’s Korean food purveyors.
In the last few years, second-generation Korean Angelenos and more recent immigrants have played their own variations on their traditional cuisine and taken it far beyond the boundaries of Korean-dominated neighborhoods. These chefs and entrepreneurs are fueled in large part by tech-boom money here and in South Korea, culinary-school educations and in some cases, their parents’ shifting perspectives about the profession of cooking. In the last year, new Korean restaurants have popped up on the powerhouse restaurant strips of Washington Boulevard in Culver City and Beverly Boulevard in West Hollywood. In an area of West Los Angeles dominated by Japanese restaurants, bibimbop has joined the fray.
“We thought Korean food was under-represented here, and we were right,” said Robert Benson, the executive chef of Gyenari in Culver City, who has two Korean partners. “There is a certain mysticism to Korean food, and we have tried to make it more accessible.”
Korean food has blipped on the radar of culinary trend watchers before, but it never seems to gain momentum. In part, Mr. Benson said: “It is because there is a misconception about Korean food. Japanese food is high protein, low in fat and is this very clean cuisine, where Korean food has reputation as being not healthy. So it has not taken off like it should, but I think it is going to. I can feel the groundswell. David Chang in New York” — the Korean-American chef whose inventions include oysters on the half shell with kimchi consommé — “has helped that, too. I don’t think it will be long before we see a P. F. Chang’s-type chain of Korean food.”
At the same time, an increasing number of Korean chefs and restaurateurs here have aligned themselves with other nations’ cuisines, to great acclaim.
One of the city’s hottest hamburger spots, Father’s Office, is owned by Sang Yoon, 39, who immigrated to Los Angeles from Korea when he was a year old. He cooked at Michael’s in Santa Monica before taking over an old bar nearby, now packed with people willing enough to wait in line for an Office Burger, served with Mr. Yoon’s choice of accompaniments (caramelized onions, blue cheese, Gruyère, arugula), not theirs. A second Father’s Office recently opened in Los Angeles.
Scoops, an artisanal ice cream store in East Hollywood that whips up strawberry balsamic vinegar and brown bread treats, is run by Tai Kim, who came with his family to California from Korea as a teenager. Korean-Americans have made their mark in the frozen-yogurt trade, too. Pinkberry? Red Mango? Check, check.
“The first generation of Korean immigrants here mainly catered toward a Korean clientele, or made grocery markets catering to a minority clientele,” said Edward Chang, a professor of ethnic studies at the University of California, Riverside. “But more recent immigrants have ethnic and capital resources that enable them to branch out in the mainstream economy.”
Thus, “Korean-Americans have gained visibility since the unrest of 1992,” when riots targeted Korean-owned businesses, he said, “and over the last 10 to 15 years, they became much more visible. In terms of economic and political spheres, they are forces to be reckoned with.”
At the California School of Culinary Arts over the last two years, Korean students have been one of the fastest-growing immigrant groups, said Mario Novo, a spokesman for the school.
“One of our brand new students told me how excited he was to go to the school because in his culture the men do not cook and his mother was fighting against him,” Mr. Novo said. “Until they saw how serious he was. Now his mother is coming around.”
The Korean taco truck may be the ultimate outgrowth of the evolving Korean-American culture and inventiveness, inspired in part, like so many entrepreneurial adventures, by a bit of desperation.
This past September, the chef Roy Choi, 38, who began his career at Le Bernardin in New York and worked as the chef in several Los Angeles restaurants, including RockSugar, found himself out of a job and running out of cash. He had coffee with Mark Manguera, a former co-worker, who suggested that they operate a taco cart with a Korean twist.
At home that night, Mr. Choi said, the idea, which had sounded half crazy in the morning, began to make some sense. “I have always been searching for a way of trying to express myself,” he said. A business model with seven partners was quickly formed. The marketing plan included putting someone in charge of social networking, through which Kogi got its initial publicity when the truck first rolled out, two months after the fateful coffee date.
Then there is Mr. Choi, who called himself “the angry chef.” He works every night with about five employees who squeeze into the tiny, pristine space, clowns-in-a-car style, grilling meats and whipping up sauces for the crowds who wait, sometimes as long as two hours, for their tacos.
The idea, Mr. Choi said, was to bring his ethnic background together with the sensibility and geography of Los Angeles, where Koreatown abuts Latino-dominated neighborhoods in midcity and where food cultures have long merged. Former Mexican restaurants, now Korean, serve burritos, and Mexican workers populate the kitchens of Korean restaurants.
“We tried to marry two cultures,” Mr. Choi said, “with this crazy idea of putting Korean barbecue meat inside a tortilla. We have never tried to make it any more pretentious or different from that, and we wanted to be very simple but delicious.” To that end, Mr. Choi said, he buys from the meat purveyors used by some of the city’s high-end restaurants and scours the farmers’ markets for the best vegetables.
The whole operation is part culinary event — the delicious tang of pickled cabbage, the melt-on-the tongue caramel of seared meats, the bite of red chili flakes and jalapeños — and part party. Mr. Choi likes to park his truck at the U.C.L.A. campus and outside bars and clubs around town, to take advantage of the street theater.
This week, his team began leasing space in the Alibi Room, a lounge in Culver City, serving up kimchi sesame quesadillas ($7) and hot dogs with kimchi sauerkraut and Korean ketchup.
