Spinoza, Rembrandt and the Dutch Enlightenment in Amsterdam at the Rijks, and Multatuli in its Wake

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I am writing something and these are my initial thoughts

Westermoskee

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The Westermoskee – in Turkish Ayasofya Camii, and English, the Western Mosque – is a blissfully serene, Ottoman-form mosque built in a Neo-Classical style along the canal Schinkel in the Schaasebuurt in De Baarsjes in Amsterdam West – a calm, quiet neighborhood.

Wiki tells us: the building was designed by French traditional architects Marc and Nada Breitman, winners of the 2018 Driehaus Prize and part of the New Classical movement.

Construction started in 2013. the building was completed in 2015, and the mosque unofficially opened in Spring of 2016. It is the largest mosque in the Netherlands. Features of the Ottoman style are the single minaret and large Ottoman styled main dome.

MOCO Amsterdam’s Listicle Curation: Kusama, Warhol, Banksy & Contemporary ‘Masters’ – plus Studio Irma Digital Immersion ‘like the one in Barcelona’

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It was like walking into a university show in Soho in the ’90’s – Kusama, Warhol, Haring, Basquiat, Koons and Hirst – then suddenly it was like street stuff from the aughts: banksy, Stik, Invader.

Then Hayden Kays and KAWS and Takashi Murakami and Abloh is how it morphed into stuff I had only seen over the last five years because Google throws it up on my projector on heavy rotation ad nauseum thousands of miles from here – like Dream. (to old heads, I say big ups to Oaktown DREAM, rest in power). Then there was a Hirst and a Koons and a Warhol and a sweet roomful of Yayoi Kusama.

Moco Amsterdam is housed in the Villa Alsberg, a townhouse overlooking Museumplein in the heart of Amsterdam (between the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum). The building was designed in 1904 by Eduard Cuypers, nephew of Pierre Cuypers, designer of Amsterdam Central Station and the Rijksmuseum.

It is a good collection of very specifically well-known contemporary art, linked only by their pop. They don’t hide it, Moco calls itself a “boutique museum.” They have a second location in Barcelona. I heard the immersive digital art installation by Studio Irma was the same there.

What is this show exactly? I found out about it from posters slapped around town:

Wait – what? I was standing there in the street thinking that looks like clickbait for a museum exhibition produced by the marketing department. Here’s 4k video of my visit to Moco Amsterdam … check it:

Moco’s building was a privately-owned residence and one of the first family homes built along Museumplein. It was inhabited until 1939. Then, the house was let to priests who taught at the Saint Nicolas School in Amsterdam. Later it was converted into an office for a law firm.

Moco took over the Villa Alsberg and opened the museum in 2016, a traditional Amsterdam townhome on the museumplein, converted into a walk-through collection. But it is densely packed with the art and difficult to navigate when crowded. I was here on a rainy Thursday and it was claustrophobic. They should show less and allow for more space before the art.

Some artists received better purchase, weirdly (read: banksy). The one Warhol inclusion was pretty cool – diamond dust. Kusama is boss. Banksy’s tenner is great. The sculptures in the garden by Marcel Wander were precious. Studio Irma’s digital immersive art was low-tech, high-concept and cool. But it’s a densely installed collection. It was difficult to appreciate a large canvas by Hayden Kays, mounted in a small room. The Harings were also installed in a small square room, jammed with people. It was awkward.

Koons and Hirst were kind of just stuck in the hallways. Rooms were grouped loosely by era, but not distinctly so. They had these vague categories – Modern Masters, Contemporary Masters. It may have been an attempt to contrast-gain through equanimity but the install just felt crammed and poorly considered.

Prints were indicated to have been authenticated by the artists. The provenance for the Invader piece was credited to Jared Leto. Things that were new to me that I enjoyed were the playful works of Marcel Wander, the digital immersive stuff by Studio Irma and the large canvases (panels?) by The Kid.

The Kid, a contemporary painter using oils to create large photocollage-style paintings, had exquisite technique, though the work was conceptually immature. I wondered if there were painters in this land that spawned Rembrandt, Hals and Hooch and Vermeer and Van Gogh – and if so, what were they into? As a young artist, The Kid is into deeply personal concerns at the moment, but he will be good to watch evolve as a painter. I admired his use of pseudonym and rejection of nation-state in the establishment of his identity. Smart kid.

Ultimately, though, the artists were equalized in the hyper-capitalized gift shop that was tragically post-ironic: Campbell Soup Can skate decks beside decks that had banksy’s girl and balloon – where’s that dough going? Basquiat crowns as lapel pins. Is the Basquiat Estate or somebody who owns some weird rights making money here? on hundreds of euros worth of cheap, chinese-made kitschy derivative chunks of plastic? Is this a non-fungible token (NFT) emerging into totally fungible bullshit (TFB) in the museum culture?

Sure enough, the exibit includes NFT: The New Future, which they claim is, “Europe’s first dedicated exhibition space to the NFT phenomenon.” Beeple. It feels half baked. Exhibition spaces for non-fungible things.

Your ticket comes with a free gift from the museum and a discount for the gift shop. The shop was cringe. There were totes and hats and pins and cards and posters, lots of pink and the generalized motto of the museum: In Art We Trust. I mean. Look, it was a decent show or a weird collection of highly successful names in art since like 1990, in a house, but … what is this?

The curatorial sense here seems to be: throw as many recognizable names up as possible to herd in the stoned masses visiting the museumplein. Oh, and cater to the ever-increasing LGBTQ+ tourism euro, by featuring gay cultural icons and the color pink. This show wasn’t so much curated as listicled. Superficial.

