Save Wounded Knee

NY Times Published: April 11, 2013

THE Lakota Sioux word “takini” means “to die and come back” but is usually translated more simply as “survivor.” It is a sacred word long associated with the killing of scores of unarmed Lakota men, women and children by soldiers of the United States Army’s Seventh Cavalry in the winter of 1890.

Wounded Knee was the so-called final battle of America’s war on its Native peoples. But what happened was hardly a battle. It was a massacre.

A band of several hundred Lakota led by Big Foot, a chief of the Mnicoujou Sioux, was intercepted and detained by troops as they made their way from the Cheyenne River Reservation to Pine Ridge for supplies and safety. After a night of drinking, the bluecoats were disarming warriors the next morning when a shot went off. Soldiers opened fire with their Hotchkiss machine guns. At least 150 but perhaps as many as 300 or more Lakota died.

Our fight to survive as a people continues today, a struggle to preserve not just our culture and our language but also our history and our land. Though I now live on the western reaches of the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation, I grew up in Pine Ridge, among my Oglala kin just a few miles from Wounded Knee. One member of my family survived the killing; others died.

The killing ground stirs great emotion in all of our people — memories of bodies frozen into twisted shapes, of those who were hunted down and murdered as they fled, and of those who escaped in bitter cold across wind-swept plains. These stories have been handed down to us and live within us.

One story I remember vividly was told to me when I was about 8 by a tribal elder, a very old woman whose mother had survived the bloodshed as a child. The old woman’s mother told her how her own mother had gathered her up when the bullets started flying. Just then, a young horse warrior galloped past and took the child up in his arms to help her escape. As she looked back, she saw her mother shot down, her chest torn open by bullets. She told her daughter that she remembered tasting the salt in her tears. The old woman told me all this after I had knocked over a saltshaker. Salt still reminded her of her mother.

There are many such stories. The spiritual power of the place explains why members of the American Indian Movement took it over in 1973 to call the nation’s attention to the economic and cultural injustices against our Native brothers and sisters.

Now, our heritage is in danger of becoming a real-estate transaction, another parcel of what once was our land auctioned off to the highest bidder. The cries of our murdered people still echo off the barren hills — the cries we remember in our hearts every day of our lives. But they may finally be drowned out by bulldozers and the ka-ching of commerce.

The Wounded Knee site passed from the Oglala into private hands through the process known as allotment, begun in the late 1800s, by which the federal government divided land among the Indians and gave other parcels to non-Indians. The idea was to shift control of our land from the collective to the individual and to teach the Lakota and other Native Americans the foreign notion of ownership. But to us, the policy was just another form of theft.

The private owner of the Wounded Knee site, who has held title to the 40-acre plot since 1968, wants to sell it for $3.9 million. If the Oglala of Pine Ridge don’t buy it by May 1, it will be sold at auction.

The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is one of the poorest places in the United States, and the Oglala, who are deeply in debt, would be hard-pressed to meet the price. Many elders properly ask why any price should be paid at all. The federal government should buy this land and President Obama should then preserve it as a national monument — just as he did last month at five federally owned sites around the country, including one in Maryland honoring Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad.

The massacre site has great meaning not just for the Lakota but for all First Nations — and every American. Wounded Knee should remain a sacred site where the voices of the Ghost Dancers, who more than a century ago danced for the return of our old way of life, still echo among the pines, where the spirits of our elders still walk the hills, and where “takini” still has meaning: the survival of our collective memory.

Chief Joseph Brings Plenty, a former chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, teaches Lakota culture at the Takini School on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation.

April 11th, 2013
Magdalena Suarez Frimkess

Untitled Vase , 6 1/2″ by 6 1/2″

A new selection of Magdalena Suarez Frimkess cups, bowls and more

April 10th, 2013
Popular Science, August 1969


April 10th, 2013
Paolo Soleri 1919 – 2013

Arcosanti, Paradise Valley, Ariz.

NY Times Published: April 10, 2013

Paolo Soleri, a visionary architect who was best known as the designer and oracle of Arcosanti, a settlement in the Arizona high desert that became a symbol of hippie-era utopianism and a prescient environmentalism, died on Tuesday at Cosanti, his home in Paradise Valley, Ariz. He was 93.

His foundation, also named Cosanti, announced his death.

Dr. Soleri, who apprenticed with Frank Lloyd Wright in the 1940s, developed a philosophy he called arcology — architecture coupled with ecology — that some saw as an answer to suburban sprawl. It involved building densely packed, bee-hive-like buildings that “held out a promise of not just an alternative architecture but alternative culture,” the architecture critic Paul Goldberger wrote in The New York Times in 1989.

Dr. Soleri’s basic idea was that architecture and ecology are inseparable in their effect on people. In his view, technology always moves toward miniaturization, just as nature tends toward complexity and compactness. Human habitation, he believed, must also move toward more compact, multilayered and multidimensional spaces instead of scattering or spreading across the landscape.

