Friday, November 30, 2007

Here's That Bacon You Were Asking For

Some of youse folks had asked for some Bacon.


Quote of the Day: Chef David Chang

“When I worked at Café Boulud, I hated making food for East Siders. I hate their air of superiority. I hate investment bankers. I don’t want Momofuku Ko to come off as elitist or snobbish. I don’t want shithead bankers and the friends of dickhead traders who spend thousands. ...

"My partner gets to kick me in the balls if he catches me wearing those reflective silvered sun- glasses that asshole Europeans wear indoors. I can do the same to him.”
That was the celebrated New York chef David Chang, the man behind the Momofuku trio of restaurants in the East Village. He was profiled in December's GQ and named one of that magazine's "men of the year," in the chef category.

Chang has won lots of awards, including "Chef of the Year" from Bon Appétit, prompting New York Magazine to say, "Chang is indeed a talented and earnest cook, who had the courage and originality to find a way of serving good restaurant food in a casual setting, at a price people can afford," But "He didn’t invent the wheel." Then it names better chefs, like Jean-Georges.

But would Jean-Georges say something like this?
"Vegetarians are a pain in the ass as customers. It’s always ‘I want this’ or ‘I don’t want that.’ Jesus Christ, go cook at home.”
According to the GQ profile, Chang has a bad temper. He sometimes acts out by punching holes in the walls of his restaurants: "'We refer to them as Korean termites,' says his not-quite-equal partner, Joaquin Baca, who has the job of repairing them. 'I can patch sheet board pretty well.'”

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Walker on Graphic Designer Peter Seitz

These images are from an excellent slide show at about the work of Minnesota graphic designer Peter Seitz. It's from an article called "Modernism in the Fly-Over Zone" by Andrew Blauvelt, the design director and curator of architecture and design at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.

The top one is part of 1968 exhibit designed by Seitz for the Walker called "Mass Transit: Problem and Promise", and the next one is a series of cover designs for Control Data's CDC Learning System from 1978.

Here's what Blauvelt wrote about Seitz for the Design Observer article:
"Seitz arrived in Minneapolis in 1964 to become a designer, editor and curator at the Walker Art Center, a position I would occupy more than thirty years later. Educated in the legendary, radical design program in Ulm, Germany, Peter ventured to the United States in 1959 to obtain his graduate degree from Yale University. After the Walker, he went on to establish several successful design studios in Minneapolis, including probably the first truly multidisciplinary, collaborative design studio in the U.S., appropriately called InterDesign. He then taught for more than thirty years at MCAD, during which time he championed the use of the computer to help solve design problems as early as the 1960s."


Damien Hirst at Lever House

The photos here are from the new Hirst exhibit at Lever House on Park Avenue in Manhattan. This is the same building that has Hirst's giant bronze statue "The Virgin Mother" in its courtyard.

This $10 million exhibit piece, called “School: The Archaeology of Lost Desires, Comprehending Infinity, and the Search for Knowledge,” was called by the Times' Carol Vogel "a veritable Noah’s Ark of roadkill." It consists of "30 dead sheep, one dead shark, two sides of beef, 300 sausages, [and] a pair of doves," all in glass tanks and flanked by steel medicine cabinets stocked with pharmaceutical packaging.

"The sketch took 10 minutes, but it has taken two years to make this," Hirst told the New York Times. From the Times article, a description of the giant water-filled tank at the head of the mock classroom:
Hirst describes it as an homage to Francis Bacon's 1946 "Painting" at the Museum of Modern Art, which depicts cow carcasses suspended in a crucifix shape. Hirst said the installation - which cost $1 million to assemble - is in fact a nod to a host of modern artists. "We've got everybody in here," he said. There is Dan Flavin (the strips of fluorescent lighting); Warhol (the notion of repetition, as in the rows of dead sheep); Joseph Cornell (the boxes encasing the dead animals); Jannis Kounellis, who uses live birds in his work; and René Magritte, who painted an egg in a birdcage.
Damien Hirst is the Quentin Tarentino of the art world: A shameless provocateur and imitator whose best work is the shiniest stuff that most blatantly rips off his more accomplished (or at least more inventive) predecessors.

