These posts are either "jump pages" for my weblog or posts-in-process that will eventually appear there. For what it's worth, here's an archive of these random bits. The picture to the left is by a famous comic book artist.
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'American Sucker': A Fool and His Money
By WALTER KIRN
By David Denby.
337 pp. Boston: Little, Brown & Company. $24.95.
If David Denby, amateur investor and film critic for The New Yorker, had managed to achieve the goal he set for himself about four years ago -- to make $1 million in the stock market so as to buy out his departing wife's share of their beloved Upper West Side apartment -- he might have been happier, for a time, but he wouldn't have had much of a book. Instead, like countless other Americans who had their own reasons for adding their hot breath to the mammoth bubble in equities whose bursting still echoes in the nation's ears even as the market is puffing up again, Denby fell short, he fell sickeningly short, but he did reap disaster's perennial dividend: an interesting sad story with a moral.
The midlife crisis that led to Denby's financial crisis (in ''American Sucker'' the two are treated as one, reminding us that economics, at bottom, is always home economics) began the day his wife of 18 years, the novelist Cathleen Schine, announced that she intended to leave him. Their marriage, which Denby describes in shorthand, reserving his longhand for his money troubles, was gratifying, stable and productive -- a model of bright metropolitan domesticity. He wrote his movie reviews, she wrote her books, and the couple's two boys grew up healthy, smart and sane. The turn for the worse, when it came, was jolting and mystifying but not so harshly dramatic or destructive that it couldn't be faced in the thoroughly modern manner: by living apart while maintaining a joint bank account and working patiently toward an amicable settlement. Denby the divorcing husband was a cautious, slightly melancholy optimist.
That had been his investing style, too: go with the flow but don't get too far ahead of it. Buy bonds and sock away the interest. Buy stocks, but diversify to limit risk. Trust in growth and slowly grow in trust. Denby, when young and living in California, had been something of a radical, dancing to the Grateful Dead and defiantly pitting culture against commerce, but he'd mellowed into a propertied intellectual who sneakily admired the system for its ability to supply the good life even to those who held it in partial contempt.
What changed all of this was an upsurge of desire. Above all, this is a book about desire, not only for handsome material wealth and a comfortable, familiar home, but for love, sex, fame, fine objects (namely, a shining blue Audi sports sedan that functions as Denby's mechanical Helen, seductively beckoning him toward catastrophe and putting him on the wrong side of the old gods) and even aesthetic pleasure. In sketching his own intensely crosshatched character, so ripe for exploitation by Wall Street hucksters who played on his heady hopes about the market while suavely anesthetizing his intestinal doubts, Denby the critic reveals his tricky feelings about the movies he makes his living writing about. Mostly they disappoint him, deeply, chronically, and the soulless industrial process that creates them outrages his lofty sensibilities; but at the same time he's realistic enough to know that without the underlying profit motive the screen would go dark. Denby strikes a worldly compromise, meticulously sifting through the dreck for big-budget films that also succeed as art, then aggressively, sincerely promoting them. The system depresses him, but the system is all he has.
But suddenly, destabilized by loss and yearning for a return to wholeness, he learns to love the system -- at least as it's embodied in his portfolio. The obsession starts late at night at a computer, as so many obsessions do these days, and occasions much moving writing on loneliness in the age of interconnectivity. While searching the Internet for investment news, Denby also finds himself sampling its porn sites, and in no time he's doubly addicted, buffeted by greed and lust at once. Greed's hold is surer, though, which ought to tell us something about the nature of sin these days. Our private parts aren't our major source of trouble; it's our wallets that we can't keep in our pants. Denby cuts out the porn in favor of human girlfriends, but his hunger for stock tips only sharpens.
What results is a classic cautionary tale, complete with learned references to the Bible and Aristotle's ''Ethics,'' and featuring not one but two suave arch-deceivers who whisper in Denby's ear: Henry Blodget, the whiz-kid Merrill Lynch analyst who talked up weak tech stocks in public while sneering in private and ended up paying huge fines for his bad faith, and the Gatsby-ish C.E.O. of ImClone, Sam Waksal, whose A-list SoHo parties were well attended but whose sentencing hearing for securities fraud failed to attract a single celebrity friend.
Since Denby is a self-flagellating moper, as nervous and self-conscious as he is eager and never so wholly caught up in the euphoria that he stops gnawing his educated fingernails -- he doesn't spring for that Audi, for example, just does a lot of reading in sociology to justify his wish to own it -- his book needs these two highfliers to give it energy. Blodget is the duller of the two, a self-serving golden boy in over his head, and Denby sees through him easily, if reluctantly. Waksal is a star, though, with a charisma that Denby perfectly captures, maybe because it never quite stopped charming him. Waksal pretends to be out for more than money; he wants to heal the masses with Erbitux, ImClone's fledgling cancer drug, and shower the proceeds on a grand salon of artists, politicians and media types.
As Denby's pile fluctuates his exact gains and losses are quoted in the chapter subheads, but the chapters themselves are an eccentric mix of often lacerating confessions about his rocky love life and seminarish meditations on capitalism, conspicuous consumption and the psychological roots of greed. His tone can be pedantic, but his intention -- to freeze and analyze the mental gyrations that allow a deep thinker to become a shallow speculator -- is worthwhile and appropriate. Denby even drops in snippets of movie reviews he wrote at the time to help show us where his head was at, but they don't add much. Nor do his journal entries, which disclose a steady stream of worries that he was somehow powerless to act on.
Denby's financial frenzy, in the end, comes off as a form of emotional paralysis. He doesn't plow just his capital into tech stocks, but his anger, his fouled-up libido, his regrets and his wounded pride. He knows this at some level, but pushes on, whipsawed by exuberance and self-loathing. The crash is a relief for him, if anything, and that's a lesson worth remembering now that the Dow and Nasdaq are chugging back. Life resumes after the market closes.
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How an Art Scene Became a Youthscape
By BENJAMIN GENOCCHIO
Imagine that you have opened a Chelsea art gallery. Not a white cube with vaulted ceilings and frosted glass doors, but a showroom in your 200-square-foot studio apartment. Each night, a futon is retrieved from the bathtub and flopped on the floor for sleeping. Come daylight, it is rolled back up and put away in preparation for visitors. How long do you think you would last?
Daniel Reich spent two years running such a gallery in his Chelsea studio apartment, and he prospered. Several of the artists he worked with are among those selected for the next Whitney Biennial, and in November he moved his gallery from his bedroom to an upscale storefront on West 23rd Street.
Mr. Reich, 28, is part of a group of enterprising young dealers who are shaking up a corner of the New York art scene. Roughly the same age (mid-20's to mid-30's), they have come to the fore in the last few years and are committed to showing new work by emerging artists and artist collectives. They have even formed their own collective, the New Art Dealers Alliance, known as NADA.
Their approach shows signs of succeeding. With a hint of small sister-big sister rivalry, NADA staged its first art fair last month alongside Art Basel Miami Beach, a big, mainstream contemporary art fair. True to form, the NADA fair was organized like a co-op, with each participating gallery paying a set fee ($2,000) and receiving the same size booth. Sales exceeded expectations, the participants said, and have continued beyond the fair. "It used to be the case that you'd hear a young person was starting a gallery and it was considered a kind of odd eruption," Mr. Reich said, standing in his new Chelsea space. "But suddenly an unprecedented number of young people have opened galleries all over the city, making us into a new scene for collectors and writers to follow."
Mr. Reich is not the only young dealer to have started in an apartment. Oliver Kamm, a former employee of the Marianne Boesky Gallery, set up shop in the living room of his one-bedroom Chelsea apartment in late 2002. "The first month I sold $20,000 worth of art, and sales continued steadily," said Mr. Kamm, 31, who in early 2003 moved to a white-cube gallery on West 22nd Street.
Like Mr. Kamm and Mr. Reich, who cut his teeth at the Pat Hearn Gallery, many of these young dealers worked for more established outfits before going it alone. John Connelly, 35, spent eight years at the Andrea Rosen Gallery before opening his own in mid-2002, a closet-like space on the 10th floor of a building on West 26th Street. "I was excited by a new, younger generation of artists," he said. Three of his artists will be in the Whitney Biennial.