Dr. Soleri pursued his philosophy with a single-mindedness into his 90s, stepping down as president of the Cosanti Foundation at 92. Even as his ideas seemed to go out of fashion, he continued to work on Arcosanti — his “urban laboratory” — about 70 miles north of Phoenix.

The settlement, which is still operating and expanding, drawing thousands of visitors a year, has been described as Buck Rogers meets Buckminster Fuller — a 1960s version of the future set on a vast parcel highlands amid basalt mesas, juniper and prickly pear cactus and crossed by the Agua Fria River.

Notable for its poured-concrete domed structures and soaring apses, the village combines multiunit housing with a bakery, a foundry, a ceramics studio, an amphitheater, a swimming pool and other features.

Originally designed to house 5,000 people, Arcosanti has never grown large enough to accommodate more than a few hundred followers at a time, some of whom have supported themselves by selling wind bells designed by Dr. Soleri.

To tourists, Arcosanti is part of a trio of Arizona utopias, along with Wright’s Taliesin West and the University of Arizona’s Biosphere II, a geodesic dome in which people prepared to live extra-terrestrially in the early 1990s.

The critic and author Alastair Gordon once likened Dr. Soleri to “a desert Obi-Wan Kenobi” who spoke “in elliptical bursts peppered with words like vegativity, vectoriality and stardust.”

In Arcosanti’s heyday, in the early 1970s, visitors paid for the privilege of working there for five-week stints. “With his lean good looks and Italian charm, Dr. Soleri had no trouble attracting volunteers,” Mr. Gordon wrote.

Dr. Soleri wrote books and essays, and his drawings have been shown in museums and published in lavish volumes. Reviewing one exhibition, at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington in 1970, the Times critic Ada Louise Huxtable called the renderings “some of the most spectacularly sensitive and superbly visionary drawings that any century has known.”

Paolo Soleri was born on June 21, 1919, in Turin, Italy, the second of three children of Emilio and Pia Soleri. His father was an accountant. Paolo Soleri spent part of World War II in a unit that built and maintained Italian military facilities.

In 1947, after receiving a Ph.D. in architecture from the Polytechnic University of Turin, Dr. Soleri traveled to Arizona to apprentice with Wright at Taliesin West for 18 months.

In 1949, he designed the Dome House in Cave Creek, Ariz., for a divorced woman from Philadelphia. Made from cast concrete and natural stone, the house featured a sunken living area and a glass dome overlooking the desert. He ended up marrying the client’s daughter, Corolyn Woods (known as Colly).

In 1950, while the newlyweds were traveling in Italy, Dr. Soleri was hired to design a ceramics factory in the hillside town of Vietri sul Mare; he came up with the idea of using fragments of pottery for walls. Returning to Arizona in 1956, he designed a studio, gallery and foundry for a Scottsdale site he called Cosanti. In the late 1960s, he purchased 860 acres of desert north of Phoenix, near Cordes Junction, and began building Arcosanti.

Dr. Soleri’s few buildings outside Arizona include the Paolo Soleri Amphitheater, an eccentric performance space in Santa Fe whose stage design evokes Salvador Dalí. In recent years it has sat unused, and preservation groups have been fighting to prevent its demolition.

Dr. Soleri hoped Arcosanti would show other cities how to minimize energy use and encourage human interaction. “He was part of a flock of utopian dreamers who designed mega-structure cities in the 1960s, but he had more of a social and ecological agenda than the others,” said Jeffrey Cook, a professor of architecture at Arizona State University, in a 2001 interview. “When so many others were theorizing, Soleri went out into the desert and actually built his vision with his own hands. That’s the reason he became such a counterculture hero.”

Some critics detected a contradiction between Dr. Soleri’s communitarian ideals and what they perceived as an authoritarian insistence on a singular aesthetic. Mr. Goldberger saw “an arrogance” to Mr. Soleri’s designs, “a certainty that he knows what is best for all of us.”

But Dr. Soleri’s work also showed a generation of younger architects an alternative to corporate modernism.

“Paolo’s mind was always going out into the cosmos,” said Will Bruder, a Phoenix-based architect who apprenticed with Dr. Soleri in 1967. “I learned how much you can do with very little, the potential of simplicity and the ability to make unbelievable things from modest means, to dream huge dreams.”

Dr. Soleri is survived by two daughters, Kristine Soleri Timm and Daniela Soleri, and two grandchildren. His wife died in 1982 and, at his request, was buried on a hillside at Arcosanti in view of his studio window. His foundation said it would honor his wishes to bury his body beside hers.

Thanks to Rodney Hill

April 10th, 2013


April 10th, 2013

Thanks to Andy Goldman

April 9th, 2013

Alias Books East

April 8th, 2013
George Bush’s War Is Still With Us

George Bush’s Self Portraits

By Henry Rollins
LA Weekly Published: Apr. 8 2013

The ten year anniversary of the invasion and occupation of Iraq, initiated with the nauseating “Shock and Awe” light show, is now behind us. I am still dwelling on it. There were at least three things that happened around the time of the anniversary worth noting.

