Monday, March 31, 2008

Accidents Will Happen

A couple of weeks ago, I was blogging about the photographer Tim Davis and mentioned in passing his series of photographs of paintings in which the play of light on the varnish gives the original work new photographic meaning. Then yesterday I went to the Met to hear Scott Schuman speak on a panel about fashion and blogging. With a few minutes to spare I took a quick spin around the second floor and came across one of my favorite paintings that had unexpectedly been relocated. I pulled out my camera and took a picture not realizing that the flash was on (a big no-no as the Met guard was quick to tell me). However, in the instant I saw on the viewfinder what I had captured, I realized I had made a Tim Davis!

Does this picture have any validity? Based on a position I've taken many times, the answer is absolutely and unequivocally no. Which is frustrating - because as objectively as I can judge it I think it's a pretty good picture, but without context, history, background, etc., it has little meaning. Much of its meaning, in fact, comes from Davis's prior insight and work.

I recently saw a photographer as a favor to a friend and he came in to the gallery, young, confident, and with a totally mediocre portfolio. I made an effort to be as polite as possible. At the end of his presentation he pulled out a little envelope and with a flourish showed me a group of snapshots of sky, horizon, water. At this point I thought it would be doing him a favor to point out that this notion (the appreciation of the ever changing but always formal abstraction of horizons) had been ably expressed by Joel Meyerowitz and Hiroshi Sugimoto. Unless he had some radical new insight into how to re-imagine this kind of picture he was unlikely to end up with a one person show in New York. He looked at me incredulously and as though explaining it to some idiot said "But this is The Ganges."!

(FYI - my picture is on top and Davis's below.)

Friday, March 28, 2008

Weekend Video - Touch My Body

The catchiest song of the moment, Mariah Carey’s “Touch My Body”, has a video so excruciatingly bad there was no option but to resort to the Warholian tribute videos that blossom on You Tube like a thousand flowers! And it would be fun to get some reader response with a vote for best rendition.

The lyrics are not always easy to decipher but as you can see from the brief transcription below, they’re about as up to date as they can be.

If there's a camera up in here
Then it's gonna leave with me
When I do (I do)
If there's a camera up in here
Then I'd best not catch this flick
On YouTube (YouTube)
'Cause if you run your mouth and brag
About this secret rendezvous
I will hunt you down.

A final warning - if you listen to all the versions posted, it's impossible to walk around without the song on perma-loop in the back of your head.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Not Just a Pretty Picture

I was browsing Artnet and came across two pictures which I presumed were Julius Shulman photographs. I was trying to figure out where they were showing until I realized it wasn’t the pictures that were being sold, but the actual houses!

While interest in Ezra Stoller and Shulman’s photographs (the two great photographers of modernist architecture) continues to grow, the boom market in 20th-century design has now brought entire modernist houses to the auction block! The top photograph is Richard Neutra’s 3,200-square-foot Kaufmann House in Palm Springs, a glass, steel and stone structure designed by Neutra in 1949 as a desert getaway for Philadelphia department-store magnate Edgar J. Kaufmann Sr. (who was also the client for Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater a decade earlier). The house is estimated to sell for $15 million-$25 million, and is included in Christie’s big evening sale of postwar and contemporary art on May 13, 2008. The home was purchased for $1.9 million in 1993 by Brent and Beth Edwards Harris, who spent another $5 million on a five-year-long restoration. The couple is divorcing.

The second picture is Louis Kahn’s Esherick House in Philadelphia, which is being sold by the Wright auction house in Chicago at its design sale on May 18, 2008. The two-story, 2,500-square-foot, one-bedroom structure, located in the Chestnut Hill area of Philadelphia, carries a pre-sale estimate of $2 million-$3 million. The house is being sold by Dr. and Mrs. Robert Gallagher, who bought it in 1981. For the sale, Wright has published a deluxe catalogue with photographs by Todd Eberle.

Happy house hunting!

Monday, March 24, 2008


Back from Costa Rica – a remarkably beautiful country, safe and friendly. As it was a family vacation our emphasis was on beaches, hiking, and animal spotting, but one of the interesting sidebars of this kind of holiday is observing your fellow travelers. At one hotel in particular (the otherwise exemplary Hotel Arenas Del Mar) the dining room was filled with so many couples who never spoke to each other or made eye contact I felt I had fallen into some kind of alternate Martin Parr universe. (Oddly enough the next hotel, the famous eco-lodge, Lapa Rios, was exactly the opposite with affectionate couples and animated families.) But I couldn’t stop thinking about Parr’s wry photographs of non-communicating couples and as soon as I hit the first wireless hotspot I went straight to Magnum’s website and pulled up these pictures from Parr’s 1993 catalog “Bored Couples”.

