Jim Lambie

Through 9/3/2013

The Modern Institute


March 6th, 2013

thanks to silas and nate lentz

March 5th, 2013
By Any Other Name

Illustration by Alex Robbins

NY Times Published: March 1, 2013

Though I endured some grade-school ribbing for my slightly unusual first name, professionally, it’s been a boon. Readers are much more likely to remember a byline with Teddy, my somewhat gravitas-deficient nickname since birth, than one with my more common legal name, Derek. According to the Social Security database, in 1979, the year I was born, Teddy was the 485th-most-popular male name; Derek was ranked 72. These days, I’m not even in the top thousand.

As someone with a split nominal identity, I deliberated briefly over which to use as a pen name. And, I confess, I’ve paid lifelong attention to what people choose to call themselves, both in daily life and on the page, mulling over the possibilities and repercussions. Is it, for example, an advantage for writers, many of whom pride themselves on iconoclasm, to have a name that stands out from the pack? What names sound more “writerly” on a book cover? And what, please explain, is with the current Jonathan craze (Safran Foer, Lethem, Ames, Franzen), when earlier generations did just fine with John (Cheever, Irving, Updike, the Evangelist)?

If there has ever been a golden age for the unconventionally named author, it is now. In addition to the influx of multicultural writers with extravagant bylines like Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, over the past few decades, parents have bestowed upon their children a wider assortment of domestic names. In the 1950s, the 50 most popular names were given to 63 percent of all boys and 52 percent of all girls, said Cleveland Evans, a former president of the American Names Society. By 2004, the top 50 applied to only 35 percent of boys and 24 percent of girls.

Despite this boom in outlier nomenclature, very few academic studies have investigated the psychological ramifications. The touchstone, a 1983 report by Richard Zweigenhaft, a psychology professor at Guilford College, found that female college students with unusual names scored higher on 17 of 18 traits on the California Psychological Inventory, in areas such as “Psychological Mindedness” and “Self-Acceptance.” In a 1981 study, the same population scored higher on a standardized “Uniqueness Scale.” The report suggests “that one of the benefits of having an unusual name for women could be a greater likelihood of creativity,” according to Zweigenhaft. The effects were negligible on males with uncommon names. And, obviously, it is impossible to tease out the influence of the unusual-thinking parents who assign these names in the first place. Nor was there any measurement of related book sales.

But this is the kind of thing writers and would-be authors think about. Curtis Sittenfeld’s parents called their daughter by her middle name from birth to distinguish her from the many Elizabeths in the family. Sittenfeld, the author of “Prep” and “American Wife,” didn’t think much of her name growing up, in part because she attended boarding school, “and no place has more people with weird names than boarding school,” she told me. But as an author, her name has resulted in numerous misreadings. “A lot of people have e-mailed me, ‘I read your story and I was so impressed at how a man could get inside the head of a female character,’ ” she said. “Then when they meet me, they’re much less impressed.”

Of course, there’s a long tradition of women writing under male or gender-neutral names, from George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans) to Lionel Shriver (Margaret Ann Shriver) to J. K. Rowling (Joanne, no middle name, though one suspects it would have been Ann). Sittenfeld thinks her name may actually enhance her craft. “Having a confusing name helps you as a writer, because it makes you see a situation from someone else’s perspective,” she said. “You have to anticipate people’s confusion.”

For a writer, there’s another bonus to an unlikely name, one Zweigenhaft might not have fully anticipated in 1983: Nobody will buy the wrong book. Laura Wattenberg, the author of “The Baby Name Wizard,” said that in the digitized world, unique names have “practical advantages, because they’re searchable. If you’re Tom Wilson, there will be hundreds of other Tom Wilsons out there.” On the other hand, there is only one Saïd Sayrafiezadeh, the author of “When Skateboards Will Be Free.” Research strongly intimates that Sayrafiezadeh (I’ve copied and pasted to ensure accuracy) is halfway to memorability. “If you have an unusual name, as long as it’s pronounceable easily, that could only help,” said Evans, of the American Names Society.

But what makes for a so-called literary name, one destined for bold lettering on a hardcover, without misspellings and misunderstandings? While the traditional Anglo-Saxon names we once accorded with prose mastery are outdated in a world of Junots and Téas, certain tried-and-true guidelines remain.

For those hoping to be the next fiction sensation, the rule of thumb seems to be more rather than less. One surefire path is the tripartite name, provided there is some musicality to the pronunciation — the sweet spot may be six syllables. David Foster Wallace, for instance, contains three disyllabic trochees. (In person he went by the more prosaic Dave.) Jonathan Safran Foer wends its way from three syllables to two to one. Foer experimented with variations in college papers (J. S. Foer, J. Safran Foer, even J. S. F. — “each a bit more pretentious than the previous,” he said). He ultimately went with his full name because “it sounded best to me,” he said. “There’s probably a deeper psychological explanation, but I wouldn’t buy it.”

His instincts were right. Shortly before “Everything Is Illuminated” came out, he met an older Spanish writer. The man seemed unimpressed by Foer’s description of the novel. “He asked, ‘What’s your name again?’ ” Foer recalled. “I told him, ‘Jonathan Foer.’ ” He then asked what name was going on the book. The author unleashed his full byline. “His eyes lit up,” said Foer, “and he banged his fist against the table and said, ‘That’s going to be an amazing book!’ ” The enigmatic two- or even three-­initialed (see: M. F. K. Fisher) name also works nicely.

It’s best to avoid informal diminutives like Tom, Dick and Harry in favor of the more dignified Thomas, Richard and Harold. Jennifer Egan has gone by Jenny since she was a child, but, she told me, “I never considered using Jenny when publishing because it seems too casual to stand up to print.” A pen name has other pluses: “I’ve found I enjoy the gap between my name on paper and in person; it helps define the two spheres of my life,” Egan said.

As for the current Jonathan vogue, demographics explain much. The Anglophonic John was the most popular name for boys born in 1922 and a top-10 stalwart until 1987. In the self-referential 1998 novel “Bech at Bay,” John Updike’s alter ego makes this clear:

“Those that didn’t appear, like John Irving and John Fowles, garrulously, Dickensianly reactionary in method seemed, like John Hawkes and John Barth, smugly, hermetically experimental. O’Hara, Hersey, Cheever, Updike — suburbanites all living safe while art’s inner city disintegrated. And that was just the Johns.”

Nowadays, John is ranked 27. Jonathan — which has Hebraic origins and etymologically differs from the Latinate John — mired at 541 in 1932, has consistently gained in popularity, registering at 31 in 2011. Perhaps modern Jewish writers or those with a Jewish-sounding first name feel less pressure to whitewash their ethnicity with the all-American John. The softer Jonathan also comes off as sensitive in comparison with its brusque counterpart, another sought-after attribute in the current literary landscape. It’s hard to imagine a restroom or a prostitute’s customer being referred to as a “Jonathan.”

Personally, I considered my own Foer-esque variations to avoid the Jenny-like informality of Teddy: Derek Edward Wayne, D. E. Wayne, even D. T. Wayne (which risked confusion with the author D. T. Max, biographer of D. F. W.). But I’ve always been Teddy; writing under another name would make me feel like an impostor. Besides, I had other things to worry about: What should be the book’s title?

March 5th, 2013
The Colors and Joys of the Quotidian

“Door, Staircase” (1981)

“Lois Dodd: Catching the Light,” now at the Portland Museum of Art in Portland, Me., is the first retrospective of Ms. Dodd’s career, with 46 of her paintings.