Number one, “The Last Letter: A Message to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney From a Dying Veteran”, written by Tomas Young. Young, a soldier in the Army and the star of a documentary called Body of War, was in Iraq for only a few days, in 2004, when he was shot in the spine. The injury left him paralyzed from the chest down. After years of incredible pain and almost total immobility, he has decided, at thirty-three years old, to end his life. The letter is articulate and damning. I can’t believe that either Bush or Cheney will read it, and if they do, that it would have any effect on them whatsoever.

A few years ago, Tomas came to one of my shows. We put him and his wheelchair on stage left so he could watch and be able to leave easily if he needed. We spent some time together before and after the show. He spoke with some difficulty but was able to get his words out. He is a good guy, and I am sad about the way things are wrapping up for him.

The other two things worth noting are the Hubris documentary on MSBC, and Showtime’s documentary, The World According to Dick Cheney.

The former is brief but concise overview of the warpath to Baghdad, what twists and turns the Bush administration made in selling its case to the American people and the world. If you kept track of the events all those years ago, not a lot of this will be new to you, but it is very well laid out. The latter is just Dick Cheney talking about his American life and how he would do it all over again the same way. Like any psychopath, he has no regrets, no remorse.

With the ten year anniversary, all the old names came back to me with incredible familiarity: Rice, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Curveball (aka Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi), Chalabi, Plame, Wilson, Libby, Bremmer, Tenet, Powell to name but a few. There are many more, Addington, Yoo, Zinni, etc.

There were the high dollar scams perpetrated against the American people, the Iraqis and the countries who hurled soldiers into the needless bloodbath: the aluminum tubes suspected as part of a centrifuge for uranium manufacture that turned out not to be at all. The yellow cake supposedly bought from Niger that didn’t exist. All those weapons of mass destruction that never materialized. There was the bad intel from “Curveball” that was taken as fact, even though no American intelligence person ever spoke to this man directly. As you probably know by now, this list goes on and on.

To perpetrate a crime of this magnitude, you need a lot of players and they have to be greatly incentivized to be able to see past the carnage they are willfully unleashing. Incredible amounts of money work well to facilitate.
It was as if Cheney, Wolfowitz and others had been planning this one since at least the Reagan administration. All they needed was the right president to green light the plans and they were good to go. With George W. Bush, they had their man. He was perfect: likeable, unworldly and as malleable as fresh clay. The “R” next to Bush’s name wasn’t for Republican; it was for rube.

In retrospect, all these years later, perhaps the most egregious part of this war crime is that there was no exit strategy. There was victory and being “greeted as liberators” only. It is clear that the Bush administration sent thousands of brave young men and women into harm’s way with no contingency plan. It was below them, it insulted them perhaps to think that it wouldn’t go exactly their way. By the time it was figured out that this was going to be a very long conflict, there was too much face to save and so America had to “stay the course.” It got a lot of people killed and horribly injured. When you consider the human castoffs like Tomas Young, talking about the money spent on all this just makes it more obscene, so let’s not.

I think it was in 2003 when the USO contacted me and asked if I would visit bases and meet soldiers. I said yes. Over the next several years, I went on seven USO tours. Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Iraq, Kuwait, UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Turkey, Egypt, Djibouti, Japan, South Korea and Honduras. I saw a lot, learned a lot, met a lot of people and took a lot of flak.

In America, I made several visits to the Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval hospitals. In these small rooms, I visited with injured men and their families. A missing leg (especially below the knee) was equivalent to a scraped elbow, compared to what other men had sustained. I remember the pain in the mothers’ faces.
I ended up with all kinds of items from these visits. American flags folded in triangles, certificates of gratitude from bases visited, ceremonial coins, chunks of shrapnel, patches and ironically, an auto-signed letter from Donald Rumsfeld, thanking me for my visits.

More lasting was the resulting correspondence from those I had met all over the world and from other soldiers who heard that I had made these trips. The letters were mostly friendly, confessional and sometimes sad. Sometimes the parent of a soldier who had been killed wrote to inform me of the passing and to thank me for talking to their son. I kept all of it.

Ten years on, there have been countless soldier suicides, families ruined and more than enough pain to go around. Bush, Cheney and their co-conspirators are alive and well, free to move as they please. No apologies, nothing. It sucks.

April 8th, 2013


April 7th, 2013
michael blackwood films

Michael Blackwood Productions


April 6th, 2013
richard aldrich

Opening reception April 7, 1-4
Through May 12, 2013

Misako and Rosen

April 6th, 2013
the Death of the Gallery Show

Keith Haring at Tony Shafrazi Gallery, 1982.