By my observation, the corporate partners of high-profile museums in city centers of the colonial era are amidst a reformation, post-George Floyd – a Black Lives Matter effect is international. Woke culture expects more. Millennials are uninterested in the old narratives. Moco seems to seek to fill a void in perspective over traditional museums – that of street art and free expression. But superficial listicle curation for tourist-culture, and capitalist reduction of profound cultural expression, is gauche.

Moco resides somewhere between traditional museum culture and the modern art marketplace. It’s like a brick and mortar pop magazine on the museumplein.

from Amsterdam, I’m

M.T. Karthik

Over Millennia Heen, Google Translation of an MTK Essay

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Original English 2020, Google Translated to Dutch and Posted today, 2022

17 januari 2020

De machines namen op subtiele wijze de controle over de tijd over van de mensheid en bijna niemand merkte het op.

Deze tientallige cultus van decennia, eeuwen en millennia veroverde de hele cultuur in een tijdsbestek van vijfentwintig jaar en werd het eerste salvo van de machines, met als hoogtepunt de overeenkomst tussen hen die bekend staat als 2000.

Ik ben geboren in een continue en oude cultuur , ongebonden aan dergelijke beperkingen, die tot intellectuele, filosofische, culturele en artistieke hoogten stegen. We vonden schaken uit en een concept van nul en vele andere filosofieën die zich in jullie (met terugwerkende kracht genoemde) eerste millennium vanuit de boezem van ons land naar buiten over de continenten verspreidden.

Totdat we op brute wijze werden onderbroken door de Europeanen in hun woeste eeuwen – van het gebruik van schepen om overal te reizen en iedereen te onderwerpen in naam van een ‘beschaving’ die we vonden en nog steeds vinden als invasief, lomp, fysiek, brutaal, kortzichtig, arrogant en onwetend.

Ze leerden wat ze wilden leren, waar ze baat bij hadden, maar snel … verdienen).

Dus ja, plotseling, precies in het midden van hun tweede millennium, gedurende vijf eeuwen, voerden ze deze wrede, onmenselijke, racistische projectie op de wereld uit, met als hoogtepunt landroof van continentale omvang dat probeerde honderden naties van miljoenen mensen te genocide, die ze ten onrechte indianen en zwarten noemden.

We keken naar dit alles vanaf de andere kant van de wereld, waar ook wij gedwongen werden de aanval van de Europeanen op te vangen, voornamelijk de Britten. Ook wij ervoeren toen de God-complexe en sluwe manipulaties die ze gebruikten om zichzelf te verheffen en ons tot onderwerping te buigen.

Dus, net toen hun tweede millennium ten einde liep en hun filosofie een zogenaamd postkoloniaal tijdperk schonk, behoren ook wij tot de honderden miljoenen die het juk van hun onderwerping van zich afschudden.

Mijn bestaan ​​strekt zich uit over millennia.

En ik weet niet wanneer je leeft, maar we worden nu dagelijks wakker om na te denken over de mogelijkheid van onze volledige en totale uitroeiing, niet noodzakelijkerwijs door toedoen van gewelddadige mensen, maar misschien als gevolg van wat de Europeanen in het halve millennium heeft gewerkt, in voor- en tegenspoed. Ze bouwen, beschermen en verzekeren hun clubhuis gebouwd van racistische sociale waarheden voor de 1%.

Hun afweer en onzekerheid in het langzame besef van hun tekortkomingen, verlamt ons, terwijl we proberen het langzame, eeuwenoude werk te doen … van het kalmeren, zelfs kalmeren van de oorlogszuchtige aard die zo snel opduikt in het gegrom.

Het wekt flitsende woede en gewelddadige explosies op die verwoestende gevolgen hebben voor honderdduizenden families en onschuldigen.

Het handhaaft blanke suprematie en raciale dominantie. Het gaat door en verergert verraderlijk door luid en op enorm internationaal volume degenen te promoten die voortdurend hun verhaal vertellen, met als hoogtepunt de lelijke rauwe kapitalistische boer die Trump is – een PT Barnum in het Witte Huis die denkt dat hij God is.

(beats)

Het legt degenen die parallelle geschiedenis vertellen stilletjes het zwijgen op – door ze te verwijderen uit de formele digitale basis-tien op het internet tussen de opgeslagen gegevens. En maakt ze impopulair door ze te overstemmen en op alle andere manieren die nodig zijn. Facebook is hiervoor de perfecte machine.

Dit betekent, in sommige gevallen, de waarheid op alle mogelijke manieren impopulair maken en de echte waarheid op alle mogelijke manieren vervangen door een sociale waarheid.

Ze hebben nog niet volledig ingezien dat wat ze hebben gedaan verkeerd was, ze verontschuldigden zich niet, toonden geen berouw, vroegen niet oprechte vergeving en probeerden niet te herstellen wat was.

In plaats daarvan hebben ze hun eigen geschiedenis gecreëerd die deze millennia labelt, de kalender vaststelt en wanneer de dag begint en eindigt en globalistische termen gebruikt voor woeste kapitalistische engagementen, waarin geld de almachtige is en oorlog om hulpbronnen eeuwigdurend is. Ze roepen zichzelf uit tot overwinnaars van deze continentale landroof en eeuwenlang slavenbezit.

Op de klok waaronder we leven aan het begin van hun derde millennium, drijven ze de motor van onze wereld waanzinnig vooruit in een steeds onhoudbaarder tempo.

Mijn naam is Karthik en ik ben een mens, geboren in Tamil Nadu, India, en de afgelopen 50 jaar opgegroeid in de Verenigde Staten van Amerika. Ik ben goed opgeleid en lees dagelijks een grote hoeveelheid contemporaine informatie en gegevens over onze tijd. Ik ben werkloos en gescheiden van alle ideologieën.