NY Times Published: February 28, 2013

PORTLAND, Me. — Lois Dodd paints with an insistent, sometimes daring economy. She has spent some 60 years making images of her immediate surroundings, and each painting seems to go emphatically as far as she thinks it should and no further. No frills attached.

“Lois Dodd: Catching the Light,” the modest retrospective of Ms. Dodd’s work at the Portland Museum of Art here is populated by paintings of landscapes, interiors and river views; of flowers, garden sheds and lawns; of compact clapboard houses and barns, by the light of the moon or sun; of wood-slat doors and steep farmhouse steps; and, quite often, of reflection-catching four-pane windows.

This list may sound conventional, even pedestrian, but the paintings hold your attention. Many seem at first glance slightly unnerving: awkward, brusque or even unfinished. While they seduce the eye with light and color, they challenge it with an assortment of brush strokes, spatial complexities and compositional quirks, teetering in different ways on the cusp between abstract and representational.

Behind their veneer of homey familiarity, these paintings are tough and unruly. Their main attitude seems to be a blithe, independent-spirited “Take it or leave it.”

So far the art establishment has mostly left it. Ms. Dodd is 86, and this is her first museum retrospective. It is being staged some distance from the New York art world, on whose edges she has quietly lived and worked for decades.

Organized by Barbara O’Brien, chief curator at the Kemper Museum for Contemporary Art in Kansas City, Mo., where it was first shown last year, this exhibition covers 55 years with 46 paintings, supplemented by a dozen of the small, deft oil studies that Ms. Dodd began making on thin sheets of aluminum in 1990. It is making its second, and final, stop here in Maine, where Ms. Dodd has spent summers since 1951, and has been expertly installed by Jessica May, the Portland Museum’s curator of modern art, even though the galleries are less than felicitous.

It is a loss that no New York museum could find room for this revelatory show. But then, Ms. Dodd is a painter at a time when ephemeral, performative and activist art forms are highly favored, and paintings are often dismissed as marketable trinkets.

In addition, Ms. Dodd, who was born and grew up in Montclair, N.J., and attended the Cooper Union in Manhattan, has neither star quality nor much of an art world profile. Her main brush with history is that she was a founding member of Tanager, the first gallery on the block of East 10th Street that became the Greenwich Village epicenter of Abstract Expressionism. She had her first solo show at Tanager in 1954.

Ms. Dodd’s main goal has been simply to paint, every day, what she sees in — or from — her studio or, when she ventures forth, in the city, her yard or some patch of woods. She has a loft on the Lower East Side in New York; a small house in Cushing, Me., some 70 miles up the coast from here; and another in Blairstown, N.J., which she bought in 1976 to be near the Delaware Water Gap, a favorite subject of hers in wintertime.

In this show’s catalog, her friend the painter Alex Katz pinpoints her dedication, recalling a moment in the late 1950s when Ms. Dodd was painting, and her young son, Eli, tied her leg to a table leg. “Lois was surprised,” Mr. Katz writes, “but she kept on painting.”

As impressive as the Portland show is, I suspect an even better one could be done. Rather than select her best paintings, this one too carefully accounts for all five and a half decades of work and a full range of subject matter.

Still, there is plenty to look at, starting with two canvases from the 1950s that hint at Ms. Dodd’s ability and certainly demonstrate her confidence, but also show her squarely in thrall to the improvisatory style of Willem de Kooning, whose studio was near Tanager. Except: Their loosely worked surfaces harbor steep landscapes and several cows and calves. In “Pasture” (1955) they are seen standing up or lying down — from fore, aft or the side — all shaded by a wonderfully clunky if barely intimated tree.

In the mid-60s, Ms. Dodd forsook the cows and hit her stride. In 20 paintings from 1967 to 1979, she diversifies her subjects and establishes that she will always be adjusting her style and paint handling, in restless, not-so-subtle ways, often on the same canvas. The scarcity of paint in “Wild Geraniums” (1967), with its thin green lawn and seemingly dry-brushed plants and blossoms, is startling: barely an image and possibly a riff on Color Field painting.

“View Through Elliot’s Shack Looking South” (1971) is a veritable lexicon of techniques. One of several paintings in which a window is nearly congruent with the canvas’s edges, it gleefully confounds the Renaissance notion of the canvas as a window onto another space by multiplying it. We look into the darkened shack through a white-frame window to a second window in the shack’s opposite wall and out that to a few crisply painted sunlit tree trunks — a painting within a painting. But the glass of the first window provides another such painting; it is confusingly splashed with big, blurry strokes of green and brown, the reflection of the trees behind the painter (and us). Thus a sandwich of planes and spaces is made.

Adding to the complexity of Ms. Dodd’s work is her continuing conversation with the history of painting. Her 1995 “Sunset at Quarry” communes convincingly with Cézanne, as does, in its own way, “Ice in the Trees,” from 1981. The squeezed space of her “Door, Staircase” (1981) — a subtle play of yellow, lavender and white — and “Green Door and Bed” (1994) evoke the architectural Americana of Charles Sheeler and Walker Evans.

Her austere views of a men’s shelter seen from her New York window evoke the abbreviated Precisionism of George Ault, just as the pale reflected sunburst of “Winter Sunset, Blair Pond,” echoes Arthur Dove’s visionary moons. In “Late Water Gap” (1991) and “Baisley’s Shacks” (2003), she converses with Minimalism, specifically with the clean, curved shapes of Ellsworth Kelly and the boxy volumes and open spaces of Donald Judd.

Ms. Dodd loves the observable world, the vagaries of nature and the specificities of old Maine houses: the way they cleave to the ground, or fill the picture frame, or shine, lights on or off, in the moonlight. She always searches out the underlying geometry but also the underlying life, and the sheer strangeness of it all. The prime example of this approach is “Apple Tree and Shed” (2007), with hallucinatory, slightly Cubist orbs of white blossoms and, intruding from the right, the flat, almost collagelike face of a shack in lichen-green clapboard.

Ms. Dodd’s paintings are noticeably devoid of people, except for a few profoundly weird images of nudes that parody the Arcadian tradition. And three paintings here offer deprecating self-portraits of a sort: in one the artist is present as a reflection in a window, painting, stretching her paintbrush toward an unseen easel; in another she casts a comical shadow on the lawn, accompanied by an easel, in a loopy work that gets better each time I see it.

But Ms. Dodd appears in the flesh, relatively speaking, only in a small 1989 work in which she peers through overly large glasses from beneath the brim of a black top hat. Her hair is awry, her expression dubious, her skin rendered in faintly lurid shades of lavender, green, orange and yellow — perhaps the effects of Christmas tree lights. The slightly carnivalesque result reads as an unintentional tribute to her unstinting honesty as an artist, one who paints it as she sees it, secure in her knowledge of the artistic gift of the passing days and seasons.

As this marvelous show demonstrates, a painter who looks carefully and trusts herself can never paint the same thing the same way twice.

