Wednesday, April 16, 2008

21st Century Heartache

This post was originally created as a snarky dig at ABC for ABC. However when I pushed "comment" they asked me to "sign in" and I figured that if that was the case I might as well post it here where I can more easily pat myself on the back regarding how bitter I sound, as opposed to having to scour the thousands of "comments" on ABC's website only to read someone misspell, "right on" after my post. So, here it is:

Can somebody tell me why one of the largest Networks in America can post what happened on "The View" and "Lost" on its website, but can't seem to figure out a way to stream live video or audio for one of the most important debates of THE LAST SIX WEEKS (big stuff!) for people who don't have TV or cable? Do I really need to get all my news from CNN and MSNBC? Come on ABC, join the 21st century already. You look like out of touch dinosaurs.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Hirshhorn Diaries--12

"Woman", Willem de Kooning, 1965

The example above was one of a series on display at the museum. Ah, de Kooning. A sometimes disgusting talent. Visceral paintings of female viscera. His women, rendered pink and red split; flayed open as if on some sadist's dissection table. Lips partially removed. Cheeks peeled. Tears in the sex. Glorious misogyny, rendered with the disturbing accuracy of a painting genius. Why do I like de Kooning? Your guess is as good as mine. Perhaps it's more because of what I think he is honest about in his work, rather than whatever his darker impulses might be.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Endgame (?)

Once upon a time (five weeks ago), in a land far, far, away (California), a prince and a princess met with their subjects and shared with them their optimistic (and slightly differing) vision for the future. It was a hopeful vision for a land that had, for the last 8 years, been withering in “The Darkside”. It was a wonderfully civil discussion. The mood was cordial, and the prince and princess left the Great Hall of the far away land (Hollywood) holding hands and embracing the notion of a new tomorrow that seemed as inevitable as the sunrise. What followed this historic gathering were 14 (I think) primary victories for the prince. And the princess, slowly realizing that in order to bring about her better tomorrow she would need more than an elegant pantsuit and pumpkin carriage, bought herself a pair of Everlast gloves. And when the princess finally launched her first haymaker, accusing the prince of plagiarizing and casting doubts about his religious faith (“as far as she knew”), the subjects breathed a disappointed sigh of relief: It was politics season in Washington and what was old was suddenly made new.

What became clear after California, and Barrack Obama’s impressive string of primary victories, was that Senator Hillary Clinton was perfectly willing to entertain the notion of a better tomorrow, as long as it was her tomorrow. Barring that, if the America people, by way of their voting behaviour, were not going to grant her the image she held for herself—that of the put upon and worthy Cinderella who, for years, scrubbed her wicked step-sisters floorboards so that she could eventually be rewarded her “happily ever after”—then she would be just as happy and willing to play any one of the three wicked step-sisters—sometimes all three at once.

I have long been fascinated with the scheming nature of politics. But the events of recent weeks have caused me to pause; and, in addition to being angry beyond ability to sleep comfortably, I find myself truly puzzled as to what, exactly, the endgame is in the Clinton Campaign. First, the facts as I understand them: In order to secure the Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton will have to win every single remaining primary by at least 64%. That’s right, every single one. That means North Carolina and Oregon (two states many “experts” feel will go to Obama decisively). This would include the Michigan and Florida Primaries she is so desperately trying to resuscitate (but not really it seems, as she would rather take the current results rather than have to campaign again). 64%. A percentage she hasn’t managed all election. To make this even clearer: should Hilary lose any of the subsequent primaries, or win them by less than 64%, that percentage will only go up. As for the Obama camp, if he didn’t win another primary (not likely), he could squeak by if he only pulled in (roughly) at least 46% of the remaining states and still be able to secure the nomination (a number he has easily obtained if not exceeded in his few loses), and these percentages also translate to the uncommitted superdelegates. Should Obama win a state or lose by closer to 50 than 40 percent of the votes, that number will only decrease.

