Saturday, November 29, 2008

Last weekend

We visited San Antonio last weekend, and I learned there are several missions in the city besides the Alamo. Unlike their famous sibling, these other missions are maintained by the National Park Service. The Alamo is owned by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas and is located across the street from a Ripley's Believe it or Not Museum and other crummy tourist pits. I shot the image above in the ruined residence hall of Mission San José on the southern end of the modern San Antonio. I shot the image below the same morning in front of the Alamo.

The mission church was reconstructed after its dome collapsed in the 1870s, but much of the structure dates from its founding in 1720.

That's the west facade of the mission church. It is still a working Catholic church where mass is celebrated regularly. Mission San José had the good fortune not to have been the site of a much mythologized battle, so it gets no Christmas tree. And the crummy wax museum geeks leave it alone.

Nice guy

Weird image:

His name is Jeremy Newton, and he's a graduate student at a university where I used to teach. He was invited to participate in a group show at Centraltrak in Dallas. The opening was tonight. That pink scumble of stuff above is a detail of a carpet of Pink Pearl eraser rubbings Jeremy made last year. The guy's a natural. He scattered a layer of eraser rubbings on a gallery floor before he'd ever heard of Barry Le Va. Maybe he still hasn't heard of Le Va. I don't know.

The trouble with what I saw tonight, though is that idiot gallery visitors don't look where they're going. Jeremy told me that his initial installation with the piece humbly and simply lying on the floor didn't work out because oblivious folks kept stepping on it. He had to set it on a low pedestal for the opening. Much was lost. Confining his oddball material to a raised platform took away some of its stubborn, mute factuality and made it only "art."

I've seen it in other contexts, and it's better than that.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


I almost forgot...

My wife and I are in San Antonio for a conference. Our hotel is across the street from the Alamo. The Alamo sprinklers are running tonight:

All is well.

Tomorrow I'll gallery hop while she confers and conferences and more.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Paul Cullum, writing in Vanity Fair, discloses a memo from horrible, horrible factory painter of tepid banalities Thomas Kinkade to the director and crew of his film, Thomas Kinkade's Christmas Cottage. At least that's the title in Cullum's piece. IMDB lists the title as Thomas Kinkade's Home for Christmas. Whatever.

The memo contains 16 items which Kinkade wanted the filmmakers to bear in mind while working on the project. Here's one:
15) Nostalgia. My paintings routinely blend timeframes. This is not only okay, but tends to create a more timeless look. Vintage cars (30's, 40's, 50's, 60's etc) can be featured along with 70's era cars. Older buildings are favorable. Avoid anything that looks contemporary -- shopping centers, contemporary storefronts, etc. Also, I prefer to avoid anything that is shiny. Our vintage vehicles, though often times are cherished by their owners and kept spic-n-span should be "dirtied up" a bit for the shoot. Placerville was and is a somewhat shabby place, and most vehicles, people, etc bear traces of dust, sawdust, and the remnants of country living. There are many dirt roads, muddy lanes, etc., and in general the place has a tumbled down, well-worn look.
Everything should have a pleasing coat of moss on it. Like Hobbits and really stupid fixer-upper village dwellings in the rain. Jean Baudrillard, writing of the death of reality in "The Precession of Simulacra," says that nostalgia isn't what it used to be. I guess not.

The movie was released on DVD November 11 with no theatrical run, presumably because it's abysmally awful. Iceland, which is bankrupt and starving, will host a theatrical release tomorrow. Poor Iceland.

Warning: viewing the trailer is not advised. It is included here for evidentiary purposes only. Just use your imagination to conjure a feeble Peter O'Toole mouthing "Art is about LIFE." Poor Peter, money must be an issue for him. Just like Iceland.

Painters can make good films. Julian Schnabel's The Diving Bell and The Butterfly is wonderful and moving.

And Robert Longo's film based on William Gibson's story, Johnny Nmemonic is engaging, proto-steampunk stuff.

