Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Vote Democrat or Abstain

Andrew Sullivan's mantra this campaign season -- Vote Democrat or Abstain -- (when he's not promoting his new book, that is) is a bit too pushy/demanding for my tastes ("vote your conscience, but first inform yourself" strikes me as a more measured message), but his reasoning for this refrain is truly sound. With two years left and absolutely no political prize left to lose, should the Republicans retain control of both chambers of Congress, Bush would undoubtedly do even more to seize power and damage the balance in the US system, leaving the Presidency ripe for a nightmarishly oppressive occupant to come in and implement a truly tyrannical administration.

By continually neutralizing the courts (both in the arena of public opinion [activist judges, anyone?] and through well-disguised legislation like the thoroughly inhuman and unAmerican Military Commissions Act of 2006), Bush has systematically ensured that the person in the Oval Office can continue to expand his king-like powers. And it's not only the courts that he's marginalized. By exploiting 9/11 to get Congress to hand him carte blanche in fighting the so-called war on terror (a conflict so poorly defined that, make no mistake, it will last as long as it's politically advantageous for those in power for it to do so), and his historically abusive use of Presidential signing statements (which allow a president to qualify his signature on laws), he has essentially castrated Congress as well.

By ensuring that neither of the other two branches of Government are operating at their optimal checks-and-balances best, Bush's has undermined the very foundation on which the country is built. This is not irreversible damage...yet...but if he maintains control of Congress, there's no doubt in my mind that he'll see that as even more political capital to spend. Again and again, he has proven that what he's most interested in buying with that capital is more power for the Executive Branch.

Now a good deal of all that is vague, I know, so allow me to illustrate via example what Bush has done to the American ideals of truth and justice. The Military Commissions Act of 2006 first knocked the chairs off under the Judiciary branch of our government, essentially telling the courts that they can no longer be involved in cases where non-citizens picked up by US forces want to be told why they're being held captive. In a nutshell that means that anyone the US decides to kidnap and detain, has absolutely no recourse...no way to challenge their detention. Anyone who's not a citizen, whether they legally live in the US or whether they are a victim of mistaken identity, can be made to disappear.

Now I know that doesn't scare some Americans. They'll reason that if you haven't done anything wrong, even if it's a case of mistaken identity, that our government would eventually let you go. We are, after all the good guys. We're the ones leading the way for Democracy around the world. The shining example of all that's right and decent.

See, but that's the problem. If we truly are leading by example, then we're telling other countries that it's OK for them to make anyone they choose to detain to disappear as well. We've given tyrants around the world the perfect excuse to abuse such powers. "We have the same system the United States has, how can you call that tyrannical?" And that's not the worst of it. If the US can make any non-citizen it chooses disappear because we feel threatened, and we're spreading our brand of Democracy to the world, then it stands to reason that any other country can make any American it chooses disappear, mistaken identity or not, and we have no recourse. All they have to say is that they believe that person was a threat (and they don't even have to explain that much).

Which brings us back to next Tuesday. I happen to believe there's enough good and right about the U.S. that we can be a very good example to the rest of the world. Our system was ingeniously designed to permit us to right the wrongs of those in power, and this coming Tuesday we have that opportunity. Bush has overstepped his position repeatedly. The GOP-controlled Congress has simply rubber stamped his outrageous demands. The example we can set on election day is that we believe in the checks-and-balances the Founding Fathers designed. We believe a government by the people only works when no one branch of government can become so strong it can make people essentially disappear (I have to say this???). I believe that it's time to correct the excesses of the past 6 years, and that by distributing the power between the two major parties, we will be able to work toward that.

I believe that, in essence, Andrew Sullivan is right. This coming election day, we must restore the balance of power (what else might Bush try if we don't?). No matter how strongly you believe in the platform of the Republican party, if you believe in America more, then please inform yourself and vote your conscience. If that's not possible (i.e., you don't have the time to read up on how Bush has continually abused his position), then take Andrew's advice: vote Democrat or Abstain.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Gay Panic

Sometimes there's a confluence of ideas or opinions in the world, at least from an individual's point of view, that make it seem as if everyone's all of a sudden obsessed with an idea not quite worthy of all the attention. This weekend, for me, the notion that's cropping up everywhere I turn is how gay all the straight men in America are becoming.

While perhaps new for America, the gayification of heterosexual men has long been recognized as a forgone conclusion in Europe, where it's often next to impossible to tell them apart, leading to the popular online parlor game of
"Gay or Eurotrash." It was shortly after that game swept through email chains around the country that a pre-emptive framing of the potential for the same phenomenon to invade the U.S. (further spurred on by the success of "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy") emerged, offering an alternative to either gay or Eurotrash: the already dated "Metrosexual."

But that's not quite what I'm talking about here. It's not simply the way more heterosexual men have discovered expensive hair product and designer shoes. There's now a growing sensibility that you simply can't assume a self-proclaimed "straight" American male is being truthful about his orientation. The Mark Foley scandal is most likely the most catalyst here (
bloggy points us to this "all Republicans are gay" piece by James Wolcott), but perhaps there's also simply a wider awareness of the metaphors and meaning of basic male interactions and how they are bound up with basic human sexuality (again, bloggy points us to this wonderful social analysis by Momus on "homosocial" interactions between straight men).

Mind you, this is after a weekend in which a talented curator I know who stopped in the gallery discussed at length how "gay" has ceased being a political self-identifier and become instead an adjective for any otherwise heterosexual male who's ever had an iffy dream about Johnny Depp or momentarily lowered his gaze in a public shower, that is, when it's not used to mean "uncool" (which is simply bigotry, but I'll save that for another post). And then at home, I popped in the latest South Park DVD Netflix forwarded us (we're watching them all in order), and there was the, er, fabulous Metrosexual episode. You can read
the script here, but I'll quote their moral conclusion, as expressed by three desperate wives of men who had become a bit too precious about their appearance (so desperate in fact that they decide they have no choice but to kill the Queer Eye for the Straight Guy fellows):

Sharon: We're sorry, but we didn't have a choice. You see, at first we liked having our men be clean and neat. We thought that having them use product in their hair and wanting facials would make them sexier. But it doesn't.
Linda: That's right. Event though my Steven sickens me out sometimes, it's his rugged manly grossness that I'm attracted to.
Sarah: We're sorry, but we knew that the only answer was tuh kill the Queer Eye guys.
Then, turning to Tyler's blog, I read that for straight American men, not only has taking pride in one's appearance been equated with being "gay," but thanks to an apparently desperate politician in Idaho, supporting art is now equal to being gay. You have to read the whole thing, but here's the heart of the matter:

