Religion Without God

NY TImes Published: DEC. 24, 2014
By T. M. Luhrmann

THIS Christmas our family will go to church. The service is held in a beautiful old church in the charming town of Walpole, N.H., just over the border from Vermont. The Lord’s Prayer hangs on the wall behind the sanctuary. A lectern rises above the nave to let the pastor look down on his flock. The pews and the side stalls have the stern, pure lineaments suited to the Colonial congregation that once came to church to face God.

Except that this church is Unitarian. Unitarianism emerged in early modern Europe from those who rejected a Trinitarian theology in preference for the doctrine that God was one. By the 19th century, however, the Unitarian church had become a place for intellectuals who were skeptical of belief claims but who wanted to hang on to faith in some manner. Charles Darwin, for example, turned to Unitarians as he struggled with his growing doubt. My mother is the daughter of a Baptist pastor and the black sheep, theologically speaking, of her family. She wants to go to church, but she is not quite sure whether she wants God. The modern Unitarian Universalist Association’s statement of principles does not mention God at all.

As it happens, this kind of God-neutral faith is growing rapidly, in many cases with even less role for God than among Unitarians. Atheist services have sprung up around the country, even in the Bible Belt.

Many of them are connected to Sunday Assembly, which was founded in Britain by two comedians, Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans. They are avowed atheists. Yet they have created a movement that draws thousands of people to events with music, sermons, readings, reflections and (to judge by photos) even the waving of upraised hands. There are nearly 200 Sunday Assembly gatherings worldwide. A gathering in Los Angeles last year attracted hundreds of participants.

How do we understand this impulse to hold a “church” service despite a hesitant or even nonexistent faith? Part of the answer is surely the quest for community. That’s what Mr. Jones told The Associated Press: “Singing awesome songs, hearing interesting talks, thinking about improving yourself and helping other people — and doing that in a community with wonderful relationships. Which part of that is not to like?”

Another part of the answer is that rituals change the way we pay attention as much as — perhaps more than — they express belief. In “The Archetypal Actions of Ritual,” two anthropologists, Caroline Humphrey and James Laidlaw, go so far as to argue that ritual isn’t about expressing religious commitment at all, but about doing something in a way that marks the moment as different from the everyday and forces you to see it as important. Their point is that performing a ritual focuses your attention on some moment and deems it worthy of respect.

In Britain, where the rate of atheism is much higher than in the United States, organizations have now sprung up to mark life passages for those who consider themselves to be nonbelievers. The anthropologist Matthew Engelke spent much of 2011 with the British Humanist Association, the country’s pre-eminent nonreligious organization, with a membership of over 12,000. The evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, a prominent atheist, is a member. The association sponsors a good deal of anti-religious political activity. They want to stop faith-based schools from receiving state funding and to remove the rights of Church of England bishops to sit in the House of Lords. They also perform funerals, weddings and namings. In 2011, members conducted 9,000 of these rituals. Ceremony does something for people independent of their theological views.

Moreover, these rituals work, if by “work” we mean that they change people’s sense of their lives. It turns out that saying that you are grateful makes you feel grateful. Saying that you are thankful makes you feel thankful. To a world so familiar with the general unreliability of language, that may seem strange. But it is true.

In a study in which undergraduates were assigned to write weekly either about things they were grateful or thankful for; hassles; or “events or circumstances that affected you in the past week,” those who wrote about gratitude felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the coming week. There have now been many such studies.

Religion is fundamentally a practice that helps people to look at the world as it is and yet to experience it — to some extent, in some way — as it should be. Much of what people actually do in church — finding fellowship, celebrating birth and marriage, remembering those we have lost, affirming the values we cherish — can be accomplished with a sense of God as metaphor, as story, or even without any mention of God at all.

Yet religion without God may be more poignant. Atheists trust in human relations, not supernatural ones, and humans are not so good at delivering the world as it should be. Perhaps that is why we are moved by Christmas carols, which conjure up the world as it can be and not the world we know.

May the spirit of Christmas be with you, however you understand what that means.

December 25th, 2014

Ettore Sottsass, Del Diavolo Mirror, 1986, Massa Carrara marble, 82 x 5 1/4 x 45 in (208.3 x 13.3 x 114.3 cm)

December 18, 2014–January 31, 2015

Koenig and Clinton

December 22nd, 2014
Los Angeles, as a Pedestrian

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Rudolph M. Schindler’s House and Studio (1922)
“Sometimes,” said one, “I just sit out here and smoke my weed and pray.”

NY TimesPublished: DEC. 19, 2014

Had I been driving I would not have stopped here. But I was lured from the sidewalk by an open gate and the mysterious buildings beyond. There was a Moorish structure with a minaret, another was Italian with a loggia, a third had a fleur-de-lis on a chimney. It was as if a snow globe village had been dropped onto Sunset Boulevard. At the back of the hushed lot, a stone statue, naked to her hips, stood sentry.

I would later learn that this is where a Jazz Age gangster named Charlie Crawford was murdered. In 1936 these fanciful buildings, commissioned by his widow, became Crossroads of the World, the first pedestrian outdoor shopping mall in Los Angeles. In the 1940s it was recast as an office complex, attracting such tenants as Alfred Hitchcock. Today, the complex calls to mind the scene in “Big” where Tom Hanks returns to an abandoned fairground in search of a wish-making machine. There’s magic in the air, even after the carnival has come and gone.

Visit Los Angeles as a solo traveler and you’ll find few better ways to unmask the city’s hidden-in-plain-sight history, meet other people and imbibe responsibly than to be car-free. (And consider the money you’ll save on gas and valets.) This is not to scorn the car, which offers its own pleasures. It’s a symbol of freedom and, at its most inspired, art. The poet Gary Snyder has written of “the calligraphy of lights on the night freeways of Los Angeles.” And, as Reyner Banham put it in “Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies,” the city’s freeway system is “one of the greater works of Man.”

But driving can complicate a solo trip, and those who would rather not brave Los Angeles traffic should know that they need not see the city from behind a wheel to relish it. Some of its most beloved citizens, including the author Ray Bradbury, never drove. And while walking is common downtown and in Venice Beach and Santa Monica, in cooler months one can just as easily traverse Los Angeles between West Hollywood, Los Feliz, Miracle Mile and Larchmont Village by putting one foot in front of the other (with help now and then from mass transit and Uber). In fact, local tourism officials are encouraging people to do just that.

