December 20, 2010

An Innocent Sense of Self

OLD MOLE, 1985
Red cedar, 61 x 61, 32 in.
Philadelphia Museum of Art

Excerpt from Martin Puryear by Neal Benezra, first published 1991 by The Art Institute of Chicago and Thames and Hudson:

"Puryear understands the disillusion that has bred a current wave of critical attitudes toward modern art and contemporary culture, yet he does not consider an often nostalgic reinterpretation of past styles, nor a cynical analysis of contemporary cultural forms, to be viable approaches to making art. Although Puryear is himself critical of much in contemporary society, he believes that this only underscores the need for an art that is original and undogmatic. That is, while Puryear recognizes the postmodernist loss of faith, this only enlarges his faith in himself and his art as a way of transcending traditions of all sorts. Rather than pessimism, Puryear exudes an enthusiasm for life, experience, and the next sculpture in the studio. In conversation, he likens his belief in art to that of Jof, the simple juggler in the Swedish director Ingmar Bergman's film The Seventh Seal. While the knight struggles valiantly to confound death and the devil in a futile game of chess, Jof remains possessed of thoughts and visions, of an innocent sense of self, and of a future beyond."   

Martin Puryear in his studio, Chicago, 1987

Red cedar and aluminum paint
97 x 58 x 46 in.
Dallas Museum of Art

December 6, 2010

Emancipate Yourselves From Mental Slavery

Western countries profess freedom and pass "moral" judgment daily on other nations and governments, but they also have much to answer for. The powers that be want to stay in total power and they're going hard after WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange (one can obviously reason for the release of classified U.S. diplomatic cables). As reported by Ravi Somaiya in an article titled Assange to Meet with British Police, Lawyer Says in today's New York Times:

"Mr. Assange is facing extradition to Sweden, prompted by Swedish prosecutors seeking information on allegations of rape, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion made by two women in Stockholm this summer.

According to accounts the women gave the police and friends, they each had consensual sexual encounters with Mr. Assange that became nonconsensual. One woman said that Mr. Assange had ignored her appeals to stop after a condom broke. The other woman said that she and Mr. Assange had begun a sexual encounter using a condom, but that Mr. Assange did not comply with her appeals to stop when it was no longer in use. Mr. Assange has denied any wrongdoing and has questioned the veracity of those accounts."

. . . . . . . . 

Follow this link to a blog post by Dave Lindorff titled Support WikiLeaks and Julian Assange!  Mr. Lindorff writes:

"WikiLeaks is under concerted attack from the US government. Also under attack by the US government is the whole idea of freedom of thought and of information."

. . . . . . . .  

Excerpt from Redemption Song written by Bob Marley:

Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery;
None but ourselves can free our minds.
Have no fear for atomic energy,
'Cause none of them can stop the time.
How long shall they kill our prophets,
While we stand aside and look? Ooh!
Some say it's just a part of it:
We've got to fulfill the book.

Won't you help to sing
These songs of freedom?
'Cause all I ever have 
Redemption songs

. . . . . . . . 

Follow this link to an article by the CNN Wire Staff titled Assange responds to readers online. In Julian Assange's words:

"The west has fiscalised its basic power relationships through a web of contracts, loans, shareholdings, bank holdings and so on. In such an environment it is easy for speech to be "free" because a change in political will rarely leads to any change in these basic instruments. Western speech, as something that rarely has an effect on power, is, like badgers and birds, free. In states like China, there is pervasive censorship, because speech still has power and power is scared of it. We should always look at censorship as an economic signal that reveals the potential power of speech in that jurisdiction. The attacks against us by the US point to a great hope, speech powerful enough to break the fiscal blockage." 

. . . . . . . . 

Follow this link to an article by Ravi Somaiya titled Hundreds of WikiLeaks Mirror Sites Appear published in the December 5, 2010 edition of the New York Times. The author notes:

"The reason is amazingly simple," Mr. Housh (Gregg Housh) said of the campaign. "We all believe that information should be free, and the Internet should be free."

November 27, 2010

Where Is The Blood?