“It has evolved into a socio-cultural thing for me,” he said. “It is my vision of L.A. in one bite.”February 25th, 2009
By LARRY ROHTER
NY Times Published: February 24, 2009
The day after his first American concert in more than 15 years, Leonard Cohen sat in a Manhattan hotel suite warily submitting to an interviewer’s questions, including one about the music in his laptop’s iTunes. In response, he played a klezmer-style Hebrew hymn, then followed it by singing along with one of George Jones’s weepy country morality tales.
“I’ve had choices since the day that I was born,/There were voices that told me right from wrong,” Mr. Cohen crooned in his stern baritone. “If I had listened, no, I wouldn’t be here today,/Living and dying with the choices I’ve made.”
Religious devotion weighs heavily in both music and life for Mr. Cohen, and it takes many forms. After a five-year stint in a Zen Buddhist monastery and various legal distractions, he is back on the road: an undertaking that seems to combine his quest for spiritual fulfillment with an effort to regain his financial footing, lost when his former business manager made off with his money while Mr. Cohen was living as a monk on a mountaintop above Los Angeles.
“It was a long, ongoing problem of a disastrous and relentless indifference to my financial situation,” Mr. Cohen said on Friday of the resulting legal proceedings, which awarded him $9.5 million — money he has yet to collect. “I didn’t even know where the bank was.”
So on April 2, for reasons both practical and aesthetic, Mr. Cohen will embark on a two-month North American tour, including a performance at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival on April 17 and an appearance at Radio City Music Hall on May 16. In addition, Columbia Records on March 31 will release a live CD/DVD of a show he did in London last year, and songs from the concert he played last Thursday at the Beacon Theater will begin streaming online on Thursday on the National Public Radio Web site (npr.org/music or nprmusic.org).
Mr. Cohen’s world tour, which actually began in May 2008 in his native Canada, is scheduled to continue through the end of this year, a feat of endurance for a man his age. At 74, Mr. Cohen is nine years Mick Jagger’s senior and two years older than John McCain. But he is remarkably limber, skipping on and off the stage during his three-hour show and repeatedly dropping to his knees to sing.
Roscoe Beck, Mr. Cohen’s musical director, says that even on the longest flights Mr. Cohen sits cross-legged and straight-backed in his seat, in a monk’s posture. Asked whether he also does yoga to build strength and agility for his stage shows, Mr. Cohen, his demeanor courtly but reserved, smiled and replied, “That is my yoga.”
In fact, Mr. Cohen appears to see performance and prayer as aspects of the same larger divine enterprise. That may not be surprising, coming from an artist whose best-known songs mingle sacred concerns with the secular and the sexual and sound like “collaborations between Jacques Brel and Thomas Merton,” as the novelist Pico Iyer put it.
“There’s a similarity in the quality of the daily life” on the road and in the monastery, Mr. Cohen said. “There’s just a sense of purpose” in which “a lot of extraneous material is naturally and necessarily discarded,” and what is left is a “rigorous and severe” routine in which “the capacity to focus becomes much easier.”
Mr. Cohen said he stopped touring in 1993 partly because he was drinking “too much red wine” between shows. But even with his money problems, he had to be persuaded to go out on the road again, said Rob Hallett, the promoter of the tour, in which Mr. Cohen performs with a nine-piece band.
“For three years, every time I’d go to Los Angeles, I’d try to convince him to do it,” Mr. Hallett said. “But he didn’t think anyone cared.”
After 99 concerts in places as far-flung as Bucharest and Auckland, Mr. Cohen now knows that is not true. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008, but unlike many other pop music figures who emerged in the 1960s he never overexposed himself, and he has maintained an air of mystery around his person and his songs.
“In the years he was away, the work was still there to be found, and people caught up with him,” said Hal Willner, the music producer responsible for “Came So Far for Beauty,” a Cohen concert tribute that toured the world in 2004 and 2005. “The records always kept surfacing, being talked about as influences on the young kids coming up, like Kurt Cobain and Jeff Buckley, and those who listened found themselves being drawn into the songs, in a Venus’ flytrap sort of way.”
Thanks to that new generation of artists and listeners, more recent songs like “Hallelujah” have now become as widely known as “Suzanne” and other compositions from Mr. Cohen’s early years. “Hallelujah” has been recorded almost 200 times, with two different versions reaching the Top 10 in Britain late in 2008, and was even sung by a contestant on “American Idol” last year, which gave it another boost.
Because so many of Mr. Cohen’s songs have been recorded by others, many of his new admirers associate his work mainly with the artists who have popularized them, like Rufus Wainwright and Mr. Buckley. But Mr. Cohen dismissed the idea of reclaiming possession of his songs as one of the motives for going back on tour.
“My sense of ownership with these things is very weak,” he responded. “It’s not the result of spiritual discipline; it’s always been that way. My sense of proprietorship has been so weak that actually I didn’t pay attention and I lost the copyrights on a lot of the songs.”
About the meaning of those songs, Mr. Cohen is diffident and elusive. Many are, he acknowledges, “muffled prayers,” but beyond that he is not eager to reveal much.
“It’s difficult to do the commentary on the prayer,” he said. “I’m not a Talmudist, I’m more the little Jew who wrote the Bible,” a reference to a line in “The Future,” a song he released in 1992. “I feel it doesn’t serve the enterprise to really examine it from outside the moment.”
Mr. Cohen said he hoped to make a new record when the tour ends, and offered to play one of his newer compositions. Tentatively called “Amen,” it features a Farfisa-style keyboard, a trumpetlike solo played by Mr. Cohen on his synthesizer and lyrics like this: “Tell me again when the filth of the butcher is washed in the blood of the lamb.”