In the wake of the Mark Foley scandal, when Republicans were reminded that they could no longer pretend that gay people were not a part of their party, "arts" is the new way of insinuating gay. Sure, not all arts people are gay. But people who like art probably know people who are gay. That means that they tolerate gay people and, in [Republican candidate Bill] Sali's campaignÂ’s parlance, that's not a "traditional Idaho value."
Even as a gay man, I'm growing weary of all this, but apparently there's so much confusion that folks are getting a bit worked up. Let me set the record, er...yeah, you know:
If you don't like to sleep with other people of the same gender, you're not homosexual. No matter how many manicures you get or even if you support the arts, you're not gay. OK?
As Mr. Garrison notes in South Park, when he's trying to kill the Queer Eye guys (yes, it's a running gag), who don't understand why he's upset with them:

But don't you see the price? You're selling out your own kind. Look, us gays have created a lifestyle, a, a culture that is uniquely ours. If we keep trying to make straight people into us, well, we're gonna have no identity left.
Indeed, gay Americans have more to be worried about by the gayification of the heterosexual men than straight women do (fads come and go, Ladies. Remember "Hai Karate" aftershave?). Not that there's anything wrong with being well-dressed if you're straight, mind you, just that if everyone's fabulous, well, then in the end, who's gonna stand out at the Halloween parade?

In Defense of Commercial Galleries, Part III

Unless something highly newsworthy happens, I promise, this is the last post on this topic (at least for a while), but reader Aurix was kind enough to point to this response to Germaine Greer's article by Matthew Slotover, co-publisher of Frieze magazine and co-director of the Frieze Art Fair. Here's the essence of his response:

Of course whenever contemporary art achieves a public profile, there is always criticism, and this year, to my surprise, the most vehement came from Germaine Greer in Monday's Guardian. The piece suggests that it is degrading for artists to have to create objects that can be sold. Greer then (rightly) praises Martin Creed's Turner prize-winning artwork, The Lights Going On And Off, concluding her elegant elegy to the work with the baffling sentences, "Best of all, you can only remember it. You can't collect it."

If she had been to the Frieze Art Fair, she may have noticed the gallery Hauser & Wirth by the entrance, who represent Martin Creed. I believe The Lights Going On and Off can be and has been collected, most prominently by New York's MoMA, where it is currently on display, but also by private collectors (it was produced as an edition).
Slotover cites other examples of work one might have assumed was uncollectable but been incorrect about:

At the fair this year, a gallery from China sold a work consisting of a person sleeping in a bed. In the 2004 Frieze Art Fair the Tate bought Good Feelings in Good Times by Roman Ondak, which consisted of a line of people queuing.
He ends his response to Greer with the kernel of why I feel anti-commercial-gallery arguments are too often very ill-considered, myopic dogma:

85% of visitors to Frieze have no interest in the market - they're just there to see some of the best art from all over the world. Commercial galleries offer a great service to the non-buying public as well as collectors, putting on free exhibitions open to everyone, month in, month out. Buying and selling is not the only way to engage with art. But in the end, it is the engine that supports artists. What's philistine about that? [emphasis mine]
Any given month, the number of people who visit a commercial gallery who never have and never will buy anything at all from that gallery greatly outnumber those who might buy something. It's got to be about 300 to 1 in our space. Many galleries, ours included, offer as much information and assistance to each non-buying visitor who makes an inquiry as we do visitors who might buy, and not only because you can't always tell the difference, but because we want to talk about the work. Moreover we host scores of lectures each year (for students and other groups), talking for hours each month to them; we have free take-away information and images (that's not free for us to produce); we host opening receptions with free refreshments (that we pay for as well); and in none of these situations do we distinguish between those visitors who will financially support the gallery and those who won't. Oh, I know there are sometimes haughty gallerinas in spaces that seemingly undo all the public service other galleries provide with their glares and sneering refusals to be polite, but even in those places, despite the fact that the work on exhibit is often world-class (and expensive to produce and showcase), anyone at all can walk in and experience the work for free.

But beyond that, as Slotover noted and others did in the previous comment threads, the distinction between work that can be sold and can't be sold is not as clear as some critics would suggest it is. More and more collectors are rising to the challenge artists continue to present, taking huge leaps of faith in doing so, and purchasing work that is impossible to just hang on one's wall. To demonize the commercial system is to insult those bold folks as well. More than that, it reveals the poverty of thought Greer put into her suggestion that "Perhaps that's the way to know the 'good' artists. They will be the uncollectables."

Friday, October 27, 2006

The Naked Social Conservatives

As Joe Orton observed so well, given enough time, people will always reveal their true selves, most often when they think they're doing their very best to disguise it. But just as nearly each of the characters in Orton's masterpiece "What the Butler Saw" ends up virtually naked at the very point they're trying hardest to fool others, so too do most humans fall prey to their own dramatic efforts to convince others of their lies, raising their arms in emphasis at that climatic moment, just to let their coverings fall in doing so. The response from so-called Christian groups to the New Jersey Supreme Court's ruling on gay marriage is a textbook example of that principle.

The New Jersey court decision that gay couples are entitled to the same rights as heterosexual couples was bad news for social conservatives -- the bad news they were hoping for.

"Pro-traditional-marriage organizations ought to give a distinguished service award to the New Jersey Supreme Court," said the Rev. Richard Land, head of the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Land and other conservative religious leaders predicted that the court's 4 to 3 ruling, which was handed down Wednesday, would boost turnout of social conservatives in the midterm elections, particularly in the eight states that have constitutional amendments against same-sex marriage on the Nov. 7 ballot.

"I have to think there are Democratic strategists out there thinking the words of the old Japanese admiral: 'I fear all we've done is wake a sleeping giant,' " said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a Washington-based advocacy group. "They were coasting into an election with a Republican base with dampened enthusiasm. This brings it all back home to the base, what this election is about."
Of course, these social conservatives think they're full clothed. They've always insisted that unless their followers get politically involved, the nation's courts would force gay marriage down their throats. This is the proof of their preaching.

What they obviously don't quite grasp, however, is that they've revealed their true motivations here. None of them is condemning the NJ courts, as one would expect in response to a decision they insist is harmful to the public. On the contrary, they're celebrating the decision. It's not at all important to them that the citizens of New Jersey will have gay marriage forced upon them, apparently. If it were, they would be protesting the decision. After all, this is very bad for families, very bad for children, very bad for society, no?

No, what's very clearly imporant to them is that this (they hope) will now bring out the voters they need to keep their power in Washington (earlier efforts to rally the base on this issue had fallen flat this year). Make no mistake, their power is what this represents to them, a political livesaver tossed out just before they drowned with the rest of the GOP in the midterms. If it were not about that...if their real motivation were to stop gay marriage...then this decision would be a considerable blow to their cause, not a reason to break out the bubbly (or whatever social conservatives use to toast victories). It demands a new word for "cynical," this response.