But this Kinkade stuff makes me shudder: there's an audience for it. They walk among us and like moss-coated memories of shabby miracles.

Kimbell image update

The above image, from a story in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, shows an architectural model of Renzo Piano's current idea for the new Kimbell Art Museum building. Published reports indicate that the model is accurate in the overall proportions of the structure and its placement relative to the existing 1972 Louis Kahn masterpiece. However, the project will likely evolve before construction begins in 2010.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Kimbell addition

The Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth announced plans to add another building to the justly celebrated 1972 structure by Louis Kahn. Renzo Piano, who worked in Kahn's studio around the time the Kimbell was designed, will design the new structure, which will be located just west of the existing museum. Just what the building will look like is not clear to me, but here's an illustration from the Dallas Morning News:

Adding to a masterpiece like the Kimbell is going to be a tricky job. The museum announced plans for an addition to Kahn's building once before to a storm of criticism from architects and the public. The earlier plan was to attach more vaults in imitation of the original structure, which would have seriously messed up the building's extraordinary aesthetics. This time the museum and Piano had enough sense to construct a separate building.

Here's an aerial view:

Here's another view:

I really love that building. I hope the addition causes no harm.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Art's spectrum

I saw two shows in Dallas over the weekend that just about set the limits for the spectrum of activities covered by the blanket term "contemporary art."

At the Dallas Museum of Art the Olafur Eliasson survey "Take Your Time" celebrates and explores the conundrums surrounding perception and consciousness -- specifically the consciousness of perception considered as experiences in a continuous duration. It's all Bergsonian philosophy and the embededness of perception in the ever changing objects of its awareness, except when it's all look at the facts of the museum experience and how that context attends what you're getting out of these things you're looking at. The audience Saturday was enthralled. Smiles and appreciative murmurs abounded. Fun philosophy. (image via

At Conduit Gallery I caught the last day of a smart, hip show by Fahamu Pecou, a painter and graphic designer based in Atlanta. His day job involves working with assorted hip-hop performers, helping to design the particular street-smart, tough guy images of masculinity so central to marketing their music and personas. This led Pecou to generate a Warholesque campaign for himself involving a series of paintings based on imaginary covers for (mostly) actual magazines like Artforum and Tema Celeste featuring himself as a star. His campaign slogan: "Fahamu Pecou is the shit." It's all the intersection of public image, race, and constructed gender executed with a fierce wit. The title of the painting above is Warn a Brother.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The party's over

In the wake of the Enron fiasco, gray-haired men who knew business and its inner workings counseled us all that hastily conceived regulations aimed at preventing another fubar situation involving off balance sheet accounting and risky trades in derivatives would likely yield unintended consequences and actually cause more harm to the efficient operations of business enterprises than good for the safety of investors and the public. Regulations in general are bad for business, it was argued.

Government isn't the solution, quoth Reagan and his apostles; Government is the problem.

Tell it to Somalia.

But anyhow, back in 2002, Bush said “we need men and women of character who know the difference between ambition and destructive greed, between justified risk and irresponsibility, between enterprise and fraud.” His post Enron solution was to encourage rational, ethical behavior among the business class. In the words of LA Times reporter Ronald Brownstein:
Bush offered much the same balance Tuesday [July 9, 2002], suggesting that a key to solving problems in the boardroom was for chief executives to set a “moral tone.” Embedded in that summons is the conviction that the crisis of corporate ethics is primarily a problem of individuals who go bad, rather than a financial system that encourages even good people to make bad decisions–and a regulatory system that fails to deter them.
We all know how well that worked out.

So last week Bush offered this opinion on financial matters:

One vital principle of reform is that our nations must make our financial markets more transparent. For example, we should consider improving accounting rules for securities, so that investors around the world can understand the true value of the assets they purchase.

Second, we need to ensure that markets, firms, and financial products are properly regulated. For example, credit default swaps - financial products that insure against potential losses - should be processed through centralized clearinghouses, instead of through unregulated, "over the counter" markets. By bringing greater stability to this large and important sector, we would reduce the risk to our overall financial system.