Ik verkoop niets en ik ben niet op zoek naar een baan.

Ik probeer alleen maar te communiceren hoe misselijk en beschaamd ik ben door de VS. En om je te smeken om te stoppen. Koppel los. Vertragen. Ga terug naar wie je werkelijk bent. Je bent verdwaald en rent in een razend tempo.

Als je verdwaald bent, ren dan niet in een razend tempo. 

Hou op.

Rustig aan.

Verzamel gegevens en evalueer de huidige situatie, wat er feitelijk voor u ligt.

Organiseer en herschik uw prioriteiten naar de onmiddellijke.

Time Traveling ’22 with MTK – edition two: Octobers

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It’s Time Trav number two!

This is the second of a series of posts entitled Time Travel in ’22 with MTK (categorized 22TimeTrav) in which I link back to the archive to posts from on or around today’s date. Meta. In this case it’s links from the month of October over the last 38 years.

IN THIS MONTH, OCTOBER …

38 Years Ago … at twilight, I took this picture with 35mm film of Matt Sherwood and John Gentz

28 years ago … Kenny Trice took this picture of me having a cigar on Ocean Beach

27 years ago … I wrote a poem entitled “Memorandum” – (really liked this one, think stylistically it was ahead of its time)

26 years ago … wrote more poetry in my journals

25 years ago … wrote my first koan. And a short story called, “We,” – the editors of The New Yorker hand-wrote a rejection on one of their cards that read, “this is more like one we’d publish,” or something like that. Was thrilled to receive that, I remember

24 years ago … MY THIRD NOVEL! “Karna’s Conflict,” was completed. Originally typewritten in three days, this unappreciated gem was posted online before and during the Millennium

23 years ago … wore a shirt that read “Fuck Rudy,” to the Sensation exhibit at Brooklyn Museum of Art, when Mayor Rudolph Giuliani tried to censor it

20 years ago … produced this music video with Frank Sosa using footage by A.P. Ferrara from the massive protest against war as a reaction to 9/11 that was held in Washington, D.C.

19 years ago … I covered the Recall Election that installed Arnold Schwarzenegger Governor of California for Pacifica Radio and BBC drive time radio in the UK

17 years ago … completed the artist’s book, dereliction, which now resides in the permanent collection at Stanford. I was very proud of that one. Hello, Stanford? Get in touch.

15 years ago … recorded the sound of an F/A 18 Jet as it screamed over my head during Fleet Week in San Francisco

14 years ago … finished a short story  I had been working on for the previous seven years, entitled: “Before You Came.”

13 years ago … attended Steph Curry’s first game and filmed it with digital camera!

12 years ago … The Giants won the pennant and I was with the fans at the yard

11 years ago … ended my campaign for Mayor of San Francisco

10 years ago … the Giants won the world series again

8 years ago … they did it again


5 years ago … reviewed “Manhattan Beach,” by Jennifer Egan

There you go: thirty-eight years of Octobers in:

San Antonio, New York, Brooklyn, Los Angeles, Oakland and San Francisco.

I never sought recognition or made much of an effort to promote myself. That’s why I put everything here. I still seek help to publish and produce both work from the past and current work and am, as always, open to proper collaboration that could get me wider reach, without compromising the identity I have worked so hard to maintain.

Best,

mtk

Quit Social Media, Think Critically and I’ll Try to Help With Side Discourse

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I covered a lot of elections during the dawn of this century. Then I stopped and unplugged from it all, and, instead of journalism, I turned to ten years of helping raise my child, making art, writing poetry and prosaic thoughts and, finally, helping my father transition from this world.

I used only WordPress blogs and Youtube channels and Twitter – but not Facebook, nor by extension Instagram, because from the beginning I despised Mark Zuckerberg and his bullshit machine and saw it for what it was – a Fuckerberg. It’s why you won’t see me in the metaverse.

For reference, back in ’20, I described myself in that context.

MTK Riffs Upper Manhattan in Winter

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This post is like a Table of Contents. It’s a meta-post of links to photojournalistic blogposts of my trip to New York six months ago, amidst the Omicron wave of Covid in Manhattan, for five days in late January. The links are in chronological order, and refer back progressively, like chapters about my trip.

Wednesday

I was able to film as we approached on the afternoon of January 19th, flying into New York City.

landing at La Guardia on a clear, sunny day.

Later that night I took Tom to the Metropolitan Opera to see Quinn Kelsey perform Rigoletto.

Thursday

The next morning it dropped thirty degrees and snowed. I spent two hours at the Museum of Modern Art catching the last days of exhibitions of work by Joseph E. Yoakum, Sophie Teauber-Arp and others.

The streets were weirdly quiet and absent of crowds – like I have never seen Manhattan before, even in the heart of winter. New York was dead.

sparsely populated Manhattan streets

That afternoon and evening I hung out at Summit One Vanderbilt, which was exceptional. Because I purchased the afternoon Premium ticket, the sunset ticket, with access to the elevator to the summit, I was able to hang out in the bar all evening, where I was joined in conversation and fun by rotating groups of tourists (wonderful conversations atop Manhattan), and the elevator to the highest viewpoint was amazing.

view from the bar atop One Vanderbilt

Friday

… was in the 30’s.

I hit the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see Surrealism Beyond Borders, which surprised me.

Saturday

had a perfect breakfast sandwich at Chez Nick in Yorkville, a place to which I returned – delicious spot over there. It was the week that people were putting their Christmas trees out for pick up. Many people and hotels instead, turned them into decorative features in front of their buildings.

Xmas tree dumping week.