Last year the City of West Hollywood’s marketing arm posted “Walkable WeHo” tours on its website after being named the most walkable city in California by Walk Score, a company that ranks cities and neighborhoods by their pedestrian friendliness. On West Third Street, home to design boutiques like OK and Plastica, banners promote the area as “a walkable shopping & dining district.” And in March, the California Department of Transportation reported “a dramatic increase in walking trips” among residents, saying they nearly doubled to 16.6 percent of trips by 2012, up from 8.4 percent of trips in 2000.

Granted, strolling Los Angeles can be anything but picturesque. There are wide, noisy boulevards with scant shade. If you’re a woman, men in cars may greet you with “Yowza!” as they whiz by. Sometimes, to borrow a phrase from Shel Silverstein, the sidewalk ends.

But just when you think walking these interminable avenues is for East Coast chumps, something makes you smile. Take the white Tudor-style building that caught my eye on an otherwise humdrum stretch of North La Brea Avenue. A second glance revealed a trompe-l’lœil image of a grinning Charlie Chaplin leaning on a cane. From there my gaze traveled up the building to a 12-foot-tall Kermit the Frog tipping a bowler hat atop what turned out to be the Jim Henson Company, formerly Charlie Chaplin Studios (hence Kermit’s “little tramp” get-up).

Walk east on Franklin Avenue and you’ll be rewarded with postcard views of the Hollywood sign over your left shoulder, or the French-Normandy-style 1920s hotel Château Élysée (now the Church of Scientology Celebrity Centre International) rising above the trees near Tamarind Avenue. Walk long enough and you realize that here in this megalopolis of cars are quiet wonders, like the surprisingly ubiquitous sight of hummingbirds hovering around storefronts and terraces.

When you’re car-free and solo, one of the easiest places to nest is West Hollywood. There’s plenty of shopping, dining and night life, and the central location makes it a great base for jaunts to other neighborhoods. Hotels dot the Sunset Strip (once the stamping grounds of numerous larger-than-life personalities including members of the Doors and Led Zeppelin) and a walk from here to the La Brea Tar Pits is a mere three miles.

For a tranquil morning stroll past bungalows and Mediterranean-style homes with cactuses in the yard, turn off Sunset onto Sweetzer Avenue. Make your way to the Farmers Market on West Third Street, a casual, affordable maze in which solo travelers will be at ease sampling an array of cuisines, and dining alfresco. A chocolate caramel nut doughnut from Bob’s Coffee & Doughnuts goes with everything. (There for lunch? Try Loteria Grill.)

From there head south to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Hancock Park and the La Brea Tar Pits, a grassy landscape punctured by the occasional black gooey pool, where paleontologists have unearthed fossils of everything from snails to an American mastodon. (Incidentally, the Tar Pits, which have been oozing since the last Ice Age, are filled not with tar, but natural asphalt.) Yes, it’s a tourist destination, but for those who have never been, it’s an offbeat adventure. For a greater sense of discovery, enter at the corner of West Sixth Street and South Fairfax Avenue rather than the parking area off Curson Avenue. You’ll pass Michael Heizer’s 340-ton boulder artwork, “Levitated Mass,” before reaching the Observation Pit.

At the yawning Lake Pit, where fiberglass mammoths evoke their unlucky predecessors, the smell of asphalt hangs in the air; on the other side of the fence, cars fly by on Wilshire Boulevard, seemingly invincible.

If you’d rather gawk at shop windows than tar pits, stay in West Hollywood, where you can walk North Robertson Boulevard past the little red awnings of Christian Louboutin; Sur, the restaurant and bar staffed by badly behaved reality television stars; and the original Kitson boutique where boldface names stock up on essentials like rhinestone-encased pepper spray. The most satisfying strolls, however, are to be had on the side streets.

Dorrington Avenue between North Robertson Boulevard and North San Vicente Boulevard is too lovely to resist: hydrangea, azaleas, bird of paradise, cottages in Mediterranean and Spanish bungalow styles — and not a car in sight. You could spend hours weaving up and down the surrounding tree-lined streets, where front lawns are small but lovingly manicured.

Among the succulents and roses, security and video surveillance signs bloom on stakes. As an Uber driver jokingly put it to me: “If you look at a tree too hard, they’re going to prosecute you.” Consider it a Hollywood seduction: As much effort is put into making you want to look as it is in keeping you at bay. One afternoon I momentarily paused on the sidewalk and a man ran up to me. He kept asking if I had a ticket. I kept looking at him blankly. “I’m just ­ standing,” I finally said. It took a minute for it to dawn on me that he was a valet and for him to realize that I was — of all things, a pedestrian. I was reminded of Ray Bradbury’s short story “The Pedestrian,” which takes place in the year 2053, when people no longer stroll. The protagonist embarks on an evening walk and is swiftly arrested and taken to the Psychiatric Center for Research on Regressive Tendencies.

Among the joys of walking is refueling. At Gracias Madre, a vegan Mexican restaurant that’s been a popular dinner ticket since it opened early this year, I nabbed a table at lunchtime without a reservation near the open patio doors, sipped a Purista margarita and savored a “bowl” that was as filling as a beef tortilla: romaine lettuce, brown rice, black beans, guacamole, tempeh chorizo, pico de gallo, cashew crema.

The Gracias Madre team is also behind the vegan fare at Cafe Gratitude on Larchmont Boulevard, about a three-mile walk from West Hollywood. And grateful is what you’ll be for the food, especially the savory Bonita breakfast taco plate: brown rice and quinoa, black beans, salsa fresca, avocado, cashew nacho cheese and pumpkin seeds. (Ask for the toasted coconut “bacon” flakes.) Or order a Grace smoothie — coconut milk, almond butter, dates, vanilla bean — to take with you on a walk through the village shops.