By Jerry Saltz
New York Magazine
Published April 8, 2013

Gallery shows: light of my life, fire of my eyes. I love and long for them. I see maybe 30 a week, every week of the year. Much of what I know about contemporary art I learned from hanging around artists and from going to galleries. Bad shows teach me as much as good ones. A great thing about galleries—especially for someone who spends most of his time alone at a computer, typing—is that they’re social spaces, collective séances, campfires where anyone can gather. I’m a blabbermouth, so in galleries I turn to strangers and blurt whatever I’m thinking about whatever we’re looking at. If they don’t think I’m a creepy geezer, they’ll tell me what they’re thinking, too. Then I see whole new things. As disembodied as they can be, galleries are places where one can commune with the group mind. We have more of them than any other city does, and admission is free.

The clustering of hundreds of galleries in several neighborhoods has meant that a huge swath of the art world is continually being presented at our doorstep. That is changing, and changing fast. These days, the art world is large and spread out, happening everywhere at once. A shrinking fraction of galleries’ business is done when collectors come to a show. Selling happens year-round, at art fairs, auctions, biennials, and big exhibitions, as well as online via JPEG files and even via collector apps. Gallery shows are now just another cog in the global wheel. Many dealers admit that some of their collectors never set foot in their actual physical spaces.

The beloved linchpin of my viewing life is playing a diminished role in the life of art. And I fear that my knowledge of art—and along with it the self-knowledge that comes from looking at art—is shrinking.

Artists and dealers are as passionate as ever about creating good shows, but fewer and fewer people are actually seeing them. Chelsea galleries used to hum with activity; now they’re often eerily empty. Sometimes I’m nearly alone. Even on some weekends, galleries are quiet, and that’s never been true in my 30 years here. (There are exceptions, such as Gagosian’s current blockbuster Basquiat survey.) Fewer ideas are being exchanged, fewer aesthetic arguments initiated. I can’t turn to the woman next to me and ask what she thinks, because there’s nobody there.

Instead, the blood sport of taste is playing out in circles of hedge-fund billionaires and professional curators, many of whom claim to be anti-market. There used to be shared story lines of contemporary art: the way artists developed, exchanged ideas, caromed off each other’s work, engaged with their critics. Now no one knows the narrative; the thread has been lost. Shows go up but don’t seem to have consequences, other than sales or no sales. Nothing builds off much else. Art can’t get traction. A jadedness appears in people who aren’t jaded. Artists enjoying global-market success avoid showing in New York for fear any critical response will interfere with sales. (As if iffy international art stars could have their juggernauts stalled by a measly bad review or two. A critic can only dream.) Ask any artist: They’re all starting to wonder what’s going on.

I don’t even mind so much that the role of the critic is diminishing. Clement Greenberg was a bully, anyway. Primacy always belongs to art and the artist. I’ve tried to keep overhyped careers in check, and had no effect whatsoever. In fact, so many shows in so many places mean that we now have an overload of writing about art. Joseph Beuys said, “Everyone is an artist.” Now everyone actually is a writer. Like exhibitions that can’t get traction, commentary also has a hard time gaining a foothold, unless you yourself enter the arena of spectacle, becoming something of a spectacle yourself. (Believe me; I know.) Adding to this, a generation of academically trained critics were taught to believe they should write in impenetrable language and refrain from opinion and negative criticism.

This is not to say that art is not selling. Websites for high-end sales and auctions are burgeoning. We read of sites with technology that allows collectors “to visualize artwork in 3-D space without ever leaving your desk,” an “animated gif display,” an “online sales platform,” “sortable JPEG images.” We hear of an “online collector profile and gallery … to list your preferences and to view our art selections tailored to you.”

When so much art is sold online or at art fairs, it’s great for the lucky artists who make money, but it leaves out everyone else who isn’t already a brand. This art exists only as commerce, not as conversation or discourse. Art dealer Kenny Schachter has noted that “the higher and higher prices are for fewer and fewer artists.”

Those sales platforms are proliferating, too. Paddle8 advertises that it provides two types of online auctions. Another, called Artspace, recently raised $8.5 million in expansion capital, including money from the Russian collector Maria Baibakova, who also owns a “platform for cultural production.” Still another site, Artsy—co-­founded by Dasha Zhukova, partner of billionaire Russian collector Roman Abramovich—says it will “make all the world’s art accessible to anyone with an Internet connection.” The CEO tells us, “The more you use Artsy the more we learn about what you like. Over time, we can better suggest things for sale that you might like. Even if there are no works by an artist for sale today … in the future, if the work becomes available, we’ll notify you.”

