untitled (no parking) 2013
This is an image, taken in the late afternoon, of a large section of the facade of a 19th-century Berlin building on Münzstraße which is being renovated while covered with a green safety net.
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on the fence
Today is the eleventh anniversary of this blog. During the past year posting has remained a little sluggish, especially when compared to peak times, say, before the modern miracle, and seductive distraction, of Twitter, but I have no intention of letting the site lapse altogether.
In the meantime, this is a brief description of its history, in the same words I used a year ago:
The blog began when, finding myself totally frustrated with the idiocy and brutishness of my country's response to the events of September 11 and feeling almost totally isolated in my disgust, I started sending a series of emails to people I knew well, sharing my thoughts and my anger. A few months later I started jameswagner.com, intending it to be a more structured - and more widely broadcast - form for the kinds of unelicited rants with which I had been testing the patience of my friends. It was also intended to include ruminations on subjects in which I thought others might share my interest.
Almost from the start there were entries on politics, the arts, queerdom, history, New York and the world, and within a year they began to be accompanied by images and photographs. Many of the latter have been my own.
April 27 also marks the anniversary of the day I met Barry, my perfect partner in everything (and Wunderkind webmaster); it was exactly twenty two-years ago tonight.
[for an image of number of years this blog has been operating, I chose the last two digits of an address shown on a fence I saw in Midtown today]
Over the years I've made my take on the campaign to allow gays in uniform (or on the wedding cake) pretty clear, arguing that a truly progressive Queer rights movement has been highjacked by the most conservative of agendas. When DADT was finally dumped, I had hoped we could all finally stop talking about it and move on to more serious stuff, but the recent online fuss over the prosecution of its poster boy Dan Choi has again brought gay warriors out of the woodwork.
Yesterday my friend Bill Dobbs sent around an email with some reflections on the historical frenzy over DADT, and its continuing fallout today. Dobbs is always worth listening to, and I have his permission to print his letter in its entirety here:
When I heard people had chained themselves to the White House fence I figured a powerful protest was afoot. Turns out it was the same-sexer pro-war crowd who wanted to be part of the US military, Lt. Dan Choi et al. For his participation in the protest Choi faced federal charges and opted to go to trial. The link at the end of this post will tell you more about that.
Choi was just a part of a much larger, successful campaign to overturn Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT) which means anti-gay discrimination against those serving in the military is coming to an end. It is also an example of a gay agenda item helping to damage progressive organizing and ideals. The campaign invoked patriotic themes, the "takeaway" from that effort is -- war is no big deal, signing up for the military is now a fine choice for youth, sexual minority and otherwise. Military recruiters and training programs are now back on campuses.
That the anti-war and gay movements walked arm and arm together for some decades is lost down the rabbit hole of history. The advancement of "equality" in the narrow gay sense means self-identified same-sexers can operate drones, blowing people to smithereens in service of the world's lone superpower.
The gay agenda and all those sillyass equal signs should NOT be confused with progress. That's a message that straight people in particular need to absorb; those organizing for peace stood mostly mute during the DADT-repeal effort.
And watch out for the mantra of "diversity" - the Pentagon has long been one of the most diverse workplaces in the country. The US military, of course, is far more than a workplace. There's the slight matter of war but that point got lost in the narrow discussions about DADT.
[the link Dobbs refers to above is Thursday's Washington Post story on Dan Choi's conviction]
[image from Against Equality ("queer challenges to the politics of inclusion")]
David Greenspan, Ugo Chukwu, Rachel Claire, Amir Darvish, Meg MacCary, & Susan Hyon ("Yiddish Theater for today's players and audience" - from the program notes)
Resembling Edith Sitwell's enormous rings, the colorful bosses were attached at the very top of raw wooden sticks tethered to each other at the ends of the outer seating sections inside the Abrons Art Center. The only thing clear was that the audience was not supposed to take those seats.
So what were those gorgeous, jewel-like ornaments all about?
I never found the answer. When the lights went up after Target Margin Theater's presentation of Peretz Hirschbein's "The ( * ) Inn", Barry and I were so affected by what we had just seen on the stage that neither of us thought to investigate. By the time we had engaged some of the production team in conversation moments later I had forgotten to ask for any enlightenment.