Sunday

January 23rd was my chance by appointment only to catch the last days of the chronological exhibition on the ramps of the Guggenheim, Kandinsky at the Gugg. That was, quite frankly, an excellent exhibition.

Five days in Manhattan: Opera. Museums. Observation Bar. Streets. and tossed out Xmas trees – Lakshmi-auntie would approve.

That’s for New York.

Love,

mtk

Time Travel in ’22 with MTK – edition one

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This site is a treasure trove of memories. I created it when I was 40, updated it when I was 50, and now at 55, I am blogging here contemporaneously. Today begins a series of posts entitled Time Travel in ’22 with MTK (categorized 22TimeTrav) in which we link back to the archive to posts that are on or around today’s date.

ON THIS DAY I …

30 Years Ago … photographed families on two-wheelers in Taiwan.

25 Years Ago … mailed a ‘letter to the editor’ of The New Yorker magazine.

17 Years Ago … recorded cicadas in Kamakura, Japan.

12 Years Ago … wrote the very first post for Giants Baseball Corner, entitled, “Eleven to Eleven in the bottom of the Eleventh,” it’s a perfect memory.

10 Years Ago … took a photo of summer flora in Oakland.

8 Years Ago … wrote about my concerns for the Buddy Calk Trailhead of the Leon Creek Waterway in San Antonio, Texas.

5 Years Ago … wrapped up Giants Baseball Corner, it went on hiatus for three years, and wrote an explanatory post about what you could find here, since that was the year I added all the other stuff.

There you go: thirty years of August tenthishness in:

Taiwan, NYC, Japan, San Francisco, Oakland and San Antonio.

with love from,

M.T. Karthik

Space and Time Traveller

Kandinsky at the Gugg, Sunday Morning

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The installation Vasily Kandinsky Around the Circle, at the Guggenheim, curated by Megan Fontanella, opened in October and was closing in February, so I added it to my agenda for Sunday morning, my last in town.

The installation website has excellent details about the curatorial decision making. Kandinsky, a complicated figure, is here sensitively exposed. In this exhibition, Kandinsky’s work unfolds in reverse chronological order, starting with his late-life paintings and proceeding upward along the Guggenheim’s spiral ramp.

Kandinsky round the ramps

I had read Peter Schjeldahl’s piece, Choose Your Own Kandinsky Adventure at the Guggenheim, in the November 8, 2021, issue of The New Yorker. Schjeldahl begins:

“Choose a direction for your perusal of “Vasily Kandinsky: Around the Circle,” a retrospective that lines the upper three-fifths of the Guggenheim Museum’s ramp with some eighty paintings, drawings, and woodcuts by the Russian hierophant of abstraction, who died in France in 1944, at the age of seventy-seven. The show’s curator, Megan Fontanella, recommends starting at the bottom, with the overwrought works of the artist’s final phase, and proceeding upward, back to the simpler Expressionist landscapes and horsemen of his early career. This course is canny in terms of your enjoyment, which increases as you go.” 

And, given the way the last year and a half had been, I decided to start at the bottom and go up, in reverse chrono, for the canny enjoyment, rather than the decay into madness.

I had, again, scheduled the earliest appointment of Sunday morning. In this instance, I was walking directly from Chez Nick, so arrived early and was first in line, masked and with my vaccination card and i.d.

I have a series of works that relate to reincarnation. I make copies of, or represent works made by artists I respect who died the year I was born. One of these is a rubber stamp print of Magritte’s Labors of Alexander, his last drawing – which became a three-dimensional sculpture. I had prints and was giving them away and leaving them all about town, especially around the Surrealism show.

Standing in line at the Gugg behind me were a young man from France and his parents. The young man lived in New York and his parents were visiting. We spoke French as I welcomed them and we waited. I gave them a Magritte print and explained my interest in reproducing works by people who died the year I was born. The father was skeptical. The mother only asked, “Who else do you do this with?” I only smiled enigmatically to express I had said too much already and they let us in.

Schjeldahl was right, it would have been totally different coming down from up. But this was a comprehensive exhibition of one of the most remarkable minds of the 20th century, either way.

Fragments, 1943
Vertical Accents, 1942
Around the Circle, May – August, 1940
Little Accents, 1940
Yellow Painting, 1938
Green Circle, 1935
Striped, November 1934
Decisive Rose, 1932
Several Circles, 1926
Composition VIII, 1923
Blue Segment, 1921
Landscape with Factory Chimney, 1910
Landscape near Murnau w Locomotive, 1909

Surrealism Beyond Borders at The Met, Friday

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Everybody in my generation remembers chapter ten of the late great Greil Marcus’ book, Lipstick Traces, which came out my senior year of university (1989). Chapter ten dealt with the birth of the situationists, via the Easter Sunday performance at Notre Dame in 1950. Marcus wrote that the Surrealists, then ensconced figures in the art world in Europe and New York, claimed the act as that of their protégés, while the artists themselves rejected the notion. Surrealism was over.

The distinction between the situationists and the Surrealists and Dada was for us, an awesome thing to consider that way. The grandparents crowed about them and they rejected their successful grandparents. As a result of being educated from that perspective – a college kid looking at the 1950’s and learning from Marcus how this was a part of the birth of punk – my perception of Surrealism was, if not tainted, at least given greater contrast.

A bunch of us 20-year-olds in the early 90’s became fascinated by the situationists and DeBord. We were watching as they built the cities into grand stages for the Spectacle all throughout that decade. The Millennium was the Spectacle. Until it was 9/11. Everything DeBord foresaw was right in front of us. They even pulled down a few.