The auction houses are in on the new game as well. Christie’s, in partnership with a company called Y&S, now provides “a venue for emerging artists not yet represented by galleries” and “creates a bridge between young artists and a young audience.” Translation: “We’re cutting out dealers. Come on down. Make a killing.” Thus, unrepresented artists go straight to auction. Work that is sold this way exists only in collector circles. No other artist gets to see it, engage with it, think about it. The public functions of the gallery space and its proprietors—curation, juxtaposition, ­development—are bypassed and eliminated. All these people supposedly want to help artists, and they probably think they are doing so. But they’re engaged in something else, and it makes being around art less special. Too many of the buyers keep their purchases in storage, in crates, awaiting resale. Mediocre Chinese photorealism has become a tradeable packaged good.

I’ll admit that there’s something democratizing about all this. All those buyers can judge for themselves what they like and put their bank vaults where their taste is. The paradox is that art is not inherently democratic. It’s a kind of meritocracy—albeit with the interior high-school rules of some other nebula. Today, those with the most money are the only ones whose votes count. Although I love that young broke artists who can’t travel to New York or Berlin can look at art online, think about what it means, and use this information in their own work, seeing art in the flesh really gives you something unique. I have only once gone underground to see cave paintings. But that one cave made an enormous difference in my life.

So far, thank goodness, the galleries themselves are not disappearing, but that day may be coming. Owing in part to the Chelsea condo-and-office boom, even the successful ones are fighting for their financial lives. The excellent Postmasters Gallery just saw its West 19th Street rent raised to $30,000 a month and will have to move. Other mid-level Chelsea dealers are being priced out as well. Longtime gallerist Casey Kaplan told Bloomberg News, “You won’t find much experimentation if the rents continue to escalate …those kinds of galleries won’t be here.” Postmasters’ owner, Magda Sawon, has explained that “mid-range galleries are going to just vanish from Chelsea,” adding, “the whole middle is basically pulverized.” Even if they survive, I wonder whether a much bigger shakeout is about to happen, one that makes art resemble any mainstream business—just another culture industry that’s eaten itself alive.

Or whether it’s about to go supernova. The galleries that are best suited to this new world are the massive multinationals, whether for reasons of territoriality, market share, or dick waving. I love big galleries as much as I do small ones, but I often wonder if these jumbo spaces aren’t often aesthetic elephant graveyards—places where ambitious artists and the movements of the sixties and seventies go to die. Many feel impersonal, and the art can look lost in them. David Zwirner’s new building on 20th Street adds 30,000 square feet to his space. (I still can’t figure out why part of his new floor is shiny travertine.) The multinational Hauser & Wirth just added what looks like a blimp hangar on West 18th Street. Last I heard, Larry Gagosian, the biggest elephant of all, has eleven spaces around the world. Perhaps the others are all supersizing themselves just to compete with Larry. Or maybe they want to inherit artists from older established galleries like Gladstone and Marian Goodman. But shouldn’t these dealers be looking for young talent rather than vying to show Lawrence Weiner and Shirin Neshat? Maybe everyone will all eventually share Richter and Prince, who will just relocate every five years.

Bigness isn’t inherently bad. The dealer Gavin Brown has said that giant art is suited to our age: “When we are able to fly around the globe in 24 hours, and that is a common occurrence … these large-scale works might be an unconscious attempt to rediscover awe.” I agree. But bigness raises prices, and big galleries encourage it. That’s not about awe; it’s about money. The shows themselves should be smaller, too—I see many exhibitions that would be twice as good at half the size. Even Rubens would’ve had a hard time filling these supersize spaces, let alone doing it once every two years. Duchamp said, “I could have made a hundred thousand readymades in ten years easily. They would have all been fake … [A]bundant production can only result in mediocrity.” Many artists are now in “abundant production,” seducing collectors on the prowl for stuff to fill their oversize atriums. I’m not sure that a lot of what they’re making is art at all, and if the artists aren’t making art and the collectors aren’t collectors, the galleries selling this product to these people aren’t really galleries anymore, either.

Art doesn’t have to be shown in New York to be validated. That requirement is long gone. Fine. But consider this: At a Chelsea opening, a good Los Angeles dealer chided me for not going to art fairs, not seeing art in L.A. and London, and not keeping track of the activity online. He said I “risked being out of touch with the art world,” and he was right. It got me down. As recently as four or five years ago, I could have crowed that because I see so many gallery shows every week, I know what’s going on. That’s slipping away, if it isn’t already gone.

I brooded for months over this. Then I started thinking it through, and instead of focusing on the “being out of touch” part of what he said, I started thinking about “the art world.” Something clicked and brightened my mood. There is no “the” art world anymore. There have always been many art worlds, overlapping, ebbing around and through one another. Some are seen, others only gleaned, many ignored. “The” art world has become more of a virtual reality than an actual one, useful perhaps for conceptualizing in the abstract but otherwise illusory.