But back to West Hollywood. The boutiques on Melrose Place are polished, yet those on a budget are better served on Santa Monica Boulevard at places like the $2 Clothing Store. Inside, women were sitting on the floor gleefully fishing sweaters from waist-high heaps of clothing. For some, this is heaven. For me, heaven was a mile and a half away at Book Soup, where spirited (and occasionally naughty) staff recommendations are written on cards tucked into shelves, helping you discover everything from classic fiction you always meant to read to coffee table books like “Houses of the Sundown Sea: The Architectural Vision of Harry Gesner.” As a staffer named Amelia wrote: “Mr. Gesner is my new favorite architect! Apparently an awesome guy too — he’s 89 and surfs everyday: check out the boat houses on pg. 90!”

Should you happen to be an architecture buff, find your way to the nearby Schindler House, described by its curators as “the birthplace” of Southern California modernism. Located on a peaceful residential street, it’s easy to inadvertently walk past the driveway of this low-slung 1920s house, whose rooms often serve as galleries for art exhibitions. I was the sole visitor on a November afternoon, wandering freely from room to room and into the modest but verdant backyard, fancying what indoor-outdoor California living might be like.

As I was heading back to reality, a couple of local men at the foot of the driveway were remarking on the peaceful breeze moving through the trees.

“Sometimes,” said one, “I just sit out here and smoke my weed and pray.”

When the sun disappears, there are plenty of clubs, lounges and theaters in which to while away the night. Or maybe you just want to thumb through CDs and LPs at Amoeba Music, a warehouse of new, used and rare albums — hip-hop, electronica, underground rock — on Sunset Boulevard. Jazz and classical music lovers will want to retreat to the back room where they will also find $1 records.

As for me, I was two and a half miles west, at the intimate, candlelit Tower Bar in the Sunset Tower Hotel. A piano and bass duo played in the dark as I nursed a Tower Smash: tequila, fresh basil, lemon and ginger on the rocks. Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe were but a couple of the celebrities who once walked the halls of this turn-of-the-century-style hotel. The music played on. Through the windows, the faraway lights of homes in the Hollywood Hills twinkled.­

The air becomes fragrant near the corner of Fern Dell Drive and Los Feliz Boulevard on the edges of Griffith Park, the largest municipal park with an urban wilderness area in the United States. The whir of traffic — which I’d been walking amid for four miles — faded, and soon all I heard was the brook as I entered the woods, stepping on fallen sycamore leaves, yellow with pointed lobes, like stars on the Walk of Fame.

Near the top of the trail to the Griffith Observatory (James Dean fans may recall the “Rebel Without a Cause” scene shot here) there’s a rocky shortcut, which I began ascending in delicate French sneakers. It wasn’t long before I was sliding back down. A woman in gym shoes bounced past me like a gazelle. “You’re almost there!” she shouted over her shoulder as she reached the summit. “Thanks!” I said, on my hands and knees, clutching a small boulder. “I wore the wrong shoes.”

The view at the top took the sting out of my ungainly arrival. Hawks circled and plunged toward the enormous silver city basin. In the distance, the ocean beckoned.

I will not recount how I began skidding down yet another shortcut off the Mount Hollywood hiking trail, but suffice it to say that when it came time to leave, I wanted the most direct, not the scenic, route out. And I thought I was on it as I followed the sidewalk down from the observatory parking lot. Alas, the sidewalk eventually disappeared, and I was suddenly darting Road Runner-style from one curve to another to ensure I would be seen and not hit by oncoming cars. Lesson 1: Wear proper footwear. Lesson 2: Know when to summon Uber.

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Uber has had plenty of clashes with California regulators (not to mention with those in other states and countries) and is facing safety concerns. Nonetheless, it’s convenient in sprawling Los Angeles as well as surprisingly affordable. And as a solo traveler I was delighted to have drivers who shared their favorite haunts (note: they are also willing to stop at drive-throughs) and asked questions that encouraged me to reflect on my travels.

“What’s the best thing you saw inside?,” said the driver who picked me up at the J. Paul Getty Museum.

As it happened, I was at the Getty for more than three hours before looking at a single painting. With works by Monet, van Gogh and Rembrandt, it’s easy to forget that the ivory and honey center, designed by Richard Meier, along with the gardens, are works of art in their own right. The museum offers free walking tours of both. “This,” said an architecture docent as we stood amid the Santa Monica Mountains peering down at what looked like rows of toy cars, “is the notorious 405 freeway.”

And what a contrast it was to the ancient travertine stone on the Getty facade, harvested from the same Roman quarry that provided travertine for the Colosseum and Trevi Fountain.

By 11:30 the center was bustling and about 10 of us were descending toward the maze of azaleas in the Central Garden.

“On the walk down I’m not going to talk to you because I want you to really enjoy the experience,” said our guide for the garden tour.

We zigzagged across teak bridges, over a stream toward bougainvillea and the pungent scent of society garlic.

There were no tiny signs with the names of the plants and trees we passed, and our group agreed that this was something of a relief. “If all we want to know is the name of the thing,” said our guide, “then we’ve really lost the experience.”

Looking into the bowl of the garden is not unlike observing the orchestra from the balcony of the Walt Disney Concert Hall, home to the Los Angeles Philharmonic, where I decided to spend a Friday night.

Reserve a seat in the center of the last row, the best spot to admire the hardwood-paneled auditorium and pipe organ, designed by Frank Gehry. It’s also convenient if you want to let your eyes drift close as I did during Elgar’s “Enigma Variations.”

It’s worth spending time downtown in the surrounding streets, eating in the Grand Central Market, checking out the Victorian court of the 1893 Bradbury building, Little Tokyo, and the opulent Spanish Baroque-style Rendezvous Court inside the Millennium Biltmore Hotel. (If I had more time I would have explored downtown landmarks on one of the Los Angeles Conservancy walking tours.) A stop at the Last Bookstore is a must. What at first blush appears to be your run-of-the-mill shop reveals its darker corners bit by bit, like an old mansion. Among the spookiest spots for those with vivid imaginations is near the children’s section; a dimly lit, windowless room through a vault door. But whatever you do, do not miss going upstairs to the aptly named Labyrinth.

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“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said a man holding his phone up to an illuminated tunnel made of books as we inadvertently photo-bombed each other.

