Sharp Focus

Screen shot 2014-08-04 at 8.32.25 AM
“Bouquet for Bas Jan Ader and Christopher D’Arcangelo” (1991). PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF LORRIN AND DEANE WONG FAMILY TRUST, LOS ANGELES.


“The Production Line of Happiness,” a retrospective of work by the photographic artist Christopher Williams, at the Museum of Modern Art, brings a tonic chill to an art summer enfevered by the Jeff Koons retrospective at the Whitney. The two shows describe opposite extremes in sophisticated art since the nineteen-seventies: ascetic, academy-based, and soft-core political in Williams’s case; hedonistic, market-oriented, and smiley-faced populist in that of Koons. Williams can seem to work strictly for circles of educated initiates, while Koons endeavors to please practically everybody. But, if you remove the measures of money and fame, by which Williams is a relative pauper and a cipher (this is his first American museum retrospective), commonalities emerge. The two artists share roots in a moment, in the seventies, of self-conscious reflection on the exhausted drive of modernism. That moment spawned antic irony in art and an infatuation with hard-bitten critical theory in academe. Both artists attacked assumptions of meaning in their respective mediums—photography and sculpture—and have striven to control the reception of their work. Koons blares his intentions, while Williams veils his. But to fully appreciate the work of either you must divine the rules and play along.

Working with the MOMA curator Roxana Marcoci, Williams shows scores of photographs, mostly of odd objects (glass flowers, stacks of chocolate bars, cameras that have been cut in half to reveal their anatomy) and of subjects that suggest glossy-magazine advertisements (fashion models, fancy photographic gear) but often have something a bit off about them—such as a model seen from a strange angle. On rare occasions, Williams appropriates images, but, when he does, it’s always with a conceit. For example, he sought out photographs in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library that had been taken on a certain day in May, 1963, and that show the President’s back turned. (There are four, rephotographed and lined up on a wall; they stir feelings of remoteness and sadness.) Williams’s work is too recondite to fit among that of his more succinctly ironic contemporaries, such as the image bandits Richard Prince, Louise Lawler, and Sherrie Levine. Nor is he trendy in technique; none of his pictures were shot digitally. Williams, now fifty-eight (a year younger than Koons) and, since 2008, a professor of photography at the Düsseldorf Art Academy, remains a knight of the darkroom. He also has a sideline in collecting relics of his exhibitions: in the MOMA show there are sections of walls cut out and transported from museums where Williams has previously shown. Not that you’d know this: there are no wall texts or labels to explain or identify any of the pieces in the show, although a handout checklist provides the works’ titles.

Among the innocently generic-looking but riddling pictures in the show are some of a suite of glass flowers, made in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, from the collection of Harvard’s Museum of Natural History. We’re not told that each picture represents a bloom emblematic of a nation that had been cited as repressive by Amnesty International—a forced allusion that, even after I got it, didn’t do a lot for me. And only a professional photographer is apt to recognize the pale red in a picture of dishes in a dishwasher as a signature color of Agfa film—much less that Williams laboriously achieved it with a Kodak film. Williams has a hobbyist’s ardor for technical arcana, which he dumps into long, dense captions in the show’s catalogue.

His withholding of the often intricate backstory that informs each of his works leaves a viewer with three choices that I can see. One is to be maddened by the tease. Another is to be stimulated to consult the catalogue, which is replete with brainy curatorial essays and with extended quotes from such cynosures of the art-school seminar as Jean-Luc Godard and Pier Paolo Pasolini, and from artist friends, including Barbara Kruger, Daniel Buren, and Lawrence Weiner. (Williams is nothing if not collegial, suggesting an audience that is less a public than a Masonic fellowship.) Still a third is to relax and enjoy the mute and striking elegance of an installation that amounts to an exhibition about exhibiting. I have tested all three options. They all work.

Williams was born in Los Angeles, where both his grandfather and his father were cinematic special-effects experts. His parents divorced when he was young, and his father married a British actress who subsequently also worked in film production. (His father died in an accident on a movie set in 1977.) Williams credits his early enthusiasm for art to his stepmother’s mother, who took him to museums when he visited her in Philadelphia. (He recalls having been wowed by Rodin, Brancusi, and Duchamp.) He dropped out of high school in favor of surfing, then attended a junior college and, in 1976, managed to qualify for admission to CalArts, the Disney-founded art school and think tank of avant-gardism.

He studied under the conceptualist masters John Baldessari, Michael Asher, and Douglas Huebler. Williams told me, when I met him at MOMA, that he had thrilled to the “quietness and slowness” of art, after the tumult of his upbringing in the movie industry. But his background gave him a natural feel for his teachers’ preoccupation with the ways, means, and manipulative ends of spectacle in consumer culture. He embraced, as well, a fashion for “institutional critique”—art exposing the conventions and the imputed purposes of the places that show it. Briefly rife in the eighties and nineties, such enactments of academic theory have long receded from the spotlight of the art world. Williams’s persistence with them would seem hapless but for the surprising and, given a chance, the affecting spirit of romance that he finds in their exercise.

The show’s title, “The Production Line of Happiness,” is a phrase from a factory worker and amateur filmmaker whom Godard interviewed for a documentary, in 1976. It’s how the worker characterized the sequential tasks involved in creating films. I suspect that for Williams, as for Godard, the words secrete a turned-around sense: the happiness of the production line. Even the great director’s most tedious later movies radiate his deathless passion for cinema. Similarly, Williams’s photographs can seem almost like nugatory remnants of a process pursued with devotion that is its own reward. The worst that might be said of them is that they enforce a sort of supply-side aesthetic: profiting an élite and trickling down, maybe, to less privileged folks. But they enable a vicarious appeal: imagining what it’s like to care so much about something, no matter what. And one immediately compelling aspect of Williams’s process is his mastery of the forms and protocols of display. The exactingly considered, quite beautiful arrangements of walls and works in the show sparkle with wit, however elusive the content of the jokes may be. (Williams is a balding and pleasantly fleshy man, and shortish—which may explain, as a defiant jape, the unusually low hanging of his show.) An only mildly curious ten-minute tour will refresh your eye and spatial sense, as a car wash does a car. The most viable alternative approach requires hours of study.

In certain respects, much of what I’m saying about Williams at MOMA could apply to the Koons show at the Whitney, as well. Both artists glory in cultivating shocks—or, anyway, mild bemusements—of recognition, with pointed evocations of culture either low (Koons) or far out (Williams). The major gap—a chasm—between them is worldly. It has to do with disparate visions of, yes, happiness. Koons exalts a society that is defined and dominated by financial wealth, as flaunted by those who have it and presumably admired by those who don’t. Williams assumes and addresses people who would rather be rich in leisure time and energy to visit museums, read specialized books, and savor wayward discourses. Let a fifty-eight-million-dollar stainless-steel balloon dog that astounds the eye while benumbing the mind stand for the values of the first constituency. Have Williams’s murky photograph of a Renault sedan tipped on its side—referring to a factory site and evoking a barricade, from the political upheavals of 1968 in France—represent the knowingness of the second. One party buys and sells. The other talks and talks. The emptied middle that they bracket buzzes with possibilities for a truly satisfactory art, contingent on whether our time proves itself worthy of it.

August 4th, 2014
roger herman | ceramics

Untitled #7, 2014
Ceramic and Glaze
10 x 12 x 9 inches

Opening Reception: Sunday, August 3. 3-5PM

South Willard Shop Exhibit

August 2nd, 2014
marsden hartley

Marsden Hartley, The Iron Cross, 1915, oil on canvas, 47 ¼ × 47 ¼ inches

August 3, 2014–November 30, 2014

This exhibition features the work of influential American modernist painter Marsden Hartley (1877–1943). Approximately twenty-five of the artist’s seminal works from his years spent in Berlin (1913–1915) reveal the profound impact of World War I and elucidate the artist’s appropriation of military symbols and Native American motifs. Hartley’s paintings from this period reflect dynamic shifts in style and subject matter, and evidence a critical moment in his body of work. The exhibition, organized by the Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin, in collaboration with LACMA, coincides with the centennial commemoration of World War I. The presentation in Los Angeles marks the first exhibition of Hartley’s work in Southern California in over thirty years, and the first focused exhibition of Hartley’s Berlin paintings in the United States since they were created.


August 2nd, 2014
How Did Bob Dylan Get So Weird?

By Bill Wyman
Vulture 7/29/2014

In August, a Bob Dylan album may well arrive in stores concrete and virtual. It may be called Shadows in the Night. It may have a song called “Full Moon & Empty Arms” on it; a stream of the tune was released without comment on his website a couple of months ago. Why Dylan chose to record a cover of an old Sinatra track isn’t clear; it may, or may not, be a clue that the purported album will consist of covers. Dylan has just finished shows in Japan, Eastern Europe, and Scandinavia; will head next to Australia and New Zealand; and may or may not be preparing for a swing through the U.S. in the fall.
We think of Dylan in a pantheon of great rock stars, at or near the top of a select list that includes the Stones, Springsteen, maybe U2, but not too many other active artists. But he behaves much differently. He’s released more albums than Bruce Springsteen in the past 25 years and played more shows than Springsteen, the Stones, and U2 combined. Yet he hardly ever does interviews and does virtually nothing to publicize his albums or tours. For someone who seems to be in such plain sight, he remains hidden, present but opaque, an open book written in cipher. Normal questions don’t seem to do him justice. You want to ask: What is Bob Dylan? Why is Bob Dylan? After listening to him since I was a kid and seeing him live for—gulp—nearly 40 years, I think I’m beginning to figure it out.
You have to start by disregarding the well-told narrative: The soi-disant vagabond’s rise through folk music to a place of utter domination at the highest level of literate, passionate, and difficult pop and rock music, all by 1966; a retreat and Gethsemane until 1974, when he came back, roaring and vengeful, more passionately focused than before, adding a remarkable personal dimension to his ’60s work. After that, depending on how generously you view his career, there has been either a long decline or decades of remarkable and kaleidoscopic creativity, culminating in the triumphs, late in life, of his five most recent albums.
For an artist as rooted in our musical culture as Dylan, the linearity of a narrative works more to disconnect him from the influences and traditions his work comprises than to explain him. First, you have to appreciate the many layers that make up his peculiar but unmistakable aesthetic. His work is grounded in acoustic folk-blues—­ballads, chants, and love stories, populated with mystical or just plain weird meanings and themes, rattling and farting around like tetched uncles in the attic of our American psyche. To this add the dread-filled dreamscapes—unexplainable, ­unnerving—of French Surrealism, and then, arrestingly, the punchy patois of the Beats, who originally intuited the substratum of social stresses that would whipcrack across the ’60s and into the ’70s. Then factor in personal songwriting, a strain of pop he basically invented, doled out first with obfuscations, payback, tall tales, and lies—some by design, some on general principle, some just to be an asshole—and then the signs, here and there (and then everywhere, the more you look), of autobiographical happenstance and deeply felt emotion.
And remember that some of his narratives are fractured. Time and focus shift; first person can become third; sometimes more than one story seems to be being told at the same time (“Tangled Up in Blue” and “All Along the Watchtower” are two good examples). And then there’s plain sonic impact: Even his earliest important songs have a cerebral and reverberating authority in the recording, his voice sometimes filling the speakers, his primitive but blistering guitar work adding confrontation, ease, humor, anger, and contrariness, presenting all but the most unwilling listeners with moment after moment of incandescence.
And, finally, a key component often overlooked: Dylan’s artistic process. On a fundamental level, he doesn’t trust mediation or planning. The story of his recording career is littered with tales of indecisive and failed sessions and haphazard successful ones, in both cases leaving frustrated producers and session people in their wake. You could say the approach served him well during his early years of inspiration and has hobbled him in his later decades of lesser work. Dylan doesn’t care. During the recording of Blood on the Tracks, which may be the best rock album ever made, one of the musicians present heard the singer being told how to do something correctly in the studio. Dylan’s reply: “Y’know, if I’d listened to everybody who told me how to do stuff, I might be somewhere by now.”
He came to New York in early 1961, telling anyone who’d listen he’d ridden the rails, played with Buddy Holly, all sorts of nonsense. In reality, he was a fairly middle-class kid who’d hitchhiked, in winter, from the far north of Minnesota; in a way, this single act of propulsion toward reinvention by a 19-year-old is braver and more interesting than all his later tall tales of travel. He arrived in New York on the coldest day the city had seen in many years.
He was a prodigy, with a natural affinity for a medium that would, unexpectedly, afford a few people like him international acclaim and a permanent place in the cultural firmament, and lots of money too. His uncanny musicianship—producing enduring melodies and lovely harmonica solos—included an ability to effortlessly transpose keys that would impress professionals throughout his career. He also had a first-class mind, quick (almost too quick) of wit and relaxed enough to let inspiration flow without forcing it, yet also wiry, retaining permanently the complex wording of many hundreds of tunes. He soaked up the songs and the lore of folk and blues, cobbling together a shtick—an Okie patois, a shambling affect, and a fixation with Woody Guthrie, the socialist troubadour of the ’30s and ’40s and the author of “This Land Is Your Land,” who at the time was dying in a New Jersey hospital. It all served to disguise, at first, a mysterious charisma—with eyes, as Joan Baez remembered them later, “bluer than robin’s eggs”—and an apparent ambition that left a few damaged friendships, and egos, in its wake.
Baez, stentorian and humorless, recorded her first album in 1960 and was a star the next year. (She moved to Carmel and bought a Jaguar.) Dylan got an early rave in the New York Times, which led to his record contract. His second album contained several tracks that became standards. One, “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” was a strikingly imagistic portrait of a child returning from a journey to impart wisdom to an older generation. It’s the place where Dylan’s self-definition begins to merge with his songs. On his third and fourth albums, Dylan showed he was capable of increasing nuance. “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll,” the compellingly told true story of a barmaid carelessly killed by a moneyed young drunk, still able to make one’s blood boil, never mentions Carroll’s race.
At the same time, his mash-up of influences was creating deeper, subtler work, producing mysterious moments like the end of “Boots of Spanish Leather.” The song, spare and lulling, is a dialogue between the singer and his lover, who’s going on a journey. The woman wants to bring the guy back a present; the guy keeps saying he wants nothing besides her return. She finally says she won’t be coming back for a while—at which point the guy asks for a gift: some “Spanish boots of Spanish leather.” It’s not clear why the word Spanish is repeated. Maybe the guy’s heart was broken, or maybe the woman was right—he did just want something from her. But there’s a self-referential meaning to the song as well: Dylan’s own journey. Stars, after all, promise devotion to their fans and then disappear, leaving a simulacrum of their former selves that fans can never get something authentic from.
Beginning in 1965, in a 14-month rush, Dylan released three albums—Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde—each with two or three (very) major songs, three or four relatively minor (but still mind-blowing) efforts, and some doggerel and fun for leavening, all in a great spew of poetic verbiage. Dylan’s voice had deepened and matured; it rang with clarity, snickered with derision, led us compellingly, at its best hypnotically, through nightmares and fever dreams. “Subterranean Homesick Blues” introduced a modern, rock-and-roll Dylan, blasting off political aphorisms softened with absurdities—“Don’t follow leaders / Watch the parking meters.” Lacerating new epics made his old epics seem trite. Take “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”; the title, and a potent Cold War reference in the first line, fixes our narrator seemingly as a wounded soldier, who then spends the rest of a very long song reflecting on the society he’s dying for. “Like a Rolling Stone” captured the second half of the decade in advance, a Scud missile of mockery directed at an entire pampered generation adrift. When Dylan howled the words “no direction home,” it was hard to tell if his tone was exultant or pained; it was a conundrum he and his audience have gnawed at ever since. In a telling example of how Dylan’s words can leapfrog meanings across decades, the song’s final silky lines—“You’re invisible now / You’ve got no secrets to conceal”—capture precisely the predicament of a new generation paradoxically rendered faceless by electronic connectivity and yet entirely without privacy.