What does all this mean? It means that there is no way that Hilary Clinton can secure the nomination through any method that most democrats—for that matter, believers in democratic theory—find acceptable. Does this mean she is preparing for a coup at the convention, and is prepared to gut the democratic party and its base months before what (largely due to her tactics) is suddenly becoming a race that, once upon a time (five weeks ago), was looking like a slam dunk? Maybe. Perhaps her desire to be president is so strong, her ego so inflated, as to believe that, after Denver, people may feel burned—the echoes of Bush’s stealing of Florida still prevalent on their democratic tongues—but that, miraculously, they will, in the three short months until November, bury the hatchet when the smoke settles and join the caravan, even if they don’t like it. Of course, this is assuming that, after having the nomination stolen from him at the convention, Obama would, somehow, become a good “House Negro” and get on board for the “sake of the party”—you know, the one that just stabbed him in the back. There are too many factors, some of which strain credibility too far, that I can’t help but think that even this is an improbability, surely the democratic party could, for once in its life, stand up for itself. Cross your fingers!

So the question arises again: What then is the endgame? After many sleepless nights pondering this question, I have been able to come up with two potential answers, the second answer being absolutely dreadful:

1.) Hilary wants to be Vice-President. This answer presented itself to me after she floated the audacious offer to the media that her and Obama would make a great joint ticket, with her (the current loser), obviously, at the top of it. This originated from either incredible arrogance (something Clintonian’s have been known for), or was brilliantly shrewd. Float the question out there to the press so that the media would then approach Obama with the same question in the hopes that it would pin Obama into a corner and force him to place her gingerly on his coattails. If he declined, she could play the wounded bird and declare umbrage at the notion that Obama doesn’t care about “winning” (with her/Bill’s perceived “dream ticket”) and only cares about himself. If they could get him to declare his willingness to entertain the notion, then she could play nice and not “quit”, per se, but instead “fold” her campaign into his and save face. Vice-president wouldn’t be so bad. Especially since we live in a country in which prominent and inspirational black leaders often find themselves at the business end of a sniper round. If history were any indication, she would be in the office faster as a VP and on the ticket than as an outsider looking in. Brilliant. But, amazingly, this blew up in her face (give the media credit for once!). Rather than turning the question back to Obama, the media (like most Americans) did a double-take and instead asked, “But wait—aren’t you losing? Why would the guy winning agree to be your vice-president? Wait, we’re sorry, but haven’t you been saying he’s not ready to be president, how can he be a good candidate for VP?” This mushroom clouded in her campaign’s face and they are still reeling from this. And, to my knowledge, no one has seriously approached Obama with this suggestion—especially after the Ohio primary and her Red Phone ad. This notion was staked in the heart by Nancy Pelosi who recently stated that, given the flavor of the current debate between the candidates, that this notion of a joint ticket was an “impossibility”. That Clinton doesn’t still hold out for this and hope that her nail-dragging campaign wears down Obama to the point that he offers her a slot on the ticket can’t be completely ruled out, but it is highly improbable. So, then I ask again: What is the endgame?

2.) I’m not happy about the suggestion that follows. I find it repugnant and morally reprehensible, but I can’t deny its Machiavellian brilliance—especially if the endgame is to become president at any cost (and, given the many ethical issues the Clinton campaign has raised by its “kitchen sink” strategy, we can not ignore it). Quite simply: they want Obama to lose. Obama’s lead over John McCain has dwindled significantly in the last month, and I don’t think there is a sensible person out there who could point to anything McCain has done to affect this change. Most would say that this change in national attitudes is a result of the Clinton campaign tactics. The fact that the Clinton campaign has, in effect, seceded “national security” to John McCain and his “experience” is the first sign that they are doing the Republicans dirty work for them; months before the RNC has to, and without republicans even having to spend a dime. This tactic has taken the form of Mark Penn flat-out saying that Obama will lose, which has the vague connotation of a threat. Wasn't the assertion (by Clinton) at that wonderful Californian summit that (undeniably) one of the candidates on the stage would be the next president? Now not so much? One has to wonder how many of her supporters thought at the time that their Hollywood dollars would be going towards Clinton's message out and not those of the competing candidate. The recent race-baiting of Geraldine Ferraro—who has now taken to playing the “reverse discrimination” card—is straight out of the Republican anti-affirmative-action playbook. And the Clinton’s leaking of Obama in ceremonial Somali garb to The Drudge Report is exactly the type of thing Karl Rove made popular in D.C the last 15 years, a tactic proved very effective during the “vast right-wing conspiracy” of the 90's. But, still, why? The answer can only be, given the numbers at this point, that the Clinton Campaign isn’t running for election in 2008, but in 2012. If McCain beats Obama in a year when the democrats, by all hopes and dreams, should win the presidency, he will effectively be neutered as a future candidate and be forced to slink back to the Senate to wither away with John Kerry and Joseph Biden, because he would be proved to not be, as the Clinton campaign has been arguing, “tough enough”(as if they are somehow doing Obama a favor). If they don't do it now, neither her, or Bill for that matter, who has always, somewhat deludedly, coveted the notion of being the (Regan-like) face of the Democratic party. If they don't take out Obama now they will never get out from beneath his shadow. This will effectively deal with the “Obama problem” the Clinton’s have been struggling with since the 2004 Democratic National Convention. The cold reality of the politics of the situation dictates that if Hillary is “barely” denied the nomination and Obama loses, given the fact that many wonder if McCain is a viable 2-term candidate, she can spend the next four years campaigning against McCain (differentiating herself from him in a way she has been unable to do until now) and emerge as the savior of 2012. Four years later? Better late than never, right! I am completely aware that such a plan exists within the highest realms of cynicism. But we can’t ignore the numbers. She is losing, and by all accounts will lose. So then what is the point of all the misinformation, the fear, the race-baiting if it is not to sink Obama before he has a chance to sail? At this point, I can’t think of any other explanation. And I can say the answer hasn’t helped me sleep any better.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Best of: Movies