More than 100 years after the beginning of Modernism and well into (and maybe beyond) the next phase of Post-Modernism, we're still left wondering what art is for. It's not inspirational anymore, nor instructive or strictly decorative. What is the point? Hirst's art, as much as I may like some of it, begs the question, especially in the post-Duchamp, post-Warhol age.

Hirst's art is made for collectors. This installation was commissioned by Aby Rosen, a friend and collector of Hirst and his art. It's a sort of a Damien Hirst greatest hits medley. It's got sharks and sheep in formeldehyde tanks, it's got medicine cabinets, and it's got art historical references galore.


Shoveling Snow

"I got sent to Hokkaido on assignment. As work goes, it wasn't terribly exciting, but I wasn't in a position to choose. And anyway, with the jobs that come my way, there's generally very little difference. For better or worse, the further from the midrange of things you go, the less relative qualities matter. The same holds for wavelengths: Pass a certain point and you can hardly tell which of two adjacent notes is higher in pitch, until finally you not only can't distinguish them, you can't hear them at all.

"The assignment was a piece called 'Good Eating in Hakodate' for a women's magazine. A photographer and I were to visit a few restaurants. I'd write the story up, he'd supply the photos, for a total of five pages. Well, somebody's got to write these things. And the same can be said for collecting garbage and shoveling snow. It doesn't matter whether you like it or not--a job's a job.

"For three and a half years, I'd been making this kind of contribution to society. Shoveling snow. You know, cultural snow."
That's an excerpt from Haruki Murakami's Dance Dance Dance, published in an English translation 1995. It's one of his darker books, and one my favorites. It's the sequel to A Wild Sheep Chase, but I read it first.

I thought of it when I realized that I'd lost my ego in my daily work writing news for a fashion website. I no longer cared about others editing my work or correcting it; it didn't belong to me anyway. I was just taking out the garbage. Shoveling menswear retail industry snow.


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Describe What You See

This may or may not be a plate from the Rorschach series of diagnostic inkblots, which may have been procured without the proper mental health care practitioner licensure. I'm not saying it was actually ordered online directly from the Swiss publisher by someone with the wrong degree who bluffed his or her way into convincing the nice folks at Hans Huber to send one over, but that could have happened.

Let's have some fun. What do you see? I see Georgia O'Keeffe paintings, which is to say I see female anatomy.

Leave a comment describing what you see.


Monday, November 26, 2007

Quote of the Day: Charles Bukowski

“I vomit, first thing, early. Then I read all the poems I wrote when I was drunk the night before and then I vomit again. … Then I go back to bed and sleep two more hours. Then, strangely, I find myself at the racetrack again, losing with my new system. I go home and drink 18 bottles of beer. … Then I go over to my girlfriend’s place. I call her a whore. We fight. … I don’t know when I write the poems.”
That's part of a letter the poet Charles Bukowski wrote (as quoted in Sunday's New York Times Book Review) in reply to a fan who wrote inviting him to dinner with her and her four-year-old daughter. The woman was asking what a typical Bukowski day was like. The letter appears in "Dear Mr. Bukowski", a limited edition collection of the poet's letters.

Bukowski died in 1994, but his 1975 novel Factotum was made into a movie in 2005. It was directed by the Norwegian filmmaker Bent Hamer and filmed in the Twin Cities at sites like Cuzzy's Bar in the Minneapolis Warehouse District, Nye's Polonaise Room across the river, and the Dubliner in St. Paul on University Avenue. Matt Dillon plays the role of Henry Chinaski, a loser and an alcoholic who gets jobs polishing the giant marble American Indian statue in St. Paul's City Hall and at the Gedney pickle factory in Chaska. Bukowski's book takes place all over the country but not Minnesota; adaptations were made.

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Sunday, November 25, 2007

Ground Zero at night.

Friday, November 23, 2007


A diorama based upon Hiroshige's "Fifty-three stations of the Tokaido / Kambara, Evening Snow".

I assembled the diorama myself from a kit (thank you, Amy) by, which says that paper diorama-building, or "tatebanko," was a Japanese art practiced for centuries and forgotten in the 20th century.

The original 1833 Edo Period print by Ando Hiroshige (1797-1958) can be seen here.