Watching these naked social conservatives dance their victory jigs in response to the decision should, one would hope, finally open the eyes of the voters they've been exploiting. I mean it's parallel to thanking God for the death of a high-profile celebrity who died of lung cancer just so you have an example to illustrate the dangers of smoking. It's twisted. It's also, of course, just how sausage is made in DC, but it's farcical to watch these bloated bare bodies bounce off each other knowing they'll later turn to face the voters in all earnestness and claim this is about their families. Orton understood farce...someone might send Dobson, Perkins, et al., an anthology.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

In Defense of Commercial Galleries, Part II (Delusions of some "Golden Era" of Art)

It's exhausting really.

Fighting this notion that there was some "Golden Era" of art purity---one that nasty, greedy dealers destroyed---is apparently a hopeless cause. It's so ingrained in our contemporary mythology, that perhaps it's best to just ignore it. Or so I think, until I read some slapdash drivel like that offered by Germaine Greer in
The Guardian. Then my red-headed, Irish-German temper flares, and, well, you get another diatribe.

But first, the drivel:

Art does not exist to display the dexterity or industriousness of the artist, or the grandeur of his personality or that of his patron. Art can do all these things but that is not what makes it art. Art exists for no purpose beyond itself. The first attribute of the art object is that it creates a discontinuity between itself and the unsynthesised manifold. It may do this merely by displaying a signature, or by sitting on a plinth, or by enclosing itself in a box or a frame. The work of painters for whom painting is a part of real life rather than art - Australian Aboriginal painters, say - has no frame, is painted in the sand, on a rock or a body, and is continuous with the painter's reality. Until, that is, a dealer brings along a canvas, which the painter paints flat on the ground, moving round it rather than standing before it. When the dealer decides the work is finished, he grabs it, drives back to the city, frames it and puts a price on it, usually many times more than what he paid for it. Only then does it stop being life and become art. The work of art, or, as we now tend to say, the artwork, is first of all a commodity.
Letting one example of dealers who had taken advantage of one group of artists stand as her only example (when she's leading up to a criticsm of the contemporary market where Western artists with MFAs actually want to work with dealers), Greer uses this developed villain (you can almost hear the cries of the hapless artist as the dealer, draped in a black cape, ties her to the railroad tracks and twirls his moustache) to build a fictional melodrama that climaxes with this shrill, idiotic claim:

The most moving battle of 20th-century art has been to redeem itself from its degrading role as commodity, a battle it has decidedly lost.
Where to begin?

First and foremost, I'd suggest anyone who knows her find and then send Greer a copy of Aubrey Menen's book "
Art & Money: An Irreverent History" in which he chronicals the centuries, no, make that millenia, through which art has not only very much been a commodity, but one made more and more expensive MOSTLY through the engineering of artists, sans dealers. In fact, as Warhol finally said out loud, self-aware artists have always seen Art as a business. From Menen's book:

The story goes that a young American admirer of Picasso managed to gain entrance to the august presence. Picasso, as usual, was affable to the young, once they could get by the guards around his villa.

Overwhelmed by this kindness, the young man blurted out: "What is it like to be Picasso?"

Picasso asked him to give him a one-dollar bill. The young man did so. Picasso pinned it to a canvas on his easel, took up a brush, and in a minute or two had redesigned the note with his characteristic bold touches. He then signed it. Giving it back to the admirer, he said: "Now your one dollar is worth five hundred dollars. That is what it is like to be Picasso."

I am sure that a large number of lovers of art will hope that the story is not true. They would hope that Picasso was above mere pelf. They would hope that all genuine artists are above the base consideration of money. In fact, they believe that---in a sordidly commercial world---that is what art is all about.
However, Menen goes on to demonstrate in overwhelming detail that rather than a 21st Centruy battle, this is a 21st Century fantasy. From the time of the Ancient Greeks, very famous artists have manipulated the prices of art and marketed their work as worthy of those prices. So this supposed "Golden Era" when artists made their work without concern for who might want to own it or profit from it is simply a fairy tale.

Now, none of this is to imply that art dealers are not sometimes guilty of taking advantage of artists...merely that it's not part of the job description.

Why I get my knickers in a bunch over this mostly is that no one who has started a gallery from scratch (without funding) would EVER argue that it's an easy way to make money. It's virtually a financially suicidal long-shot, in fact. The folks I know who attempted to start a gallery this way (and many of them are now doing something else) did so because they were passionate about Art. For ill-informed pundits like Greer to then insinuate they're the cause of the degredation of 20th Century art is an unforgivable and wholly misplaced insult. If Greer has specific examples of opportunism, she should offer them, rather than painting with such a huge, undiscerning brush. But she actually digs an even deeper pit for herself, this pompous pontificator, insulting collectors and artists themselves in this moronic conclusion:

Perhaps that's the way to know the "good" artists. They will be the uncollectables. A good artist is beyond fashion, out of reach of the art mafia in their black Bentleys, intensely vulnerable but - we hope - incorruptible.
Why does this hack she get paid for this rubbish? A "good artist"? She wrote that with a straight face? Moreover, her editors let her? Come on, Guardian...we expect more insightful, more informed critiques from 9th Grade thesis papers. Truly, this cartoonish, After-School-Special view of the artist and the market is not only historically inaccurate, but condescending. Only artists who make work that's difficult to collect are "good?" Citizens who'd rather buy art than plasma TVs, or whatever, are criminal-like artistocrats, who are only interested in fashion?

I suspect this myth of anti-commodity purity stems from the popular romanticized stories of the struggling artist whose genius is only recognized after his/her death. ("Lust for Life" ... damn you!!!) But that's no license for a paper like the Guardian to perpetuate it in what, ironically, is a fashionable pose of neo-Socialistic values. If there'a an argument to be made that there's too much emphasis on the commodity aspect of art today, it can most certainly be made with actual facts. It doesn't require the demonization of dealers and revisionistic history Greer offers up.

UPDATE: I violated the first rule of ranting against someone else's text in this post, being in too big a rush this morning to research and learn that 1) Germaine Greer is a woman (no good excuse for that one) and 2) she's got a long history of offering such views (which doesn't make them correct, mind you). I've edited the text to correct the gender of the pronouns, and took out one snarky line asking if English was her first language, and revised my analysis of her example of Aboriginal artists (having misread that). I stand by the rest.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Site of Record

Having grown up a child of MTV, I tend to think I have an insatiable appetite for sights and sounds. Faster and faster is simply better and better. Bring it on!, I say. Try to overwhelm my senses...just try. There's no speed at which images are still recognizable that I'll turn away. I'll absorb it all. No collage is too complex. I'll take it all in and only get hungrier.

The same is true of information (or so I like to think). Wikipedia and the Google are amazing, but so limited. Someone once said something, I can't remember who it was (it was an odd, obscure quote), but I know I heard it. So I google, I wiki, I can't find any info, I'm disappointed. If I can recall it, then, dammit, it should be verifyable. It should have been recorded and available on demand. And more than that, someone should have already done a complete comparison-contrast with competing opinions, translated it into several languages, worked out a list of its usages by public figures, made a Top 10 list of puns using it, etc. etc. etc.