HUNGREED - A compound word (hungry and greed) 
seen on the sidewalk at 57th St. and Park Ave. in NYC

In an Op-Ed article titled Hiding From Reality published in the New York Times on November 19, 2010, Bob Herbert writes:

The wreckage from the recession and the nation's mindlessly destructive policies in the years leading up to the recession is all around us. We still don't have the money to pay for the wars that we insist on fighting year after year. We have neither the will nor the common sense to either raise taxes to pay for the wars, or stop fighting them.

State and local governments, faced with fiscal nightmares, are reducing services, cutting their work forces, hacking away at health and pension benefits, and raising taxes and fees. So far it hasn't been enough, so there is more carnage to come. In many cases, the austerity measures are punishing some of the most vulnerable people, including children, the sick and the disabled.

Further in the article, Mr Herbert writes:

All we are good at is bulldozing money to the very wealthy. No wonder the country is in such a deep slide.

. . . . . . . . 

I noticed with much interest the following powerful response in the Readers' Comments written by dad, nj.

Thank you, Mr. Herbert, for caring. I care, too. But I think these issues are less about denial and more about deception. "Highly developed" human societies tend to grow in favorable ways only in the event of certain circumstances, usually following a deteriorating spiral which begins with greed and manifests in war. When enough blood has been spilled, and given fortuitous leadership, a new society might be born, better than the one that preceded it.

The golden age of the American middle class, now coming to an end, was born of the crucible of World War Two. A national mobilization here in the U.S., complete with shared sacrifice, rationing, progressive taxation, and universal conscription set the stage for a comparatively unified culture and societal bonds which cut against issues of class, race, and educational inequalities. It did not, however, cure these issues, it merely eased them for a considerable time.

We are in dire straights (straits) again, but without the shared sacrifice and common sense of purpose. As a people, we are being viewed more and more as simply another accumulation of wealth being aggressively plundered by a new world order of privileged criminals, running under the flags of multinational corporations. We have little value as human beings, with little dignity granted. We are digits, being exploited for our value as consumers, or our value as "the insured," or our value as a nest egg which can be tapped through market forces, or better yet, end of life care.

I'm not saying that the great majority of people are without caring. I'm saying that our leaders are without nobility and that we are becoming buried in their convenient deceptions, all designed to part people from their resources, both potential and accumulated.

People cannot bond to things they don't believe in, not in a healthy way. Lies, deceptions, manipulations, and abuse of trust do not make for cohesive societies, and so ours is not.

But somewhere up there, in the rare air of the power-mad, people have plans for us, and it isn't going to be pretty.

You lament, on many occasions, the conditions of those of us who are left behind, as though we would want to be included in this spectacle, when many of the disenfranchised want nothing to do with "the man's" ideas of success because it is so corrupt. Sadly, the laws that exiles impose on themselves, their neighborhoods, and the families can be equally cruel and misguided, or more so.

I think people need to begin to recognize the real slave masters before they can embark on a real discussion of what ails us. Even so, the masters will never give up power willingly. They need to be confronted by forces greater than themselves and their egos. The rest of us are caught in their play. Some of us will endure, many will perish. When enough blood has been spilled, and with the good fortune of true leadership, we might emerge again, as an improved society. But those times are rare in the course of human history.

For my daughters' sake I am hopeful, but the depth of the lies we are being fed is almost unfathomable.

November 17, 2010

Love Is The Answer

During the holiday season, the Howard Greenberg Gallery in New York will be exhibiting an eclectic Staff Picks show from December 9, 2010 through January 15, 2011. Following are my thoughts and selections for the show.

. . . . . . . . 

In a time of rhetoric and ideologies, I look again to creative thinkers to instill a sense of hope and human commonality. Two thoughtful lines from John Lennon's song "Mind Games" often come to mind:

Love is the answer and you know that for sure
Love is a flower, you got to let it, you got to let it grow

The photographs I have selected by Werner Bischof, Robert Frank, Dave Heath, Marc Riboud, and Josef Sudek all show small moments of beauty and possibilities. Peace and empathy must prevail if we are to indeed grow as a people.

- Pak So

. . . . . . . . 