Other young dealers have found the Lower East Side and Brooklyn (where many of the artists they represent live) more congenial. Two years ago Michelle Maccarone, 30, opened a gallery in a dilapidated three-level building on Canal Street, which doubles as her home. "I wanted a space with character, and this place is funky," she said, sipping tea and chain-smoking in her messy makeshift office. Mirabelle Marden (a daughter of the painter Brice Marden) and Melissa Bent at Rivington Arms, Lia Gangitano at the nonprofit space Participant Inc. and Yuki Minami at the Transplant Gallery are nearby.
Aside from youth, what binds these dealers is the precarious economics of their ventures. Few have backers, and many have relied on part-time jobs or family money to subsidize their galleries. At one point Mr. Reich was so broke that his mother had to pay the rent on his apartment-gallery.
There are also similarities among the artists whom the dealers show: most are young, still in graduate school or fresh out of college. (Galleries looked down on this practice until a few years ago.) Two recent Cooper Union graduates, Nick Mauss and Shelby Hughes, were presented at the inaugural exhibition at Mr. Reich's Chelsea gallery in November; in February Mr. Kamm is to present the New York debut of Kamrooz Aram, 24, a painter who just completed his M.F.A. at Columbia.
Artists' collectives, a throwback to the 1960's and 70's, are also resurgent. Among today's fashionable ensembles are Dearraindrop, Milhaus and the collaborative art project K48. The art they produce varies widely, although they all tend to mix media to create total environments.
Zach Feuer, 25, a founder and director of LFL Gallery in Chelsea, sees this collectivist and collaborative tendency as characteristic of his generation. "Even when artists work individually, you will often find other artists working together on the same thing, sometimes sharing a studio," he said.
As for the art, the reigning spirit seems to be coolly detached and style-conscious. With all the talk of youth culture being digital and high-tech, many of the artists shown in the new galleries are obsessed with craft and the physical act of making art. Knitting and sewing are popular, as is a kind of doodle drawing.
At the same time the works carry little social or political freight. Nobody is protesting anything. And for the first time in a long while young gay artists are doing work that has nothing to do with loss, sorrow or AIDS. Instead they trade in a fluid, playful sexuality, with lots of kinkiness and gender-bending, along with frequent allusions to drugs, sex, pornography and music (especially glam rock).
The collective mentality also appears to have spread to the dealers. NADA was founded about a year ago by Mr. Feuer, Mr. Connelly and two dealers who work for other galleries, Sheri L. Pasquarella and Zach Miner. The goal was to create a forum for professional and social exchange among younger dealers.
"We sensed that there was another, less adversarial way of doing business that would support and foster a greater sense of community," said Ms. Pasquarella, 27, the director of the Gorney Bravin & Lee gallery. NADA has more than 50 members, most of them under 35 and nearly all in New York.
So far its activities have been largely social, consisting of pizza nights and cocktail parties at the galleries and homes of members. There is even talk of a softball team. (Maybe NADA could play A.D.A.A., the Art Dealers Association of America.) There have also been loans of equipment and artwork among members and some referrals of buyers. In the fall the group arranged guided tours of NADA galleries in Chelsea and Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
The dealers admit to rivalries, but say common interest unifies the group. "We tend to look at our businesses in a different way from another generation of dealers," said Becky Smith, the owner and director of the Bellwether Gallery in Williamsburg. "We don't see the art market as one big pie that we all have to fight over, but as something that is endlessly expandable. If we can make people excited about our galleries and the kind of art and artists we show, then we figure this will benefit us all."
Recalling NADA's first meeting, Mr. Kamm said: "The thing that struck a few of us was that there was a lot less Prada than we thought there'd be. It was just a bunch of scrappy, ambitious young people with a passion for art and a desire to learn more about others doing the same kinds of things."
But will it last? Ms. Smith, 37, is not sure. "There is no doubt NADA is utopian," she said. "Hopefully it will last. Most likely it will go the way of free love when enough feelings get hurt. But for now it is fun to be together and enjoying each other."
At NADA's art fair in Miami, Ms. Smith said, there was a lot of interest in her artists. "I used to joke that NADA stood for networking and drinking," she said, "but after Miami I've realized it is much more. Three years ago I would sell one print of the work of Sharon Core out of a show. I sold 25 of her photographs in Miami, ranging in price from $2,000 to $4,500. Since coming back, I've sold a couple of prints almost every day. There are even waiting lists for work she hasn't made."
Although still relatively affordable, some of the works shown by the NADA dealers command higher prices because of increasing demand. In his apartment, Mr. Reich sold Tyson Reeder's drawings for $200 each; in an exhibition opening today at Mr. Reich's gallery, the drawings are priced from $1,000, and there is a waiting list. Paul P.'s paintings started around $800 when they were shown in Mr. Reich's apartment; a still life with flowers in a group show that opens today at Andrea Rosen is priced at $3,000.
But NADA's chummy atmosphere is not for everyone. Despite overtures, Ms. Maccarone remains a nonmember. She says she has a different vision and model for her gallery. "I operate more like a kunsthalle, doing four or five in-depth solo exhibitions a year," she said. "I'm also more interested in installation and site-specific work. Basically it's less market driven."
Mr. Reich says that for the younger dealers the art business is less about making money than about expressing the values and experiences of his generation. "It's all about being happy about whatever you can be happy about," he said. "My generation grew up in a time when we didn't have heroes. You grew up believing you were being hoodwinked and manipulated — and knowing you were, but learning to enjoy it because it came in fun colors or was on MTV.
"The bottom line," he added, "was that I really wanted to have a gallery, and sometimes you just have to start doing something with whatever you have at your disposal."
Sampling Brooklyn, Keeper of Eclectic Flames
By HOLLAND COTTER
If you say art and Brooklyn in the same sentence, you probably mean Williamsburg, which for about a decade has been the only viable alternative to Chelsea as a New York gallery scene. It's also an art neighborhood in the old, un-Chelsea way: artists live, work, kvetch and party there, even when their art commutes to Manhattan.
Not that everything is idyllic. Clubs, bars and latte joints continue to elbow aside the diminishing number of Polish-American shops. Rents are now punishing, with the result that artists and galleries have scattered into neighborhoods like Greenpoint, Crown Heights, Bedford-Stuyvesant and Red Hook. The borough's public exhibition spaces have always been outside the Williamsburg orbit, and still are. Several of them have joined forces this winter for an ambitious if problematic survey of African art.
A provisional account of this evolving activity will arrive in April with the Brooklyn Museum of Art's "Open House: Working in Brooklyn," a historical overview of art produced in the borough since the 1970's. Meanwhile, that history is still in the making, and here's what it looks like — a little of it, anyway — at the start of 2004.
Maybe it's a winter slump, but the Williamsburg gallery situation feels static these days. Flagship commercial spaces like Pierogi, Bellwether and Roebling Hall have been augmented by a clutch of newer arrivals. But the census hasn't changed significantly in a while, and Manhattan remains an all-but-irresistible pull. Bellwether is moving to Chelsea next fall. Roebling Hall has opened a satellite space in SoHo. The successful young sculptor Robert Lazzarini, long represented by Pierogi, recently left the gallery to manage his career on his own.
Actually, one of the recent complaints about Williamsburg is that its art is undistinguishable from that shown across the river. The alternative is no alternative. Yet a difference in atmosphere is undeniable. This is less a function of architecture than of attitude, with Brooklyn continuing to value a degree of financial informality, an aesthetic of process, a we-won't-grow-up sense of community.
As a result, startup ventures are still possible, even if they last only a month. Some of the best art is in the form of events, the most formal of them open video nights at Four Walls; screenings of experimental work at Ocularis; and performances at Galapagos and Parlour Projects, where a video karaoke project with viewer participation is scheduled for February. There is a lingering sense — you get it on the Lower East Side, too — that flames could burn here that would die for want of air in Chelsea's concrete shells.
Williamsburg Solo Shows
Spontaneity and confinement both play roles in one of the odder one-man shows of the season so far, Ward Shelley's "We Have Mice" at Pierogi. This Brooklyn artist gained attention when he and some colleagues built a full-scale live-in version of the Mir space station from plywood and plastic a few years ago. For his current solo he has taken up a month's residence in Pierogi, though it's unlikely you'll see him there: he is living in passageways behind and between the walls.
He has equipped these tight quarters with a computer station, a work table, a bed and an enclosed overhead bridge to the gallery's bathroom. He spends most of his time on the premises making art. Video monitors in the gallery carry live feeds of his activities; new work keeps showing up behind little doors in the walls.