Yes, I'm a spoiled rotten brat of the information age.

Which is why each time I visit chelseaartgalleries.com I'm more delighted than the last time. It's a cornucopia of incredible information about a very specific world, and it's wonderfully envisioned. If you can think to ask it, most likley Chelseaartgalleries.com has it ready for you. And it's not only phenomenally comprehensive, it's growing every week it seems. In addition to its innovative Tour tool, it's now got Top Lists. Want to know who's gotten the most NYTimes reveiws recently? They've got it for you. Want to know which exhibitions you only have a few days to catch? Want to know which galleries' pages most people visit (they warn you, it changes on a minute-by-minute basis [how freakin' cool is that?])? What about who works where, who exhibits where, when the auctions are, who's at which art fair, and on and on and on? Yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes...it's there and super easy to access.

Having some knowledge of database driven websites, I can tell you that the Information Architecture supporting this site is nothing short of brilliant. If I had one criticism of the site, it would be that there's simply too many options for some people (not me certainly) to use them all, but then that's OK, because the navigation is so well considered, it's easy to get to what interests you and avoid what doesn't.

My newest favorite functionality are the Art Market quizzes (disclaimer: our gallery is mentioned in one of the questions, so that might have influenced my warm and fuzzy feelings toward it, but...). They are wonderfully subjective and so-o-o-o gossipy, what's not to love?

More than just the fun of it all, though, this site is becoming a true treaure trove of data, recording every concievable bit of information, the applications of which have yet to be imagined (Jennifer D, are you reading???). If you haven't seen it lately, have another look. It's virtually a work of art itself.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Invest in Art. Yes, Artists, I Mean You.

Roberta Smith's review of The Phillips Collection's current exhibition (The Société Anonyme: Modernism for America) reminded me of something I had wanted to blog about when I saw this exhibition at the Hammer last summer, before a truly brutal heat wave evaporated it from my brain. Now that the show's on the East Coast (don't miss it!), and my memory's been jogged, I'll try to reconstruct it.

The exhibition is taken from the phenomenal collection built by artists Dreier and Duchamp. "Who?" you ask. Roberta explains:

As dynamic artist duos go, the pairing of Katherine S. Dreier and Marcel Duchamp does not have the familiar ring of Picasso and Braque, or Johns and Rauschenberg. But it should, and “The Société Anonyme: Modernism for America” at the Phillips Collection here may begin to make it so.

The show presents about 150 objects, all from the amazing 1,000-work art collection that Dreier assembled with DuchampÂ’s help and gave to the Yale University Art Gallery in 1941. It was organized by Yale and had its premiere at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles in a larger version. Rife with unfamiliar names, this exhibition is both a WhoÂ’s Who and a WhoÂ’s That? of modernism that can change the way you see it and history in general.
As impressive as this collection is for its historical and aesthetic value, it is also impressive for what it represents in terms of self-confidence and, ultimately, self-promotion. As Modern artists of reasonable but nowhere near astronomical means, Dreier and Duchamp's investment in the art they believed in stands as an example of putting one's money where one's mouth is and having that pay off big time.

I'm not just talking about financial pay off here, although there are precedents dating back to Alexander the Great's time (when the emperor's official portrait artist, Appelles, who convinced the felloProtegenes'tegenes's townfolk to cough up a good deal more money for a painting by offering to steal it away for a price that stunned them, set the since oft-repeated trend of increasing the value the public placed on art by treating a huge price as if it were a bargain). There's a conservation pay off as well, in that even the most skeptical of authorities must look to any collection of this scope as at least potentially important and worthy of protecting. There are also karma, promotional, and enjoyment pay-offs to collecting the work you believe in as an artist. Most folks who pay attention to such matters understand well that artists see and recognize important work long before the rest of us do, and I always look toward what artists cogauge to guage their sense of things.

"But I can't amass a collection like that," you're saying. "I hardly have room in my studio and home for my own art and barely make my rent." I don't doubt that, but if art is important enough to make the sacrifices that put you in that financially challenging situation, isn't it important enough to save up for or, better yet, trade for? Nothing will convey to the rest of the world how serious you are about your own art more than how serious you are about the art of your time.

But speaking of your own art, don't forget to collect that too. Many artists who are beginning to have success and manage to (finally) get a waiting list often learn too late that they must keep some of their own work. As a dealer, I can tell you there is enormous pressure by collectors to secure a piece by certain artists, and that translates into pressure by dealers on artists to cough up anything available at all, but I tell our artists to resist that pressure and keep back something from each series for themselves. Something good. Why this is important becomes clear when (God willing) the work is shattering auction records, but it's also important before that happens. Artists should be their own best conservators and historians (believe me, your biographer will thank you).

Monday, October 23, 2006

What Remains of a Picasso Torn...?

Steve Winn's unfortunate accident (in case you haven't heard, he stuck his elbow through Picasso's Le Reve) led to a slew of articles across the Internet on how to fix a torn masterpiece. One example on Slate typified the slightly mocking tone I read consistently, suggesting the advice on repairing damaged work was merely an editorial gimmick designed to have fun with or extend the story, but it had the fortuitous side effect of reminding me of Genet's stunning essay on the unifying, equalizing force of decay, "What Remains of a Rembrandt Torn Into Four Equal Pieces and Flushed Down the Toilet?" I say fortuitous, because I had been mulling rather morosely over the weekend about the impermanence of art objects (as opposed to at least the potential for immortality of ideas), and revisiting this essay reminded me that, well, my concern was perhaps overdeveloped.

But to clarify what I mean, and what had put me into a funk of sorts, let me spill a bit of the stream of consciousness that was babbling through my brain: visiting the ancient sites of Kyrgyzstan had started it all. So many millennia of conquerors plowing through, uprooting what had been built, just to have their new cities and monuments in turn torn down by the next wave of invaders. And being so close to Afghanistan, where the truly moronic Taliban, a mere blip on the radar of history, if that, had the vile audacity to destroy the Bamiyan Buddha statues, got me to thinking about how we fool ourselves about art. Travelers who like to boast that they've visited Ephesus, or the Parthenon, or the Coliseum, for example, really haven't. They've visited their ruins. Which got me to thinking about how, like a new car leaving the lot, a painting or sculpture essentially begins its inevitable disintegration the very moment the artist finishes it. Visitors to the Sistine Chapel may see a restored version of Michaelangelo's work, but those new, perhaps true (but who knows) colors will fade again, eventually beyond any reasonable restoration. And this made me wonder if I've ever truly seen the colors Rothko was satisfied with in his paintings. I gasp at them now, but what might my response have been the day they were finished, before dust and light and age began changing them?