Up here books are not just read; they are used to make art installations, walls and portholes. You’ll find a smattering of little art galleries along with tomes for $1 and weird fare like “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.”

If you can tear yourself away, you’re not far from discovering the roots of this town.

Across the road from Los Angeles Union Station, completed in 1939 when such majestic stations would soon become a thing of the past, you’ll spot a Mexican marketplace. Look beyond the stalls hawking colorful trinkets to the historic buildings. On Olvera Street, there’s Avila Adobe, the oldest existing house in Los Angeles, built in 1818. I walked up the porch into the dark, thick-walled adobe (admission is free), and was greeted by a knowledgeable guide who talked about the ranchero family that once lived here as I peeked into the handful of rooms.

Afterward I sat on the porch overlooking the market, imagining what life was like before the car was king.

Yet as rich as this area is, any car-free tour of Los Angeles must, at some point, lead to the beach.

When the sun shines on the soft, fine sand of Santa Monica, everything shimmers. In the white-blue light of morning, I passed sea gulls and surfers with boards tucked under their arms.

It is here, after a $20 Uber ride from West Hollywood, where I end my trip, listening to the comforting thunder of waves, walking east, without a destination.

December 19th, 2014
Putin’s Bubble Bursts

NY Times Published: DEC. 18, 2014
By Paul Krugman

If you’re the type who finds macho posturing impressive, Vladimir Putin is your kind of guy. Sure enough, many American conservatives seem to have an embarrassing crush on the swaggering strongman. “That is what you call a leader,” enthused Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor, after Mr. Putin invaded Ukraine without debate or deliberation.

But Mr. Putin never had the resources to back his swagger. Russia has an economy roughly the same size as Brazil’s. And, as we’re now seeing, it’s highly vulnerable to financial crisis — a vulnerability that has a lot to do with the nature of the Putin regime.

For those who haven’t been keeping track: The ruble has been sliding gradually since August, when Mr. Putin openly committed Russian troops to the conflict in Ukraine. A few weeks ago, however, the slide turned into a plunge. Extreme measures, including a huge rise in interest rates and pressure on private companies to stop holding dollars, have done no more than stabilize the ruble far below its previous level. And all indications are that the Russian economy is heading for a nasty recession.

The proximate cause of Russia’s difficulties is, of course, the global plunge in oil prices, which, in turn, reflects factors — growing production from shale, weakening demand from China and other economies — that have nothing to do with Mr. Putin. And this was bound to inflict serious damage on an economy that, as I said, doesn’t have much besides oil that the rest of the world wants; the sanctions imposed on Russia over the Ukraine conflict have added to the damage.

But Russia’s difficulties are disproportionate to the size of the shock: While oil has indeed plunged, the ruble has plunged even more, and the damage to the Russian economy reaches far beyond the oil sector. Why?

Actually, it’s not a puzzle — and this is, in fact, a movie currency-crisis aficionados like yours truly have seen many times before: Argentina 2002, Indonesia 1998, Mexico 1995, Chile 1982, the list goes on. The kind of crisis Russia now faces is what you get when bad things happen to an economy made vulnerable by large-scale borrowing from abroad — specifically, large-scale borrowing by the private sector, with the debts denominated in foreign currency, not the currency of the debtor country.

In that situation, an adverse shock like a fall in exports can start a vicious downward spiral. When the nation’s currency falls, the balance sheets of local businesses — which have assets in rubles (or pesos or rupiah) but debts in dollars or euros — implode. This, in turn, inflicts severe damage on the domestic economy, undermining confidence and depressing the currency even more. And Russia fits the standard playbook.

Except for one thing. Usually, the way a country ends up with a lot of foreign debt is by running trade deficits, using borrowed funds to pay for imports. But Russia hasn’t run trade deficits. On the contrary, it has consistently run large trade surpluses, thanks to high oil prices. So why did it borrow so much money, and where did the money go?

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Well, you can answer the second question by walking around Mayfair in London, or (to a lesser extent) Manhattan’s Upper East Side, especially in the evening, and observing the long rows of luxury residences with no lights on — residences owned, as the line goes, by Chinese princelings, Middle Eastern sheikhs, and Russian oligarchs. Basically, Russia’s elite has been accumulating assets outside the country — luxury real estate is only the most visible example — and the flip side of that accumulation has been rising debt at home.

Where does the elite get that kind of money? The answer, of course, is that Putin’s Russia is an extreme version of crony capitalism, indeed, a kleptocracy in which loyalists get to skim off vast sums for their personal use. It all looked sustainable as long as oil prices stayed high. But now the bubble has burst, and the very corruption that sustained the Putin regime has left Russia in dire straits.

How does it end? The standard response of a country in Russia’s situation is an International Monetary Fund program that includes emergency loans and forbearance from creditors in return for reform. Obviously that’s not going to happen here, and Russia will try to muddle through on its own, among other things with rules to prevent capital from fleeing the country — a classic case of locking the barn door after the oligarch is gone.

It’s quite a comedown for Mr. Putin. And his swaggering strongman act helped set the stage for the disaster. A more open, accountable regime — one that wouldn’t have impressed Mr. Giuliani so much — would have been less corrupt, would probably have run up less debt, and would have been better placed to ride out falling oil prices. Macho posturing, it turns out, makes for bad economies.

December 19th, 2014
charles ray

"Baled Truck", by Charles Ray at Matthew Marks Gallery, Los Ange
Baled Truck
Solid stainless steel
33 x 50 x 118 inches

Through December 20, 2014

Matthew Marks

December 16th, 2014
holiday art sale

Jason Meadows, 2014
Unique Bronze Ice Cream Cone Paperweight
5 1/4 X 3 X 3 1/2 inches (Approximate)

Magdalena Suarez Frimkess, 2014
Guy in Popeye’s Gang (Tropical)
Glazed Stoneware
9 1/2 X 5 X 3

Kelly Marie Conder, 2014
Untitled Basket Vessel #10
Glazed Ceramic
24 X 14 X 4 inches

Peter Shire, 2014
Sake Pot #1

David Korty, 2014
Untitled Ceramic Jug
9 1/2 x 8 inches

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Torbjorn Vejvi, 2014
Untitled Lamp #1
14 X 10 inches
Turned Maple Wood and Paint

Lauralee Pope, 2014
Untitled Ceramic
4 X 3 X 3

Roger Herman, 2014
Untitled 2
Ceramic and Glaze
10 x 12 x 11 inches

Bruce M. Sherman
Untitled #2, 2014
Glazed Stoneware
11 X 5 inches

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Peter Callas, 2014
Untitled (mq408)
wood fired stoneware
12.5 x 7 x 6.5 inches

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Kyle Mcculloch, 2014
Acoustic Amplifier
made of US made parts
pvc pipe, fittings and funnel

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EXP by Peter Shire, 2014
Espresso Cups
New Jumbo Mugs

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Dewey Nelson, 2014
Melted Coin Silver

Through December

South Willard Holiday Art Sale

December 14th, 2014
Is It Bad Enough Yet?

