2/28/2008

We don't take kindly to folks paintin' roadkill in these here parts

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I decided this line from a previous post was so good it deserved its own post.

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Art Anxiety -- Are Collectors Opting for Alternatives to the Art Gallery System?

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Joyce Wadler's excellent NYTimes.com article this morning, The Terrible Toll of Art Anxiety, discusses a fascinating development with the potential for widespread repercussions:

Art paralysis: It is a widespread and often crippling malady, striking everyone from the new college grad in his or her first apartment to the super-rich banker, lasting anywhere from a few months to a lifetime. How many are affected is not known, perhaps because the victims are often too embarrassed to come forth. Who wants to admit that “I’ve had these posters since college, I know that as one of the American Top 10 Orthodontists I should get some real art, but I don’t know what that means”? Or that “It’s not that I’m trying to make a minimalist statement with these empty white walls, I just don’t know what to buy”? Or “I walk into those snooty galleries in Chelsea and feel like I just don’t belong”?
I don't buy art from the big vaults in Chelsea. It's way out of my league. Even so, I have to admit that it must be damnably intimidating to attempt to transact real business in many of those spaces.

This by no means characterizes the entire area. In fact there are three or four right off the top of my head that I could name in which the dealer is usually on site and, at least in my experience, is very friendly. Edward Winkleman is the epitome of accessibility and friendliness. I've also had great conversations with Christopher Henry and someone else whose name I don't recall, but he shows Marcia Hafif -- very friendly dealer. I'll look him up and get back to you.

But I find this a bit confusing; my understanding of the gallery system is that most of the artwork is sold out the back door, that only a very small percentage of sales are walk-in business. Straighten me out if I'm wrong. I would almost go so far as to say that any gallery dependent upon walk-in business is doomed, particularly in sterile, forboding Chelsea.

Incidentally, that lasted long, didn't it - what was it, maybe twelve years, that Chelsea has been New York's gallery district? Looks like it's all headed for the Lower East Side now, and the pace is picking up fast. See the current edition of Art in America for more on this.

Anyway -- more from Ms. Wadler's article:

Joseph Higgins, a 43-year-old portfolio manager in New York with a $900,000 mini-loft in west SoHo and a house in the suburbs, is one of the rare sufferers who will speak openly about his art paralysis. He blames it on galleries, and overcame it, he said, by breaking free of their grasp.

“You’re going into an intimidating space and having a curator or a gallery owner ask you ‘Do you like this style or this art’ when you have no idea what the price tag is,” he said. “It’s hard to say, I’m browsing, after someone spends time with you in a gallery and tells you ‘I’ll put it under a light for you’ and sets you up in a little room and brings you a cup of coffee.”


It's kind of funny, in a way -- the interviewee wants to buy art pretty much like he buys everything else. He'd like to see a price tag on it, he'd like to make a choice and bring it up to the register, slide his MasterCard through the little machine, sign the slip and take the thing home.

I have to admit, it's endearing. Why not do business this way?

Well, probably because most of your business is being done through other-than-front-door sales. Also, I suppose, because part of what you're paying for is the name, and the name has to maintain its value through various appearance-upholding practices such as sitting you down with the little cup of coffee.

Maybe in Loisaida some intrepid arts entrepreneur will set up a venue in which serious contemporary art can be purchased like furniture at Levitz.

Ms. Wadler continues:
Mr. Higgins started out by using paintingsdirect.com, a Web site that sells the work of hundreds of artists from around the world in categories ranging from landscape to “fantasy.” He has bought 14 paintings there and has little patience with those who would sneer at such a site. New York may be a world capital of modern and contemporary art, he said, but he finds the same “edginess” online that he does in the galleries of Chelsea, at much lower prices.

Mitchell Gold, the co-founder of Mitchell Gold & Bob Williams furniture, shares Mr. Higgins’s aversion. “I can’t stand going into galleries,” he said. “They don’t put prices on, you get all worked up, you don’t know the price is $20,000 and you think, Gee, I don’t want to spend that.” (His own stores sell photographs by Tipper Gore, for $750 to $2,950, and the prices, he pointed out, are right beside the work.)
I'll be the first to say that it surprised the living daylights out of me that serious collectors are picking up serious art online. Just a few questions that come to mind:

  • In the gallery system you have the gallery's name and reputation to back up the potential investment value of a piece. I have contended in the past, and still do to some extent, that being sold by certain galleries automatically ups the cash money value of an art piece. In the online world, what similar assurances can a buyer have, and what is the potential for the venue to add or remove value from a piece?


  • When you purchase without experiencing an artwork first-hand, you're leaving yourself wide open to a variety of disappointments. The impact of a JPG file is far and away different from the impact of the piece it depicts. And when the subject is sculpture, the potential for disappointment shoots through the roof. How does an online venue handle buyer's remorse?


