Sunday, April 27, 2008

Eskimo Spring in New York

Well, it's practically May but you wouldn't know it up here . . . we had lovely weather last week but the cold snap is back. Thankfully, there's enough to do indoors in New York to distract ourselves from the apocalyptic doom that awaits our progeny because of the damage we've done to the environment. As my friend E. said once, our kids will ask, "Mommy, what was winter like?"

Film Forum's having a Jean-Luc Goddard explosion the next five weeks. These puppies are going to sell-out like hotcakes, but I'll be there with my Jean Seberg haircut and my ray-bans if you need me.

Sarah Manguso's gorgeous and gut-wrenching memoir, The Two Kinds of Decay, pubs at the end of May.

Check out my friend Ryan McIlvain's short story, "Keep it Bible," in the current issue of The Paris Review.

Supermodel Agyness Deyn napoleons the May issue of I-D magazine with six, count 'em, six covers. Not only does the issue include some gorgeous fashion photography (starring Ms. Deyn, of course) it also features interviews with her bf and her mama . . . and Aggy interviews Vivienne Westwood.

Madonna's new record, Hard Candy, drops just in time for her fiftieth birthday. Material Girl, indeed.

John Turturro stars in BAM's production of Samuel Beckett's Endgame.

And, last, but not least, my Malcolm X glasses should arrive from Urban Outfitters.

So snuggle up with a movie or book, ladies and gents.

Spring, we'll wait for you to call.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


The award for most disappointing, revoltingly consumerist exhibit of the year goes to Takashi Murakami at the Brooklyn Museum for "© MURAKAMI."

Now, now, before you get your panties in a twist, let me explain myself. I know pop art is supposed to be consumerist. I know it's supposed to stroke the monolith of capitalism. I know Warhol, I know, I know, I know. But Murakami has taken it another step by designing handbags for Louis Vuitton and then SELLING THEM INSIDE THE EXHIBIT. I repeat: One can go to view ninety works by Murakami and then walk out of the exhibit with a handbag that costs about a grand.

You know I love fashion. I love Marc! And hey, I could maybe even love Murakami. But, and correct me if I'm wrong here, isn't the point of pop art to use elements of popular culture against themselves to make a comment about said pop culture? No? Yes? I thought so. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe it doesn't matter anymore. But I'll tell you what the Murakami exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum is for. It's not about art, it's about making a buck.

As if the Louis Vuitton handbags weren't enough, the gift shop embedded at the end of the exhibit was enough to make me (and my poor mom who I subjected to this bullshit) hurl. My younger brother studies Japanese, and my mom and I thought he might like something from the gift shop. A shirt. A key-chain. A postcard. Something. Well, the postcards cost $2.75 EACH. A t-shirt on starched white cotton was FORTY TWO BUCKS, and one of these little plush toys (that every single Park Slope mother was purchasing in volumes from her droves of offspring) costs a clean FORTY-NINE SMACKERS.

What makes me the angriest about all this is the fact that this exhibit was SWARMED. Mom and I had to wait thirty minutes to get into the museum. The gift shop was cleaned out, and yes, I even saw a woman buy a purse. In the exhibit. I want to emphasize that the Vuitton shop (complete with shop boys in crisp white linens--at one point I said, "what the hell, does that white boy practice Santaria?" And my mom replied, "no, I think he works in the Louis Vuitton shop.") was inside the exhibit. Not at the end, or in another part of the museum, but IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ART EXHIBIT. Why?! So one can buy the fucking purse and then walk through the exhibit and look at the paintings and say, "hey! my purse kind of looks like that painting!" ?!?

Granted, I'm not a big fan of Murakami's work to begin with. I think it's repetitive, derivative, and stupid. There were highlights, like this piece:

Or this one:

But, really?

Thankfully, Judy Chicago's "The Dinner Party," is part of the Brooklyn Museum's permanent, fantastic wing of Feminist Art, so the visit was redeemed. But I couldn't get the taste of Murakami out of my mouth. I still can't. I think there's something very evil about all this. I'd like to hear a compelling argument about his work, if there is one.

Sorry, Murakami, but you're just not my bag!


If you want to vom, or you're way into the cultural implications of bullshit and derivative pop art, © MURAKAMI runs until July 13th, at the Brooklyn Museum.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Accoutrements of Writing

Last night, as I watched Capote for maybe the fifth time, I realized the reason I find the movie so good: its attention to detail, specifically the accoutrements of writing, reflects the crispness of Capote's prose. Watching Capote is similar to reading In Cold Blood, but there's more than just the obvious connections. There are the sounds, the smells, and the sights of writing in beautiful, romanticized angles and edges, the typewriter, the paper, the pen, the cigarette: The sound of Capote's typewriter, amplified by the echo of his Brooklyn Heights apartment, makes my fingers ache. The film makes me want to write, even if it's just to copy long segments of the novel into my computer, to hear that sound, that most satisfying sound of words.