<<Flash Forward to 2022>> 

If you want to call Booklyn, a fine arts collective dedicated to book arts, you dial my first number in New York. I was romantic about DeBord back then and so refused traditional entry into the group (or any group), but participated in its birth and establishment in Brooklyn in its early days. Booklyn is why many artists I know are in important collections around the country and the world. The collaboration was good and became incredibly important after September eleventh.

I called Booklyn when I dropped in to NYC and Marshall Weber called me back promptly. He chastised me for coming to town to support businesses that Booklyn would be protesting. He included the MOMA and the Met and the Opera. I didn’t bother to mention I was going to the Gugg the next day.

It is to say, the Metropolitan and MOMA have a labor problem. They have a diversity problem. They have a problem reframing the collections in the era of Black Lives Matter and MeToo and LGBTQ+ rights.

The Joseph E. Yoakum retrospective at MOMA I attended the day before and the Surrealism Beyond Borders exhibition I would be attending today were trying to address the issue: the Yoakum show was directly engaging a Black artist and the Metropolitan’s Surrealism Beyond Borders attempted to show how Surrealism was embraced by diverse groups of people around the world in various states of revolution. It sought to internationalize and radicalize visitors’ perception of Surrealism. It was closing at the end of the month. I went.

Armoire Surrealiste, Marcel Jean, (1941)

Sidenote: Again, I had to schedule a time for my visit as the museum attempted to encourage social distancing by timing the number of entrants. The temperature was in the 30’s and I was fully bundled up.

bundled up for freezing temps

Only trouble is there was no coat check! Yet another victim of the pandemic was a coat check for all your winter gear when visiting the museums. It was hot inside and we visitors all had to lug all this winter gear around, ha!

Of particular interest to me was the area dedicated to Black Surrealists. I did not know how deeply Aime Cesaire had embraced Surrealism. Originals of his journal Tropiques (1941)

and Retorno al Pais Natal were a thrill to see.

The influence of Surrealism was apparent.

a quote from Suzanne Cesaire summarizes the cross-pollination

was also very deeply touched by this portrait of Charlie Parker by Black Canadian-American Surrealist Ted Joans, entitled Bird Lives! (1968)

But there was so much more from around the world. This shocking work, entitled Tagliche Drangsale (Daily Torments) by the oft-forgotten German Surrealist painter Richard Oelze (1900 – 1980), was painted a year after the National Socialists assumed power in Germany, (1934)

There was this brilliant Giacometti

Cage (1930-31), Alberto Giacometti

Alexander “Skunder” Boghossian was an Ethiopian-Armenian painter and art teacher. He spent much of his life living and working in the United States. He was one of the first, and by far the most acclaimed, contemporary Black artists from the African continent to gain international attention. Here’s his Night Flight of Dread and Delight, Skundar Boghossian, (1964).

The Southern California artist, Helen Lundeberg, often credited for movement to Post-Surrealist work, was represented here in a Surrealist painting – Plant and Animal Analogies, (1934 -35).

And an early Surrealist work by the American painter, printmaker, sculptor and writer, Dorothea Tanning – Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, (1943).

Roger Penrose was included with this sculpture, entitled The Last Voyage of Captain Cook, (1936-7)

It was my first time seeing the Exquisite Corpse in person.

Cadavre Exquis: Figure,  Andre Breton, et al (1928)

And this great Magritte, I was born the year he died, you know.

La Duree Poignarde (Time Transfixed), Rene Magritte (1938)

And one of my all-time favorites

Umi (the Sea), Koga Harue, (1929)

Salvador Dali’s Lobster telephone

Telephone homard (Lobster Telephone), Salvador Dali from (1938)

There was much more to consider in the exhibition, website here.

But one piece stood out amongst the many I saw in my first visit to museums since the coronavirus pandemic struck. It was an obscure sculpture made of nails and sponge by French artist Joyce Mansour and it was entitled Objet Mechant, which means Nasty Object. It looks shockingly like the nastiest respiratory virus in human history. Yet it was made 50 years before Covid-19 struck.

Untitled (Objet mechant) (Nasty Object), Joyce Mansour (1965 – 69)

Pretty good exhibition. so says I.

Summit One Vanderbilt, Thursday Afternoon

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In the summer of 1997, I went as high up as I’ve ever been in a building in Manhattan, 1500 feet, to see “Little” Louie Vega, the DJ and producer, play his weekly Wednesday night set at Windows on the World in World Trade Center One, the North Tower. The city glittered below us as the bumping bass thumped the glass windows. Four years later they fell.

It wasn’t PTSD or fear of heights or anything like that, I just hadn’t been up high over Manhattan again. I didn’t ever visit the new observation deck of the Empire State, at around 1200′ or the so-called Freedom Tower – I just never prioritized it when was in town. So when I read about Summit One Vanderbilt, that opened in December of 2021, I was excited to check it out. It had only been open a month when I arrived.

One Vanderbilt is a 93-story skyscraper at the corner of 42nd Street and Vanderbilt Avenue in Midtown. Designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox, the building was proposed by developer SL Green Realty as part of a planned Midtown East rezoning in the early 2010s. The skyscraper’s roof is 1,301 feet (397 m) high and its spire is 1,401 feet (427 m) above ground, making it the city’s fourth-tallest building after One World Trade Center, Central Park Tower, and 111 West 57th Street.

some stills

I bought a ticket for the Thursday afternoon timeslot, which would allow views not only of sunset, but of the city at night. While it had snowed earlier in the day, the snow had stopped, the sun was out and the temperature had risen to the lower 30’s. But way up at the top of Summit One V, there was snow!

snow at 1200′

Here’s a video of my experience up until sunset:

And some stills from the evening :

Joseph E. Yoakum and Sophie Taeuber-Arp at MOMA, Thursday Morning

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When I awoke on Thursday the 20th of January of this year, the temperature in the city had dropped thirty degrees from the previous afternoon when I arrived. It was 14°F and snowing. It would be my first day walking around in Manhattan. I wasn’t ready for twenty blocks in that. It’d warm up later, but to make my museum time I’d have to take a cab.