  • Should online and true storefront venues begin to grab a substantial percentage of the contemporary art biz, what will be the effect on the fine arts discourse? Will we see, for example, Art in America reviews of a show at Paintings.com, or at the local Paintings AreUs store?

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2/25/2008

Sculptor Randall Nelson Stirs a Flock of Controversy in Northeastern Connecticut

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Artist Lisa Zelonka has organized fourteen art shows, according to the article in today's Hartford Courant. Her latest show, "Portrait of Stafford," included fifty exhibitors and was visited by more than 600 art-lovers -- by any account a big success. That's an enviable accomplishment -- sincere congratulations, Ms. Zelonka!

But damned if there wasn't a fly in the ointment. One of sculptor Randall Nelson's pieces -- made of roadkill birds painted to look like avian species that once were abundant in Connecticut -- really didn't go over very well.

In fact, it garnered some nasty correspondence, some attention from the DEP, and a cold shoulder from some of the very people who should have defended Nelson
.

About his bird piece Nelson said in the Hartford Courant,

"This was supposed to be a social satire, and the audience was supposed to realize that such a stupid idea wouldn't work, and that it would be much better and easier just to protect the natural habitat these birds depend on for their survival," Nelson said.
Well, Connecticut has delivered a message to Mr. Nelson: stick to those of your artistic achievements that we can easily comprehend-- your statues that festoon our state's capital, your carving and restoration of Hartford's famed carousel horses, and the teaching at the University of Hartford and UConn over these past decades that has turned hundreds of students of mixed talent into strong, contributing artists.

Forget all that stuff that requires us to think when we look at it. Don't give us anything that challenges us, that might make us smarter, more well-rounded, more skilled at appreciating art's rich and diverse bounty, or anything that might help us understand ourselves better.

Honestly, no one -- but no one -- with any sanity exhibits dead birds.

Except perhaps the Peabody Museum in New Haven, which exhibits hundreds of them. And the Museum of Natural History in New York, which is positively lousy with dead birds. And countless other museums around the country.

But of course they didn't use road-killed and animal-killed birds. They netted, poisoned and shot live, healthy birds. Should I assume Stafford's art lovers approve? I mean, the last time I visited the Peabody Museum, I didn't see any little notes stuck to the glass vilifying the exhibit builders.

And my wife didn't notice any Stafford residents at the "Bodies Revealed" show at XL Center, sticking nasty notes into the orifices and armpits of the preserved, dissected human bodies
.

Maybe I have a lot to learn about Connecticut's citizens, too.

Randall, we should start a support group. I'll bring the coffee, you bring the donuts. We can make some affirmations and "reality check" signs for the walls for when we meet.

I'll make the first "reality check" myself: a Connecticut-shaped sign that reads

We don't take kindly to folks paintin' roadkill
in these here parts.

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2/24/2008

Set up a generator and play anywhere until the cops show up

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What a cool idea! Last November, No Age apparently just showed up by a river in LA and jammed. I found it on this website which calls itself "i wish god were alive to see this":

Some artists are making it happen in a somewhat similar way.

To be so spontaneous -- !!!




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2/23/2008

Pentagon Report Labels Climate Change a Serious Threat to the Security of the United States -- Why isn't this frontpage news in America?

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From The Guardian, a paper out of the bloody old U.K. --

A secret report, suppressed by US defence chiefs and obtained by The Observer, warns that major European cities will be sunk beneath rising seas as Britain is plunged into a 'Siberian' climate by 2020. Nuclear conflict, mega-droughts, famine and widespread rioting will erupt across the world.

The document predicts that abrupt climate change could bring the planet to the edge of anarchy as countries develop a nuclear threat to defend and secure dwindling food, water and energy supplies. The threat to global stability vastly eclipses that of terrorism, say the few experts privy to its contents.

'Disruption and conflict will be endemic features of life,' concludes the Pentagon analysis. 'Once again, warfare would define human life.'

The findings will prove humiliating to the Bush administration, which has repeatedly denied that climate change even exists. Experts said that they will also make unsettling reading for a President who has insisted national defence is a priority.

...

Climate change 'should be elevated beyond a scientific debate to a US national security concern', say the authors, Peter Schwartz, CIA consultant and former head of planning at Royal Dutch/Shell Group, and Doug Randall of the California-based Global Business Network.

An imminent scenario of catastrophic climate change is 'plausible and would challenge United States national security in ways that should be considered immediately', they conclude. As early as next year widespread flooding by a rise in sea levels will create major upheaval for millions.

...

...The Pentagon is no wacko, liberal group, generally speaking it is conservative. If climate change is a threat to national security and the economy, then (the president) has to act. ...

...

Already, according to Randall and Schwartz, the planet is carrying a higher population than it can sustain. By 2020 'catastrophic' shortages of water and energy supply will become increasingly harder to overcome, plunging the planet into war. They warn that 8,200 years ago climatic conditions brought widespread crop failure, famine, disease and mass migration of populations that could soon be repeated.