Dylan’s remarkable work from this period is sometimes trivialized by stories about how he freaked everyone out by “going electric.” In I’m Not There, his cubistic cinematic portrait of Dylan, Todd Haynes represents the moment with the singer and his band mowing the crowd down with machine guns. Please. There were some boos at the Newport Folk Festival when Dylan and his electric band played there. But at least some of the reaction came from the high volume and poor sound quality of the performance, which was, after all, at a folk festival. Meanwhile, “Subterranean Homesick Blues” was Dylan’s first Top 40 hit, and “Like a Rolling Stone,” an unprecedented six minutes long, went to No. 2. Dylan’s move to electric is of course a key moment in his musical growth, and an interesting footnote in the history of 1960s American folk; but it was not a thumb in the eye of propriety. Everyone liked it!

Dylan is intensely private. More than almost any star I can think of, our understanding of his personal life is occluded and disjointed. His first wife was Sara Dylan, née Sara Lownds, née Shirley Noznisky. When they met, she was married to a guy in publishing in New York; early in their relationship, Dylan mentioned to an interviewer that he’d met a woman named Sara and that she was one of only two truly “holy people” he had ever met. (The other was Allen Ginsberg, though Ginsberg had never done a stint as a Playboy bunny.) “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” is widely seen as a tribute to Sara; it has a title that suggests the name Lownds and other lyrical hints (“Your magazine husband / Who one day just had to go”) and is placed ostentatiously to fill up the entire final side of Blonde on Blonde. Dylan’s memoir, Chronicles: Volume 1, some of which may be true, is at its most dyspeptic when the singer describes the hordes of hippies impinging on his and his family’s life by the mid-’60s. Using a motorcycle accident as an excuse, Dylan retreated in 1966 and began releasing country-flavored albums at long intervals to dampen his celebrity. In the meantime, he and Sara raised an eventual family of five in peace. The names and number of his children were widely misunderstood until the publication of Down the Highway, a powerful, definitive biography by Howard Sounes, in 2001. (The children are Maria, from Sara’s first marriage; Jakob, whom you know from the Wallflowers; Jesse, a Hollywood and new-media guy, director of’s “Yes We Can” Obama music video; Anna, an artist who stays out of sight; and Samuel, a photographer who keeps a low profile as well. This is not to mention his second, secret wife and at least one other acknowledged child, but that’s a tale for another time.)
Dylan emerged in the mid-’70s to tour with the Band, release two of his strongest albums (Blood on the Tracks and Desire), and embark on a nutty and hilarious gypsy-­caravan tour dubbed the Rolling Thunder Revue. His relationship with Sara was strained at this point, though she came along on the tour and even starred in his bizarre four-hour movie, Renaldo & Clara. But in the end, Dylan’s womanizing fueled what became a bitter divorce. His most plainly personal album is Blood on the Tracks, a lancing portrait of a romantic death spiral. (Jakob has said he gets no pleasure from listening to it: “When I’m listening to Blood on the Tracks, that’s about my parents.”) Among (many) other things, Blood on the Tracks is an exercise in emotional intensity, from self-pity and anger to ruefulness. There are obvious references to his wife in the wrenching “Idiot Wind” and also at the beginning of “Tangled Up in Blue” (“She was married when we first met / Soon to be divorced”). Blood on the Tracks was recorded in bizarre circumstances, first in New York and then more than half of it rerecorded in Minneapolis with a pickup band; yet its shuddering atmospherics and controlled, specific writing combined to make it the most organic and emotionally fulfilling work in Dylan’s canon.
The Rolling Thunder Revue saw the return of the lovely Baez; she sang “Diamonds & Rust,” her greatest song, a poison­-­pen love letter to Dylan, and did the frug behind Roger McGuinn during “Eight Miles High.” A decade on, in the ’80s, she and Dylan toured again, this time in Japan, with what was supposed to have been shared star billing. Baez inevitably became an opening act and eventually told the tour to fuck off, as she later told the story. Granted an exit audience with Dylan, she found him an aged version of the immature ragamuffin. He was tired but slipped his hand up her skirt for old times’ sake.
The next two decades were tough for him artistically; as Greil Marcus has put it, Dylan was essentially committing a “public disappearance.” Beginning in 1979, he tested his audience’s expectations and goodwill more tellingly than any punk by releasing three albums of unimaginative Christian-themed songs, along with two tours in which he plowed stolidly through this material. The problem was not Dylan’s beliefs, though they leaned to the crackpot; lots of acts had religious leanings—Van Morrison among them. It was how Dylan articulated those beliefs. To listen to the albums today is to enter a (not very) fun house of mediocrity and intolerance.
Dylan began to produce his own albums. He wasn’t dogmatic about it; he would once in a while bring in an outside ­producer—Mark Knopfler helped on Infidels, and Daniel Lanois superimposed a decent setting (and demanded a suite of coherent songs) for Oh Mercy. Other albums from the ’80s and ’90s were weirdly inconsistent in the quality of both the songs and the production values. Even weirder is the fact that Dylan was actually writing and recording some of his best work during this time. “The Groom’s Still Waiting at the Altar, “Blind Willie McTell,” “Caribbean Wind,” “Foot of Pride,” “Series of Dreams” … Authoritative and undeniable, they were better than anything his contemporaries were then releasing. Unfortunately, they were also better than anything Dylan was releasing and only turned up later on compilations albums.
In 1997, Lanois returned for Time Out of Mind. The critics went nuts over this work and the four regular releases since. I think these albums are woefully overrated, but they have sold well, and with the critics behind them, too, I’m willing to acknowledge the disconnect may be mine. But deep down I know that it’s hard to find, over the past ten or 15 years, more than three or four songs you’d stick on a mix tape to try to convince someone of this singer-songwriter’s greatness. Too many of his recent songs start with a pleasant-enough (or, more often, serviceable) riff—which is then beaten into the ground by his backing band. My hunch is that Dylan, producing in the studio, nods in inscrutable approval when he hears something he likes. The band, nervous but eager to please, obliges and starts playing the damn riff continuously. There’s no outsider around to tweak it or vary it or add dynamics.
In the folk-blues tradition, older songs were reappropriated and built upon; in his later years, Dylan has played with this tradition and found himself in mini-controversies when researchers find that some words in his songs first appeared somewhere else. Amateur sleuths discovered that his album “Love and Theft” had a pattern of lines seemingly taken from a fairly obscure Japanese writer, Junichi Saga. More recently, some obsessives started looking at passages in Chronicles and found lines taken from an astonishing variety of places, from self-help books to The Great Gatsby. The pickings seem to be phrases bouncing around the ragged mind of a guy with a photographic memory. On the other hand, some of the inner workings are plainly mischievous, like an in-passing list of news stories; the headlines were all from a mocking take on the press in John Dos Passos’s U.S.A.
To tweak the purists again, he’ll once in a while appear in a TV commercial—­distracting from the subtle attention he pays to how posterity will see his work. He goes out of his away to appear on awards shows when they beckon; he’s shown his artwork and sells it online; his memoir, while odd, was nonetheless transfixing and reminded us that he was once a young man groping for a future and placing his bets on a very long shot indeed. The Dylan camp is readying an extraordinary digital archive of his songs, recordings, and paraphernalia. Dylan owns a coffeehouse, it’s said, in Santa Monica; unprepossessing and iconoclastic, it has an extremely friendly staff and no Wi-Fi. There’s not much on the walls, but you notice the references contained in what’s there: Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, Muhammad Ali, Leonardo da Vinci. There’s one big oil painting behind the counter, one that looks a lot like Dylan’s own work, silent and content in the company it keeps.
And then there’s the touring. In Chronicles, Dylan details, with seeming frankness, the aimlessness that brought him to a slough of despond at the end of the ’80s. He may have been facing what all rock stars who survive face, which is how to grow old gracefully in a medium cruelly tied to youthfulness. He resolved to get out and play his songs—and went back on the road in 1988 with a small, seldom-changing backing ensemble, with whom he delved into his back pages, including many songs he’d never played live before.
Here’s the odd thing—26 years on, he hasn’t stopped. He’s been playing about 100 shows annually ever since, growling through a set of songs old and new with a small band. It’s an endeavor that for a good chunk of each year keeps him on a private bus and, in the U.S. at least, in relatively crummy hotel and motel rooms. (He’s said to prefer places that have windows that open and allow him to sleep with his pet mastiffs. Beyond that, they are places fans wouldn’t expect to find him.) The shows at first may have been a tonic, but over time they revealed themselves to be a panacea. It must have struck Dylan: How could he look foolish if he just kept doing the same thing? If he were an artist, he would continue to create and show his art publicly. If he were a celebrity, he would appear in public. And if he were a seer, a prophet, or even a god, well, he would let folks pay and see for themselves how mortal such figures actually were. And far from saturating the market, he has created a new industry for himself as a touring artist. On a good night he makes some of his best-known songs unrecognizable, and on a bad one you come out wondering what it was, exactly, you’ve just seen. So far this year, the 73-year-old has played in Japan (17 shows), Hawaii (two), Ireland, Turkey, and nearly 20 other cities in the hinterlands of Europe; he’s headed now to more than a dozen shows in eight different cities in Australia and New Zealand—and this is before what should be a fall run through the States. Robert Shelton, the New York Times writer who first noticed Dylan, labored on a biography for more than 20 years; seeing the star’s unstable arc on its publication in 1986, he titled it, grandly, No Direction Home. Dylan hadn’t even begun not to go home.
It strikes me that the one thing all of these bizarre behaviors have in common is that they tend to strip away everything that stands between Bob Dylan’s art and his audience but simultaneously occlude everything else. There was a subtle shift in emphasis in one of his most powerful images, and perhaps a hint of resignation, in the song “Not Dark Yet,” in 1997:
I was born here and I’ll die here against my will
I know it looks like I’m moving, but I’m standing still
Every nerve in my body is so vacant and numb
I can’t even remember what it was I came here to get away from
Don’t even hear a murmur of a prayer
It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there
I can’t even remember what it was I came here to get away from. The exultant cry of “no direction home” derived its power from the fact that, in the end, any place new was better than where we’d come from. In that context, not remembering what you left originally is a remarkable statement of anomie.
Still, we might have focused over the years too much on the word direction, as in “heading toward.”
Maybe “no direction home” means that there’s no guidance home, that you have to figure it out for yourself.
If Bob Dylan is a question, maybe this is the answer. Given the chance, Dylan will give the audience his art, unadulterated, as he creates it, and nothing more. He believes it’s a corruption of his art to be directed by someone else’s sensibility. In its own weird way, isn’t this one sacred connection between artist and audience? It might be nicer if he did things differently. It might be more palatable, more commercially successful. (He might be somewhere by now.) This is what ties together his signal creations, his ongoing shows, and even the wretched albums of the ’80s and ’90s; what he does might be sublime and ineffable or yet also coarse and unsuccessful; it is what it is, defined by where it comes from, not what it should be. Even his remoteness is a by-product; it’s what he deserves after having given his all. Call the work art, call it crap, call it Spanish boots of Spanish leather, but in the end it’s the creation of an artist who defies us to ask for something more.

August 2nd, 2014
Kodak Moments, Deconstructed

Screen shot 2014-08-01 at 10.45.03 AM
“Christopher Williams: The Production Line of Happiness” at MOMA

NY Times Published: JULY 31, 2014

One of the most telling images in the Museum of Modern Art’s beautiful but demanding survey of the Conceptual photographer Christopher Williams represents an act of elegant iconoclasm. It lays bare something most of us rarely see: the guts of a camera’s lens. It is an amazing sight.

To make this photograph, Mr. Williams had a Dutch lens collector painstaking cut lengthwise through a German Zeiss Distagon wide-angle lens. Then, working with a studio photographer, Mr. Williams produced a big color close-up of a cross section that is as formal as an official oil portrait, as alluring as a high-end fashion shot and yet as startlingly exotic as an image from National Geographic.

The exposed mechanism, a tight jigsaw of stainless-steel and brass parts building toward the oculus, is intricate and majestic, even a little mystical, akin to the architecture of a chambered nautilus or a great cathedral.

”Christopher Williams: The Production Line of Happiness” is, as a whole, a similar act of exposure. The nearly 100 photographs meander in their own cerebral way through fashion, portraiture, landscape and, especially, still life, and cover more than 30 years of work. But they are only part of a bigger, more complex picture.

The entire show is in many ways a giant, brainy artwork unto itself. With it, Mr. Williams takes us deep into the mechanics of making the exhibition, turning it inside out, exposing both its logistics and its aesthetics.

The exhibition is also a kind of apotheosis of Mr. Williams’s own artistic milieu: 1970s site-specific installation, 1980s Pictures Generation art and the arcane 1990s trend of institutional critique. (The interactivity of relational aesthetics could also be added, given how much reading the show invites.)

Further, in an age when cameras are incessantly used, this exhibition — which has been organized by Roxana Marcoci of the Modern; Matthew S. Witkovsky of the Art Institute of Chicago, where it was first seen; and Mark Godfrey of the Tate Modern, in London — can also read as a swan song for old-time photography in all its fastidious gorgeousness and endless minutiae, as art, craft, science and commerce.

Mr. Williams, 58, is hardly a household name, even in contemporary art circles, although he is especially exalted among its most theoretical, navel-staring rings. He belongs chronologically to the photo-obsessed Pictures Generation, whose members include Richard Prince, Cindy Sherman, James Welling and Louise Lawler. But Mr. Williams is also very much an heir to Michael Asher, with whom he studied at California Institute of the Arts, and who never met a museum whose inner workings he could not expose. In one brilliantly simple piece, executed in Switzerland, Mr. Asher had all the radiators in a museum’s exhibition spaces herded into the entryway — and hooked up. In another piece, he foreshadowed something of Mr. Williams’s lapidary refinement by publishing a booklet that listed all the Modern’s deacquisitions.

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Mr. Williams elaborates on Mr. Asher’s approach in a way that is both deeply geeky and weirdly generous and open. He is an ardently self-conscious artist who wants to let us in on his entire act. You feel his touch everywhere: in the installation, the catalog, the simple map and the crazily ornate checklist, both handouts that are an essential part of the show.

