- In search of some cosmic horror, something to give you seasonally appropriate nightmares, something outside the realm of the usual Lovecraft stuff? Try William Hope Hodgson, who in the early twentieth century “envisioned the end of the Earth in the distant future: 1908’s The House on the Borderland features it in hallucinatory form, while 1912’s The Night Land is set at a point where the sun’s light has dimmed.” Or try Thomas Ligotti, in whose stories “the truths about the world that people discover are enough to tear them apart—sometimes literally. His protagonists often find themselves facing forces far beyond their ability to grapple with or comprehend. The therapist narrating ‘Dream of a Manikin’ is, ultimately, trapped in a series of collapsing realities; what begins as a simple, Twilight Zone-esque twist to the narrative gives way to a series of revelations beside which a simple ‘everything you know is a lie’ would be a comfort.”
- Since the Tin Pan Alley era, if not earlier, pop music has been likened to an assembly line: even today people like to joke about “the hit factory,” imagining the sleek, automated, international manufacturing process that generates our Top 40. But isn’t the metaphor a bit stale, by now? “A more accurate and illuminating way to understand today’s pop might be to think of it as post-industrial, a phenomenon not of the machine era but of the information age. Music is made today by mining the vast digital repository of recordings of the past, or by emulating or referencing them through synthesis, and then manipulating them and mashing them up—with the human fallibility and genius that have always laced popular music and probably always will. Indeed, it is accessing and processing—the methods that digitalization facilitates—rather than gearing and stamping for uniformity and mass production that distinguish twenty-first-century pop. Like machine-age plants everywhere, the song factories have closed, and the work of the day is being done electronically.”
- And just as we’re fond of the “hit factory” metaphor, who doesn’t enjoy a casual Grand Guignol reference from time to time? And yet who among us knows a thing about the actual Grand Guignol? “The Grand Guignol was originally founded in 1895 by French playwright Oscar Méténier. He purchased an old chapel located at the end of a tight alley, leaving the gothic, religious decorations intact. Wooden angels hung from the ceiling, and towered over the orchestra … In 1897, the theater was taken over by Max Maurey, who leaned into the Grand Guignol as a space for straight-up horror. Under Maurey’s leadership, the theater ran a variety of plays, ranging from comedies to dramas … He was said to judge the success of a given play by the number of audience members who passed out. As a publicity stunt, he also hired a house doctor to administer to those who were adversely affected by the horrors on display … Under Maurey’s leadership, the plays at the Grand Guignol began focusing on tales of insanity, hallucination, and, above all, terror … involving figures like a child-killing nanny, a mad doctor who performs a vengeful lobotomy, and jealous women who stick a pair scissors in the eyes of a more beautiful woman.”
- James Baldwin’s once splendorous home in the Cote d’Azur is in shambles now, as Thomas Chatterton Williams discovered when he broke in: He found “an extremely wide and shallow expanse of overgrown grass, orange trees, cypresses, wild lavender, and palms that gives sweeping views of the walled town above, the sun-drenched valley below, and, in the distance, the Mediterranean’s rippling sheen. The stone barrier wall had been broken a truck’s width and re-sealed with a chain-link fence that begged to be circumvented. I crouched and pulled out the cinderblock that stabilized it … I could not stop myself from attaching a deep significance to that ruined house in the foothills of the Alps, overlooking a distant sea. The thought that one of the most gifted and munificently alive writers of the twentieth century, the quintessential black American in France, would soon be rid of his only geographical footprint … struck me as unbearably sad.”
- Ai Weiwei ordered Legos in bulk. The corporation refused to fulfill his order, claiming that they “cannot approve the use of Legos for political works.” This made Ai Weiwei upset, as one might imagine. He decided to procure Legos the old-fashioned way: through the sunroofs of BMWs. “Ai Weiwei would like to rent, borrow or buy second-hand a BMW 5S Series sedan, of which the color can vary, as a Lego container,” he wrote on his Instagram. “The vehicle must have clear windows and a sunroof that can be fixed open with a five cm opening so that people can insert Legos … The car should be parked and locked in a central location of the city that can be easily accessed by the public. The vehicle should remain in the parking space for one month or a longer period of time, preferably in a location related to arts or culture, indoor or outdoor.” Some laud his willfully bizarre effort to fight censorship. Others think it’s what Jed Perl has called “political kitsch”: “one wonders where the political dissent ends and the artsy attitudinizing begins.”
In November 2010, ArtReview magazine published its annual Power 100, a list of the most powerful people in the art world. The highest-ranked living artist, coming in at number thirteen, was the Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei. Two months later, the Chinese government demolished Ai’s brand new, two-thousand-square-foot studio in Shanghai in one day—this despite the fact that officials had approved (and by some accounts invited) Ai’s plans for the studio, which took a year and almost a million dollars to build. Then, in April 2011, Chinese authorities took Ai into custody. Without announcing charges against him or when he would be released, they held him in detention for eighty-one days, during which time guards watched him constantly, even when he went to the bathroom or slept. He was released in June and, a few months later, charged with “economic crimes” and an accompanying bill of $2.4 million.
If you are neither looking to buy art nor quite understand the glut of it before you, what do you do at the Armory Show? To an ill-informed visitor, it’s like being at the Louvre, but without the benefit of history to fall back on. The show’s aesthetic labyrinth is thus the source of a certain amount of bafflement. I dealt with this quandary partly by writing down what it was I happened to see and enjoy, as though to come back to it later: Ai Weiwei’s porcelain owl houses; some distorted nudes by the photographer André Kertesz; a series of vegetables in gelatin-silver prints by Charles Jones; the Turkish artist Irfan Onurmen’s tulle portraits; totem poles by Charlie Roberts; a photograph, called L’Oiseau dans l’Espace, by Brancusi.
I arrived late on the last day of the show and spent the first twenty minutes of my visit searching for the press office (ah, the other pier), explaining why I did not possess any sort of business card, failing to locate the down escalator and descending alone in an elevator twice the size of my kitchen. I eavesdropped on a couple trying to decide if they could afford two seventeen-thounsand-dollar Weegee prints, agreeing they had space in their home. Then a young man told his friend just how badly he wanted to fuck someone’s sister (“so bad”). Next to the champagne bar, beneath a huge neon sign reading scandinavian pain, I allowed a kind Norwegian to apply a temporary tattoo to the underside of my wrist with a damp paper towel. I was surprised at how intimate this was—he might have been taking my pulse.
“You see,” he said, “most of what this is about is the fact of making it happen at all.”
Almost by chance I found the booth for “As They Were: American Masters Through the Lens of James Salter,” a combined effort by Loretta Howard and Nyehaus galleries, showcasing some of James Salter’s films and photographs taken between 1962 and ’63 while he had a studio in Peek Slip. In the event you don’t know who Salter is, the curators have obliged by providing a few old editions of his books in a glass case, along with the script for his film Downhill Racer next to a bluish spiral of canistered film sitting atop the receipts from its printers. There is a photo of the bearded Salter, standing behind his camera in a field, and another of the author as an old man, being greeted by Robert Redford. So, you see: legit. Read More