There are plenty of precedents for Mr. Shelley's self-immurement. Vito Acconci and Chris Burden come immediately to mind, though the obsessiveness and masochism that marked their work have little to do with his. "We Have Mice" is basically a wacky fantasy about how the average artist can keep working and living in a city priced way beyond his means by taking the irrepressible urban rodent as a model. And like a mouse, Mr. Shelley leaves his burrow periodically, usually at night, "to forage for food, materials and mating opportunities."
Other solo shows also involve environments, though less encompassing ones. For her New York debut at the recently opened Monya Rowe Gallery, the young Argentinian-born artist Gabriela Micchia has assembled a grottolike garden, replete with a waterfall, from potted plants. Visitors can join her there for a cup of maté on Sunday afternoons and examine her sweet, small collage-paintings made with moving parts.
Thornier strains of whimsicality run through shows by Kimberley Hart at Bellwether and Rosemarie Fiore at Plus Ultra. Ms. Hart looks at conventions of gender through memories of her own childhood as a committed tomboy who had more interest in the Daytona 500 than in Barbie. Her installation plays havoc with the stuff of prepubescent feminine dreams: a life-size stuffed-doll horse lies on the floor as if dead; an assortment of frilly sachets serve as pedestals for toy race cars.
Ms. Fiore's environments take the miniaturist form of ceramic tabletop sculptures based on the classic cartoon saga of Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote. The stories turned on a recurrent plot device: in every episode the coyote invents fantastically complicated traps to catch his prey, only to have the Roadrunner avoid them at the last second. In Ms. Fiore's brightly painted sculptures the coyote gets his revenge as his nemesis is squashed, stabbed, throttled and blown to bits. Whether you take the sculptures as confectionary jokes or as comments on pop cultural aggression, they're funky and neat.
That said, the shows at Rowe, Bellwether and Plus Ultra are all afflicted — Ms. Fiore's least — with a cuteness factor that is proving to be the Achilles' heel, or one of them, of the New Craftsiness. The same was true in the 1980's, when childhood and adolescence first became both a theme and an attitudinal pose for artists. Neo-Conceptualism, newly emergent at the time, toughed things up a little, and still can.
You can see the corrective dynamic in action in two solo shows at Priska C. Juschka Fine Art. Debra Hampton's paintings of vaguely floral forms, executed in blown and dripped paint, have an urbane, all-of-a-piece prettiness favored of late. By contrast, Lucas Ajemian's installation of videos, sculptures and photographic images seems diffuse and eclectic. Yet its texture is unsettled enough to be intriguing, and it sharpens into focus with a display of magazine pages on which the artist has drawn turnstiles and revolving doors so that every image — Prada models, a picturesque mosque, a battle scene — is about detainment and restriction, an apposite idea delivered with a light, clean touch.
Not all the concept-based art is effective. Kenn Bass's video and sculpture installation at Roebling Hall is too intricate in its information and spare in its visual means to be as alluring as it seems to want to be. On the other hand, Liselot van der Heijden's two-video installation at Schroeder Romero, no less rich in ideas, goes right for the gut. The artist made both films in Africa. One is a continuous, looped shot of the head of a dying zebra, facing directly into the camera. In the other a flock of vultures tear apart a corpse — whether of the zebra or some other animal, we don't know — as words appear on the screen: "this is not political," "this has nothing to do with oil."
I don't know exactly what Ms. van der Heijden is getting at, but hers was the only piece I encountered on this gallery tour that had stayed with me by the end of a long day.
Williamsburg Group Shows
In January, as in July, group shows abound. Williamsburg has its share, most of them at galleries fairly recently opened. Champion Fine Art was established last fall by Drew Heitzler (an artist) and Flora Wiegmann (a dancer) specifically to present a series of 20 exhibitions with artists as curators. The third in the sequence, "No. 18," is the work of Allyson Vieira, and she has done a nice job.
Of the three artists, Macrae Semans has a big assemblage-style sculpture involving a deconstructed futon and baskets, and Molly Welch has a site-specific piece that suggests a cracked Minimalism. Alex Kwartler's paintings, which have the stylistic variety of a group show, knit together references to Modernism, Romanticism and Pop with a purposeful nonchalance that is one of the most attractive features of new art today.
The curator of Champion's inaugural offering last fall, Reed Anderson, is also responsible for "On a Wave," a show at Jessica Murray Projects that takes its title take from Thad Ziolkowski's coming-of-age surfer memoir. The theme gets a clever workout in a surfboardish sculpture by Vincent Szarek and a sand-sprinkled one by Rosy Keyser, in Chris Gentile's photograph of a living room tsunami, super-eight videos by Mr. Heitzler and an elaborate, mandalalike California-dreaming collage by Mr. Anderson himself. Brady Dollarhide's "Never Forever" has no surfer connection that I could detect, but it's such a good painting it doesn't matter.
Midcareer artists make splashes elsewhere. The Finnish photographer Jaako Heikkila, in his New York debut, delivers a fine exhibition at Sideshow. At Parker's Box, John Bjerklie and Matt Blackwell, longtime Williamsburgians, have ignited a kind of painting-sculpture explosion with help from a young artist, Andrew James. And Jack the Pelican Presents, after a memorable David Shapiro solo, brings together work by four women whose careers have been in forward motion since at least the early 1980's.
In that show, "Wry Material," Margaret Evangeline contributes a set of classy abstract reliefs created with sheets of stainless steel and a shotgun. Samm Kunce moves Earth Art into the gallery and lets it grow. Fariba Hajamadi photographs images of war and everyday life reflected in droplets of raw petroleum. Elana Herzog, in three 2001 pieces, unravels the fabric of patterned bedspreads thread by thread, leaving whatever remains intact attached to the wall with thousands of staples. Altogether, the work is formally direct and art-historically trenchant; it makes much of what's happening elsewhere look tentative.
A show of drawings introducing several young artists opens today at one of the best young Brooklyn galleries, Southfirst. The senior presence is Lemi Ghariokwu, the Nigerian artist who created the fabulous cover art for many of Fela Kuti's albums. He is surrounded by estimable junior contemporaries from New York, some of them familiar from Chelsea. Peter Coffin, for example, has shown at Andrew Kreps. Sterling Ruby has a solo at Foxy Production. Nick Mauss, with the best work of all, is in "The New Romantics" at Greene Naftali, though he looks even better here.
Beth Brideau has the largest piece, an impressionistic watercolor derived from a photograph taken from a plane. Other newcomers include Benjamin Cottam (with thumbnail portraits of deceased artists), Mari Eastman (an underwear design in the form of a bat), Corinne Jones (pictures of stalactites), Yuh-Shioh Wong (watercolor collages), Joshua W. F. Thomson (an update on Goya), Tucker Nichols (text paintings and Japanese-y flowers) and Hrafnhildur Arnardottir (drawings of big hair).
The art-and-music collective LoVid breaks the works-on-paper barrier with a video image incised on a ceramic tile, and Eduardo Santiere, who is based in Madison, Wis., gracefully messes up formal distinctions by using a needle to scratch a paper surface into all-but-invisible sculptural relief.
One Southfirst participant, Ms. Wong, is also in "The Neon Forest Is My Home" at *sixtyseven, where paintings by Anke Sievers and Jeana Baumgardner and minute cutout sculptures by Satoru Eguchi stand out. For size and variety, though, no exhibition matches "Kult K48 Klubhouse," an art-collective extravaganza overseen by Scott Hug and installed at Deitch Project's cavernous Brooklyn outpost.
In addition to providing a mazelike sequence of cubicles jammed with work by dozens of artists, the gallery serves as a performance space for bands, a hangout and a think tank — it's an artist community within Williamsburg's wider artist community. The show is scheduled to close, after an extended run, this weekend, but I suggest that Deitch Projects just hand over the keys to Mr. Hug and let the Klubhouse stay open, like, forever.
At Naked Duck Gallery, one of a handful of modest-size spaces in Greenpoint, an art-music link is the focus of a show organized by Marc Gartman, a musician and filmmaker. It includes work by five artists who are also members of indie jazz and rock groups.
Rob Mazurek, a cornetist and composer and a founder of Chicago Underground Ensembles, contributes color prints of his own abstract paintings. Bill Callahan, singer-guitarist of Smog, draws and paints Jesus-like men with big eyes, though the best piece is a picture of a vermilion chair in a room. The Dirty Three guitarist Mick Turner has a thing for cars, which he paints with expressionistic generosity.
