Saturday, August 31, 2013

Random Photos

It has been a while since I've blogged, though not for lack of interest, but more because I've been trying to tie together the various loose threads summer has left with me, alongside preparing for the upcoming semester, which begins next week, that I haven't had an opportunity to focus much on anything but the briefest entries here. Several entries I've begun over the last few weeks remain to be completed, though I will try to complete them--or at least several--before classes start. Here are a few recent photos!

Breakdancing crew, 5th Avenue
Breakdancer, with crowd, on 5th Avenue
Breakdancing crew, Midtown
Breakdancing crew, 5th Avenue
Inventive Travel Advisory
Inventive travel advisory (read it carefully),
Delancey Street Station
Edward Hopper "Nighthawks" installation,
Flatiron Building
The infamous 741 Park Ave.
741 Park Avenue (a key address in Alex Gibney's excellent
documentary on the American, Wall Street-fueled plutocracy,
Park Avenue: Money, Power and the American Dream --
h/t Reg Gibbons for recommending the film)
Fiscal Cliff (our neighbor's band)
Flyer at Hoboken Station for Fiscal Cliff,
our 16-year-old neighbor's band
Rainbow over Jersey City
Rainbow over Jersey City
(note that it appears to end almost
at the Goldman Sachs Bldg.)
Heels (near the WTC)
Caption: Heels? or Wedgies?
Portrait painter, Union Square
Artist working outdoors, Union Square
Union Square Park
Chess game, Union Square
Near Times Square
Near 42nd Street
In Brooklyn
In Williamsburg

The shell of St. Vincent's Hospital
The shell of St. Vincent's Hospital, soon to
be a luxury condo development
In reedspace
Inside reedspace, on Orchard Street
Orchard St., from reedspace
Looking at Orchard Street, from the reedspace
front window and door
In the East Village
Young homeless man, with his book
of stickers he collects, East Village
At the Essex Street Market
At the Essex Street Market
Jazz Band @ Warehouse Cafe, Jersey City
Jazz band, at Warehouse Cafe, Jersey City
Street fair, Midtown
Street fair, Midtown
In Williamsburg, Brooklyn
In Williamsburg

Monday, August 26, 2013

Quote: Sarah Schulman

Sarah Schulman
(photo by
Monica Simoes)
"At first we [she and Jim Hubbard, at the New York Lesbian and Gay Experimental Film Festival, which they co-founded in 1987, the same year as ACT UP started] showed artists who were experimental. That is to say, they experimented. "Experimental" meant that each artist singularly tried out their own eccentric idea, their own imaginative way, and then they looked at each others' discoveries. They learned how to be artists by making art, talking about art, looking at art, being with artists. Whether or not one went to graduate school was irrelevant (and still is) to whether or ont one was really an artist. But at some point around the height of AIDS/gentrification this shifted. Those true experimenters who needed to earn a living in the rapidly shifting gentrification economy were channeled by inflation into teaching jobs. The increasing number of MFA programs became the only way that artists could earn a living beyond waitressing or copyediting at night at law firms. MFA programs became workfare for writers, as rents skyrocketed, as arts funding--already so elite as to be culturally damaging--was practically eliminated. It was like the role of the artist in society had devolved from WPA to NEA to MFA. Their students started producing inside a now established genre called "experimental". It wasn't actually any longer experimental, but it was a fixed set of derivative paradigms, invented by their teachers--many of whom did not have MFAs." (p. 102)


"Of course now that the noose has tightened even further, civilian artists are systematically excluded from teaching, as having an MFA [or Ph.D., for poets] has become mandatory for hiring. Being a product of MFA acculturation is now more important in determining who will influence students than what that person has achieved artistically. So, the frame of information and impulse becomes even more narrow and irrelevant and its product even more banal." (p. 103)