Jennifer Warnes, the singer whose 1986 recording of “Famous Blue Raincoat” helped revive interest in Mr. Cohen at a time when he was out of critical favor, said: “He has investigated a lot of deities and read all the sacred books, trying to understand in some way who wrote them as much as the subject matter itself. It’s for his own healing that he reaches for those places. If he has one great love, it is his search for God.”
Mr. Cohen is an observant Jew who keeps the Sabbath even while on tour and performed for Israeli troops during the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. So how does he square that faith with his continued practice of Zen?
“Allen Ginsberg asked me the same question many years ago,” he said. “Well, for one thing, in the tradition of Zen that I’ve practiced, there is no prayerful worship and there is no affirmation of a deity. So theologically there is no challenge to any Jewish belief.”
Zen has also helped him to learn to “stop whining,” Mr. Cohen said, and to worry less about the choices he has made. “All these things have their own destiny; one has one’s own destiny. The older I get, the surer I am that I’m not running the show.”February 25th, 2009
Excellent blog, Sea of Shoes.
Could this be Anna Wintour’s 16 year old replacement?
Thanks Rodney.February 24th, 2009
By ALLISON ARIEFF
Ny Times Published: February 23, 2009
I felt so fortunate to attend a special presentation the other night: William Stout, owner of the eponymous architecture and design bookstore in San Francisco, had been invited to talk about his favorite books at Linden Street, a casual salon of sorts that aims to foster the design community in the city.
Stores like Stout’s (not to mention people like Stout!) are a rare breed these days: there are two floors bursting with over 200,000 books on everything from the sustainable houses of Australian architect Glenn Murcutt to Czech graphic designer Vitezslav Nezval’s “Alphabet” from 1926 to the last sketchbook of Jackson Pollock to William Wegman’s whimsical “Dogs on Rocks.” Some books are shelved in an orderly fashion, others are piled high, begging for the serendipity of accidental discovery.
Stout began with his favorite quote from Balzac: “I seldom go out but when I feel myself flagging I go and cheer myself up in Pere Lachaise … while seeking out the dead I see nothing but the living.”
It was evident that, surrounded by these volumes — some slim, some massive, some lush with color photography, some filled with impenetrable academic jargon — Stout felt inspired, in love, in awe, much as Balzac did wandering past the tombstones in that Parisian graveyard.
Stout often chose his favorites based not just on subject matter or author but because of his relationship to its author or subject, or the way the book was acquired, or the paper used in printing it. He showed a new book on architect Eero Saarinen, featuring behind-the-scenes images of the work that went into creations like the T.W.A. terminal at Kennedy International Airport. Below is the most recent title that William Stout Publishers, which publishes architectural monographs and other titles, has produced.
He spoke about one of his current projects, a book on a man with whom he shares both a name and obsession: William Bushnell Stout, the little-known visionary inventor of fantastic flying machines (and trains, and automobiles, and homes, few of which ever found their way into production but all of which are fascinating). I discovered the ingenious collapsible house designed by W.B. Stout while researching the history of prefabricated housing; I was thrilled to learn that our William Stout had an archive of the other Stout’s work.
Stout is a collector in the best sense of the word. Though he joked that he began acquiring books when he realized he’d never have a 401k, it is probably more accurate to say that Stout is in complete thrall of the smell of ink, the feel of paper, the intellectual and physical heft of the literary object, the near-indiscernible sound of the turning of pages.
An international, multi-generational architecture and design community has for decades put its trust and faith in Stout. He spoke of the widows of great architects making surreptitious visits to his store, and then later announcing themselves and donating valuable archives. Discoverers of caches of lost photographs or portfolios of drawings deliver them to Stout, eager for him and his team (because Stout also produces and publishes books) to transform them into a lasting document.
There was a sort of metaphorical turning of pages here because all that Stout champions and adores seems very much on the wane. As someone who has written and collaborated on the making of several books, I am all too aware that the aspects Stout discussed as if talking about a favorite child — obscure topics, exquisite papers, artisanal printing and binding, architectural drawings rendered painstakingly by hand (not computer), hand-to-hand book-selling — are disappearing from bookmaking. The experience of immersion and discovery that his store allows (one reviewer has written, “if you come here with an architect, abandon all other plans for the day”) is all but vanishing.
I love the tangents an afternoon spent searching the Internet can generate: a search for this leads to a blog on that which might lead to a book I’d not heard of or a film I want to see. But I realize as well that it’s contributing to a sort of collective ADD that makes ambling through aisles of a place like Stout Books feel that much more special, requiring an altogether different commitment of time, care and attention.
Like a photo album, diary or record collection, these books constitute a sort of life history. Single volumes or groups of volumes allow me to recall various periods of my life, from the illustrated copy of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” given to me by my parents when I was in kindergarten, to the likely never-to-be-opened again critical theory texts I’ve saved from grad school by Foucault, Bordieu, Kristeva, et al, to the shelf of vintage trailer volumes acquired while my husband and I were researching our book on Airstreams, to treasured monographs on Bloomsbury, Frank Lloyd Wright and Japanese prints inherited from my art-appraiser mom, many with postcards from her travels tucked inside their jackets. Even “Fluid Electrolyte and Acid Base Disorders,” a medical text written by my father, and dedicated to me and my sister.