Protocols of the pandemic required me to buy tickets not only to attend the opera, but the museums as well. A week earlier, I had made the first available appointment at MOMA, set for 10am, expressly to see the last week of the Joseph E. Yoakum retrospective exhibition.

The thinking was to let small groups in, separated by twenty or thirty minutes to reduce crowding and encourage social distancing. We were all masked, vaccinated and boosted, also by protocol. All visitors had to make appointments and book time slots.

My cabbie, Abdullah, turned down WBAI on the radio to talk about how things are in Manhattan, now. Of course he didn’t live in Manhattan, he couldn’t afford it. It was becoming not even worth it to come to town because nobody was around to flag cabs.

He told me he sees no one in the streets except cabbies and delivery drivers or riders. He said nobody goes outside – they ordered everything to come to them. It had been like that for more than a year.  “You have to be a millionaire to live in the city. It’s a city only for the rich,” he said, “We used to call Fifth Avenue Millionaire’s Row, now we have Billionaire’s Row.”

Abdullah was referring to the new skyscrapers at the southern end of Central Park, like Steinway Tower, 11 West 57th, on the most expensive street in the world. When you consider the building’s height-to-width ratio, it’s the world’s skinniest skyscraper. The 1,428-foot tower is 24 times as tall as it is wide, with only one residence on each floor.

I saw the Billionaires Row skyscrapers briefly from the plane, but the skinny skyscrapers were, in fact, a little difficult to spot from street level.

Later in the day I’d be seeing them again from above. I had booked the sunset premiere ticket to see the new gallery of windows and mirrors floating above the city that had just opened the previous month – the observation floors of One Summit Vanderbilt.

From the street, though, I only got one decent shot of Steinway Tower on my walk that day.

When Abdullah and I arrived at MOMA, truly lovely tiny snowflakes fell swirling on a light breeze – light, pretty flakes that didn’t stick, just fell and in a few seconds disappeared. I joined the line awaiting in front, yielding my space under cover to an older couple since I had my peacoat and hat.

The flecks of white intermittently caught on the coat and disappeared as we made small talk, masked, in the light snow awaiting the Museum of Modern Art to open on a Thursday morning. They came in from Princeton, where they lived. She had once been a docent at the MOMA. We chatted about NFTs, art, and compared NYC and San Francisco now to times past in the lightly falling snow until the museum let us in.

Joseph E. Yoakum at MOMA

I had read about Joseph E. Yoakum and the retrospective exhibit at MOMA in The New Yorker and it sounded fascinating and inspiring. I mean who was this guy, who suddenly appeared on the art scene wholly composed as an exhibiting visual artist at the age of 76?

At the age of 55, I find myself running out of steam. Dad died and I handled it. My kid is grown and doesn’t want anything to do with me. Almost nobody reads my stuff or appreciates my art. Certainly far less than when I was at my peak. I keep making and writing because I have always done so, independent of an audience, but I grow weary of ignonimity. And here’s this guy … in his 70’s!

Joseph Elmer Yoakum (February 22, ca. 1890 – December 25, 1972) was a self-taught landscape artist of African-American and possibly Native American descent, who drew landscapes in a highly individual style. He was 76 when he started to record his memories in the form of imaginary landscapes, and he produced over 2,000 drawings during the last decade of his life.

They are mostly of small dimension, done with pen, pencil, ink and have scripted titles.

  1. Mt Brahmoi, Nassau Bahama Island
  1. Mongahalia River Falls near River Side West Virginia
  1. Crater Head mtns of Honolulu, Hawaiia (Nov 24 1969 stamp)
  1. Arabian Desert Near Sudi Arabia
  1. Flying Saucer in 1958
  1. Twin Crater Mts near Lima Peru
  2. The Cyclone that Struck Susanville in year of 1903 (Jan 22 1970 stamp)
  3. Jessie Willard 2nd Challenge to Champion Fight with Jack Johnson (for World’s Heavyweight Prize Fighting Championship in year 1917 and in —- 1921) (Dec 15 1969 stamp)
  4. Mt Baykal of Yablonvy Mtn Rangenear Ulan-ude near Lake Baykal, of lower Siberia Russia and Asia (hand dated 8/14 – 69)
  5. Rock of Gibraltar
  6. English Channel between Southampton England and LeHavre France (3/11-69)

Yoakum started drawing familiar places, such as Green Valley Ashville Kentucky, as a method to capture his memories. However, he shifted towards imaginary landscapes in places he had never visited, like Mt Cloubelle of West India or Mt Mowbullan in Dividing Range near Brisbane Australia.

Drawing outlines with a ballpoint pen, rarely making corrections, he colored his drawings within the lines using watercolors and pastels. He became known for his organic forms, always using two lines to designate land masses.

It was a great show. I am glad I caught it. Afterward, I spent a couple of hours catching up with stuff on rotation from the permanent collection.

Saw a guy contemplating a Pollock

I also caught the last days of an exhibition of the work of Sophie Tauber-Arp, which was remarkable.

Sophie Henriette Gertrud Taeuber-Arp (19 January 1889 – 13 January 1943) was a Swiss artist, painter, sculptor, textile designer, furniture and interior designer, architect, and dancer. Born in 1889, in Switzerland, the daughter of a pharmacist, the family moved to Germany when she was two years old.