Ida Pearle, a violinist for Magnetic Fields, Low and her own band, Ida, makes cut-paper collages suitable for children's books and for her album covers. Finally, Zak Sally, Low's bassist, is an expert comics artist. A sequence of some four dozen original drawings is on view, along with prints and a cool, weird self-published zine. Mr. Gartman's search for art by musicians proved so fruitful that he has enough material for several shows, of which this is the first.
Elsewhere, the artist-run Vertexlist has opened with a solo show by the new-media artist Joe McKay. A kind of electronic fun-fair, it includes a wide-screen voice-activated video Ping-Pong game and a motorized version of a paleo-Macintosh screen icon, sure to have geek appeal. Of most interest, though, is an online database of clips produced by digital camera users who accidentally used movie mode when they meant to take still pictures of family and friends. The results have the unflattering awkwardness of old-time candid snapshots and are just as funny and touching.
Such snapshots now have a gallery of their own in Brooklyn's Dumbo section, where M. F. Adams opened in September. The gallery is devoted entirely to what is sometimes called vernacular photography, the sort that accumulates in drawers and attics and ends up for sale at church fairs. Giving such material full commercial gallery treatment may sound like a stretch, but the current show, "Objects of Pride: Houses, Cars and Pets," is genuinely engaging, for formal, historical and sentimental reasons.
Selected, framed and hung on a white wall, images that might look like nothing in another context assume a real presence, with their hints of unknown lives and untold narratives. If you need proof of how socio-politically loaded such snapshots can be, pay a visit to the International Center of Photography's great maelstrom of an exhibition, "Only Skin Deep." If you want to feel the individual picture as a shock of private, frozen time, check out M. F. Adams.
While in the neighborhood — which seems to be losing rather than gaining galleries — drop by Dumbo Arts Center for "Home," a solid group show organized by Bruce Brown, curator at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art in Rockport. The 16 artists are a New England-New York mix.
Diana Cherbuiliez, for example, formerly of Brooklyn, now of Vinalhaven, Me., contributes a sculptural Tower of Babel made of crossword puzzles from The New York Times Magazine. But here and there a distinctly Down East spirit of place emerges: in David McQueen's tiny mechanized snowscape; in Pia Walker's sweater made of burdock burrs; in John Bisbee's hallucinatory, rapid-fire video; and, most insistently, in Melonie Bennett's devastatingly candid family photographs.
A short walk away, in Brooklyn Heights, Rotunda Gallery has one of its series of exhibitions introducing young curators. The choice in this case is Katarina Wong, a New Yorker with graduate degrees in art and Buddhist studies. And her show, titled "A Slow Read," considers various time-release techniques that art uses to reveal itself.
Paintings dense with incident, like those by Carey Maxon and Alex O'Neal, take time to sort out visually, while the images in drawings by James Nelson and in the inky paintings of Stephen B. Nguyen are so abstract or delicately executed as to be hard to see. In some cases, subjects elude identification, as in Elizabeth Fleming's close-up photographs of household dust. In others, sleight-of-hand manipulation of material holds the eye: Adam Henry's ingenious architectural collages work this way.
"A Slow Read" is Ms. Wong's first show anywhere. She has a sharp if not faultless eye and a subtle way with an idea. They could take her far in the future.
Far into Brooklyn is where "Kenya Art" takes an art-trekker set on visiting all five of its widely spaced sites. Supported by a grant from the Ford Foundation, the project was organized by a pair of Kenyan curators, Judy Ogana and Carol Lees, drawing heavily on two sources in Nairobi, the private Gallery Watatu and the Kuona Trust Art Studio, near the National Gallery.
It should be said right away that like many survey-style shows of contemporary art from Africa, this one is rife with problems, art-historical and aesthetic. Its choice of artists is chronologically circumscribed and leaves out many influential figures going back to the Modernist pioneers of the 1950's and 60's. And in an exoticizing definition of "contemporary art," it heavily favors self-taught painters of village scenes. Little overtly political work is included; a single comic strip drawn by Frank Odoi suggests a vast resource left untapped. There is no work in experimental media. In what is best considered a highly selective "personal choice" show, the lessons taught by recent exhibitions like "The Short Century," seen last year at P.S. 1, are ignored.
But by the same token, Kenya, and East Africa as a whole, have been all but ignored by Western institutions, so "Kenya Art" is at least turning its sights in the right direction, and it has brought together a lot to look at and think about. Much of the work on paper, which makes up a substantial portion of the show, is at the Brooklyn Public Library's central branch (Mr. Odoi's work is here) and at Kentler International Drawing Space in Red Hook. The library's lobby display is big and rambling; individual pieces — including polished work by Joel Oswaggo and beautiful paintings by E. M. Kuria and Alan Githuka — are seen to better advantage in Kentler's concentrated quarters.
Welancora Gallery, housed on two floors of a Bedford-Stuyvesant brownstone, and a real find, has large-scale paintings, including a politically inflected allegorical piece by Sebastian Kiarie. And among the paintings at Salena Gallery at Long Island University is a delightful piece by Richard Onyango, part of a long series documenting his relationship with a white woman.
The most persuasive installation is at Five Myles in Crown Heights; the gallery's director, Hanne Tierney, initiated the project. Pictures by Peter Ngugi and Meek Gichugu share the antic flair and polish of European Surrealism. A brightly colored stop-sign of a painting by Michael Soi is one of the show's handful of abstract works. A collage by Rosemary Karuga, one of the show's few women, is composed in part of clips of 57th Street gallery listings, making a Kenya-New York connection concrete.
Despite its shortcomings, "Kenya Art," with its bright colors and accessible figurative style, should prove to be a public draw. And that it has been made available to a public at all is remarkable. It's hard to imagine five Manhattan institutions lending their time and space to a comparable project. But Brooklyn, short on resources and generous with art-frontier spirit, has done so. More power to it.
Confessions of a White House Insider
A book about Treasury's Paul O'Neill paints a presidency where ideology and politics rule the day
By JOHN F. DICKERSON
Saturday, Jan. 10, 2004
If anyone would listen to him, Paul O'Neill thought, Dick Cheney would. The two had served together during the Ford Administration, and now as the Treasury Secretary fought a losing battle against another round of tax cuts, he figured that his longtime colleague would give him a hearing.
O'Neill had been preaching that a fiscal crisis was looming and more tax cuts would exacerbate it. But others in the White House saw a chance to capitalize on the historic Republican congressional gains in the 2002 elections. Surely, Cheney would not be so smug. He would hear O'Neill out. In an economic meeting in the Vice President's office, O'Neill started pitching, describing how the numbers showed that growing budget deficits threatened the economy. Cheney cut him off. "Reagan proved deficits don't matter," he said. O'Neill was too dumbfounded to respond. Cheney continued: "We won the midterms. This is our due."
A month later, Paul O'Neill was fired, ending the rocky two-year tenure of Bush's first Treasury Secretary, who became known for his candid statements and the controversies that followed them. Rarely had a person who spoke so freely been embedded so high in an Administration that valued frank public remarks so little.
Now O'Neill is speaking with the same bracing style in a book written by Pulitzer prizewinning journalist Ron Suskind. The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House and the Education of Paul O'Neill traces the former Alcoa CEO's rise and fall through the Administration: from his return to Washington to work for his third President, whom he believed would govern from the sensible center, through O'Neill's disillusionment, to his firing, executed in a surreal conversation with Cheney, a man he once considered a fellow traveler. Suskind had access not only to O'Neill but also to the saddlebags he took with him when he left town, which included a minute-by-minute accounting of his 23 months in office and 19,000 pages of documents on CD-ROM.
So, what does O'Neill reveal? According to the book, ideology and electoral politics so dominated the domestic-policy process during his tenure that it was often impossible to have a rational exchange of ideas. The incurious President was so opaque on some important issues that top Cabinet officials were left guessing his mind even after face-to-face meetings. Cheney is portrayed as an unstoppable force, unbowed by inconvenient facts as he drives Administration policy toward his goals.
O'Neill's tone in the book is not angry or sour, though it prompted a tart response from the Administration. "We didn't listen to him when he was there," said a top aide. "Why should we now?"