If there is blame to be had by posting a "best of movies '07", in Febuary '08, let that blame fall on Charlottesville, a small hamlet in central Virginia, not known for its vast selection of art-house movies. That, and a real job that pays:

1. There Will Be Blood: I’ve already written about why this is the best movie of the year (here), but I would like to take this moment to mention something I forgot to talk about in my review by stating that it takes nothing from the greatness of Anderson’s film to give credit where credit is due: namely the fact that the first half-hour of Anderson’s masterpiece owes a lot to Mathew Barney’s Cremaster Cycle—specifically Cremaster Cycle 3 and that film’s spotlight on the Masonic quest of The Apprentice. Barney’s obsession with work, material, the earth, the body and physical labor—or his “worship through works and labor” in solitary wish-fulfillment removed from religion (if not its own type) and demagoguery—is all over Anderson’s film. It seems that, for the opening portion of the film, much inspiration has derived from Barney, including Johnny Greenwood’s eerie score. This isn’t meant as a criticism as much as it is meant to acknowledge the relationship between art and craft, because once Day-Lewis sits down with his adopted son, H.W., and begins to sell himself as “an oil-man”, Anderson sends Plainview on his own fiercely independent journey—into the muck of human interaction, rather than the euphoria resulting from transcendent work (the Empire State Building in The Cremaster cycle). Art has always laid the groundwork for culture’s advancement (from the Renaissance, to Modernism, to Post-Modernism), regardless of how some societies (especially American) would claim that it is an interest of the elites and intellectuals—in short, only for those who can afford it. It should be acknowledged that There Will Be Blood is a perfect example of how when art lays the groundwork it can provide a compelling blueprint for master-craftsmen (like Anderson) to share with the common man (your average moviegoer), at affordable prices, those things they might not know about themselves.

2. No Country For Old Men: Feel free to read my review of the book (here), or my thoughts on the narrative discrepancies between this book and McCarthy’s subsequent Pulitzer Prize winner The Road (here). For this post, I would simply like to applaud the Cohen brother’s for making their best film in a decade. Kudos to the brother’s for finding the black humor in McCarthy’s prose that those of us who read the book could not see (for it was too bleak). Bravo, Javier Bardem, for so completely inhabiting Anton Chigurh that I couldn’t help but sit in fear throughout the movie and hope that he, Chigurh, wouldn’t notice me deep in the dark theater spying on him and his work, thus making me a priority. A round of applause for Tommy Lee Jones who, at the end of the film, delivers one of the more emotionally wrenching monologues in recent film. Finally, let us not forget to give major props for Brad from Goonies—I mean Josh Brolin—who has been lights-out this year (stealing the show in Grindhouse, and being one of the only actors in film, specifically American Gangster, to effectively intimidate Russell Crowe), and who nails the resolute but hapless Llewelyn Moss.