Some years later she began attending art schools, and moved back to Switzerland during the First World War. At an exhibition in 1915, she met for the first time the German-French artist Hans/Jean Arp, whom she married shortly after. It was during these years that they became associated with the Dada movement, which emerged in 1916, and Taeuber-Arp’s most famous works – Dada Head (Tête Dada; 1920) – date from these years.

Cross on Red Ground (tablecloth) 1924, wool

The weaving was first created for use as a tablecloth, to be seen from above and circumnavigated. In 1926, in an essay in Das Werk, the journal of Swiss Werkbound, an association of designers, the architect Hannes Meyer singled it out as representative of the “new world of forms,” that artists were creating for modern life.

Equilibrium 1934, oil on canvas 

Taeuber-Arp’s circles seem to hover over, perch on, or fall from the black lines. The green circle on the right appears to have been tossed in the air toward the edge of the canvas, directed by the skewed truncated line below it. Taeuber-Arp spoke of spoke of such play of circular forms in her work as boulisme (balls) or Petanque. The shapes seem to react to one another creating dynamic designs that give the impression of a freeze frame in an abstract film where the action has been temporarily arrested.

There was stained glass work that pursued the same geometric themes.

In the winter of 1918, Tauber-Arp was commissioned to produce marionettes and stage sets for an adaptation of the 18th-century play King Stag. These were particularly amazing.

Museum curator Laura Braverman wrote:

The marionettes broke away from folk traditions in puppet making, in that puppets at the time were supposed to be as lifelike as possible. You were not supposed to see the way in which they were made, but Taeuber-Arp really left all of that visible.

Curator Lynda Zycherman added, “What is, I think, unusual is the shapes themselves depicting human bodies in geometric ways. The face painting is extraordinary. Sophie Taeuber-Arp traced the shapes in pencil and then painted in between the lines. And if you look closely at most of the facial features, you can actually still make out the pencil lines.”

The Arps moved to France in 1926, where they stayed until the invasion of France during the Second World War, at the event of which they went back to Switzerland. In 1943, Sophie Taeuber-Arp died in an accident with a leaking gas stove.

Despite being overlooked since her death she is considered one of the most important artists of concrete art and geometric abstraction of the 20th century.

mtk and yoko say …

Tom and the Opera, Wednesday, Jan 19th

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I cannot disclose why I went to New York in late January as I’m constrained willingly by the contract I signed the day I left from La Guardia just hours before the city was hit by a snowstorm carried on winds of the la niña winter polar jet stream, and snowbound. 

I can say it’s an NFT play, signed between me and my former neighbor in Brooklyn, Tom.

“Either you go tomorrow,” Tom agreed,”or you ain’t leavin’ til next week.”

My flight of escapees had mostly bought their tickets within the last 48 hours, with a weather eye on the polar jet stream. We were routed to Denver. The storm shut the city down while we were in the air. I had been in New York City and out in Long Island for two weeks.

*****

Double-dose Pfizer-vaccinated in May of ‘21 and boosted in November, I decided in December of last year that 2022 was going to be different. I was going to travel. I would help the economies of some places I haven’t been in a while. I’d spend some money in some places in our country that I respect and love for cultural and intellectual richness.

I made a new year’s resolution to spend more days of 2022 out of the house where I have been for the last five years than in it. Unlike most of you, for whom the ‘quarantine’ was at most a year and a half of house-boundedness, at that point, I had been bound for several years in a house, in another state from my beloved NorCal, as I cared for my father until he died, allowing him to pass the way he wished, in his home. I was eager to get back on the road, and eventually, home.

I set aside money from my small inheritance for this purpose. I granted myself a year of me-time, to travel, write, read and consider places to live, in the wake of my father’s death.

I chose New York first, and landed on the nineteenth day of the new year, amidst the Omicron wave. I was a New Yorker for five years at the turn of the millennium, so I’m prepared with specific goals when I visit Manhattan. It’s a habit learned from my Lakshmi-auntie, who lived in Parsippany for five decades and used the island, and indeed the whole city, with precision and elegance. She still drove into town herself in her 70’s.

I watched her use Goings-On-About-Town in The New Yorker, and Time Out and the Sunday NYT and the Voice, to be fresh, and even avant-garde, to her last days. She showed me the fastest ways to get in and out of the city, down-low parking spots, old-school joints. When I moved to the waterfront in Greenpoint, it was from her place, where I had been staying in the wake of the passing of her husband, my Surya-uncle, back in ‘97. It snowed in Brooklyn that winter.

Now, it was a clear, sunny Wednesday afternoon as I flew into La Guardia. It was in fact the warmest day of the year thus far in the city – 44° F, almost no wind, great visibility. The pilots swung wide to allow us a vantage of the cityscape – the bridges, high-rises and skyscrapers, just a few thousand feet below.

There’s the east river. Brooklyn Bridge, Manhattan Bridge, Williamsburg bridge.

Where I used to live in Greenpoint no longer has a cityscape view because there are massive condominiums there that can be seen in this shot. That bright, shining white skyscraper in lower Manhattan is One Manhattan Square. Extell Development Company sold 100 units there last year. They also sold 100 units at Brooklyn Point, which is the tallest residential building in Brooklyn.

One Manhattan Square and Brooklyn Point, each sold over 100 units in 2021 for a total of more than $400 million in sales. Extell claims it’s the only developer in New York to sell more than 100 units at two separate buildings in a calendar year. The units sell for between $850k – $3m.

When I was a New Yorker, the city taught me how to move through it. I didn’t know what I was going to find now, though, amidst the Omicron wave of Covid-19. New York was a city that had been ravaged in the first Spring of the nastiest respiratory virus in human history, because of its density and diversity – a global city, with international reach.

