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When news emerged that a Mark Rothko exhibition was planned for Tate Modern this autumn, my heart soared. Rothko is one of the Brobdignagians of modern art, a gripping painter of big moments of transcendental abstraction. When it turned out that the Rothko show was going to concentrate on his late work, my heart slumped. The late work is so notoriously sombre and depressing that a show consisting of nothing else would surely make a perfect venue for a suicide convention. When I finally visited the exhibition, however, my heart soared again. What an intelligent and important attempt to see and understand Rothko differently. We really have been getting him wrong.

Rothko’s problem - the reason why he appears to have been so thoroughly misunderstood by posterity - is the dark myth that he allowed to emerge around him while he was alive and which overgrew his entire reputation after his suicide in 1970. This tremulous Rothko story line presents him as the Melancholy Martyr of Modernism, a deeply pessimistic presence whose painted fogs sag, paradoxically, with tons of heavyweight spirituality. Rothko’s paintings are almost invariably understood as religious art without the religion; Judaism without the Torah. At its most purple, the myth seems even to note an accord between these gloomy Turnerisms and the Holocaust. His suicide topped it all off splendidly.

I am not embarrassed to admit that this, more or less, is how I too have always understood him. We all did. Being enveloped by Rothko’s glowing abstract sunsets is a thoroughly meditative and ecclesiastical experience. It will surprise nobody that he was often accused of Zen Buddhism. Rothko himself did nothing to correct such impressions. Notoriously secretive and reticent, he worked hard on his mystery. “There is more power in telling little than in telling all,” he lectured to the Pratt Institute in his final public address in 1958. There are no photographs of him at work. Nobody was ever allowed to watch him painting. You can count on one hand the number of interviews he gave.

Because Rothko gave so little away, even his studio assistants had no clear sense of his final intentions for the celebrated suite of claret-coloured murals commissioned for the Four Seasons restaurant in New York in 1958 that is now the focus of the Tate’s startling reexamination of his late work. The restaurant was housed in the most prestigious slab of spartan modernism on the Manhattan skyline: the newly built Seagram Building, designed by Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson.

Rothko was initially flattered and delighted by the commission. But after a boisterous meal there with his wife, he decided abruptly that the glamorous food hall was unsuitable after all, withdrew from the commission and donated the paintings to the Tate, where they have since played a key role in the creation of the Rothko myth: the day they arrived was the day he committed suicide - February 25, 1970.

Rothko asked that the nine momentous murals he gave to the Tate be hung together in a single room. No other instructions were left. And the vague advice he passed on about the colour of the walls was thoroughly ambiguous. So the poor old Tate has spent 38 years struggling to honour his wishes without ever really knowing what those wishes were. In its various incarnations - first at Tate Britain, now at Tate Modern - the resulting Rothko room has tried out assorted combinations of wall colours and lighting. But the only consensus nervous curators were able to arrive at did not concern the arrangement but the meaning. Dark, grumpy, pessimistic, magnificent, the Tate’s Rothkos have always been presented to us as unavoidably tragic. Until now.

The show looks at the art Rothko produced in his final years, from 1958 to 1970. It is the first exhibition to focus exclusively on these late paintings, and the first to seek a fresh opinion of them. Put crudely, the show wants to rubbish the Rothko myth. And the chief reason it succeeds in doing so is because it proposes a new reading of the Four Seasons panels. To achieve this, the Tate’s pictures have been joined here by half a dozen loans from the same series borrowed from Washington and Japan. The result is a spectacular Rothko Super-Room that straddles the centre of the show and is, frankly, astonishing.

The reason no final arrangement for the Four Seasons project has come down to us is because there never was one. Rothko was a die-hard ditherer. We know the restaurant had space for only seven pictures, but he actually painted 30 of them, in a glorious ocean of linked variations. The nine Tate panels - those famously morose burgundy twilights in which Stonehenge shapes loom up fuzzily in a claret-coloured gloom - turn out to be curiously unrepresentative of the project as a whole. The loans from Washington and Japan are altogether brighter in tone and impact.