Third, we must enhance the integrity of our financial markets. For example, authorities in every nation should take a fresh look at the rules governing market manipulation and fraud, and ensure that investors are properly protected.

Fourth, we must strengthen cooperation among the world's financial authorities. For example, leading nations should better coordinate national laws and regulations. We should also reform international financial institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank, which are based largely on the economic order of 1944. To better reflect the realities of today's global economy, both the IMF and World Bank should modernize their governance structures. They should consider extending greater voting power to dynamic developing nations - particularly as they increase their contributions to these institutions. They should also consider ways to streamline their executive boards, and make them more representative.

Improved accounting rules! Maybe we can make them even reflect reality!

Regulated trades for credit default swaps! What a concept! Could it be that a financial system representing several times the US GDP might need a little look-see from a regulator or two now and again?

Tighten up fraud laws! Can free markets survive?

International cooperation on financial regulations! Can world government be far behind?

We are witnessing the end of the latest incarnation of laissez-faire capitalism. Stubborn adherence to Reaganite dogma got us into a hellish mess, and even Bush knows it. It's over. Laissez-faire arguments will persist. Witness the silly calls to repeal capital gains taxes when Paulson first floated a bailout plan before Congress. Perishing few Americans can claim capital gains on anything right now. The tax bogeyman came to the lips of some conservatives almost as a Pavlovian response to a crisis, not a reasonable and pragmatic tactic in the face of bad financial conditions. But on the whole, the Reaganonomics ideology -- its worldview -- lies in ruins along with Lehman Brothers. Individual ethical choices are not the solution. Indeed individual choices are the problem, and the point is not ethics. Rather the point is that we must moderate capital's demand for more and more and more and ever higher returns on investment. And we must do so because excesses threaten capitalism itself.

What that moderating structure looks like remains to be seen. The G20 summit this weekend was a start, and apparently a pragmatic one. From the Economist:

Just what path the G20 will take is not yet clear. All sides interpreted this communiqué from the summit a little differently. Mr Sarkozy talked about the “historic” shift in America’s attitude to financial regulation. The Bush administration focused on the summiteers’ commitment to pro-growth policies and open markets. Leaders from emerging economies, not surprisingly, concentrated on their new global role.

In some areas the leaders clearly papered over their differences. The communiqué, for instance, nodded to Europeans’ desire for more regulation by promising to ensure that “all financial markets, products and participants are regulated or subject to oversight”. But it quickly tempered that point with phrases more to the Bush administration’s liking: promising to make sure that “that regulation is efficient, does not stifle innovation, and encourages expanded trade in financial products and services”.

Friday, November 14, 2008

A coupla emails

No TARP oversight?‏
From: Michael Odom (
Sent: Fri 11/14/08 1:34 PM

I read that there still is no special inspector general for the billions in rescue dollars allocated by Congress to help the economy. I read that no monitoring report has been made, in spite of the legal requirement that it be done.

This is egregiously unacceptable.

We taxpayers have entrusted you with enormous sums to right this wrecked economy. We did this because we knew it was necessary for the greater good. But you must do your part to make certain that our trust is not misplaced. Even the appearance of waste, fraud, or cronyism will severely damage the public trust.

Are you people incompetent? Are you cynical?

Do your job.


(No Subject)‏
Sent: Fri 11/14/08 1:34 PM
On behalf of President Bush, thank you for your correspondence.

We appreciate hearing your views and welcome your suggestions.

Due to the large volume of e-mail received, the White House cannot respond to every message.

Thank you again for taking the time to write.

For details see the Washington Post.

Update: They've picked somebody for the job: Neil Barofsky. He must still be confirmed by Congress.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Auction results

Things did not go so well for Christie's and the Fulds last night. As reported, Lehman CEO Dick and MOMA trustee Kathy Fuld consigned a portion of their art collection to the auction house for sale at last night's auction of post-war and contemporary art. The sale included 16 drawings by Willem de Kooning, Agnes Martin, Arshile Gorky, Barnett Newman, and others. Today, Bloomberg reports that the Fulds' drawings garnered $13.5 million, significantly less than the $15 million low-end estimate before the sale.