March 3rd, 2013

Karin Gulbran, Untitled Large Pot, 10″ x 7.5″

Karin Gulbran is an artist based in Los Angeles. Gulbran trained initially as a painter – she received her BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1996, and her MFA in 1999 from UCLA, whose faculty included John Baldessari, Paul McCarthy, Charles Ray, and Lari Pittman – but more recently her work has taken the form of functional ceramic pots, decorated with highly stylized, and intuitively drawn images of animals – that bring to mind the earlier anthropomorphic bestiary found in the work of artists such as Asger Jorn or Pablo Picasso (both of whom shared Gulbarn’s interest and investment in folk art forms and ceramics in
particular.) About this shift, from making ‘Art’ with a capital ‘A’ to the creation of what she describes as functional objects Gulbran has stated: “Making pots started as an escape from the dilemmas of making art – the function justifies the form and the decoration appears on the surface. It has been an outlet for some of my tendencies, sentimentality and personal symbols.” A part of the “dilemma” of making art perhaps resides in art’s uncertain status, its remove from the realities of everyday life – a tension that still underscores and reinforces the hierarchies that persist to this day between ‘high art’ and other forms of vernacular art (inc. folk art, ceramics, etc.) Gulbran’s functional works embrace the classic forms of the cup, the bowl, the vessel – forms that are as old as and inherent to the medium of ceramics itself. What transforms her work from being ‘merely’ utilitarian objects is, to my mind, the autobiographical narratives that Gulbran brings to bear on the work’s surface: a form of decoration that is at once both emotional and psychological, and one that explicitly refers to Gulbran’s own biography and her history as an artist. Often operating as memorials to family pets, or to feral animals only briefly encountered, Gulbran’s self-reflexive works are in turn profoundly melancholic, a prevailing sensibility that seems at odds with the exuberant nature of her drawing, a tension that gives the works their charge. Both physical and psychological, both external and internalized, Gulbran’s ceramic works ultimately resist any easy categorization, operating instead in an idiosyncratic territory of her own making, one that oscillates between the elusive nature of art and the rational desires and demands of life.

– Matthew Higgs. Director, White Columns.

MARCH 7 – MARCH 10, 2013

White Columns

March 2nd, 2013
Bringing back a piece of L.A.’s Olympic glory

Willie Herron III, left, Mural Conservancy chief Isabel Rojas-Williams and street artist Risk in front of Frank Romero’s work. (Luis Sinco, Los Angeles Times / February 14, 2013)

Most of the 10 murals created along freeways to celebrate the 1984 Summer Games were painted over for protection. A restoration project is underway.

By Deborah Vankin, Los Angeles Times
March 1, 2013

The midweek traffic along the 101 Freeway is sluggish this afternoon, but that’s nothing compared to two cars along this route that have been stalled for years.

The vehicles, bright pink and yellow, are part of artist Frank Romero’s mural, “Going to the Olympics,” which he painted on the freeway wall in 1984. It was one of 10 murals commissioned that year for the Olympic Arts Festival to commemorate L.A.’s hosting the Games.

After years of being heavily tagged with graffiti, however, most of the murals were painted over by CalTrans starting in 2007 to protect them, leaving them in hibernation until funds were available for restoration.

At the time, Romero sued CalTrans for covering his work. But today, artist Willie Herrón III — whose own mural, “Luchas del Mundo” (Struggles of the World), is part of the Olympic series — is perched atop scaffolding in a hard hat and yellow safety vest, carefully removing the last swath of gray paint that will set Romero’s mural free. Herrón’s efforts are part of a project, now 15 months in, overseen by the Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles. The goal is to restore the murals that are salvageable in time for the 30-year anniversary of the L.A. Olympics in 2014.

“These murals are the connecting bridge between street art, museums and galleries,” says Mural Conservancy Executive Director Isabel Rojas-Williams. “This is our history, they tell our story. We decided we had to go back to the freeways and bring them back to life.”

The conservancy cobbled together funds for the restoration from membership fees, Department of Cultural Affairs grants, private donations and other grants, as well as revenue earned from Rojas-Williams’ personally leading mural tours and giving lectures around the city. The California Department of Transportation, Rojas-Williams says, has been instrumental in helping the conservancy coordinate permits and logistics, such as coning off sections of the freeway so that work can be done.

“We’re not putting in funds toward [restoration] this time, but we facilitated it, it’s our property,” says CalTrans spokesman Patrick Chandler. “It’s definitely a working partnership.”

The first mural to be restored, in December 2011, was half of a diptych on the 101 by artist Kent Twitchell, “Jim Morphesis Monument.” Fine Art Conservation Laboratories did the restoration; Herrón is doing the work on the remaining murals. The Twitchell mural’s counterpart, on the opposite wall, “Lita Albuquerque Monument,” was restored in mid-2012. Together they were referred to as “Seventh Street Altarpiece.” “L.A. Freeway Kids,” by Glenna Boltuch Avila and also on the 101, was uncovered in fall 2012.

The Mural Conservancy selected Herrón to restore the murals as much for his rich history in the genre as his technical skill. Herrón, a pioneering muralist in the 1970s, painted with the avant-garde Chicano art collective Asco, whose other members were Gronk, Harry Gamboa Jr. and Patssi Valdez. Herrón has more than a dozen murals up around the city and regularly maintains them himself.

“For L.A. artists to be taken seriously on a worldwide basis, we have to protect our work and it has to be up for decades, not just in a book,” Herrón says. “It’s about students being able to go and see your work 40 years later — to stand in front of it, live, and look at your brush strokes.”

The Romero mural — with its bursting pastel-colored heart, skinny palm and Olympic runner poised to break into a sprint — is set to be fully restored later this month. The Mural Conservancy is in the process of securing funds for the project’s fifth restoration, likely John Wehrle’s “Galileo, Jupiter, Apollo” on the 101, says Rojas-Williams. After that, the conservancy will revisit fundraising efforts.

Not all of the Olympic murals are salvageable. Murals on the 110 freeway by artists Richard Wyatt (“James and Spectators”) and Roderick Sykes (“Unity”) were damaged beyond repair because of highway construction in the late 1990s. One more on the 110, by Alonzo Davis (“Eye on 84”) was so heavily weathered that restoration isn’t possible.

“Hitting the Wall” by Judy Baca, also on the 110, was recently restored in a separate effort last month by SPARC in Venice.

That leaves just two other murals: Terry Schoonhoven’s “Cityscape” on the 110 and Herrón’s on the 101. He says he wants to complete restoration of the others before starting work on his own.

The Mural Conservancy follows international restoration guidelines for determining the proper water temperature and pressure to use. Herrón will touch up sections of the murals using the original pigments the artists painted with decades ago — Romero, who lives in France half the year now, even provided paint samples. A clear, protective coating is being applied, so any future tagging can be easily removed.

Herrón is quick to point out that even though great care is being taken, artistic perfection is not a goal of historical mural restoration.

“We’re trying to leave them looking original, but well maintained … not freshly painted,” he says. “When the colors look too bright, we cheat and add a little black or gray. We say: ‘Nah, nah, let’s back it up a little, let’s mess it up a bit!'”

Restoration work has been done before on the Olympic murals, which were purposely placed along the most visible route to the Coliseum, home base of the 1984 Games.

In 2003 and 2004, there was a state-funded, $1.7-million restoration effort by the Mural Conservancy, Department of Cultural Affairs and CalTrans. After the murals continued to suffer at the hands of vandals, CalTrans painted over most of them. Some were left uncovered but were so heavily tagged that graffiti obscured the visual narrative.

Now, as the pictures come back to life, Herrón says, reaction from passing cars has, at times, been especially animated.

“Honking, clapping, chicks with their legs out the window screaming,” he says. “People are excited.”

Adds Rojas-Williams: “A lot of people grew up with them. They say, ‘I remember driving by with my parents!’ This is personal too.”