Parr is truly in a league of his own as a colorist, photojournalist, humorist, and social observer. When he first joined Magnum, the old guard predicted the beginning of the end, but Parr has pulled the organization kicking and screaming into the 21st century with a realization that the insignificant moment has its own importance and that the fine art and photojournalistic ends of the spectrum don’t have to be in opposition.

“Bored Couples” is one of about 40 books or catalogs Parr has published on subjects ranging from bad weather and British food to sleeping Japanese commuters and sunburned tourists. Another of Parr’s memorable projects consisted of being photographed in vernacular style by a global cross section of local small-time studio photographers. It’s the least vain self-portrait project of all times! But back to bored couples –it’s Parr’s particular genius to realize that as truly terrible as many of the things are that his Magnum colleagues photograph, the tiny tortures of a humdrum existence, such as sitting at a table with nothing to say to the person you share your life with, are not inconsiderable. Fortunately this was not the case with our Costa Rican holiday!

Friday, March 14, 2008

On the Road

Photograph by William Eggleston.
Courtesy Wiliam Eggleston Trust & Cheim and Read.

I'm off to Costa Rica for a vacation with my family, so I won't be posting for a week or so. In addition to the rain forest and a country that's totally new to me, I'm looking forward to catching up with some DVD's I've had out from Netflix since Christmas and the book "Pictures at a Revolution. Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood" by Mark Harris, which has had some pretty fabulous reviews.

Talk to you soon...

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Producers

One of my favorite scenes from one of my favorite movies, "Shakespeare in Love". To set the scene:

The plague has closed down London's theaters and Shakespeare’s producer, Philip Henslowe (played by Geoffrey Rush) is being threatened by Fennyman, the investor he has found to bankroll his productions.

HENSLOWE (Sputtering - as one of Fennyman’s goons holds a knife to his throat): .... Allow me to explain about the theater business. The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster.

FENNYMAN: So what do we do?

HENSLOWE: Nothing. Strangely enough it all turns out well.


HENSLOWE: I don’t know. It’s a mystery.

GOON: (Tightening his grip on Henslowe.) Shall I kill him Mr. Fennyman?

As Henslowe readies himself for imminent torture, the town crier appears.

TOWN CRIER: The theaters are re-opened by order of the master of the revels. The theaters are re-opened....

Henslowe is visibly relieved as the goon relaxes his grip.

I offer this scene as the closest parallel to the gallery business. Strangely enough it always seems to turn out well!

I recently had to postpone a show in order to accommodate the publication of a book. This left me with a hole in my schedule and nothing I liked to fill it with. I knew, however, that something always happens.

In this case, however, the schedule was so tight I was beginning to consider the option of simply extending the current show when walking along Madison Avenue last week I ran into the dealer Keith de Lellis.

I was just thinking about calling you.

Do tell me, why?

I have some photographs I thought might interest you for a show. They’re a group of vintage prints by Rudy Burckhardt of pictures he took for Leo Castelli of Jasper Johns paintings.

How many are there?

About 30.

When can I see them?

And this is the story behind my next show “Jasper Johns – Black and White. Photographs by Rudy Burckhardt.” Opening April 12.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Priests and Poets

I’ve been going through boxes of photographs trying to organize my collection and just came across this print (above) - the second print I ever bought. (The first was Joel Meyerowitz’s “Dairyland”.)

I remember what appealed to me at the time - not just the kinetic motion, but the potential motion that lay ready to spring to life. The hoop about to be rolled, the cat about to pounce, the dog who could at any second start chasing a chicken. It’s a rarely seen image, especially compared to Giacomelli’s more famous pictures of seminary students playing in the snow, or the image below that appears to be snow but is actually a bleached out courtyard, but it has passed the test of time with flying colors.

At one time Mario Giacomelli was close in stature to Henri Cartier-Bresson, but some unwise deals and an over-saturation of prints created a bad case of over-exposure. He died in 2000 before the market had caught back up with him. He's still highly undervalued.

Born in 1925 in Senigallia, Giacomelli was a self-taught photographer inspired by the neo-realist films of
 Vittorio De Sica and Roberto Rossellini. His subjects ranged from the landscape of southern Italy and life in the rural villages, to hallucinatory photographs of the elderly (shot in a nursing home where his mother worked) and pilgrimages to Lourdes. He made aerial shots of bathers 40 years before Richard Misrach and rented tractors to carve lines out of the hills anticipating the earthworks of the 1970s and 80s. He had range.