There’s a motley yet treasured assortment of old and new, passed down, purchased or borrowed, all reflecting changing tastes, obsessions, influences and stages of life (such as the ever-growing stacks of childrens’ books that now compete for shelf space).
Scanning the bookshelves of others is a favorite pastime, and sitting here canvassing my own makes me fully understand why Stout recently left his San Francisco house to move into a warehouse: he wanted to be surrounded by not just some but all of his books, to feel among the living. As one who has lugged an ever-increasing number of boxes of books from apartment to apartment, city to city, unable to part with nary a one, I feel the same way.
Stout’s presentation was so inspiring yet so bittersweet because his vocation seems entirely of an era that is passing us by. For centuries we’ve looked to libraries as historic evidence of cultured civilizations: will electronic texts fill that bill for future generations? While I’ll admit that I’m intrigued by the Kindle, it will never replace the rows and stacks of books that crowd my house. And when I first settle into my comfy chair ready to read with that new device, I’ll probably feel as if I had a phantom limb — I’ll mourn the absence of my fingers slowly turning the pages.February 24th, 2009
February 24th, 2009
thanks to DanielleFebruary 23rd, 2009
thanks to KM Breslin ( originator of the term “beach clown” )February 23rd, 2009
How does it feel to be “aggressively interrogated”?
Christopher Hitchens found out for himself, submitting to a brutal waterboarding session in an effort to understand the human cost of America’s use of harsh tactics at Guantánamo and elsewhere.
Feb 19th 2009
SEVERAL years ago Brad Kittel was living in the small town of Gonzales, Texas, running an architectural-antiques shop and feeling restless. He had the largest collection of antique door hardware in the country, and a warehouse full of salvaged material. But it was not shifting. So in 2006 he started Tiny Texas Houses, a building operation based in the appropriately tiny town of Luling, as a way of showing off his wares.
One of Mr Kittel’s current projects is a custom-built Victorian-style farmhouse with a green exterior. Most of the house is to be made of salvaged materials. It will have a full kitchen and bathroom, a loft big enough to sleep in, and a roomy living area with a vaulted ceiling. At 350 square feet (33 square metres), this is a fairly capacious model. Some of his tiny houses are half that size.
The idea is to offer a greener and cheaper alternative to the dread McMansion. And Mr Kittel is not alone. The Small House Movement has been around for years, encouraging people to think about how much house they really need. But lately it has attracted more attention. “It seems like a perfect convergence of a bad housing market meeting a bad economy and more awareness about global warming,” claims Jay Shafer, an enthusiastic advocate. His Tumbleweed Tiny House company sells small ready-made houses as well as plans for slightly larger ones. Its teensiest model, the XS-House, measures 65 square feet; ready-made, it costs $37,000. For several years, the company survived on a sale here and there. Lately, says Mr Shafer, interest has risen.
In one sense tiny houses are not a novel idea. Plenty of people live in small spaces because they cannot afford larger ones. And affluent Manhattanites could get lost in a 500-square-foot apartment. But the average American home is pretty big. In 1980, according to the National Association of Home Builders, the median single-family home sold was 1,570 square feet. By 2005 that had expanded to 2,235 square feet.
The indications now, though, are that the trend is to scale back. According to the Census Bureau, the median size of home starts dropped to 2,114 square feet in the fourth quarter of 2008, down more than 100 square feet from the first quarter of the year. And 100 square feet is a significant slice of space. Mr Shafer’s whole house is about that size.February 22nd, 2009
The most important and consistently underrated space-rock unit of the ’70s, Cluster (originally Kluster) was formed by Dieter Moebius, Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Conrad Schnitzler as an improv group that used everything from synthesizers to alarm clocks and kitchen utensils in their performaces. Continuing on as a duo, Moebius and Roedelius eventually recorded many landmark LPs — separately, as a duo, and with all manner of guest artists from Brian Eno to Conny Plank to Neu!’s Michael Rother — in the field of German space music often termed kosmische. Cluster also continued to explore ambient music into the ’90s, long after their contemporaries had drifted into tamer new age music or ceased recording altogether. Cluster
originally came out of a Berlin art/music collective named the Zodiak Free Arts Lab, formed by Conrad Schnitzler (one of the leaders of the city’s avant-underground), and also including Hans-Joachim Roedelius plus future members of Tangerine Dream, Ash Ra Tempel and Guru Guru. After Schnitzler and Roedelius met an art student named Dieter Moebius, the threesome formed Kluster in 1970.
Musicians: Dieter Moebius, Hans Joachim Roedelius and Brian Eno, with Holger Czukay.
Leonard Cohen at the Beacon Theater on Thursday night. The concert was the first in the United States in 15 years.
By NATE CHINEN
Ny Times Published: February 20, 2009
Leonard Cohen kept returning to the stance of a supplicant at the Beacon Theater on Thursday night, dropping to one knee, or both, to intone his wry and ruminative songs. At the same time, he basked in the rapture of the crowd, artfully courting adulation. His mix of humility and sovereignty felt effortless, entirely true to form. And it girded the concert, his first in the United States in 15 years, with a vibrant and effective tension.
Mr. Cohen, 74, left little room for disappointment in a show that lasted just over three hours (with an intermission) and featured more than two dozen songs. The evening doubled as a preview, coming with the eagerly anticipated announcement of a North American tour this spring. (The tour includes a stop at Radio City Music Hall on May 16.) Mr. Cohen began his return to the road last year, with a slew of dates in Europe and his native Canada; one of them yielded “Live in London,” an album and DVD due out next month from Columbia.