There’s nothing that he hasn’t tweaked or deleted. This includes the labels and wall texts (there are none, making the show bracingly uncluttered); the framing of the photographs (those extra-wide mats) and the height at which they hang (noticeably low). All these details conspire to make us look harder, and the images feel a little like windows, an expansive effect.

It is as if, having tunneled into photography in every way imaginable, Mr. Williams has broken through to the exhibition form, which is becoming his true subject.

To start, walk and look, soaking in the show’s heady atmosphere, its cleanness and clarity. You’ll get to the ways it annoys — its controlling perfectionism — in a bit. The opening salvo, right off the elevator, disarms with its handsome boldness: The walls are painted bright red. They are printed — in black — with texts and photographs that turn out to be pages from the exhibition’s eccentric catalog. Printed in yellow are much-enlarged fragments of images that you’ll find in the show, like a sprig of juicy apples. Also here, in big black letters, is the show’s confounding title.

Step into the show itself, and you see rather randomly placed photographs, both color and black-and-white, some grainy, others sharp as tacks. There are sliced cameras and more lenses. The one mentioned above is shown next to cross sections of slabs of nut-filled chocolate, stacked up like movers’ pallets. Especially arresting are color close-ups of obsolete camera tasks: the manicured hands of a male model touching a knob to load film or holding up a light meter to a fashion model in a green dress, who may be real or an image. There are other machines: a printing press, shown with and without the men who operate it; a dishwasher with bright red dishes; a levitating car tire. And also the work of other artists: a foam couch by John Chamberlain, a big swatch of stripes from one of Daniel Buren’s installations.

There are lots of white walls, like pages. If the show is a deconstruction of the museum’s white box, it is also a celebration, and among the most beautiful ever staged in these galleries. There are free-standing walls that seem almost to slide back and forth, like screens, as you move through the show. A small, short one may intrigue: It is made of raw cinder block and hung with a photograph of a model, her hair turbaned in a towel whose yellow is absent from the Kodak color guide next to her.

By now, you may be ready to leave or full of questions — in which case you can pick up a checklist and learn more, possibly more than you want to know.

Some entries detail the lens, lighting and film used to take a particular picture; others the exhibition history of a work; and still others, specifically for the Zeiss Distagon lens, its focusing range. We learn that Mr. Williams’s crispest photographs are made working with photographic studios, which are, of course, listed. The entries for two images of a tire that you thought were identical lists the words and symbols imprinted on their sides, demonstrating that they are not. We get the names of the different slabs of chocolate and also their bar code numbers.

The mysterious cinder-block wall turns out to be a reconstruction of one used in a 1958 survey of Jackson Pollock’s paintings at the Whitechapel Gallery in London, where Mr. Williams’s show will travel next year. This reference is balanced by some local architectural history: The checklist reveals that a scuffed-up bit of deep blue-gray wall off to one side is a remnant of the museum’s Gauguin print exhibition, these galleries’ previous occupant.

In the end, many people may find that this exhibition is more production line than happiness. Mr. Williams is striving for a kind of total consciousness of what goes into making his photographs and this exhibition, intimating but never truly encompassing the extent of their lavishly entwined realities. It may not be the kind of show you want to see often or maybe ever again, but, if you let it, it conveys the complexity of Mr. Williams’s achievement and of art making itself with a wondrous lucidity.

And just wait until you tackle the catalog.

“Christopher Williams: The Production Line of Happiness” runs through Nov. 2 at the
Museum of Modern Art

August 1st, 2014
Knowledge Isn’t Power

NY Times Published: JULY 31, 2014
By Paul Krugman

One of the best insults I’ve ever read came from Ezra Klein, who now is editor in chief of In 2007, he described Dick Armey, the former House majority leader, as “a stupid person’s idea of what a thoughtful person sounds like.”

It’s a funny line, which applies to quite a few public figures. Representative Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, is a prime current example. But maybe the joke’s on us. After all, such people often dominate policy discourse. And what policy makers don’t know, or worse, what they think they know that isn’t so, can definitely hurt you.

What inspired these gloomy thoughts? Well, I’ve been looking at surveys from the Initiative on Global Markets, based at the University of Chicago. For two years, the initiative has been regularly polling a panel of leading economists, representing a wide spectrum of schools and political leanings, on questions that range from the economics of college athletes to the effectiveness of trade sanctions. It usually turns out that there is much less professional controversy about an issue than the cacophony in the news media might have led you to expect.

This was certainly true of the most recent poll, which asked whether the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act — the Obama “stimulus” — reduced unemployment. All but one of those who responded said that it did, a vote of 36 to 1. A follow-up question on whether the stimulus was worth it produced a slightly weaker but still overwhelming 25 to 2 consensus.

Leave aside for a moment the question of whether the panel is right in this case (although it is). Let me ask, instead, whether you knew that the pro-stimulus consensus among experts was this strong, or whether you even knew that such a consensus existed.

I guess it depends on where you get your economic news and analysis. But you certainly didn’t hear about that consensus on, say, CNBC — where one host was so astonished to hear yours truly arguing for higher spending to boost the economy that he described me as a “unicorn,” someone he could hardly believe existed.

More important, over the past several years policy makers across the Western world have pretty much ignored the professional consensus on government spending and everything else, placing their faith instead in doctrines most economists firmly reject.

As it happens, the odd man out — literally — in that poll on stimulus was Professor Alberto Alesina of Harvard. He has claimed that cuts in government spending are actually expansionary, but relatively few economists agree, pointing to work at the International Monetary Fund and elsewhere that seems to refute his claims. Nonetheless, back when European leaders were making their decisive and disastrous turn toward austerity, they brushed off warnings that slashing spending in depressed economies would deepen their depression. Instead, they listened to economists telling them what they wanted to hear. It was, as Bloomberg Businessweek put it, “Alesina’s hour.”

Am I saying that the professional consensus is always right? No. But when politicians pick and choose which experts — or, in many cases, “experts” — to believe, the odds are that they will choose badly. Moreover, experience shows that there is no accountability in such matters. Bear in mind that the American right is still taking its economic advice mainly from people who have spent many years wrongly predicting runaway inflation and a collapsing dollar.

All of which raises a troubling question: Are we as societies even capable of taking good policy advice?

Economists used to assert confidently that nothing like the Great Depression could happen again. After all, we know far more than our great-grandfathers did about the causes of and cures for slumps, so how could we fail to do better? When crises struck, however, much of what we’ve learned over the past 80 years was simply tossed aside.

The only piece of our system that seemed to have learned anything from history was the Federal Reserve, and the Fed’s actions under Ben Bernanke, continuing under Janet Yellen, are arguably the only reason we haven’t had a full replay of the Depression. (More recently, the European Central Bank under Mario Draghi, another place where expertise still retains a toehold, has pulled Europe back from the brink to which austerity brought it.) Sure enough, there are moves afoot in Congress to take away the Fed’s freedom of action. Not a single member of the Chicago experts panel thinks this would be a good idea, but we’ve seen how much that matters.

And macroeconomics, of course, isn’t the only challenge we face. In fact, it should be easy compared with many other issues that need to be addressed with specialized knowledge, above all climate change. So you really have to wonder whether and how we’ll avoid disaster.

August 1st, 2014
Roger Herman | Ceramics

Roger Herman, 2014
Stoneware and Glaze
Photograph: Joshua White

August 3 through September 3, 2014
Opening Reception: Sunday, August 3. 3-5PM

South Wilard Shop Exhibit

July 29th, 2014
No Time to Think

NY Times Published: JULY 25, 2014

ONE of the biggest complaints in modern society is being overscheduled, overcommitted and overextended. Ask people at a social gathering how they are and the stock answer is “super busy,” “crazy busy” or “insanely busy.” Nobody is just “fine” anymore.

When people aren’t super busy at work, they are crazy busy exercising, entertaining or taking their kids to Chinese lessons. Or maybe they are insanely busy playing fantasy football, tracing their genealogy or churning their own butter.

And if there is ever a still moment for reflective thought — say, while waiting in line at the grocery store or sitting in traffic — out comes the mobile device. So it’s worth noting a study published last month in the journal Science, which shows how far people will go to avoid introspection.

“We had noted how wedded to our devices we all seem to be and that people seem to find any excuse they can to keep busy,” said Timothy Wilson, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia and lead author of the study. “No one had done a simple study letting people go off on their own and think.”

The results surprised him and have created a stir in the psychology and neuroscience communities. In 11 experiments involving more than 700 people, the majority of participants reported that they found it unpleasant to be alone in a room with their thoughts for just 6 to 15 minutes.

Moreover, in one experiment, 64 percent of men and 15 percent of women began self-administering electric shocks when left alone to think. These same people, by the way, had previously said they would pay money to avoid receiving the painful jolt.

It didn’t matter if the subjects engaged in the contemplative exercise at home or in the laboratory, or if they were given suggestions of what to think about, like a coming vacation; they just didn’t like being in their own heads.

It could be because human beings, when left alone, tend to dwell on what’s wrong in their lives. We have evolved to become problem solvers and meaning makers. What preys on our minds, when we aren’t updating our Facebook page or in spinning class, are the things we haven’t figured out — difficult relationships, personal and professional failures, money trouble, health concerns and so on. And until there is resolution, or at least some kind of understanding or acceptance, these thoughts reverberate in our heads. Hello rumination. Hello insomnia.

“One explanation why people keep themselves so busy and would rather shock themselves is that they are trying to avoid that kind of negative stuff,” said Ethan Kross, director of the Emotion and Self-Control Laboratory at the University of Michigan. “It doesn’t feel good if you’re not intrinsically good at reflecting.”

The comedian Louis C.K. has a riff that’s been watched nearly eight million times on YouTube in which he describes that not-good feeling. “Sometimes when things clear away and you’re not watching anything and you’re in your car and you start going, oh no, here it comes, that I’m alone, and it starts to visit on you, just this sadness,” he said. “And that’s why we text and drive. People are willing to risk taking a life and ruining their own because they don’t want to be alone for a second because it’s so hard.”

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But you can’t solve or let go of problems if you don’t allow yourself time to think about them. It’s an imperative ignored by our culture, which values doing more than thinking and believes answers are in the palm of your hand rather than in your own head.

“It’s like we’re all in this addicted family where all this busyness seems normal when it’s really harmful,” said Stephanie Brown, a psychologist in Silicon Valley and the author of “Speed: Facing Our Addiction to Fast and Faster — and Overcoming Our Fear of Slowing Down.” “There’s this widespread belief that thinking and feeling will only slow you down and get in your way, but it’s the opposite.”

Suppressing negative feelings only gives them more power, she said, leading to intrusive thoughts, which makes people get even busier to keep them at bay. The constant cognitive strain of evading emotions underlies a range of psychological troubles such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, depression and panic attacks, not to mention a range of addictions. It is also associated with various somatic problems like eczema, irritable bowel syndrome, asthma, inflammation, impaired immunity and headaches.

Studies further suggest that not giving yourself time to reflect impairs your ability to empathize with others. “The more in touch with my own feelings and experiences, the richer and more accurate are my guesses of what passes through another person’s mind,” said Giancarlo Dimaggio, a psychiatrist with the Center for Metacognitive Interpersonal Therapy in Rome, who studies the interplay of self-reflection and empathy. “Feeling what you feel is an ability that atrophies if you don’t use it.”

Researchers have also found that an idle mind is a crucible of creativity. A number of studies have shown that people tend to come up with more novel uses for objects if they are first given an easy task that allows their minds to wander, rather than a more demanding one.

“Idle mental processing encourages creativity and solutions because imagining your problem when you aren’t in it is not the same as reality,” said Jonathan Smallwood, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of York, in England. “Using your imagination means you are in fact rethinking the problem in a novel way.”

Perhaps that’s why Google offers its employees courses called “Search Inside Yourself” and “Neural Self-Hacking,” which include instruction on mindfulness meditation, where the goal is to recognize and accept inner thoughts and feelings rather than ignore or repress them. It’s in the company’s interest because it frees up employees’ otherwise embattled brain space to intuit end users’ desires and create products to satisfy them.

“I have a lot of people who come in and want to learn meditation to shut out thoughts that come up in those quiet moments,” said Sarah Griesemer, a psychologist in Austin, Tex., who incorporates mindfulness meditation into her practice. “But allowing and tolerating the drifting in of thoughts is part of the process.” Her patients, mostly hard-charging professionals, report being more productive at work and more energetic and engaged parents.

To get rid of the emotional static, experts advise not using first-person pronouns when thinking about troubling events in your life. Instead, use third-person pronouns or your own name when thinking about yourself. “If a friend comes to you with a problem it’s easy to coach them through it, but if the problem is happening to us we have real difficulty, in part because we have all these egocentric biases making it hard to reason rationally,” said Dr. Kross of Michigan. “The data clearly shows that you can use language to almost trick yourself into thinking your problems are happening to someone else.”

Hard as they sometimes are, negative feelings are a part of everyone’s life, arguably more so if you are crazy busy. But it’s those same deep and troubling feelings, and how you deal with them, that make you the person you are. While busyness may stanch welling sadness, it may also limit your ability to be overcome with joy.

July 29th, 2014
Why the Beach Is a Bummer

NY Times Published: JULY 26, 2014

IT is summer, and so, we are repeatedly reminded, it is time for the beach — beach bodies, beach reads, fruity beach drinks in tall glasses festooned with tiny paper umbrellas and fruits skewered on tiny plastic swords. This is an ideal beach of hot sun, warm sand, crystal-clear water that leaves your skin salted. But it is all too often a mirage.

I have known beaches.

When I was a child, my parents took my brothers and me to Port-au-Prince during the summer so we could get to know the country of our ancestors. Because Haiti is an island, the beach is everywhere. Haitians are particular, even snobby about beaches. We scoff at the beaches of other Caribbean islands or Hawaii (let us not speak of continental American “beaches”) because nowhere in the world, we know with certainty, is the water warmer and clearer. Nowhere is the sand whiter or more willing to embrace our warm flesh.

In Haiti, beach bodies are simply bodies, and beach reads are simply books, because the beach is all around you. Here in the United States, it is similar for those who live on the coasts. The beach is five miles away from my parents’ Florida home. They have lived there for more than 15 years. They have been to the beach once, to take guests who were visiting.

But for the rest of us, the beach exerts a different kind of gravitational pull. Sixty-one percent of Americans don’t live anywhere near a beach. We spend a surprising amount of time hearing about this place we will hardly ever see. We watch commercials, TV shows and movies in which nubile young women and their strapping male counterparts frolic on sand, their hair golden and sun-streaked. Long walks on the beach are the supposed holy grail of a romantic evening. The beach becomes a kind of utopia — the place where all our dreams come true.

