Go on and Drive Your Van Right Off a Cliff, and Other News


On the Shelf

Dead to me.


  • The Volkswagen Westfalia Camper used to be a mark of distinction: passing one on the road ten years ago, you could be fairly certain its passengers were unwashed eccentrics, conspiracy theorists, petty criminals, or all of the above. But today the van has lost its luster. Like everything decent and weird in this world, it’s been co-opted by rich white people who yearn to cultivate a sense of ersatz rebellion and get more likes on Instagram. They buy these vans by the hundreds, presumably to take boring drug-free road trips and have lots of vanilla sex in the back. This is called #vanlife, and you should denounce it whenever you see it. Rachel Monroe writes of the trend, “Like the best marketing terms, ‘vanlife’ is both highly specific and expansive. It’s a one-word life-style signifier that has come to evoke a number of contemporary trends: a renewed interest in the American road trip, a culture of hippie-inflected outdoorsiness, and a life free from the tyranny of a nine-to-five office job … ‘It’s men in their thirties with huge beards, and they’re pretty much all stay-at-home dads,’ [Harley Sitner] said. ‘Their wives work office jobs and they work on the vans so the family can go out and vanlife on the weekend’ … ‘There are now professional vanlifers,’ [Foster] Huntington told me, sounding slightly scandalized. Vanlifers have a tendency to call their journeys ‘projects,’ and to describe them in the elevator-pitch terms that make sense to potential sponsors.”
  • In an interview by Paul Devlin, David Murray reflects on the legacy of Albert Murray’s jazz writing: “People get tired of reading good stuff when reading about jazz. They don’t want to think too hard. A lot of people got frustrated with Albert Murray on that too—people just want a few sentences—they don’t know about the sustenance of the blues. But he broke it down … The fact that he even thought [the blues] was sophisticated turned some people off. Europeans love Africans when they don’t comb their hair. See, in Europe, they’ll see a light-skinned black, and they’ll say, ‘He’s black, but he’s not really black.’ Here, politically, we’ve defined who we are as African Americans. In Europe, they use their definition of us rather than our definition of us. We have to say these things to continue to define who we are as people. That’s what Albert Murray was saying when he described the afro hairstyle as ‘Afro-Brillo,’ rather than describing ‘the natural.’ He says that because he knows exactly what he means. He’s very specific. There are white people who resent those distinctions because it destroys their idea of the nigger serving coffee. Or those lawn jockeys. Sometimes I would go to a restaurant in Portugal that had one. I’d always throw some shit at it. The owner says, ‘Man, why you always messing with my jockey?’ I say it makes me not want to come in here!”

  • Until recently, Ruth and Edward Frost, a nonagenarian couple, owned a handsome, shambling building in Greenwich Village, and they insisted on renting to artists only. Mary Kaye Schilling looks at the storied history of their place: “The frumpy face of 17 East Ninth Street belies its rich history, a microcosm of the struggle between beauty and commerce, art and real estate, the creators and the patrons who made Manhattan and continue to reshape it to this day. As the city succumbs to sleek glass monuments to hedge-fund hegemony, 17 remains a boho vestige and a precarious homage to the creative churn that made Greenwich Village famous from Los Angeles to Laos … ‘Ruth had this absolutely frustrated sense of drama,’ [Jeffrey] Simpson says. ‘When they told me I could have the apartment, she said’—he adopts a Katharine Hepburn quaver—‘You never know what you’ll see in these halls!’ Simpson laughs, in part because he later learned that the couple was watching their tenants come and go on a closed-circuit TV; the camera was in the lobby and they had positioned chairs in front of a screen outside their bedroom—a reality show with an audience of just two.”
  • Kate Imbach has parsed all of Melania’s publicly available photos for evidence of life, and she has discovered this: here is a fairy-tale prisoner with a major case of Stockholm syndrome, a woman in love with her captivity. Imbach writes, “We can all picture the gilded monstrosity of the Trump home from publicity photos (chandeliers, sad boy astride a stuffed lion, golden pillars), but it is a different place through Melania’s eyes. She takes photographs inside her house at weird, skewed angles. It is a strange effect when the half-obscured objects, chairs and ceilings, are all so golden. It looks like what a terrified little girl held captive in an ogre’s fairy-tale castle might see when she dares to sneak a peek through her fingers … Melania’s photographs of Barron are almost all composed as they are above. He is centered in the middle of a big horizon, the ocean, baseball or golf field. He always faces elsewhere, away from the camera, looking not just forward but out, ahead, to the future.”
  • What are you eating tonight—regular dinner? Loser. You could be having Art Dinner. It’s only $125, not including the wine tasting, and it’s happening for just a few nights at the Whitney Biennial, where the artist Susan Cianciolo is reprising her “Run Restaurant” project. Sarah Cascone writes, “Originally staged just down the block from the Whitney’s new Meatpacking District home at Alleged Gallery for one month in 2001, ‘Run Restaurant’ was an interactive art project that took the form of a communal space. Cianciolo, a fashion-designer-turned-artist who began learning to cook from infancy … oversaw every aspect of its creation, from creating uniforms for the waitstaff to building the kitchen to cooking the food. But where the original ‘Run Restaurant,’ named for her then-recently defunct fashion line, Run, featured a $10 prix-fixe vegetarian meal, its reincarnation is a far fancier affair. Tickets are $125 for the five-course meal, plus an optional $45 wine pairing (limited student tickets are available for $25) … The artist has also added her special touch to the restaurant decor, crafting collaged tablecloths from wallpaper, newspaper grocery-store circulars, and wrapping paper. ‘Every single piece of fabric has a very emotional and personal connection,’ said Cianciolo, pointing to a tunic given to her by a musician friend who will play during one of the dinner seatings.”