...

Symons said the Bush administration's close links to high-powered energy and oil companies was vital in understanding why climate change was received sceptically in the Oval Office. 'This administration is ignoring the evidence in order to placate a handful of large energy and oil companies,' he added.

Climate change skeptics -- good for you for not buying into every snake oil story that sails down the pike. But now the Defense Department of the United States says that not only is climate change real, it will have real and imminent repercussions for your everyday life. Read the words: anarchy, famine, wide-spread rioting.

How much more do you need?


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2/22/2008

It's Snowing. Stay Home and Watch Nigerian Movie Previews.

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Couldn't tell you about the quality of Nollywood's movies, but the previews are solid gold entertainment: crazy, intense and often pretty hilarious. They run as though on fast-forward.

Set aside an hour and see if you don't agree.

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2/21/2008

Wikileaks, Judge White, Free Speech, and the Importance of Being Contemporary

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The Wikileaks story continues, according to The Register and, of course, Wikileaks' own website. You won't find it at Wikileaks.org anymore, but you can find it here, here or here, among other places.

Like many of his fellow Bush appointees, US District Judge Jeffrey White finds himself in way over his head. Aren't you glad there aren't a few hundred thousand people's lives on the line this time around?

Almost a week after US District Judge Jeffrey White unequivocally ordered the disabling of the guerrilla outfit, it remains up, and its foot soldiers are as defiant as ever. More to the point, it continues to host internal documents purporting to prove that a bank located in the Cayman Islands engaged in money laundering and tax evasion - the same documents that landed it in hot water in the first place.

It remains doubtful that Wikileaks will ever be shut down. That's because the site, as reported earlier by the The New York Times Bits blog, is hosted by PRQ, a Sweden-based outfit that provides highly secure, no-questions-asked hosting services to its customers. It has almost no information about its clientele and maintains few if any of its own logs.

Oh yeah, PRQ is also run by Gottfrid Svartholm and Fredrik Neij, two of the founders of The Pirate Bay, the BitTorrent tracker site that, as a frequent target of the Hollywood elite, has amassed considerable expertise in withstanding legal attacks from powerful corporate interests.

Not that attorneys from the Julius Baer Bank and Trust, the bank accused of the misdeeds, haven't demanded PRQ disconnect the site.

"We have the usual small army of stupid lawyers that think we will piss our pants because they send us a scary letter," Svartholm said in a telephone interview. "We do employ our own legal staff. We are used to this sort of situation."

Also making a take-down difficult, Wikileaks maintains its own servers at undisclosed locations, keeps no logs and uses military-grade encryption to protect sources and other confidential information, according to an unidentified individual who answered a press inquiry sent to Wikileaks.

Hammering home his lack of motivation to understand even the basics of this undertaking, Judge White directed that, after shutting down the Wikileaks domain name, his order be emailed to Wikileaks -- whose emails had, by his initial order, been effectively shut down.

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2/20/2008

Which of These Two Zippo Lighters Is The Coolest?

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This has everything to do with art.

I've spent the past two weeks looking at Zippo lighters. I just got it in my head one day that I want a Zippo. This is the one thing missing in my life. Both my grandfathers had one. I remember thinking how cool it was the way those silvery things snapped open and shut. The smell of kerosene still takes me back.

It also fits like a hairy, paint-stained, poorly-trimmed-fingernailed hand into the worn leather driving glove of something I've been toying with for a while: the idea of The Manly Man. More on that later.


After looking at hundreds upon hundreds of Zippo lighters, I've cut my short list down to the two shown below. I'd be glad to own both of them, naturally, but I've been spending like a drunken sailor on shore leave since early December and the kitty's gone lean on me.
Plus I've got a balloon payment coming up on my Cryogenic Burial Vault Ice Cream Maker. More on that later.

Please use the Comments to vote for the Zippo, shown below, that you think is the coolest. I'll buy the Zippo that gets the most votes. Thanks!


Flaming Dice Zippo
Making art is about taking risks. You have one life, and two aspects of that one life: yin and yang. And sometimes you just gotta light yin and yang on fire and throw them out into the darkness. And then you have to go and read them after they stop rolling, to see what you rolled. And that's when you realize: It's a good thing I lit those dice on fire, or I never would have found them out here in the dark.

Joker Zippo
Because making art is about entertaining the mind, the eye, the other eye if there is one, sometimes the ear if it's video art with a sound track, sometimes the nose if it's old and smelly art or if it's made out of food. This Zippo has the additional advantage of actually looking like me. It's more like me around Christmas, when I run around with a hat and collar with jingle bells on them. But the face is like me most of the rest of the year, except the summer, when I get a deep cinnamon tan. The utilitarian aspect of this is, if I lost it someplace, and you found it, you could walk around with it until you found the guy that looks like the guy on the lighter.