"Despite the fact that these programs are homogenizing and corrupting and bad for the culture, I feel that when I am advising working-class or poor students with talent, I have to insist that they go to them. There is simply no other way of getting into the system. As damaging as these programs are when they codify or elevate ruling-class perspectives and middlebrow practitioners, they become the only hope for outsiders to have a chance to be let in. It's a conundrum. Hopefully a talented person can emerge from these programs without a highly distorted sense of their own importance, and if they come originally from the margins this is more likely. But as far as I can see, MFA programs have done nothing to break down the barrier that full-character plays with authorial universes (not performance art, vaudeville, or stand-up) and authentic lesbian protagonists face in the theatrical marketplace. So although they do help certain minority voices who have had the support and sophistication to access and survive the system, overall they reinforce the dominant cultural voice, the clubbiness and repetition and most importantly, the group mentality that is, itself, counterindicated for art making." (p. 108)

-- Copyright © Sarah Schulman, from The Gentrification of the Mind: Witness to a Lost Imagination, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012, pp. 102-3. All rights reserved.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Poem: Mabel Segun


I hired an aeroplane
And put my thoughts on it.
"Take us," I told the pilot
"To that place where I believe
Thoughts can develop,
Watered by imagination,
Nourished in freedom."
But the plane was hijacked
And taken to a place
Where nothing grew but weeds.
My thoughts strove ever so bravely
To grow among the weeds,
But they were choked to death,
The weeds choked them, My God!

Now I'm without my thoughts;
They've given me new ones,
But we do not get along --
They're someone else's thoughts,
Not mine.
-- Copyright © Mabel Segun (1930-), from Conflict and Other Poems, Ibadan: New Horn Press, 1986.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

James Turrell at the Guggenheim

I did not see nor wait in line for the Metropolitan Museum of Art's "Rain Room" (nor have I queued up, beginning at 5:30 am, for a cronut--yet), so I cannot say definitively that James Turrell's (1934-) exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum is the most crowd-pleasing New York City art show of the summer, but I won't hesitate to urge anyone who is in anywhere near upper Manhattan, has a few hours, and wants to be delighted and lulled by Turrell's artistry to catch the show.

Afrum I (White), 1967 (iPhone drawing by John Keene)
Ronin (1968), Fluorescent light,
dimensions variable
© James Turrell / Photo: Courtesy the Stedelijk Museum
Running until September 25, and James Turrell's first exhibition since 1980 in a New York City museum, the show gathers together several differing and compelling examples of this artist's work, which employs and explores light, color, space, and the possibilities human perception. The show-stopper, which I had heard people rave about and thus had to experience firsthand, is Aten Reign (2013), his transformation of the Guggenheim's rotunda into a sublime oculus that fills and shifts with natural and artificial light depending upon the position of the sun and time of day, the weather, and perhaps other mechanisms I'm unaware of. When I entered the museum, the rotunda was a pale yellow, and I thought, pretty but ho hum, certainly an accomplishment but not worthy of all the hullabaloo. I preceded up the spiral to view the smaller light displays in the Annex-level galleries, about which I'll say a little more below, and was impressed, though the long line to see the topmost piece, a bit of a dud that plays deeply with one's sense of space and vision, did peeve me. I returned downstairs and decided to stand at the periphery of the oculus and draw it, since photography was forbidden. (I had been drawing in my sketchbook, so I decided to see if I could get away with using my phone.)