Thinking about it now, I may also have decided, unconsciously or not, to just go along with - can I say it? - the company's accustomed, and famously challenging obstruseness. Also, it's not impossible to imagine TMT's founder and the production's director, David Herskovits, merely wanting to keep the audience's experience intimate, by limiting its size.
The play (in English, although with some Yiddish elements), and the production, were both a revelation, but I also left the theater with a lot of questions, all of them, I think, far more interesting than why the paste jewelry?
Some of my questions relate to my passion for history and for Jewish culture, and some of them are more about how that history and culture relates to that of the ammei ha'aretzot.
I grew up in the Midwest, ignorant of Jewish anything.
I also grew up loving "The Goldbergs", first on radio, and then on TV, but I regret that I had little or no idea of the rich context of the drama of which Gertrude Berg was a part until decades later. I moved to New York in the mid-80's, but it was too late for the classic Yiddish theater scene on Second Avenue. Over the years, I sometimes overhear fragments of the little bit of Yiddish that survived the Holocaust, but it always makes me melancholy, and it made me still sadder that, even with a knowledge of German, I couldn't understand more.
Hirschbein's play was written over 100 years ago, but there are big surprises. Both in the original (as I understand from the program notes) and as adapted & directed by Herskovits for performance on the Lower East Side today it's a remarkable document of the almost-forgotten creativity of experimental Yiddish theater. The company's notes describe their collaboration:
The shtetl turns uncanny in Hirschbein's classic of Yiddish life. You might be expecting the farm life, the chicken-plucking and the arranged marriage, but not the S&M lust and the body-snatching wedding guests. The ( * ) Inn was an early touchstone for experimental theater in Yiddish, a sensation in Vilna, in London and in a 1917 New York production. This play is a perfect example of why we at TMT believe Yiddish drama is as innovative and challenging as any in the world. It's Tevye on drugs. Watch out.
"The ( * ) Inn" is a great treat as theater, as an eyeopener, and - almost uniquely - as pre-WWI expressionist drama which can be experienced live today. I can't say I know all of what Hirschbein and Herskovits mean. As with all good theater, I believe, they leave the audience wanting to know more.
And I still don't know what the ornaments strung along the aisle mean; I'll just imagine those jewels as "runway lights" for the gem being mounted on the boards off Grand Street this month, TMT's tribute to Yiddish theater and to "the Yiddish Maeterlinck".
[image is by Erik Carter, for Target Margin Theater]
The end of our ArtCat Calendar, a project which Barry and I began eight years ago, whose mechanics he has pursued with great skill, generous commitment, and much love, was announced this morning on Twitter, in emails, and in a post which he published on Bloggy.com. I have reprinted that post below.
The first version of ArtCat calendar (then called ArtCal) launched in November 2004. I wrote the first version in one weekend, to make it easier for James and me to keep track of shows we wanted to see, especially once Chelsea reached 300 galleries. For a long time it was a minimal website with locations, shows, and their dates -- not even images. Over time I added images, iCal and RSS feeds, and a weekly newsletter.
Over 16,000 exhibitions at more than 2,000 venues have appeared on ArtCat. We average 200-300 current exhibitions on the site. While forms for galleries to add their exhibits have existed since late 2010, we still view each submission to approve it, for quality control and to prevent duplicates. That is the most time-consuming part of running the site. We also spend a lot of time processing corrections due to galleries submitting new version of press releases, or correcting typos and erroneously-submitted dates.
Advertising revenue, even if one assumes my time is free, does not currently cover the cost of hosting the site plus paying someone to help me with approving submissions and responding to corrections. The calendar does serve as promotion for ArtCat Hosting, but the value of that, versus having more time to improve ArtCat Hosting, is unclear. Most of my hosting clients do not mention the calendar when signing up.
Advertising revenue has averaged $250/month over the last year, primarily due to the support of Storefront Bushwick and Deborah Brown. Other advertisers have included Theodore:Art and Kianga Ellis Projects. Note that all of these are Brooklyn-based. Since I ended the Culture Pundits advertising network, there have been no advertisements from a Chelsea or Lower East Side gallery. During the entire 4 1/2 year run of Culture Pundits, only two commercial galleries in New York advertised with the network.