March 2nd, 2013
Recent Ruins

Matt Paweski, KeyLime, 2013
Birch plywood, steel, enamel, wax
23″x 23″x 7″

Organized by Julia M Leonard

A one day outdoor exhibition

Saturday March 2nd at 1pm

At the corner of Park Drive and Ewing Street, Echo Park 90026

Ruby Rose Neri
Julia M Leonard
Chris Lux
Torbjorn Vejvi
Calvin Marcus
Michael Dopp
Nicholas Pittman
Erik Blum
Annie Costello Brown
Matt Paweski
Rainen Knecht
Christopher Baird

March 1st, 2013
Ben Bernanke, Hippie

NY Times Published: February 28, 2013

We’re just a few weeks away from a milestone I suspect most of Washington would like to forget: the start of the Iraq war. What I remember from that time is the utter impenetrability of the elite prowar consensus. If you tried to point out that the Bush administration was obviously cooking up a bogus case for war, one that didn’t bear even casual scrutiny; if you pointed out that the risks and likely costs of war were huge; well, you were dismissed as ignorant and irresponsible.

It didn’t seem to matter what evidence critics of the rush to war presented: Anyone who opposed the war was, by definition, a foolish hippie. Remarkably, that judgment didn’t change even after everything the war’s critics predicted came true. Those who cheered on this disastrous venture continued to be regarded as “credible” on national security (why is John McCain still a fixture of the Sunday talk shows?), while those who opposed it remained suspect.

And, even more remarkably, a very similar story has played out over the past three years, this time about economic policy. Back then, all the important people decided that an unrelated war was an appropriate response to a terrorist attack; three years ago, they all decided that fiscal austerity was the appropriate response to an economic crisis caused by runaway bankers, with the supposedly imminent danger from budget deficits playing the role once played by Saddam’s alleged weapons of mass destruction.

Now, as then, this consensus has seemed impenetrable to counterarguments, no matter how well grounded in evidence. And now, as then, leaders of the consensus continue to be regarded as credible even though they’ve been wrong about everything (why do people keep treating Alan Simpson as a wise man?), while critics of the consensus are regarded as foolish hippies even though all their predictions — about interest rates, about inflation, about the dire effects of austerity — have come true.

So here’s my question: Will it make any difference that Ben Bernanke has now joined the ranks of the hippies?

Earlier this week, Mr. Bernanke delivered testimony that should have made everyone in Washington sit up and take notice. True, it wasn’t really a break with what he has said in the past or, for that matter, with what other Federal Reserve officials have been saying, but the Fed chairman spoke more clearly and forcefully on fiscal policy than ever before — and what he said, translated from Fedspeak into plain English, was that the Beltway obsession with deficits is a terrible mistake.

First of all, he pointed out that the budget picture just isn’t very scary, even over the medium run: “The federal debt held by the public (including that held by the Federal Reserve) is projected to remain roughly 75 percent of G.D.P. through much of the current decade.”

He then argued that given the state of the economy, we’re currently spending too little, not too much: “A substantial portion of the recent progress in lowering the deficit has been concentrated in near-term budget changes, which, taken together, could create a significant headwind for the economic recovery.”

Finally, he suggested that austerity in a depressed economy may well be self-defeating even in purely fiscal terms: “Besides having adverse effects on jobs and incomes, a slower recovery would lead to less actual deficit reduction in the short run for any given set of fiscal actions.”

So the deficit is not a clear and present danger, spending cuts in a depressed economy are a terrible idea and premature austerity doesn’t make sense even in budgetary terms. Regular readers may find these propositions familiar, since they’re pretty much what I and other progressive economists have been saying all along. But we’re irresponsible hippies. Is Ben Bernanke? (Well, he has a beard.)

The point is not that Mr. Bernanke is an unimpeachable source of wisdom; one hopes that the collapse of Alan Greenspan’s reputation has put an end to the practice of deifying Fed chairmen. Mr. Bernanke is a fine economist, but no more so than, say, Columbia’s Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate and legendary economic theorist whose vocal criticism of our deficit obsession has nonetheless been ignored. No, the point is that Mr. Bernanke’s apostasy may help undermine the argument from authority — nobody who matters disagrees! — that has made the elite obsession with deficits so hard to dislodge.

And an end to deficit obsession can’t come a moment too soon. Right now Washington is focused on the idiocy of the sequester, but this is only the latest episode in an unprecedented run of declines in public employment and government purchases that have crippled our economy’s recovery. A misguided elite consensus has led us into an economic quagmire, and it’s time for us to get out.

March 1st, 2013
Get Off of Your Cloud

NY Times Published: February 26, 2013

When Marissa Mayer became queen of the Yahoos last summer, she was hailed as a role model for women.

The 37-year-old supergeek with the supermodel looks was the youngest Fortune 500 chief executive. And she was in the third trimester of her first pregnancy. Many women were thrilled at the thought that biases against hiring women who were expecting, or planning to be, might be melting.

A couple months later, it gave her female fans pause when the Yahoo C.E.O. took a mere two-week maternity pause. She built a nursery next to her office at her own expense, to make working almost straight through easier.

The fear that this might set an impossible standard for other women — especially women who had consigned “having it all” to unicorn status — reverberated. Even the German family minister, Kristina Schröder, chimed in: “I regard it with major concern when prominent women give the public impression that maternity leave is something that is not important.”

Almost two months after her son, Macallister, was born, Mayer irritated some women again when she bubbled at a Fortune event that “the baby’s been way easier than everyone made it out to be.”

“Putting ‘baby’ and ‘easy’ in the same sentence turns you into one of those mothers we don’t like very much,” Lisa Belkin chided in The Huffington Post.

Now Mayer has caused another fem-quake with a decision that has a special significance to working mothers. She has banned Yahoos, as her employees are known, from working at home (which some of us call “working” at home).

It flies in the face of tech companies’ success in creating a cloud office rather than a conventional one. Mayer’s friend Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook wrote in her new feminist manifesto, “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead,” that technology could revolutionize women’s lives by “changing the emphasis on strict office hours since so much work can be conducted online.”

She added that “the traditional practice of judging employees by face time rather than results unfortunately persists” when it would be more efficient to focus on results.

Many women were appalled at the Yahoo news, noting that Mayer, with her penthouse atop the San Francisco Four Seasons, her Oscar de la Rentas and her $117 million five-year contract, seems oblivious to the fact that for many of her less-privileged sisters with young children, telecommuting is a lifeline to a manageable life.

The dictatorial decree to work “side by side” had some dubbing Mayer not “the Steinem of Silicon Valley” but “the Stalin of Silicon Valley.”

Mayer and Sandberg are in an elite cocoon and in USA Today, Joanne Bamberger fretted that they are “setting back the cause of working mothers.” She wrote that Sandberg’s exhortation for “women to pull themselves up by the Louboutin straps” is damaging, as is “Mayer’s office-only work proclamation that sends us back to the pre-Internet era of power suits with floppy bow ties.”

Men accustomed to telecommuting were miffed, too. Richard Branson tweeted: “Give people the freedom of where to work & they will excel.”

While it is true that women have looked to technology as a leveling force in the marketplace, it is also true that tech innovators — even as far back as Bell Labs scientists — have designed their campuses around the management philosophy that intellectual ferment happens when you force smart people to collaborate in person and constantly bounce creative ideas off each other.

Mayer has shown that she is willing to do what it takes, with no coddling. She has a huge challenge in turning around Yahoo — she was the third of three C.E.O.’s at the company in 2012 alone. She had success brainstorming face to face during her years at Google, where she was the 20th employee, the first female engineer and the shepherd of more than 100 products. The Times’s Laura Holson wrote that when meeting with Google subordinates, Mayer came across like a “meticulous art teacher correcting first-semester students.”