Aten Reign, 2013 (iPhone drawing by John Keene)
Rendering for Aten Reign (2013), Daylight and
LED light, © James Turrell / Rendering: Andreas Tjeldflaat,
2012 © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation
As one of Turrell's famous Skypaces--and evocative in particular of his Roden Crater Project (1979-, the cinder cone crater he has remade in Flagstaff, Arizona), and of Meeting (1986), at New York's P.S. 1--Aten Reign demonstrates his sense of how to use light as a painterly and sculptural tool and device, in order to transform sensory perception. The rain clouds, which necessitated an umbrella, and late afternoon hour paid off, because by the time I had reached the rotunda it was beginning to dramatically and rapidly shift. Green, orange, yellow, and my favorite, an almost unbearably exquisite lavender that held for several minutes, before giving way to a tranquil, transcendent blue. I wanted to lie down on the mat that had been placed in the center of the floor to peer up at it, but there were no openings and none of the people there in deep thrall to the beautiful dance of light and hue appeared willing to move (I later read that the guards did cycle people in and out), so I walked around the periphery, drawing, staring up, in a reverie, just watching the unpredictable palette, until I decided to depart.
One of the Turrell images
Prado (White), 1967
Curated by Carmen Giménez, Stephen and Nan Swid Curator of Twentieth-Century Art, and Nat Trotman, Associate Curator, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and organized in conjunction with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the show also included wall-sized backlighted pieces (Ronin, 1968) and projected light works: Afrum I (White), 1967) and Prado (White), 1967. There was only one real line to view one of the artworks, and it was a very long one, the line, that is, not the artwork, that stretched halfway up the final summit of the Guggenheim's spiral, and took about 45 minutes to get through (I stood for a longer period to see Christian Marclay's The Clock, but the payoff was huge), to see Iltar, 1976, an example of one of Turrell's Ganzfeld works, in which a volume of light exists without discernable limits and boundaries, and can produce equally accurate perceptions and interpretations of reality. In the Iltar room, which was divided, museum visitors stood in one space and encountered a "sensing space," a room or space that gathered its light energy from another area. In the case of Iltar, the effect was akin to peering into what looked like a cloud--only there was nothing there, no mist, no real light, only the production of an effect based on a structural device Turrell had created. It was intriguing, but ultimately, I thought, not worth the wait. Perhaps a smaller space--a gallery or several?--will host Turrell exhibits comprising a series of Ganzfelde--but make sure they're available for visitation for much greater hours than was the case to see Iltar.
The line at the Turrell exhibit, Guggenheim Museum
The line to see Turrell's Iltar (1976)
The line to see Turrell's Iltar (1976)
Ultimately Aten Reign is worth the price of admission, or at least doesn't make shelling out $20 or so dollars that bad (though catch it on the Guggenheim's free day/night or use a student/elderly pass if you have one). And if you have to muscle--er, politely request that someone lift herself or himself off that circular pad so that you have an opportunity to stare up at the lightshow, well...I'm not counseling aggressive behavior, but when in Rome....

At the Turrell exhibit
The entrance to Iltar (1976)
Iltar (1976), Tungsten light, dimensions variable
© James Turrell / Photo: Courtesy James Turrell

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The New Jersey Senate Primary

A little over two months ago, our senior US Senator from New Jersey, the very rich and progressive Democrat Frank Lautenberg (January 23, 1924 - June 3, 2013), passed away after a lingering illness. He had served two non-consecutive terms in the Senate, from 1982 through 2001, and then again, in the wake of former fellow Democratic Senator and enemy Robert Torricelli's corruption-motivated withdrawal from his re-election candidacy, from 2003 through this year. A World War II veteran and beneficiary of the GI Bill, Lautenberg went on to helm Automated Data Processing (ADP), the payroll processing behemoth, but he never forgot his Depression-era upbringing and the important role that the federal government played in his life and in the transformation of the country from the 1930s on. With Lautenberg's passing New Jersey and the country therefore lost a longstanding champion of many of the best ideals and policies of New Deal liberalism. He had initiated or strongly backed laws that helped protect consumers, increased the minimum wage, penalized drunk drivers, safeguarded the country's chemical facilities, made the tax code more progressive, controlled the free flow of firearms, expanded funding for public transportation projects, and ended smoking on most airplane flights. He had also consistently supported legal abortion services, civil rights and affirmative action, and equality for LGBTQ Americans, including same-sex marriage. Lautenberg was the main sponsor of the Ryan White Care Act, which provides federal support and services for people living with AIDS. He also pushed for the 1984 National Mininum Drinking Age Act.