Charging for listings, for a calendar that wants to maintain quality and promote underknown artists and galleries, is a non-starter. It is apparent to me, after eight years, that there is no financial support for an art calendar of this kind.
I don't have the resources and time to continue to run the calendar by myself in its current form. I am spread too thinly to do a good job of running ArtCat, improving ArtCat Hosting, promoting and publishing IDIOM, documenting our art collection, and actually getting out to see art. Of course, I also have to make a living through my freelance work. My goal is to narrow the focus of my work I do within the art world, and do one or two things very well, rather than provide lesser versions of many things. As the wonderful Michael Mandiberg pointed out here, there are limits to one's time/labor/capital and it's healthy to move one when the time feels right.
I will convert the site to an archive as of January 1, 2013. If someone is interested in the code and data (it is a Ruby on Rails 2.3 application), I'm ready to talk. The ArtCat name and domain will stay with me, as I own the trademark for it, to be used specifically for my art website hosting business.
Please think about how, with even a modest amount of support, you might help IDIOM continue to publish and flourish. Thank you.
Eduardo Leandro leading members of Ensemble Pi in Kristin Nordeval's "Three Character Studies"
On Saturday Ensemble Pi [Ensemble ?] presented "What Must be Said", its 7th annual Concert for Peace at The Cell, a jewelbox non-profit theater space carved out of the bottom floors of a handsome, early-19th-century Chelsea townhouse. I was delighted to be able to record some images from the concert. By the way, I've decided that the hardest part about photographing performances may be the thing about trying hard not to annoy the rest of the audience.
The evening was one of the most extraordinary and profoundly-moving musical performance events I have ever experienced. The concert was conceived and presented with an intelligence and compassion which intensified the independent merits and beauties of the (seven?) works scheduled. The pieces included were by one writer and three composers all of whose work performed that night, as described by The Cell in its press release, "addresses some of the 'silences' enforced or suggested by governments or the media". All of the works were compelling for their historical and contemporary relevance, brilliant in their composition, and interpreted with consummate elegance by an ensemble which has adopted the most generous of missions.
The collective describes itself as "a socially conscious new music group dedicated to performing the music of living and undiscovered composers", but that description doesn't do justice to the sincerity and bravery of what the group, under its artistic director Idith Meshulam, has been doing for eleven years.
One constant in its programming, perhaps unique among both musical groups and performance venues, is its addressing of serious ideas about which there is not universal consensus even among progressives, and, just as important, the discussion of those ideas. Designed at least partly towards that end are the ensemble's regular collaborations with visual artists, writers, actors, and journalists.
Airi Yoshioka and Idith Meshulam playing Susan Botti's "Fallen City"
On Saturday and Sunday the program began with Susan Botti's "Lament: The Fallen City", for violin and piano, which, the program describes, "reflects upon the fall of Troy as a metaphor for modern cities that have experienced natural or human-made disaster (i.e. Baghdad; New Orleans; Pisco, Peru; or Greensburg, Kansas)". I've never heard some of the kinds of sounds Airi Yoshioka (violin) and Idith Meshulam (piano) were able to produce in this affecting piece, but they were always as eloquent as they were anomalous.
Kai Moser reading Günter Grass' "What Must be Said"
Günter Grass' controversial poem on Israel, Iran and war, "Was gesagt werden muss" [What Must Be Said], from which the evening took its title, was read in German (with an English translation projection) by Kai Moser. Grass has gotten hell for what he wrote, not least because of his earlier, late-life confession that he had been part of an SS tank division (drafted at 17) near the end of the war.
Kristin Nordeval singing "Ask Me", from her "Three Character Studies"
The concert began a transformation into intimate musical theater with the performance of "Three Character Studies", excerpts from composer/soprano Kristin Norderval's opera in progress, "The Trials of Patricia Isasa". Both Emily Donato and Daniel Pincus sang beautifully, Donato in the role of the teenage Isasa, and Daniel Pincus as the federal judge convicted for his role in the torture and kidnapping of many Argentinians, including Isasa. Norderval herself was the superb soloist in the the third section (as the adult Patricia, now a media figure), accompanying herself with some sound processing on her laptop near the end.
