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Modernism first began to die in the 1960s. There was serious talk. People were getting fed up. A new sensibility was beginning to emerge, if only at the margins. That discussion heated up in the `70s and it was super-trend, can’t-have-a-conference-without-it material by the `80s. As Jean-François Lyotard wrote in his epochal The Postmodern Condition (1979), “Our working hypothesis is that the status of knowledge is altered as societies enter what is known as the postindustrial age and cultures enter what is known as the postmodern age.”

Alteration was all the rage. We were altering. This was either the ground for a new optimism, wild and exuberant in its embrace of the new terrain, or deeply pessimistic in the face of the collapse of every possibility for genuine critique. Someone like Jean Baudrillard could proclaim, “Modernity has never happened. There has never really been any modernity, never any real progress,… More…

The shipping container as art gallery.

I woke up and said to my wife (her friends call her Shuffy), I said “Shuffy, since we’re walking around these fairs thinking about it as a market, a county fair, and since…” She cut me off. She said, “You want to buy something today.” We don’t have any money, of course, but that didn’t seem the point. The point is to buy something anyway.

   2007 Art Basel Miami

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So we headed back inland to the bigger art fairs. They have the feel of Art Basel without the premium pricing. You can tell the difference between the secondary fairs in the prevalence of rugs. The more rugs, the more they wish they were Art Basel. We ended up at Pulse, which has rugs but not as many as… More…

Unlike anything you'd see in a museum or Chelsea gallery.

I meant to visit a string of smaller art fairs along Collins Avenue and ended up spending the afternoon lounging on a $14 million yacht outside a $14 million home on Hibiscus Island instead. These things happen in Miami. The wealth, to its credit, is more of a “Why not?” kind of wealth than is generally found further up North. We were driven to the yacht and the mansion in a Bentley, which must constitute some form of Art Fair trifecta.

   2007 Art Basel Miami

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It ended up being a useful excursion for our purposes, though, because my Aunt Lou Ann was there and she said something brilliant. I told of her of my aesthetic difficulties at the fair and I confided in her my fear of the… More…

It's no snap call.

I’ve had a difficult day. It turns out that I really don’t have the constitution for it. I don’t have the will to concentrate when I’m confronted by the endless long corridors with booth after booth, gallery after gallery. It is like looking into infinity gazing down one of those corridors at Art Basel or Scope or Pulse or Art Miami. I see God down there at the end, or the bottomless abyss of the self. I don’t want to go there. But I can’t look at the works for very long either. There’s no context for them. So I’m back into the corridor and on the move, glancing to the left and right as millions of dollars worth of pigment and wax (people seem fascinated with sculpting in wax this year) flitter in and out of my weak and diluted perception.

Hummers and Art Deco in the city of too much.

I grew up in Los Angeles and I don’t like the sun very much. I don’t like the ocean except when there’s a storm, and I don’t like sand — the granules are not pleasing to me. Just because something or someplace is temperate doesn’t mean it is good. I’m aware, of course, of the various sayings at Delphi. I’m aware that the classical man seeks measure and that moderation is supposed to bespeak a kind of power. But it may also bespeak a death of the spirit, or at least its slumber. A person needs to come in from the cold now and again and kick a boot against the doorframe to dislodge a chunk of dirty snow, to watch it melt slowly on the floorboards and be gone. I say that it can be good to feel the bite of each particular season. Wisdom, another Greek person said,… More…

The solution to the problem of life isn't as clear as this frog's innards.

Scientists from Bangor University’s School of Ocean Studies in Wales recently killed the longest-lived creature ever discovered. It was a clam. A quahog clam, to be precise and it had been living off the coast of Iceland for a little bit more than 400 years until this autumn, when it was dredged up by the team of scientists and opened, thereby killing it, in order to study the rings inside its shell for information about changes in the environment. ABC News noted that as an infant clam it would have been alive at the same time that Shakespeare was staging Hamlet.

This brings to mind a few famous lines from Wordsworth’s poem “The Tables Turned.” He writes:

Our meddling intellect Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:— We murder to dissect.

These lines tend to get bandied about every time something like the clam incident occurs, which is often. We’re always… More…

His stories are brilliant, devastating. But it's more complicated than that.

Because life is so utterly elusive all the way down to the end, you have two basic choices if you want to say anything about it. You can say a lot, too much even, and be satisfied that at least you’ve dumped as much clutter on the matter as you could. Or you can withhold, take little tiny pecks at the thing, and be satisfied that the gaping silences are doing the job.

Raymond Carver came out with Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? in 1976 and What We Talk About When We Talk About Love in 1981. The stories are a revelation in pecks and silences. Stripped down, punchy sentences did just that: They punched your guts out. The human landscape of his stories was so rich for being so bare. It seems impossible that literature can be this honest, this true. But there it is. If your hands… More…

Richard Prince will be at the Guggenheim until January.

“A man goes to a psychiatrist. The doctor says ‘you’re crazy’. So the man says, ‘I want a second opinion’. ‘OK, you’re ugly too’.”

This is the text found on one of Richard Prince’s paintings. Prince has painted a lot of jokes, hundreds and hundreds of jokes. The question, of course, is why.

It is surely not for the reasons most often attributed to Mr. Prince by his commentators in the art world. In general, those in the art world who actually like Richard Prince tend to consider him something of a turd polisher. Prince goes out into the America beyond the boundaries of the two sides of Central Park and the two Villages and brings back fascinating and disturbing material. As Lisa Dennison, the Director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, which is currently exhibiting a major retrospective of Prince’s work, puts it: “Prince has continued to be one… More…

For whom the struggle of faith is more fundamental than the actual possession of it.

I came to the current religion debates a bored man. Started by the discussions around “intelligent design” and by the books of Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett, and Harris (The Four Horsemen), the debate seemed to pit two irreconcilable views against one another, both vying for an empty prize. Religion, I gathered, will always have its place, as will the practices of science and rational inquiry. Perhaps one day some other arrangement, some other separation of powers, will come about, but it won’t be any time soon, and it will happen when no one is looking. It will happen on its own time, with the lazy mastodon movements of history, which lumbers and rarely sprints.

It has also often struck me in some inchoate way that while the basic tenets and practices of any specific religion aren’t terribly impressive, the intellectual dilemma of faith and faithlessness has something to it. Sure, religion… More…

J.M. Coetzee is a cold fish, and James Wood is a hot fish. No one’s going to do anything about that. These are men who are firmly what they are. Hume once said that philosophies ultimately boil down to personalities. It is an insight that sounds trite when you’re young and looking for complicated answers, but it gets deeper with the years. But because they are two of the most astute literary minds of our times at the height of their powers, their respective hotnesses and coldnesses are worthy of further scrutiny.

The publication of J.M. Coetzee’s most recent collection of essays (Inner Workings: Literary Essays 2000-2005) provides an opportunity for the study of these two minds, two moods, two styles. This is because it just so happens that Wood and Coetzee are interested in many of the same literary figures. And not only are they interested in the same… More…