But the book is blunt, and in person O'Neill can be even more so. Discussing the case for the Iraq war in an interview with TIME, O'Neill, who sat on the National Security Council, says the focus was on Saddam from the early days of the Administration. He offers the most skeptical view of the case for war ever put forward by a top Administration official. "In the 23 months I was there, I never saw anything that I would characterize as evidence of weapons of mass destruction," he told TIME. "There were allegations and assertions by people.
But I've been around a hell of a long time, and I know the difference between evidence and assertions and illusions or allusions and conclusions that one could draw from a set of assumptions. To me there is a difference between real evidence and everything else. And I never saw anything in the intelligence that I would characterize as real evidence." A top Administration official says of the wmd intelligence: "That information was on a need- to-know basis. He wouldn't have been in a position to see it."
From his first meeting with the President, O'Neill found Bush unengaged and inscrutable, an inside account far different from the shiny White House brochure version of an unfailing leader questioning aides with rapid-fire intensity. The two met one-on-one almost every week, but O'Neill says he had trouble divining his boss's goals and ideas. Bush was a blank slate rarely asking questions or issuing orders, unlike Nixon and Ford, for whom O'Neill also worked. "I wondered from the first, if the President didn't know the questions to ask," O'Neill says in the book, "or if he did know and just not want to know the answers? Or did his strategy somehow involve never showing what he thought? But you can ask questions, gather information and not necessarily show your hand. It was strange." In larger meetings, Bush was similarly walled off. Describing top-level meetings, O'Neill tells Suskind that during the course of his two years the President was "like a blind man in a roomful of deaf people."
In his interview with TIME, O'Neill winces a little at that quote. He's worried it's too stark and now allows that it may just be Bush's style to keep his advisers always guessing. In Suskind's book, O'Neill's assessment of Bush's executive style is a harsh one: it is portrayed as a failure of leadership. Aides were left to play "blind man's bluff," trying to divine Bush's views on issues like tax policy, global warming and North Korea. Sometimes, O'Neill says, they had to float an idea in the press just to scare a reaction out of him. This led to public humiliation when the President contradicted his top officials, as he did Secretary of State Colin Powell on North Korea and Environmental Protection Agency administrator Christine Todd Whitman on global warming. O'Neill came to believe that this gang of three beleaguered souls—only Powell remains—who shared a more nonideological approach were used for window dressing. We "may have been there, in large part, as cover," he tells Suskind.
If the President was hard to read, the White House decision-making process was even more mysterious. Each time O'Neill tried to gather data, sift facts and insert them into the system for debate, he would find discussion sheared off before it could get going. He tried to build fiscal restraint into Bush's tax plan but was thwarted by those who believed, as he says, that "tax cuts were good at any cost." He was losing debates before they had begun. The President asked for a global-warming plan one minute and then while it was being formulated, announced that he was reversing a campaign pledge to cut carbon dioxide emissions and pulling out unceremoniously from the Kyoto global- warming treaty, short-circuiting his aides' work. The President was "clearly signing on to strong ideological positions that had not been fully thought through," says O'Neill. As for the appetite for new ideas in the White House, he told Suskind, "that store is closed."
To grope his way out of the wilderness, O'Neill turned to his old friends from the Ford Administration, Alan Greenspan and Dick Cheney. According to the book, Greenspan agreed with many of his proposals but could not do much from his Delphian perch. When O'Neill sought guidance from the Vice President about how to install a system that would foster vigorous and transparent debate, he got grumbles and silence but little sympathy. Soon O'Neill concluded that his powerful old colleague was rowing in a different direction."I realized why Dick just nodded along when I said all of this, over and over, and nothing ever changed," he says in the book. "This is the way Dick likes it."
Where ideology did not win, electoral politics did. Overruling many of his advisers, the President decided to impose tariffs on imported steel to please voters in key swing states like Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio.
When the corporate scandals rocked Wall Street, O'Neill and Greenspan devised a plan to make CEOs accountable. Bush went with a more modest plan because "the corporate crowd," as O'Neill calls it in the book, complained loudly and Bush could not buck that constituency. "The biggest difference between then and now," O'Neill tells Suskind about his two previous tours in Washington, "is that our group was mostly about evidence and analysis, and Karl (Rove), Dick (Cheney), Karen (Hughes) and the gang seemed to be mostly about politics. It's a huge distinction."
A White House that seems to pick an outcome it wants and then marshal the facts to meet it seems very much like one that might decide to remove Saddam Hussein and then tickle the facts to meet its objective. That's the inescapable conclusion one draws from O'Neill's description of how Saddam was viewed from Day One. Though O'Neill is careful to compliment the cia for always citing the caveats in its findings, he describes a White House poised to overinterpret intelligence. "From the start, we were building the case against Hussein and looking at how we could take him out and change Iraq into a new country," he tells Suskind. "And, if we did that, it would solve everything. It was about finding a way to do it. That was the tone of it. The President saying, 'Fine. Go find me a way to do this.'"
Cheney helped bring O'Neill into the Administration, acting as a shoehorn for O'Neill, who didn't know the President but trusted the wise counselor beside him. So it was perhaps fitting that Cheney would take O'Neill out. Weeks after Bush had assured O'Neill that rumored staff changes in the economic team did not mean his job was in peril, Cheney called. "Paul, the President has decided to make some changes in the economic team. And you're part of the change," he told O'Neill. The bloodless way he was cut loose by his old chum shocked O'Neill, Suskind writes, but what came after was even more shocking. Cheney asked him to announce that it was O'Neill's decision to leave Washington to return to private life. O'Neill refused, saying "I'm too old to begin telling lies now."
Suskind's book—informed by interviews with officials other than O'Neill—is only a partial view of the Bush White House. Bush's role on key topics like education, stem-cell research and aids funding is not explored. Bush's role as a military leader after 9/11 is discussed mostly through O'Neill's effort to stop terrorist funding. Bush comes across as mildly effective and pleased with O'Neill's work. The book does not try to cover how Bush engaged with his war cabinet during the Afghan conflict or how his leadership skills were deployed in the making of war. On the eve of the Iraq war, however, O'Neill does tell Suskind that he marvels at the President's conviction in light of what he considers paltry evidence: "With his level of experience, I would not be able to support his level of conviction."
There is no effort to offer an opposing analysis of O'Neill's portrayal of his tenure. The book lists his gaffes—he ridiculed Wall Street traders, accused Democrats of being socialists and disparaged business lobbyists who were seeking a tax credit that the President supported—but it portrays these moments as examples of brave truth telling in a town that doesn't like it. White House aides have a different view: It wasn't just that O'Neill was impolitic, they say; his statements had real consequences—roiling currency markets and Wall Street. What O'Neill would call rigor, Bush officials say, was an excessive fussiness that led to policy gridlock and sniping within the economic team.
O'Neill says he hopes that straight talk about the broken decision-making process in the White House will highlight the larger political and ideological warfare that has gripped Washington and kept good ideas from becoming law. Perhaps naively or arrogantly, or both, he even believes it may help change the climate. Ask him what he hopes the book will accomplish, and he will talk about Social Security reform in earnest tones: tough choices won't be made in Washington so long as it shuns honest dialogue, bipartisanship and intellectual thoroughness. O'Neill may not have been cut out for this town, but give him this: he does exhibit the sobriety and devotion to ideas that are supposed to be in vogue in the postironic, post- 9/11 age.
Loyalty is perhaps the most prized quality in the White House. In the book, O'Neill suggests a very dark understanding of what happens to those who don't show it. "These people are nasty and they have a long memory," he tells Suskind. But he also believes that by speaking out even in the face of inevitable White House wrath, he can demonstrate loyalty to something he prizes: the truth. "Loyalty to a person and whatever they say or do, that's the opposite of real loyalty, which is loyalty based on inquiry, and telling someone what you really think and feel—your best estimation of the truth instead of what they want to hear." That goal is worth the price of retribution, O'Neill says. Plus, as he told Suskind, "I'm an old guy, and I'm rich. And there's nothing they can do to hurt me."
From the Jan. 19, 2004 issue of SLIME magazine
Bush Sought ‘Way’ To Invade Iraq?
Jan. 11, 2004
Et Tu, O'Neill?