The rigors of performing have reinvigorated Mr. Cohen, whose trademark black suit and fedora conveyed a somber chic. He literally skipped offstage at the end of each half, and after each of his several encores. He sashayed back on, with the slyest of grins. And his voice, that grave and inflexible instrument, occasionally escaped its granitelike restraints. On “Chelsea Hotel #2,” one of the best-received songs of the night, he sang with the resonant candor of his younger self, though that moment was brief and bittersweet.
Comforts are fleeting in Mr. Cohen’s songs, and contradictions are eternal. He was unsparing with his song choice, delving early on into “The Future” (“I’ve seen the future, brother/It is murder”) and savoring the sting of “Everybody Knows” (“Everybody knows that you’ve been faithful/Ah, give or take a night or two”). He fleshed out a liturgical cadence on “Who by Fire,” sounding grim; on “Famous Blue Raincoat,” an encore, he struck a complicated but familiar chord of contempt, compassion and self-pity.
Mr. Cohen’s backing ensemble, led by the bassist Roscoe Beck, matched these songs to a warm, gauzy glow, muting all textures. If anything the band was too polished, evoking smooth jazz and the more homogenized strains of world music. (It should be noted that the flamenco-tinged flourishes by Javier Mas, on bandurria and laúd, were more palatable than the ardently cloying solos by Dino Soldo, on saxophones.) When most of the group dropped out for an austere “Suzanne,” with Mr. Cohen on acoustic guitar, the effect was salutary: suddenly there was flow in the music, a feeling of breath and fluctuation.
But Mr. Cohen, like anyone else who isn’t João Gilberto, would have struggled to cast that spell over the course of the concert. He needed the band for atmosphere as well as support. And what he got from his backup singers, Sharon Robinson and the Webb Sisters, was abidingly deep: their airy harmonies offset Mr. Cohen’s sepulchral tone.
Ms. Robinson, a longtime collaborator of Mr. Cohen’s, also sang a solo feature, “Boogie Street,” with authority. The Webb Sisters had their own moment, claiming “If It Be Your Will” as an ethereal Celtic ballad, with Hattie Webb on harp and Charley Webb on acoustic guitar. (This week they released an EP on StratArt, “Comes in Twos,” which contains that arrangement.)
That was one of a handful of songs with philosophical overtones, befitting Mr. Cohen’s experience as a Zen Buddhist monk. The strongest in this vein was “Anthem,” which he prefaced with an allusion to troubled times; a joke about his medications (he mentioned a litany of name-brand antidepressants); and a quip about how he tried a course of religious study, but “cheerfulness kept breaking through.” Then came the song, and its chorus:
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
Mr. Cohen sang these words with a kind of gracious generosity. Then he introduced everyone onstage, with practiced eloquence. And before dashing into the wings to end the first half he stood for a moment, hat in hand, awash in wild applause.
Leonard Cohen’s Beacon Theater concert will be broadcast at nprmusic.org/music on Thursday. Tickets for his tour go on sale Friday at leonardcohen.com.February 20th, 2009
Patrick Hill, Screen (2009)
DANGEROUS GEOMETRY: PATRICK HILL AT DAVID KORDANSKY GALLERY
A gravity-defying playground
BY CHRISTOPHER MILES
Published on February 18, 2009 LA Weekly
A sculptor I know, who came out of art school at the height of minimalism in the late 1960s, once told me how a next generation of artists began to realize the impossibility of creating pure form that eschewed reference. This, he reasoned, was the natural response of artists rethinking their relationship to content, largely via conceptual art and postmodern approaches to image-making, and engagements with space and context that would come to be defined with terms like “postminimalist” and “expanded field.” Patrick Hill seems to want to revisit both sides of that juncture — to produce forms of stark geometry and purity, and to complicate them with plays of transparency, surface, material and engineering while contaminating them with the sorts of associations we attach to patterns, textures, shapes, hues and spatial relationships. Combinations of materials — including glass, concrete, wood, marble and fabric — in units most easily described with words like “sheet,” “block,” “slab” or “swath,” often stacked, leaned or spliced together, can become, in Hill’s delicate (and dangerous) handling, threatening or comforting, burdensome or uplifting. Their unions and intersections can translate to erotic or awkward. This is Hill’s talent — that he can deploy geometry that makes you blush or feel anxious, and that he additionally can make it seem fey or macho, or goth, or punk rock or hippie. As smart about construction as he is about subcultures and dress codes, and informed by both the strategies and critiques of the minimalist and postminimalist epoch — the assignations of gender, attitude, class and politics that were both teased out of and heaped onto largely abstract art — Hill turns all that into a playground, and if at first you think the gravity-harnessing and defying results seem lite, look again, for while they may not always deal in gravitas, they do pack a load.
David Kordansky Gallery, 3143 S. La Cienega Blvd., Unit A, L.A. Tues.-Sat., 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; through March 21.February 20th, 2009
Two Lane BlacktopFebruary 19th, 2009
February 21 – April 4, 2009
Opening reception: Saturday, February 21, 6 – 8 pm
Blum & Poe is pleased to announce our sixth solo exhibition by Los Angeles based artist Dave Muller.