What’s more, the new circle of 15 pictures has been hung at the sort of height you would need to be at to clear a roomful of restaurant tables. Thus, all of a sudden, the doomy weightiness has been replaced by a rich set of soaring sensations. Maroons that had always seemed glum are suddenly plummy. Subtle effects of darkness have become subtle effects of light. And the suggestion made here that the entire scheme was, in fact, due to culminate in the brightest of the bright paintings completes a remarkable rereading. We have here a gorgeous restaurant decoration that appears, on this evidence, to be completely uninterested in the big truths of the cosmos.

If you are anything like me, you will keep returning to this dramatic rethink for further doses of revelation. The upside of Rothko’s chronic inability to make up his mind is the acres of room it leaves for reinterpretation. But my guess is that he withdrew from the Four Seasons commission not because the restaurant was an unsuitable venue, but because he could not decide what to put in it. The rest of the exhibition reinforces the impression that working in series served chiefly to multiply Rothko’s uncertainties.

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ice ribbons on a metal fence

via zoller
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i like how he clears the landing ramp by a car length.

via zoller
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149k penn farmhouse

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On December 26th 2006, when most people were resting after Christmas, members of NYSME toured the former Lackawanna Cutoff in Northwest New Jersey. The tour was not just limited to the DL&W, members also walked segments of the Paulinskill Valley Trail which was former the right-of-way for the NYS&W and the LNE
thanks lisa
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The photograph became an icon of the Great Depression: a migrant mother with her children burying their faces in her shoulder. Katherine McIntosh was 4 years old when the photo was snapped. She said it brought shame -- and determination -- to her family.

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haulin' house marathon on DIY network

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frank stella is a constructivist
robert ryman is a pragmatist

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The artist also started making sewn fabric abstraction, the "Stoffbilder," from bolts of department-store fabric in the summer or fall of 1966, at approximately the same time as Polke, but again this fact is not mentioned in the Barcelona catalogue. (For the record, another German contemporary, Franz-Erhard Walther, was making fabric pieces as early as 1963 and is still making interactive fabric installations, especially for children.) What's going on here? Because Palermo's fabrics are mostly from monochrome bolts, and so are instances of found color (and the results abstract), they are taken to be serious, while Polke's works use printed fabrics, and so are taken to be funny. It's that simple, and that misguided.

Throughout the late '60s both Palermo and Polke were doing send-ups of "Moderne Kunst," that is, Malevich-inspired abstract paintings; so why are Palermo's always seen as grave and Polke's as comic? Palermo's early Composition with Eight Red Rectangles (1964), for example, has a deliberately deadpan look that might be likened to Polke's '60s abstractions. Gonzalez maintains that Palermo was given the role of "a new Malevich" by Beuys, and that Composition with Eight Red Rectangles is a bald appropriation, "merely a replica" of Malevich's Eight Red Rectangles (1915) in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. I don't entirely agree with this reading (the two paintings look quite different), but Gonzalez's supposition that Palermo had "gently copied" from the plates of the Du Mont Schauberg publication on Malevich that appeared in 1960 is tantalizing. Even the idea of Beuys's students playing at medieval knights and martyrs around him may have an element of camp and parody in it; the master himself, in his very performances, lectures and photo-ops, was no mean impersonator. We have to look for traces of humor in Palermo's work rather than simply accepting the current reading of it at face value.

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DAVID: If you were offered a chance to do an adaptation, say, of The Importance of Being Earnest for the screen, would you ever do something like that?

FRAN: No. Because what would you adapt? There's already been a wonderful movie of The Importance of Being Earnest, and it's a play. What always shocks me — this is the main thing I hate about the theater — is that every single person in the world can fuck with Shakespeare. Like you know, "Shakespeare? What does he know? He should have made Lady Macbeth … a Hell's Angel! Why didn't he think of that?" You know, any idiot can do that, but you can't touch a word of Neil Simon. Shakespeare doesn't have that … writer's guild, or whatever the union it is that represents playwrights …


FRAN: NAFTA, that it. The Teamsters. Whatever it is, the reason people like to write for the theater is because no one can change it. So it is against the law to change a semicolon in a Neil Simon play. But anyone in the world can completely change Shakespeare. It's absurd.