I have known beaches, but I have no particular fondness for them. I don’t like sand in my crevices. I don’t like sand at all. I don’t enjoy all that sunshine and heat without the benefit of climate control. I don’t enjoy other people at the beach — sticky children, young people with firm bodies and scanty bathing suits, those of less firm body staring forlornly at this spectacle. People bring pets, and I am not an animal person. No, I do not want to pet your dog.

After 10 minutes, I find myself bored. What are we supposed to do at the beach? I’m black, and so I understand sunbathing as a concept but less so as an activity. How long am I supposed to lie in the sun? When do I turn myself over like roasting meat on a spit? How often do I apply this sunscreen you speak of?

I don’t like bathing suits. There is so little material involved and they ride up in places where there should be no riding. They are not flattering for many body types because a beach body is a very specific, slender, toned and tan body. The rest of us, if we dare show up at the beach, should probably don caftans, neck to toe. Wearing a bathing suit on a beach would leave me exposed in ways that terrify me: no clothing to hide behind, so much of my flesh spilling, available for mockery or, as this modern age demands, amateur photography in which I end up as the punch line on some website that masks cruelty with so-called humor. I’m not that brave.

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There is the water, lapping gently on the shore, but, honestly, it’s not that much fun to get into it. Sometimes there are creatures and slimy lengths of seaweed and sharp things at the bottom. Unlike the swimming pool, there is no chlorine at the beach, and I am quite certain that people are using the ocean as their vast personal toilet. It is an unfathomable stretch of water that holds too much potential for treachery. And sharks.

It’s no better up on the sand. Beach seating is uncomfortable, particularly when you’re tall. There my feet are, hanging over the edge of the chaise. Or I’m in some kind of lawn chair, my parts sticking to polyester in ways that will leave firmly indented patterns. Reading at the beach is an ordeal — trying to find a comfortable position, keeping sand out of the book and sun out of my eyes, managing the pages if there is a strong breeze. Soon enough, my sunglasses start sliding down my face.

ONCE, I drove down to Key West, which is, basically, New Orleans at the beach: loud, grimy, abundant in alcohol. I saw the southernmost point in the United States and waited in a line of tourists to hug the marker and have my picture taken. I stepped carefully onto those strange undulations of sand. I thought, “This is pretty and all, but I could die without ever having this experience again.” The beach is a place lovelier in theory than practice.

Summer itself is also lovelier in theory than practice, despite the best efforts of splashy magazines trying to hype us up. “Get ready for summer,” they say, when they should be saying, “Prepare for inconsistent weather, humidity, disappointment and dreams deferred.”

I always have grand plans for myself each summer. I teach, and throughout the academic year, my colleagues and I wax wistful about all the things we’re going to do when the spring semester ends. We will read, and it will be luxurious, because we will be reading for ourselves. We will travel, and not to attend a conference. And, of course, we will diligently prepare for our fall courses. I have, thus far, spent my summer watching an inordinate amount of “Barefoot Contessa” on the Food Network.

It will never be what we want it to be, and yet we cannot help but hold on to this vision of summer, of the beach, of contentment. Despite my better judgment, I am also vulnerable to this fantasy, to so much trembling want. It is an unattainable idyll that we never quite reach, but somehow, it remains enough.

July 29th, 2014
If you throw a spider out the window, does it break?

Screen shot 2014-07-28 at 1.44.17 PM
Bruce M. Sherman
Untitled, 2014
Stoneware, acrylic, sand
48 x 8 x 8 inches

Al Freeman, Joanne Greenbaum, Branden Koch, Dan McCarthy, Monique Mouton, Jennifer Rochlin, James Yakimicki

Through August 15, 2014

Brennan & Griffin

July 28th, 2014
Corporate Artful Dodgers

By Paul Krugman
NY Times Published: JULY 27, 2014

In recent decisions, the conservative majority on the Supreme Court has made clear its view that corporations are people, with all the attendant rights. They are entitled to free speech, which in their case means spending lots of money to bend the political process to their ends. They are entitled to religious beliefs, including those that mean denying benefits to their workers. Up next, the right to bear arms?

There is, however, one big difference between corporate persons and the likes of you and me: On current trends, we’re heading toward a world in which only the human people pay taxes.

We’re not quite there yet: The federal government still gets a tenth of its revenue from corporate profits taxation. But it used to get a lot more — a third of revenue came from profits taxes in the early 1950s, a quarter or more well into the 1960s. Part of the decline since then reflects a fall in the tax rate, but mainly it reflects ever-more-aggressive corporate tax avoidance — avoidance that politicians have done little to prevent.

Which brings us to the tax-avoidance strategy du jour: “inversion.” This refers to a legal maneuver in which a company declares that its U.S. operations are owned by its foreign subsidiary, not the other way around, and uses this role reversal to shift reported profits out of American jurisdiction to someplace with a lower tax rate.

The most important thing to understand about inversion is that it does not in any meaningful sense involve American business “moving overseas.” Consider the case of Walgreen, the giant drugstore chain that, according to multiple reports, is on the verge of making itself legally Swiss. If the plan goes through, nothing about the business will change; your local pharmacy won’t close and reopen in Zurich. It will be a purely paper transaction — but it will deprive the U.S. government of several billion dollars in revenue that you, the taxpayer, will have to make up one way or another.

Does this mean President Obama is wrong to describe companies engaging in inversion as “corporate deserters”? Not really — they’re shirking their civic duty, and it doesn’t matter whether they literally move abroad or not. But apologists for inversion, who tend to claim that high taxes are driving businesses out of America, are indeed talking nonsense. These businesses aren’t moving production or jobs overseas — and they’re still earning their profits right here in the U.S.A. All they’re doing is dodging taxes on those profits.

And Congress could crack down on this tax dodge — it’s already illegal for a company to claim that its legal domicile is someplace where it has little real business, and tightening the criteria for declaring a company non-American could block many of the inversions now taking place. So is there any reason not to stop this gratuitous loss of revenue? No.

Opponents of a crackdown on inversion typically argue that instead of closing loopholes we should reform the whole system by which we tax profits, and maybe stop taxing profits altogether. They also tend to argue that taxing corporate profits hurts investment and job creation. But these are very bad arguments against ending the practice of inversion.

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First of all, there are some good reasons to tax profits. In general, U.S. taxes favor unearned income from capital over earned income from wages; the corporate tax helps redress this imbalance. We could, in principle, maintain taxes on unearned income if we offset cuts in corporate taxes with substantially higher tax rates on income from capital gains and dividends — but this would be an imperfect fix, and in any case, given the state of our politics, this just isn’t going to happen.

Furthermore, ending profits taxation would greatly increase the power of corporate executives. Is this really something we want to do?

As for reforming the system: Yes, that would be a good idea. But the case for eventual reform basically has nothing to do with the case for closing the inversion loophole right now. After all, there are big debates about the shape of reform, debates that would take years to resolve even if we didn’t have a Republican Party that reliably opposes anything the president proposes, even if it was something Republicans were for just a few years ago. Why let corporations avoid paying their fair share for years, while we wait for the logjam to break?

Finally, none of this has anything to do with investment and job creation. If and when Walgreen changes its “citizenship,” it will get to keep more of its profits — but it will have no incentive to invest those extra profits in its U.S. operations.

So this should be easy. By all means let’s have a debate about how and how much to tax profits. Meanwhile, however, let’s close this outrageous loophole.

July 28th, 2014

Anthony Caro, Dumbfound
1976, Steel and paint
21 x 50 x 15 inches

Josef Albers, Anthony Caro, Helen Frankenthaler, Morris Louis, Robert Motherwell, Kenneth Noland, Jules Olitski, and Frank Stella

Curated by Hayden Dunbar

Through August 2, 2014

Honor Fraser

July 25th, 2014
Powerful and Coldhearted

Ny Times Published: JULY 25, 2014

I FEEL your pain.

These words are famously associated with Bill Clinton, who as a politician seemed to ooze empathy. A skeptic might wonder, though, whether he truly was personally distressed by the suffering of average Americans. Can people in high positions of power — presidents, bosses, celebrities, even dominant spouses — easily empathize with those beneath them?

Psychological research suggests the answer is no. Studies have repeatedly shown that participants who are in high positions of power (or who are temporarily induced to feel powerful) are less able to adopt the visual, cognitive or emotional perspective of other people, compared to participants who are powerless (or are made to feel so).

For example, Michael Kraus, a psychologist now at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and two colleagues found that among full-time employees of a public university, those who were higher in social class (as determined by level of education) were less able to accurately identify emotions in photographs of human faces than were co-workers who were lower in social class. (While social class and social power are admittedly not the same, they are strongly related.)

Why does power leave people seemingly coldhearted? Some, like the Princeton psychologist Susan Fiske, have suggested that powerful people don’t attend well to others around them because they don’t need them in order to access important resources; as powerful people, they already have plentiful access to those.

We suggest a different, albeit complementary, reason from cognitive neuroscience. On the basis of a study we recently published with the researcher Jeremy Hogeveen, in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, we contend that when people experience power, their brains fundamentally change how sensitive they are to the actions of others.

The human brain can be exquisitely attuned to other people, thanks in part to its so-called mirror system. The mirror system is composed of a network of brain regions that become active both when you perform an action (say, squeezing a rubber ball in your hand) and when you observe someone else who performs the same action (squeezing a rubber ball in his hand). Our brains appear to be able to intimately resonate with others’ actions, and this process may allow us not only to understand what they are doing, but also, in some sense, to experience it ourselves — i.e., to empathize.

In our study, we induced a set of participants to temporarily feel varying levels of power by asking them to write a brief essay about a moment in their lives. Some wrote about a time when they felt powerful and in charge, while others wrote about a time when they felt powerless and subordinate to others. The selection process was random, so that each participant had an equal chance of being powerful or powerless.

Next, the participants watched a video of a human hand repeatedly squeezing a rubber ball. While they watched, we assessed the degree of motor excitation occurring in the brain — a measure that is widely used to infer activation of the mirror system. This motor excitation was determined by the application of transcranial magnetic stimulation and the measurement of electrical muscle activation in the subject’s hand. We sought to determine the degree to which the participants’ brains became active during the observation of rubber ball squeezing, relative to a period in which they observed no action.

We found that for those participants who were induced to experience feelings of power, their brains showed virtually no resonance with the actions of others; conversely, for those participants who were induced to experience feelings of powerlessness, their brains resonated quite a bit. In short, the brains of powerful people did not mirror the actions of other people. And when we analyzed the text of the participants’ essays, using established techniques for coding and measuring themes, we found that the more power that people expressed, the less their brains resonated. Power, it appears, changes how the brain itself responds to others.

Does this mean that the powerful are heartless beings incapable of empathy? Hardly. Recall that we induced power in our participants randomly. This sort of manipulation cannot fundamentally change empathic capability. So the bad news is that the powerful are, by default and at a neurological level, simply not motivated to care. But the good news is that they are, in theory, redeemable.

July 25th, 2014
In Scarred Chinese Tibetan City, Devotion to Sanctity of Life

A Tibetan woman in Yushu, China, used a spoon and a plastic bucket to rescue tiny shrimp stuck in mud along the shore of the Batang River. Credit Gilles Sabrie for The New York Times

NY Times Published: JULY 25, 2014

YUSHU, China — With a set of chopsticks in her hands and a Tibetan prayer spilling from her lips, Gelazomo, a 32-year-old yak herder, hunched over the rocky banks of the river that cuts through this city and hunted for the quarry that she hoped would bring salvation.

Every few minutes, she would tease out a tiny river shrimp that had become stranded in the mud, and then dropping it into a bucket of water. Beside her, dozens of other Tibetans toiled in the noonday sun, among them small children and old people who, from afar, appeared to be panning for gold.

“Buddha has taught us that treating others with love and compassion is the right thing to do, no matter how tiny that life is,” she explained, as the newly revived crustaceans darted through the water of her bucket.

Buddhists are encouraged to demonstrate a reverence for all sentient beings; some believers spurn meat while others buy animals destined for slaughter and then set them free. Here in Yushu, a largely Tibetan city where more than 3,000 people died in an earthquake four years ago, the faithful have been flocking to the Batang River to rescue a minuscule aquatic crustacean that would hardly seem deserving of such attention.

Buddhist monks say the growing interest in “life liberation” or “mercy release,” as it is sometimes called, is part of a surge in religious devotion that followed the quake, which flattened much of Yushu. Donations to local monasteries have soared, they said, as have ordinary acts of kindness among strangers in this city of 120,000 roughly 1,300 miles northwest of Hong Kong.

“To save these lives is not only for me and my family but for all the people who died in the earthquake,” said Gelazomo, who like many Tibetans goes by a single name.

Working with her infant son strapped to her back, she said the loss and trauma experienced by so many people in Yushu had fortified their commitment to Buddhist teachings that emphasize respect for all living creatures.

Several others said these specks of life could very well be the reincarnated souls of relatives or friends who perished in the earthquake.

Chenrup, 67, a nomad, said the prospect of being reborn as a fly or a dog could not be dismissed. “We have the same feelings as the fish,” said Chenrup, a vegetarian who spends eight hours a day digging in the mud. “It is our duty to liberate them from pain and suffering.”

From early morning until dusk, the soul-savers work to extract creatures that have become stranded as the river, which is fed by snow-draped mountains, recedes in summer. The shrimp, about the size of a fingernail clipping, are almost impossible to see in the sunbaked muck and only make themselves known by writhing faintly. After collecting them in buckets or paper cups, the diggers set them free into the river.

From the thousands of multicolor prayer flags that flutter across barren mountainsides to the monasteries that fleck even the most remote valleys, religious devotion suffuses every aspect of life on the Tibetan Plateau. Although many people here consume meat — and tending livestock sustains most rural families — it is not uncommon to see yaks or goats adorned with colorful strands of yarn, an indication that their lives have been spared.

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Across the plateau, the practice of life liberation supports a growing mini-industry. Since 2008, the Kilung Monastery in Sichuan Province has saved hundreds of yaks, sheep and goats through a program financed largely by believers overseas. For $1,000 a yak and $100 a goat, participants can buy an animal headed to the slaughterhouse. A nomadic family will also set aside an animal in their herd and dedicate it to providing wool ($165) or milk ($35). The monastery accepts online payments, including Visa and MasterCard.

Local monks acknowledge that the practice has a negligible impact on the number of animals destined for slaughter, but they say it serves to remind people about the sanctity of life and can also produce concrete benefits for adherents.

Shrimp from the Batang. “It is our duty to liberate them from pain and suffering,” said Chenrup, a nomad helping to save the tiny crustaceans. Credit Gilles Sabrie for The New York Times
In an essay to his followers, Chatral Rinpoche, a 101-year-old Tibetan religious figure who is said to have saved more than a million animals in his lifetime, said mercy release could lead to better harvests and healthier, longer lives for practitioners. “No greater crime is there than taking life away, and no conditioned virtue brings greater merit than the act of saving beings and ransoming their lives,” he wrote in a widely circulated essay. “Therefore, should you wish for happiness and good, exert yourself in this, the most supreme of paths.”