Werner Bischof
Japan, c.1952

Robert Frank
Tulip, Paris, 1950

Josef Sudek
White Rose, 1950-54

Marc Riboud - Confrontation between a flower and the 
bayonets of soldiers guarding the Pentagon during the March 
for Peace in Vietnam, Washington, D.C., October 21, 1967

Dave Heath
New York City, 1959-61

November 8, 2010

Independent Moral Agents

Motherwell in his studio, New York, 1943 
Photograph by Peter A. Juley & Son

Excerpts from The Collected Writings of Robert Motherwell, edited by Stephanie Terenzio and first published in 1992 by Oxford University Press, NY:

The social condition of the modern world which gives every experience its form is the spiritual breakdown which followed the collapse of religion. This condition has led to the isolation of the artist from the rest of society. The modern artist's social history is that of a spiritual being in a property-loving world.

No synthesized view of reality has replaced religion. Science is not a view, but a method. The consequence is that the modern artist tends to become the last active spiritual being in the great world. It is true that each artist has his own religion. It is true that artists are constantly excommunicating each other. It is true that artists are not always pure, that some times they are concerned with their public standing or their material circumstance. Yet for all that it is the artists who guard the spiritual in the modern world.

. . . . . . . . 

But such pictures are also assertions of positive values, conscious or not, presentational structures (in the language of modern logic) there to be felt. In my own work, for instance, sometimes there is humor, a kind of blague as a critic recently wrote, with different ranges of reference - technical, social, and perhaps even metaphysical - I am not sure. Sometimes my essential loneliness creeps into the work, or anguish. But I try to suppress these qualities. It is more seemly to keep one's suffering to oneself. I resent it when I see that I was unable, on occasion, to muffle the shriek that lies deep in nearly everyone. My main effort is to come into harmony with myself, to paint as I breathe or move, or dream, to make works that are as natural in their execution, as inevitable in their ultimate form as a stone or a wall. To realize such an ideal is a lifelong task.

I take neither my subjects nor the mode of painting them from the world of intellectuals. I have been mainly a lyrical artist, a "poet," if you like, with occasional dramatic or satirical overtones. I loathe every form of ideology: politics, religion, aesthetics, domestic relations. I am interested in persons who are independent moral agents. Most "intellectuals" I have seen were quite properly labeled by a friend of mine, Harold Rosenberg, the poet, as "a herd of independent minds." But I also dislike painters who talk as though they were carpenters or some other kind of craftsman, who speak as though art is not a question of inspiration - of something in you that arises as simply, beautifully, and unpredictably as the flight of a bird.

. . . . . . . . 

A hundred years ago Leconte de Lisle wrote what could have been a dada slogan, "I hate my epoch." But the problem now, as then, is to change the epoch, not to pass through it uninvolved, like Duchamp's Young Man on a Train.

November 6, 2010

Apple Trees, Honey Bees and Snow White Turtle Doves

CAGW - The TV AD - "Chinese Professor" 
posted by fab4bear on YouTube

On election night this week, I turned on the television to watch a major network's coverage and was immediately sucker-punched by a loaded Citizens Against Government Waste ad that came on (see video above). Goodness ... select groups of the wealthy and their lapdogs don't even try to disguise their propaganda of control and fear anymore, do they? At least when creative marketers used to sell sugar water (see videos from the 1970's below) to the world, they would throw in a mini-rainbow coalition singing along to a heartwarming ditty to "connect" with the masses on a "deeper" level. 

Nowadays, ordinary citizens of the United States are easily hoodwinked to hate just about everyone and are encouraged to become the obedient fools our corporate kings and queens so very much want us to be. We're blinded and can't see the truth, even if it's right there in black and white in front of us.

Coca-Cola 70's Christmas Hilltop Commercial 
posted by cocacola86artgallery on YouTube

Excerpt from an October 14, 2010 New York Times article titled Boehner's Path to Power Began in Small-Town Ohio by Jennifer Steinhauer and Carl Hulse:

The culture wars that would later define the Republican Party were also far from the minds of the boys of Reading. "There just weren't as many issues then," said Jerry Vanden Eyden, Mr. Boehner's closest childhood friend. "You didn't know anything about gays, you didn't know anything about abortion, you didn't know anything about a lot of the social issues they got today," he said. "We didn't hear about it, didn't worry about it, didn't talk about it, didn't think about it."