This beautiful and very moving piece could be staged as a mini opera on its own right now, and I very much look forward to hearing the completed opera, which will boast a powerful libretto by playwright Naomi Wallace.
a scene from An den kleinen Radioapparat [to the little radio]
from Und es sind die finstern Zeiten in der fremden Stadt [the times are dark and fearful]
the concluding, concentration camp scene, Harte Menschheit, unbewegt, lang erfror'nem Fischvolk gleich [people hard and impassive, like fishermen long at sea]
The evening continued with the premiere of "Eisler on the Go", a beautiful, animated puppet show by the New York collaborative, Great Small Works, on the life of Hanns Eisler. The composer's studiedly-accessible music, his personality and his loyalties, his proletarian activism, and his sad fate (beginning long before he was expelled from the U.S. as a communist), has been something of an obsession for me ever since I first came across his music and his story a number of years ago; I'm very happy to find lately that his fans are now becoming legion.
The tiny-theater show animated three of the most familiar of Eisler's many songs, each sung by Nordeval. They were: "Song von Angebot und Nachfrage", "An den kleinen Radioapparat", and "Und es sind die finstern Zeiten in der fremden Stadt" [the links are to three awesome videos, with three very different performers; enjoy].
After the Puppenspiel Meshulam played the first movement of the composer's "Piano Sonata No. 3" and his "Klavierstück Op. 32 no V and VI", gently bringing the chamber back from the darkness, the anger and the funk - brilliantly.
The program was repeated the following night.
Elihu Vedder Corrupt Legislation 1896 oil on canvas [installation view]
despite the "hot hand" he was dealt, [Obama] represents one of the greatest failures in the history of postwar political leadership - Robert E. Prasch
To the critics of my own recent verbal and written rants, which were nothing when compared to the extended broadsides of a number of much more public and articulate voices which included Glenn Greenwald, Matt Stoller, the Black Agenda Report, and Robert E. Prasch (all of whom have also been badly bruised by angry Obama sectaries):
I won't say that I won't say I told you so.
In fact I started four years ago, repeatedly speaking and writing about the failures of the Obama administration as they unfolded, and what appeared to be the reinstallation of the disastrous regime which had preceded it. Apparently we were considered inconsequential, certainly ineffectual. Many members of what passes today for a Left didn't scream in high dudgeon at me or Obama's many other critics until it was time to decide whether to award our current president four more years in order to finish a nasty job.
If the presidential compaign wasn't just a ruse arranged by a corporate class, the most amazing aspect of the fearmongering we witnessed, and certainly the most telling, is the fact that only four years after Bush Junior there could possibly be any danger from another totally absurd Republican candidate, and from the party which had itself dealt the "hot hand" Obama had inherited. But we've all watched as the ground was prepared over those four years, some of us to great dismay.
Some of my own blog history on the subject of this president:
The conclusion is self-evident, so the only question remaining is whether we're talking about incompetence or evil. I can't imagine it isn't both.
Of course critics of our corrupted system, which has tamed and suppressed a genuine Left in the U.S. for at least a century, are nothing new and their voices have not always been uncelebrated. The legendary W.E.B. Dubois became increasingly radical as he aged; late in his life (he was born, remarkably, just after the Civil War, during the Reconstruction Era) he wrote in The Nation about his choice not to vote in a presidential election:
No 'two evils' exist. There is but one evil party with two names.
Introducing its September 4, 2012 post on his "Why I Won't Vote" essay, Black Agenda Report explains: "Dubois condemns both Democrats and Republicans for their indifferent positions on the influence of corporate wealth, racial inequality, arms proliferation and unaffordable health care.explained persuasively why he was not voting in the upcoming 1956 presidential election."
We can hardly do less today.