Lot 49, the 1951 de Kooning Woman, failed to meet its low estimate of $3 million, coming in at $2,770,500 after the buyer's premium got tacked on. The rest of the auction appears to have gone somewhat worse than that. Sez Bloomberg:
The auction house sold $113.6 million of contemporary artworks, half its presale low estimate, as prices tumble.
But still, Dick 'n' Kathy have reason to celebrate today. Even if their stuff didn't make them as much as they might have liked, they turned a tidy profit. Bloomberg, again:
Among the Fulds' top lots was Gorky's 1946-47 ``Study for Agony I'' in pencil, crayon and ink, which sold for $2.2 million, at the low estimate. The Fulds bought the work at Christie's in New York in 1996 for $370,000.
Agony's premium is up these days, even if art in general is on the skids.

So far I've heard nothing about the NPR report yesterday that said Christie's guaranteed the Fulds $20 from the sale. ABC reports that number was the high estimate for the 16 drawings at auction, so the guaranteed return was almost certainly less than that figure. But I quibble. As ABC has it:
Fuld collected $10,900,000 in base salary and $77,475,000 in cash bonuses during his 14 years as Lehman's chief.
I'm certain he was worth all that and more to the thousands of Lehman's unemployed.

(Update: A later version of the Bloomberg article indicates that the Christie's guarantee to the Fulds may indeed have been $20 million.)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Crying Lot 49

The Fulds are selling part of their art collection tonight. Dick Fuld was CEO of Lehman Brothers until its bankruptcy in September. His wife Kathy is on the board of directors at MOMA and an avid collector of modern and contemporary art.

The Guardian reports that tonight's auction of post-war and contemporary art at Christie's will offer a number of works from the Fulds' collection, including three de Kooning drawings.

This de Kooning Woman (1951) is lot 49. The owner is not identified on Christie's Web site, but this "special notice":

On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial interest in lots consigned for sale which may include guaranteeing a minimum price or making an advance to the consignor that is secured solely by consigned property. This is such a lot. This indicates both in cases where Christie's holds the financial interest on its own, and in cases where Christie's has financed all or a part of such interest through a third party. Such third parties generally benefit financially if a guaranteed lot is sold successfully and may incur a loss if the sale is not successful.

is consistent with an NPR report that the Fulds negotiated a guaranteed $20 million from the auction house for the sale. Even if the artworks do not sell, Dick 'n' Kathy get almost enough money to buy another $21 million Manhattan apartment to go with the one they already own.

Bonus points if you've read Thomas Pynchon's novel The Crying of Lot 49. The confluence of Pynchon's paranoid rantings and the current economic situation -- a situation for which Dick Fuld is more than a little responsible -- would be delicious in another Pynchon novel.

If only we were all fictional characters and our money were fictional, too...

(Update: I was in error to label Dick Fuld a former CEO. Bloomberg indicates he is still CEO, albeit chief of a bankrupt company.)

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Change again

Is it just me, or is there something oddly Reagan-like in the feeling of political/cultural sea change that accompanied Obama's win Tuesday? It's not just the consonance of "new day" and "morning in America." As others have said, Obama is a transformational figure in our nation's politics. I take this to mean more than the fact that he appeals to a new generation of voters. The welcome participation of young voters is, in itself, a boon to democracy to be sure, but along with their coming to the (pun alert) party came something else.

I think that's why pronouncements about the "liberal agenda" and "conservative core values" from both the left and the right haven't made much sense over the past week. The constellations of ideas associated with the words "liberal" and "conservative" for the past 30 years or so are realigning. The referents of the words have begun to reform in novel associations of values and goals, as old ideologies about race relations, free market capitalism, the mutual responsibilities of the individual to the community, and the role of religion in public discourse come apart. This is why Obama beat Clinton in the Democratic nomination process: his approach to the nation's challenges recognizes what is going on in the ways we have begun to re-imagine the usefulness of possible solutions apart from ideology. She speaks an aging language. He's developing a new one.