OK, so I know, this is maudlin, but it got worse when I stopped to think about how literature, on the other hand, can have a much longer, if not eternal, life. From Penguin Classics to Google's digitalization empire designs, ideas in word format can live on and on and on. Sure, there are translation depreciations, but if one is willing to learn an ancient language, one can enjoy the original of works created thousands of years ago in the exact same format their creator made them. OK, so there are cultural references that are lost through time, but it's still much closer to the original than any art or architecture can be after so many years. What an author offers can live on indefinitely. What they see and teach us to see, can be immortal.

But back to Genet. In researching possible connections (i.e., puns) between Winn's accident and France's "sacred monster's" essay, I happened upon an essay by William Haver that quoted this bit of reassuring analysis from Genet's later years:

A little while ago I wrote that though I shall die, nothing else will. And I must make my meaning clear. Wonder at the sight of a cornflower, at a rock, at the touch of a rough hand---all the millions of emotions of which I'm made---they won't disappear even though I shall. Other men will experience them, and they'll still be there because of them. More and more I believe I exist in order to be the terrain and proof which show other men that life consists in the uninterrupted emotions flowing through all creation. The happiness my hand knows in a boy's hair will be known by another hand, is already known. And although I shall die, that happiness will live on. "I" may die, but what made that "I" possible, what made possible the joy of being, will make the joy of being live on without me. (Genet 1992, 314)
And in the end, that's basically all artists teach us through their objects: to wonder at the sight of a cornflower or the touch of a rough hand (i.e., the joy of being). And these lessons won't disappear, even though these paintings or sculptures will. By valuing them now, we do perpetuate them long past their physical ability to exist.

Or something like that...it's early...where's the java?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Tash Rabat, Burana, Osh Bazaar, and Ak-Sakal

It would take a good deal of time not currently available to share all the wonderful details there are surrounding each photo, but I'll post them and give you the quick captions. To see any image larger, just click.

To the right, Bambino sports the latest in Ak-Sakal finery, a gift from his family that we absolutely love (that's my coat, but his hat, I think...all he needs is the white beard). It's a sign of respect when the community or an older relative presents you with your first ak-calpak (white hat). They're good for hot or cold weather, because of their design and materials.

Below is a photo of the guards in the central square of Bishkek. Much like other such posts, they change the guards in a ceremony so elegant it looks like a dance. I absolutely loved their oversized hats, as well, but couldn't find one for sale. Not that I'd ever wear it or look anything short of ridiculous in it, but it was so stylish.

We had spent only two days in Bishkek before we hit the road in Bambino's brother's Mercedes. It was a lovely way to travel, although the roads can be so bad we got three flat tires during our three-day trip through the mountains. Here's the view we had on the way to Tash Rabat, one of the official routes of the Silk Road, so they say:

I have video of this, but no photos, so until I figure out how to transfer the video into jpg, I'll just have to rely on words to share the amazing site after we turned off this main road. There we were on a crisp autumn morning, bumping along on a small road through two high mountains, with a brook splashing over rocks winding with us, when along comes this herd of yaks and their shepard. It was the most exhilarating site. After a while down this road, we came to Tash Rabat, the 15th Century caravanseri that is now a national monument:

The inside of this stone structure is lit through a series of sky lights (holes in the ceiling), and it's remarkably warmer inside, for the fact that the strong winds are halted. It's much bigger inside than it looks from outside, with a catacomb of rooms, including a small dungeon:

On the way back from Tash Rabat we stopped once more at a farmer's place (a friend of Bambino's brother). He had just packed up his yurta and was settling in with his wife and family at their house for the winter. (From left to right: Bambino's brother holding the farmer's child, the kind farmer, his wife, Bambino's aunt, his Mom, his Dad, and some fool on a horse):

We also visited Burana (Ruins of Balasagun), the site of an 11th Century tower that's remarkably well preserved, given it's had to endure countless invasions, treasure seekers, and a major earthquake that reportedly toppled the top half of it.

The inside was very dark (you can only see it well here because of the flash), and the stairs perilously steep, so that you had to hold both walls to descend them:

Here's Bambino's Mom from the top of the tower

Unfortunately we didn't have much time to visit Issyk-Kul (Warm Lake), the massive lake surrounded by mountains in Kyrgyzstan's north. It's a huge draw for holiday makers and one of the cleanest lakes in Central Asia. It stays warm all year long (hence the name, duh), but was shrouded in rain clouds the day we visited. Still, here's the mountains nearby in the rain. We could see the snow coming down a bit each day on the mountains while we stayed in Kyrgyzstan:

Back in Bishkek, we had a wonderful time at the seemingly never-ending Osh Bazaar. If they didn't have it here, they didn't have it at all:

It was a feast for all the senses, but especially the eyes:

Let me know when you've seen enough of our holidays snaps...we have plenty more.

Rosemarie Fiore @ Winkleman / Plus Ultra

It should be another rockin' evening on 27th Street tomorrow. Hope y'all can come and see Rosemarie's amazing new work!

Rosemarie Fiore
House of Fiction

October 20 to November 25, 2006
Opening Reception: Friday, October 20, 6-8 pm


Winkleman / Plus Ultra Gallery is very pleased to present House of Fiction, our second solo exhibition by New York artist Rosemarie Fiore.

Known for her experimental use of materials and technology in her paintings, Fiore employs more established techniques for her newest series. Within six landscape oil paintings, Fiore has synthesized a broad range of her earlier imagery, much of it culled from mechanically generated gestures and innovative vocabularies she developed in projects where she painted with everything from lawnmowers to pinball machines, and windshield wipers to live fireworks.

Balanced in each painting are signifiers of construction interfacing with indicators of destruction (explosions, guns, industrial waste, etc.). The construction indicators reflect Fiore’s decision not only to assemble her previously invented imagery, but to build from them new narratives combined with plein air observations. This juxtaposition of construction and destruction, allows Fiore to continue her exploration of violence and technology in the context of art making and serves as commentary on what she sees from her vantage point. Conceptually, Fiore here allows her earlier series--in which the artist’s hand was intentionally removed from the process--to serve as investigative studies for her oil paintings, in which she controls every decision and builds narratives far more complex than she could with automated mark making—-a decidedly anti-Duchampian impulse.

Also in the exhibition are the latest in Fiore’s ongoing series of fireworks drawings. These large works on paper are made by exploding and containing live fireworks, resulting in bursts of saturated color that Fiore overlaps and collages into gorgeous abstract compositions.

For more information, please call 212-643-6152 or email info@winkleman.com.

Rosemarie Fiore
House of Fiction

October 20 to November 25, 2006
Opening Reception: Friday, October 20, 6-8 PM

Winkleman / Plus Ultra Gallery
637 West 27th Street
New York, NY 10001
T: 212.643.3152
F: 212.643.2040


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

In Defense of Commercial Galleries

There were some rather provocative responses to my post on "What is to Be Done," with more than one reader suggesting that commercial galleries are indeed open to rude behavior merely because they exist (the implication being that their existence is so odious/harmful/offensive, that righteous people are just in opposing them openly, foregoing good manners for the higher good of attacking the villains). Given that this is a forum created specifically to discuss, at least in part, the workings of a commercial gallery, and given that I've tried to be very honest and open about how they work, how artists can/should work with them, and what their limitations are with regards to promoting art, such comments do strike me as somewhat boorish, but, alas, this is a public space, so I'll accept those provocative responses as a call to discuss in more detail why I disagree with the notion that commercial galleries are worthy of such derision.

Of course, everyone would expect me to take that position. But this ain't gonna be your run-of-the-mill "we help artists pay their rents" or whatever type defense. This is a put-up or shut-up clarion call to those who would single-out commercial galleries as a symbol of corruption of what, one must assume the implication is, would be a much better (more "humane" one reader called it) art world, were commercial galleries to be abolished.

The argument goes that any art that enters a commercial gallery loses its "original sense as it automatically becomes an object of luxury for sale." This strikes me as a myopic delusion, as it implies that money is the only currency that has the potential to corrupt art, when on the contrary fame and critical acclaim can change art and artists just as much, but we don't see calls for abolishing the systems whereby those are perpetuated. If the original sense of art is lost in the context of it being for sale (with the potential feedback being cash), why doesn't it lose its original sense in the context of it being on exhibit for public approval (with the potential feedback being praise)?

The anti-commercial argument presumes a purity and selflessness on the part of the "true artist" that quite frankly I find mythological, if not downright ludicrous. It's an extreme, one-dimensional reading of a much more nuanced circumstance. To see that clearly all one needs to do is flip the extreme and look at its opposite: because one can become just as addicted to praise or other types of positive feedback as one can cash, the only way to avoid any corruption of any sort in one's art is to never show it to anyone at all. Indeed, that is the only failsafe way to ensure the art is always truly pure. Of course that would then eliminate the communication aspect of the endeavor and reduce it to masturbation, but it would protect the art from corruption.

So if purity is a fallacy, the question really becomes how much positive feedback (in the form of praise, acclaim, or cash) can an artist tolerate? How much can an artist expose themselves to before the potential for corruption becomes dangerously high? I believe that there's a spectrum---a range of feedback types and degrees that are simply a matter of personal choice for each individual artist. Some artists can accept lots of positive feedback (of different types, per each) and stay grounded. Others will be influenced and let a desire for more such feedback change what they might have otherwise done.

But overstating the danger here also presumes the artist is somehow not in control of such choices. It's condescending to the artist ("oh, they won't be able to resist the allure and they'll cave in and set up a factory, pumping out the same signature pieces"). While that may indeed be a risk, the idea that one has to protect the helpless artists from that potential by abolishing the system is authoritarian in the worst way.

Yes, I know, there are other perceived problems with commercial galleries. One reader suggested commercial galleries are "the reason our museums look more like a collection of flat-wall luxury objects than a space of true artistic experiments like happen in art centres." While possibly true, that is hardly the fault of the commercial galleries. Curators at museums can acquire work from any number of sources. They're not limited to what commercial galleries exhibit. In fact, this is a re-occurring theme when looking at this issue...the assertion that those in decision-making positions are at the mercy of the commercial galleries. (Again, the conclusion is that no one is responsible for their actions in all this but the commercial gallerist.)

In the end, a commercial gallery IS a business. Business decisions do influence what is exhibited, and therefore commercial galleries are not the best indication of the overall art world. No kidding. But to single them out as the villain preventing other art from not getting attention is to project the responsibilities of other spaces onto them. Not only do commercial galleries NOT harm non-commercial spaces, we spend a great deal of our own time and money every year supporting them. We volunteer for fund-raising committees, donate artwork for benefits, buy memberships, serve on boards, buy advertising in their publications, etc., etc., etc.

What I think colors perceptions here is the high-profile nature of commercial galleries. We advertise a lot. More people know about us, because we're always in their faces. But to assert that with that comes the responsibility to represent a segment of the art world that 1) doesn't belong in the context of a commercial gallery or 2) is earnest but underrepresented, is to assert that the viewers looking for other type of work have no responsibility themselves to seek it out and that the artists whose work isn't a good match for commercial galleries don't own the burden of bringing their work to the public's attention. Indeed, the implication seems to be that if commercial galleries were not distracting the public with their glossy ads and such, that the public would somehow automatically find the (implied) better work on their own. Which in turn implies that the public is being fooled or lazy. Which again is condescending.

In the end, a commercial gallery is just one platform available for artists. It's an attractive platform, because it is high-profile and potentially lucrative, but it's not like gallerists are forcing artists to work with them. Artists who don't like the context can communicate with the public via other channels. Rather than calling for the abolishment of commercial galleries, those who don't like them would put their efforts to much better use developing and supporting those other channels and stop pretending there's some dangerously corrupting aspect about commercial galleries that's making the world more inhumane. That's a cop out and, worse, a pointless distraction.

Monday, October 16, 2006

What Is to Be Done?

Everyone I'd asked about "Chto delat?" (or "What is to be done?"...the collective of philosphers, visual artists, writers, etc. based in Moscow and St. Petersburg [their name is taken from the 1863 novel of the same title by Nicholai Chernyshevsky]) prefaced their description for me with a slightly condescending warning: "Oh-h-h-h, they're very intellectual."

This consistent response to my inquiries began to give me a complex...just how dumb do folks think I am? Seriously, it was said nearly everytime I asked, as if to imply "Why are you worrying your silly little head over what they're doing...just keep focusing on sheep's eyes and such."

But I had heard about them in New York, seen a few of their contributions to group exhibitions here, and was delighted to realize that one of their members would be participating in the same panel discussion we had been invited to in Bishkek...so I persisted. I wanted to learn more.

Before orchestrating an introduction, though, I stopped in to view their installation at the 3rd Bishkek Exhibition of Contemporary Art. Outside their room was pasted a page of newsprint with huge bold text reading: "Be the Change You Want to See in the World." Inside was projected a fascinating documentary film about the G8 protestors who were corralled into a stadium in St. Petersburg (rather than be permitted to protest where any of the world's leaders [or anyone else for that matter] might see or hear them). Lining the walls of the installation were other pages from the newspaper. On a low table were also stacks of the 14th Issue (September 2006) of the collective's regularly published platform newspaper. This issue focusses on the topic of how change can be brought about through self-education. It's very well written (and/or translated)---published in English and Russian---with several fascinating articles and interviews (although edited to reveal a few too many assumed shared definitions and assessments, and too heavy a reliance on name dropping, for my taste, but... ). The 14th issue isn't yet availble on their website. The excerpts from the opening editorial below were re-typed by me (any typos are most likely mine):

Today, education values are obviously in crisis all over the world. One of the symptoms can be found in the decline of both theories and practices based on the disciplinary, humanist ideal of education, which traditionally empowered their subjects not only a sense of civic rights and responsibilities, but also the means for changing and overturning the present state of affairs. Learning solidarity, dignity, historical subjectivity, and the ability to participate in political life is no longer an irreplaceable part of the eductional process. Moreover, disciplinary autonomy no longer shields this process from market encroachment, especially when its basis in state funding erodes. Education has effectively become an instrument or bargaining chip used in corporate market politics, which are only interested in producing a cost-efficient, obedient work force. The growing servility of education to market demands represents a serious threat to any creativity or vibrancy in a society's development.
OK, so at this point, I'm climbing up on furniture, stomping my feet, punching the air, draping myself in Red, and yelling "Viva La Revolution!!!"

