Wednesday, August 26, 2009

My madeleine...

One of the things I miss about the east coast is lilacs. On the east coast they bloom in great lavender and white clouds hanging in the trees, floral clouds shipwrecked in masses of branches and lush foliage. In southern California, it's possible to get lilacs from florists and grocers at great expense for a month or two in the spring. I get mine from Mrs. Ha of Ha Family Farm, growers of the most delicious apples I've ever tasted. I guess Mr. Ha grows the apples and Mrs. Ha tends to the lilacs (and also lovely peonies... ). If I get to the farmer's market early enough on Sundays, I can buy lilacs from Mrs. Ha for maybe three weeks. Their farm is in the mountains, so the cooler conditions there make the lilacs I know from my east coast upbringing, not the strange bloom known as the California lilac. Those pictured above are from this past spring. When I took this picture, I was excited to post it right away, but I just haven't been engaged with posting things here as much as I'd like to be this summer. But anyway, the scent of lilac is my madeleine. It intoxicates me with memory and also brings me immediately into that aromatic instant of wanting to keep breathing in and to never, ever have to stop to exhale, grounding me in my history and my present at once. Thank you, Garry, for urging me to post something today...

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Moon

I just stood in the middle of my street for a while. I hadn't ever done that. I had parked my car, and I meant to cross the street to my house. I looked to my left to make sure there was no traffic and was stopped in my tracks by the sight of a fat moon that had just risen above the crest of the small hill that rises away from my house. The round moon was framed by two bushy trees on either side of the street. The trees were in silhouette against the cloudless, steel blue sky, and the fat, round moon just glowed and glowed at me, just for me.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Today I saw...

Jed Ceasar at Suzanne Vielmetter
Sam Durant at Blum & Poe
Kim McCarty at Lightbox
(Stopped in to say hello to Drew and Flora and Justin at the Mandrake and then saw... )
Manfred Pernice at Regen Projects
Alexis Smith at Margo Leavin
Hanne Darboven, Evan Holloway, Jason Meadows, and Matteo Tanatt at Marc Foxx
Chris Finley (and a wonderful Bill Jensen) at ACME

Monday, May 4, 2009

Ah yes... Larry Johnson

Can't wait to read Bruce Hainley's feature on Mr. Johnson.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Robert Frank's Cowboy

Robert Frank (American, born Switzerland, 1924)
Rodeo, New York City, 1955
Gelatin silver print; 13 x 9 1/16 in. (33 x 23 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Gift of Barbara and Eugene Schwartz, 1992 (1992.5162.3)

Monday, April 13, 2009

In anticipation of the Best Summer Ever

A hundred years ago (some time in the late nineties, I guess... ), my friend Jacob Hartman set forth on a quest for the Best Summer Ever. He organized all kinds of outings and games and cookouts and sundry stuff to do. I don't think I participated in many of his events, probably being -- just like when I feigned various illnesses to avoid swimming lessons as a child at camp -- too depressed, busy, angry, preoccupied, etc. to join in. Or maybe I just didn't get the invitations... Even so, I remember Jacob's funny smile as he would chant the refrain "Best Summer Ever" before or after pitching one or another invitation or rattling off a recap of a recent gathering. Ever since, as summer approaches each year, I start hearing Jacob's voice in my mind, and I regret that I really didn't have the best summer ever. Not that year. And, each year, I hear myself say it to one person or another, that this will be the Best Summer Ever. "B.S.E.", I say. I mean it, but I always also hear some cynicism in my tone. Or maybe it's melancholy, or some of that regret I mentioned before. Sitting around with a bunch of friends the other night beginning to plan our annual camping trip, the Best Summer Ever refrain was intoned yet again. I think it's going to happen. I have a nice feeling about this summer. Maybe it's the fact that we are having a mild spring, with the birds chirping like mad and the sky that heavy, endless blue, and the nights still chilly. Or maybe I'm finally lucky enough to have a little bit of Jacob's magical optimism.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Sunday, March 29, 2009

You can really learn a lot that way...

"For The Turnstiles" by Neil Young
From the album "On the Beach", 1974

All the sailors
with their seasick mamas
Hear the sirens on the shore,
Singin' songs
for pimps with tailors
Who charge ten dollars
at the door.

You can really
learn a lot that way
It will change you
in the middle of the day.
Though your confidence
may be shattered,
It doesn't matter.

All the great explorers
Are now in granite laid,
Under white sheets
for the great unveiling
At the big parade.

You can really
learn a lot that way
It will change you
in the middle of the day.
Though your confidence
may be shattered,
It doesn't matter.