It was work, and taxes, that politicized Mr. Boehner.

"Growing up, we were probably Kennedy Catholics because we were a strong devout Catholic family," said Bob Boehner, the congressman's older brother, who like all his siblings eventually switched party allegiance. "But the first time you get a real job and get your paycheck, you look down and you wonder, where's the rest of your money, and they explain to you that that's the tax you have to pay to the government, you start thinking more and more about becoming a Republican."

70's "I'd Like to Buy the World a Coke" Commercial 
posted by michend2003 on YouTube

Excerpt from an October 30, 2010 New York Times Op-Ed article titled It's Morning in India by Thomas L. Friedman:

India and America are both democracies, a top Indian official explained to me, but emotionally they are now ships passing in the night. Because today the poorest Indian maid believes that if she can just save a few dollars to get her kid English lessons, that kid will have a better life than she does. So she is an optimist. "But the guy in Kansas," he added, "who today is enjoying a better life than the maid, is worried that he can't pass it on to his kids. So he's a pessimist."

Yes, when America lapses into a bad mood, everyone notices. After asking for an explanation of the Tea Party's politics, Gupta remarked: We have moved away from a politics of grievance to a politics of aspiration. Where is the American dream? Where is the optimism?"

October 30, 2010


Photograph by Leon Levinstein

YouTube video  of Johnny Hartman's rendition of 
I See Your Face Before Me posted by MissQueSeraSera

In a world of glitter and glow
In a world of tinsel and show
The unreal from the real thing is hard to know

I discovered somebody who
Could be truly worthy and true
Yes, I met my ideal thing when I met you

I see your face before me
Crowding my every dream
There is your face before me
You are my only theme

It doesn't matter where you are
I can see how fair you are
I close my eyes and there you are always

If you could share the magic
If you could see me too
There would be nothing tragic
In all my dreams of you

Would that my love could haunt you so
Knowing I want you so
I can't erase your beautiful face before me

- Lyrics and music by Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz

October 11, 2010

Dear Mr. Paladino: Not One Kneels To Another

Photographs taken by Stellar Year Photography 

We've just recently returned from an inspiring trip to Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park and, lo and behold, here's the toxic sludge that we walk back into. A large number of the wealthy as well as the "elite" members of the Republican and Tea Parties continue to strategically pit different groups against one another in a calculated program of hate and intolerance. No need to fill all the bowls with food and water when your subjects can be conditioned to fight one another for table scraps. No need to talk about real change and progress when a regressive American society and a nation of obedient nincompoops are really what the ruling "elite" is after.   

As Elizabeth A. Harris reports in her article titled Paladino Laces Speech With Antigay Remarks from the October 10, 2010 edition of The New York Times:

"The Republican candidate for governor (of New York), Carl P. Paladino, told a gathering in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, on Sunday that children should not be "brainwashed" into thinking that homosexuality was acceptable, and criticized his opponent, Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo for marching in a gay pride parade earlier this year.

Addressing Orthodox Jewish leaders, Mr. Paladino described his opposition to same-sex marriage.

"I just think my children and your children would be much better off and much more successful getting married and raising a family, and I don't want them brainwashed into thinking that homosexuality is an equally valid and successful option - it isn't," he said, reading from a prepared address, according to a video of the event.

And then, to applause at Congregation Shaarei Chaim, he said: "I didn't march in the gay parade this year - the gay pride parade this year. My opponent did, and that's not the example we should be showing our children." reported that Mr. Paladino's prepared text had included the sentence: "There is nothing to be proud of in being a dysfunctional homosexual." But Mr. Paladino omitted the sentence in his speech."

Ms. Harris continues in the article:

"Brian Ellner, head of the marriage initiative for the gay advocacy group Human Rights Campaign, said that the Republican's remarks were insensitive given a recent swirl of news about suicide in the gay community and antigay violence.

The New York City Police Department announced on Friday that nine men in the Bronx had lured three men they believed were gay and then tortured them. Last month, a student at Rutgers University jumped off the George Washington Bridge after two classmates broadcast his sexual encounter with a man over the Internet."