When I was young, I kept a diary (I still do), and made frivolous lists of everything (I still do). I have always kept an agenda and been very particular about my writing utensils (my favorite are the uniball vision micro tips in black). I have all the obsessive quirks and qualities, then, at least in that regard, of a writer. But for some reason, I can't quite get it off the ground. For a long time I thought to be a writer meant to write fiction. It wasn't until much later in life that I discovered non-fiction, and In Cold Blood, the book that changed writing forever. Now that I work in publishing, it's amazing to see the course non-fiction has taken, its popularity and its flexibility. I think of someone like Didion: the strong, muscularity of her prose, its sinewy nature, as if every word, every sentence, every structure has a purpose: there is nothing superfluous.

It's no surprise that Didion's method is to write, write, write, and then retype everything from the previous day before she begins again, to get herself back into the mood of the piece. The rhythm of Didion is all very deliberate. Read Slouching Towards Bethlehem. There is no word out of place.

And then of course there's my lady, Sylvia Plath, who was so dedicated to her poetry that she bled and agonized over every idea, every draft. If she began something and didn't like it, she simply began anew, took a different angle. Ted Hughes said in the introduction to her Pulitzer Prize winning Collected Poems that, "she never scrapped any of her efforts." Look at her drafts in the Lilly Library at Indiana University or at Smith College in Boston. The edits and adjustments are miraculous, even insane. Like the sketchbook of a painter, you can see the masterpiece taking shape. Sylvia's notebooks are filled with fragments and words: even when she was too sick (food poisoning) or too ill (depression) to write in full sentences she still kept a notebook. Her reflections on the Brontë estate are quizzically illuminating, and you can see the poem "Wuthering Heights" take shape before she even knew she would write it.

So why the block? Why the struggle? I don't know. I love writing this blog and I'd love to write more, but it's difficult to find the time. Ultimately, the sound of my own voice feels small or incoherent compared to these masters of criticism, non-fiction, and poetry. The sheer confidence of a writer like Janet Malcolm astounds me: the brute force of her intellect is enough to level any illusions of grandeur. I wonder if I have the ego of a writer: am I intelligent enough? I did not go to an Ivy League school. There are still important writers I've never even heard of. By taking on another subject (i.e. by being a writer of criticism or non-fiction) one asserts an expertise, a knowledge on that subject, or at least a curiosity that somehow surpasses the curiosity of others. A writer friend once said to me, "I am writing this piece about [blank], and I have to pretend like I'm smart. It's exhausting."

But the romance of literature gets me every time. Even the simpleness of reading can be the most satisfying of activities: the weight of the book in your hands, the way the paper feels, the typeset, the dedication, the jacket, the edition: are you an under-liner? a dog-ear-er? are your books pristine? Are they dirty and mangled? Why do you read? Do you own books or do you go to the library? While you write, do you smoke? Do you drink coffee or alcohol (or both?) Do you write with a computer? A typewriter? Pen and paper? Pencil and paper? What kind of paper? Do you listen to music? Do you need complete silence? Do you write indoors alone, outdoors, or in a crowded coffee shop? Do you have an office, a desk, or do you write on your bed, lying down (Capote), sitting up, standing (Woolf)?

George Plimpton founded The Paris Review and the Writers at Work series in hopes of answering some of these questions, as if decoding the meaning of the accoutrements, the habits of the world's greatest writers would somehow unlock the secret to their genius. Maybe he has something there. Or maybe I'm just a sucker for any profession with a dedication to its flair and accessories. For me, the literary life is a series of endless questions. While working through the mire, the gleam of the white page and the cheerful, encouraging sound of the keys is oftentimes the gateway to creation.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

I Want to Believe

Cai Guo-Qiang is a pyromaniac.
The man goes around the world and blows shit up for a living.

This is one of my favorites. I wish the video quality were better, but basically it looks like Cai is shooting holes into the sky in Valencia.

And then there's this little ditty, "Transient Rainbow."

Bare with me here, folks, I'm so jacked up on decongestants and anti-inflammatories right now that I can barely spell my first name, but Cai Guo-Qaing's show, "I Want to Believe," is the best exhibit I've seen at the Guggenheim so far. I was skeptical at first. Cars hanging from the ceiling? Pretty impressive, but what's the point? Not until the end of the show, after I had been inundated with explosions of every kind did I realize those cars aren't just hanging from the ceiling. They are falling from the ceiling: they are firework cars.

Cai is Chinese but lived in Japan briefly and has been a resident of New York since 1995. I imagine the Cultural Revolution, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and 9/11 is a triumvirate devastating enough to leave a lasting impression on any artist's work, but here Cai has taken the phrase "lasting impression" literally. Many of this later "paintings" were created with fire—the lines and shapes the imprints made by gunpowder set aflame on canvas. Cai's paintings are not paintings. They are the charred remains of paintings.