New Jersey's election laws are somewhat vague on replacing a Senator who dies, because it appears the  Governor can appoint a replacement and then call for a special election; appoint a replacement who serves until the next set general election for that seat; leave the seat open and call for a special election; or leave the seat open and wait until the next set general election for that seat. In the case of New Jersey's current governor, Republican Chris Christie, he chose to appoint a replacement Senator, his friend and fellow Republican, conservative attorney and former state Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa, and then call for a special election this fall that would not coincide with this fall's statewide general election, which includes the vote for the governorship. In so doing, Christie guaranteed that he will not have a potentially popular and victorious Democrat running for a statewide office on the same ballot as him. The special election, however, which includes a primary next Tuesday, is estimated to cost $24 million at a minimum, which undermines Christie's claims for fiscal conservatism and cost-cutting. Chiesa has thankfully chosen not to run for the seat, so it appears that whichever of the Democrats emerges victorious next week will waltz to election in the special election this fall.

On the Democratic side, four candidates are vying to replace Lautenberg. Two of them are social and economic liberals (Congressman Frank Pallone, State Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver), one a bonafide progressive (Congressman, research physicist and former professor Rush Holt), and the fourth and leading candidate appears to espouse socially liberal and economically neoliberal policies (Newark Mayor Cory Booker). Dr. Rush Holt, who has represented the 12th District for 8 consecutive terms (since 1998), has been a real progressive. A member of the Progressive Caucus, he advocated for the public option during the health insurance bill debate, has pushed for affordable higher education, has repeatedly said he would not support cuts to Medicare and Social Security, and has been steadfast in pushing for laws to ensure safe, legal and available abortion services. On environmental issues he has championed policies that would shift the country from its current non-renewable course towards renewables, a greenhouse cap, and lower subsidies for the oil and gas industry.  He also attempted to push for greater limits on the government surveillance. 

Yet he is currently in third place in the polls, just behind Congressman Pallone, who first represented New Jersey's 3rd district, from 1988 to 1993, before becoming the 6th district representative since 1993, who also has a strong progressive record, and was endorsed by Lautenberg's widow. Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver is in fourth place so far, but her record in the New Jersey State Assembly, in which she has served since 2004, has pursued consistently liberal policies, but one of her past accomplishments that particularly stands out is her work with the Newark Coalition for Low Income Housing, which she co-founded, and which was able to provoke a federal consent order requiring the Newark Housing Authority and the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development to construct one-for-one replacement housing for any housing projects demolished in the city. She unfortunately has underplayed this background and stressed that she would be New Jersey's first female and black US Senator if elected.

So powerful is two-term Mayor Cory Booker's public appeal and charisma, so high his profile, that as of this weekend, he was far in the lead, polling above 50%, and barring a calamity, will win the primary, and, as I noted above, the general election. Razor sharp, a social media maven, and an actual hero--he really did pull a constituent out of a burning building, saving her life--Booker has a record of accomplishment in Newark, where crime has fallen and jobs and development have increased since he assumed office in 2006. Among his achievements have been achieving a significant crime drop, including the largest by percentage in the US from 2006 to 2008; streamlining the city's budget; increasing affordable public housing; and attacking "pay-to-play" land deals negotiated under his predecessor, convicted ex-mayor Sharpe James. He has also shown himself to be a humanitarian and public servant by example, with actions, criticized by some as stunts, like rescuing abandoned dogs, surviving on a Supplemental Nutritional Aid Program (SNAP) budget for a week, and inviting Newark residents displaced by Hurricane Sandy stay and dine in his home.  I have had the benefit of hearing him speak several times, and as I witnessed during the opening session of Rutgers University's annual Marion Thompson Wright Symposium, he can be an inspired and inspiring--rousing--orator, with more than just rhetorical gifts, but the ability to strike a deeper chord, and convey a passion, in that case for the important of history and of ideas, that other politicians cannot manage even under the best of circumstances.