Monday, November 19, 2007

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Quote of the Day: Steve Bodow

"Not drawing a paycheck is one thing. Not being able to write jokes about Pat Robertson endorsing Rudy Guliani? That hurts."
That's The Daily Show's head writer Steve Bodow in a New York Magazine article about his experiences picketing during the writers' strike. They're striking against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers to get paid more for material that gets used online, and Bodow says the fact "That they're being such hard-liners about it only convinces us more that new media must be a goldmine."

The best picket line chant Bodow's heard came from Law & Order Criminal Intent show-runner Warren Leight: "What do we want? For the girls in high school who rejected us for the jocks to finally see how wrong they were! When do want it? Then!"

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Obituary: Norman Mailer

Norman Mailer died last week. I read his Pulitzer Prize winning book Armies of the Night about twelve years ago; it's the only book by Mailer I've read. I don't remember much about it except for a scene in which he gets in a fist fight with a neo-Nazi in a paddy wagon. Or am I making that up?

It's possible -- he liked that sort of thing. According to Charles McGrath's New York Times obituary:
"At different points in his life Mr. Mailer was a prodigious drinker and drug taker, a womanizer, a devoted family man, a would-be politician who ran for mayor of New York, a hipster existentialist, an antiwar protester, an opponent of women’s liberation and an all-purpose feuder and short-fused brawler, who with the slightest provocation would happily engage in head-butting, arm-wrestling and random punch-throwing. Boxing obsessed him and inspired some of his best writing. Any time he met a critic or a reviewer, even a friendly one, he would put up his fists and drop into a crouch"
Back to that part about running for mayor later. McGrath again:
"For much of the ’50s he drifted, frequently drunk or stoned or both, and affected odd accents: British, Irish, gangster, Texan. In 1955, together with two friends, Daniel Wolf and Edwin Fancher, he founded The Village Voice, and while writing a column for that paper he began to evolve what became his trademark style — bold, poetic, metaphysical, even shamanistic at times — and his personal philosophy of hipsterism. It was a homespun, Greenwich Village version of existentialism, which argued that the truly with-it, blacks and jazz musicians especially, led more authentic lives and enjoyed better orgasms."
I think we've forgotton how weird Norman Mailer was. But wait, there's more:
"In November 1960, Mr. Mailer stabbed his second wife, Adele Morales, with a penknife, seriously wounding her. The incident happened at the end of an all-night party announcing Mr. Mailer’s intention to run in the 1961 mayoral campaign, and he, like many of his guests, had been drinking heavily. Mr. Mailer was arrested, but his wife declined to press charges, and he was eventually released after being sent to Bellevue Hospital for observation. The marriage broke up two years later."
Ah, there we are, back to the mayoral race. He didn't end up running for mayor in 1961, but he campaigned with the newspaper columnist Jimmy Breslin (who ran for city council president) in 1969. Breslin thought he was joking. (Breslin, a guy who was beat up by mobsters, was the original Popeye Doyle in The French Connection, and was the reporter who the Son of Sam addressed letters to, is a whole other story.) Apparently Mailer wanted to make New York City the 51st state -- that was their platform. Go here for a PDF of Breslin's New York Magazine article about it.

And then there was the incident when Mailer "bit off part of an ear of the actor Rip Torn after Mr. Torn attacked him with a hammer" during the filming of the movie Maidstone, which Mailer wrote and directed.

And the convict he championed, Jack Henry Abbott, who was in the federal pen in Utah for forgery and killing another con. McGrath: "A few weeks after being released, in June 1981, Mr. Abbott, now a darling in leftist literary circles, stabbed to death a waiter in a Lower East Side restaurant, and his champion became a target of national outrage."

I found an anecdote on a website called, so its reliabilty is questionable, but if it's true, it's gold:
William F. Buckley once sent fellow author Norman Mailer a copy of his latest book. Mailer, disappointed to find that Buckley had apparently neglected to inscribe the book, promptly flipped through the index to see whether he had been mentioned. There, beside his name, Mailer found Buckley's 'inscription' -- a handwritten "Hi!"
It's no wonder Mailer's ego is mentioned in the headline of his obituary. Buckley, in his own obituary for Mailer on the conservative writes that Mailer was "almost unique in his search for notoriety and absolutely unrivaled in his co-existence with it."