But, alas, it gets a bit complicated after that:

We can resist by spreading and producing alternative forms of knowledge that continue and further develop the emancipatory traditions to be found in a variety of educational practices, thus unlocking the potentiality of a new constellation in society's forces of production.

Such tendencies find their reflection in contemporary art. We see them in the manifold refusals to engage in mythologization and commodity fetishism, the construction of non-hierarchial collectives, and the desire to found artistic practice on various methods of militant research. New "subjects of dissent" in art and culture seek to create "spaces for participation." Such projects in contemporary art have an inalienable self-educational value and might even provide a real alternative to the hegemony of schools and academies.
To their immense credit, "What is to be done?" ask for discourse, rather than just offer their solutions. The same editorial begins:

How do people shape their surroundings? Which points of reference guide their development? Which potentiality do self-organizing structures entail? How should they structure their relationships to existing institutions? Could they ever replace traditional forms of education? Or can they place enough pressure on institutions to make them get involved in the (auto)didactic process?
But there are a number of red flags in those questions for me--- again, a number of assumptions and/or ambiguities that I would prefer be clarified---so, I set off to ask questions.

Sergey Ogurtsov (who is a member, but not one of the initial 10 core members from what I can tell on their website) greeted me pleasantly enough. He's a tall, youngish, handsome man with a ponytail and beard. He said he'd be happy to tell me more about his collective if we could figure out what time made sense (we were at the exhibition's opening). I indicated that I would be looking forward to his lecture the following day as well.

But then things got awkward.

Sergey asked the curator and organizer, Muratbek Djumaliev (who had just introduced us), what time his (Sergey's) lecture would be the next day. Muratbek said the panel discussion began at 10:00 am and that Sergey was scheduled to speak first. Sergey made it very clear to a surprised Muratbek that this simply would not do. No one would attend a lecture so early in Russia, Sergey said. Muratbek charmingly, but firmly, noted that Bishkek was not Russia (a statement that appears to takes on much greater significance in this context the more I think about it). They went a few rounds, with Sergey showing little sign of relenting, making me somewhat uncomfortable (and I assumed also making Eva, a curator from Armenia with us, who was also scheduled to lecture, uncomfortable), so I announced that I would be very happy to go first. This seemed to settle the matter and should have let the awkward moment whither, had Sergey not continued (as if to justify this new order of speakers), "People always expect the most interesting lecture to be last." I looked to Eva, who's actually a friend of Sergey's I believe, to see if she also felt dissed, but saw no indications of such. OK, I'm thinking, he's either socially inept or tossing down a gauntlet. Either way, this was not the place to engage in a duel, so I let it pass.

Later at the reception dinner, feeling relaxed after a few shots of really good vodka, I sat down next to Sergey to see if we couldn't try again. I mentioned how the collective was very highly regarded in the States, how I blogged on politics, and again how I looked forward to his lecture. The exchange went more smoothly this time (he can be very engaging, he's super smart, and we were at a party after all). Still, through a series of comments, he made it clear that as a commercial gallerist I more or less epitomized the essence of the one of the problems his collective sought to solve, at least that's how I interpreted his comments with regards to contemporary art. I tried to highlight the less commercial projects we exhibit, wanting him to at least let his guard down long enough to see I wasn't a raging uber-capitalist with dollar-green ink for blood, but I'm now somewhat certain that's a distinction without a signficance to him.

I had actually anticipated a bit of this response to my participation in the panel discussion, and had asked my friend, the incredibly smart himself artist and curator Christopher Ho, how to craft my lecture to acknowledge or compensate for my symbolism in this series of lectures from otherwise very uncommercial points of view. Chris suggested I go with the "Greed is Good" approach and hit the issue head on, not apologizing. Not that Chris is in that mold of artist or curator himself mind you, just that he understood what my role in the overall panel was and that it was appropriate for me to do it justice. I'm glad I asked. (By the way, before I arrived in Bishkek I realized that what I had thought my lecture was supposed to be on wasn't in fact correct. So all that research I had done on spaces around the world [which many of you so graciously helped me with] ended up being unapplied in that setting. In fact at least two of the spaces folks had recommended were represented at the panel discussion, so it would have been odd for me to have introduced them to the audience. Thanks for the great info, all the same though, I'm still putting it to great use.)

As I had anticipated, Sergey took advantage of the Question and Answer section of my lecture to pontificate on the lack of difference between what I described as more "conceptual" versus more "commercial" art in the presentation I made (insulting two extraordinarily good artists in the room in doing so). He did so with an introduction long enough to qualify as its own lecture, which was more than unfair to the other audience members who may have wanted to ask questions, given he had time reserved later to enlighten them on a topic of his choosing, but his translation of his statements and eventual question for me was much shorter than his original in Russian, so I suspect I have even more reason to be insulted than I knew at the time.

Anyway, we exchanged sharply phrased opinions, with him eventually asking the very question I most dreaded: why would I present the side of a commercial art gallery within the context of the exhibition we had all just seen (it's a very smart, not at all commercial, but not entirely "anti-commercial," exhibition that I'll write more about later). Thanks to Chris's suggestions, though, I was ready. Having laid the groundwork in my lecture for what the role of a commercial gallery is, it was easy enough to respond: "I agree with you that the part of the art world I represent stands in stark contrast to the essence of the exhibition we're all here to experience, but I was invited to represent just one part of a spectrum of places in which artists can exhibit their work and thereby communicate with the public, something you and I seem to agree is important. Beyond that, however, you and I are having a conversation here that's largely leaving out a big part of the audience and perhaps its better if we have it another time." Sergey agreed, and it ended there.

After two excellent presentations on art from Tajikistan and Armenia, I listened to Sergey's lecture (with Bambino translating). There's no taking away from him how compelling his message is, but I couldn't help but wish for a better (less boorish) messenger. He began by belittling the exhibition (titled "Zone of Risk"), suggesting that none of the work in it was at all "risky"...(yes, it took a great deal of restraint not to ask if he realized that he had just insulted his own installation).