As increasing numbers of Chinese rediscover Buddhism after decades of state-enforced atheism, animal release has become a popular way to express religious devotion, especially among the ranks of middle-class urbanites who buy turtles or fish from produce markets and set them free in parks or temple ponds.

The practice, though, has its detractors, who say releasing tropical creatures in northern climes begets a different kind of cruel death — by winter’s freezing temperatures. Across Asia, especially in cities with large Chinese communities, caged birds are sold outside temples; once released, the birds are sometimes trapped again and resold, but more often they are unable to fend for themselves and die.

The practice, environmentalists say, also leads to the introduction of invasive species, with potentially ruinous results. In the United States, the northern snakehead fish, a voracious Chinese predator thought to have been freed during mercy release ceremonies, has been found in waters from the Potomac River to Lake Michigan, alarming bass fishermen and aquatic biologists who worry about the northern snakehead’s potential to consume and crowd out native species.

In Yushu, which is also known by its Tibetan name Jiegu, mountains and rivers are embraced as holy places and ordinary Tibetans display a sophisticated appreciation of the ecologically fragile landscape that sustains them.

In recent years, protesters have tried to block illegal mining operations, leading to violent clashes inside the Three-River Source Nature Reserve, a protected area outside Yushu that contains the headwaters of the Yangtze, Yellow and Mekong rivers.

Last August, dozens of people were reportedly injured after the police used batons, tear gas and electric prods to break up a large, three-day demonstration outside an open-pit diamond mine, according to Tibetan exile groups.

Chuyan Dorjee, 26, a monk who joined the throngs digging alongside the Batang River one recent morning, explained why many Tibetans felt so strongly about safeguarding the environment. “If human beings are to live in this world, we have to protect the animals and the grass,” he said. “We are all connected to one another. If they have no place to live, we will have no place to live.”

The sight of so many people toiling in the sun, many of them well into their 70s and 80s, was contagious. Among the diggers was Ha Kaimu, 20, a sock and underwear salesman who took the day off from his stall at the local market.

Mr. Kaimu, an ethnic Hui Muslim who recently moved to Yushu from neighboring Gansu Province, said he was deeply moved by the collective act of benevolence.

“In my hometown, if there was a much larger animal facing such a predicament, no one would lift a finger, but look at all these people working to save a tiny creature,” he said as several women offered him a hearty thumbs-up. “How could anyone not be moved?”

July 25th, 2014
Prized but Perilous Catch

Screen shot 2014-07-25 at 9.35.26 AM
In Hunt for Red Abalone, California Divers Face Risks and Poachers Face the Law
Credit Jim Wilson/The New York Times

NY Times Published: JULY 25, 2014

FORT BRAGG, Calif. — Every year, as steady as the tides, lifeless bodies are pulled from the cold, restless water along the rugged coastline north of San Francisco.

Most of the victims are middle-aged men. They wear black wet suits, usually hooded. They are often found in small coves framed by crescents of jagged rocks. An abandoned float tube sometimes bobs about nearby. Almost without exception, the victims are found wearing weighted belts that help them sink.

Sometimes the bodies are discovered by friends nearby. If the fog is not too thick, the victims might be spotted from the towering bluffs above, where lifeguards patrol dozens of miles of desolate coast and armed game wardens spy for poachers. Many of the bodies are plucked from the swells by a search-and-rescue helicopter crew accustomed to making daring rope rescues and recoveries several times a year.

The bodies are those of abalone divers.

“There’s a lot of death in abalone diving,” Nate Buck, a longtime Sonoma County lifeguard, said as he steered a pickup truck south along Highway 1, the Pacific Ocean churning below the cliffs to the right. In 14 years, he has lost count of how many bodies he has helped retrieve. “Lifeguards know that. Drive around here, and every one of these coves is another reminder.”

Abalone is an edible mollusk, a snaillike, single-shell gastropod found in coastal waters around much of the globe. But the red abalone is the biggest and the most prized, found only on the west coast of North America. In California, with a litany of restrictions to protect its fragile population, the hunt for wild red abalone is permitted only north of San Francisco, and only for sport.

Part of the enduring allure is how easy it is to take part. No experience and little equipment are necessary. Air tanks are illegal. Abalone divers simply slip into the murky water and hold their breath, in search of a hidden prize.

The red abalone’s thick, domed single shell grows to more than 12 inches in diameter. Brick red on the outside and pearly silver on the inside, they are trophies, framed for the wall, mounted above a mantel or set along walkways as yard decorations. The meat inside, sometimes several pounds’ worth, is a delicacy, with a taste and texture not unlike calamari.

“It really is an iconic species for California,” said Laura Rogers-Bennett of the University of California at Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory and a senior biologist for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. “It is a species that is part of our fishing heritage. And because of the size of red abalone, the biggest in the world, it’s not unlike the redwood or the sequoia.”

During the seven-month diving season — April through November, with a hiatus in July — thousands arrive each weekend to the wild edges of Sonoma and Mendocino Counties, mostly, in serpentine parades from the south and the east. Divers are rooted in tradition and thrive on camaraderie, like those who hunt deer or pheasant elsewhere. They pour from cars and trucks and vans, dress themselves in rubber suits, burden themselves with as much equipment as they can carry and trudge down treacherous rocks to the ocean’s edge.

Those brave enough to dive deep below the water’s surface for abalone or pick through the shoreline rocks during low tides may take no more than three in a day and 18 for the year. Each abalone has to be at least seven inches in diameter, meaning it is probably at least 10 years old. Each shell must be tagged and recorded immediately. It cannot be resold.

But temptations are real, and the black market for poached red abalone is active, because a full-size one can fetch $100 or more.

With roughly 250,000 red abalone legally captured for sport in California annually, and estimates that at least as many are taken illegally each year, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, including its undercover Special Operations Unit, spends as much time and resources protecting abalone as any other creature in California.

Abalone, in other words, is a big deal in Northern California.

“It’s like the last warrior-hunter thing to do,” said Sydney Smith-Tallman, whose family owns a dive shop in Fort Bragg that caters mostly to abalone hunters. “There’s danger, thrill, beauty.”

And, though no one tracks the numbers specifically, up to a dozen people die doing it every year.

‘The Dream of a Diver’

The holy grail for abalone divers is a 10-inch shell. No one has caught more than Dwayne Dinucci, a retired high school technical arts teacher who lives on a cul-de-sac in Union City, Calif., near Oakland. The license plate of his truck reads, “POPNAB” — pop an ab, the widely used expression for plucking abalone, or abs, from their suctioned underwater homes on the rocks.

“Ten inches is a landmark, the dream of a diver,” he said. “To this day, 45 years later, when I find a 10-inch abalone, I am thrilled.”

Dinucci had captured 343 abalone before the start of this season, including 20 that were more than 11 inches. The biggest he has caught is 11 29/32 inches, just shy of the world record of 12 5/16 inches, set in 1993 by John Pepper, a former student of Dinucci’s.

Dinucci has four of the top 10 largest abalone caught on record in California, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“The lure is finding the world’s largest abalone,” Dinucci said. “And on my gravestone it’ll say, ‘Never found it, but sure as hell tried.’ ”

The walls and rafters of his two-car garage are covered in hundreds of abalone shells, like hubcaps. They are perfectly aligned on hooks and labeled: size, date, time, location. The locations are intentionally vague, because a good abalone diver does not reveal such secrets.

Dinucci, with a rim of gray hair and a salt-and-pepper mustache, usually dives with a group of like-minded, trophy-hunting friends. While some coves can be jammed with dozens of divers and pickers, Dinucci and his crew look for open water, about 12 feet deep, disguising rocky shoals. From an inflatable boat, they drop into the water, one held breath at a time.

Dinucci has a customized boogie board — most use a float tube, which Dinucci finds too cumbersome — fitted with straps so that he can hike up and down cliffs with it on his back. The board has hooks to connect to his necessary tools, such as fins, goggles, a waterproof flashlight and an abalone iron, like a small crowbar, used to pry abalone from rocks. Divers are required to carry gauges that measure seven inches, the legal size, but Dinucci’s is 10, because he wants nothing smaller than that.

He has no special ability for holding his breath — a minute at best — but has patience to dive and resurface dozens of times in pursuit of a single abalone. With tight limits on the catch, Dinucci does not want to pluck one that he will regret if he happens upon something larger.

The water, besides being cold and rough, can be as murky as soup. Dinucci prowls the underwater rock formations, feeling with his hands, shining a light into dark holes. Some of his best catches have required him to squirm through narrow passageways. Others have necessitated great patience and reach, inserting the bar into a nook and under the abalone, hoping the slow-moving animal will slide and attach itself firmly enough to let Dinucci carry it to the surface like a Popsicle.

“I’ve gone into holes and all of a sudden a swell will come over and suck you into the hole, even farther than you wanted to come in,” he said. “I wouldn’t say I’ve come close to losing my life. But I’ve had some scares. Which is good.”

Dinucci said he had been thrown into rocks by sudden swells and so-called sneaker waves, known to pull unsuspecting beachgoers off the shore. In many places, the shoreline can be inaccessible because of cliffs.

“Why do a lot of these people die?” he asked. “Mostly inexperience. We get a lot of Southern California divers, but the North Coast is different. It’s rough. And it can get rough” — Dinucci snapped his fingers — “like that. The key is to know where you’re coming out. Getting in is easy. Coming out is the hard part.”

Surveillance and Raids

The man on the phone wanted 45 abalone. The seller agreed to deliver them to him in San Francisco for $2,500, a reasonable black-market bulk price.

A few days later, a car approached an auto repair shop on the west side of San Francisco, far from the tourist sites. It was met by an employee in coveralls and ushered into a service bay. Three coolers were removed and placed into the back of a Toyota Prius. Cash changed hands.

“Our guy’s leaving,” a voice on a walkie-talkie radio said. Unbeknown to the buyer, the seller worked for the Special Operations Unit of the state Fish and Wildlife Department. The shop was surrounded by agents in eight cars, parked on surrounding streets, connected by radios and cellphones.

The 10-member unit is a type of SWAT team, charged with protecting California’s wildlife resources from poachers and the black market. Among its chief concerns are sturgeon eggs, part of the high-dollar caviar market, and black bears, prized for body parts such as paws and gall bladders.

Abalone, though, is the top priority. It was first harvested with regularity in California by Chinese immigrants in the mid-1800s, who mostly dried and exported it. The Japanese created many of the state’s hundreds of commercial operations in the early 20th century. With the advent of scuba, divers could eventually collect 2,000 or more abalone a day.

Concern grew as the red abalone population plummeted through the 1970s and 1980s. California took serious action in the 1990s, banning all commercial operations and declaring that sport diving (unassisted by air tanks, with no reselling allowed) could take place only north of the Golden Gate Bridge. (There remains a legal, niche business for small, farm-raised abalone steaks, sold to restaurants and consumers for roughly $125 per pound.)

These days, about 98 percent of the legal abalone diving in California occurs off the remote coasts of Sonoma and Mendocino Counties. Even so, if biologists’ estimates are correct, and at least a quarter-million abalone are illegally poached each year off the coast of California, the street value of it could be $25 million.

“It’s not endangered, but it’s scarce,” Capt. Robert Farrell, head of the special operations unit, said. “But with lots of money from the black market, it could be endangered quickly.”

Last August, using armed wardens from across the state, Farrell’s team led simultaneous early-morning raids on 14 homes in Sacramento, Oakland and several Bay Area suburbs. It was dubbed “Operation Oakland Abalone Syndicate.” Thirteen men, most of them Vietnamese, were charged with illegal possession of abalone, believed to be part of a black-market network.

“We’ve seen him to date take 57 abalone,” Lt. Patrick Foy said outside one Oakland house, noting that the annual limit in 2013 was 24. (It was reduced to 18 in 2014.) “We believe it’s for commercial sale.”

Abalone remains a delicacy in many Asian cultures, treasured not only for taste, but also for medicinal qualities, including as an aphrodisiac. In drugstores in San Francisco’s Chinatown, in glass apothecary jars kept on high shelves behind the counter, dried abalone can sell for $2,000 or more per pound. Frozen abalone, too, is commonly found in Asian restaurants and seafood markets, but often out of its original packaging and without proper paperwork. One Chinatown market recently offered it for $55 per pound in plain bags.

Not all abalone is illegal — there are dozens of varieties, and many can be imported from other countries. For investigators, though, paperwork trails get lost in translation, and promising leads disappear in mistaken identities. Leads have led to massage parlors, nail salons and other businesses viewed skeptically as fronts for seafood poaching, among other illicit activities.

The belief is that California abalone not only funds criminal activity, but makes its way across the ocean. In other countries, such as Australia and South Africa (where, this month, investigators found 36,340 abalone hidden inside a house), authorities have connected abalone poaching directly to drug and arms cartels.

California officials have been unable to draw as many straight lines. But they have made a string of large-scale abalone busts over the past two decades. In 2004, Warden Dennis McKiver boarded a commercial sea urchin boat in Mendocino County and found it jammed with 458 abalone — a load, presumably not the first, probably worth $40,000 on the black market.

The two men aboard were arrested, barred from fishing for life, fined a combined $60,000 and sent to jail for two years. They remain oft-cited examples of the type of temptations facing divers of all kinds.

“Sea urchins are nickels,” McKiver said. “But next to those nickels are $100 gold pieces. And it’s very tempting for those guys to grab a couple. And then it grows from there.”

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Along the coast, wardens sometimes dress in camouflage and hide on bluffs and in trees, spying on abalone divers through binoculars, recording what they see and citing offenders as they return to their cars.

On a couple of busy weekends each season, they erect abalone checkpoints along the meandering two-lane highways leading to and from the coast. Hundreds of cars returning inland from abalone diving are diverted, their drivers and passengers politely questioned by uniformed wardens.

Often, as cars approach the backup, abalone is seen being flung out windows in desperate attempts to avoid detection. Confiscated abalone is donated to area fund-raisers and local soup kitchens. Wardens mostly find improperly completed log sheets and an extra abalone or two. Even those can be costly violations.

At the Mendocino County Courthouse in Fort Bragg, about a four-hour drive north of San Francisco, the docket is filled with abalone cases. A majority involve Asian defendants from the Bay Area, often requiring Vietnamese, Mandarin or Cantonese interpreters.

Most want to avoid the headache of repeated trips to the courthouse and are circumspect about their chances of winning a trial. They accept a plea bargain, usually losing their fishing license for a year and paying more than $1,000 in fines and fees.

Investigators, of course, want meaningful busts. After unsuspectingly buying the 45 abalone from an informant in May, the suspect at the auto repair shop in San Francisco continued his shift, unaware that he was surrounded by a constellation of law enforcement agents. They had their dealer. They wanted to see what he intended to do with his stash.

Two older men arrived in a pickup truck and went inside.

“Product 1 out of the box, into white plastic bags,” an agent reported through the radio. “Product 2 out of the box, into a plastic bag.”

It appeared that four or five abalone changed hands. The men left. Agents had already run checks on their car, and had at least one name and address. They would find the men later. They stayed with the abalone.