3. Zodiac: Am I crazy or has this been a forgotten film during awards season? It may not be David Fincher’s neatest film (that would be Fight Club), but it may be his best. For almost three hours Fincher’s ability to multi-task during a scene is on full display: effectively directing the slightly boring Jake Gyllenhal, standing back and letting Robert Downey Jr. do his thing, and, at the same time, knowing when to center the camera on Mark Ruffalo, a criminally underappreciated actor (one wonders if he sweated more and had bigger chest muscles, would he not be a dead ringer for early Brando?). A film with an ending as ambiguous and as powerful as any of the above mentioned films.

4. Ratatouille: If you feel like it, read my extended review here. Pixar has never made a bad movie, and Ratatouille is one of its best—right up there with The Incredibles, which was, oddly enough, also a Brad Bird film. As anyone who has sat through food-critic Anton (what is it with this name this year?) Ego’s wonderful soliloquy about art and food and criticism can attest, Brad Bird isn’t simply an animating marvel, he is an Oscar worthy screenwriter. You say there are rats in the kitchen? C'est parfait avec moi! (note: I take no responsibility for the accuracy of internet translations.)

5. Juno/Superbad: I wrote about Superbad earlier this summer (here), but haven’t gotten around to saying much about Juno. So, in the “Best of” tradition (of which there is none), let’s simply look at these films as the entertaining bookends on the teen-sex comedy/drama genre they are. Hopefully Hollywood recognizes the cross-marketing potential here and continues to give us well acted films with an emotional core that might attempt to make Juno a little more Seth, and Seth a little more Juno. Michael Cera and Ellen Page are my new Hollywood power couple. Cera will, in no time, be staring in Groundhog Day 2, and Miss Page seems clearly destined for a stardom of almost Roberts-like magnitude as she proceeds to, if not grow (she is 20), put on a few more pounds of age.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Hirshhorn Diaries--11

View Record

"Reclining Figure: Internal and External Forms (Working Model)", Henry Moore, 1952

There is nothing easy about Henry Moore. Anyone interested in complicated expressions of form would be wise to focus on Moore's work and not on the Colorformistas the Hirshhorn was celebrating this go around. Moore is a tactile genius, able to elicit a strong and irrepressible desire to touch and examine--to the point that it is almost a crime that we are not allowed to touch. A piece so complicated, that I often had to reexamine my assumptions each time I looked up from my journal. In fact, it is a piece I could spend all day interacting with.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Super Tuesday!

As an independent voter and a person who has long distasted group-think, I have to admit that, watching the Democratic debate the other night, and listening to the crowd react to Hillary’s “It took a Clinton to clean-up after the first Bush…” line, I was stunned. As someone who voted for Bush in 2000 (and has had to live with it for 8 years), I found the fact that Clinton could be so glib and slightly delusional regarding her husband's (and, by a proxy she is attempting to assert, her) role in helping W. Bush to power, arrogant and insidious. No person of sound mind and body would claim that Clinton (and Obama) are not benefiting from Bush fatigue. Is there anyone who doesn’t think that the Democrats will win the White House? If Hillary plans to trot out and celebrate the Bush fatigue that propelled her husband into the White House, than she had better—by Zeus’ beard!—be willing to answer the tough question of whether or not eight years of her husband Bill helped Bush-Part-Deux into the White House. Can she seriously claim that Clinton fatigue did not help W. Bush into the White House over the more “qualified/experienced” (those fancy Hillary cards) Al Gore? I know it mattered to me in 2000. I was, quite frankly, so over the shameless politics of Bill Clinton: the impeachment, the lies, the false modesty, the smugness that could only have resulted from taking on Congress and winning, the pardons, the investigations, the arrogant infidelity, the careless humiliation of poor Chelsea at the hand of a media who wanted to see the sins of the father vested on her, that aggravating lack of humility. Let’s not forget that many people in the Clinton White House (Hillary included, although off-screen) inferred that Paula Jones was too “unattractive” to ever have ever been harassed the President—after all Jennifer Flowers made it into Playboy! Take that patriarchy! How many Americans were tired of their duplicity and shameless politics and instead saw a neutered, poor-speaking, governor from Texas as an outsider (as ivy league and as privileged as they come), who, at the time, seemed to offer up a cabinet that we might have assumed had integrity (sadly, how wrong I/we were—but there was that dash of pepper that was Colin Powell: forever to be remembered now as an awful politician, out of his element against Cheney and Rumsfeild, rather than a four star general he was). Bush’s crimes have clearly dwarfed Clinton’s. There can be no debate about that. But I can’t help but recall the comedian Joe Rogan's bit in which powerful politicos sit in a dark room looking at the farce that is the Bush presidency (we’ll substitute if for Clinton in this instance) and say, “You know… I think we can go dumber.” Let’s not kid ourselves that things were so much better back then, and all of it was directly a result of the Clinton’s and not the exploding tech market and shady accounting that came to light in 01. I seem to remember Rwanda, Somalia, “Don’t ask don’t tell”, a spectacular health care debacle, blow jobs on my tax dollars in the room that has the red button, lies under oath. But here, eight years later, I still can never forgive them for one of the biggest crimes against humanity: Fox News. Let’s face facts, would Fox News and Rush Limbaugh be what it was today if the Clinton arrogance hadn’t so appalled the average Americans who still consider human decency to be one of the most important traits of a president that they found solace in a news channel that seemed to (over) react to as much? As successful a politician as Clinton was (one of the best ever), he was a divider, a man who left the White House so befouled that Gore couldn’t shake the stench during his run (a man who, by all accounts, is a better person than either Bush or Clinton). We cannot lie to ourselves and claim that his legacy did not, on some level, offer up a precedent that W. Bush and Co. have been tweaking and developing for eight years--our cynicism. Any other president in history would have already impeached (or investigated) by now, yet because of Clinton’s arrogance and privilege (he could have simply fucking admitted it—as if we didn’t know already, which speaks to the galling aspect of it all), Americans view the process as completely partisan (which it became—thank you Republicans, you must have had a crystal ball). If we try to tell ourselves that Clinton was not a divisive personality that pushed many independents towards Bush in 00, then we simply waiting for those dark suited politicos to step in with their Bush Version 3.0 in 2012. I can’t think of a more catastrophic.