All the bushleague batters
Are left to die
on the diamond.
In the stands
the home crowd scatters
For the turnstiles,
For the turnstiles,
For the turnstiles.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A week in bed with Peggy Guggenheim and Samuel Beckett

"After dinner Beckett asked to walk her home, and Peggy was somewhat surprised when he took her arm and brought her all the way back to her borrowed apartment. Once there, he asked her to lie down on the sofa with him. They went to bed and stayed there until dinnertime the next day, except for a brief period when Peggy mentioned champagne and Beckett ran out to get some. The idyll was cut short, as Peggy was to meet [Jean] Arp for dinner, and she was unable to cancel because he had no telephone. She was quite discomfited when Beckett left saying, 'Thank you. It was nice while it lasted.'...

Several days passed before Peggy ran into Beckett again on a traffic island in Montparnasse. They went directly to bed (at Mary Reynolds's house, which Peggy had borrowed in the interim) and stayed there for over a week."

From Mistress of Modernism: The Life of Peggy Guggenheim by Mary V. Dearborn, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston and New York, 2004

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Cavolo Nero

I've taken to buying two or three bunches of cavolo nero at the market on Sundays and eating it almost every night of the week. I wash it all at once, roughly chiffonade the whole lot of it, and store it in a big bag so that I can pull out handfuls to toss as a raw salad (dressed with walnut oil and lemon or sesame oil, rice vinegar, and minced ginger), sautee (in olive oil with red chile flakes and a clove of garlic, paired with roasted slices of sweet potato), slowly braise (tossed with whole wheat penne and broiled cherry tomatoes or crumbled and browned Italian sausage), or blanch it (in clear chicken or vegetable broth with garlic and black eyed peas).

Monday, March 23, 2009

What beauties...

A handful of promising (and kind of heart-breakingly lovely!) Los Angeles artists, as photographed by Hedi Slimane for Dazed and Confused...

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Yes, please...

4 pounds fresh vine-on tomatoes
2 stalks of lemon grass
4 serrano chilis
1 small Bermuda onion
Citrus-flavored vodka

In multiple batches, coarsely chop and puree tomatoes, onion and chilis in a food processor. Add salt to taste. Transfer pulp to a cheesecloth and suspend over a large stockpot. Leave to strain until pulp volume has reduced by two-thirds (about 12 to 24 hours). Makes 1 liter of tomato water.

To make the Bloody Mary: Mix 1.5 ounces of citrus flavored vodka with 5 ounces of tomato water.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Oh, je souhaite que je pourrais être là...

Cornelius Cardew
et la liberté de l’écoute
Un programme de manifestations

du 5 avril au 27 juin 2009
CAC Bretigny, France

Le Centre d’Art Contemporain de Brétigny propose un programme complet de manifestations qui retrace le parcours artistique du compositeur anglais Cornelius Cardew disparu prématurément en 1981 à l’âge de 45 ans. Le CAC Brétigny et les commissaires proposent d’agir en rupture avec une approche muséale et souhaitent favoriser l’appropriation et l’utilisation par tous, des archives du compositeur à travers une exposition et une série de concerts et de performances qui témoignent de la vivacité de ce travail et de son influence sur la création d’aujourd’hui.

Le commissariat de ces événements proposés au CAC Brétigny d’avril à juin 2009 est confié à Dean Inkster et Jean-Jacques Palix avec l’assistance de Lore Gablier, qui ont organisé dès 2004 au sein de l’école régionale des beaux-arts de Valence plusieurs événements autour de Cardew, notamment des interprétations du paragraphe 7 de The Great Learning et de Walk de Michael Parsons.

Des personnalités de générations différentes, reconnues sur la scène internationale, Nina Canal, Rhys Chatham, Luke Fowler, Michel Guillet, Nadia Lichtig, Michael Morley, Michael Parsons, Lee Ranaldo, Keith Rowe, Marcus Schmickler, Sara Stephenson, Samon Takahashi, Terre Thaemlitz, John Tilbury, Peter Todd et Annie Vigier & Frank Apertet, interpréteront, tout au long de l’exposition, les partitions de Cardew sous des formes variées de performances, de concerts et de projections.

Pierre Bal-Blanc, Directeur CAC Brétigny

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

We rolled right past that tragedy...

"Coyote" from the album Hejira by Joni Mitchell, November 1976

No regrets Coyote
We just come from such different sets of circumstance
I'm up all night in the studios
And you're up early on your ranch
You'll be brushing out a brood mare's tail
While the sun is ascending
And I'll just be getting home with my reel to reel
There's no comprehending
Just how close to the bone and the skin and the eyes
And the lips you can get
And still feel so alone
And still feel related
Like stations in some relay
You're not a hit and run driver no no
Racing away
You just picked up a hitcher
A prisoner of the white lines on the freeway

We saw a farmhouse burning down
In the middle of nowhere
In the middle of the night
And we rolled right past that tragedy
Till we turned into some road house lights
Where a local band was playing
Locals were up kicking and shaking on the floor
And the next thing I know
That coyote's at my door
He pins me in a corner and he won't take no
He drags me out on the dance floor
And we're dancing close and slow
Now he's got a woman at home
He's got another woman down the hall
He seems to want me anyway
Why'd you have to get so drunk
And lead me on that way
You just picked up a hitcher
A prisoner of the white lines on the freeway

I looked a coyote right in the face
On the road to Baljennie near my old home town
He went running thru the whisker wheat
Chasing some prize down
And a hawk was playing with him
Coyote was jumping straight up and making passes
He had those same eyes just like yours
Under your dark glasses
Privately probing the public rooms
And peeking thru keyholes in numbered doors
Where the players lick their wounds
And take their temporary lovers
And their pills and powders to get them thru this passion play
No regrets Coyote
I just get off up aways
You just picked up a hitcher
A prisoner of the white lines on the freeway

Coyote's in the coffee shop
He's staring a hole in his scrambled eggs
He picks up my scent on his fingers
While he's watching the waitresses' legs
He's too far from the Bay of Fundy
From appaloosas and eagles and tides
And the air conditioned cubicles
And the carbon ribbon rides
Are spelling it out so clear
Either he's going to have to stand and fight
Or take off out of here
I tried to run away myself
To run away and wrestle with my ego
And with this flame
You put here in this Eskimo
In this hitcher
In this prisoner
Of the fine white lines
Of the white lines on the free free way

(Pictured is JM performing Coyote on
November 25, 1976 at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco where The Band staged their final concert. The image is from Martin Scorsese's film of the concert, "The Last Waltz". Hejira has become one of my soundtracks to the desert. Couldn't decide whether to post this or "Amelia" here. They both resonate with me today, so here's "Amelia", too... )

Monday, March 16, 2009

It's not about dreams...

I am spending a few days in the desert and brought a few movies with me in case I wanted that sort of distraction. Turns out I did, and last night I watched Robert Altman's 3 Women. I had seen it before, but not in a long time. Coincidentally, the film is set in a fictional town that is based on the one that I am in. I hadn't remembered that when I picked it up, so it was a surprise when the first scenes of the area appeared. There is an aquifer beneath this town, so people come here to take the waters. There is something strange about this incredible water in the middle of the desert, and 3 Women uses the dry, minimal landscape combined with the idea of healing water to explore and metaphorically describe the landscape of femininity and the societal positions of women. The three main characters are Millie, Pinky, and Willie, but they all get wrapped up in Millie by the end of the film, and it made me think a lot about the way men think about women and the ways in which women think about themselves. Between the three of them, the characters present just about every female stereotype. They are also always changing and exchanging characteristics, presenting a stereotype in itself, that of the maleable, chameleon-like female personality. These women are foreigners to themselves, each other, and to others around them. They have no tools and perhaps no desire to understand themselves, and they are therefore constantly constructing their personalities through the materiality at hand. It is an immediate and swift kind of self-recognition and adaptation, and it is acutely disturbing in its familiarity. Watching the film again last night reminded me that I had been part of the audience for a filmed performance made as part of a series of films by Amy Granat and Emily Sundblad that included a projection of 3 Women as a backdrop. Driving with Granat and Sundblad to dinner afterward in their rented car felt kind of like the movie, all of us wondering who we are all at once and perpetually making it up as we go along.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Blood Oranges

The blood oranges that I have been getting at farmer's markets this year are phenomenal. The color of the flesh is always a pleasant shock, and the flavor is unlike any other variety of orange. There is almost a spice to it, and its depth is unparalleled in citrus. Last weekend, Canele was serving mimosas with freshly made blood orange juice. I don't care for the usual mimosa, but when my friends ordered them and I saw the color, I asked for one too. It was delicious. Citrus season is almost over, I suppose, so I think I will stockpile some blood oranges and preserve them in salt. But before that, I'm going to try a compote to spoon over goat cheese and crushed pistachios as a dessert. Soon, asparagus and lilacs will make their delightful, brief appearance, but till then I'm really digging the blood oranges.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Interview with Adolfo Guzman-Lopez

Here is the interview that was aired as a segment on KPCC on Friday. I recommend listening to it rather than reading the transcript, if possible. There is a lot lost in the transcript, and the whole mood of the thing really benefits from hearing our voices. Cadence and inflection add so much to the meaning of what we say. My post from the 17th contains some of the stuff I wanted to convey that wasn't in the interview...

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A note to Adolfo Guzman-Lopez on artists in society

Today, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Adolfo Guzman-Lopez, whose name will be familiar to anyone who listens to NPR on KPCC. He is reporting on the effect of the downward spiraling economy on artists and arts workers. Since my job at The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles was recently eliminated, he contacted me to discuss my story. By the time we had a chance to sit down, I had already been talking about myself with various people all day (that's another story... ), and I was, therefore, perhaps not at my best. For the most part, I think my responses to his questions were sufficient, but when he left, I was overcome with thoughts of all of the things I did not say. So, I wrote him this note, which I am posting below. When the interview is aired, I will post a link to it as well.

Dear Adolfo:
Thank you so much for your interest in arts workers in the new economy and in my story in particular. Just as a follow-up, I want to try to articulate something more thoroughly.

Regarding your questions about adapting to new challenges and the importance of art in society: Right now, it is essential for me to believe that we are all going to come out of this alright, despite the very real fears that we may not. That said, here goes...

Artists are inventive by definition; it is our charge to reflect the world through our own ideas and visions. That inventiveness extends beyond artists' studios into the world at large through deep community involvement. Artists and arts administrators, arts educators, etc. give tremendously to their communities, not only by giving us their work but also by teaching, volunteering, voting, paying taxes, etc. Artists and arts workers are also - along with everyone else in the world - subject to the ebbs and flows of the economy and the culture and participate equally in civic life.

Part of the reason that the arts are so important to society is that artists are often the originators of new ideas and new approaches to the the way we live, as well as give us new ways to see ourselves and the world we live in. There are many contemporary artists who are using their inventiveness, creativity, critical thinking, and adaptability to confront the many changes taking place in our world, not only to reflect our world back to us but to posit hypotheses for the advancement of our well-being as a collective social body.

There are strains of contemporary art that have become increasingly rarefied. Perhaps that is because, while our consumer culture (which is inherently concerned with deriving individual gains) has expanded, our collective interest in social culture (which perceives the individual as part of a larger whole) dwindles proportionally. The more this country's government - and therefore this country's society, for this is a democracy wherein the government is the voice of the people, right? - espouses a disinterest in (and, at worst, a disdain for) the arts, the more artists turn to one another as an insular community, addressing only one another. But there are also contemporary practices in which artists use their work - and often their own lives - to turn outward to connect with their communities and their environments, filling a void that is left when other artists and the society at large turn inward.

I view both approaches as equally valid. Further, I do not mean to suggest that these are the only two conditions under which art is currently produced. On the contrary, there is always a broad spectrum of art in production. I do think it's a useful observation, though, for anyone interested in the way art impacts - and articulates - the culture. It's a tough row to hoe, because on one hand, I believe that art should touch everyone and should be supported by our governmental agencies, because, as I mentioned to you earlier, art's positive effect on individuals is immeasurable. But on the other hand, artists are often at their best when left to their own devices. Artists are accustomed to inventing their own worlds every day, often quite literally, but also metaphorically through images and songs and words, etc. But just because they are capable of being extraordinarily self-sufficient doesn't mean they should have to be. Like everyone, artists must eat, be in good health, care for children and elderly relatives, and tend to all of the myriad responsibilities and requirements of daily life that we all must.

Through all of the above ambivalence, I think what I am trying to say is that, like people in any profession, artists should be included in and embraced by society and not be forced to use their inventiveness for their own survival alone. I think this society would be given a great gift if it brought artists farther into the fold, to shake off whatever fears it has about a perceived (and probably mis-conceived) radicality they might bring to the table and to see what could happen if artists were given more of a voice in the world at large. Artists are problem solvers. That's what artists do all day in their studios, is solve problems. They are often small-ish problems of their own making, but sometimes they are problems related to the big, big issues of our time. There is tremendous value in that ability. For, not only do artists excel at solving problems, they often devise their solutions with beauty, grace, and elegance that add richness and dimension to both the problem and the solution. Artists might just be able to help us out of this mess that we're in in ways we can't even imagine.

It was a pleasure to meet you and to talk with you, and again, I really appreciate your attention to this story and your reporting at large.
All the best,

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Monday, February 2, 2009

Jimi Hendrix and Alice Neel

In the past few days, I've watched two documentaries, both named after their subjects: Jimi Hendrix and Alice Neel. Sure, their backgrounds and lives and means of expression couldn't be more different, but encountering their work through these films got me thinking about the same kinds of things...

Watching film footage of Hendrix playing guitar put me in a sort of exalted state of jubilance. The reassurance that his kind of utterly defiant, beautiful expression is achievable got me through what was a quite difficult weekend. I realized that part of the power of his guitar playing - apart from the obvious transcendence of skill (and for what it's worth, I'm left rather cold by the theatrics and am always more impressed just watching his fingers on the neck of the guitar than by the teeth thing, etc.... Well, OK, the fire conjuring was pretty fucking great... ) - is the volume he used. This is probably totally obvious, but I just want to write it down here. In order to get the kind of feedback he liked to use as punctuation as well as a place for extra notes and texture, he would keep his amplifiers at a constant extreme volume, as far as I can tell. This requires the ability to maintain tremendous control over the positioning and pressure upon the strings, pickups, neck and body of the guitar. But what it does is it gives that sense of anticipation driven to exuberance that his music has, because the sound is quite literally always at the edge of going out of control. As a result, it's super sexy and joyful as hell.

Alice Neel was 70 years old when Jimi Hendrix died in 1970. The documentary was made by one of her grandchildren and includes wonderful footage of Neel painting interspersed with interviews with her friends and family as well as artists and writers who knew her. Neel led an extraordinarily difficult life as a single mother raising two boys after her first child - a daughter - died before she was even a year old and her second child - another daughter - was taken from her by the father's family. Neel and her sons lived in extreme poverty. She never had a studio other than the living room or the kitchen of her apartment in Spanish Harlem. Anyway, my brief biographical overview of her life is published in WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution and there is a detailed biography, numerous monographs, and this documentary, for anyone interested in the whole story.

Neel's paintings are deeply moving for their unrelenting directness and their tremendous beauty. Neel painted portraits, almost exclusively. Now that we are in an era that accepts a broadly heterogeneous array of styles and subject-matter, it is hard to imagine what it must have been like to paint portraits in New York City in the 1950s when abstract expressionism was championed as the only art worth scholarly attention, and the tenacity it required is evident in the volume of paintings Neel amassed in her long career as well as in the obsessive attention to contextual and psychological detail she was able to express in them. She managed to paint her times through the people she encountered in the many cultural sectors she engaged. Every time I have the privilege of encountering one of her paintings, I feel like I've been given an incredible gift. In 1974, Alice Neel was the subject of a one-person exhibition at The Whitney Museum of American Art. The footage of her greeting friends and admirers at the reception had me in tears. At the age of 74, it was the first and only major museum exhibition of her work to be mounted in her lifetime.

Hendrix, of course, succumbed at a very young age, and Neel somehow kept going until she died from cancer in 1984 at age 84. They gave us sounds and images that help remind us of the great unquantifiables, of that which is intangible and soulful. It helps me, anyway, because sometimes it's easier for me to give in to the material world than to become amorphous to absorb and encompass everything that is the world, like all great artists must.

Monday, January 26, 2009

It's cold. Time for soup...

I didn't go to the farmer's market this weekend. So, it got to be supper time, and I looked through the refrigerator and cupboard to see what odds and ends could come together into something warm to eat. Over medium heat, I sauteed a scant half cup of diced red onion and two small sliced leeks in my cocotte. I added some diced carrots and let all of that sweat for a while until I moved it all over to a pile on the side of the pot and added five quartered Brussell's sprouts to the clear area. When they had browned a bit, I added one cup of chicken broth and one cup of water all at once. I made a bouquet garni with pepper corns, a sage leaf, some sprigs of thyme, and a bay leaf and added that, bringing it all to a boil. Then I added maybe a quarter cup of wheat berries, lowered the heat, and covered the pot, letting it all simmer for an hour or so. Once the wheat berries were soft, I chopped up the last bits of spinach I had. I stirred that in along with the juice of a lemon slice that had been sitting all alone in the refrigerator. It tastes really good, and it made just enough soup to fill one of my low pasta bowls. So, now it's cooling a bit on the counter while I write this.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Ginger and lemon

I cut up a few chunks of raw ginger and lemon, put them in a big Ball jar, and poured boiling water in. I forgot about it, and it sat there for fifteen minutes or so. I guess it can't be called "tea" since there were no tea leaves involved and "hot ginger lemonade" doesn't sound that appealing. But it was so good, I want to call it something.