NY Times Published: December 13, 2014
By Mark Bittman

THE police killing unarmed civilians. Horrifying income inequality. Rotting infrastructure and an unsafe “safety net.” An inability to respond to climate, public health and environmental threats. A food system that causes disease. An occasionally dysfunctional and even cruel government. A sizable segment of the population excluded from work and subject to near-random incarceration.

You get it: This is the United States, which, with the incoming Congress, might actually get worse.

This in part explains why we’re seeing spontaneous protests nationwide, protests that, in their scale, racial diversity, anger and largely nonviolent nature, are unusual if not unique. I was in four cities recently — New York, Washington, Berkeley and Oakland — and there were actions every night in each of them. Meanwhile, workers walked off the job in 190 cities on Dec. 4.

The root of the anger is inequality, about which statistics are mind-boggling: From 2009 to 2012 (that’s the most recent data), some 95 percent of new income has gone to the top 1 percent; the Walton family (owners of Walmart) have as much wealth as the bottom 42 percent of the country’s people combined; and “income mobility” now describes how the rich get richer while the poor … actually get poorer.

The progress of the last 40 years has been mostly cultural, culminating, the last couple of years, in the broad legalization of same-sex marriage. But by many other measures, especially economic, things have gotten worse, thanks to the establishment of neo-liberal principles — anti-unionism, deregulation, market fundamentalism and intensified, unconscionable greed — that began with Richard Nixon and picked up steam under Ronald Reagan. Too many are suffering now because too few were fighting then.

What makes this an exciting time is that we are beginning to see links among issues that we have overlooked for far too long.

In 1970, after spending a year in New York absorbed by concerns seemingly as disparate as ending the war, supporting the rights of Black Panthers to get fair trials (and avoid being murdered) and understanding the role of men in the women’s movement, I — and others — had conversations like this: “Let’s make people understand that all of those issues, plus poverty and racism and the environment and more, are all part of the same picture, and that fixing things means citizens have to regain power and work in their own interests.”

Of course we failed, as others did before and since. But these same things can be said now, and they’re being said by people of all colors. When underpaid workers begin their strikes by saying “I can’t breathe,” or by holding their hands over their heads and chanting “Hands up, don’t shoot,” they’re recognizing that their struggle is the same as that of African-Americans demanding dignity, respect and indeed safety on their own streets.

And of course it’s the same struggle: “It’s the same people,” says Saru Jayaraman, the director of the Food Labor Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley. “Young people working in fast food are the same people as those who are the victims of police brutality. So the Walmart folks are talking about #blacklivesmatter and the #blacklivesmatter folks are talking about taking on capital.”

The N.A.A.C.P.’s Rev. Dr. William Barber II, a leader of the Moral Mondays movement in North Carolina, captures the national yearning this reflects. “I believe that deep within our being as a nation there is a longing for a moral movement that plows deep into our souls,” he writes. “We are flowing together because we recognize that the intersectionality of all of these movements is our opportunity to fundamentally redirect America.” (The full text of Dr. Barber’s email is on my blog.)

“All of these movements”? Yes: The demands of the fast-food workers movement — $15 minimum wage and a union — have helped to unite movements among airport workers, hospital workers, retail workers and more.

There are already results. Two years ago, there was talk of raising the minimum wage to $10; now $15 per hour is seen as the bare minimum. Seattle and San Francisco have already mandated this, Chicago’s City Council voted to gradually increase to a $13 minimum by 2019, Oakland will move to $12.25 in March and a proposal is being considered in Los Angeles. (And although the amounts were woefully inadequate, four red states voted to approve minimum wage increases last month, showing that the concept resonates across party lines.)

Meanwhile, the credibility of those who argue that employers “can’t afford” to raise pay — McDonald’s paid its C.E.O. $9.5 million last year — is nil. For one thing, there are examples of profitable businesses that treat their employees decently, and even countries where fast-food workers can make ends meet. And for another, underpaying workers simply shifts the cost of supporting them onto public coffers. As Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont says, “In essence, taxpayers are subsidizing the wealthiest family in America.” That would be the Waltons. (Incredibly, many Republicans still want the working poor to pay more taxes.)

The initial Obama plan is encouraging but lacking, and that’s all the more reason to keep demonstrating. (What good are body cameras, by the way? The videotape of Rodney King’s beating was seen around the world yet resulted in acquittals; Eric Garner’s choking death, viewed millions of times online, didn’t even lead to a trial, even though police chokeholds are banned in New York City.) Besides, as Sanders says, “Even if every cop were a constitutional lawyer and a great person, if you have 30 percent unemployment among African-American young people you still have a huge problem.”

I have spent a great deal of time talking about the food movement and its potential, because to truly change the food system you really have to change just about everything: good nutrition stems from access to good food; access to good food isn’t going to happen without economic justice; that isn’t going to happen without taxing the superrich; and so on. The same is true of other issues: You can’t fix climate change or the environment without stopping the unlimited exploitation of natural and human resources (see Naomi Klein’s “This Changes Everything”). Same with social well-being.

Everything affects everything. It’s all tied together, and the starting place hardly matters: A just and righteous system will have a positive impact on everything we care about, just as an unjust, exploitative system makes everything worse.