A couple of hours and many legitimate car repair customers later, another man left with four or five abalone. A woman accompanying him carried one in a bag. They left, also unfollowed.

At closing time, the suspect left and unwittingly led a parade of cars, mostly S.U.V.s, through the streets of San Francisco. He pulled to an auto body shop in Daly City. Agents parked nearby and watched. An hour later, the suspect left in his car and drove to a home in South San Francisco. A woman came out. The man carried two of three coolers into the garage and closed it. She got in the car and they left. Several agents followed. Others stayed within sight of the house. And, taking turns, they staked it out, unnoticed, for four more days as the supply of abalone in the coolers dwindled.

The man, a first-time offender, had no single buyer, just a lot of small ones. Some paid about $100 per abalone, investigators said, and others may have been given the abalone as a gift or a returned favor. The man was charged with unlawful purchase and sale of sport-caught fish/abalone. His web of connections was noted.

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“It’s a hard community for us to infiltrate,” Lt. Adrian Foss, who led the sting operation, said during the stakeout. “But as they become more desperate for product, they have to reach beyond their own circle in search of it.”

It is just another kind of risk taken in the search for abalone.

Danger In and Out of the Water

Not all abalone-related deaths are by drowning. In June, a 55-year-old man fell to his death immediately after diving while climbing a 100-foot cliff near Mendocino.

Most out-of-water victims, however, are struck by heart attacks. They may drive hours to get to the coast and are eager to return with abalone, a quiet desperation that causes them to overlook ominous clues that the surf, tides and weather conditions silently provide to experienced divers. Water temperatures usually range from 47 to 56 degrees. An ability to see the rubber fins dangling from your toes counts as clarity.

Divers wear constricting wet suits and weight belts, up to 30 pounds, designed to help offset their buoyancy. They sometimes panic when swept into riptides or swamped by sudden swells. Other dangers lurk in the depths, ranging from tangled forests of kelp to Great White sharks.

“All these things are layers upon layers of stress,” Buck, the Sonoma County lifeguard, said. “And all that, unfortunately, is too much for people sometimes.”

Twelve years ago, when Buck was 21, he was diving off the rocks of Salt Point State Park with a 52-year-old uncle, an experienced diver from Southern California and an “ocean mentor” to Buck. The man climbed out of the water and had a heart attack on the rocks. Help, as it is along this part of the coast, where traffic is light and cellphone reception is spotty, was slow to come.

“The hardest part was calling my mother and telling her that her brother died,” Buck said. “Hearing her anguish on the other end of the line is a sound I’ll never forget.”

Like Buck, most lifeguards in Sonoma County gained experience much farther south, where beaches are sandy and dotted with Baywatch-style lifeguard stations. In Sonoma County, lifeguards work out of pickup trucks. They go where instinct, experience and unfamiliar parked cars tell them to look. The air temperature can be cold (often in the 50s in the summer) and so foggy that the high-pitched wail of young harbor seals is sometimes confused with that of a person in distress.

“I was a lifeguard in Southern California,” said Tim Murphy, one of two uniformed state park peace officers who double as lifeguards on the Sonoma County coast. “I never had a rescue where I worried about getting the person back to shore, nevertheless myself. Up here, it really is a mixed bag. You’re in the water sometimes thinking, ‘I hope my backup is here soon, because I’m not sure I can pull this off myself.’ ”

Lifeguards learn to scan a cove of bobbing divers and instantly detect discomfort or inexperience by the way they hold their heads above the water or cling to their float tubes. They urge some out of the water with polite coaxing. If there are no imminent signs of trouble, they hike on to the next cove, or drive farther up the highway.

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“You are not expected to have drownings in Southern California,” Buck said as he stood on rocks near where another lifeguard nearly lost his life a few years ago in an ill-considered, unsuccessful rescue attempt in churning water. “Here, it’s sort of the norm.”

Abalone season opens each year on April 1. By early May last year, four men had died while searching for abalone — three of them on the same weekend, the other a week later.

On the last weekend of last season, during still weather in late November, a 67-year-old man from San Francisco was found in the same cove where Buck’s uncle had died more than a decade before. A day later, divers noticed an unattended float a few miles south, near Fort Ross State Park. Buck rushed to the scene, where he found a 57-year-old man from Oakland at the floor of the ocean with his weight belt on. He was the seventh and final casualty of the season.

“It’s not a matter of if some will die,” Murphy said in late May this year. “But when.”

Within two weeks, two abalone divers were dead near Mendocino. And on June 29, a 44-year-old man became the season’s third victim. He was sucked into an underwater cave. It took two days to recover the body because of high tides and strong swells.

Most abalone divers, of course, do not see their hobby as a risk, but a reward — a chance for companionship, to enjoy the ocean and, if all goes well, capture an abalone that others envy. Abalone diving in Northern California is celebrated, not feared.

The World Championship Abalone Cook-Off began at a dive shop in the late 1980s, but it now finds a home each fall at Noyo Harbor in Fort Bragg. On a sunbaked day last October, there were 20 booths, offering abalone won tons, abalone salsa, abalone ceviche (two kinds), abalone sausage, even abalone wrapped with dates, goat cheese and bacon, all of it deep fried.

It is the pursuit of abalone, more than anything, that fills the campgrounds, motor lodges and bed-and-breakfasts up and down the coast in both directions. Fort Bragg used to have thriving lumber mills and commercial fishing operations. They have dried up.

“What we depend on now is tourism,” said Charlie Lorenz, the self-proclaimed “Abalone Hunter,” who interviewed people at the cook-off for “And what brings people here? Abalone.”

The festive air belied an undercurrent of concern about the state of abalone diving. The total legal catch in Northern California has dropped more than half in the past 25 years, and restrictions tightened further in 2014. Longtime abalone divers worry about the trend and see a day when diving is banned completely. Some say it would be catastrophic to the area’s economy and culture, and suggest it might make abalone more susceptible to poaching, not less, like an illegal drug.

The only certainty is that the coves that scallop the coastline would be emptier. And the lifeguards who patrol the bluffs and rough waters would have it easier, if they had a job at all.

“Abalone divers make up the bulk of our rescues,” Buck said. “They’re the reason we’re here.”

July 25th, 2014

ak_10516_MART_UntitledChris Martin, Untitled, 2008
Oil and spray paint, burlap and collage on canvas
43 x 52 inches
(132.1 x 109.2 cm)

JULY 02 – AUGUST 22, 2014


Anton Kern

Thanks to Bruce M. Sherman

July 23rd, 2014
christopher williams

Fachhochschule Aachen/Fachbereich Gestaltung/Studiengang: Visuelle Kommunikation/Fotolabor für Studenten/Boxgraben 100, Aachen/November 8, 2010. 2010. Pigmented inkjet print, paper: 24 x 20″

July 27–November 2, 2014


July 21st, 2014
Burt Shavitz, the World’s Most Famous Retired Beekeeper

Burt Shavitz, a founder of Burt’s Bees enjoys a life of seclusion on his property in northern Maine.
Credit Jody Shapiro

NY Times Published: JULY 16, 2014

In the new documentary “Burt’s Buzz,” Burt Shavitz, a founder of the cosmetics company Burt’s Bees, reveals himself to be the ultimate homebody.

“A good day is when no one shows up and you don’t have to go anywhere,” he tells the camera, looking exactly like the drawing of the bearded old hippie that adorns the packages of lip balm and other natural beauty products. Another piece of hermit wisdom: “I’m less interested in the inside of whatever it is I own than on the outside of what it sits on.” Or, as he reiterates later, “Land is everything.”

The film traces Mr. Shavitz’s unlikely rise to cultural icon and, like its subject, is full of surprises. For instance, he worked for years as a photojournalist in New York City before moving to Maine and becoming a beekeeper. Also, he no longer has equity in the company that bears his name, having sold his portion shortly before Burt’s Bees was sold for hundreds of millions of dollars. (The company compensates him for the use of his image and employs him to be a brand ambassador, a living mascot.)

No matter. Mr. Shavitz, 79, maintains that he had “no desire to be an upper mobile rising yuppie,” and his living situation proves it: For decades he’s been in a string of modest houses, including his current one, in northern Maine, with no running hot water. He heats by wood stove. His companions are dogs.

He recently took time from his not-so-busy schedule to speak to a reporter. (This interview has been edited and condensed.)

Q. How did you wind up in Maine?

A. My folks had taken me to Maine at a relatively early age. We’d gone to a place called Sebago Lake. It was like the Garden of Eden. I had started swimming as a very young child. There were all these lakes, ponds and streams, and zero restrictions. I promised myself that one day I was going to come back. That’s what I did.

When I got here I had no place to live and not a great deal of money. But I had good neighbors and everybody had leftover lumber that was just lying around to build a camp. I had large windows that I got from the dump, from which I could watch the moon go across the sky at night. I had a horsehair mattress that I had brought from New York. If electricity went out, didn’t make a bit of difference. I had a candle. I was in a good place.

What’s your current setup?

I’ve got 40 acres. And it’s good and sufficient and it takes good care of me. There’s no noise. There’s no children screaming. There’s no people getting up at 5 o’clock in the morning and trying to start their car and raising hell. Everybody has their own idea of what a good place to be is, and this is mine.

You can afford the basic comforts of home, yet you don’t have running hot water and you heat by wood stove. Why?

It’s exceedingly cost-effective. Nobody’s doing anything for me and holding their hand out. I love it.

Do you have any domestic luxuries?

I’ve got a radio that occasionally I listen to. It’s portable. It’s got an antenna. I’ve put a piece of aluminum foil on it that gives me a little bit better reception. And a refrigerator.

Your life in Maine sounds very different from your time as a photojournalist in New York City.

Precisely. Being able to walk outdoors anytime I want to and go anywhere I want to, and only God knows what I’m going to meet in the woods and brambles. We had seven or eight fox puppies come out of the woods. They were only 20 feet away. I laid down on the ground and I called them like I would a puppy dog. And they came closer and closer. It was quite a rush.

Do you still keep bees?

No, I don’t. I’d still be keeping bees if I didn’t have a bad back. You can only punish your body so long before you’re stuck with a horrendous inability to do things you’d previously been able to do.

Still, you’re probably the world’s most famous retired beekeeper.

It was a godsend. Manna out of the heavens. The fact that there was a man who was patient, knowledgeable and even-tempered to teach me beekeeping was another plus. He told me to stand back and watch what he did. He showed me how to use the tools. I’ve been extremely fortunate for an entire lifetime — as long as I wasn’t in urban America.

July 18th, 2014
Who is taking California’s water?

Michael Hiltzik
Los Angeles Times
July 16, 2014

As California’s drought really starts to bite–the mandatory water use restrictions approved by the state Tuesday are just the beginning–questions are bound to be raised about the indescribably wasteful use of water to retail bottlers.

The sale of bottled water to most Americans, who have access to cheap and safe tap water from municipal systems, is a marketing scam, and environmentally devastating besides. As Peter H. Gleick of the Oakland-based Pacific Institute showed in 2007, it took the equivalent of 17 million barrels of oil to produce the plastic bottles for American buyers in 2006. That would be enough to fuel 1 million American cars and light trucks for a year.

“Bottled water requires energy throughout its life cycle,” Gleick has written. “Energy is required to capture, treat, and send water to the bottling plant; fill, package, transport, and cool the bottled water; and recycle or dispose of the empty containers.”

Consider the unnecessary energy usage in shipping, say, Fiji Water to these shores from a Pacific island dictatorship 5,000 miles away, all to satisfy the marketing thirst of the product’s distributors, Lynda and Stewart Resnick of Beverly Hills. And while you’re cradling that shiny square bottle in your hands, keep in mind that 30% of Fiji’s 800,000 residents don’t have access to clean drinking water themselves.

The drought is bound to focus more attention on the extraction of water from California sources for retail sale. The Desert Sun of Palm Springs started that process this week, with an exhaustive look at the deal between the Morongo Band of Mission Indians and Nestle Waters North America, which draws water for its Arrowhead brand from sources on the reservation.

The piece was not as exhaustive as it could have been, because neither Nestle nor the Morongo are forthcoming about how much water is being drawn. The local water district says the tribe hasn’t updated its report of groundwater extractions since 2009.

That’s not surprising: state officials have been trying to revoke the Morongos’ rights to that water for more than 10 years, based on the argument that the rights lapsed once the water ceased to be used for irrigation.You can expect the issue to intensify, as residential growth continues in the area and available water supplies diminish.

Nestle’s drawing of water from the desert aquifer is a special concern, Gleick told the Desert Sun, “precisely because water is so scarce in the basin…. Surface water in the desert is exceedingly rare and has a much higher environmental value than the same amount of water somewhere else.”

The tribe’s response to questions thus far has been to cite its sovereign status. But times and conditions are changing. If the drought continues or gets worse, the retail shipment of water out of the region or state will become seen as an unsustainable anachronism. All water users–growers, factory owners, urban residents–are being forced to change their ways. Water bottlers can’t avoid the same reality.

July 18th, 2014
Addicted to Inflation

NY Times Published: JULY 17, 2014
By Paul Krugman

The first step toward recovery is admitting that you have a problem. That goes for political movements as well as individuals. So I have some advice for so-called reform conservatives trying to rebuild the intellectual vitality of the right: You need to start by facing up to the fact that your movement is in the grip of some uncontrollable urges. In particular, it’s addicted to inflation — not the thing itself, but the claim that runaway inflation is either happening or about to happen.

To see what I’m talking about, consider a scene that played out the other day on CNBC.

Rick Santelli, one of the network’s stars, is best known for a rant against debt relief that arguably gave birth to the Tea Party. On this occasion, however, he was ranting about another of his favorite subjects, the allegedly inflationary policies of the Federal Reserve. And his colleague Steve Liesman had had enough. “It’s impossible for you to have been more wrong,” Mr. Liesman declared, and he went on to detail the wrong predictions: “The higher interest rates never came, the inability of the U.S. to sell bonds never happened, the dollar never crashed, Rick. There isn’t a single one that’s worked for you.”

You could say the same thing about many people. I’ve had conversations with investors bemused by the failure of the dollar to crash and inflation to soar, because “all the experts” said that was going to happen. And that is indeed what you might have imagined if your notion of expertise was what you saw on CNBC, on The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, or in Forbes.

And this has been going on for a long time — at least since early 2009. Yet despite being consistently wrong for more than five years, these “experts” never consider the possibility that there might be something amiss with their economic framework, let alone that Ben Bernanke, Janet Yellen or, for that matter, yours truly might have been right to dismiss their warnings.

At best, the inflation-is-coming crowd admits that it hasn’t happened yet, but attributes the delay to unforeseeable circumstances. Thus, in recent Congressional testimony, Lawrence Kudlow, also of CNBC, warned about “excess money and a devalued dollar.” However, “Miraculously, both actual and expected inflation indicators have stayed low.” It’s not something wrong with my model. It’s a miracle!