Once we adjust to that, we can work within the new reality. If the galleries are emptier, the limos gone, the art advisers taking meetings elsewhere, and the glitz offshore, the audience will have shrunk to something like it was well before the gigantic expansion of the art world. When I go to galleries, I now mainly see artists and a handful of committed diligent critics, collectors, curators, and the like. In this quiet environment, it may be possible for us to take back the conversation. Or at least have conversations. While the ultrarich will do their deals from 40,000 feet, we who are down at ground level will be engaging with the actual art—maybe not in Chelsea, where the rents are getting too high, but somewhere. That’s fine with me.

Looking, making, thinking, experiencing are our starting point. Art opens worlds, lets us see invisible things, creates new models for thinking, engages in cryptic rituals in public, invents cosmologies, explores consciousness, makes mental maps and taxonomies others can see, and isn’t only something to look at but is something that does things and sometimes makes the mysterious magic of the world palpable. Proust wrote, “Narrating events is like introducing people to opera via the libretto only.” Instead, he said, one should “endeavor to distinguish between the differing music of each successive day.” That’s what we do when we look at art, wherever we look at it, however much noise surrounds it. In galleries we try to discern “differing music,” and it’s still there right now. I love and long for it.

Five Shows That Changed the Way I See Art

1. Keith Haring at Tony Shafrazi Gallery, 1982.
The moment when I understood that all kinds of art could go mainstream. The opening had a “We’ve arrived” vibe.

2. Vito Acconci at Sonnabend Gallery, 1976.
When I saw Acconci’s table-gangplank-sculpture thing extend out of the gallery window over West Broadway, I decided to move to New York.

3. Kara Walker at the Drawing Center, 1994.
Vengeance was nigh in Kara Walker’s giant wall silhouette of slaves and slavers eating and having sex with one another. It was like the end of Heart of Darkness made flesh: “The horror.”

4. Matthew Barney at Althea Viafora Gallery, 1990.
Seeing one video sculpture by Barney in a large, crappy group show, I thought, Oh my God! This is one of art’s futures. My art-critic wife looked a bit, shrugged, and said, “Boys … It’s pretty male.”

5. Pipilotti Rist at Luhring Augustine, 2000.
Rist’s trippy video installation cast such a spell on me that I saw the show nineteen times. I wrote about it but forgot to say I was in love with it. I also met future art dealer and force-of-nature Michele Maccarone there.

Note: Readers should keep in mind that I arrived in New York in 1980, visiting sporadically before that, and missed many of the formative shows of the seventies. (I was eking out a living as a long-distance truck driver, then working as a chauffeur for a rich person well into the nineties.)

Thanks to Lecia Dole

April 5th, 2013
The Urge to Purge

NY Times Published: April 4, 2013

When the Great Depression struck, many influential people argued that the government shouldn’t even try to limit the damage. According to Herbert Hoover, Andrew Mellon, his Treasury secretary, urged him to “Liquidate labor, liquidate stocks, liquidate the farmers. … It will purge the rottenness out of the system.” Don’t try to hasten recovery, warned the famous economist Joseph Schumpeter, because “artificial stimulus leaves part of the work of depressions undone.”

Like many economists, I used to quote these past luminaries with a certain smugness. After all, modern macroeconomics had shown how wrong they were, and we wouldn’t repeat the mistakes of the 1930s, would we?

How naïve we were. It turns out that the urge to purge — the urge to see depression as a necessary and somehow even desirable punishment for past sins, while inveighing against any attempt to mitigate suffering — is as strong as ever. Indeed, Mellonism is everywhere these days. Turn on CNBC or read an op-ed page, and the odds are that you won’t see someone arguing that the federal government and the Federal Reserve are doing too little to fight mass unemployment. Instead, you’re much more likely to encounter an alleged expert ranting about the evils of budget deficits and money creation, and denouncing Keynesian economics as the root of all evil.

Now, the fact is that these ranters have been wrong about everything, at every stage of the crisis, while the Keynesians have been mostly right. Remember how federal deficits were supposed to cause soaring interest rates? Never mind: After four years of such warnings, rates remain near historic lows — just as Keynesians predicted. Remember how running the printing presses was going to cause runaway inflation? Since the recession began, the Fed has more than tripled the size of its balance sheet, but inflation has averaged less than 2 percent.

But the Mellonites just keep coming. The latest example is David Stockman, Ronald Reagan’s first budget director, who has just published a mammoth screed titled “The Great Deformation.”

His book doesn’t have much new to say. Although Mr. Stockman’s willingness to criticize some Republicans and praise some Democrats has garnered him a reputation as an iconoclast, his analysis is pretty much standard liquidationism, with a strong goldbug streak. We’ve been doomed to disaster, he asserts, ever since F.D.R. took us off the gold standard and introduced deposit insurance. Everything since has been a series of “sprees” (his favorite word): spending sprees, consumption sprees, debt sprees, and above all money-printing sprees. If disaster was somehow avoided for 70-plus years, it was thanks to a series of lucky accidents.