He said about his photography, “I try to photograph thoughts”, but what he really photographed were dreams.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A Shot in the Dark

Last Friday my daughter had her 13th birthday party and at her request we brought a Polaroid camera. That Polaroid is going to discontinue making film has been much in the news lately, although less noticed is the fact that the company actually stopped making the cameras a year ago. It all seems to signify an end of an era as emotively as the passing of the Walkman or brick size mobile phones, but what I noticed in my brief moment as a tween party paparazzo, was how much the Polaroid camera specifically contributes to the event.

One of the things I’ve learned from working with The Sartorialist is how important the approach is. Make the right approach with your camera in front of you and you’re much more likely to get a good picture than if you suddenly whip it out. Bring out a Polaroid camera and everyone’s ready for fun! (And you're no longer the intruding parent, you're now just support staff.)

The other thing I noticed as I was pretty much shooting in the dark (you can’t see much through a viewfinder in dance light conditions) was how beautiful the randomness of the hastily grabbed moment is. It was the revelation of street photography that the chaos of everyday life was just as arresting as the compositional order of the decisive moment, but as always - getting to experience the progression of art historical aesthetic development through your own family snaps is always an unexpected pleasure!

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Weekend Video - Cat Power

I was listening to Public Radio today as I was driving to work and Frank Sinatra came on. You don't hear a lot about Frank these days, although this new cover version of "New York, New York" by Cat Power from her latest album, Jukebox, is getting a fair amount of airplay. The clip is from a recent appearance on the BBC2's "Later... with Jools Holland" - a show the famously stage shy singer has been appearing on regularly and with an unusual degree of comfort over the years. That Power chooses to pretty much ignore the original tune is something you'll either applaud or bemoan.

Then Power, again, on "Later... with Jools Holland" in 2006, singing my favorite of her songs "The Greatest".

And lastly, this video of "Lived in Bars" directed by Robert Gordon which has a freshness and sweetness that contrasts nicely with the lyrics.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Tim Davis

The most embarrassing genre of photography I can think of is pictures of comedians - humor and photography being strange and usually awkward bedfellows. So I always appreciate a series of photographs that seem genuinely funny. Such are Tim Davis’s new pictures - “My Audience” – in which he records the audience (or lack of) that come to hear him at various talks and book signings.

Davis has had an interesting career to date. Known initially for his pictures of paintings, in which the way light fell on the canvas brought new meaning and perspective to usually well-known museum pieces, Davis then went on to become more of a social commentator of modern American life. He’s clearly a colorist, but with a deadpan view of the world. His big project prior to the audience series was a book “My Life in Politics” which looked at a conflicted America at the turn of the millennium. (One of my favorite pictures was the interior of a Mexican restaurant with an inspirational mural of Martin Luther King above which were the words: “One People, One Nation, One Taco, One Destiny”.)

But back to “My Audience” which is both situational and self-deprecating. Not only do the empty chairs often outnumber the full, but Davis manages to capture what seem to be pretty true to life expressions for anyone who’s been in a similar situation. And the series only gets funnier as it moves along. It will be interesting to see what’s next for Davis, but it wouldn’t be such a bad thing if he finds himself becoming an American Martin Parr.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008


On my morning dog walk, I rounded the corner of 90th and 5th to find this vibrant new sign advertising the upcoming show at the Cooper Hewitt. Having decorated my room as a teenager with these kind of posters, I’m a sucker for pyschedelia, but what really struck me about the display was the word “exuberant’ in the exhibition title. In fact it stopped me in my tracks because it’s not only a word that’s rarely used these days, but a quality that seems less and less evident in art and life today. And it's missed.

One block later as I was passing the Guggenheim Museum, a Spanish tourist was energetically launching herself in balletic leaps in front of the building making me wonder if an exuberance epidemic had broken out. Then a few steps later I looked up to find this giant hanging of a detail of Ernst Kirchner’s “Dancers” promoting the Guggenheim’s “Berlin to New York” show.

If this weren’t enough, my last stop of the morning was at Keith de Lellis’s new gallery on Madison Avenue where I was struck by this underwater portrait which turned out to be an Art Kane of Sonny and Cher from the early 70s.

So the question I was left with was: is exuberance all around and I was just missing it, or did I momentarily fall into some Bermuda Triangle of exuberance? (FYI – a quick journey around Chelsea in the afternoon yielded no exuberance sightings.)