At worst, inflationistas resort to conspiracy theories: Inflation is already high, but the government is covering it up. The sources purporting to document this cover-up were thoroughly debunked years ago; among other things, private indicators of inflation like the Billion Prices Index (derived from Internet prices) basically confirm the official numbers. Furthermore, inflation conspiracy theorists have faced well-deserved ridicule even from fellow conservatives. Yet the conspiracy theory keeps resurfacing. It has, predictably, been rolled out to defend Mr. Santelli.

All of this is very frustrating to those reform conservatives. If you ask what new ideas they have to offer, they often mention “market monetarism,” which translates under current circumstances to the notion that the Fed should be doing more, not less.
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One member of the group, Josh Barro — who is now at The Times — has gone so far as to call market monetarism “the shining success of the conservative reform movement.” But this idea has achieved no traction at all with the rest of American conservatism, which is still obsessed with the phantom menace of runaway inflation.

And the roots of inflation addiction run deep. Reformers like to minimize the influence of libertarian fantasies — fantasies that invariably involve the notion that inflationary disaster looms unless we return to gold — on today’s conservative leaders. But to do that, you have to dismiss what these leaders have actually said. If, for example, people accuse Representative Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, of believing that he’s living in an Ayn Rand novel, that’s because in 2009 he said that we are “living in an Ayn Rand novel.”

More generally, modern American conservatism is deeply opposed to any form of government activism, and while monetary policy is sometimes treated as a technocratic affair, the truth is that printing dollars to fight a slump, or even to stabilize some broader definition of the money supply, is indeed an activist policy.

The point, then, is that inflation addiction is telling us something about the intellectual state of one side of our great national divide. The right’s obsessive focus on a problem we don’t have, its refusal to reconsider its premises despite overwhelming practical failure, tells you that we aren’t actually having any kind of rational debate. And that, in turn, bodes ill not just for would-be reformers, but for the nation.

July 18th, 2014
frances stark


Closing Reception Saturday July 19 4:00-6:00 PM

Marc Foxx

July 17th, 2014
Biennial’s Bright Young Things, Ages 77 and 84

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“Condorito Vase (Greek),” a 2004 work by the Frimkesses. Credit Stephanie Diani for The New York Times

NY Times Published: JULY 15, 2014

LOS ANGELES — Prominent artists like Cindy Sherman and Mark Grotjahn have bought the work. Galleries on both coasts are beginning to promote it. Now the expressive, comics-inspired pottery of the husband-and-wife team Michael Frimkess and Magdalena Suarez Frimkess (he’s 77 and she’s 84) has become a sleeper hit of the Hammer Museum’s biennial, thanks to a younger generation of local artists who have been bringing it to light.

“I think they are a real discovery for people here,” said Michael Ned Holte, a co-curator of the biennial. “I’m seeing a lot of artists not just interested in this work but obsessed with it.”

The Hammer biennial, called “Made in L.A.,” is considered the West Coast’s answer to the Whitney Biennial: a snapshot of current trends from 35 artists billed as new or underrecognized. Underrecognized, of course, is rather subjective. While one gallery features small, elegant bronzes by Ricky Swallow, 39, a closely watched sculptor with major galleries on his résumé, another showcases the colorful pots by the Frimkesses, who struggled for decades to land an occasional gallery show, with long dry spells in between.

In his review of the biennial, Christopher Knight, art critic for The Los Angeles Times, said the Frimkesses “have been making compelling art for a few decades more than most of the others have been alive.”

But the fine print of museum labels reveals a connection across the generations: A handful of the couple’s pieces are on loan from collections of Los Angeles-area artists. One of the most striking pots in the show — a classic, Greek-style vase painted with lively scenes of the popular Chilean comic book character Condorito — comes from Mr. Swallow and his wife, the painter Lesley Vance.

“I’m a deep fan,” Mr. Swallow said during a recent visit with the couple to the show, which runs through Sept. 7. “Once you see their work, it’s impossible to walk away from it.”

Mr. Swallow first learned about it two years ago from Karin Gulbran, a Los Angeles painter-ceramicist who helped Ms. Frimkess land a solo show with White Columns in New York this spring. Mr. Swallow included their work in a 2013 group show at David Kordansky Gallery in Los Angeles and introduced them to the “Made in L.A.” curators. The Frimkesses currently show their work through the men’s wear shop South Willard, where their prices now range from $600 to $14,000.

One afternoon last week, Mr. Frimkess, who has multiple sclerosis and is recovering from a broken femur, rolled his wheelchair closer to a display table filled with their artwork. “Ricky is our savior,” he said of Mr. Swallow. “We’ve been kicked to the side for 30 years.”

Ms. Frimkess was more sanguine when asked about the recent attention. “Better late than never,” she said, smiling.

The Hammer is showing 19 examples of their work spanning the last two decades. For most, the pair used a tag-team sort of collaboration: Mr. Frimkess throws the pots — without input from his wife. Then she paints the surfaces — without consulting him.

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Most of their pots have classical forms, nodding to Chinese temple vases or, in the case of the piece lent by Mr. Swallow, a Greek wine jug known as a volute krater for its looping handles. Mr. Frimkess achieved the thin walls of this pot — and its beveled neck — through an unusual technique: throwing the pot dry by using very hard clay without adding water.

The surface features vivid paintings of Condorito, a bohemian birdlike character given to clownish mishaps.

“He’s my philosopher — Condorito has answers for everything,” said Ms. Frimkess, who has described her own life as a soap opera. She was born in 1929 in Venezuela and was living in Chile with her first husband and two teenage children when she moved to New York in 1963 on a fellowship to the Clay Art Center, in Westchester County, N.Y., where Mr. Frimkess was an intern. The two moved to Los Angeles in 1964 and later married.

Mr. Frimkess, a Los Angeles native, had studied in the 1950s with Peter Voulkos, the California master who boosted the reputation of ceramics as an art form. (Mr. Frimkess once described Mr. Voulkos as both a “mentor” and “tormentor.”) But it was a bit later, during Mr. Frimkess’s time on the East Coast, that he learned the ancient dry-throwing method, using it to copy Greek vases from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

This technique — and, he said, his devotion to creating a superfast-firing kiln — were radical enough to challenge the ceramics establishment and to sideline his career. (Others say that multiple sclerosis, diagnosed some 40 years ago, had limited his productivity.)

Mr. Frimkess saves his toughest criticism for himself. “There’s nothing here that I would call a masterpiece,” he said of the forms on display. “They are all attempts.” He pointed to a handsome vessel only to note “its neck should be taller.”

Mr. Swallow shook his head. “That’s something that I admire about Michael, even if it drives me crazy: Works that I find successful, he sees as failures,” he said. “Michael is one of the most stubborn people I know in setting strict parameters for quality.”

Mr. Swallow went on to praise Ms. Frimkess’s “postmodern or punk-rock” narrative flair — the way she brings together images from art history and pop culture, war and family life, Chilean and American landscapes, into collage-style compositions. One vessel, “Guernica Pot,” reconfigures images from Picasso’s nightmarish vision of the Spanish Civil War; another, “Deaf Bertha,” is her take on Berthe, a deaf woman painted by Toulouse-Lautrec. “Michael says I never listen to him, so I found a model that Toulouse-Lautrec painted,” Ms. Frimkess explained.

The Hammer is also showing “Mickey Mouse Circus,” a lumpy-looking jar with a rather homely Minnie Mouse on top, like a slumped wedding cake figurine. The Frimkesses say they are aware that Disney takes its intellectual property rights seriously. That hasn’t stopped them from making versions of its characters.

“Nobody’s put a gun in my back not to do it,” Ms. Frimkess said.

The Mickey Mouse pot is an example of one of Ms. Frimkess’s solo creations, for which she shaped the clay as well as painted it. While Mr. Frimkess is less active and throwing fewer vessels these days, she has picked up the pace by making and showing more of her own works, typically smaller pieces like tortilla plates and tiles.

Does she have any interest in throwing on a wheel? “Not really,” she said. “That’s Michael’s work. I don’t compete with the master.”

July 15th, 2014
We Are Our Bacteria

NY Times Published: JULY 14, 2014

We may think of ourselves as just human, but we’re really a mass of microorganisms housed in a human shell. Every person alive is host to about 100 trillion bacterial cells. They outnumber human cells 10 to one and account for 99.9 percent of the unique genes in the body.

Katrina Ray, a senior editor of Nature Reviews, recently suggested that the vast number of microbes in the gut could be considered a “human microbial ‘organ’” and asked, “Are we more microbe than man?”

Our collection of microbiota, known as the microbiome, is the human equivalent of an environmental ecosystem. Although the bacteria together weigh a mere three pounds, their composition determines much about how the body functions and, alas, sometimes malfunctions.

Like ecosystems the world over, the human microbiome is losing its diversity, to the potential detriment of the health of those it inhabits.

Dr. Martin J. Blaser, a specialist in infectious diseases at the New York University School of Medicine and the director of the Human Microbiome Program, has studied the role of bacteria in disease for more than three decades. His research extends well beyond infectious diseases to autoimmune conditions and other ailments that have been increasing sharply worldwide.

In his new book, “Missing Microbes,” Dr. Blaser links the declining variety within the microbiome to our increased susceptibility to serious, often chronic conditions, from allergies and celiac disease to Type 1 diabetes and obesity. He and others primarily blame antibiotics for the connection.

The damaging effect of antibiotics on microbial diversity starts early, Dr. Blaser said. The average American child is given nearly three courses of antibiotics in the first two years of life, and eight more during the next eight years. Even a short course of antibiotics like the widely prescribed Z-pack (azithromycin, taken for five days), can result in long-term shifts in the body’s microbial environment.

But antibiotics are not the only way the balance within us can be disrupted. Cesarean deliveries, which have soared in recent decades, encourage the growth of microbes from the mother’s skin, instead of from the birth canal, in the baby’s gut, Dr. Blaser said in an interview.

This change in microbiota can reshape an infant’s metabolism and immune system. A recent review of 15 studies involving 163,796 births found that, compared with babies delivered vaginally, those born by cesarean section were 26 percent more likely to be overweight and 22 percent more likely to be obese as adults.

The placenta has a microbiome of its own, researchers have discovered, which may also contribute to the infant’s gut health and help mitigate the microbial losses caused by cesarean sections.

Other studies have found major differences in the microorganisms living in the guts of normal-weight and obese individuals. Although such studies cannot tell which came first — the weight problem or the changed microbiota — studies indicate obese mice have gut bacteria that are better able to extract calories from food.

Further evidence of a link to obesity comes from farm animals. About three-fourths of the antibiotics sold in the United States are used in livestock. These antibiotics change the animals’ microbiota, hastening their growth.

When mice are given the same antibiotics used on livestock, the metabolism of their liver changes, stimulating an increase in body fat, Dr. Blaser said.

Even more serious is the increasing number of serious disorders now linked to a distortion in the microbial balance in the human gut. They include several that are becoming more common in developed countries: gastrointestinal ailments like Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and celiac disease; cardiovascular disease; nonalcoholic fatty liver disease; digestive disorders like chronic reflux; autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis; and asthma and allergies.

Some researchers have even speculated that disruptions of gut microbiota play a role in celiac disease and the resulting explosion in demand for gluten-free foods even among people without this disease. In a mouse model of Type 1 diabetes, treating the animals with antibiotics accelerates the development of the disease, Dr. Blaser said.

He and other researchers, including a team from Switzerland and Germany, have also linked the serious rise in asthma rates to the “rapid disappearance of Helicobacter pylori, a bacterial pathogen that persistently colonizes the human stomach, from Western societies.” Once, virtually everyone harbored this microbe, which European researchers have shown protected mice from developing hallmarks of allergic asthma.

H. pylori colonization in early life encourages production of regulatory T-cells in the blood, which Dr. Blaser said are needed to tamp down allergic responses. Although certain strains of H. pylori are linked to the development of peptic ulcer and stomach cancer, other strains are protective, his studies indicate.

Research by Dr. Blaser and his colleagues further suggests that H. pylori in the stomach protects against gastroesophageal reflux disease, Barrett’s esophagus and esophageal cancer.

Still, it is not always possible for researchers to tell whether disruptions in gut microbiota occur before or after people become ill. However, studies in laboratory animals often suggest the bacterial disturbances come first.

Dr. Blaser, among many others, cautions against the overuse of antibiotics, especially the broad-spectrum drugs now commonly prescribed. He emphasized in particular the importance of using fewer antibiotics in children.

“In Sweden, antibiotic use is 40 percent of ours at any age, with no increase in disease,” he said. “We need to educate physicians and parents that antibiotics have costs. We need improved diagnostics. Is the infection caused by a virus or bacteria, and if bacteria, which one?

“Then we need narrow-spectrum antibiotics designed to knock out the pathogenic bacteria without disrupting the health-promoting ones,” Dr. Blaser added. “This will make it possible to treat serious infections with less collateral effect.”

July 14th, 2014
Contort Yourself


Sue Tompkins, Jim Lambie, Luke Fowler, and Jonnie Wilkes

July 12 August 30, 2014
Opening Reception July 12, 7-9PM
Peformance by Sue Tomkins at 8pm

Curated by The Modern Institute

Kayne Griffin Corcoran

July 12th, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-07-12 at 2.13.39 PM
Brie Ruais
Spread Out, 132 lbs, 2014
Glazed ceramic, hardware
61 1/2 x 60 x 2 inches

July 12 – August 9, 2014

Marc Selwyn

July 12th, 2014
Hairy Who and the Chicago Imagists


Friday July 11, 7 PM – 9 PM
Sue Tompkins performance

Saturday July 12, 4 PM – 7 PM
Alexis Taylor solo concert with visuals by Oliver Payne

Sunday July 13, 8 PM – 11 PM
Hairy Who and the Chicago Imagists screening
introduced by Ricky Swallow

356 Mission

July 9th, 2014
In reshaping LACMA, Michael Govan sets his sights on a new L.A.

By Mike Boehm
Los Angeles Times Published: July 9, 2014

Michael Govan’s field of dreams stretches far beyond the campus of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which he wants to radically remake over the coming nine years.

In a visit to the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday, the museum director outlined what he and LACMA’s board aim to accomplish, how it might be done, and what some of the obstacles might be as they pursue plans to tear down four of the museum’s seven buildings and replace them with one massive new one, an innovative one-level structure elevated by what Govan called five “legs of glass.”

Raising a 410,000-square-foot landmark building to propel LACMA through the 21st century would require an unprecedented new level of cultural commitment for Los Angeles — an estimated $750 million to $1 billion. Govan said about half the sum would be needed for construction and the rest to secure LACMA’s future financial security.

Pulling it off, he suggested, would not just add a striking museum to the cityscape, but would signal a new sense of confidence and accomplishment as a creative center for the city as a whole.

“I think if we could do this project it would change what’s possible in L.A.,” he said of the broader implications for the city’s cultural maturation.

LACMA aims for a 2023 opening of the building, designed by Swiss architect Peter Zumthor and timed to coincide with the opening of a subway beneath Wilshire Boulevard that will have a stop at the museum.