Being both a departure and a fine-tuning of previous concerns and obsessions, Muller’s latest exhibition, iamthewalrus, steals its title from the John Lennon song. Combining his signature acrylic washes with loose line-rendering on paper to create large scale works, Muller meditates on the development of individual and cultural identities and the sphere or “field” of music that envelops and accompanies them. Visually playing with depictions of spheres and fields, juxtaposed with a variety of disparate images, this new body of work suggests a push and pull between transformation and immanence. To paraphrase John Peel on the band The Fall, “always different, always the same.” Where previous work focused on the physical manifestations of his music based obsessions, he now delves into their origins, making this show perhaps his most autobiographical work to date.
One group of works on paper is installed on the walls like so many abstract dominoes. At least one piece rests flat on the floor, occupying your space (and hopefully, your time). Within each of these pieces two seemingly unrelated images clash and cavort. Muller’s combinations of fleshed out renderings of cows in farmer’s fields with line sketches of scattered record collections, or erupted ab-ex fields with a loose sketch of a poised-to-pop puffer fish, lead us to consider how things explode into other things, explore their latticed connections, follow their genealogies.
Another series of large works on paper depict chaotic spreads of shredded paper. On closer inspection the cohesive fields are rendered fragments of the Sgt. Pepper album in one case, or Muller’s personal documents in another. Muller suggests the border constructed between popular culture and the private self is more Swiss cheese than corten steel. This stance is further reinforced by Muller’s drawings of houses (on the block in San Francisco he grew up in) which look like Jetson’s-era robot heads; drawings of John, Paul, George and Ringo as nesting Matryoshka dolls, and a drawing of Muller’s first record purchase; Snoopy and His Friends, the Royal Guardsman.
Dave Muller has shown widely over the last fifteen years. A selection of exhibitions include, I Like Your Music I Love Your Music, Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Castilla y Leon, Spain; The Sandra and Gerald Fineberg Art Wall, The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, MA; Jeremy Deller: Marlon Brando, Pocahontas and Me, Aspen Art Museum, Aspen, CO; Sympathy for the Devil: Art and Rock and Roll Since 1967, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL; Panic Room: Works from the Dakis Joanou Collection, The Deste Foundation Centre for Contemporary Art, Athens, Greece; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; 8th Biennale d’Art Contemporain de Lyon 2005, France; and the 2004 Whitney Museum Biennial, New York. In 2002, his exhibition “ Connections ” premiered at the Bard Center for Curatorial Studies in Annandale-on-Hudson, NY, and traveled to the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. Dave Muller was born in San Francisco and lives and works in Los AngelesFebruary 17th, 2009
From left, Nedra Talley, Estelle Bennett, Phil Spector and Ronnie Bennett in a Los Angeles recording studio in 1963.
By BEN SISARIO
NY Times Published: February 16, 2009
She was the quiet Ronette, the one people called the prettiest, the one who was content to remain in the shadow of her younger sister, Ronnie, because even in the shadow there’s still some spotlight.
For a few years in the mid-1960s Estelle Bennett lived a girl-group fairy tale, posing for magazine covers with her fellow Ronettes and dating the likes of George Harrison and Mick Jagger. Along with her sister and their cousin Nedra Talley, she helped redefine rock ’n’ roll femininity.
The Ronettes delivered their songs’ promises of eternal puppy love in the guise of tough vamps from the streets of New York. Their heavy mascara, slit skirts and piles of teased hair suggested both sex and danger, an association revived most recently by Amy Winehouse.
But Ms. Bennett’s death last week at 67 revealed a post-fame life of illness and squalor that was little known even to many of the Ronettes’ biggest fans. In her decades away from the public eye she struggled with anorexia and schizophrenia, and at times she had also been homeless, said her daughter, Toyin Hunter.
“I want to know who my mother was,” Ms. Hunter, 37, said in an interview. “From the time I was born she suffered with mental illness; I never really got to know Estelle in a good mental state.”
Those who knew Ms. Bennett in her healthier days portray her as gentle and intelligent, and as playing a critical part in the development of the Ronettes’ style. The eldest of the group, she worked at Macy’s and attended the Fashion Institute of Technology, and the look she helped devise for the group was all superlatives: bigger, badder and sexier than anybody. Racial ambiguity lent an exotic element: the Bennett sisters had black, American Indian and Irish blood; Ms. Talley was black, Indian and Puerto Rican.
“We called them the bad girls of the ’60s,” said the singer Darlene Love, who met the Ronettes in 1962, a year before they became famous with “Be My Baby.” “They had the really, really short skirts and they had big, big, big hair. Most of the black entertainers of the ’60s didn’t look like that, but they wanted to be separate from everybody else.”
By the time they met Phil Spector and began recording with him in 1963, the Ronettes had their look precisely calibrated. That August “Be My Baby” went to No. 2, and the Ronettes were instant stars. When they toured Britain in 1964, the Rolling Stones were an opening act.
But even in the early days there were signs that Estelle was fragile. When their grandmother died in 1959, Estelle was shattered, said her cousin, now known as Nedra Talley Ross.
“She was going to buy Mama knee warmers,” Ms. Talley Ross said, “and I remember Estelle being so devastated — screaming, like she would never go on. Just screaming for this thing that would never get done.”
After the Ronettes broke up, in 1966, and Ronnie married Mr. Spector, in 1968, Estelle was lost, Ms. Talley Ross said. She made several failed attempts at a solo career, and when Ronnie Spector, who divorced Mr. Spector in 1974, formed a new version of the Ronettes in the early ’70s it did not include either of her former band mates. (Ms. Spector did not respond to messages left for her.)