Which is why Barack Obama, and not Hillary Clinton, should be the democratic candidate for president. As a teacher, I see the unexplainable disgust on many of my students face when you mention Hillary Clinton. That this reaction is misguided and ill-informed is obvious—they were children during the first Clinton-era and could hardly have any real, well reasoned, feelings about Bill. Yet, those poisoned waters (their parents) remain and are palpable. To think that Hillary can reach across the aisle and help us get past the partisan blockades that have taken over this government (blockades she did her fair share of building in dismissing real American concerns as “a vast right-wing conspiracy"—not exactly the words of a uniter), is the height of delusion.

Rather than take my word for it, I will allow The Dropcloth and Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Chabon to make a case for Obama...

…Did you check them out? Good. Allow me to close on this point. If you can find no reason in the above links to vote for Obama, then let me ask you a simple question: What major sport/endeavor/field has not experienced its own renaissance upon the inclusion of African Americans? Baseball, basketball, football, music, literature, art, and business—has a one suffered as a result of the inclusion of African Americans? While investigating the appeal of Pan-Africanism, it was James Baldwin who argued that African Americans could never be African, because they were inherently American, probably more American than many of the Whites who sought to keep them segregated and marginalized. In fact, if one traced back the lineage of many African Americans and compared it to the standard Cracker, we might find that, for the most part, they have been here longer (I have no basis in science for this statement, it just seems right since slavery was here at the beginning). That finally, after four hundred years, we finally have a candidate who has the potential to bring a diverse experience to the White House, should be a cause for celebration. Still, you shouldn’t vote for Obama because he is a black man. You should vote for him because his is an intelligent, articulate, charismatic, impressive, black man. You know all the things we used to think a president had to be.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Hirshhorn Diaries--10

View Record

"Woman (Personage)", Joan Miro, 1947

One of the more hilarious sculptures in the museum. Some kind of sex-penguin with a lady-bug vagina and a crunk booty. Has objectification ever been so cute?

Friday, February 1, 2008

There Will Be Blood: Thoughts

If The Godfather made epic the underbelly of the American Dream, and Citizen Kane made dark the ego and entitlement of privilege, There Will Be Blood has, at last, provided an irrefutable account of the scorched earth between, shinning a head-lamp-light on the corruptible relationships at the heart of the rest of us. As far as protagonists go, Michael Corleone, having risen to the top of his game as a criminal, was always near the bottom; while Charles Foster Kane, starting at the top before catastrophically collapsing upon himself, was (as that final scene in the basement incinerator illustrated) never low. As There Will Be Blood opens, Daniel Plainview finds himself pretty low (beneath the surface actually), scratching and digging away at the skin of the earth for whatever meager nugget of silver he can find, and, over the course of two-plus hours, after a successful life as “an oilman” (back when such a thing was the embodiment of “working class”) finds himself sniffing the top. The wonder of Paul Thomas Anderson’s film is that we finally have the Protestant/working-class epic that speaks to the same themes, at the same level, of despair and alienation as those two great films. Plainview is, after all, not a very subtle name, and at the film’s core is that timeless scientific principle: that something cannot be created from nothing and that the energy and costs of attempting to bend the earth (and people) to our will are astronomical and catastrophic.