Former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill is the main source for an upcoming book about the Bush White House, "The Price of Loyalty." (Photo: CBS)
"From the very beginning, there was a conviction that Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go." Paul O'Neill
O'Neill was fired by the White House a year ago for his disagreement on the president's policy on tax cuts. (Photo: CBS)
(CBS) A year ago, Paul O'Neill was fired from his job as George Bush's Treasury Secretary for disagreeing too many times with the president's policy on tax cuts.
Now, O'Neill - who is known for speaking his mind - talks for the first time about his two years inside the Bush administration. His story is the centerpiece of a new book being published this week about the way the Bush White House is run.
Entitled "The Price of Loyalty," the book by a former Wall Street Journal reporter draws on interviews with high-level officials who gave the author their personal accounts of meetings with the president, their notes and documents.
But the main source of the book was Paul O'Neill. Correspondent Lesley Stahl reports.
Paul O'Neill says he is going public because he thinks the Bush Administration has been too secretive about how decisions have been made.
Will this be seen as a “kiss-and-tell" book?
“I've come to believe that people will say damn near anything, so I'm sure somebody will say all of that and more,” says O’Neill, who was George Bush's top economic policy official.
In the book, O’Neill says that the president did not make decisions in a methodical way: there was no free-flow of ideas or open debate.
At cabinet meetings, he says the president was "like a blind man in a roomful of deaf people. There is no discernible connection," forcing top officials to act "on little more than hunches about what the president might think."
This is what O'Neill says happened at his first hour-long, one-on-one meeting with Mr. Bush: “I went in with a long list of things to talk about, and I thought to engage on and as the book says, I was surprised that it turned out me talking, and the president just listening … As I recall, it was mostly a monologue.”
He also says that President Bush was disengaged, at least on domestic issues, and that disturbed him. And he says that wasn't his experience when he worked as a top official under Presidents Nixon and Ford, or the way he ran things when he was chairman of Alcoa.
O'Neill readily agreed to tell his story to the book's author Ron Suskind – and he adds that he's taking no money for his part in the book.
Suskind says he interviewed hundreds of people for the book – including several cabinet members.
O'Neill is the only one who spoke on the record, but Suskind says that someone high up in the administration – Donald Rumsfeld - warned O’Neill not to do this book.
Was it a warning, or a threat?
“I don't think so. I think it was the White House concerned,” says Suskind. “Understandably, because O'Neill has spent extraordinary amounts of time with the president. They said, ‘This could really be the one moment where things are revealed.’"
Not only did O'Neill give Suskind his time, he gave him 19,000 internal documents.
“Everything's there: Memoranda to the President, handwritten "thank you" notes, 100-page documents. Stuff that's sensitive,” says Suskind, adding that in some cases, it included transcripts of private, high-level National Security Council meetings. “You don’t get higher than that.”
And what happened at President Bush's very first National Security Council meeting is one of O'Neill's most startling revelations.
“From the very beginning, there was a conviction, that Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go,” says O’Neill, who adds that going after Saddam was topic "A" 10 days after the inauguration - eight months before Sept. 11.
“From the very first instance, it was about Iraq. It was about what we can do to change this regime,” says Suskind. “Day one, these things were laid and sealed.”
As treasury secretary, O'Neill was a permanent member of the National Security Council. He says in the book he was surprised at the meeting that questions such as "Why Saddam?" and "Why now?" were never asked.
"It was all about finding a way to do it. That was the tone of it. The president saying ‘Go find me a way to do this,’" says O’Neill. “For me, the notion of pre-emption, that the U.S. has the unilateral right to do whatever we decide to do, is a really huge leap.”
And that came up at this first meeting, says O’Neill, who adds that the discussion of Iraq continued at the next National Security Council meeting two days later.
He got briefing materials under this cover sheet. “There are memos. One of them marked, secret, says, ‘Plan for post-Saddam Iraq,’" adds Suskind, who says that they discussed an occupation of Iraq in January and February of 2001.
Based on his interviews with O'Neill and several other officials at the meetings, Suskind writes that the planning envisioned peacekeeping troops, war crimes tribunals, and even divvying up Iraq's oil wealth.
He obtained one Pentagon document, dated March 5, 2001, and entitled "Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield contracts," which includes a map of potential areas for exploration.
“It talks about contractors around the world from, you know, 30-40 countries. And which ones have what intentions,” says Suskind. “On oil in Iraq.”
During the campaign, candidate Bush had criticized the Clinton-Gore Administration for being too interventionist: "If we don't stop extending our troops all around the world in nation-building missions, then we're going to have a serious problem coming down the road. And I'm going to prevent that."
“The thing that's most surprising, I think, is how emphatically, from the very first, the administration had said ‘X’ during the campaign, but from the first day was often doing ‘Y,’” says Suskind. “Not just saying ‘Y,’ but actively moving toward the opposite of what they had said during the election.”
The president had promised to cut taxes, and he did. Within six months of taking office, he pushed a trillion dollars worth of tax cuts through Congress.
But O'Neill thought it should have been the end. After 9/11 and the war in Afghanistan, the budget deficit was growing. So at a meeting with the vice president after the mid-term elections in 2002, Suskind writes that O'Neill argued against a second round of tax cuts.
“Cheney, at this moment, shows his hand,” says Suskind. “He says, ‘You know, Paul, Reagan proved that deficits don't matter. We won the mid-term elections, this is our due.’ … O'Neill is speechless.”
”It was not just about not wanting the tax cut. It was about how to use the nation's resources to improve the condition of our society,” says O’Neill. “And I thought the weight of working on Social Security and fundamental tax reform was a lot more important than a tax reduction.”
Did he think it was irresponsible? “Well, it's for sure not what I would have done,” says O’Neill.
The former treasury secretary accuses Vice President Dick Cheney of not being an honest broker, but, with a handful of others, part of "a praetorian guard that encircled the president" to block out contrary views. "This is the way Dick likes it," says O’Neill.
Meanwhile, the White House was losing patience with O'Neill. He was becoming known for a series of off-the-cuff remarks his critics called gaffes. One of them sent the dollar into a nosedive and required major damage control.
Twice during stock market meltdowns, O'Neill was not available to the president: He was out of the country - one time on a trip to Africa with the Irish rock star Bono.
“Africa made an enormous splash. It was like a road show,” says Suskind. “He comes back and the president says to him at a meeting, ‘You know, you're getting quite a cult following.’ And it clearly was not a joke. And it was not said in jest.”
Suskind writes that the relationship grew tenser and that the president even took a jab at O'Neill in public, at an economic forum in Texas.
The two men were never close. And O'Neill was not amused when Mr. Bush began calling him "The Big O." He thought the president's habit of giving people nicknames was a form of bullying. Everything came to a head for O'Neill at a November 2002 meeting at the White House of the economic team.
“It's a huge meeting. You got Dick Cheney from the, you know, secure location on the video. The President is there,” says Suskind, who was given a nearly verbatim transcript by someone who attended the meeting.
He says everyone expected Mr. Bush to rubber stamp the plan under discussion: a big new tax cut. But, according to Suskind, the president was perhaps having second thoughts about cutting taxes again, and was uncharacteristically engaged.
“He asks, ‘Haven't we already given money to rich people? This second tax cut's gonna do it again,’” says Suskind.
“He says, ‘Didn’t we already, why are we doing it again?’ Now, his advisers, they say, ‘Well Mr. President, the upper class, they're the entrepreneurs. That's the standard response.’ And the president kind of goes, ‘OK.’ That's their response. And then, he comes back to it again. ‘Well, shouldn't we be giving money to the middle, won't people be able to say, ‘You did it once, and then you did it twice, and what was it good for?’"
But according to the transcript, White House political advisor Karl Rove jumped in.
“Karl Rove is saying to the president, a kind of mantra. ‘Stick to principle. Stick to principle.’ He says it over and over again,” says Suskind. “Don’t waver.”
In the end, the president didn't. And nine days after that meeting in which O'Neill made it clear he could not publicly support another tax cut, the vice president called and asked him to resign.
With the deficit now climbing towards $400 billion, O'Neill maintains he was in the right.
But look at the economy today.
“Yes, well, in the last quarter the growth rate was 8.2 percent. It was terrific,” says O’Neill. “I think the tax cut made a difference. But without the tax cut, we would have had 6 percent real growth, and the prospect of dealing with transformation of Social Security and fundamentally fixing the tax system. And to me, those were compelling competitors for, against more tax cuts.”
While in the book O'Neill comes off as constantly appalled at Mr. Bush, he was surprised when Stahl told him she found his portrait of the president unflattering.