Increasingly, it seems, there’s an appetite and even unity to take on the billionaire class. Let’s recognize that if we are seeing positive change now, it’s in part because elected officials respond to pressure, and let’s remember that that pressure must be maintained no matter who is in office. Even if Bernie Sanders were to become president, the need for pressure would continue.

“True citizenship,” says Jayaraman of Berkeley — echoing Jefferson — “is people continually protesting.” Precisely.

December 14th, 2014
morgan fisher


Ilford Selochrome 120 September 1954
archival pigment print
40.6 x 50.8 cm

24 November — 25 January 2015′

Maureen Paley

December 13th, 2014
JP Munro

The Verdugos from Altadena, 2014
Oil on Panel
20 x 16inches (50.8 x 40.6cm)

Through December 20, 2014

China Art Objects

December 12th, 2014
This Is Your Moment

NY Times Published: DEC. 10, 2014
By Charles M. Blow

I was born in 1970, on the heels of the civil rights movement. I didn’t witness my parents’ struggles and their parents’ struggles before them. What I knew of darker days I learned in school, read in books or saw on television. Therefore, as a matter of circumstance, there existed a space between that reality and me. It was more pedagogical than experiential.

As a young man, I could connect my current circumstances and present societal conditions intellectually to previous ones and form a long-arching narrative of undeniable progress from slavery to Reconstruction to Jim Crow to mass incarceration to me. But that narrative was developed in the mind. Not, more innately, written by personal tribulation or authored by the shock and horror of real events happening in real time — my time — so that the mind and spirit could unite in moral outrage and the voice lift in anguished outcry.

That changed when I reached a series of racial-justice maturation moments, two of which are particularly relevant to our current cultural discussion in this country.

One came in 1991, when I was 20 years old. Rodney King was savagely beaten — on video — by Los Angeles police officers. The video showed “officers taking turns swinging their nightsticks like baseball bats at the man and kicking him in the head as he lay on the ground early Sunday,” as The New York Times put it at the time.

Earlier in the day, before the beating, one of the officers who participated had typed a message on a computer terminal in a squad car, referring to a domestic dispute among blacks this way: “Sounds almost as exciting as our last call. It was right out of ‘Gorillas in the Mist.’ ”

One of the officers reportedly said of King and the beating during an internal affair interview: “It’s like he’s looking at me, doesn’t see me, he’s just looking right through me,” reasoning that King was under the influence of PCP. (Testing of King showed no PCP.)

This is reminiscent of the dehumanizing language used by Darren Wilson, who shot and killed Michael Brown in Ferguson,Mo. Wilson testified about Brown: “He looked up at me and had the most intense aggressive face. The only way I can describe it, it looks like a demon, that’s how angry he looked.”

The four Los Angeles police officers were acquitted of assault.

Six years after those acquittals, a black man named James Byrd Jr. was attacked by three white men, beaten, urinated on, tied by the ankle to the back of their truck, dragged on the asphalt and decapitated by a culvert.

After that, I was acutely aware of what W. E. B. Du Bois, in “The Souls of Black Folk,” called the “double consciousness”:

“One ever feels his two-ness, — an American, a Negro; two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”

After that, all innocence inculcated and nurtured by the distance of history and the dreamy visions of perpetual progress melted. A new, harsher sensibility and an endless searching for social justice formed in its place.

I knew then that whatever progress might have been made in previous generations would not continue as a matter of perpetual momentum, but rather as a matter of constant pushing.

So I deeply understand and appreciate the feelings of the protestors — particularly the young ones — who have taken to the streets with outrage and outcry in cities across this great country over the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases.

I even understand the sentiments, recorded by recent polls, that a majority in this country believe race relations are getting worse and that more than a third think police-minority relations are getting worse.

Obviously, in the long sweep of history, no one could make such a claim. Race relations are certainly not worse than they were 50 or 100 or 400 years ago, but there is nagging frustration that things haven’t progressed as fast as many had hoped. And change, rightly or wrongly, is often measure relative to the recent past rather than to the distant one.

Furthermore, for young people in their late teens or early 20s, like my children, whose first real memory of presidential politics was the election of the first African-American president, any seeming racial retrenchment is jarring, and for them, over the course of their lifetimes, things can feel like they are getting worse.

This is their experiential moment, that moment when the weight becomes too much, when the abstract becomes real, when expectations of continual, inexorable progress slam into the back of a slow-moving reality, plagued by fits and starts and sometimes prone to occasional regressions.

It is that moment when consciousness is raised and unwavering optimism falters, when the jagged slope of truth replaces the soft slope of fantasy, when the natural recalcitrance of youth gathers onto itself the force of purpose and righteousness, when we realize that fighting is the only way forward, that equality must be won — by every generation — because it will never be freely granted.

This is a moment of civic awakening and moral maturing for a generation, and they are stepping boldly into their moment. Yes, they are struggling to divine the most effective way forward, but they will not accept being dragged backward. It is a profound moment to which we should gladly bear witness.

December 11th, 2014
It’s Not the Old Days, but Berkeley Sees a New Spark of Protest

A protest on Monday night against police violence blocked traffic in both directions of Interstate 80 in Berkeley, Calif. Credit Noah Berger

NY Times Published: DEC. 9, 2014

BERKELEY, Calif. — This is the college town where the Free Speech Movement was born 50 years ago, spreading across the nation with sit-ins, marches, demonstrations and arrests. So at first glance, the demonstrations against police conduct in Ferguson, Mo., and on Staten Island that gripped Berkeley over the past few days should be no surprise.

But the University of California campus here today is nothing like the one that became the symbol of student activism in the 1960s, with its demonstrations for civil rights and protests against the Vietnam War.

Large-scale activism here is mostly the nostalgic cause of the aging Berkeley graduates who never really left and who talk of the “F.S.M.,” in-the-know shorthand for the Free Speech Movement. A small number of them showed up in October for a subdued and decidedly gray 50th anniversary rally marking the arrest that started it all.

Now, Berkeley is again racked by protests, fueled in part by the student body here. On recent nights, protesters have come out in force — more than 1,500 were estimated to have taken part in Monday night’s demonstrations, in which 159 people were arrested, an Amtrak train was stopped in its tracks, a central freeway was closed down for hours, and the BART system was halted.