I came prepared, with my vaccine card showing two shots and the six-month booster, and my matching i.d., with N95 masks. Temperatures were expected to drop later that evening. The forecast was for highs in the teens and low 20’s for the rest of the week. I brought thermals, wool scarf, an overcoat and a fur hat – all of which were useful.

But I made a tight, localized agenda that had me entirely in Upper Manhattan. On my last day, I planned to walk to the Guggenheim to see the chronological exhibition of Kandinsky on the ramps at the Guggenheim, so I rented a hotel a few blocks away on the Upper East side – 92nd street and 1st Ave, near Yorkville. I landed, cruised through baggage, caught a cab to my hotel within 20 minutes, snagged a couple-hour nap, then showered, shaved and suited up for the opera.

Tom and the Opera

Tom and I hadn’t seen each other in almost 20 years. He is an energetic, native Long Islander, who has lived and worked in the city for years. He is as comfortable in the city as any of the boroughs or out on Long Island. He was my neighbor in Brooklyn 20 years ago, when he worked in commodities, on the floor at the exchange on Wall Street. He was there that fateful morning, besuited, running and hustling others away from the crumbling concrete and drifting ash and dust. We saw each other a few days later.

Tom and I caught up last year and I learned he had been through some rough times.  But he told me something else that shocked me, personally. He said that nearly 20 years before, I had given him a carved stone or wood necklace and had told him it was powerful. He wasn’t sure if he did something wrong or if it was just the object itself, but he felt that it had cursed him.

That’s no joke. You don’t see someone for years and you are catching them amidst heavy difficulties all around and they tell you that you gave them a totem that may have cursed them – have to take that seriously.

When I looked at the schedule for the Met Opera, I knew immediately I had to take Tom. They were performing Rigoletto. It’s a tragedy about a hunch-backed jester, a pathetic figure, who, upon being cursed by a courtier, believes in and fears the curse, then unwittingly aids in the accursed events which befall him.

The last line of the opera is Rigoletto’s bewildered wail as he cradles the body of his dead child, “La Maladizione!” – which means, “The Curse!”

The first time I went to the Metropolitan Opera it was February of 1998. Two dozen years later, I decided to splurge. I purchased Parterre Center Box seats. I had previously only ever sat in the balconies. This was special.

To enter we had to show ID that matched a proof of vaccination card and if the last dose had been over six months, a stamp for a booster. Masks were mandated. Before the curtain rose, the General Manager of the Metropolitan Opera, Peter Gelb, masked, came out on stage with a microphone and said, with a sigh of relief, “everyone in your program is performing tonight,” the confirmation that we would be seeing Quinn Kelsey and Rosa Feola . There was resounding applause.

The Metropolitan Opera has suffered, like every arts institution, during the pandemic. 

This production received great reviews for Conductor Daniele Rustioni and promotional material all featured the open throated face of Quinn Kelsey in clown makeup. The baritone has made a name for himself performing Verdi, and in particular, portraying the beleaguered Rigoletto. The program read: “Quinn Kelsey, a commanding artist at the height of his powers, brings his searing portrayal of the title role to the Met for the first time,” but Kelsey had been unavailable for performances on the 9th and 14th. There was a buzz from the hope we would get to see him with the soprano Rosa Feola, a pairing about whom much had been written.

The set was unique. Though the original opera was based on a story by Victor Hugo set in the mid 16th century, the libretto by Francesco Maria Piave, was set in pre-Revolutionary 19th century France. The current staging at the Met uses the Weimar Republic as the context, contending the times were comparably beset by careless inequity.

Production is directed by (Tony-award winning director) Bartlett Sher – the New York Times has described him as “one of the most original and exciting directors, not only in the American theater but also in the international world of opera” – and Set Designer Michael Yeargan. The costumes, designed by Catherine Zuber, were thus 20th c. German.

The set had a massive revolving structure upstage that allowed for feature performances downstage, nearer the audience, for greater intimacy. There was a full apartment above a bar in one set, and Donald Holder’s lighting was agile, an active element of the production, spotlighting soloists seamlessly as they employed the entire stage.

Piotr Beczala, charged with the most famous role, Duke Mantua, was good. But a standout performance, in addition to Feola and Kelsey, belonged to Andrea Mastroni, the bass singing the part of the murderous blaggard Sparafucile.

What always amazes and delights me about the opera is that there are no microphones. The orchestra is not amplified, neither are the singers. We all sit quietly, no cell-phones or beeps or bells or whistles to bother us, and we focus for two and a half hours on these live performers making music in an extravagant production – entranced. People try not to even cough during the acts. I love that.

Kelsey was masterful.

Tom and I dined at The Smith, across the street from Lincoln Center and shared a blunt as we sauntered to the performance – it’s legal now to smoke a joint on the street in New York. It wasn’t when we were neighbors – not that it stopped us much then, we were just furtive.

Now we just stood by the fountain on the plaza, in front of the big Chagalls and the other patrons and the cops and shared a blunt. Tom is a blunt smoker, which is not my style, but when I am with him I partake.

He went to Fordham, which is just next door to Lincoln Center. He pointed out his old dormitory building, as we smoked. We shared a blunt before going in, and again at the intermission. To be clear, quality marijuana doesn’t attack my memory of the opera, it enhances it.

Six Fingas and Madball

We left singing:

La donna è mobile/ Qual piuma al vento,

muta d’accento/ e di pensiero.

Sempre un amabile / leggiadro viso,

in pianto o in riso / è menzognero

**END Wednesday January 19th**

Ten days later, I checked the tide tables and  took the accursed totem that I gave Tom twenty years before out to Lido Beach at just past high tide, recited the gayatri mantram, and chucked the thing out to be taken away by the sea.