Yet Booker has also been a strong advocate of "education reform" (charter schools, vouchers and privatizing public education) and pro-Wall Street economic policy, and has received support for financial industry and corporate backers going back to his first campaign for Newark mayor in 2002. In 2010 he persuaded Facebook co-founder and impresario Mark Zuckerberg to donate $100 million to a foundation to benefit the Newark Public Schools but it remains unclear where in the school system that money will go and how well it will be put to use. The links to Silicon Valley extend beyond Zuckerberg; The New York Times revealed this week, has presided over a private tech startup, Waywire, that has barely functioning but, far worse, is basically underwritten by Silicon Valley executives and powerbrokers and had appointed the 15-year-old son of former NBC honcho and current CNN head Jeff Zucker to its advisory board. After the uproar, Zucker's son resigned, but the status of the company and this particular episode underlined that in addition to his extensive record of success, his overwhelming positive attributes, and the star power, much like former First Lady, US Senator from New York and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, that he possesses and will continue to generate, benefiting the state, he will be as beholden to the plutocrats and their agenda as to New Jersey residents and the nation.  I have donated to Booker's and Holt's campaigns, and probably will vote for Booker, but the optimal scenario would be to have Booker and Holt as New Jersey's Senators, and the current senior senator, Democrat Robert Menendez, whiling away his time at a policy institute somewhere.

As for the Republicans, the leading candidate is Steve Lonegan, the legally blind former mayor of Bogota, New Jersey, and a twice-failed candidate for governor. Lonegan was the subject of the 2003 film Anytown, USA, which chronicled his campaign for reelection that year; once elected, he pursued conservative policies such as cutting municipal spending, consolidation of departments, and privatizing services and undercutting unions. Since leaving office in 2007, he has headed the New Jersey chapter of Americans for Prosperity, the conservative public policy organization, and pushed for policies counter to and considerably to the right of the general state political and ideological mood. He also has been dogged by various controversies, among the most recent of them that a member of his campaign staff tweeted a derogatory, racist comment about Cory Booker and the city of Newark ("just leaked — Cory Booker’s foreign policy debate prep notes," below which was a map of Newark with the words "West Africa, Guyana, Portugal, Brazil” and “Middle East, Afghanistan, Pakistan, plus Bangladesh and Trinidad" designating Newark's differing neighborhoods). Lonegan claimed that the tweet was not meant to be racist, but then one need only need look at his past, which has included calling for a McDonald's billboard in Spanish to be taken down and trying to make English the official language of Bergen County. His main challenger is Dr. Alieta Eck, a physician and diehard opponent of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). She has gotten no traction whatsoever, and it's unlikely that Lonegan, the favorite to win the Republican primary, will exceed 45% of the vote this upcoming fall.

Monday, August 05, 2013

Random Photos

Around the city/cities:

Stylish young artist, Soho
Stylish young artist, Soho
Inside a Ukrainian Orthodox Church, near Chinatown
Ukrainian Orthodox Church interior, LES
Poet for pay
Poet for pay, Bryant Park
Silver Towers (and Picasso sculpture), NYU
Picasso statue in front of Silver Towers, NYU
Tiger man
Leopard man
Rat man, Times Square
Rat man, Times Square
Jersey City, Hoboken and New York City from the Hudson-Bergen light rail train
Jersey City (foreground), Hoboken (clocktower),
and New York City (hazy background), from the light rain train
String quartet playing Bach, 14th St. station
String quartet playing Bach, 14th Street Station
Father and son chasing Canadian geese, Jersey City
Father and son playing with Canadian geese
Palestinian demonstration, Times Square
Palestinian rally, Times Square
Near East Broadway
Photographer, East Broadway
On Broadway
Chilling, Broadway, in the Flatiron District
Chatting, Chinatown
Chatting, open carpentry shop, Chinatown
Afternoon combo, LES/Chinatown
Midday combo, LES
Waiting for the cheap bus, Flatiron District
Waiting for the cheap bus, Flatiron District
Flatiron Building, with tourists
The Flatiron Building, with requisite tourists
Washington Square Park
Washington Square Park Fountain