“Hmmm, you really think so,” asks O’Neill, who says he isn’t joking. “Well, I’ll be darned.”
“You're giving me the impression that you're just going to be stunned if they attack you for this book,” says Stahl to O’Neill. “And they're going to say, I predict, you know, it's sour grapes. He's getting back because he was fired.”
“I will be really disappointed if they react that way because I think they'll be hard put to,” says O’Neill.
Is he prepared for it?
“Well, I don't think I need to be because I can't imagine that I'm going to be attacked for telling the truth,” says O’Neill. “Why would I be attacked for telling the truth?”
White House spokesman Scott McClellan was asked about the book on Friday and said "The president is someone that leads and acts decisively on our biggest priorities and that is exactly what he'll continue to do."
J. Hoberman on Cast Away, Village Voice, Dec. 20-26, 2000.
It's perversely appropriate that the holiday season would be marked by not one but two evocations of overwhelming solitude. Robert Zemeckis's Cast Away is an updated Robinson Crusoe in which Tom Hanks plays an excitable Federal Express manager who has just become engaged to America's sweetheart Helen Hunt when he is stranded alone on an uninhabited South Pacific atoll after his company cargo plane goes down in a Christmas Day storm.
Zemeckis's facility at F/X management is a given and the plane's crack-up is impressively visceral—the climax of Titanic compressed into 10 harrowing minutes of plunging vessels and flaming seas. Nor does the pummeling stop once Hanks is washed up on the white-sand beach of his personal Club Med. Island life is a baffling, bloody ordeal complicated by unsmashable coconuts and the bad tooth throbbing in the survivor's head like a time bomb. While Robinson Crusoe was a paean to the practical middle-class virtues that allowed its industrious hero (and the nation he represents) to re-create civilization out of nothingness, Cast Away is a far less triumphalist peek into the nothingness at the heart of civilization.
Fortunately, a few indestructible FedEx boxes wash ashore—one containing an apparently useless volleyball that, as soon as Hanks paints a face on its surface, becomes his combined pal, pet, and pagan idol. In another bit of product placement, Hanks calls the ball by its trade name: Wilson. Although Cast Away is very much Hanks's extreme everyman solo, his inanimate Man Friday deserves recognition as one of the year's best supporting actors. At the very least, Wilson gives the star a pretext for the movie's most emotionally wrenching scene. Alone with this absurd self-projection, Hanks spends four years on his island before building a getaway raft. The shot in which he looks back at his verdant prison, having arduously paddled free into the open ocean, is pure science fiction: He's blasted out into space, accompanied by his sidekick, Wilson.
The raft sequence has intimations of 2001 that don't stop even after Hanks returns to civilization (on a plane of total solitude) to hear how the "FedEx family" lost five of its "sons" and endures a bad-beyond-belief meeting with his dentist. I was amazed at the depth of alienation with which Zemeckis infused these scenes. But as if frightened at having conjured up the least compromising, bleakest vision of the human condition in any Hollywood A-picture since Douglas Sirk's Imitation of Life, Zemeckis casts it away with pumped-up affirmation. God moves in mysterious ways. It's a wonderful life after all.
In like skin
By Juliet Herd, The Australian, 21dec02
RON Mueck is surveying his vast self-portrait, enigmatically entitled Mask II, and finding all manner of fault with it. "I just see all the things that don't look like me," the hyper-realist Australian-born sculptor says mournfully. "The nose is way too short, the face and ears should be longer and there should be more spots."
To the casual observer, the colossal sleeping head – almost 1.2m from chin to brow – could not be more realistic or less kind to its subject, with its rough stubble, nostril and ear hairs, pores and pimples. The slack, slightly open mouth offers a glimpse of teeth, gums and even saliva. Yet Mueck remains far from convinced.
"I feel older than he looks," he insists. "If anything, he doesn't look old or tired enough; he's far too peaceful." The artist may see himself as middle-aged and deeply lined but, in the flesh as opposed to fibreglass resin, he's a youthful 44 with a lean, sensitive face and brutally short haircut.
Since Mueck first burst on to the young British art scene five years ago when his naked, half life-size sculpture of his father, Dead Dad, was one of the hits of the Royal Academy's controversial Sensation exhibition, he has acquired a reputation for being excruciatingly media-shy. Although his natural wariness gives him an air of mystery, an asset in such a highly competitive, image-driven business, it quickly becomes apparent that his shyness is genuine.
He rarely submits to interviews and is coaxed into doing this one only on the pretext of having a brief chat, which turns into an extended discourse on the never-before-seen works he is showing from this month in his first Australian exhibition at Sydney's Museum of Contemporary Art. His discomfort, though, is apparent when the photographer arrives and for a few anxious moments it seems he might bolt from the Anthony d'Offay gallery in central London, where he has been honoured with two solo shows in the past. A compromise is reached: Mueck will continue packing his pieces for shipment to Australia while the photographer snaps away.
Mask II, a new version of the first, glowering Mask self-portrait, will also be making the journey. Making its debut here is the tiny swaddled baby lying on a white plinth on the floor, its head resting on a pillow. The baby, inspired by photos of eastern European infants tightly wrapped in brown blankets and tied with string like little parcels, is part of a body of work created during Mueck's two-year term as artist-in-residence at London's National Gallery.
Other new sculptures include a striking 2.7m tall pregnant woman, eyes downcast, arms crossed above her head and stomach protruding to almost grotesque proportions; a naked man in a salvaged scout's boat, and a small crouching boy in a pair of shorts looking at a mirror. It is a tiny replica of Mueck's gigantic 4.5m Boy sculpture for London's Millennium Dome, which took eight painstaking months to execute and involved intricate work such as individually sanding the acrylic fibre hair to a tapered end for eyebrows and eyelashes. The shorts on both boys were made by Mueck's wife, Cas, a film screenwriter and former costume designer.
His National Gallery brief was to produce sculptures that were "in some way inspired by or connected to the collection". "I didn't want to do anything specific to a particular painting but the mother-and-child theme was one that was widely covered," explains Mueck, who is the father of two teenage daughters. The most graphic rendering of this is his newborn baby nestling, umbilical chord still attached, on its startled mother's stomach.
He has been rather grandly compared with masters such as Vermeer and Hilliard and, according to Newsweek critic Peter Plagens, Mueck can be credited with "redefining realism [by getting] verisimilitude, variation of scale and some kind of psychological insight into realistic sculpture".
"Oh, they can say what they like; it's very flattering and ridiculous," the former Jim Henson puppeteer demurs, giving an embarrassed laugh. "I'm not trying to tell anybody anything. I'm just surprised that a lump of fibreglass can elicit an emotional response."
He's not without detractors, of course, who dismiss him as a "one-hit wonder" and "model maker" in the tradition of Madame Tussaud. And he's not the only sculptor to specialise in super-realism – there's George Segal, John de Andrea and Duane Hanson, whose life-size American tourist figures are often confused with the real thing.
But as Mueck concedes: "A lot of those other sculptors deal less with the emotional side than the physical and, somehow, I don't know why, I do a bit of both." It's the vulnerability of his figures combined with the technical brilliance that elicits such a strong response.
Although he says his figures merely "evolve during sculpting" and it "seems like a fluke when I get it right", Mueck's empathy with the battling human spirit probably owes much to his fairly lonely, self-contained childhood in Melbourne. "I was really self-conscious as a teenager, I wanted to be invisible," he once said.
The son of toymakers – his father made wood carvings and his mother built a cottage industry making rag dolls – he started producing his own Sesame Street-inspired puppets from an early age. After failing to get into art school, he worked as a Myer window-dresser for three years before joining children's television show Shirl's Neighbourhood, where he made and operated puppet animals as a virtual one-man, self-taught band.
Mueck moved to London 20 years ago to work for the Henson empire, first as part of the Sesame Street and Muppet Show puppeteer team, then on the fantasy films Dreamchild and Labyrinth. He established a lucrative career making models for advertisements before influential art collector Charles Saatchi saw a Pinocchio figure he'd sculpted for his mother-in-law, renowned British painter Paula Rego, and promptly commissioned him to make four pieces – one of which was Dead Dad.
"I didn't try to get out of advertising – Charles Saatchi lured me out of it," says Mueck, disclaiming any ambition to become a serious sculptor. "I enjoyed advertising but I used to make things as an antidote to the 2-D advertising models."