Mayer’s bold move looks retro and politically incorrect, but she may feel the need to reboot the company culture, harness creativity, cut deadwood and discipline slackers before resuming flexibility.

Coming into the office, Yahoo H.R. chief Jackie Reses wrote in a memo, ensures that “some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings,” adding tartly that if “Yahoos” “have to stay home for the cable guy, please use your best judgment in the spirit of collaboration.”

Maybe as Mayer rejuvenates “the grandfather” of Internet companies, as she calls Yahoo, she needs the energy and synergy of a start-up mentality.

She seems to believe that enough employees are goofing off at home that she should bring them off the cloud and into the cubicle. But she should also be sympathetic to the very different situation of women — and men — struggling without luxurious layers of help.

Mayer has a nursery next to the executive suite. But not everyone has it so sweet.

February 27th, 2013
Lucas Knipscher, Win McCarthy, Sigmar Polke

Sigmar Polke, “Untitled (Nugget),” 1986, gelatin silver print, 23 3/4 x 20 1/8 inches, 60.3 x 51.1 cm, unique

Through March 3, 2013

Rachel Uffner

February 27th, 2013
nuts in may

Nuts In May Part 1 of 5 by Hyperbolic780

Nuts In May Part 2 of 5 by Hyperbolic780

Nuts In May Part 3 of 5 by Hyperbolic780

Nuts In May Part 4 of 5 by Hyperbolic780

Nuts In May Part 5 of 5 by Hyperbolic780

February 26th, 2013

A Village by the Sea, 2011, 35mm, black-and-white, optical sound, 5:40 min, 35mm single-screen magnification

February 27 through April 21, 2013


February 25th, 2013
Owls Start Coming Into Full View

Barn owls communicate through a complex, rule-based series of calls, trills, barks and hoots, says Alexandre Roulin of the University of Lausanne. Photograph by Amir Ezer

NY Times Published: February 25, 2013 Comment

Washington — The day after a frigid, star-salted night spent tromping through the Alexandria woods with David Johnson of the Global Owl Project, and listening to the stridently mournful cries of wild barred owls that remained hidden from view, I stopped by the National Zoo around sunset to take visual measure of the birds I had heard.

The two barred, or Strix varia, owls were just rousing themselves in the outdoor enclosure, and they looked bigger and more shaggily majestic than I expected, with capes of densely layered cream-and-coffee plumage draped on their 17-inch frames and pompous, Elizabethan feather ruffs encircling their necks. Like any good royalty, they ignored me.

That is, until I pulled out my phone with the birdcall app and started playing the barred owl song. The female’s languid eyes shot wide open. The male’s head spun around in its socket by 180 of the 270 degrees an owl’s head can swivel.

With the distinctive forward-facing gaze that can make owls seem as much human as bird, the barred pair stared at me. I played the call again, the male grew bored, and I was about to put the phone away when suddenly the female — the larger of the two owls, as female birds of prey often are — pitched her body forward on her perch, lifted up her heavy, magnificent wings and belted out a full-throated retort to my recorded call.

After a brief pause, she hooted the eight-note sequence once more, at which point an astonished zoo-goer nearby burst into applause.

In the Western imagination, the owl surely vies with the penguin for the position of My Favorite Bird. “Everyone loves owls,” said David J. Bohaska, a paleobiologist at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, who discovered one of the earliest owl fossils. “Even mammalogists love owls.”

Owls are a staple of children’s books and cultural kitsch — here wooing pussycats in pea-green boats and delivering mail to the Harry Potter crew, there raising a dubiously Wise eyebrow in the service of snack food. Yet for all this apparent familiarity, only lately have scientists begun to understand the birds in any detail, and to puzzle out the subtleties of behavior, biology and sensory prowess that set them apart from all other avian tribes.

Researchers have discovered, for example, that young barn owls can be impressively generous toward one another, regularly donating portions of their food to smaller, hungrier siblings — a display of altruism that is thought to be rare among nonhuman animals, and one that many a small human sibling might envy.

The scientists also discovered that barn owls express their needs and desires to each other through a complex, rule-based series of calls, trills, barks and hoots, a language the researchers are now seeking to decipher.

“They talk all night long and make a huge noise,” said Alexandre Roulin of the University of Lausanne, who recently reported on barn owl altruism in the journal Animal Behaviour with his colleague Charlene A. Ruppli, and Arnaud Da Silva of the University of Burgundy. “We would never put our nest boxes in front of a farmer’s bedroom, or the person wouldn’t be able to sleep.”

Other researchers are tracking the lives of some of the rarer and more outlandishly proportioned owls, like the endangered Blakiston’s fish owl of Eurasia. Nearly a yard high, weighing up to 10 pounds and with a wingspan of six feet, Blakiston’s is the world’s largest owl, a bird so hulking it’s often mistaken for other things, according to Jonathan Slaght of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Russia program. It could easily look like a bear in a tree or a man on a bridge.

Or maybe Ernest Hemingway. This powerful predator can pull from the river an adult salmon two, three or more times its own weight, sometimes grabbing onto a tree root with one talon to help make the haul.

Ferocity is essential for a bird whose frigid, spotty range extends across northeastern China, the Russian Far East and up toward the Arctic Circle, one that breeds and nests in the dead of winter, perched atop a giant cottonwood or elm tree, out in the open, in temperatures 30 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. Dr. Slaght’s colleague Sergei Surmach videotaped a female sitting on her nest during a blizzard. “All you could see at the end was her tail jutting out,” Dr. Slaght said.

Aeronautical engineers are studying owls for clues to better wing designs. Many owl species are renowned for their ability to fly almost completely silently, without the flapping noises and air whooshes that might warn prey of their approach.

Researchers have traced that silent flight to several features. The bulk of the wing is broad and curved — the ideal shape for slow gliding — and is abundantly veined with velvety down plumage to help absorb sound. Moreover, the feathers at the edge of the wing are serrated to effectively break up and smooth out air turbulence as a comb disentangles knots. At a meeting of the American Physical Society last fall, researchers from Cambridge University proposed that well-placed perforations in an airplane wing could have a similar smoothing effect on turbulence, leading to quieter and more fuel efficient flights — and mealtime voles for all.

Owls date back 60 million years or longer, and they’re found in nearly every type of habitat: tropical, tundra, desert, Central Park. Some 229 species are known, and the list keeps growing: last summer, two new species of hawk owl were discovered in the Philippines, and earlier this month researchers reported on a new species of screech-like owl from the island of Lombok, Indonesia.

The birds own the night, although some hunt at dusk and dawn and even during the day. And hunt owls tirelessly do. By one estimate, a group, or “parliament,” of 10 owl families living in a barn in Central Florida cleared the surrounding sugarcane fields of about 25,000 cotton rats a year.

Owls were long thought to be closely related to birds of prey like hawks and eagles, which they sometimes superficially resemble — hence the names hawk owls and eagle owls. But similarities of beak or talon turn out to be the result of evolutionary convergence on optimal meat-eating equipment, and recent genetic analysis links the owls to other nocturnal birds, like nightjars.

Through the Global Owl Project, Mr. Johnson is working with researchers in 65 countries to compile a vast database and celebration of all the world’s owls, with descriptions, natural history, genetics, vocalizations, rough population estimates, owl myths and legends.

Westerners love owls, he said, a tradition that dates back at least to the ancient Greeks and the association of owls with the wise goddess, Athena, and her gray “shining eyes.” In some countries, though, owls are seen as bad omens and harbingers of death — perhaps, Mr. Johnson proposed, because owls often nest in cemeteries, where trees are left to grow undisturbed and the nesting cavities are comfortably large.