Excerpt from Song of Myself by the poet Walt Whitman:

I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and self-contain'd,
I stand and look at them long and long.

They do not sweat and whine about their condition,
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,
Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things,
Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago,
Not one is respectable or unhappy over the whole earth.

From an interview with the writer "Digger" Jerry George in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks by Brian Kevin, published 2009 by Fodor's Compass America Guides:

Brian Kevin: Given all your park experience, what makes Yellowstone stand out?

Jerry George: All life in Yellowstone has been extinguished five times in the last two million years - maybe six. And look at what it is today. Yellowstone does more to renew our faith in the ability of the planet to persevere than any other place.

It's humbling. And yet, the humbling that Yellowstone does is not a debilitating humbling. It's actually an empowering humbling. It leaves you feeling comfortable that it's not all on your shoulders. In fact, it doesn't give a damn about your shoulders at all. And that's a healthy thing for people to realize.

October 6, 2010

People Have to Step Up

> Click on this link to read Bob Herbert's Op-Ed article titled That's Where the Money Is in the October 5, 2010 edition of The New York Times. 

Click on this link to read the recommended Reader's Comments for Mr. Herbert's Op-Ed article.  

. . . . . . . . 

Following is an excerpt from the conclusion of Jann S. Wenner's article titled Obama in Command: The Rolling Stone Interview  published in the October 15, 2010 issue of Rolling Stone:

"[Signaled by his aides, the president brings the interview to a close and leaves the Oval Office. A moment later, however, he returns to the office and says that he has one more thing to add. He speaks with intensity and passion, repeatedly stabbing the air with his finger.]

One closing remark that I want to make: It is inexcusable for any Democrat or progressive right now to stand on the sidelines in this midterm election. There may be complaints about us not having gotten certain things done, not fast enough, making certain legislative compromises. But right now, we've got a choice between a Republican Party that has moved to the right of George Bush and is looking to lock in the same policies that got us into these disasters in the first place, versus an administration that, with some admitted warts, has been the most successful administration in a generation in moving progressive agendas forward.

The idea that we've got a lack of enthusiasm in the Democratic base, that people are sitting on their hands complaining, is just irresponsible.

Everybody out there has to be thinking about what's at stake in this election and if they want to move forward over the next two years or six years or 10 years on key issues like climate change, key issues like how we restore a sense of equity and optimism to middle-class families who have seen their incomes decline by five percent over the last decade.  If we want the kind of country that respects civil rights and civil liberties, we'd better fight in this election. And right now, we are getting outspent eight to one by these 527s that the Roberts court says can spend with impunity without disclosing where their money's coming from. In every single one of these congressional districts, you are seeing these independent organizations outspend political parties and the candidates by, as I said, factors of four to one, five to one, eight to one, 10 to one.

We have to get folks off the sidelines. People need to shake off this lethargy, people need to buck up. Bringing about change is hard - that's what I said during the campaign. It has been hard, and we've got some lumps to show for it. But if people now want to take their ball and go home, that tells me folks weren't serious in the first place.

If you're serious, now's exactly the time that people have to step up."

October 3, 2010

Into Total Moral Collapse

Sign seen at the Cable Car Museum 
in San Francisco, CA

Excerpt from an article written by Michael Lewis for the October 2010 issue of Vanity Fair titled Beware of Greeks Bearing Bonds:

"The Greek state was not just corrupt but also corrupting. Once you saw how it worked you could understand a phenomenon which otherwise made no sense at all: the difficulty Greek people have saying a kind word about one another. Individual Greeks are delightful: funny, warm, smart, and good company. I left two dozen interviews saying to myself, "What great people!" They do not share the sentiment about one another: the hardest thing to do in Greece is to get one Greek to compliment another behind his back. No success of any kind is regarded without suspicion. Everyone is pretty sure everyone is cheating on his taxes, or bribing politicians, or taking bribes, or lying about the value of his real estate. And this total absence of faith in one another is self-reinforcing. The epidemic of lying and cheating and stealing makes any sort of civic life impossible; the collapse of civic life only encourages more lying, cheating, and stealing. Lacking faith in one another, they fall back on themselves and their families.