Buckley (perhaps my favorite living conservative and a candidate for mayor of New York City in 1965) shares a couple of grand Mailer stories, like one about the "towering writer" (Buckley's a bit sarcastic here; that was McGrath's term) and his current wife getting drunk during dinner with Mr. and Mrs. Buckley. Mrs. Mailer passes out and Norman calls Buckley's wife "Slugger."

Buckley concedes that Mailer really was a great writer. "But I go further," he continues,
"wondering out loud whether the obituaries are, finally, drawing attention to the phenomenon of Norman Mailer from the appropriate perspective. The newspaper of record says of him, as though such a profile were routine, that he was married six times, that he nearly killed one wife with a penknife, and that he had nine children. What if he had had seven wives, the seventh of them abandoned there in somebody's bedroom, waiting for a taxi to take her home, any home? Would that have claimed the obituarist's attention?"
He's questioning McGrath's mentioning the sordid bits of a really good writer's life. But Mailer lived as if his own life was a spectacle in a novel. Did I mention he was married six times? And he had more kids than wives. Oh well, Buckley did. Gore Vidal, quoted in McGrath's obituary, once said:
“Mailer is forever shouting at us that he is about to tell us something we must know or has just told us something revelatory and we failed to hear him or that he will, God grant his poor abused brain and body just one more chance, get through to us so that we will know. Each time he speaks he must become more bold, more loud, put on brighter motley and shake more foolish bells. Yet of all my contemporaries I retain the greatest affection for Norman as a force and as an artist. He is a man whose faults, though many, add to rather than subtract from the sum of his natural achievements.”


In Which I Use the Internet to Bash a Book I Haven't Read About How Print Is Dead

Two things occurred to me when I read Liesl Schillinger's reviews of:

How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read
By Pierre Bayard, translated by Jeffrey Mehlman
208 pp. Bloomsbury
Print Is Dead: Books in Our Digital Age
By Jeff Gomez
300 pp. Palgrave Macmillan
1. 300 pages in print about how print is dead?
2. I haven't read Print is Dead, but I think Gomez is completely full of shit.


Monday, November 12, 2007

1980s Furniture Design, via Miami Vice

"I like it, I like it a lot, Izzy," says an English con artist played by Phil Collins to a small time crook who procured him new furniture in an episode of Miami Vice called "Phil the Shill" (1985).

That furniture included the Casablanca shelf unit designed in 1981 by Ettore Sottsass and his Memphis design group and pictured below in a scene from the episode.

"Makes you feel like you're in Florida," says Izzy.

"But we are in Florida, Izzy," replies Phil.
The Memphis design sense seems very south Florida today. But the Memphis group was Milanese. It was founded in 1981 by Ettore Sottsass and Michele De Lucchi. Architect Michael Graves was involved, which shouldn't surprise anyone -- his design sense hasn't evolved much.

According to Claudia Neumann's Design Directory: Italy:
"The group, which found an enthusiastic sponsor in Ernesto Gismondi, the head of Artemide, came upon its name by accident -- Bob Dylan's Memphis Blues was playing on the stereo during one of their informal meetings. They initially focused on producing objects in small series and questioned criteria such as feasibility, usabilty and profitability. But Memphis did not remain anti-indsutrial for long. The "Memphis style" was soon widely imitated and heavily marketed."
The group broke up in the late 80s, but the furniture has made a sort of a comeback from its status as dated design kitsch -- at least in the sense that it's being pursued by serious collectors now.

The look was not entirely new -- it all sort of resembles the Dutch De Stijl movement from the late 1910s, and in particular, Gerrit Rietveld's Red and Blue Chair from 1917 (pictured at left).

Memphis, at least on the surface, may be seen as continuation of the De Stijl aesthetic -- if it was taken to a whimsical and intentionally un-practical extreme. The chairs around the glass table in front of the Casablanca shelf unit look a lot like Reitveld's chair. I couldn't identify them.

If there's an heir to Memphis, it's Droog, a Dutch collective that started in 1993. It was founded by Gijs Bakker and Renny Ramakers. The 'You Can't Lay Down Your Memory' Chest of Drawers at right was designed by Tejo Remy.