OK. You've seen them. You've read my spiel. You're no doubt as torn as I am. You're wracking your brains. So, hit the Comment link and tell me which of these is the coolest! I thank you, my kids, whose votes broke both ways, thank you because now I can stop nagging them about it, and, deep inside, ladies included, your inner Manly Man thanks you.

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2/19/2008

David Newton, As Seen on Art Cal

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They're like sketchbook drawings in the air. Odd schematics, the jottings of a semi-mechanical mind. Some remind me of Paul Klee's drawings. There's a wonderful looseness to them, yet they ride herd on their own elements very skillfully.

Barry Hoggard's ArtCal is absolutely world class, incidentally. If you don't spend some time there every day, you're missing out. The layout's clean, it flows wonderfully, the subject matter's spot-on relevant and engaging, and he's got some terrific writers.

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2/18/2008

Wikileaks:
For News to Be Reliable, Must It Be Piecemeal?

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I've been on a tear for a while because there isn't one news venue that's reliable and not corrupted by its corporate ownership.

I learned about Wikileaks recently:

Wikileaks is developing an uncensorable Wikipedia for untraceable mass document leaking and analysis. Our primary interest is in exposing oppressive regimes in Asia, the former Soviet bloc, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, but we also expect to be of assistance to people of all regions who wish to reveal unethical behavior in their governments and corporations. We aim for maximum political impact. Our interface is identical to Wikipedia and usable by all types of people. We have received over 1.2 million documents so far from dissident communities and anonymous sources.
Today Wikileaks has been having issues relating to the exposure of documents that confirm tax evasion by a variety of big names in American corporations and, according to the buzz, politics as well, using a Cayman Islands bank. Apparently a California court ordered the shutdown of Wikileaks.org's domain name, which really changes nothing because it's still accessible via its DNS, and it exists for the most part on European servers, well beyond California's jurisdiction.

Ironic that its first big battle appears to be in a nation with freedom of speech written explicitly into its constitution.

I believe in the website's mission, and think it can be one small part of a larger information complex that could help citizens of any nation become informed. But it presents larger issues:
  • Near as I can tell, there's no vetting of sources on Wikileaks. Anyone using the Karl Rove playbook can work manipulative wonders by providing authentic-looking misinformation.
  • Privacy is ultimately nonexistent in a Wikileaks world. Anything can be leaked about anyone, with impunity.
With some funding and vetting, I could see Wikileaks growing into a powerful informational resource. Eliminating the journalistic middleman -- great because interpretation is left up to the reader, not so great because interpretation is left up to the reader.

It's sad to think that the only way a reliable news media can be developed is rogue and piecemeal. But maybe that's where we're headed culturally anyway. Maybe there's a development beyond this, the evolution of a volitional, technology-based hive mind.

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2/17/2008

Frank Rich Sees Change in America, and Suggests that American Leadership Must Ultimately Reflect This Change

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When I read Bill Clinton's take on the South Carolina primary -- he "expects blacks to vote for Obama and women to vote for Hillary" -- it became crystal-clear to me just how outdated and manipulative he's become.

Female Americans, black Americans, and black female Americans are all smart enough to choose a candidate based, not on their physical identification, but on their qualifications.

Identity politics always served only the politicians, never the electorate. This boneheaded stand-in for a strategy began with the politicians and their marketeers, not with the people. It's the same kind of advertising that corporations have been using for years to manipulate the same people.

But this product, the leadership of America, is more high-stakes than breakfast cereal. The wrong choice has proven to be disastrous and personally costly, well within the short memory horizon of most Americans.

We're tired of feeling cynical about our leaders. We want to feel like we stand a chance, again, for competent, perhaps even visionary, government.

In his NYTimes.com article today, Frank Rich shows who's going to pay for this and why.

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Paul Craig Roberts Joins a Sparse, Tardy and Dissonant Republican Chorus in Castigating the Bush Administration

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Quoth the former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury under Ronald Reagan:

What a laughing stock Bush has made of America. What ruination this utter idiot and his supporters have brought to America. What total traitors the neoconservatives are. Every last one of them should be immediately arrested for high treason. Neoconservatives are America’s greatest enemies, and they control our government! All Americans have to show for six years of Bush’s "war on terror" is an incipient police state.

Now standing in the wings is mad John "hundred year war" McCain. Will the American electorate wipe out the Republican Party before this insane party wipes out America?
It would have been great to read this kind of piece five or six years ago, in profusion, from the same quarter -- and not on fringe-dweller Lew Rockwell's crackpot website.

Roberts' piece comes off with all the feverish desperation of an old man's last-ditch scramble toward redemption, a lightning bolt of revelations that at this point are old news.

It makes the author seem a bit pathetic.
Read it yourself and see if you don't agree.