So it’s more or less the usual stuff. In particular, like so many in his camp, Mr. Stockman misunderstands the meaning of rising debt. Yes, total debt in the U.S. economy, public and private combined, has risen dramatically relative to G.D.P. No, this doesn’t mean that we as a nation have been living far beyond our means, and must drastically tighten our belts. While we have run up a significant foreign debt (although not as big as many imagine), the rise in debt overwhelmingly represents Americans borrowing from other Americans, which doesn’t make the nation as a whole any poorer, and doesn’t require that we collectively spend less. In fact, the biggest problem created by all this debt is that it’s keeping the economy depressed by causing us collectively to spend too little, with debtors forced to cut back while creditors see no reason to spend more.

So what should we be doing? By all means, let’s restore the kind of effective financial regulation that, in the years before the Reagan revolution, helped deter excessive leverage. But that’s about preventing the next crisis. To deal with the crisis that’s already here, we need monetary and fiscal stimulus, to induce those who aren’t too deeply indebted to spend more while the debtors are cutting back.

But that prescription is, of course, anathema to Mellonites, who wrongly see it as more of the same policies that got us into this trap. And that, in turn, tells you why liquidationism is such a destructive doctrine: by turning our problems into a morality play of sin and retribution, it helps condemn us to a deeper and longer slump.

The bad news is that sin sells. Although the Mellonites have, as I said, been wrong about everything, the notion of macroeconomics as morality play has a visceral appeal that’s hard to fight. Disguise it with a bit of political cross-dressing, and even liberals can fall for it.

But they shouldn’t. Mellon was dead wrong in the 1930s, and his avatars are dead wrong today. Unemployment, not excessive money printing, is what ails us now — and policy should be doing more, not less.

April 5th, 2013
Stephen Prina

A view of Steven Prina’s installation “As He Remembered It,” at the Los Angeles County Museum.

By Brooke Hodge
NY Times Published April 4, 2013

In the 1980s, Stephen Prina was walking on La Brea Avenue in Los Angeles one night with his friend and fellow artist Christopher Williams when they were attracted to a glowing pink form, in a gallery window, that turned out to be a desk by the Modernist architect Rudolph M. Schindler. It was clear that the desk had been a built-in, and the fact that it had been pried from its setting reminded them of an amputated limb. The memory stayed with Prina over the years and, as he said recently, “art comes out of a persistent idea. I couldn’t stop thinking of it and when it started pestering me, I knew I had to do something with it.”

That memory was the impetus for “As He Remembered It,” an exhibition that opens April 7 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Using plans and photographs of two now-demolished 1940s houses by Schindler, Prina made copies of the architect’s built-in furniture; the resulting 28 sculptures, arranged in a dense grid and painted hot pink, contrast with the spare whiteness of LACMA’s BCAM Gallery. Prina didn’t want to replicate the color Schindler used, because the project was about memory rather than reality, so, he recalled, “It was a gift from the Pantone gods that a particular pink — Honeysuckle — was the company’s color of the year in 2011 when I started working on the project.”

Prina also pays homage to the architecture of Bruce Goff with a group of hanging screen paintings and sculptures that appear to be in dialogue with the colors and forms of the quirky Pavilion for Japanese Art that Goff designed for the museum, and the art on display in it. “As He Remembered It” is presented as part of the Getty Trust’s initiative

Pacific Standard Time Presents: Modern Architecture in L.A.

April 4th, 2013
Hopis Try to Stop Paris Sale of Artifacts

“The Hopis, who number about 18,000 in northeast Arizona, believe the objects in the Paris sale, which they call Katsinam, or ‘friends,’ are imbued with divine spirits.”
Credit: Antoine Mercier/Dan Graphiste

NY Times Published: April 3, 2013

In a rare case of a cultural heritage claim arising from the sale of American artifacts abroad, the Hopi Indians of Arizona have asked federal officials to help stop a high-price auction of 70 sacred masks in Paris next week.

The tribe is receiving advice from the State and Interior Departments, but each agency says its ability to intervene is limited.

In many ways, the Hopi case illustrates a paradox in the way artifacts are repatriated around the world.

While foreign nations routinely rely on international accords to secure American help in retrieving antiquities from the United States, Washington has no reciprocal agreements governing American artifacts abroad. And the United States laws that provide some protection against the illicit sale of Indian artifacts in this country have no weight in foreign lands. So tribes reaching overseas to recover objects that they view as culturally important are left to do battle on their own.

“Right now there just aren’t any prohibitions against this kind of large foreign sale,” said Jack F. Trope, executive director of the Association on American Indian Affairs, which is seeking new laws and treaties that would give the United States more force to intervene. “The leverage for international repatriation just isn’t there.”

The Hopis, who number about 18,000 in northeast Arizona, regard the objects in the Paris sale, which they call Katsinam, or “friends,” as imbued with divine spirits. They object to calling them “masks” and say that outsiders who photograph, collect or sell them are committing sacrilege. The brightly colored visages and headdresses, often adorned with horsehair, sheepskin, feathers and maize, are thought to embody the spirits of warriors, animals, messengers, fire, rain and clouds, among other things. They are used today, as in the past, in many Hopi rites, like coming-of-age ceremonies and harvest rituals.