All of this might seem trite now (seriously…an oilman? after innumerable “message pictures” about the war in Iraq? subtle…) if not for Daniel Day-Lewis, who is a force. Day-Lewis has created a character so forceful that you can practically smell him—all that dirt, sweat, and, oh yes, the oil. That Plainview is ambitious and not above using an orphan to help present a veneer of respectability and honesty is clear (family—that uniquely American prop), yet is the height of disservice to Day Lewis’ performance to ignore the passion and love (?) he shows his son H.W. (the eerie Dillon Freasier). As long a Plainview can keep this boy close, he is able to cling to his own fading illusions of humanity—a species he has no love for but finds himself surrounded and beset by. That we might not want to give Plainview credit for the pain he feels when H.W. loses his hearing during a rigging accident is insensitive; yet it occurs as a result of our own weak and ingrained piety and becomes a tool used against Plainview in the film. As the film progresses and the stakes rise, it becomes clear that, like the best businessmen (Mitt Romney claiming that running America is like running a company—talk about sleight of hand!), Plainview is quite the showman. A fact that results in a confrontation when Plainview encounters the equally preposterous magician, Eli Sunday (played with wonderful exaggeration by Paul Dano), who engages Plainview in an escalating bout of “see-what-I-can-make-you-do”.

Have I said yet that this is a great film? What makes it great is the collaboration between Day-Lewis and Anderson and their critique that has yet to be so pristinely captured on film: the humiliating relationship between (successful) business and religion in this country. It’s transparent how amoral business moguls (oil companies being just one example) have prostrated themselves before religious demagoguery as a way of shoring up political capitol. Look no further than the Republican Party as it is currently constituted and the bitter rumblings emerging from secular conservatives who bemoan the evangelical pandering required maintain their slipping control over the populace. One need only see Bush & Company’s occasional quotes regarding gay marriage and not see a version of the slaps Eli Sunday visits on Plainview in the front of his flock of zombified believers, where, at its conclusion Plainview mutters, “There’s the pipe-line…”—much in the way Rove and Cheney must surely have muttered after one of Bush’s more evangelical turns of phrase, “There’s an election…”. Yet what we have in front of us, both political and artistically, are the facts. And all facts point to Plainview being an atheist, as religion, in all its forms, (ideally) works to condemn everything he’s about (the individual, financial success, winning, being left alone to do as he pleases), yet he must humiliate and degrade himself in front of those other businessmen who hold the keys to our morality. Is it that hard not to imagine Dick Cheney, Rumsfeild, or Rove, given their off-hand but bitter comments about “crazies”, in the same way? Yet it is this relationship that is so corruptible and fundamental to our country (it’s on our money for crying out loud!), that when we watch Plainview beat and run Sunday through the mud from his (at the moment) position of power, is it not hard to substitute Plainview as Cheney, Sunday as Billy Grahm? It is this corrosive, unholy, hypocritical, alliance that Anderson makes so clear is at the root of our nation. Or that in their giant oil-rich mansions Cheney & Rumsfeild would gladly bludgeon the pious who have on the one hand condemned them, while, at the same time, kept their hands in their pocket? Are such men known for generosity or sharing? Not really… And, finally, we have a film that addresses this. Finally…

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Hirshhorn Diaries--9

"Soft Night", by Arshile Gorky, 1947

A painter who is undeniably talented and important, but one whom I find, more often than not, I'd rather read about than spend hours contemplating. With the exception (of course) being this piece: a disquieting gray exercise with essential splashes of color that hint at an underlying wish reacting against an imposed paralysis.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Hirshhorn Diaries--8

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"Video Flag", by Nam June Paik,, 1985-96 (watch a grainy video of it here)

I could stare at Paik's video-drone art for hours, relishing the retinal punishment and mulching of my cerebrum. Like some benign Cronenberg-hell, Paik's work invites (and traps) observation: An electric pop-hole, sucking in anyone who looks.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Hirshhorn Diaries--7

"Sky Light", by Alma Thomas, 1973.