Dubois himself concluded:
Is the refusal to vote in this phony election a counsel of despair? No, it is dogged hope. It is hope that if twenty-five million voters refrain from voting in 1956 because of their own accord . . . this might make the American people ask how much longer this dumb farce can proceed without even a whimper of protest.
. . . .
I will be no party to it and that will make little difference. You will take large part and bravely march to the polls, and that also will make no difference. Stop running Russia and giving Chinese advice when we cannot rule ourselves decently. Stop yelling about a democracy we do not have. Democracy is dead in the United States. Yet there is still nothing to replace real democracy. Drop the chains, then, that bind our brains. Drive the money-changers from the seats of the Cabinet and the halls of Congress. Call back some faint spirit of Jefferson and Lincoln, and when again we can hold a fair election on real issues, let's vote, and not till then. Is this impossible? Then democracy in America is impossible.
[image from Wikipedia entry, "political corruption"]
Nancy Spero "Tattoo" 1996 silkscreen
Barry and I love art and the art world, or at least most of the art world. We were recently rudely reminded of the part we don't like.
One month ago we asked for permission to reproduce an image which I had photographed myself, of a work we own, which was created by a great artist we much admire. We wanted to add a photo to the entry in our collection site, and also to include an image of it on a card announcing a show at English Kills Art Gallery. The work is "Tattoo", a 1996 print by Nancy Spero (1926-2009), and it was going to be included in the large group installation inside the Bushwick gallery.
The owner, Chris Harding, had approached us with the idea for the show, and he had selected 46 pieces from among the works mounted inside our apartment. I think his very first choice was the Spero; it was certainly his first choice for the invitation, and we were delighted with his pick. We're very fond of the artist, and we treasure the piece itself.
Once we were told it would be Spero, we set about to get photo permission from the estate. We wrote first to Galerie Lelong, which represents the artist. They asked us to send an image and to explain further the purposes for which it would be used. They would then forward the request to the estate. About two weeks later we were told it had been approved, and that an agreement form would follow, meaning the final paperwork to authorize the copyright, from VAGA (the Spero estate's licensing agent).
Everyone on our end got very excited. It seemed we would make the printing deadline, and the world would now see a little more of Nancy Spero.
Two days later we heard directly from VAGA for the first time, and this time the news was not so good: We had proposed a large detail of the print for the face of the card, believing it would be more easily read and more compelling in the 5 x7 inch format, but they would not approve cropping of any kind. Also, we would have to come up with hundreds of dollars in "copyright license fees" for the right to use it for the invitation and for the right to display it on our collection website; the fee for the latter would have to be paid every 5 years.
Now we are both pretty well known as activists opposed to camera prohibitions as found sometimes in galeries but much more commonly in museums - and also opposed to the current national obsession with prohibiting cameras almost everywhere else - but we generally abide by the photography rules, and never more scrupulously than in uploading images of art onto our on-line collection site. We have entered more than 800 pieces there, and while we'd like to show a proper image of each, that will require not only time, but also the permission of the artist or the estate. In the meantime we will not show anything larger than a thumbnail, since the artist retains the rights to reproduction.
We have never been refused when we have asked for an okay, except for one extraordinary circumstance, and we certainly have never been asked for money.
I wrote back to the gallery and to VAGA, explaining what we do, that we have not and do not intend to ever sell the art we own, and that absolutely no money was going to change hands in the mounting of the show (although I didn't go so far as to describe English Kills as the un-Mary Boone). I got a response saying that the representative for the estate and VAGA had jointly agreed to give us a 20% discount on the fee for the 5-year website JPEG license, but not for the card reproduction. We were told however that we could not publish or print anything until after the estate was persuaded that "Tattoo" was actually a Spero work. The letter added that the process of gathering the information they needed would help authenticate it for our own records and for the forthcoming Catalogue Raisonné*.
I have to say that we have absolutely no quarrel with Galerie Lelong's part in the negotiations; in fact we were pleased by the gallery's courtesy and quick response, especially as it was over a holiday weekend.
After that last letter from VAGA we walked away, and instead went with the wonderful Alejandro Diaz image, "Esta Galeria", which can be seen on the invitation. Also, we have not uploaded a larger-size image of the Spero on the collection site.