Sunday, November 11, 2007

Travis McGee in The Dreadful Lemon Sky

"There is something self-destructive about Western technology and distribution. Whenever any consumer object is so excellent that it attracts a devoted following, some of the slide rule and computer types come in on their twinkle toes and take over the store, and in a trice they figure out just how far they can cut quality and still increase the market penetration. Their reasoning is that it is idiotic to make and sell a hundred thousand units of something and make a profit of thirty cents a unit, when you can increase advertising, sell five million units, and make a nickel profit a unit. Thus the very good things of the world go down the drain, from honest turkey to honest eggs to honest tomatoes. And gin."
That rant was by Florida private detective Travis McGee in John D. McDonald's 16th McGee novel, The Dreadful Lemon Sky from 1974.

McGee was lamenting the fact that his favorite gin, Plymouth, was no longer distilled in the U.K., but in America. "It isn't the same," he complained. "It's still a pretty good gin but it is not a superb, stingingly dry, and lovely gin."

I'd never heard of the brand before until this year. If it was around in the U.K., it was obscure in America. Apparently a company called V&S Group bought 50% of Plymouth in 2000, and then acquired it outright in 2005. They relaunched the brand a year later, which is probably why I can find it in liquor stores today.

But this is exactly what cynical "slide rule and computer types" do with companies with histories as long as Plymouth's (it was started in 1793 by monks). When they see that a gin company or a French couture company or luggage maker has fallen on hard times, but still has the skeleton of a legacy, they buy it up, pour millions into an ad campaign and fire all the old staff. They cut corners in production and source cheaper materials to make room for bigger margins and astronomical marketing budgets so that a year or two later, you and I can suffer the pretty girl at a trendy club who refuses to drink any brand but this one and lets the bartender know that he is a fool for thinking that she'd take a rail gin with her cocktail.

Or, in corporate speak:
Plymouth Gin is over 200 years old and is re-establishing its reputation as the smoothest premium gin in the world. The objective of the re-launch is to transform an outstanding product into an outstanding brand.

Therefore we have reviewed the core marketing strategies, and created a new communication platform. A shift in focus took place and a new Brand Strategy was established. Consumer research was conducted to assess whether the current/previous Plymouth pack was in line with the new brand positioning. Namely, whether it communicated Plymouth’s premium position and smooth taste. Over 18 months of exhaustive qualitative and quantitative research involving hundreds of gin drinkers of all age and usage groups helped us to understand which elements of the old pack should remain but also what should change.
The company claims that they haven't strayed from the orignal 1793 recipe, and that:
"We only distil gin at our Black Friar’s Distillery in Plymouth and have done since 1793, making us the oldest working distillery in England. All the other famous English gins no longer distil in their original sites; indeed most are made in multi-purpose distilleries, which also distil other spirits and even other gin brands."
So was McGee mistaken? His specific complaint was that the gin was being bottled in America. Does that make such a big difference? I don't know. I like the gin because it's lighter on the juniper than Bombay, Tanqueray or Seagram's. It has a crisper flavor. But then I haven't had the gin bottled before 1974 to compare.

[The cover art for The Dreadful Lemon Sky above is by the great pulp illustrator Robert McGinnis, who also did most of the James Bond film posters. His most famous art maybe the poster for Breakfast at Tiffany's.]

Friday, November 02, 2007

Another New York Test

Time Out New York has another one of its "Are you a true New Yorker" tests on its website. I've been here two years and alas, I am not a New Yorker yet. My score was:
Fresh off the boat. Or plane. Or bus. It doesn't really matter to us. You're still just a step above tourists in our eyes, walking too slowly and way too excited to learn about "secret" places like La Esquina. The good news: Most people from New York came from somewhere else. You'll get there if you stick it out.
At least I know what La Esquina is. But I didn't score well on some key items -- any questions having to do with bikes or cars don't apply to me here and the test is a bit Manhattan-centric. I don't have a favorite place in Central Park, but I do in Prospect Park in Brooklyn.

Other questions, like the one about having a meal for two above $300 and the one about watching NY1 before work don't apply because I'm too poor for cable TV or eating out. I should get extra points for that.

And I've got a problem with the pizza here in New York City: it's crap. I've had better pizza in New Mexico. And better Chinese in Minneapolis. So there.

Take the test here.
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