Sadly, I could not find an image of this. Painted a few years before she died, "Sky Light" is one of those paintings that has the unique ability to induce a sense of vertigo when looked at for prolonged periods of time.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Best of: TV

Since I don’t have cable, the following is a list of the best TV shows I watched (on DVD) all year (Netflix is awesome):

1. The Wire
(Season 3&4):
While not being as literary as The Sopranos, or as beautiful as Deadwood, The Wire is, without a doubt, THE MOST IMPORTANT SHOW IN THE HISTORY OF TELEVISION. Much like Paul Thomas Anderson did this year with There Will Be Blood (more on that later), David Simon (with help from Ed Burns, Dennis Lehane, George Pelacanos, and Richard Price) has, with divine insight, tapped into what it really means to be American and created a saga that makes The Godfather films look like a high school prepatory course on the American Dream (that’s right, I said it!). And, while The Godfather looks decadent and dark on a theater or widescreen TV, Simon’s show has found an equal home within the confines or 4:3 TV (seriously, I can’t get the show, no matter how bad I want to, to fit the widescreen setting on my TV—because they film it that way). Since, with a gun to my head, I couldn’t point to a single character on this epic show and say, “that dude/ette is what The Wire is about”, I’ll instead take this as an opportunity to list my favorite characters in no particular order (single names only please): Bunk, McNulty, Bubbles, Kima, Lester, Prez, Rawls, Snoop, Avon, DL, Bodie, Marlo, Daniels, Carcetti, Carver, Hurk, Wee-bey, Bunny, Randy, Michael, Sobotka, The Greek, Cutty, Cheese, Omar, Prop Joe, Stringer Bell and Brother Mouzone (okay two names).

2. Lost
(Season 3):
The Wire may have been the best show on television, but Lost is what brings me to Best Buy at 9 AM on new release Tuesday. The only show that successfully manages to provide more questions than answers—and I don’t care! Jack and Locke are iconic television characters, but let us not forget the fantastic Josh Holloway, whose “Sawyer” is currently redefining the anti-hero on non-premium cable. A show with genuine moments of drama and wit. Sure the season finale should be applauded for its’ surprise twist (for people who didn’t know beforehand—sadly not me, I can’t abide a surprise on this show, I have to know what is happening even if I’m not watching it. Thank you EW!), but what should be praised instead is the creative the nerve it took to make that leap in order to open up the show for the next few seasons. Coolest line: Sawyer to Mr. Friendly (in the season finale), “That’s for the kid.” If you saw it you know what I’m talking about. Awesome.

3. Battlestar Galactica
(all of it so far):
Take the politics of The Wire and mix it with the sci-fi mystery of Lost, and you have Battlestar Galactica. Props to Starbuck for being the strongest female on TV, and let us heap praise on the dynamic duo of Admiral Adama and President Roslin, not to mention the ever expanding mystery of the great Cylon “plan”, and you have something you can’t take you’re eyes off of. At one point during the mid-season finale of Season 2, when Helo and Chief Tyrol are racing through The Razor, I actually yelled at the television. Now that’s good TV.

4. The Office
(Season 2&3):
Let us hope that the movies never take Steve Carrell away from this show. I never thought Carrell would be able to outdo Ricky Gervais, but he has made Michael Scott his own kind of awkward beast. Bravo to a show that has never been as painfully awkward as its’ British counterpart, but has found its’ sweet center by regularly going beyond the whole Jim and Pam thing (example: Michael’s presence at Pam’s art show—one of Carrell’s finest bits of acting).

5. The Sopranos (
Season 6, Part 2):
For being one of the best things on TV and ending strong. By the way: Tony dies. Did you catch that?