I'm reminded of Robert S. McNamara's book Argument Without End: In Search of Answers to the Vietnam Tragedy. The argument ended decades before the publication of the book. The answers have been only too apparent. And they stand as a powerful indictment of the author.



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Charles McGrath Asks, "Is PBS Still Necessary?"

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In a sense, PBS was never necessary, Charles. We could have gotten by without it, but it would have been a somewhat less-interesting ride before cable became fairly universal, one in which many children would have taken a bit longer to learn early reading and math skills.

I'm a bit surprised that Mr. McGrath doesn't arrive at better solutions to the ongoing Black Knight hacking public broadcasting has taken over the past decade.

Considering how much it costs to create new topnotch programming, the best solution to public television’s woes is the one that will probably never happen: more money, not less. Here too public radio has an edge, because giving listeners what they want doesn’t cost nearly as much. NPR has benefited, moreover, from a huge bequest from the estate of Joan Kroc, widow of the longtime McDonald’s chairman, and you could argue that it has spent its money more wisely than PBS, spiffing up existing shows rather than trying to come up with new ones. Listeners complained mightily when Bob Edwards was booted as host of “Morning Edition” in 2004, a month before his 57th birthday, but the change invigorated the show and ratings are up. (Jim Lehrer, 73, has been with “NewsHour” since 1975, so long that some of his early viewers are now in assisted living.)

But by far the greatest advantage of public radio is that, by not trolling after ratings, it has managed to stay distinctive: it does what nothing else on radio does and sticks to its core: news and public affairs and the oddball weekly show like “Car Talk” and “A Prairie Home Companion.” At the same time, public radio thrives, in a way that public TV does not, from internal competition: in addition to NPR, the old standby, there is the newer, hipper PRI (Public Radio International), importer of the invaluable BBC World Service news program and distributor of innovative shows like “Studio 360 With Kurt Andersen” and “This American Life,” which NPR did not fight for.

McGrath essentially confines PBS to a radio-only future, one in which Tom and Ray Magliozzi's high-pitched cackle sets the tune, while Garrison Keillor's quavering, brink-of-tears, Mayberry-for-Yuppies story narration slugs a ponderous bass line.

Any alien race tuning into our radio signals in a SETI-like project would immediately set their equipment on fire, toss in the blueprints and consign us to their version of a sinner's hell.

If the future of PBS is in the hands of people with as limited imagination as McGrath shows in today's NYTimes.com op-ed piece, it very well could be in its death throes.

It's obvious that the era is long gone in which cute puppet-headed kid's shows, how-to shows and powerful documentaries are only seen on PBS. Discovery, The History Channel, The Food Network and their ilk all do the same thing, better and in more dizzying profusion.

What PBS should really do, in my humble opinion, is what it did in its earliest days: determine what the public needs, and provide it.

What does the public need right now, right this very minute?

Our decade is characterized by the destruction of the boundary between journalism and entertainment. We badly need a 24-hour on-air news source that owes no quarter to any corporation, that perhaps even harbors underground aspects and does the kind of hard-hitting journalism that could bring down a corrupt administration. Remember when you could trust your newsman, when freedom of the press actually had meaning?

This is the kind of news source America needs right now, more than we need Coca-Cola, more than we need MacDonald's: when, for example, rumors of voting-place irregularities crop up in Ohio, we need a news source that will send a couple of pipe-hitting reporters out with the pliers and blowtorch to the Ohio election commission, who will sleep in the trees and eat bark and beetles, if need be, until all the information is out on the table.

And once the facts are out we need this news source to blare them loudly, repeatedly and from every venue possible.

We need a news source that has no interest in the lives of celebrities, a source that could broadcast "Nothing that's worth your attention happened today anywhere in the world" on a loop, if that's the case, and for as long as that's the case, rather than give one nanosecond of air time to a story about Britney, Anna Nicole, Michael Jackson, Roger Clemens, or any of the other empty-headed retinue that turns decent brains to mush.

For this kind and quality of news network, I'd jubilantly fork over $20 per month. I'd spend so much time giggling like a school girl, you'd have to gag me and straitjacket me, just to go about your ordinary lives.

I tried to pass this idea to Consumer's Union, the company responsible for Consumer Reports. They're the last outpost of trustworthy consumer information, and I wanted them to start a news network. In his reply, Kevin McKean, Consumer's Union VP and Editorial Director, pointed out that their approach is similar to the one I proposed as regards product journalism. This is really valuable, as you can imagine, when it comes to for example the pharmaceutical companies. But he took a pass on my "Pulp Fiction" Edward R. Murrow approach. Here's McKean's email reply:

Hi Bill,

Jim Guest passed along your email to me, and I wanted to say thanks for an interesting proposal.

You are definitely voicing a feeling that many other Americans share today. I suspect it may be partly due to the way the news has become politicized in recent years, with opinion and ideology too often substituting for good, solid factual reporting.