Now firmly established, albeit reluctantly, as a YBA (young British artist) with his works featured in museums, national galleries and private collections around the world, Mueck is surprisingly nervous about exhibiting for the first time in his homeland. "I don't even want to think about it," he shudders of his first visit in five years. "I feel like I'm entering another world entirely – I don't know the Australian art scene."
If he'd stayed in Australia, he's not sure he would have been exhibiting on quite the same scale – his Dome Boy featured as the centrepiece at the 2001 Venice Biennale – but believes he would have been sculpting, whether it was "children's toys or garden gnomes".
"I don't know why I'm doing it but I don't know what else I'd be doing," says Mueck. "I'm not driven by art, it's just all I can do."
Ron Mueck Sculpture, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, ends March 2, 2003.
THE ARTS/CULTURAL DESK
ARCHITECTURE REVIEW; A Moon Palace for the Hollywood Dream
By HERBERT MUSCHAMP
LOS ANGELES -- Walt Disney Concert Hall, the new home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, is a French curve in a city of T squares. The T squares are loving it madly. Why shouldn't they? Disney Hall was designed for them. It's a home for everyone who's ever felt like a French curve in a T square world.
Designed by Frank Gehry, the $274 million hall opens on Oct. 23. Esa-Pekka Salonen, the Philharmonic's charismatic young music director, will conduct ''The Rite of Spring.'' Wrong season, right rite: Disney Hall is a riotous rebirth. Not just for downtown Los Angeles, where the building is situated, and not just for the whole sprawling mixed-up La-La. What is being reborn is the idea of the urban center as a democratic institution: a place where voices can be heard.
Disney Hall has at least a dual personality and moods enough to spare. On the outside it is a moon palace, a buoyant composition of silvery reflected light. Inside, the light shifts to gold.
Sitting atop the downtown Bunker Hill district, Disney Hall is the most gallant building you are ever likely to see. And it will be opening its doors to everyone who has fought for the chance to be generous, to others and to themselves.
From some approaches Disney Hall first appears as a luminous crescent hovering between skyscrapers. The light playing off its surface is uncanny, though we have often been in its presence. It is the light of the silver screen and of the round reflectors used on photo and video locations: the light of the Hollywood dream.
Now imagine a moon apple: a hollow sphere of lunar light. Somebody hands you a knife and says, ''Cut!'' How many shapes can you make? Peel a ribbon. Carve out squares of curving surfaces, concave and convex. Change the dimensions. Turn some slices inside out. Tweak. Stretch. When you're done, compose the pieces into a flowering cabbage. Then into a cabbage rose. Rearrange. Magnify. Reproduce the contours with large panels of stainless steel etched to a soft matte finish. Jump in and soar.
The technique is Cubist. No seamless image reveals the whole. Disney Hall must be assembled within the mind piece by piece as you approach and walk around it. A Surrealist ethos also suffuses the design: the imagineering impulse of Disney as well as of Magritte. Pumpkin into carriage, cabbage into concert hall, bippidi-bobbidi-boo.
Though the forms are abstract, fleeting images can be glimpsed in them. Drive-in movie screens. The curving edge of a bass cello. A ship's prow. Sails. The Rust Belt before the rust. If you're unwilling to mix your metaphors, you've come to the wrong place.
These elusive, mutable images heighten the perception that a metamorphosis is in process. And they convey the idea that change is as much the product of the viewer's imagination as it is of a designers.
A wall of glass is recessed beneath the steel flower on the Grand Avenue side of the building. The hall is entered here, through doors that can be lifted to create a nearly seamless continuity between inside and out. Even from outside, you can see that the interior design shifts to a different key. Stylized trees, recalling Gothic buttresses, can be glimpsed through the glass. The squared-off trunks and branches are clad with naturally finished Douglas fir, as are most of the interior surfaces. The warm wood reads as a modern version of gold.
Serpentine lobbies surround the auditorium, which is set diagonally to the building site. The adjustment is initially disorienting, but you won't get lost if you let your intuition lead the way. That is the way to go anyhow inside Disney Hall. Ahead lies a gathering of hunches: let's try it this way. No, maybe this way. Make up your mind! I don't want to.
The design of the auditorium started out Hans Scharoun's way. Scharoun's Berlin Philharmonic Hall (1963), gave Mr. Gehry and Mr. Salonen the idea of presenting the orchestra in the round. The elimination of the proscenium arch fuses musicians and listeners into a single spatial event.
But the stage has not been lost. The entire room has become a stage. This impression is due in large part to the billowing wood of the hall's ceiling. The billows evoke the swags of an opera house curtain, perpetually going up.
There are 2,265 seats. These are arranged on steeply raked terraces around the semicircular stage. Natural light filters into the hall through skylights concealed at the four corners. This celestial effect is baroque, as is the barely contained commotion of a pipe organ that faces the conductor's podium on the far side of the orchestra. The splayed pipes of this focal point bring to mind the bursting gilded rays of an altar piece by Bernini.
Yasuhisa Toyota and Minoru Nagata are the hall's acoustical engineers. Custom dictates that the architectural design of a new concert hall be reviewed separately from its acoustical performance. Yet after listening to music in the golden hall, I am unable to oblige. A recent rehearsal of Mozart's 32nd Symphony nearly brought on an attack of Stendhal's syndrome, the notoriously romantic state of panic induced by aesthetic ecstasy. Audience, music, architecture were infused by a sensation of unity so profound that time stopped.
Those immune to the power of metaphor sometimes scoff at the idea that Mr. Gehry's architecture is democratic. That idea is affirmed here by the materials, the multiple perspectives the design encourages, and above all by the organization of the seats.
When I saw the models of the final design, I remember thinking that the seats on the top row of the house looked a bit sad. There are only a few, widely spaced: they appear exposed. But when I finally got to sit in one, I felt downright special. Seeing those seats from a distance is also a pleasure, because the people sitting in them register as individuals, just as the musicians do. The audience feels less like a mass, more like a diverse assembly. The hall is full of such reminders that architecture is a philosophy of urban life.
Metamorphosis happens, and not only in Walt Disney's classic films. Cities do it all the time. Los Angeles has done it now. The building pulls together the strands of many individual stories and creates an extraordinarily gallant setting in which they can be screened.
An urban metamorphosis is a victory for the inner life. Charles Garnier understood this when designing the Paris Opera, completed in 1874. The building itself was not the star attraction. The main event was the relationship between the stage and Baron Georges Eugène Haussmann's Paris. Figurative paintings and sculptures, the choice of colors, the progression of theatrical spaces from the boulevard to the proscenium arch: by means of such devices, Garnier translated the vernacular of the streets into an inner, psychological space. The result (to borrow Christopher Curtis Mead's term from his 1991 book on Garnier) was an ''architecture of empathy.'' Artists and audiences were brought together.
Radically different forms can produce startlingly similar effects. Mr. Gehry's design also embodies an empathic approach. Los Angeles has its own vernacular traditions. Above all the city has an ethos, to which Mr. Gehry's buildings have been giving shape for many years.
If you want to make unity out of the city's architecture, you must get in the car and zigzag around town, turning the windshield this way and that, as if it were a lens, piling image next to image like a David Hockney photomontage. En route you will learn everything it takes to apprehend a Cubist building, perhaps even to design one.
You don't need an architecture critic to tell you how beautifully this desert garden is ruled by Surreal juxtaposition. But let me point you toward a fine example of it as an ideal approach to Disney Hall: the fabulous Bunker Hill Steps.
Designed by Lawrence Halprin and completed in 1990, this local landmark ascends 103 steps from the street opposite the downtown Central Library to the top of Bunker Hill. Flanking the grand flight is a set of up and down escalators; down the center, water cascades over rocks.
Because of its height and the baroque curves of its treads, it is often compared to the Spanish Steps in Rome. Usually the comparison is accompanied by snickers. In truth the stairs are a comic piece of infrastructure: the baroque and the mechanized side by side; cold canyon corporate architecture with Mediterranean splash. But thanks to Disney Hall, Halprin's staircase has surpassed the Spanish Steps in cultural substance. The ascent now moves toward an emotional climax. Each skyscraper, plaza and skywalk is a step on the way to one civilizing thought: To speak is human, but to listen is divine.
Published: 10 - 23 - 2003 , Late Edition - Final , Section E , Column 3 , Page 1