The Néret-Minet auction house in Paris says that its sale, on April 12, will be one of the largest auctions of Hopi artifacts ever, and it estimates that it will bring in $1 million. Many of the objects are more than 100 years old and carry estimates of $10,000 to $35,000. The auction house says that among the spirits represented are the Crow Mother, the Little Fire God and the Mud Head Clown.

“Sacred items like this should not have a commercial value,” said Leigh J. Kuwanwisiwma, director of the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office in Kykotsmovi, Ariz. “The bottom line is we believe they were taken illegally.”

The auction house says that a collector who has not been identified legally bought the items in the United States at sales and auctions over 30 years, beginning in the 1930s, and that the coming auction complies with French law.

“This sale is not just a business transaction but a homage to the Hopi Indians,” said Gilles Néret-Minet, the director of the house.

Historians say many Hopi artifacts were taken long ago by people who found them unattended in shrines and on altars along the mesas of the Southwest. Others were confiscated by missionaries who came to convert the tribe in the late 19th century. Some were sold by tribe members. But even those sales were not legitimate, Hopi leaders say, because they may have been made under duress, and because the tribe holds that an individual cannot hold title to its religious artifacts — they are owned communally.

The market for American Indian artifacts, both here and abroad, is robust, experts say, and auctions of Indian items in the United States typically proceed unimpeded by American law and unchallenged by most tribes. There are some protections, though, under United States theft statutes, experts say, as well as restrictions on the sale of pieces by museums and federal agencies.

The Hopis and their supporters say the Paris sale is especially objectionable because of its size and the religious significance of the items involved. They say it also illustrates a striking disparity between what the government is empowered to do to help a foreign country recover an object from the United States and its inability to do much to retrieve an American artifact for sale overseas.

When a nation like Italy or Cambodia claims ownership of an object in the United States, it typically invokes international accords that require American officials to take up the cases. The Justice Department, for example, recently sent two lawyers to Cambodia as part of an effort to help that country seize an ancient statue that Sotheby’s planned to auction in New York.

The United States does not have similar accords that it could cite in support of the Hopi claim on the Paris auction items. Several experts and activists said the United States had never viewed its own cultural patrimony as a priority because the country is relatively young, has long embraced the concept of free trade and has not historically focused on the cultural heritage issues of American Indians.

But American officials have demonstrated their concern over the Paris sale by providing the Hopis with legal guidance and diplomatic advice, officials said.

Emily Palus, the deputy division chief for tribal consultation with the Bureau of Land Management, a division of the Interior Department, recently wrote an e-mail to colleagues suggesting that they raise concerns about the growing “international trade in Native American cultural property, and the continued damage and impact it has on traditional cultural practices.”

In recent years Indian tribes have stepped up their efforts to recover cultural artifacts. The Hopis are considered among the most painstaking in that pursuit, and the tribe has recovered dozens of artifacts from American museums and sought to block auctions in the United States. It has never tried to halt an overseas sale before.

In the case of museums, tribes rely on a 1990 law, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, which governs the sale and handling of Indian cultural objects by American museums. Those institutions are barred from selling such items and must inventory their collections; they then must reach out to tribes or direct descendants to allow them to reclaim objects they view as important.

The process can be costly and take years, however, and unless pressed, some museums simply hold on to their collections.

In the French case, the Hopis sent a letter of objection last month to the Néret-Minet auction house. In it Mr. Kuwanwisiwma cited cultural heritage clauses in the tribe’s 1936 Constitution that say the items for sale are “held under religious custody by the Hopi people.”

Neither Mr. Kuwanwisiwma nor a lawyer for the Hopis, James E. Scarboro of Arnold & Porter in Denver, has received a reply, they said.

Kate Fitz Gibbon, an art law expert in Santa Fe, N.M., who specializes in tribal issues, said the Hopis could consider a claim that the items are stolen property. But doing so, she said, would require time, money and legal support that are often out of reach.

“The Paris auction of Hopi masks is a complex legal situation involving the interplay of international and domestic French law,” she said, adding that the Hopis might have to resort to publicity and “moral suasion.”

Mr. Néret-Minet said he was surprised by the Hopi reaction because similar auctions had not drawn attention, including one in Paris in December in which 23 Hopi items were purchased, eight of them by a local museum, the Musée du Quai Branly.

“Even if it chagrins them, for the tribe this is not a negative,” he said. “I think the Hopis should be happy that so many people want to understand and analyze their civilization.”

In response, Mr. Kuwanwisiwma said, “The Hopi Tribe is just disgusted with the continued offensive marketing of Hopi culture.”

Thanks to Lesley Vance

April 4th, 2013
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