On Tuesday, the Berkeley City Council — fearful of threatened disruptions — canceled its regular meeting.

Students were certainly among those joining the marches that have swept across the campus, and they were a particularly noticeable contingent on Monday night. The sight of them gave heart to older Berkeley denizens who had despaired — in a “whatever happened to the good old days” kind of way — over what they described as the student spirit of their era giving way to careerism.

But most of the demonstrators involved in the protests over the weekend, some of whom wore bandannas over their faces, appeared to be older and not necessarily from Berkeley. And students who participated said they were soured when the activism veered into civil disobedience.

“We were with the protests all the way to the highway entrance,” said Sameer Abraham, a senior. “Police were blocking the entrance to the highway, and we got the sense that this would either be the end or that something would happen.”

“So we came back to campus,” he said. “We do not approve of violence.”

These days, there is a cultural divide between the city of Berkeley, still civically dominated by the older people who came out of the antiwar and civil rights movements, and the campus that put it on the map. Students are known for being involved in local causes, and there is the occasional demonstration over, to name one example, tuition increases.

On Tuesday night, a smaller crowd of protesters wandered the streets, stopping in front of the Police Department and a darkened City Hall, where they mocked the City Council for canceling the meeting.

“What a beautiful picture I see before me,” Councilman Kriss Worthington said on the steps of City Hall. “I see people I’ve never seen before at a demonstration.”

Continue reading the main storyContinue reading the main storyContinue reading the main story
For all the historic lore of this city, few political issues have galvanized students as much as the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, both of them unarmed black men who were killed by white police officers.

In one sense, the seeming complacency here reflects the relative lack of activism on college campuses across the nation. But it also offers insight into the changing demographics of Berkeley, one of the most competitive universities in the nation; only 17 percent of the 73,771 applicants were admitted to this year’s freshman class.

Back in the day of Mario Savio, the best-known leader of the Free Speech Movement, the student body was overwhelmingly white and most of the leaders of the movement were men. Today, just 29 percent of the student population is white; 39 percent is Asian, 13 percent Latino and 3 percent black.

In the 1960s, tuition at Berkeley was almost free; today, it costs $12,000 a year for Californians and $35,000 for nonresidents — and the Board of Regents just voted to raise it again, a decision that some people suggested had helped feed the protest.

A walk across Berkeley 50 years ago would find clumps of students demonstrating, a food co-op, and scribbled signs on bulletin boards advertising meetings of Vietnam War protesters and the early glimmerings of the feminist movement. A stroll through campus most mornings these days would find students, head down, rushing to class.

By contrast, the city is, by any measure, as liberal and activist as ever. In November, its voters defied a national trend and a barrage of spending by the soda industry to pass an initiative imposing a tax on sugary sodas and drinks. This was the first city to boycott South Africa, and pioneered bans on smoking in public places and plastic food containers. That spirit clearly is fed by the campus at its heart.

“The faculty has a lot of touchstones that go back to the ’60s,” said Bruce Fuller, a professor of education here. “If you search for the phrase ‘social justice’ in our course listings, scores of things would pop up.”

Many of the former student radicals have settled in the Berkeley Hills, in costly homes with views of the San Francisco Bay. Although they may grow as excited talking about Chez Panisse, the Alice Waters restaurant that pioneered California cuisine, as about Edward Snowden, who leaked classified government information, there is no shortage of anguish over what they see as the absence of political interest on their campus.

“Protest is in our DNA,” said Nicholas Dirks, the chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, in a recent interview.

Several students interviewed here said they hoped these past few days marked a turn among their peers. “It seemed like a transformation in the movement,” said Pavan Upadhyayula, the student body president.

Students turned out in larger numbers on Monday — there are no classes this week, as students prepare for exams — but there were signs that they had different views on how to proceed from those of some of the more established demonstrators. At Sproul Plaza, students took to megaphones to urge for peaceful demonstrations. But Yvette Felarca, 44, an organizer from By Any Means Necessary, one of the groups behind the protests, said she thought “militant” actions were justified if necessary.

“Riots are the voice of the unheard,” said Ms. Felarca, a Berkeley alumna. “You can never replace the lives of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, but you can always replace broken windows.”

The Free Speech Movement Café sits at the center of the campus. About 30 students were assembled in front of the cafe on Monday afternoon, but the cause was hardly political: This was Hug-a-Pet time, in which a local animal rescue foundation and the University Health Services brought over dogs for students to pet as a stress reliever.

Still, the political reputation of this campus endures.

“I doubt it’s that important in attracting undergraduates, who come because it has long been ranked the best public university in the world and remains affordable,” said Christopher Edley Jr., a professor and former dean at the Berkeley Law School. “But once you are here, there are weird ions in the air.”

December 11th, 2014
The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World

Richard Aldrich
Angie Adams/Franz Kline. 2010–11
Oil, wax, and charcoal on cut linen, 7′ x 58″ (213.4 x 147.3 cm

Forever Now presents the work of 17 artists whose paintings reflect a singular approach that characterizes our cultural moment at the beginning of this new millennium: they refuse to allow us to define or even meter our time by them. This phenomenon in culture was first identified by the science fiction writer William Gibson, who used the term “a-temporality” to describe a cultural product of our moment that paradoxically doesn’t represent, through style, through content, or through medium, the time from which it comes. A-temporality, or timelessness, manifests itself in painting as an ahistorical free-for-all, where contemporaneity as an indicator of new form is nowhere to be found, and all eras coexist. This profligate mixing of past styles and genres can be identified as a kind of hallmark for our moment in painting, with artists achieving it by reanimating historical styles or recreating a contemporary version of them, sampling motifs from across the timeline of 20th-century art in a single painting or across an oeuvre, or radically paring their language down to the most archetypal forms.

The artists in this exhibition represent a wide variety of styles and impulses, but all use the painted surface as a platform, map, or metaphoric screen on which genres intermingle, morph, and collide. Their work represents traditional painting, in the sense that each artist engages with painting’s traditions, testing and ultimately reshaping historical strategies like appropriation and bricolage and reframing more metaphysical, high-stakes questions surrounding notions of originality, subjectivity, and spiritual transcendence.