And as if explosions, gunpowder paintings, and nine cars ready to crash on top of your head at any moment weren't enough, Cai is also a master of sculpture and replica. This piece, "Head On," includes 99 life-sized wolf replicas, crashing, reindeer-like into a piece of glass. In the Guggenheim, with its winding walkway, the piece is breathtaking, especially since you begin walking the curve of the walkway embedded in the pack of wolves: then one by one, they take flight, until all of them are above your head.

Other than a general sense of violence and destruction, Cai's work felt like a literal collision course. Like the wolves, we're bound to hit to the end somewhere. Or as my museum partner so eloquently put it, "I think this symbolizes mortality. The end is coming--" "but we just can't see it . . . death," I replied. Aside from one brief meditative piece, which features a bamboo raft which you can actually ride through water (complete with a cage of live birds) Cai finds solace in the explosive, the raging, and the rabid. Nature in its most organic form. The tipping point, for him, is all.

"I Want to Believe" runs until May 28th at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Will I Ever Write a Critical Piece Again?

I started this blog as a way to write some criticism, but recently my posts have been either silly or personal. I apologize that I am about to continue in that vein. I promise there will be some tough, intellectual thought on this motha very soon.

For some reason, I can't stop listening to Cat Power, especially "The Greatest." Chan's voice is so sorrowful and lovely. Also, I should mention she has a French Bulldog named Mona.

Hi Mona.

Check out pictures of Chan and Mona over at Epicly Later'd.

Once I wanted to be the greatest

No wind or waterfall could stop me

And then came the rush of the flood

The stars at night turned you to dust


On Saturday, it was gorgeous, nearly sixty degrees.
I drank my first iced coffee of the season.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Don't Judge a Book by its . . . Books.

I hope everyone got a chance to read this article in the Times on the effect a person's taste in literature can have on a relationship, "It's Not You, it's Your Books."

Rachel Donadio is pretty spot-on, and so was my friend Kat when she said, "This article reminded me of you." I have been known to glance over at the shelves of the boy I'm dating, with severe hesitation, praying to Jesus that the gold block betters of "THE DA VINCI CODE" do not appear. (Side note: In fact, the very first post I ever made on this blog was about my hatred of Dan Brown and The Da Vinci Code). That said, I do understand that men are sometimes less literary-ly (wow, is that a word?) inclined, so if I am disappointed by their bookshelves I tend to glance over toward their record collection, hoping they will be redeemed.

*please note these women hate The Da Vinci Code for different reasons than I do.

Now, hello, obviously if you like someone so much that you can't stop smiling when they look at you and the very sight of their dimples makes you think, oh hey, trash fiction is okay!, then who cares what kind of books they read.

But, full disclosure: my ex-boyfriend liked to read trash fiction. I mean, the kind of books businessmen read on planes. Techonology-thrillers. Spy fiction. He also liked Night, by Elie Wiesel, which was good (and confusing) . . . but, he did have a fondness for the dreaded CODE. I won't lie, I tried to read the thing, to understand my culture's obsession. Perhaps it was one of those "entertainment" things, whatever that means. But I could not get past the first eight pages. Looking back on it, I should have known his taste in books would factor into our relationship. We had almost nothing in common. I would come home from class, excited about something we had read, and honestly, while he feigned interest (God Bless him, he once said "I want to read Virginia Woolf so I can understand you"), I could tell he really couldn't care less.

So can one really discern that much about a person from their favorite books? I think so. Let's take a look at the ones I list on my blogger profile. I'll just hit the biggies.

Lolita. Mollygood wrote, "if a girl lists Lolita as one of her favorite books, run for the hills, man!" That's silly. Anyone who has read the novel knows it's one of the most beautiful novels in the English language, incest or not.

Mrs. Dalloway. Virginia Woolf is basically my religion. No, I'm not gay, and I'm not a misandrist. For the record: she wasn't, either.

Everything is Illuminated. Look! It's semi-commercial fiction here, folks. I'm sorry, but this book made me cry. I read it on vacation, at the beach, surrounded by nothing but beauty, and it still made me cry. See, I'm secretly a sap.

Franny and Zooey. This book is so important to me, that if I see someone reading on the subway, I am tempted to walk up to them and ask them on a date. I really can't imagine a more perfect book. Did I mention I love this book? Does it make me a little neurotic but also a little cool? Yeah. Does it make anyone who loves it as much as I do cool, too? Yeah.

The Piano Teacher. Okay. Crazy S&M Piano Teacher terrorizes students, lusts after one in particular, has a controlling mother. All ends . . . not well. Yes, I am interested in women and violence. Yes, I am a feminist. Do I feel strongly about it? Yes. (P.S. check out the movie. Isabelle Huppert is brilliant!

Ultimately, I think those of us who are passionate about art feel that bad taste in books, movies, music (whatever the medium) can be a deal-breaker in a relationship: Am I right? Are there any books you're ashamed to list on your favorite list? Why? If there could be one book to define you as a person, what would it be?

So there's my list . . . are you running from me in terror?