I began to suspect his antagonistic opening was calculated, if not his modus operandi, to keep the audience (which was comprised mostly of artists in the exhibition) just angry enough that they listened extra carefully to his lecture, hoping to hear him trip up so they could retaliate. Indeed the Q&A segment was spirited, but Sergey held his own.

I'll confess to having done just that, waiting for an opening to return the favor he had bestowed upon me. There were several opportunities, but in the end, I realized how petty I was being and asked a question I really was curious about: was the question in the paper's editorial "Could they [self-education models] ever replace traditional forms of education?" meant to suggest that "What is to be done?" sought to end the academies? Sergey responded with a very solid and well-considered answer that impressed me, essentially noting that nothing that dramatic was either desired or needed. His answer did underline the one criticism of the collective that strikes me as most valid: they're just ambiguous enough in answering "what is to be done?" themselves, that they're not risking all that much by asking it of others.

Realizing a tit-for-tat style attack question would be petty, though, didn't stop me from asking Bambino to get a photo of Sergey with our logo behind him...just for fun:

Seriously, though, I very much like the subjects "What is to be done?" are exploring, how thoughtfully they're exploring them (you really should read their newspaper online [link above]...it's wonderfully edited), and I'm impressed with the rigor of their project. Sergey may not represent the best social skills the group has to show for itself overall (he did not miss an opportunity to insult me it seemed, responding sharply when I later quite casually asked at a small gathering if all 14 issues of the newspaper were still available: "Not now, and not from me," he said quickly. (OK, dude...don't worry...no one's asking you to rush back to St. Petersburg and round them up.) And yes, normally, I'd consider whether it was not simply that something was getting lost in translation, but Sergey's English is excellent (he lived in Australia a number of years).

Still, we parted ways by me extending a sincere and open invitation to visit us in New York. I hope he does. At the very least so I can get him drunk and finally get him to relax enough to recognize a compliment when it's repeatedly offered.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Quick Pix and Descripts

Not much time, but...to get these posted...here's the too much coffee version:

My fave from the trip (click to see bigger)...

Bambino and I in a yurta near Tash Rabat.

The first of the infamous sheep. Making the choice at the bazaar:

You poke them in the butt to see how fat they are

Before the prayer and slaughter

And after

if those gross you out at all, let me assure you, those are remarkably tame.

What most folks want to know: like a squishy, chewy, fatty glob of rubberbands. You don't eat the iris (you cut it ou), so there's no "pop" when you eat it. And you eat every part...here's proof:


Yours truly chewing on an ear (tastes like fat drenched torched leather):

But look how lovely it all is when you sit down:

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Greetings from London

Year 06 Art Projects look amazing!!! If you're in the London area do stop in. Details on their website.

We have very little time this morning, but I wanted to post a few pix from our trip.

No, that's not a new Beefeater costume you see there...it's an Ak-Sakal (white beard) in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan. This exquisite gentleman is a respected leader of the community and it took all the charm Bambino could muster (which is considerable) to convince him to let us take his photo. In addition to the traditional Kyrgyz costume, he was also wearing the coolest pair of sunglasses...but, alas, he took them off right before we snapped.

We stayed on Bambino's family farm outside At-Bashay. It's located about 30-40 kilometers from the border with China and the locals say if you have a good horse, and know your way, you can cross the mountains separating them in to arrive in China in about three hours. It looked to me as if it would take three months, but I'm not much on a horse. Here's the view from the edge of Bambino's family farm:

Here's Bambino with his aunt, who now owns the farm (Bambino's mother moved to city before he was born):

We also visited Burana, which is the site of an 11th century minaret (pix of that to follow), but where they've also collected these wonderful carved tombstones. This guy (who came to be knows as "dosum," or "my friend") is drinking kumiz (sp?) the national drink from his cup.

Lots more pix to come when we have more time...now, we have to get ready for the fair.

Hope all is well in NYC. Heard about the plane crash...hope it's not too bad.


Thursday, October 05, 2006

Greetings from Kyrgyzstan

OK, for the record, Borat is from Kazhakstan (sp?), not Kyrgyzstan. I've seen the border between the two, and that's about all I know of that other country at this point (expect the artists I've met from there are smart and sweet)...but let's keep our 'Stans straight, OK. ;-)

I could write 50 pages on what we've done and seen in the first 5 days we've been here, but I'm pressed for time, so just wanted to give you the Headline version:

  • Arrive at 5am in Soviet-esque Manas International
  • Too Many US Airforce Planes Hogging Up the Airport
  • Gaggle of Taxi Drivers Attack Us (at 5am!!!)
  • Get into Pre-Arranged Car and Drive in Dark past the locations I had seen on the News last summer...where revolution happened...surreal...
  • Bambino's family asleep when we arrive (duh!)
  • Wait for a while...then ring bell...tearful reunion...amazingly warm hospitality
  • Drink Tea
  • Talk and Catch up
  • Drink More Tea
  • Tour of home
  • Drink More Tea
  • Walk to local merchant center with Bambino and Sister...everything's in another language!!!
  • Visit Bambino's old haunts
  • See cows, sheep, donkeys (this is the captial, mind you) etc., kamakaze taxis, trolleys, pushcarts, everyone and everything is moving here all the time
  • Visit several cemetaries to pay respect
  • Attend Wake
  • Happen upon a funeral in progress
  • Lots of attention to those who have passed...strong connection with history
  • Drink More Tea at each home we visit
  • Driving around Bishkek, the inescapable presence of the mountains makes you feel very small
  • Meet Bambino's older brother who insists we cut a sheep for tomorrow's Welcome Home Bambino party
  • Go to bazaar to choose sheep
  • Bargain for sheep
  • Pick nice fat one
  • Go to Bambino's brother's to bless the sheep (lots of praying here) before the slaughter
  • Take Before and After photos of Sheep (I have "During" photos too, but those are much to graphic to share ...will have to wait until London to share photos unfortunately)
  • Take tour of Brother's garden
  • Drink more Tea
  • Ride through Bishkek at breakneck speed, missing pedestrians by millimeters, everyone working so very hard, pushing mountains of food and goods, so many vendors selling so many items, you wonder who takes the time to buy anything
  • Go past main landmarks, Opera House, Parliament, Liberty Plaza (I made up that name for the square with the Liberty statue), shopping, TV, etc., etc.
  • Drink More Tea
  • Return home to crash for a while
  • Wake up, drink more tea
  • Give family presents

OK, so that was Day One. It gets a bit hectic after that (everyone decides to slaughter a sheep or goat and I've eaten more of each since arriving than I had my entire life...and the parts I've eaten...well, I'll spare you) and Bambino's ready to leave the Internet Cafe, so I'll have to pick up from here later.

More later!!!

PS. I saw some unpleasant exchanges on another thread... I can't stand that stuff...not here...please refrain or take it somewhere else.