The exhibition includes works by Richard Aldrich, Joe Bradley, Kerstin Brätsch, Matt Connors, Michaela Eichwald, Nicole Eisenman, Mark Grotjahn, Charline von Heyl, Rashid Johnson, Julie Mehretu, Dianna Molzan, Oscar Murillo, Laura Owens, Amy Sillman, Josh Smith, Mary Weatherford, and Michael Williams.

December 14, 2014–April 5, 2015


December 9th, 2014
Ruby Neri | Face Pots

Face Pot 1, 2014
glazed stoneware
8 x 6 x 4 inches

Opening Reception: Sunday December 7, 2014. 3-5 PM

December 7, 2014 through January 2, 2015

South Willard Shop Exhibit

December 6th, 2014
Cataloging Berkeley’s Quirks

Screen shot 2014-12-06 at 8.26.29 PM
Jim Wilson/The New York Times

NY Times Published: DEC. 5, 2014

BERKELEY, Calif. — Tom Dalzell looks too strait-laced to be the arbiter of the eccentric.

Nonetheless, almost two years ago, Mr. Dalzell, 63, set out in his khakis and comfortable shoes to walk every street, alleyway and path and document this city’s material oddities on a website he calls Quirky Berkeley. “There is a tremendous diversity of thought here,” Mr. Dalzell said. “And one of the ways we express our lack of conformity is with the quirky things we put on our houses and in our yards.”

The rules are simple: no seasonal decorations, and all quirk must be viewable from the street.

So far, Mr. Dalzell has walked nearly 150 miles and shot some 9,000 photos of rogue garden gnomes who moon passers-by; a four-foot-wide peace sign outside a house long occupied by Wavy Gravy of Woodstock fame and his Hog Farm commune compatriots; dozens of colorful hard hats hanging from a front yard tree; a massive wolf sculpture made from old car parts; a menagerie of animal-shaped mailboxes; a giant metal orange that once served as a roadside refreshment stand but now sits in a wooded side yard; and a variety of wildly painted houses and sculptures.

Sometimes Mr. Dalzell uses the site to riff on the city’s culture and history. Introducing items filed under “Peace,” he writes: “I make the following claim: Berkeley is the peace symbol/flag/pole capital of the world. Go ahead, prove me wrong.”

Mr. Dalzell moved to Berkeley 30 years ago, after a stint working for Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers. He manages a labor union of gas and electric utility workers by day and moonlights as an author of slang dictionaries and a collector of idiosyncrasies.

On a recent afternoon, Mr. Dalzell stood on the sidewalk outside what he considers the crown jewel of Berkeley’s quirk: a strange, bulbous structure that locals call “the fish house” built on a block of low-slung, single-family homes on the city’s south side. “As Ken Kesey would say, this is ‘bull goose loony,’ ” Mr. Dalzell said.

The house is not, it turns out, modeled after a fish but rather a tiny, indestructible microcreature called a tardigrade, or water bear, which can survive deep freezing, boiling and 10 days in space. The architect Eugene Tsui — who said he was in the process of legally changing his surname to Tssui after a dream he had in China that involved Genghis Khan — designed the home for his parents, who had no idea what a tardigrade was but wanted an earthquake-proof home.

In a sign of the changes underway here, Mr. Tsui now rents it to four young men and their technology start-up.

Like most things in this city of close to 117,000 residents, the question of whether Berkeley is actually more bohemian in thought and yard ornamentation than, say, Denver, is the subject of heated debate. “All the assumptions about Berkeley are flat-out wrong,” Mr. Tsui said. “It is a myth that this is a liberal-minded, freethinking place; at its heart, it’s a conventional bedroom community.”

Mayor Tom Bates, for one, disagrees. The large state university here has long drawn creative types, and the city’s residents have always embraced “things that are different,” the mayor said. The city was a center of the antiwar and Free Speech movements of the 1960s, and has consistently passed laws that look left-of-center to much of the country, including most recently the nation’s first tax on sweetened sodas.

“One of the real joys of walking this city,” said Mr. Bates, who does not own a car, “is to come across a house or lot where someone has done something zany.”

After a year of meticulously inventorying and cataloging, Mr. Dalzell has settled on a few general theories of quirk. First, quirk begets more quirk. “If one person puts up an animal mailbox, you’ll often see other animal mailboxes pop up around them,” he said, describing a kind of keeping up with the Joneses, Berkeley-style.

Second, the density of quirk is thicker in the city’s traditionally lower- and middle-class flatlands than up in the hills, where the wealthier tend to live. Third, nothing (as the Buddhists say) is permanent. “Sometimes you’ll see something really interesting, only to go back a week later to find it gone,” Mr. Dalzell said.

Still, there are some who view the whole Quirky Berkeley enterprise more as a testament to its creator’s kookiness than its subjects’.

“We urban and architectural historians exhibit variants of this strange behavior in cities around the globe,” said Stephen O. Tobriner, a professor emeritus of architectural history at the University of California, Berkeley. Upon close inspection, he said, any urban area yields all sorts of evidence of curious human behavior — including, sometimes, an inhabitant’s desire to walk every city block.

Even in the era of Google Street View, walking each mile of a city has become something of a fad. A woman finished walking every street in Berkeley in 2007. A man in his mid-90s walked over 300 miles of Sydney, Australia, before he died in 2008. It took three years for a Minneapolis woman, Francine Corcoran, to walk the 1,071 miles that make up the city. London has been walked, as has San Francisco.

And while the other walkers did not set off explicitly to round up wackiness the way Mr. Dalzell did, at a walker’s pace, they no doubt saw plenty of it anyway.

“When you walk a city block by block, you are forced to slow down and look at everything — you see more, you feel more, you get into the rhythm of the neighborhoods,” said William B. Helmreich, a professor of sociology at City College of New York who wrote “The New York Nobody Knows,” a book about walking every street — some 6,000 miles — of the city’s five boroughs.

“In urban areas, you often don’t feel like an individual, which makes you want to put your stamp of uniqueness on something,” Professor Helmreich said, “even if it is just the paint on your house.”

December 6th, 2014
mathias poledna



Renaissance Society

December 6th, 2014
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