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Their Majesties

When Annie Leibovitz photographed Queen Elizabeth last year, a misleadingly edited trailer for the BBC documentary, “A Year with the Queen”, suggested that the Queen walked out after Annie asked her to take off her crown for the picture. I happened to be in London at the time, and the British papers had a heyday with reports of how the crass American had dissed Her Majesty. But as this recently released full sequence shows, the Queen not only stayed, but Annie got amazingly strong pictures, especially given the constraints of the shoot.

For some reason, people always seem to want to take potshots at Annie. However, like the BBC had to do when they admitted misrepresenting the Leibovitz/QE2 shoot, it's time for these critics "to apologize to Annie Leibovitz for any upset they may have caused."

Monday, March 3, 2008

Bruce Springsteen

Flipping through USA TODAY, my eye was caught by this photograph of Bruce Springsteen by Danny Clinch. It’s been interesting to watch Springsteen age both as a musician and a performer because he’s managed, not unsurprisingly given his integrity and his genius, to remain his own person. Sartorially and cosmetically he’s made adjustments – the only place I’ve ever seen him in the flesh other than at concerts is at Barneys – but thank goodness he’s refrained from dyeing his hair, getting a face lift, etc.. I particularly liked the mood this picture caught and the fact that while Springsteen isn’t trying to look young, he’s still cool.

Then there was an unexpected bonus! The article promised that if you clicked through to the paper’s website you would see the Boss’s playlist. Unfortunately the link they gave didn’t work, but after much digging and more hard work I found it. So for all Bruce Springsteen fans, here it is:

Alan Vega - Dujang Prang
Amos MilburnChicken Shack Boogie
Antony and the JohnsonsMy Lady Story
Beach BoysSloop John B
Beau Jocque & the Zydeco Hi-RollersJust One Kiss
BeausoleilChez Seychelles
BeckHe’s a Mighty Good Leader
Beth OrtonShe Cries Your Name
Big Mama ThorntonBumble Bee
Bluerunners Ghost of a Girl
Voodoo Mens & Voodoo Dolls
Big Head
Bob DylanDear Mrs. Roosevelt
Grand Coulee Dam
Blood In My Eyes
Diamond Joe
Lonesome Day Blues

Bob Dylan & Mavis Staples
Gonna Change My Way of Thinking
Bob Dylan and The BandMillion Dollar Bash
Bob NeuwirthBeautiful Day
Everybody’s Got a Job to Do
Sweet and Shiny Eyes

Bob Neuwirth with Peter CaseTravelin’ Light
Bobby “Blue” BlandIf You Could Read My Mind
Bright Eyes and Emmy Lou HarrisWe Are Nowhere and This Is Now
Bryant’s Jubilee Quartet I’ll Be Satisfied
Bukka WhiteFixin’ to Die Blues
Bull Moose Jackson I Know Who Threw the Whiskey (In the Well)
CalexicoAcross the Wire
Guero Canelo
Charlie RichLife Has its Little Ups and Downs
Chris Whitley Living With the Law
Big Sky Country

Chuck BerryI Got to Find My Baby
Too Much Monkey Business (Live)

Chuckwagon GangAs the Life of a Flower
Clara Ward Packing Up
Creedence Clearwater Revival Cotton Fields
Midnight Special

Dave Van RonkSpike Driver Blues
David BaerwaldWhy
The Crash

Dixie Hummingbirds City of Gold
Doc Watson Tom Dooley
Doc Watson and Frosty Morn Working Man Blues
Dock BogsPretty Polly
Dorothy Love Coates Strange Man
Evan Dando Hard Drive
Francesco Di Gregori Non-Dirie Che Non-E’ Cosi
Gary DavisSamson and Delilah Reverend
Gene Vincent Baby Blue (Live)
Green On RedSea of Cortez
Hamell On Trial Oughta Go Around
Hank Dogs Hollywood
Hank WilliamsLost Highway
J.D. Crowe and the New SouthLong Journey Home
Jackson BrowneLinda Paloma
James McMurtry Out Here in the Middle
Jawbone Get Rhythm
Jay Farrar Feed Kill Chain
Jeff Tweedy, Jay Bennett, and Roger McGuinnEast Virginia Blues
James Alley Blues

Jesse MalinQueen of the Underworld
Jim White Static On the Radio
Jimmie DriftwoodBattle of New Orleans
Jimmie RodgersMy Blue Eyed Jane
Jimmy CliffTime Will Tell
Sufferin’ In the Land
Jimmy MartinHit Parade of Love
Jimmy Reed Take Out Some Insurance
Joan Baez with Bob Dylan It Ain’t Me Babe
Joe ElySaint Valentine
Ranches and Rivers

Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros – Ramshackle Day Parade
Coma Girl

John CaleThings
John Jackson John Henry
Frankie and Johnny

John Lee Hooker – Jump Me One More Time
John Prine Clay Pigeons
John Sebastian & The J Band with Geoff MuldaurMinglewood Blues
Johnny Cash I Hung My Head
Kate & Anna McGarrigleWas My Brother In the Battle
Kate & Anna McGarrigle with Rufus WainwrightBetter Times Are Coming
Kermit RuffinsBlack and Blue
Kris Kristofferson Loving Her Was Easier
Me and Bobby McGee

Lee Williams & The Spritual QC’sWhen You Gonna Wake Up
Leonard CohenEverybody Knows
Linda Ronstadt & Emily Lou Harris Valerie
Link Wray Black River Swamp
Take Me Home Jesus

Take My Hand (Precious Lord)
Loretta Lynn Portland Oregon
Los LobosOn a Night Like This
Anse Imo

Los Pregoneros Del PuertoEl Ahualco
Louis Armstrong & His Hot Five St. James Infirmary
LoveAlone Again Or
Lucinda Williams Ventura
Mahalia JacksonGod’s Gonna Separate the Wheat From the Tares
Marion Williams I Just Can’t Help It
Maura O’ConnellPoor Man’s House
Mavis Staples Hard Times Come Again No More
Michelle ShockedOne Piece at a Time
Mississippi John Hurt Candy Man
My Morning Jacket Death is the Easy Way
Nas Bridging the Gap
Neko CaseTrain From Kansas City
Wayfaring Stranger
Soulful Shade of Blue
This Little Light
The Tigers Have Spoken

Nick Cave & the Bad SeedsRight Now I’m A-Roaming
Nicky Thomas Love of the Common People
Old 97’sBarrier Reef
Patti Scialfa Valerie
Paul Robeson Joe Hill
Percy SledgeDark End of the Street
Rainy Day I’ll Keep It With Mine
Ralph Stanley On Death
Ramblin’ Jack Elliott Roll On Buddy
Rance AllenWhen He Returns
Rank & File Lucky Day
The Conductor Wore Black

Richard & Linda ThompsonI’ll Tag Along
Robert Mitchum Ballad of Thunder Road
Robert Plant & Strange SensationSomebody Knocking
Rod StewartGirl From the North Country
Rodney Crowell The Rock of My Soul
Roger McGuinn I Dream Of Jeannie With the Light Brown Hair
Roger McGuinn with Frank and Mary HamiltonThe Brazos River
Roger McGuinn with OdettaJohn the Revelator
Sail Away Lady
Roger McGuinn with Pete SeegerAlabama Bound
Ron Sexsmith Lebanon, Tennessee
Comrade Fill No Glass For Me

Ry CooderJesus on the Mainline
Sam CookeTouch the Hem of His Garment
Just For You

Setah One More Cup of Coffee
Sleater-Kinney Promised Land
Slim Dunlap Hate This Town
Social Distortion99 To Life
Song Dog Days of Armageddon
Soul Stirrers Jesus Gave Me Water
Steve EarleHardin Wouldn’t Run
Swan Silvertones My Rock
Sweet Honey In the Rock Run, Mourner, Run
T-Bone Burnett River of Love
Annabelle Lee

Tarbox RamblersOh Death
The Band Long Black Veil
Blind Willie McTell

The BlastersHollywood Bed
The Byrds It’s All Over Now
Oil In My Lamp
Chestnut Mare
I Am a Pilgrim

The Chambers Brothers People Get Ready
See See Rider

The Clash This Is England
The Everly BrothersAbandoned Love
The Flying Burrito BrothersSin City
The Handsome Family Far From Any Road
Fallen Peaches

The Jesters Cadillac Man
The NationalAbout Today
The PoguesDirty Old Town
The Body of an American

The Sleepy Jackson Miniskirt
Thea Gilmore I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine
Todd SniderPlay a Train Song
Tom PaxtonPastures of Plenty
Tony Joe White Saturday Night In Oak Grove, Louisiana
Van MorrisonSweet Thing
Victoria WilliamsSummer of Drugs
Warren Zevon My Ride’s Here
Ourselves To Know

WhiskeytownExcuse Me While I Break My Own Heart Tonight
Will T. Massey I Ain’t Here
Wiskey Biscuit Santa Ana River Delta Blues
Wood Straight Lines
Stay You

Woody Guthrie – Hard Travelin’