The structure of the Greek economy is collectivist, but the country, in spirit, is the opposite of a collective. Its real structure is every man for himself. Into this system investors had poured hundreds of billions of dollars. And the credit boom had pushed the country over the edge, into total moral collapse."

. . . . . . . . 

"Just now the global financial system is consumed with the question of whether the Greeks will default on their debts. At times it seems as if it is the only question that matters, for if Greece walks away from $400 billion in debt, then the European banks that lent the money will go down, and other countries now flirting with bankruptcy (Spain, Portugal) might easily follow. But this question of whether Greece will repay its debts is really a question of whether Greece will change its culture, and that will happen only if Greeks want to change. I am told 50 times if I am told once that what Greeks care about is "justice" and what really boils the Greek blood is the feeling of unfairness. Obviously this distinguishes them from no human being on the planet, and ignores what's interesting: exactly what a Greek finds unfair. It's clearly not the corruption of their political system. It's not cheating on their taxes, or taking small bribes in their service to the state. No: what bothers them is when some outside party - someone clearly different from themselves, with motives apart from narrow and easily understood self-interest - comes in and exploits the corruption of their system. Enter the monks."

September 17, 2010

I Feel Very Lonely In This Culture

Coney Island, Fourth of July, 1958
Gelatin silver print by Robert Frank

From Robert Frank's column for Creative Camera, no. 60 (June 1969) titled Robert Frank: Letter from New York:

"... I don't really know why I'm going to put down Helen Frankenthaler, a New York painter who is going to have a big show at the Whitney Museum in NY. This is how it happens: I am at the printers where The Americans is being reprinted. There, on another press, the catalogue for Frankenthaler's show is run off. The paintings look at me and I look at them: a cold fury comes over me, what white emptiness, what meaningless elegance, what indulgence into TASTE and intellectual snobbery. What makes a show like Frankenthaler's possible is Power and Money; and that, especially the latter, is the mark of success upon which the system insists - Art or business or anything. That's the way it is in America ... true but sad ..."

Candle, 1983
Oil on canvas by Gerhard Richter

From Michael Kimmelman's article titled Gerhard Richter: An Artist Beyond Isms in the January 27, 2002 edition of the New York Times:

"I'm not young anymore," he (Richter) adds, and at that moment glances at his watch and notices it is nearly time for him to cross the garden to the house for his usual solitary lunch. He says: "I can bear this -- that I am not the young wild guy. I hope that the lust to work doesn't leave me. That would be sad. I am glad to get honors and high prices. But artists are valued today in terms of money, auctions. I wish society would need art more, but it doesn't. So I feel very lonely in this culture."

September 12, 2010

And why shouldn't they write poems?

From Migrations to Solitude: The Quest for Privacy in a Crowded World  by Sue Halpern, first published 1992 by Pantheon Books:

"... And why shouldn't they write poems? It is symptomatic of how civilized we have become that poetry must now be written by poets. But if poetry is left to the poets, it means that something else, picking apples, say, is left to the apple pickers, and not only don't we get good poems about harvesting apples, we get a society that believes that apple pickers can't write poetry - which is what we have. But not Ned and Mae. They have the society of each other, and they have poems, and they have fresh apples, and no one to tell them they can't."

September 6, 2010

Get Your Barbecue On

Barbecue, location unknown, c.1938-40
Photograph by Peter Sekaer

It's Labor Day in the U.S. today and it's time to celebrate the accomplishments and sacrifices of the American worker. Most people will mark this "symbolic end of summer" with food, fun and family gatherings.

We've all seen and heard enough by now about the different styles of barbecue (Memphis, Carolinas, Kansas City, Texas) on popular shows such as Throwdown with Bobby Flay, Guy Fieri's Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern, and Adam Richman's Man v. Food. It's time to get your BBQ on. 

I've always loved the photograph shown above taken circa 1938-40 in the American South. Danish-American photographer Peter Sekaer captures a well-dressed couple's clandestine journey to the local barbecue joint. She has the goodies tucked under her arm and they're not about to share with anybody! 

Be well and gluttonous on this Labor Day my friends. You've earned it.