Would that owls might lend us their ears. Species like the barn, barred, screech and horned have some of the keenest auditory systems known, able to hear potential prey stirring deep under leaves, snow or grass, identify the rodent species and even assess its relative plumpness or state of pregnancy, based on sound alone.

Again scientists attribute that to a consortium of traits. Prof. Tim Birkhead of the University of Sheffield points out in his new book, “Bird Sense,” that the owl cochlea is “enormous” and densely packed with sensory cilia. The barn owl, for example, has three times the number of hair cells expected for its body size. The paired ear openings are also exceptionally large and asymmetrically placed on either side of the skull, the better to help localize a sound’s origin; the super-swively neck further enhances the power to sample the ambient soundscape.

Then there is the owl’s famously flat face, also called the facial disk — pie-shaped in some species, heart-shaped Kabuki in the barn owl. The facial disk serves as a kind of satellite dish, to gather sound waves, which are then directed to the owl’s ears by stiff, specialized feathers along the disk circumference.

Even the owl’s forward-facing eyes may have as much to do with hearing as with vision. Graham Martin of the University of Birmingham has proposed that with so much of the lateral real estate on the owl’s skull taken up by the giant ear openings, the only place left to position its eyes is in the middle of the face.

Here’s looking at you, Strix. Will you please call again?

February 25th, 2013
david korty

Untitled # 1, 2013
Ceramic and Glaze
9 x 6 1/2 x 4″

Through March 24, 2013

Shop Exhibit

February 24th, 2013
David Lynch Is Back … as a Guru of Transcendental Meditation

David Lynch for The New York Times
David Lynch took a self-portrait at Idem Paris, a fine-art printing studio, in December.

NY Times Published: February 22, 2013

Inside David Lynch’s bunker of a studio in Los Angeles, a small crowd of happy people gathered on a late summer morning to meditate and learn about the nature of consciousness. The dozen or so young actors and musicians and others were recent initiates of Transcendental Meditation, a trademarked form of relaxation that involves sitting quietly and saying a mantra to yourself for 20 minutes twice a day. T.M. initiation — a multiday instruction program that includes the bestowing of a secret personalized mantra — costs, on average, $1,000. But those gathered had been initiated as a gift of the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace. Through its work, Lynch, who has been practicing T.M. for 40 years, hopes to teach meditation to the world and, as a result, create world peace.

Lynch’s compound is where Bill Pullman and Patricia Arquette dove into a nether world of lust, porn, murder and shadow selves in his 1997 film, “Lost Highway.” But “Lost Highway” was 16 years ago, and besides, it was just a movie. On that recent summer morning, the sun flooded into the dining room and the table was laid out with pastries and lemonade. The wild-eyed actor B. J. Novak, formerly of “The Office,” wandered in, holding a to-go cup of coffee. The heiress Aileen Getty, whose foundation supports Lynch’s work in teaching the homeless to meditate, lingered near the door. Kat Dennings and Beth Behrs, stars of the sitcom “2 Broke Girls,” stood to the side, laughing. Adam Gaynor, a former member of the band Matchbox 20, told me how meditation helped him deal with the recent death of his mother. “I heard about it and pushed it off a few times,” he said. “But afterward, I was so grateful.”

Near a window that looked out onto the Hollywood Hills, a large, framed, pastel poster was set up. Standing beside it was Lynn Kaplan, a dark-haired, energetic woman who works for Lynch’s foundation, which is based in Manhattan. Kaplan had assembled this group of young talent and personally initiated each one with their own mantra. “This is where the mantra comes from,” Kaplan explained, gesturing toward the evolutionary pictogram of Indian men radiating light. At the base stood a small man in a white robe, his hands clasped. This was Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, she said, the late founder of the T.M. movement and Lynch’s guru. Beneath him floated a pastel world, glowing.

Word came that Lynch was on his way down, and the crowd shuffled over to his in-house recording studio and screening room, settling into built-in, modern easy chairs. Lynch slunk in through a side door, casting a leery eye up at his audience. He took a seat near the wall, looking uncomfortable. Everyone fell silent. Lynch was stylishly rumpled. His frame was lean and his hair was pomaded loosely into a mature faux-hawk. He wore faded khaki pants that bloused over a worn leather belt. In the breast pocket of his white dress shirt, a pack of American Spirit cigarettes was at the ready. Lynch is a notorious creature of habit: he spent seven years drinking the same chocolate milkshake at the same time every day from Bob’s Big Boy in L.A., because he thought it affected his creative process; and part of his persona is his uniform approach to dress. That day, a yellow watch gave a flash of color.

Lynch, 67, has the plain-spoken demeanor of an old cowboy actor, a posture that masks a lifelong fear of public speaking. When his quietness got uncomfortable, Kaplan announced the start of a short meditation. For 10 minutes, the soundproofed room was dead silent. When it was over, Lynch stood up, refreshed. “So, do you guys have any questions?” he asked.

Kat Dennings’s boyfriend raised his hand and asked how he started meditation. Lynch made a funny face — he has answered this question a hundred times, all over the world. “I started here in Los Angeles on July 1, around 11 o’clock in the morning, a beautiful Saturday sunny day in 1973.” The group laughed at his exactness. “It was just yesterday,” he said softly. He continued: “I always tell the same story. The Beatles were over with Maharishi in India and lots of people were getting hip to Transcendental Meditation and different kinds of meditation, and I thought it was real baloney.” There was a knowing murmur — those in the audience had once had their doubts, too. “I thought I would become a raisin-and-nut eater, and I just wanted to work. And then all of a sudden, I heard this phrase, ‘True happiness is not out there, true happiness lies within.’ And this phrase had a ring of truth.”

Lynch brightened proudly. “You just got to stay regular in your meditation,” he eventually said. “It’s the transcendent that does everything good for us human beings. You get a key that opens the door to that with Transcendental Meditation as taught by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.”

Over the past few decades, David Lynch’s babbling dwarfs, ominous red curtains and just-around-the-corner episodes of hideous violence have become shorthand for a generation of art-house filmmaking. “Blue Velvet,” “Wild at Heart,” “Mulholland Drive” and his hit TV series “Twin Peaks” received critical acclaim. And somewhere along the way, Lynch’s fringe vision of reality became a marketable brand. He directed commercials — with flickering light and his signature unease — for Calvin Klein and Dior. He has lent his name to several products, from Lynch edition bottles of Dom Pérignon to the David Lynch Signature Cup Organic Coffee company. He recently released a discordant musical album — “Crazy Clown Time” — and has produced a number of others. For decades he has exhibited paintings and drawings and photographs around the world. He designed a nightclub, Silencio (a reference to the theater in “Mulholland Drive”), in Paris. Every night, people line up outside with hopes of experiencing something Lynchian, a phrase that David Foster Wallace once defined as that which “refers to a particular kind of irony where the very macabre and the very mundane combine in such a way as to reveal the former’s containment within the latter.”

What Lynch has not been doing, though, is making movies. Since “Mulholland Drive” was released in 2001, Lynch seems to have turned his focus almost entirely away from shadowy underworlds and toward spreading the word about Transcendental Meditation. In 2003, he told a group of reporters that he was part of a project to build “peace palaces” all around the world, where thousands of practitioners would live, eat, sleep and meditate around the clock. And during the last decade, Lynch has traveled the world, telling all who will listen about transcending to a unified field of being. In the meantime, he has only released one feature film.