Obama had the foresight to recognize early on what he called "the arc of history" in his victory speech, but the change is not in his vision alone. America has begun to reform its worldview in terms of pragmatic imaginings of the future. The old ideologies unraveled long before Alan Greenspan admitted before Congress his "shock" that he had been wrong in a fundamental assumption about the nature of the economy.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Wanna see something really lovely? Point your browser here:

It's loading slow as a two-year campaign this afternoon, but it's up and running already.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


I was born in the Deep South near the middle of the last century. Racism was the norm in the segregated culture of my childhood. The doctor’s office had a “colored” waiting room. The drugstore was segregated. So were drinking fountains.

I remember the segregated swimming pool, the segregated movie theater, a segregated amusement park. Unspoken, but always everywhere was the dominant belief that the races were so different that they must be kept from one another. Blackness was irreducibly other.

Our family moved to suburban Dallas in 1959 where I attended segregated schools till my graduation in the late 60s. The school district wasn’t officially segregated, mind you. Brown v Board of Education held separate schools unjust and unequal back in 1954. We had “neighborhood schools” which just happened to be either all white or all black. Nothing was said about the segregated neighborhoods.

I spent several weeks each summer of my childhood with my grandparents in a small town outside Baton Rouge. This was during the Civil Rights struggle. I remember arguments about Freedom Riders “stirring up trouble” and rumors of race-motivated beatings and efforts to suppress voting rights. The arguments were based on premises like states’ rights and “preserving our way of life.” I remember when the local public swimming pool closed rather than obey a court order to desegregate. I remember James Meredith being admitted to Ole Miss. I remember CORE and SNCC. I remember finding Klan leaflets on the street and George Wallace standing in the doorway of the University of Alabama.

And yesterday I voted for the son of a man from Kenya and a woman from Kansas to be president. My state went against Obama, but my vote was counted as part of his national majority. I am one of more than 52 million Americans responsible for electing the right man, and it just so happens that he's an African American.

How much has the world changed during my life. How grateful I am to have witnessed its changing.

Of course, he's also all American.

Not 2004

The night of the last presidential election I watched coverage of the returns late into the wee hours. When CNN reported that Ohio voters in late-reporting precincts said they were voting on social issues like gay marriage, I knew it was lost and went to bed. Next morning I picked up the first of Patrick O'Brian's seafaring novels. The times were not with me, and the Napoleonic Wars seemed like a safe place to visit for a while. I read them all over the next weeks. All 20 or so of them.

Tonight when the news broke that Obama had enough electoral votes to win, my wife cried. It was joy behind her tears.

Tonight my daughter in Austin texted me "We did it!" "333 electoral votes and counting!" I replied. A few moments later she shot back "Landslide! History live on MSNBC."

Tonight when Obama began his victory speech, my wife cried again. Cried along with Jesse Jackson and many others on TV.

My daughter was born almost 25 years ago in Terre Haute, IN. She's of the generation that ushered in this change. Earlier tonight, I read that Vigo County, IN (Terre Haute's county) got the presidential election right every election but two since 1892. Vigo County (and my daughter) got it right again tonight.

Anything I read this week, I'll read for joy, not escape.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Just voted

Lines and long waits are being reported in other places. Not here. I was in and out in minutes.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Obama video

Got a couple of robo calls today. I just got an email from David Byrne urging me to vote tomorrow. It's what I deserve for downloading that free tune from his Web site last month, I guess.

The Paul Simon video above has been running tonight on CNN and MSNBC with some frequency.

Tomorrow night we can all breathe again.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Studs Terkel

Studs Terkel died yesterday. He was important in so many ways, but today I'm thinking of a vinyl recording of the Congolese mass, Missa Luba I used to own. Terkel wrote the liner notes. In his memory, here's the Sanctus from Missa Luba: