Sunday, April 30, 2006

Business Cards

Every Sunday I can, I help a guy who makes business cards on a table-top letterpress at the flea market on Columbus and 77th. Richard Meneely has been printing cards (current price: $60 for 100) at this flea market since the late 80s.

He doesn't pay me, but I get to make some cards. I made this one today:

I found this Gillette safety razor at the flea market for $10.

It came with the original plastic case and this helpful instruction pamphlet:

Really Big Tires

The New York Times says the price of giant tires for super huge dump trucks and other big trucks has quadrupled. A twelve foot tall, four foot wide tire now costs $40,000. Apparently demand is high on account of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, rebuilding in hurricane-affected areas, and most of all, industrialization in India and China.

A factory can make only about two or three tires a day, and it takes 24 hours for a giant tire to cool after going into a mold.

The Times notes that the tire shortage is both cause and effect in the rise of nickel (used in stainless teel production, up 37%), copper (up 45%), and zinc (up 64%) prices. So mining companies try to boost output to make money off the soaring values and that means they need more tires.

A Canadian coal company has warned that the lack of tires may slow their production.

Some mining companies have expressed a willingness to pay anything for new tires, but the tire companies realize that would make other customers mad.

This shortage has spawned efforts to extend the life of existing tires, like the geo-textile plastic road covering that is supposed to make for a smoother ride.

The image above is from Skippers Central Tire & Equipment out of Phoenix. They sell big tires.

Friday, April 28, 2006

More Food Trays

I found a very strange website: It boasts being "The world's first and leading website about nothing but airline food." I dare you to click on the browse thousands of inflight meals link.

The site was started by an "easy-going 'I love life' 35-year old graphic designer/web designer from (near) Rotterdam, Holland -- born June 30, 1970". He apparently took a lot of flights from Holland to Turkey to visit a girlfriend. And this is what he got out of it. An obsession with airline food. I love it.

NY Times: Taxis Are Safe … In Other News, Cab Injures Five on 49th

I'll admit this: every time I nearly get hit on the street, it's a commercial van, SUV, or minivan -- never a taxi. Still, I never feel safe walking anywhere near a cab in this town. New York taxis drive the way you might expect a NASCAR racer to drive if he was drunk off the track: shockingly competent for how reckless it looks. Today, timed nicely with the news that a cab mowed down five people on 49th and Madison, was this New York Times story: That Wild Taxi Ride Is Safer Than You Think, a Study Says.

The study, the Times reports, says that "taxi and livery-cab drivers have crash rates one-third lower than drivers of other vehicles."

But bikes aren't safe from cabs: "The study concluded that bicycles are about twice as likely to collide with a cab than other vehicles, a danger that experts attribute to the risks of "dooring," in which passengers in parked cabs throw their doors open in front of oncoming bikes."

The cabbie that writes one of my favorite blogs -- New York Hack, was pleased. She dedicated her post More Vindication to "all the haters out there who love to generalize and say all cabbies drive like shit."

Taxi blogs are a bona fide genre: here's link to a Scottish blogger who tracks work-related blogs, including those of the taxi persuasion. He doesn't list London Cabby though. These are all fascinating reading.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

TV Dinner

I've been looking for a nice plastic segmented tv dinner tray. Can't find one. It's surprisingly hard to find anything like it on the Internet. I found a guy on eBay who's selling a 1960s era Swanson tv dinner box with an empty aluminum tray for about $70. He'll ship it for $12. Also on eBay: some school lunch trays -- the next best thing to tv dinner trays. I could get a carton of 24 teal plastic trays, complete with the long narrow utensil compartment for around the price of that empty Swanson box.

And then there's the Japanese bento box -- another variation on the theme, and also found on eBay. I'm wondering if anyone is selling the old airline food trays.

After some thought, I relaized that I have a nice Swedish stainless steel tray with three compartment that I found for $8 at an antique store in Minneapolis. It's pictured above. I filled it with a Scandinavian meal: Swedish meatballs, lefse, lingonberries, pickled herring, smoked salmon, and green beans (for color). I served myself dinner in the Danish style -- with a candle and a shot of aquavit.

Then I sat myself down to watch I, Robot, which features the silverware I'm using. It was designed by Danish architect Arne Jacobsen in 1956 and it often makes appearances in movies that are set in the future. Stanley Kubrick put the set in 2001, and he had the characters eating tv dinners, too. I do not, however, have the right and left-handed spoons.

I noticed the silverware in I, Robot as I was using it at home. Nice coincidence.

I'm still looking for some cheap segmented trays -- plastic or metal.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Minneapolis is Cheap

Minneapolis is becoming cheap. First Northwest Airlines, a local company legendary for its mean-spirited labor practices and do me a favor/screw you attitude toward the state of Minnesota has decided to start charging extra for certain seats on planes -- front row, exit row, etc. -- seats that passengers have long requested for their extra leg room.

Now, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, a newspaper that looks good only because it competes with the St. Paul Pioneer Press across the river, has decided to stop giving its employees access to free copies of the paper in the newsroom. The New Yorks Times reports:

"Instead, the staff was offered an electronic edition of the paper "an exact digital reproduction of the printed version," no less -- that they could access online. Those who insisted on seeing the fruits of the their labors in its physical form were told that they could purchase copies for 25 cents, half the retail cost, from boxes around the office. (This change in policy was first reported by City Pages in Minneapolis.)"

And the employees didn't like it. the Strib's circulation vp accused the staff of stealing papers and sent out a memo that said:

"During the first week that the additional on-site racks were in service, 43 percent of the Star Tribunes removed from those racks were not paid for. For the second week the rate was 41 percent. This is called 'pilferage' in our business; but put more plainly, it is theft, pure and simple.

Taking more than one newspaper from a rack when you have only inserted enough money for one paper is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. Employees who steal newspapers will put their jobs at risk. There is zero tolerance when it comes to stealing from our company, even if it is a 25-cent newspaper." [read the whole memo here.]

Pow! Take that wageworker! But, as the Times reports, it got worse. The memo got leaked to the journalism website Romenesko,
and the Strib vowed to smite down the leaker.

The Times' David Carr thought the Strib's rationale -- that cutting out the free internal papers would cut costs significantly, thus saving job cuts -- was dubious:

"There is a tedious logic to all of this. People who make doughnuts or lattes or S.U.V.'s do not get to consume their products freely. But whacking the incremental costs of producing a few thousand extra copies of a newspaper seems not worth the profound statement it makes. Those free papers buy a huge amount of good will internally, a totem of a daily miracle that is produced and admired. They are also a reminder, amid all the bad headlines in the industry, that there is civic good under way."

But this part was the most delicious:

"Doug Grow, a Star Tribune columnist, recalled that The New York Times once called his paper 'the most ridiculed newspaper in the country' for its adoption of new-age policies, like banning 'Redskins' and other American Indian nicknames in sports stories. He said he felt the crown had passed to The Times after the Jayson Blair episode. 'I think this is our attempt to win it back,' he said. 'One of the benefits of getting older is that this becomes just another chapter in the ongoing comedy. Our stock is dropping and we have cost issues, so maybe we can take away reporter's notebooks while we are at it.'

But is this all so bad? The staff still gets the electronic version for
free. Carr noted that Slate's media columnist Jack Shafer says "I'm Canceling my Times Subscription". Why? Shafer says:

"I'm canceling because the redesign of your Web site, which you unveiled yesterday, bests the print edition by such a margin I've decided to pocket the annual $621.40 I currently spend on home delivery."

Yeah, that's right. Getting the newspaper everyday costs so much it's basically a luxury item. I looked into getting the Times delivered when I moved to New York and I was flabergasted when I found that a year of the paper would cost more than I paid for a month of rent in St. Paul. I thought of it as a thirteenth month of rent. Nasty. So as much as loathe reading online, I do it, and buy the paper most Sundays.

Shafer is saying that the web version (recently redesigned) of the Times has finally gotten good enough to match the print version. I voilently disagree, but I understand what he's saying. Why do I disagree? First, I'm a purist. I love paper. But more importantly, I cannot fold the web site, nor can I bring it on the train. If I like an article, I end up printing it anyway. Paper is superior because it's three dimensional. Websites, by nature will not be the equal of print for a long time.

As Shafer notes, the Wall Street madman James Cramer wrote in New York Magazine that the Times should go totally paperless. Cramer says Google is trouble for the Times, but:

"There's one way out of this mess for the Times. It is a bold, gutsy, and, some would say, foolish way, at least initially: The Times -- here's the irony -- should go all-digital. That's right. It should abandon newsprint and force everyone to the Web. It should make a stand against Google, using its division -- something with real growth, and which is actually working out despite the $410 million in debt taken down to buy the thing -- to lead the way. Maybe it should even take the revolutionary step of blocking Google from accessing its content, something no one else is willing to do. Or maybe it should at least say, 'This is the deal: You want our stuff, you must share much more with us than you are willing to share with others.' It is worth it to preserve value for the future, to make it so our kids don't think, Let me go to Google for all the news that's fit to print. Heck, in another couple of years they won't even know that the New York Times exists as anything but private-label news source for an Internet portal."

David Carr concludes:

"It is one thing to beaver away, building out a digital gallows. Given reader habits and industry trends, that kind of innovation is required. But at some point -- perhaps when reporters are denied access to newspapers -- publishers are saying something else to their employees and their readers: What you're holding has no value."

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Dodge Caliber Already Cute; Fairy's Efforts Redundant

I can't stand Dodge's TV spot for its new Caliber model, but not for the same reason as Ad Age's Bob Garfield. The ad in question features a fairy who flits about changing subway trains and skyscrapers into toys and pastries until she is thwarted by the potent new Caliber which proves impervious to her magic wand. This car, in spite of being compact, is so un-cute that even a fairy whose wand makes normal things cute, can't make it so.

What bugs me about the ad? First, the name Caliber. It's a description, a measure, like quality. May as well call it the Dodge Diameter. To use it to imply that the car is of a high caliber (or what -- large caliber?) is like saying something is quality when you mean high quality. Yes, yes, you may dismiss this as the mumblings of an English major (which they are), but ... well I have no defense. It just annoys me. Quality has come to mean high quality, and I've got to get used to it.

The other thing I don't like about the Dodge commercial is the notion that the car can't be changed by the fairy's magic wand. Come on. Have you seen this car? You can't convince me that this car is going to sell to Middle American men. You can't just install a beefy grill on it and think that this tortoise-shaped hatchback will look potent. Dodge hasn't fooled me. I know that in real life the fairy could easily change that car into a some kind of a, I don't know, a ... wait! I get it. The fairy can't change the Caliber into something cute, because it already is cute. She can't make it cuter. Take that Dodge.

Anyway, Bob Garfield, a columnist for Advertising Age and a co-host for NPR's weekly show On the Media covered the new Dodge ad in an article called Is This Dodge 'Fairy' Commercial Actually Hate Speech in Disguise? You can watch the ad there and judge for yourself.

Garfield divides the article into a list of facts -- I'll put them here:

  • One: the word 'fairy,' a synonym for 'faggot' and 'queer,' is an insult used to describe homosexuals or un-masculine men.
  • Two: Dodge is marketing the car as tough.
  • Three: the ad agency, BBDO of Detroit juxtaposes a tough guy/tough dog with an effeminate man/four tiny dogs.
  • Four: the only words spoken in the ad are the tough guy's 'silly little fairy.'
  • Five: Daimler Chrysler says the aforementioned points were not intended as a sexual insult.

So you can see Garfield's stance is that the ad is hate speech. Garfield figures putting the actual fairy in there was covering for the homophobic slur 'fairy'. Garfield writes:

"Look, there's nothing wrong with positioning an economy car as a car with truck values. In fact, "the manly subcompact" is a very good idea. You can even suggest that everything else in the category looks effeminate. Though political correctness is out of control in this society, you're still allowed to choose your own sexual demeanor.

"But what no advertiser has any business doing is calling people fairies, because it is cheap, because it is gratuitous, because it is hateful."

Apparently Daimler Chrysler's excuse is that the effeminate man with the dogs -- which is what the fairy turned the tough guy/tough dog into -- is actually a preppy man. He is, after all, wearing a tennis sweater.

Is it wrong that I'm not offended by this commercial? I think it's in poor taste, but hate speech sounds a little strong. Yes, I think the subtext is that the car is manly enough that it cannot be emascualted by the 'silly little fairy.' However, I stand by my earlier point: the car is cute. The commercial is illogical. It doesn't turn into something cute because it already is something cute.

And that leaves the fairy's transforming the tough guy in black into a tennis sweatered guy in pastels. Is the problem in the ad or in the interpretation? In other words, is the homophobia actually built into it or is Garfield more concerned that the reception in red state America will be fairy+pastels=god hates homosexuals? Does he think this ad reinforces steroetypes?

Yes it's a jumble of ingredients that can be found in homophobic epithets. But there is an actual fairy.

I checked the 63 and counting comments to Garfiled's article, and a surprising number of them looked like this one from a reader in Las Vegas:

"I'm gay and it never occurred to me that the spot might be hate speech. Could it be? Well, sure, but I'm not offended by it. I think people are being overly PC. Even if it IS hate speech, I was never and never will be a Chrysler customer. Their product is crap."

I found very few that agreed with Garfield. Most thought he was over-reacting. This one did not:

"I was shocked by this "stupid little fairy" commercial the first time I saw it and I'm amazed that it's still on the air. Not only is it mean and homophobic (I don't care what the manufacturer says), it's hardly a move that an industry in a severe economic slump should undertake if it wants to maintain what customer base it still has."

Many readers asked if Garfield was bothered by fairy tales -- Peter Pan and Cinderella among them.

The Advocate, a gay lifestyle magazine, polled its readers online and of the 1171 voters, 44.6% found it funny and 45.9% found it offensive. 9.6% didn't care.

What do you think?

Friday, April 14, 2006

I am an accomplished stair-climber

The building I work in just started allowing people to use the stairs a week ago. I work on the third floor, and it was frustrating to wait for the elevator, knowing that if not for the management's fear of lawsuits, I could be coming and going under my own power. Rumor had it a pregnant woman tumbled down the stairs years ago, prompting the building's owners
to close the stairs to all, indefinitely. Each morning I gazed longingly at the ornate marble and brass staircase while I waited for the goddamn elevator. I wrote this letter, but I never sent it -- now I don't have to:

Dear Management,

I'm writing to ask about the stairways in this building. I work on the third floor, and I have to go in the elevator, which I don't like waiting for. Furthermore, I could use the extra exercise walking up and down the stairs.

I've heard that you don't let us use the stairs because someone fell on them once.

What would you do if someone (I'm not saying me) fell in the elevator?

We had a fire drill one day and we had to use the stairs. Let me tell you: once I got a taste of those stairs, it was hard to enjoy that elevator. It was like discovering a secret passage way, or a short-cut. So easy!

I am an excellent walker, and a superb stair-climber. I climb stairs everyday in subway stations and in my own apartment building. I'd like to think I'm pretty good at it -- not too hasty, but measured, careful. I am willing to give a demonstration of my stair-climbing competence to prove that I can handle the daily climb up and down the stairs in this building between floors one and three.

Maybe you could give me special privileges.


The stairs have been open a week and I haven't used the elevator once since.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Dialect Survey

In my daily browsing of New York blogs, I came across one of those sorts of items they throw in there when there isn't enough local gossip: a map of American dialects. Former Harvard, now UW Milwaukee linguist Bert Vaux (check his creepy photo -- the eyes blink) conducted a 122 point survey of American dialects. The questions were multiple choice, like this:

37. huge, humor, humongous, human...
a. I pronounce the h (94.65%)
b. I don't pronounce the h (2.73%)
c. I can pronounce the h or not (2.16%)
d. other (0.47%)
(10899 respondents)

So who doesn't pronounce the H? It's concentrated around the East Coast, mostly New York, Long Island, New Jersey, Connecticut, etc. As someone whose name starts with H, I'm a little uncomfortable with this. Someone I work with was telling me a story a few weeks ago about someone named Uwe. Thinking he was using the German name I've only read and never heard pronounced, I asked him if it was spelled U-W-E. No, he said, surprised. H-U-E-Y. Aha! The unpronounced H.

Some of the survey's words are bizarre, as in question 59. What do you call the game wherein the participants see who can throw a knife closest to the other person (or alternately, get a jackknife to stick into the ground or a piece of wood)? For most of America, it's option: t. I have never heard of this "game" and have no idea what it's called (51.32%), but for an assortment of Americans, it might be:

a. mumblety-peg (8.07%)
b. mumbledy-peg (8.69%)
c. mumbly peg (10.84%)
d. mumbly pegs (0.47%)
e. mumblely peg (with 2 l's) (1.81%)
f. mumble peg (0.23%)
g. mummety-peg (0.02%)
h. mumble-the-peg (0.00%)
i. fumbledy peg (0.00%)
j. numblety peg (0.22%)
k. peggy (0.02%)
l. baseball jackknife (0.16%)
m. stick-knife (1.01%)
n. stick-frog (0.16%)
o. stretch (1.14%)
p. chicken (2.94%)
q. knifey (0.11%)
r. splits (0.49%)
s. Russian roulette (1.90%)

Wow. Other questions are more predictable -- creek or crick?, and still others are points of contention -- how many syllables in 'realtor'?.

But my favorite has to be 77: What do you call the activity of driving around in circles in a car? Now most of America calls this a. doing donuts (80.71%). When I read this question, I figured that would be the popular response. But where I'm from we called it -- and I was stunned to see this make the survey -- c. whipping shitties (1.43%). Look at the map: the biggest cluster of shitty whippers is around the Twin Cities, with smaller clusters in Duluth and what looks like the major cities in Wisconsin and the Chicago area. The few outposts in places like Texas, Florida, New York, Arizona? Has to be displaced Minnesotans.


Sunday, April 09, 2006

The End of Art

I've been reading a book by art critic Donald Kuspit called The End of Art. Kuspit says that art doesn't do what it used to do. That since Marcel Duchamp opened the pandora's box of the "Readymades" most of the art world has been on a course toward irrelevance, commodification, and sensationalism. He's not a conservative as such; many contemporary art critics have been upset with the state of art today -- critics on the left and the right.

The New York Times Book Review had a great essay/review about this issue in art last December called State of the Art by Book Review editor Barry Gewen. He reviewed Kuspit's book along with seven other books, including one called What Happened to Art Criticism? -- you can guess where that's going.

Kuspit's book and Gewen's essay recall the infamous story of contemporary art superstar Damien Hirst, who had a gallery show in which a piece of art was tossed out by the night janitor. He thought it was garbage left over from the opening. The art, which was the show's centerpiece, consisted of "a collection of half-full coffee cups, ashtrays with cigarette butts, empty beer bottles, a paint-smeared palette, an easel, a ladder, paintbrushes, candy wrappers, and newspaper pages strewn about the floor" (NY Times, October 20, 2001) -- in other words, trash. The janitor, one Emmanuel Asare, was quoted: As soon as I clapped my eyes on it, I sighed because there was so much mess. It didn't look much like art to me. So I cleared it all in bin bags, and I dumped it." It was apparently worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Hirst was amused. A gallery representative said, "Since his art is all about the relationship between art and the everyday, he laughed harder than anyone else." Of course he did. But it's not because his art is, like Duchamp's readymades, both art and not art at once. None of what Hirst does is really art anymore according to Donald Kuspit. Rather, Hirst's art is both everyday object and luxury commodity/ironic status symbol at once. Think of it: how hard is it for Hirst to make another centerpiece for the gallery? I'm not saying that art should be measured by the amount of effort the artist puts into it, but Hirst is making art by mere declaration.

Hirst's studio flotsam loses its credibility and its art-hood when you put a price tag on it. If the artist is trying to make a statement about art and aesthetics, he loses me when he asks a half a million dollars for it. I once put a dirty t-shirt on a nail on the wall of my first apartment. It was the shirt I wore the first time I ever changed my own oil, and it was spotted with black-brown stains. A couple of guests thought it was brilliant, so I kept it up there for a while. Did it become art when my friends mistook it for art? I had actually set it on the nail to get it off the floor, and forgot about it.

This all reminds me of an experiment that literary critic Stanley Fish (who is now teaching law at Florida International University) did, which he discussed in an essay in his 1980 book Is There a Text in This Class?. [I found the full text of the essay, How to Recognize a Poem When You See One on-line] Fish recalls how he left a list of names on the blackboard from his morning linguistics class. When his seventeenth century English religious poetry class came in, he asked them to interpret what was written on the board. It looked like this:

Ohman (?)

Naturally, the class of poetry interpreters, when told by the professor that they were looking at a poem, interpreted it. Fish writes:

"The first student to speak pointed out that the poem was probably a hieroglyph, although he was not sure whether it was in the shape of a cross or an altar. This question was set aside as the other students, following his lead, began to concentrate on individual words, interrupting each other with suggestions that came so quickly that they seemed spontaneous. The first line of the poem (the very order of events assumed the already constituted status of the object) received the most attention: Jacobs was explicated as a reference to Jacob's ladder, traditionally allegorized as a figure for the Christian ascent to heaven. In this poem, however, or so my students told me, the means of ascent is not a ladder but a tree, a rose tree or rosenbaum. This was seen to be an obvious reference to the Virgin Mary who was often characterized as a rose without thorns, itself an emblem of the immaculate conception."

The point is that we look for patterns. We look for context. What makes art art is:
1. deliberateness
2. reception
If I call something art, it's art. If you see something and think it's art, then it's art. Art is a way of looking.

Fish again: "As soon as my students were aware that it was poetry they were seeing, they began to look with poetry-seeing eyes, that is, with eyes that saw everything in relation to the properties they knew poems to possess." So when people go to a gallery and see a pile of trash, they know it's art because they're ready to look at art. The janitor is looking for things to clean up, he's looking for garbage.

I'm not defining art so much as I'm telling how something can fit the category. It's about consensus, and in today's world, all it takes is one brave soul to declare something art for a plurality of citizens to take it that way. Sure you'll have your nay-sayers -- people who shout, "but that's a god-damn urinal, that's a pile of trash!" -- but in this modern world, we agree that there is something called the artist, a person who makes his or her way in the world by creating things to be looked at, studied, and interpreted -- things without function, but things whose appearance trumps any function. This is art, and anyone can do it.

While I'm disgusted by the prices some modern and contemporary art fetches, particularly the simple stuff like Barnett Newman's or Mark Rothko's lines of color, I'm not disgusted by the art itself. It's not the 'I could do that' factor so much as the inflated commercial value. Look at these pieces not as profound one-of-a-kind masterpieces from the hands of geniuses, but as studies in colors and line, or as pleasing combinations of colors and shapes that might look nice on a wall. I think one of the greatest failings of art these days is that we think it must be:
1) one of a kind
2) created by special people

None of that is true. We don't need a four million dollar Rothko on our wall to enjoy art. Nor do we need a $900 glowing color copy of a painting of a country cottage by the painter of light. We don't even need those ubiquitous Van Gogh posters from any of a number of museums: we could make art ourselves. Sometimes that means tearing a picture out of a magazine and putting it in a cheap frame. Other times it means noticing that your child's finger painting is actually pretty interesting. Or maybe it means taking an art class.

Of course not all of us are going to do these things. We don't all have the time to make art. Or the presence of mind to see the utility of a magazine image. Or the skill to match Thomas Kinkade's paintings. But we all lose when we value art for its worth more than for its beauty; that is ultimately what the "end of art" is about.


Saturday, April 08, 2006

The 2006 Whitney Biennial: Day for Night

I'm not a right wing yahoo, a conservative ideologue, elitist, or a rabid traditionalist, but I was genuinely baffled by what passed for art at this, the first Whitney Biennial I’ve seen.

I spent about fifty minutes there, wandering with my date through crowded halls with screeching video installations in curtained alcoves, piles of bent aluminum tubing clad in neckties, and what looked like an endless stream of pieces borne out of a naïve interpretation of graffiti and collage art.

Sure, there were a few pieces that seemed to deserve their place in a museum. A photography series and a super realist painting of a high-heeled foot come to mind. A giant watercolor in gray tones, too. And there were others. But most of this art made me think about the following:

  1. Do these artists get paid for this garbage? Because if they do, then I’m going to start making art. I know that I can do better, and I know a couple kindergartners that could dazzle New York audiences with their finger painting. You think I’m joking but I’m not.

  2. I was chewing gum while I strolled the galleries, and I noticed a set of sculptures that looked like boulders with graffiti and dried gum all over them. Would anyone notice if I deposited my gum on one of the rocks? Would the artist approve? Wouldn’t the installation be better if there was a sign directing visitors to put their gum on the rocks?

  3. Just because you have a half-baked idea doesn’t mean you should do it. Most of this art looked like it was made by people who either had a good idea one night when they were drunk, and then made the piece the next day through a hangover even though they couldn’t remember why it seemed so good last night, or they had an idea and then realized that though they had neither the artistic skill, nor the aesthetic talent to make it right, they were going to do it anyway.

  4. I found a quote attributed to the curmudgeonly conservative critic Hilton Kramer: “The more minimal the art, the more maximum the explanation.” (Kramer has been famously and predictably bashing the Whitney Biennial for my entire lifetime.) Many of the wall cards “explaining” the art at the Biennial could be referring to almost anything for how much they relate to the art they correspond to.

  5. Most of this stuff is annoyingly self-indulgent. It is as if the artists are not only audacious enough to think we would like a view into their psyches, but also that they have the talent to represent their own psyches artistically. If the latter is true, then it is their minds that are second rate.

  6. There is a surfeit of Outsider art imitation. Bad drawings by people who ought to know better. Stacks of flotsam. Prepubescent paper-and-paste projects.

  7. When we look at some of the more famous and celebrated abstract artists from the last hundred and ten years or so, we understand that they were trained, or practiced in technique. What often makes abstract art powerful is the evidence that the artist has a classical background, a training that enables them to reach this point. The current generation of Whitney Biennialists shows only cursory nods to art history, and worse, they’ve skipped the crucial training that the last century’s best artists used as a step in their development to get to the abstract.

Finally, my date and I went to the fifth floor, which is the antidote to the previous four. Seeing all the Edward Hoppers from the permanent collection is a stunning revelation. His art looks dangerously representative and fresh. His scenes seem infused with a meaning they never had before because I’ve just seen so much art devoid of any meaning. His gloomy offices and cafes, once clichés, are haunting once again.


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