Meanwhile, Ms. Bennett was gradually becoming more ill. When she brought her infant daughter to visit, Ms. Talley Ross said, she slept straight through the baby’s crying. Not long after, Ms. Bennett was hospitalized with anorexia, and her grip on reality continued to loosen. In recent years, Ms. Hunter said, she sometimes wandered the streets of New York, telling people that she would be singing with the Ronettes in a jazz club.
“Estelle had such an extraordinary life,” Ms. Talley Ross said. “To have the fame, and all that she had at an early age, and for it all to come to an end abruptly. Not everybody can let that go and then go on with life.”
In 1988 the Ronettes sued Mr. Spector for back royalties, and the suit dragged on for 14 years. Part of the case was dismissed, but the three women won the right to some royalties, and according to Jonathan Greenfield, Ms. Spector’s husband, they received “in excess of $1 million.” After lawyers’ fees, Ms. Hunter said, each woman took home about $100,000. Ms. Talley Ross said the figure was a little higher.
During the litigation Ms. Love was called as a witness, and one day at court she saw Estelle.
“She didn’t remember me,” Ms. Love said. “They cleaned her up and made her look as well as possible. She wore white gloves. She looked the best she could for somebody who lived on the street. It broke my heart.”
Her daughter and her cousin said they also helped her to look her best for the Ronettes’ induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame two years ago. They were worried that the ceremony would overwhelm her, so one of Ms. Spector’s current backup singers performed in Ms. Bennett’s stead. But before the concert Ms. Bennett did give a brief acceptance speech.
“I would just like to say thank you very much for giving us this award,” she said. “I’m Estelle of the Ronettes. Thank you.”February 17th, 2009
February 16th, 2009
Ash Ra Tempel
December 6, 1974
Salle Wagram, Paris
From Japanese bootleg “Paris Downers”
1-1 Big Waves (27:31)
1-2 In The Deep (15:10)
2-1 Dust In Your Dream (25:03)
2-2 Head Liner (17:21)
Manuel Göttsching (guitar)
Harmut Enke (bass)
Lutz Ulbrich (guitar)
John Strawn (synthesizer)
Download belowFebruary 16th, 2009
Deep Lux (Fashion), 30″ x 40″, 2007, Digital C-printFebruary 15th, 2009
The library shelves of Yves Saint Laurent.
By GUY TREBAY
NY Times Published: February 12, 2009
‘We started out with bare walls,’ the 78-year-old French business mogul Pierre Bergé remarked last year, after announcing his decision to liquidate the vast collections he and Yves Saint Laurent accumulated over the decades of their emotionally baroque but enduring relationship, “and we were happy.”
That happiness is plain to see in “Debut,” an obscure book of images captured by the Life photographer Pierre Boulat during six weeks in 1962 as Saint Laurent — an unknown before making his actual, meteoric debut four years earlier at Dior — prepared the solo collection that would introduce to the wider world a shy Algerian-born dressmaker whose talents eventually transformed him into one of the more potent cultural exports of late 20th-century France.
Shuttling between Saint Laurent’s showroom on the Rue Spontini and a two-room apartment on the Rue la Boétie, Boulat captured the creative beginnings of a designer who at his death last June was honored with a funeral widely characterized as fit for a king. The white-paneled walls of the Rue la Boétie apartment mark a simpler point in Saint Laurent’s trajectory. And the designer’s buoyant attitude in the photographs provides little indication of the phantoms and terrors, the depressions and addictions that would blight his later life.
The Saint Laurent of “Debut” is seen sketching at a folding card table covered with a crisp white cloth; and playing with Hazel, his Chihuahua; and leaning against a waist-high armillary sphere set beside a suburban-looking philodendron and a butler’s tray arranged for cocktails with Françoise Sagan. True, there is a white-coated butler serving drinks in the pictures. Even so, the setting looks distinctly modest and bourgeois.
“Debut” came to mind in October on a visit to Saint Laurent’s more celebrated lodgings, the opulent Aladdin’s cave he occupied at 55, rue de Babylone from 1969 until the day he died. The processes were well under way by then of dismantling the house and its contents in preparation for a five-session, three-day auction to be held not in a drab auction house but under the ribbed glass dome of the Grand Palais, the 19th-century exhibition hall where fashion spectacles are often staged now.
On Feb. 23, the hoard of treasures the designer ardently assembled (he called himself an accumulator, not a collector) begins its journey back into the world. Whether the market will find Saint Laurent’s things fine enough and rare enough to warrant the nearly $400 million that the 733 lots are expected to fetch remains to be seen.
“The estimates are low,” I was informed by Nicolas Kugel, a fifth-generation antiques dealer whose family firm was one of the designer’s primary resources. Given the lofty quality of the objects for sale, this judgment is distinctly relative. What is perhaps most compelling about the Saint Laurent auction is not the money it may yield (much of it to benefit a foundation set up to finance AIDS research) so much as the momentary glimpse it offers into the designer’s singular interior world before it is broken up and forever dispersed.
Cold rain was falling on the day last October when I first saw the apartment, a duplex in the Seventh Arrondissement. Unlike many Paris lodgings built for the upper classes, with their rooms arranged in telescoping enfilade, the Saint Laurent apartment is a cruciform space, entered directly from an interior courtyard and overlooking a garden, from whose windows, in other seasons, the thwack of balls in play at a nearby tennis court could be heard.