The opening would come 20 years after the 2003 arrival of the $284-million Walt Disney Concert Hall. Govan said LACMA would be continuing the “movement” that the acclaimed concert hall launched. The new LACMA would show that L.A. was, in effect, not a one-hit wonder, but a city capable of charting an ambitious, ongoing course of increasing and revitalizing its cultural offerings.

The building would not drastically increase the space LACMA has for showing art — “it’s a replacement with a modest expansion” totaling about 50,000 square feet, Govan said — but he thinks a building with one floor will be more inviting than the three high-rises (plus a theater) that will be torn down.

“It’s a giant opportunity to reconsider what museums are and how they function,” including exploring whether to dispense with traditional written labels on walls and in display cases, he said, and go whole-hog with smartphone technology.

The building’s shape aims to avoid massive facades that have a standoffish effect, Govan said, and take a cue from storefront retailers by giving passersby a glimpse inside. He said the goal is to create “a non-hierarchical space for culture.”

Among the selling points Govan laid out were thrift: He said studies show it would cost $317 million just to repair the existing buildings, which are starting to suffer major malfunctions such as leaks in gallery ceilings. He cast it as a good deal for the county government, which owns the targeted old buildings and would likewise own the new one.

The museum director’s wide-ranging discussion with Times cultural writers and editors was the latest step along the uncommonly open path he and the LACMA board are taking with the Zumthor plan. Cultural institutions typically unveil such plans only when they’ve already secured much of the funding and can make success seem inevitable as they roll out a big capital campaign, hoping to generate a bandwagon effect.

LACMA itself took that approach in 2005, the year before Govan’s arrival, when it announced a three-phase “transformation” campaign, with $156 million to fully fund the first phase already in hand. The recession stopped the campaign about $100 million short of the announced $450-million goal.

The museum’s current approach, which included unveiling Zumthor’s initial design in an exhibition last year, essentially means that the project will grow up in public, or fail in public.

“I have a great belief that if you put something big and beautiful out there people will support it. You don’t have to do it in secret,” Govan said. “L.A.’s a big, beautiful place with so many people who can contribute.”

LACMA will celebrate its 50th anniversary on Wilshire next spring. Govan said its board has decided to mark the milestone by raising $100 million — not for the Zumthor project, but for the museum’s existing needs.

Since becoming LACMA’s director in 2006, Govan said, one of his priorities has been “building a cohesive board that could climb the small mountains and now try to climb the big mountain.”

Money isn’t the only challenge facing LACMA’s hopes for a makeover. Zumthor has already redone his plan in response to complaints that it would impinge upon the neighboring La Brea Tar Pits.

Zumthor’s new plan slides the building away from the tar pits, aiming to achieve the same amount of gallery space by having it span Wilshire Boulevard with a combination walkway and gallery, with galleries and possibly a new theater on the opposite side from the main campus.

Govan put a positive spin on the forced revision, echoing the old show biz adage that there’s no such thing as bad publicity: getting unstuck from a potential conflict with the tar pits at least got people talking about LACMA’s big plans.

Among those talking is Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne, who has criticized the bridge idea and suggested that a smaller building on the existing campus would be better.

Govan said the bridge meets his plan of keeping the gallery space unchanged and avoiding high-rise buildings that would defeat his aim of an open campus with broad sight lines. He said the cost of putting galleries underground would be too high.

In any case, Govan said, the museum board seems gung-ho on the bridge. “The board was unanimous, and they were more excited to give money” for the revised plan.

One of the project’s biggest hurdles would be securing public funding to cover a share of the cost, which Govan thinks is only fair because the new building would be owned by Los Angeles County. He said it also would get the county “off the hook” from potentially mounting repair costs for the older buildings.

He suggested a ratio of one dollar in government construction funds for every four privately-generated dollars spent — about $100 million from taxpayers toward a $500-million building.

Another issue could be the name game: three of the four buildings to be torn down under the Zumthor plan are named for their keystone donors: the Hammer and Ahmanson gallery buildings and the Bing Center, which houses the museum’s 600-seat theater. Govan acknowledged that this could be a sensitive matter.

“The names will not disappear,” he said. They’ll be reassigned to some of the new building’s features. His message to the potentially displaced honorees, he said, has been “we can do it even better.”

“I’m not going to say everyone’s going to be happy,” he added. “It’s a conundrum” facing many institutions that replace old buildings with new ones.

Historic preservation could be an obstacle as well if fans of architect William Pereira’s three original 1965 buildings and the mid-1980s Art of the Americas building try to block their destruction with arguments that they’re historically significant. “Of course I’m worried about it,” Govan said. “People can make a case and hold us up. I hope they don’t.”

His counter-argument is that there’s nothing all that historic to preserve, because the site has been altered so much over the years, including the paving over of distinctive reflecting pools with fountains that had leakage problems.

July 9th, 2014
Rethinking a Spurned Landmark

The Brutalist-style Orange County Government Center in Goshen, N.Y., closed since 2011, and designed by Paul Rudolph, may get a shot at preservation. Credit Randy Harris for The New York Times

NY Times Published: JULY 6, 2014

As an architect, Gene Kaufman doesn’t typically save buildings; he designs them.

But when he heard of plans to change Paul Rudolph’s celebrated but shuttered government building in Goshen, N.Y., as part of a renovation plan, he decided to step in.

“To lose a building like this would be a tragedy,” said Mr. Kaufman, a partner at Gwathmey Siegel Kaufman Architects in New York City.

He has offered to buy and restore the 1967 building, which architecture experts hail as a prime example of raw Brutalist style and others consider an eyesore in a town known for its historic harness-racing track and Greek Revival, Federal and Victorian houses.

Under Mr. Kaufman’s plan, the government building designed by Rudolph and owned by Orange County, would be turned into a center for artists, exhibitions and community meetings. He has also offered to design a new government center on the land that is now the building’s parking lot.

Mr. Kaufman is not proposing a cash purchase, but suggests the county can afford to renovate the existing building and build a new one with the money it will save from, among other things, his discounted consulting fees and the elimination of its demolition costs.

It is unclear if county officials will go for Mr. Kaufman’s plan. But they have decided to entertain the possibility of jettisoning their existing renovation plan in favor of building a new government center. A request for design proposals for a new building went out last week.

The rethinking comes just as the planned overhaul of the Rudolph building was to have begun. The State Legislature had already approved $74 million in bonding for the project, which entailed renovating some sections and reconstructing others. But then the county learned that because of the building’s architectural significance — it has been deemed eligible for landmark designation — the renovation plans required state and federal historic preservation review, a process that could take more than a year.

Dain Pascocello, a spokesman for the Orange County executive, Steven M. Neuhaus, said the decision to consider selling the government center, and building a new one, came in response to concerns that the renovation plan would not survive that review. It was not a response to Mr. Kaufman’s proposal, he said.

The fate of the government center has hung in the balance since it was closed because of storm damage in 2011. Edward A. Diana, then the county executive, argued for demolishing the building, which caused a national outcry among preservationists. One of America’s leading architects in the 1950s and ’60s, Rudolph was known for his rough-hewed Brutalist style and use of concrete, most famously in Yale’s 1963 Art and Architecture Building.

Some Goshen officials say Rudolph’s complex, which features protruding cubes and a corrugated concrete facade resembling corduroy, isn’t worth preserving, that it should be sold and a new government center constructed elsewhere.

“I don’t consider it an historic building,” said Leigh J. Benton, an Orange County legislator. “I just consider it to be a cluster of concrete slabs.”

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“I’d love to have a new building,” Mr. Benton added. “We should start completely over.”

Those who have championed the Rudolph building’s preservation say they welcome Mr. Kaufman’s proposal. “It could be a really good jolt for economic development in Goshen,” said Vincent Ferri, a preservation advocate.

Mr. Kaufman’s firm has a history with Rudolph, having restored his building at Yale in 2008. Mr. Kaufman, who designed hotels for the New York City developer Sam Chang, purchased a majority stake in Gwathmey Siegel & Associates in 2011, adding his name to the firm.

He called the government center possibly the most important building architecturally in all of Orange County. “Unfortunately, Paul Rudolph has relatively few monumental public buildings that he created,” Mr. Kaufman said.

“It could sustain itself and be a contributing element to the community,” he added. “It’s an excellent building for artists to use. We all know the arts have been the first wave of rejuvenation in many neighborhoods.”

He pointed to artist studios developed by Ted and Marianne Hovivian, Brooklyn furniture executives, in a warehouse at 56 Bogart Street in Bushwick. Mr. Kaufman has been working with the Hovivians on possible development of the Goshen site, as well as with local architects, like Francis C. Wickham, who used to work for I. M. Pei.

“It would put some new life into the Village of Goshen,” Mr. Wickham said, “and the county would be out of dealing with this Paul Rudolph building they don’t quite know what to do with.”

In an interview last week, Mr. Kaufman said he would preserve “all the major elements of the building,” but might alter certain aspects of the interior, like removing some partitions.

Mr. Kaufman said his plan would save the county an estimated $10 million. He offered to do the design work on both buildings for $7.9 million, or $5 million less than the $12.9 million consulting fee allocated by the county for the renovation.

In addition, he said the county would, among other things, save $3 million in estimated demolition costs and would qualify for federal funds that the current renovation plan does not, because the proposed changes were so extensive. He has also pledged to cover any overruns in design costs.

Sean Khorsandi, co-director of the Paul Rudolph Foundation, said of Mr. Kaufman’s plan, “We do support the premise that to date, this is the only proposal to promote no demolition of the Rudolph work.”

Should another preservation-minded proposal ultimately prevail over Mr. Kaufman’s, he said he would be fine with that. “I’m not doing this with the idea of making money,” he said. “If somebody else gets to save the building, I’ll feel very good because the objectives have been achieved.”

July 7th, 2014
Fine Perfumes of the Animal World

NY Times Published: JULY 5, 2014
One of the odder things about perfumes is how much they have depended over the centuries on the scent of other animals — for instance, ambergris, a fatty excretion of the sperm whale, or the musk from the anal sacs of a civet. In concentration, some of these scents are unpleasant, even noxious. One component of civet is skatole, literally the smell of animal feces. Why not just make up a cologne called “Hyraceum — the Ultimate Code of Seduction,” advertised in a suitably libidinous whisper? The fine print would reveal that Hyraceum comes from the petrified excrement of the Cape hyrax. (Oh, but it turns out Hyraceum actually exists, at a very reasonable $60 an ounce.)

We are by no means the only species trying to smell like something (anything) other than ourselves. The caterpillar of South Africa’s Zulu Blue butterfly, for instance, mimics the chemical scent that the ants use to recognize their own brood. So the gullible ants carry the caterpillar into their nest, and don’t seem to notice when it proceeds to devour the very ant brood it has been mimicking.

Orchids are also wicked olfactory deceivers. They need to attract wasps, bees and other insects to spread their pollen. So some orchid species have evolved the shape and coloration of specific female insects — and also release chemicals that duplicate the come-hither perfume of the females they mimic. (It’s interspecies cross-dressing — and, wait, do I hear a Broadway musical?)

The duped males respond at first with clumsy groping and then quickly proceed to copulation, sometimes to the point of ejaculation. It gets more interesting: Some male wasps actually seem to prefer the scent of make-believe females. They will break away from a real female to have sex with a flower.

This effect of inducing others to drop everything and pay attention to me-me-me is apparently what we hope for with our own perfumes and colognes, at least to judge by the advertising. But scientists and perfumers seem to know remarkably little about which scent compounds — noxious or otherwise — produce particular effects, or why. We don’t seem to respond like those species in which a specific scent automatically elicits a fixed behavioral response, said Pamela Dalton, a scent researcher at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia.

Or at least we’re not aware if something like that is happening. A 2003 study at Monell found that scent samples from human males caused a neuroendocrine response in women, changing the length and timing of the menstrual cycle. Male scent also made the women less tense and more relaxed, at least when they didn’t know that what they were smelling was a man. (More predictably, a study this year reported that the scent of male, but not female, experimenters left lab rats feeling a stress level roughly equivalent to being restrained in a tube for 15 minutes.)

Ms. Dalton theorized that early perfumers might have adapted the sometimes unpleasant odors of other species as a way of taking on their power. Something like that certainly happens in the animal world.

For instance, some squirrels chew on the shed skins of rattlesnakes, their ancient enemies, then lick the smell onto their own bodies. Concentrating the scent around the tail may mask the strong odor of the anal glands and thus reduce the likelihood of detection. Or the squirrels may just be trying to trick rattlesnakes into thinking they have entered the territory of another snake. Shaking the tail or lifting the snake-scented hairs on their backs may be an effective way to disperse the warning scent.

Similarly, our beloved pet dogs are notorious for rolling in rotted fish, excrement, smelly seaweed or just about any other foul substance they can find.

The dog sniffer and scholar Stanley Coren argues that this dismaying behavior is about disguise: In the wild, canines are predators, and smelling like dogs, jackals or wolves would provide advance warning to their usual antelope prey. Perfuming themselves with antelope dung or carrion, on the other hand, might make it easier for them to sneak undetected within attacking distance.

Mr. Coren cannot help himself, though, from offering an alternative explanation with considerable appeal but “no scientific merit whatsoever.” Your whimsical, sensation-craving dog may roll in filth simply as “an expression of the same misbegotten sense of aesthetics that causes human beings to wear overly loud and colorful Hawaiian shirts.” Or maybe Axe cologne.

My own theory is a little different, and it has to do with the stinky behavior of spotted hyenas. They seem to roll in carrion and other horrible animal-based smells mainly because it wins them lots of curious sniffing and grooming from other hyenas. In effect, smelling that way makes them more popular. Noxious odors are a way of attracting attention, and perhaps they function the same way in our own perfumes and colognes.

Perfumers would no doubt vehemently argue otherwise. What a civet or skatole does is “nothing short of magic,” one of them writes. It transforms everything it touches “to produce a pleasant and singularly attractive scent.” But what if those scents actually linger there subliminally, unchanged, below our ability to be aware of what we are smelling?

A study in the journal Science early this year reported that humans can in theory distinguish a trillion different scents, and it’s hardly surprising to think that we could detect even trace amounts of the natural odors of mammalian bodies. In perfume, maybe that just wakes up our jaded nostrils and makes us pay attention to those gorgeous floral notes the perfumers like to go on about. Maybe, as Yeats suggested, fair really does need foul, and the baser elements in a perfume or cologne are essential to its erotic appeal.

In any case, it reminds us — reassuringly, I think — that we are animals. So by all means, lay on the perfume and cologne. Wear it in confidence, knowing that you and your dubiously anointed dog share one very special thing in common.

July 7th, 2014
Michael and Magdalena Suarez Frimkess


Magdalena Suarez Frimkess
Minnie Mouse, 2014
stoneware and glaze
9 X 3 inches

July 5 through August 1, 2014

South Willard Shop Exhibit

July 2nd, 2014
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