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rip willoughby sharp

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more terry southern

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Mr. Weiner is rightly seen as a founding figure of Postminimalism’s Conceptual arm, which includes artists like Douglas Huebler, Robert Barry, Joseph Kosuth and Sol LeWitt. But he might better be described as a language-based sculptor. He folds together the skills of a Russian Constructivist graphic designer, a Socratic philosopher, a Dada-Fluxus joker, a Concrete poet and a Madison Avenue ad executive with an astute sense of both semiotics and public display. And his penchant for starkly plain typefaces and for stacking phrases up walls like Judd boxes, combined with his emphasis on language’s visual and spatial qualities, also gives him a few Minimalist bona fides.

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milano attic

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It was September 1, 2005, some three days after Hurricane Katrina crashed into New Orleans, and somebody had just blasted Herrington, who is African-American, with a shotgun. "I just hit the ground. I didn't even know what happened," recalls Herrington, a burly 32-year-old with a soft drawl.

The sudden eruption of gunfire horrified Herrington's companions--his cousin Marcel Alexander, then 17, and friend Chris Collins, then 18, who are also black. "I looked at Donnell and he had this big old hole in his neck," Alexander recalls. "I tried to help him up, and they started shooting again." Herrington says he was staggering to his feet when a second shotgun blast struck him from behind; the spray of lead pellets also caught Collins and Alexander. The buckshot peppered Alexander's back, arm and buttocks.

Herrington shouted at the other men to run and turned to face his attackers: three armed white males. Herrington says he hadn't even seen the men or their weapons before the shooting began. As Alexander and Collins fled, Herrington ran in the opposite direction, his hand pressed to the bleeding wound on his throat. Behind him, he says, the gunmen yelled, "Get him! Get that nigger!"
What is it Thompson, and the piece's editors at The Nation, refuse to say? Simply that, according to at least two respected forensic engineering reports (here and here), ultimately confirmed by a semi-confession from the involved agency, the flooding of New Orleans was caused by a series of design and construction flaws, stretching back over decades, in the supposed Hurricane Protection System overseen, in all details, by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people drowned and otherwise perished in the flooding, white, black, rich, poor. Did The Nation ever do an eighteen-month investigation to find out why such a system, mandated by the Congress to protect New Orleans after the devastation of Hurricane Betsy, went so terribly, catastrophically wrong?

Or, like the mainstream media, did it content itself with a crime story that used the Katrina disaster merely as a fulcrum?

I write a post this long, and this harsh, because New Orleans has enough problems, self-inflicted and otherwise, without a respected national magazine asserting that the city had or has a race war. There are racists aplenty in New Orleans, white and black. Yet, after two decades of knowing the city pretty damn well, I'd venture to say that day-to-day living in New Orleans involves more casual, easy, frequent interactions between people of all backgrounds and colors than I see, say, in LA, NY, or DC. Flood 80% of any of those cities, flood the airwaves (local and national) with fearful rumors -- after those same airwaves have been gleefully saturated with grotesque images of rappers glorifying thuggery -- and see what latent emotions come to the surface.

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G P-O via AFC

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Fair readers, hail! Now here’s a teaser: Who’s this pale, familiar geezer
Appearing through the mists of time
Atop a tow’r of creaky rhyme?

With those lines in this week’s issue of The New Yorker magazine, Roger Angell introduces himself — or, rather, reintroduces himself — at the start of a page-long holiday poem titled “Greetings, Friends!”

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floating bed

via zoller
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2009 digital farmers almanac

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have a rockets redglare x-mas

OBS (original bad santa)
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circa 1900 photograph of a solar eclipse

via anonymous works

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