It would be wonderful if Consumers Union or some other trusted
non-commercial organization could step into the breach. And in fact, CU is already active in this area in at least a few ways. For example, the CU WebWatch project (consumerwebwatch.org) rates business policies, privacy pledges and quality of content at a number of different kinds of websites, including many that report on the news. And our main website (consumerreports.org) and CR magazine provide unbiased coverage of news about products, safety issues, consumer rights, and the like.

Taking on news beyond that scope might be challenging, though, given the limited resources here -- even if, as you suggest, people might be willing to pay for the service. But you can at least be sure that CU will continue to provide vigorous coverage of those issues that are central to our mission. You can also be sure -- perhaps most importantly to your point -- that CU will always endeavor to *do the stories they can't do* precisely because they must accept corporate sponsorship. (Imagine, for example, how hard it would be for an ad-supported medical magazine to pick apart a typical drug company ad in order to separate truth from claim, as CR magazine has done.)

That's CU's key contribution to journalism, and people here are very mindful of its importance -- thanks in part to reminders like yours.

By the way, I very much enjoyed the art work at billgusky.com!

Best wishes,

Kevin

Kevin McKean
VP/Editorial Director
Consumer Reports
101 Truman Ave.
Yonkers, NY 10703

I removed Kevin's email address and phone/fax numbers to keep him from getting bombarded with communiques. If you want them, email me.

It's about the resources, as would be the case with PBS. I'm willing to bet that, if every American who feels the same desperate need for serious news journalism sent a similar proposal to Consumer's Union, along with a promise to pledge $20 per month for it, it wouldn't be long before they'd do something.

Maybe what's needed is a partnership between Consumer's Union and PBS.

The resource argument is daunting, but can you minimize the cash-generating potential of being the one reliable news source in America?

Now, on top of the quality and value presented by this news source, add the power of a pervasive ad campaign that uses every low-and-no-dollar venue possible, plus some of the big-dollar ones, to educate Americans about their dire need for this service. I'm talking Jedi ad writers here, brilliant, pithy, humorous ad pieces that show Americans that they're being lied to time and again -- that it's time to come out of the darkness of corporate infotainment.

Let us pray...

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2/16/2008

Confirmed: I Grew Up on Radioactive Milk

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I've sometimes told a story about how the prevailing winds from the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico carried nuclear fallout over the fields where the cows grazed that provided my home town with milk. Basically I used the radioactive milk excuse to explain my library of idiosyncrasies.

C'mon now -- if you're highly idiosyncratic, you know how tedious explaining yourself to the plain vanilla world can become. For a more famous example, see Curb Your Enthusiasm.

It turns out that I was dead-on about the radioactive milk. And all those years I had no idea how correct I was.

You know, that kind of thing happens to me all the time...

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Paul Graham's
Six Principles for Making New Things

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I married a scientist. I like to tinker with programming, and I'm interested in astronomy. So it doesn't surprise me when someone like essayist, programmer and programming language designer Paul Graham kicks out a list as brilliant, elegant, and applicable to art-making as these Six Principles for Making New Things:

I like to find
(a) simple solutions
(b) to overlooked problems
(c) that actually need to be solved, and
(d) deliver them as informally as possible
(e) starting with a very crude version 1, then
(f) iterating rapidly

Sounds to me like 20th century art history. Personally, I would consider adding one item:

(g) until it's not new anymore

or
(g) until iteration becomes ridiculous reiteration

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Retablos -- Paintings Commissioned by Mexican Immigrants to America in Thanksgiving for Divine Intervention in the Crossing

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From a special issue of the Journal of American History, as found on Indiana University's website -- this and six or eight others:

"Amador de Lira gives the most infinite thanks for the miracle of saving them as they crossed the dangerous river in Texas."
Retablo of Amador de Lira. Undated. Oil on metal.

14.7 x 24.4 cm.

Source: Jorge Durand and Douglas S. Massay, Miracles on the Border: Retablos of Mexican Migrants to the United States. (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1995. xvi, 216 pp. Cloth, $52.00, ISBN 0816514712. Paper, $25.95, ISBN 0816514976), 131.

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2/15/2008

Roberta Smith Bemoans the "Trophy Rooms" of the Broad Contemporary Art Museum in Los Angeles

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I have to admit that, while I get her point regarding Broad -- the best I can, anyway, from 3500 miles away -- I consider the shortcomings Ms. Smith speaks of more as pervasive and institutional, rather than specific to this museum.

Even so,
it would still be pretty cool to share a morning, particularly a sparsely attended morning, in LA with these artworks.

I'm glad that there's the mention of contemporary art here, although I don't see most of the artists listed as contemporary. These are established, big-name properties, whose values of course are being maintained by this ongoing sifting process, at which art museums and the art sections of big newspapers are so skilled.

Face it: you don't go to a museum to see truly contemporary art. You're there to see sanctioned art, approved art, culture with an imprimatur. You're there for the already-discovered, picked-over and invested-in. Yesterday's crop. Once it's in a museum, the concept is solidified. Sure, the artist may ultimately evince the courage and imagination needed to evolve into something completely different -- big-ups from me when they do -- but that which you see in the big white laboratory is laminated, like tissue culture on a microscope slide.

With a number of notable exceptions. This isn't Physics, after all. There are gray areas. And, make no mistake, I've had a lot of fun looking through microscopes at tissue cultures.

But I suppose that if museums, as a rule, showed up-to-the-minute contemporary artists, names with little or no recognition, they'd really be galleries, wouldn't they? Galleries that don't sell.

How could something like that pay for itself?

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2/10/2008

Eli Broad Plays "GOTCHA!" With the Los Angeles County Museum of Art

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It takes a billionaire to jerk around a city this big. From this morning's NYTimes.com:

...the art world was taken aback last month when, on the eve of the opening of the Broad Contemporary Art Museum, a $56 million addition to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art for which he chose the architect and paid the bill, Mr. Broad abruptly seemed to undermine his own cause.

Rather than pledge to donate his extensive collection of contemporary art to the new institution — a move that some viewed as inevitable, given that his name was to be on the door — Mr. Broad said he had decided instead to keep it in his private foundation. Far better, he argued, to lend the 2,000-odd works to museums around the world than to risk their being largely relegated to storage in Los Angeles.

The result is like a bad joke from God, played out on Lacma and, by extension, on the institution of the museum itself. And it is a bit funny, you have to admit; museums come off as so entitled at times, due in no small part to decades of donor generosity from philanthropists nearing Eli Broad's financial scale, but lacking Eli Broad's imagination.

I completely agree with Mr. Broad on this one, and not just because it's my policy to kiss up to wealthy collectors. Too many museum-owned works of art languish in storage, underscoring my argument that these are the places where the art goes to die, culture's mortuary vaults.

But if the only outcome of Broad's breathtaking defiance of art establishment norms is that Lacma feels a sting, in my humble estimation it's a wasted opportunity. This would be a great moment for the institution to pick its massive, overly-endowed knuckles up off the ground, lean back on its gold-plated spine and learn to walk erect. It's way past time that art museums evolved into a form better able to deliver the general public pervasive, relevant access to art.

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2/09/2008

Neil Young Decides that Music Can't Change the World. Hold On a Second...

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From the February 8 Breitbart article:

Canadian folk rock legend Neil Young said he has lost all hope that music can change the world, as he presented a documentary about his 2006 anti-war concert tour at the Berlin film festival on Friday.

"I know that the time when music could change the world is past. I really doubt that a single song can make a difference. It is a reality," Young told reporters.

"I don't think the tour had any impact on voters."

Wait wait wait... didn't many of those songs propagate and solidify an active core during the 1960's? Didn't this core go on to influence Congress and eventually a president?

How many babies went out the window with that bath water, Neil?

Here's my opinion as to why Neil's latest concert didn't influence anything: the audience he really connects with -- to wit, the Woodstock Generation -- has already made up its mind. His real gripe is with the changing times.

Iconic stars like Neil Young -- unique talents with intelligence and a sense of responsibility -- don't emerge these days. That small percentage of superstars we do see might hit on one or even two of those points, but they lose out on the third nearly every time. And the vast majority of performers, including most of the ones the college kids pay their work-study money to see, never approach superstar status. This is the era of the throwaway star.

I watched a fairly prominent band drive up to a concert in an old station wagon. The record companies work these kids like dogs, pay them whatever's left after all the expenses are covered -- read "not much" -- and send them packing. A few years later many of them are pulling down whatever kinds of day jobs a high school education, multiple body piercings and crowds of tattoos will get you.

It isn't that music couldn't have some influence. It's more that there's no loyalty anywhere on deck, whether from corporations, artists or customers. No loyalty means no leaders. Worse still, all messages must compete with the blizzard of ads continuously generated by corporations.

The next useful message that's going to arise isn't going to be "Bush is an Idiot," or "Thank God for Bush," or any other message that competes in the media arena owned by Coke, FOX, MTV, BET, Sony, McDonald's, Comcast, Time/Warner, General Motors, and all the rest. And it won't come from the corporate-sponsored US government.

It will be a more foundational message. It will spread virally. Everyone on every side of every issue will benefit from it immediately. And the message will be,

"Tune Out the Media."

Positive substantial change will be unavoidable, once this message is taken to America's heart of gold.



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"Nicolas Poussin Painting Parts -- Reunited!" Raves The New York Times; Readers Yawn and Remember Why They Stopped Caring About Visual Art

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Meanwhile, relevant art continued to develop far beyond the radar of America's newspaper of record.

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Georgia O'Keeffe Keeps One Dead Foot Planted Firmly in the Back of Fisk University -- ?

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From this morning's NYTimes.com:

Judge Nixes University Plan to Share Art

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: February 8, 2008

Filed at 9:55 p.m. ET

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- A judge on Friday threw out Fisk University's $30 million proposal to share an art collection with a museum founded by a Wal-Mart heiress in Arkansas.

Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle said the deal was not in keeping with the wishes of artist Georgia O'Keeffe, who donated the 101-piece collection to the historically black university in 1949.

Lyle said O'Keeffe never meant for the cash-strapped school to use it for fundraising purposes.

The art-sharing proposal would have seen the collection travel between Nashville and the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark. The museum was founded by Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton.

A trial scheduled for later this month will now determine whether Fisk should forfeit the entire collection to the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in New Mexico. ...

Now seriously, Judgey: were Ms. O'Keeffe alive today, is this the kind of response to your ruling that you'd expect her to deliver:

"Yeah, screw you, Fisk. Not only do I forbid you from obtaining any financial remuneration whatsoever from this collection, but I insist that you eat the enormous expenses of maintaining and insuring it, forever!" Insert fiendish witch cackle here.

Did Georgia O'Keeffe really intend that this incredibly generous gift -- given "because Fisk educated blacks in the segregated South" -- should become an iron jackboot for future generations of museum mucky-mucks and blinkered bench-jockeys to drive into Fisk University's frail back?

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2/08/2008

John McCain Thinks America's War on Iraq was "Necessary and Just."
Meet Some Who Disagree.

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This and other disturbing images of Iraq's children are posted here.
Want the same in Iran? Vote John McCain.

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2/03/2008

Rick Perlstein Asks,
"Do We Stand a Chance of
Getting Past the 60's?"

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In this Washington Post editorial, Rick Perlstein takes issue with those who assert that Obama can take America beyond the tired, stale issues of the Baby Boom generation.

A President Obama could no more magically transcend America's '60s-born divisions than McCarthy, Kennedy, Nixon or McGovern could, for the simple reason that our society is defined as much by its arguments as by its agreements. Over the meaning of "family," on sexual morality, on questions of race and gender and war and peace and order and disorder and North and South and a dozen other areas, we remain divided in ways that first arose after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963. What Andrew Sullivan dismisses as "the symbolic battles of the Boomer generation" do not separate us from our "actual problems"; they define us, as much as the Great War defined France in the 1920s, '30s, '40s and beyond. Pretending otherwise simply isn't healthy. It's repression -- the kind of thing that shrinks say causes neurosis.
It depresses the hell out of me to think that we're so firmly anchored as a culture to events approaching fifty years old. I'd like to see some real social progress in my lifetime, but it doesn't seem bloody likely as America replays cycles of division and all-too-brief, usually crisis-bought, reconciliation -- not to mention the foreign policy mistakes that legions of memorial stone-carvers have come to rely on.

I was generous once to the New York Times in saying that their coverage of contemporary art is roughly balanced with articles about historical art, but I'm going to retract that generosity now. As evidence I'll cite their latest piece, on fellow Connecticut resident Jasper Johns, which includes a slideshow with some compelling contemporary work. I've often been inspired by Johns' work, and he holds a high place in my pantheon. Even so, I feel like this is still historical work; it's all still tied to the 60's. Articles like this, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art show "Jasper Johns: Gray," for which it functions as a publicity piece, exist for the purpose of maintaining or enhancing the cash money value of the artist's works currently in private collections.

Seriously, what astounding new revelations await us by further curatorial attention to Johns' gray pieces? Meanwhile, new revelations pop up all the time in galleries and studios across the world. They deserve serious attention from newspapers and periodicals outside the usual art world trade papers. Our culture stands to benefit greatly from them, but that won't happen if they never see the light of day.

Bad enough that we're politically, socially and culturally trapped in the 60's, but the reasons in every case, from no-bid contracts for Halliburton to the Boomer-established culture biz to shows of artists whose cultural contributions were made decades ago, all boil down to the continual greasing of a handful of rich guys.

Were we to free ourselves from the kind of corporate culture czars currently holding us hostage to The Woodstock Decade, we might be more able to propagate ideas that can propel us into new and better territory. At that point we might actually stand a chance of growing beyond issues we should at this point consider medieval, such as "the meaning of 'family,' sexual morality, questions of race and gender and war and peace and order and disorder and North and South and a dozen other areas."

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2/02/2008

Need a Free, Easy-to-Use Online Portfolio?
Indexhibit

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If you're not moderately proficient in building websites, Indexhibit looks like it could be your solution for getting your portfolio on the web.

It's a free download, it's apparently easy to use, and judging from the sites that were built using Indexhibit, it's fairly robust.

Check out the massive list of artists already using it.

Like the man says, fifty thousand Elvis fans can't be wrong.


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Political Poetry

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