Honorable Mention (in no particular order): Angel (all of it), Buffy the Vampire Slayer (all of it), My Name is Earl (season 1), Arrested Development (season 1 & 2), 30 Rock (season 1), Rome (season 1)

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Hirshhorn Diaries--6

"Head of Woman", by Pablo Picasso, 1909

Let us pause a moment to, once again, observe Picasso's "Head of Woman". A sculpture that--paired with Rodin's "Balzac"--will remain, for museums around the world, the equivelent of Skittles and Snickers at a gas station.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Best of: Reads

What follows are the best books/articles/reviews I’ve read all year:

1. Under the Banner of Heaven by John Krakauer: One of the more mind-boggling and terrifying books I read all year. A must read for anyone obsessed with the blotchy path of religious/political history between the crucifixion, Constantine’s dream, and ascension of Charlemagne. If at any time you’ve wondered how a poor Jewish carpenter, with a few words and a glorious death, could have taken over the world, might I suggest looking no further than Salt Lake City, Utah, a place where history is being gathered and vaulted by the LDS. That Joseph Smith lived during the modern age (the fact that there are book reviews of the Book of Mormon blew my mind) and thrived during the Second Great Awakening, having established one of the fastest growing religions, is, on the one hand, perfectly American—which is to say that Joseph Smith and Brigam Young’s (one of the true criminals of American history) legacy has been one of violence and subjugation during the age of manifest destiny should be a given. That Mormonism's more fundamentalist aspects still exists and are growing should be terrifying (seriously, see if you feel safe driving through Colorado City). Anyone who looks at Mitt Romney and is perplexed at how one could have risen so high so fast, for essentially tailoring his message (a nice way of saying contradicting himself) to an exceedingly desperate audience (republican voters in the wake of W. Bush), need look no further than his religious idol Joseph Smith: a first rate, handsome, showman, who always seemed to have the “perfect story”, not to mention a peep stone and a black hat that gave him all the answers.

2. All The Shah’s Men by Stephen Kinzer: No other book I’ve read this year better illustrated the way in which American arrogance and small mindedness has damaged the Middle East. After reading this book, it was not hard to fathom the idea that had America stood with Mohammed Mosedegh, rather than orchestrating his downfall (Kermit Roosevelt making James Bond look like a pussy), a progressive Middle East might not have seemed like such a pipe dream. It also goes a long way towards illustrating America’s willingness to forego its’ integrity and principles for the sake of economic supremacy. Not to mention those fucking British…

3. His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman: After a good week spent raging against the last Harry Potter, I needed my pallet cleansed. I remembered a friend mentioning Pullman’s books as a better example of young adult fiction. Boy was he right! Let me go on record as saying Pullman’s canny and vicious Lyra Belacqua could kick Harry Potter’s pouting ass, and that Will Parry could make mincemeat of Ron and Hermione (that is assuming he could handle Hermione’s dangerous EXCLAMATIONS!!!). A saga in which the young heroes actually aged, while, with great vigor, rigorously dissecting the confusing morality and complexity of the adult world. A believable relationship between two budding adults, no short cuts, no neat tidy thirteenth-hour revelations—oh, and two words: Gay Angels… (Note: Avoid the movie adaptation at all costs!)

4. Into Thin Air by John Krakauer: Everything I ever wanted to know about Mt. Everest and an effective missive about why I should never go. Adventure writing at its peak (heh, heh…)

5. “Disaster Capitalism” by Namoi Klein (Harper’s Magazine): If reading this doesn’t put you into an existential funk, then might I suggest her book The Shock Doctrine. Word of advice: Do not read said book with a loaded gun in the house. You may not survive.

Honerable Mention (in no particular order): The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright, Lost Girls by Alan Moore, Y the Last Man by Brian K. Vaughn and Pia Guerra, 100 Bullets by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso, The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman, Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, “Clueless into Kabul” by Michael Scheuer (The American Interest), “Making Enemies” by Anna Simons (The American Interest), “The Vacationers” by Colin Mort (Virginia Quarterly Review), “Utopianism Redux”: a review of Leszek Kolakowski’s Main Currents of Marxism by John Gray (The American Interest), “Their Men in Washington” by Ken Silverstine (Harper’s Magazine), “Literary Entrails” by Cynthia Ozick (Harper’s Magazine), “Moby-Duck” by Donovan Hohn (Harper’s Magazine), “The Madness of Jewcentricity” by Adam Garfinkle (The American Interest), “Shepherdess by Dan Chaon (Virginia Quarterly Review), The Headmaster Ritual by Taylor Antrim.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Hirshhorn Diaries--5

"Torso of a Young Man" by Constantin Brancusi, 1924

If by "young man" you mean large, smooth, thick, bronze penis--then, yes...