Whether his tireless work for T.M. has prevented him from focusing on his directorial work or whether the peaceful world he now inhabits has become his higher calling remains unclear. But in 2011, the independent film director Abel Ferrara told the blog Indiewire that he thought Lynch had given up on movies entirely. “Lynch doesn’t even want to make films anymore,” he said. “I’ve talked to him about it, O.K.? I can tell when he talks about it.” And then, rhetorically: “I’m a lunatic, and he’s pushing Transcendental Meditation.”

Watching Lynch stand in front of a giant movie screen, preaching in his singsong frontier voice about how meditation could transform all that ails, it seemed as if Ferrara might be right. Lynch told someone in the audience that the decision to meditate should be an easy one: “If you had a choice to vomit all day or feel healthy and strong, it would be kind of obvious.” Then he cackled, and it occurred to me then that, despite the lack of dwarfs or talking animals in the screening room, Lynch might be up to something else too. Trying to create world peace through meditation might simply be the most Lynchian thing that Lynch has ever done.

From the moment that Maharishi Mahesh Yogi arrived at the Honolulu airport in 1958, wearing robes, his ambition was to make Transcendental Meditation a global practice. He had been traveling across India for a few years, spreading the notion that meditation wasn’t just for monks and yogis but instead could be simplified for the masses. He would soon seize on a generation of young people’s desires to recreate the nirvana of hallucinogenic drugs and to live meaningful lives. In 1967, the Beatles met Maharishi, and he quickly became their spiritual adviser. Life magazine declared 1968 “the Year of the Guru,” with photographs of Maharishi. By 1977, a Gallup poll reported that 4 percent of Americans said they practiced T.M.

But then things got murky, and questions about the cult of personality grew. The Beatles left Maharishi’s ashram in a huff. Maharishi intensified his focus on a “world plan” to create peace through what he called the “Maharishi Effect,” in which 1 percent of the square root of the world population would meditate and radiate positivity. By the late 1970s, he had told his followers that they should practice more advanced, and more expensive, meditation techniques that took about two hours a day and could result in superhuman powers — the strength of an elephant and the ability to levitate.

By the 1980s, only a devout base remained dedicated to the world plan, and many of them settled in a small community in a corner of southern Iowa. Deepak Chopra, who worked for the Maharishi at the time, told me, “I started to be uncomfortable with what I sensed was a cultish atmosphere around Maharishi.” Soon, Maharishi stopped making public appearances, spending his time in an isolated compound in the Netherlands. He named a Lebanese neuroscientist as his successor, giving him the ceremonial name and title Majaraja Adiraj Rajaraam, the First Ruler of the Global Country of World Peace. He had given him his weight in gold.

Far away, in Southern California, David Lynch drank, made money, married a number of women and directed violent and dark movies. Still, he loved meditating. On set, he would leave each day to go spend time alone in his trailer, “diving within.” Then, in 2001, Lynch heard about a rare opportunity: the Enlightenment Course. Maharishi, who had barely been seen in public for years, was offering devotees the chance to pay about a million dollars to spend a month with him in the Netherlands.

When Lynch arrived at the compound in Vlodrop, in June 2002, he had hopes that the $1 million fee — a significant investment for him — would allow him to spend a month at his master’s knee, basking in the glow of his enlightened consciousness. He was disappointed when he was told that Maharishi would not physically attend the meetings but instead would communicate with the small group of devoted benefactors via a teleconference system from his room upstairs. But it didn’t matter — like all things Maharishi did, Lynch says, his absence made sense. “When I play it back in my mind, he was right there,” he said. “It’s a strange thing. He was right above us but came through the television. But it was as if there was no television. And that’s the way it was.”

At the end of the Enlightenment Course, Lynch made his way back to Los Angeles as a changed man. “Everyone I saw was like a hero to me, trying to do the best they can, live life,” he said. “I was just in the strangest place. I’d pass through these different airports, and I’d look at the people, and I’d just love, love, loved the people.” I asked him if he still had the same feeling. “Yeah,” he said, looking away from me. “But the thing is, you could very easily sit under a tree. But if I heard that before I started — that you might want to sit under a tree, I’d stay away from that ’cause I want to work. You see what I mean? It gives you that feeling that you could sit under a tree, but it also gives you the feeling you could just go work.”

Could he have ended up sitting under a tree? I asked.

“No. I’m not enlightened.”

Lynch did feel a new sense of mission. “It was important for me to say something to the people, whether they listened or not, about my personal experience,” he said. Though he had long been fairly private about his love of T.M., Lynch started announcing his support of not only meditation but of Maharishi’s agenda for world change. This zeal didn’t go unnoticed by the leaders of Maharishi’s organization. In 2005, John Hagelin and Bob Roth, who spent decades working for Maharishi, suggested that Lynch start a foundation dedicated to helping troubled children through meditation. Lynch quickly expanded on the idea: he wanted to raise $7 billion to spread T.M. “I just remember him taking this idea and going two or three ideas beyond what we had in mind,” Hagelin said.

A year after the inception of the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace, Lynch’s life began to change more visibly. He filed for divorce from Mary Sweeney, his third wife, longtime collaborator and the mother of his 14-year-old son. Not long after, Lynch was engaged to Emily Stofle, an unknown actress decades younger. When asked why he married so many times, he told this magazine: “We live in the field of relativity. Things change.” In 2006, Lynch released his first film in five years, “Inland Empire,” which grossed a meager $4 million. The Times called it a “savagely uncompromised” piece of art; others panned it as alienating nonsense.

Regardless, it would be his last movie to date. Lynch set out on a two-year global speaking tour that took him to more than 30 countries to talk to mostly college-age audiences about meditation, creativity and peace. Lynch’s phobia of public speaking was such that he occasionally pretaped acceptance speeches when honored with an award and stood silently at the microphone as the recorder played his voice. But on the global speaking tour, in front of audiences of hundreds, sometimes even thousands, he cracked jokes and told personal stories of his own transformation.

Then, in February 2008, Maharishi died. In the weeks before his death, the guru acknowledged Lynch’s birthday in a group teleconference — a special honor. “It was a celebration taking place long-distance over Skype,” Hagelin said. “Maharishi was so intent on participating and hearing, and he took great satisfaction. Even then Maharishi saw with David the great potential to meet many people, to fulfill Maharishi’s vision of alleviating the problems of the world.”

On a 100-degree morning last summer, I was with Lynch in the back of a stretch limousine for a long, slow ride down Mulholland Drive. The narrow two-lane road, which runs along the top of the Hollywood Hills, separates the multimillion-dollar canyon homes of Los Angeles from the sprawl of split-levels that make up the San Fernando Valley. Tacking between suburban and glamorous, the road itself is broken down, potholed and in places overgrown with desert flower bushes. It always feels a little lonely.

There was an unspoken logic to us being up there. It was during the making of “Mulholland Drive,” which opens on a shot of a stretch limo lurching down the road, that Lynch began his transformation from iconoclastic director with a public-speaking phobia to global public evangelist for meditation and peace. On that summer morning, Lynch was a bit grouchy. (He was on a cleanse.) He squinted, watching the road as if we were braving a blizzard.

As the car hummed along and we relived his spiritual journey, I asked Lynch what he really believed. Did he see Transcendental Meditation as simply a technique for relaxation, perfect for young Hollywood actresses, or rather as an all-encompassing way of life, as Maharishi had encouraged — one with peace palaces and an army of meditators fomenting world peace? Lynch paused, and then spoke for more than five minutes, explaining that T.M. was the answer for all seeking true inner happiness. He ended with this thought: “Things like traumatic stress and anxiety and tension and sorrow and depression and hate and bitter, selfish anger and fear start to lift away. And that’s a huge sense of freedom when that heavy weight of negativity begins to lift. So it’s like gold flowing in from within and garbage going out. The things in life that used to almost kill you, stress you, depress you, make you sad, make you afraid — they have less and less power. It’s like you’re building up a flak jacket of protection. You’re starting to glow with this from within.”

Lynch looked over at me scribbling on my notepad. When I finished, there was a pause, and I laughed — what could I say after all that? I had asked if T.M. was something he believed could be compartmentalized, like doing yoga or avoiding dairy. Lynch chuckled, but it seemed as if it was because he felt that he’d just given the definitive answer to all questions that might follow from me or from the universe for that matter.

I should say here that Lynch was not explaining transcendence to a neophyte. I got my first T.M. mantra when I was 3 years old, and for as long as I can remember, meditation and Maharishi were the basis for everything I did growing up. I was 5 when my family moved to Fairfield, the small town in Iowa where Maharishi and his followers bought a bankrupt college and established a community. Most of my early education took place at the Maharishi School of the Age of Enlightenment, where our curriculum was interwoven with our guru’s philosophy. His photograph hung on nearly every wall of my school and home. We wore crisp conservative uniforms and meditated twice a day in our classrooms. Those meditations were graded.

I still meditate. For 20 minutes or more, twice a day, I’m able to step back from the news scroll of thoughts and be truly quiet. I use T.M. to deal with anxiety and fatigue and to stave off occasional despair. But that’s because, in my head, I’ve managed to excise the weird flotsam of spirituality that engulfed T.M. for the first part of my life. Now, for me, it is something very simple, like doing yoga or avoiding dairy. Objectively speaking, meditation has been shown to decrease the incidence of heart attacks and strokes and increase longevity. The Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense commissioned studies to determine whether T.M. can help veterans alleviate post-traumatic stress disorder. Thanks to the David Lynch foundation, low-performing public schools have instituted “Quiet Time,” an elective 10 minutes, twice a day, during which students meditate, with some encouraging results.

Lynch seemed unsatisfied with my limited appreciation for the possibility of T.M. “Now, Claire,” Lynch said, leaning forward and staring into my eyes. “When I first met you, I felt that you had doubts. Is that a real feeling?” By doubts, Lynch was talking about T.M. as a worldview and the belief that Maharishi was an enlightened guru. He was talking about the T.M. organization’s $7 billion plan to create world peace. He seemed to want me to understand that transcending would change everything, for everyone. I had doubts.

As the sunlight streamed through the tinted windows, my mind turned to Laura Harring, the red-lipped heroine of “Mulholland Drive,” and the way Lynch used this road as a portal into an underworld where monsters and dwarfs await by the nearest stalk of bougainvillea. Where had transcending taken Lynch? Had T.M. stripped him of the subversive weirdness that made him such a powerful artist? Had he allowed himself, on some level, to sit under a tree? Then, before I had a moment to consider the notion, he was nudging me, laughing. “Wave to them! Wave to them!” He rolled down his window and waved gaily to a Hollywood tour bus across the street, full of passengers frantically taking photographs of our limo. Lynch beamed. It was hard to see the macabre in the mundane.

As he rolled up his window, I asked him about the rewards of immersing himself in advocacy and philanthropy. Did they outweigh those he felt as an artist? He snapped at me — saying that this was all just a thing that happened and that his real focus was his wife, his children and his work. Lynch said he was just waiting for a movie idea to come to him. Then he quickly switched to the quantum mechanics of transcendence, and my mind wandered to what Abel Ferrara said. It must be hard to come up with an idea for a movie when you believe that you have the power to change people’s lives and maybe even the world.

The office of the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace in New York is filled with young adults, many of whom grew up practicing Transcendental Meditation. Since Lynch started spreading the good news about T.M., the number of people learning the technique has increased tenfold. Close to Lynch’s heart are those suffering from PTSD, it seems, but it is in his own industry that he has made a more visible impact. Roth, who runs the foundation, spends much of his time flying around the world as well as initiating a long list of public figures: Gwyneth Paltrow, Ellen DeGeneres, Russell Simmons, Katy Perry, Susan Sarandon, Candy Crowley, Soledad O’Brien, George Stephanopoulos and Paul McCartney’s grandchildren.

Russell Brand, the British comedian, often accompanies Lynch as an M.C. at the foundation’s star-studded fund-raisers in New York and Los Angeles. Howard Stern, Laura Dern, Clint Eastwood and Jerry Seinfeld, who meditated without much fanfare for decades, have filmed testimonials to help Lynch reach his $7 billion goal. Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr sang together for the first time in years at a Lynch fund-raiser at Radio City Music Hall in 2009. Oprah Winfrey recently dedicated an entire show to T.M. As did Dr. Mehmet Oz.

Despite the totality of the vision he laid out in the limo, one thing that is abundantly clear inside the foundation’s office is that the Lynch brand of Transcendental Meditation is vibrant and uncomplicated and unburdened by T.M.’s more controversial past. It is no longer, as Brand often says, “for weird, old hippies.” Nor is it only for committed devotees willing to spend their lives meditating in rural Iowa. Maharishi’s visage was nowhere to be seen.

Maharishi, in fact, seems to have disappeared from the conversation entirely. Many of those I interviewed, who learned T.M. through Lynch’s foundation, compared the practice to going to the gym. Kevin Law, a former music-industry executive who has been invited to join the foundation’s board, told me that he was inspired by the fact that people like Martin Scorsese and the billionaire hedge-fund manager Ray Dalio were very public that T.M. had changed their lives. “These masters of the universe,” he said, “all from different backgrounds, all have one thing in common and it’s Transcendental Meditation.” Law said that for him, T.M. is more like working out. When I asked him about his sense of Maharishi, he said, “I know shockingly little about him because it’s not important.”

This reminded me of a conversation I had with Lynch along Mulholland Drive. I asked him why he went from someone who would talk only to friends and family about meditation to someone who was spending his life on the road, promoting a cause. At the time, he shrugged and demurred that he had simply been asked. Now, in the clean and well-lighted office of the David Lynch foundation, I wondered if this, in fact, was the reason he was asked. Was this simplified version of T.M., based in an office with Oriental rugs and pictures of Seinfeld, in keeping with Maharishi’s dying wish? Or was it a creation of Lynchian proportions?

A few months later, I reached Lynch by phone at his hotel room in Paris. Bob Roth had told me that Lynch said he was working on a new script and that it was typically dark. When I asked Lynch about this, he paused, annoyed. “Bobby’s got a big mouth,” he said. I asked him if the script was influenced by his work with T.M., and he said no, absolutely not. This will be a David Lynch picture, he said, adding, “I think people would probably recognize it.”

During our time together, I heard audiences ask Lynch over and over how he could create disturbing movies while dipping into a field of pure bliss. He had universally assured them that it was no problem: he has been meditating for years, and it actually helps him be more creative, to come up with better, more visceral stories. But when I pointed out that it had been more than six years since his last film, Lynch demurred. He was just a tool, he told me, in some larger, transcendent plan. “Mother Nature is very, very happy when people stop suffering and move things forward in a beautiful way,” Lynch said. “That makes me feel good. I’m just the messenger. I’m just telling them what Maharishi told me

February 24th, 2013
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