Celebrated long before Bergé and Saint Laurent bought it in 1969, the apartment was renovated in 1928 in sleek modernist style by an American who never took occupancy, having lost his fortune in the crash. In the intervening decades its sleek paneled walls and curvilinear spaces were preserved by the only other owner, Marie Cuttoli, a textile magnate and patron of the arts.
Cataloging was in progress when I arrived, and so the gloom of that particular day was offset by the bright antlike industry of workers scribbling descriptions, hauling a Léger off the wall to be photographed and gliding about wearing surgical booties and white cotton gloves.
“My wish,” the 19th-century diarist Edmond de Goncourt once wrote, commending his heirs to swiftly dispatch his collections into the hands of the auctioneer, “is that my drawings, my prints, my bibelots, my books, the works of art which have been the joy of my life, are not consigned to the cold tomb of a museum and the coarse gaze of the indifferent passer-by.” It was amusing that day to contemplate how Goncourt had anticipated the indifferent gaze of the uniformed fireplug standing guard at the door of Saint Laurent’s apartment, fiddling with his earpiece as the material joys of the late designer’s life were readied for sale.
For decades the arrangements of furniture, objects and astonishing pictures by Picasso, Léger, Ingres, Mondrian and Goya had rested in place in a kind of highly charged stasis. “Yves,” explained Philippe Mugnier, an attorney who was Saint Laurent’s friend and personal assistant for the final decade of his life, “hated for anything to be changed.”
An auctioneer who met me at the apartment conducted a tour, spouting descriptions that leaned heavily on the hyperbolic language of his trade. No expert’s eye was required, however, to recognize that the place was chockablock with the Important, the Exceptional and the Rare. For four decades Saint Laurent and Bergé collected with percipience and pockets that deepened thanks to blockbuster sales of fragrances like Opium and, eventually, of the label itself to the pharmaceutical giant Elf Sanofi for little more than twice the sum the auction is expected to realize.
The two men bought early, passionately and with an obstinate and eccentric eye. Assisted by the Kugel family and the French art dealer Alain Tarica, they sought out precious objects in private collections and also bought Art Deco masterpieces at a time when that style was undervalued and objects by master artisans like Jean Dunand and Gustave Miklos could be had for a relative song.
Here were the famous Dunand urns in lacquer and brass; here a unique Eileen Gray sideboard; here two cartoonlike 1920s Miklos stools, upholstered in leopard hide. Here was the de Chirico painting and the African-style stool by Legrain acquired from the estate of the dressmaker Jacques Doucet at a 1972 sale at the Hôtel Drouot. Here were the twining bronze lily-form mirrors from the studios of the artists Claude and François-Xavier Lalanne, the original pair joined by others the designer commissioned until dark undulant bronze foliage overtook the music room.
Here were the symmetrical arrangements Saint Laurent favored because symmetry calmed him: a single table overlooking the garden was bracketed by matched alabaster urns, Renaissance bronzes, obelisks in veined crystal and lacquer vases crammed to capacity with the same quantity of the same cultivar of white rose.
Here were the silk-covered Italian dromedary sofas, set facing each other in front of a fireplace laden with massive geodes and rock-crystal specimens. Here on a coffee table were arrayed silver goblets from the workshops of 17th-century Augsburg, emblems then and now of wealth and ostentation, and the innumerable representations of serpents and birds that Saint Laurent amassed, symbols of an obsession with a natural world from which, toward the end of his life, he became increasingly removed.
“The surest sign of wonder is exaggeration,” the philosopher Gaston Bachelard once observed. Yet the exaggerated accumulations of Saint Laurent’s apartment seemed to represent not so much wonder as the memory of it, not the giddiness of acquisition you sometimes encounter in the lairs of compulsive collectors but something automatic and decadent. Saint Laurent was not the first person to apprehend that genius can often be a curse. Neither was he the first to withdraw from society, in all its disappointing dimensions, into the fixed and reassuring company of things.
When I visited in October, Moujik IV, the last in a series of French bulldogs the designer owned in his lifetime, snuffled forlornly about the apartment, flattening himself to a rug and worrying a bandage on an injured paw. The dog was there again when I returned to Paris in December to see the place restored to its intact state. Having toured the world, Saint Laurent’s precious objects had come back to the Rue de Babylone — the pictures hung again, the bibelots placed with exactness in order for a select group of collectors to visit and, presumably, to fall under their spell.
“It’s a bit haunted, that apartment,” Kugel said when I saw him, and his observation rang in my ear as I sat with Mugnier in December, watching Saint Laurent’s butler, Adil Debdoubi, lay out a drinks tray and discreetly uncork a bottle of Champagne.
Unlike Saint Laurent, who never left the house without a certain arrangement of amulets (a brass figurine of his dog, a small turquoise crucifix and a gold religious medal from his mother) in his right trouser pocket, I am not an especially superstitious person. And yet to visit Rue de Babylone that evening — to wander through rooms where the vases were kept filled with the white lilies and roses; to pass the Goya portrait of Don Luis María de Cistué (promised to the Louvre) and the massive Senufo bird sculpture that had accompanied the designer from his early happy days at the Rue la Boétie; to inspect the matchless suite of Mondrian pictures hung along a wall leading into the garden where Moujik went to lift his leg on a plinth supporting a Roman Minotaur sculpture — was to get the impression that Saint Laurent had not altogether quit the premises. And perhaps, in some sense, he has not.February 15th, 2009