Several notes (really just a start):
1) Neither the gallery nor the estate had an image of the work we own, and it seems pretty clear that they didn't know it even existed until I wrote to the gallery.
2) The Estate, or VAGA, was happy to charge us money to show an image I took of a work we ourselves owned, and of which it knew nothing; only when I responded in surprise at being asked to pay did anyone show any interest in the art itself.
3) The non-commercial purposes, of the collection and the show, are quite clear, and were made apparent to the gallery, the artist's estate, and VAGA more than once, yet they wanted to exploit them.
4) Do artists really need a corporation to protect them from people like us? Incidentally, while one look at the VAGA site shows that they control the visibility of hundreds of dead artists, they are actually dwarfed by another property guardian, Artists Rights Society (ARS).
5) We have spoken to a number of younger artists about Nancy Spero, and very few have even heard of her or her work; perhaps we can now understand why.
6) Both Nancy and her partner of a half century, Leon Golub, in their lives and in their art, addressed power relations; it's inconceivable to me that either would want her/his art to be shielded from view.
* The last time we were a part of a Catalogue Raisonné project both we and the estate (of Mark Morrisroe, owned by Fotomuseum Winterthur) bent over backwards to help document an artist's work; there wasn't a hint of image insecurity.
[The image is only a thumbnail, and therefore almost completely useless, because I do not have permission from the artist's estate to publish a larger size; the framed print itself can be seen at English Kills Art Gallery through October 28]
Installation view of a portion of the collection installed in the apartment, with works by David Reed (center), James Wagner (to the left). Photo by Fette
Chris Harding of English Kills Art Gallery has selected 48 works from our art collection, and will be showing them at his gallery in Bushwick, 9/21-10/28. Please join us at the opening, or come see it one weekend while it's up.
The press release:
English Kills Art Gallery has installed a few dozen works from the Hoggard Wagner Art Collection in an exhibition which opens with a reception this Friday, September 21, 2012 from 7 to 10 pm.
Barry Hoggard and James Wagner, who share an interest in all of the arts, have assembled a large, very personal and extremely diverse collection of visual art begun modestly by Wagner ten years before the two met in 1991.
They began by acquiring a few works to enjoy in their own home, but very soon realized that part of that enjoyment came from supporting artists, galleries and non-profits which they believed should be encouraged. They were concerned, however, that there are limits to the number of people who could see the work they took into their home (and only a fraction of the collection can actually be displayed there). It was largely to make it accessible to as many people as possible, and for information purposes, that they created the Hoggard/Wagner Collection website.
For the same reason, the couple enthusiastically agreed to the suggestion of English Kills that a part of the collection itself be installed in Bushwick for six weeks. The Gallery alone is responsible for the choice of works displayed; the selection was made from among the 300+ pieces visible on the walls and surfaces of their home. There are approximately 600 more in flat files.
Hoggard and Wagner have never sold a single work from the collection and they do not intend to do so. No sale of any kind is involved in the English Kills exhibition.
Artists include*: Nancy Spero, Keith Haring, David Reed, Wolfgang Tillmans, Clement Valla, Eric Doeringer, Sharon Louden, Felix Droese, Jules de Balincourt, Marco Breuer, Tom Fuhs, Bryan Zimmerman, Yasser Aggour, Michael J. Dvorkin, Deborah Mesa-Pelly, Jason Simon, Louise Fishman, Clarina Bezzola, Michael Meads, Mike Asente, Tracey Baran, Teresa Moro, Jaishri Abichandani, Rupert Deese, Alejandro Diaz, David Humphrey, Matt Dojny, Dan Golden, Gregory Botts, Rochelle Feinstein, Robert Wilson, Hiroshi Sunairi, Charles Goldman, Michael Williams, Wijnanda Deroo, Amy Feldman, Janine Gordon, Joe Ovelman, Kim Schifino, Joyce Pensato, Bruce High Quality Foundation, Margaret Lee, Ben Godward, Kiki Smith
*NOT INCLUDED in the list on the press release is the creator of this work, an artist whose name is currently unknown to us. Come see the show and help us to identify her or him. An image of the work is shown below.