Category Archives: Uncategorized

On Shepard Fairey at the ICA, and street art.

Photo from a series I shot for the Boston Phoenix, when Shepard Fairey put a mural up outside the offices.

If you’re in the Boston area tomorrow (Saturday, April 4), you might want to check out the Institute of Contemporary Art’s Design as Social Agent talks and tours, which they call a “full day conversation on design and culture.” There’ll be talks happening all day long, from 10 am till 3ish, by all different types of people – art critics, street artists, designers, curators, etc. I’ll be sharing my own street art-adoring point-of-view at 11 am in the galleries.

Here’s a link to the event on Facebook.

On women of courage.

Yesterday, while the rest of the world was still obsessing/dissenting over Zach Snyder’s film adaptation of Alan Moore’s the Watchmen (I probably shouldn’t have mentioned Moore there, since he doesn’t want to be associated with the project), and it’s associated heroines (see above) – though people seem more concerned with Dr. Manhattan, and his “giant blue wiener” – Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton (who I personally hope will be pairing up for more projects in the future) were recognizing some real-life female superheroes. The first lady and Secretary of state co-hosted the Secretary of State’s 2009 International Women of Courage Awards. Here’s a smattering of the admirable ladies who were honored:

Ms. Suaad Allami (Iraq)
A prominent lawyer, Suaad Allami fights against the erosion of women’s rights and defends the most disadvantaged. She founded the NGO Women for Progress and the Sadr City Women’s Center, which offers free medical care, literacy education, vocational training, and legislative advocacy. She has accepted a Humphrey Fellowship from the State Department for academic year 2009-2010.

Ms. Hadizatou Mani (Niger)
Sold to a “master” at the age of 12 for the equivalent of $500, Hadizatou Mani persevered in gaining her freedom and helped pave the way for others trapped in similar circumstances to seek justice. Through her valiant efforts, persistence, and refusal to succumb to social pressure to abandon her case, she won a historic, precedent-setting decision in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court of Justice that condemned her enslavement.

Ms. Reem Al Numery (Yemen)
When she was 12, Reem Al Numery had her childhood cut short when she was forced to marry her 30-year -old cousin. She has emerged as a strong and brave voice on behalf of other girls facing a similar fate. Her courage has inspired a widespread drive against child marriages in Yemen.

Kind of makes me wonder what I’ve been doing with my life. Read the full list of award recipients here.

On texting Damien Hirst.

Here’s what I’ve gleaned from the New York Times and the New Yorker so far this week: Art sales are down. Lily Allen is a big celeb here, but not as big as she is across the pond. And everyone’s texting Damien Hirst! Observe:

From last Sunday’s New York Times magazine piece on the state of the art dealing world (some scene-setting background: Jose, Alberto, and David Mugrabi – art dealers, whom the Times says own “what is believed to be one of the largest and most valuable private collections of art in the world” – are at a Sotheby’s art auction, where several of Hirst’s works are up for sale):

The first four lots sold quickly, for more than their high estimates… Then came the shark. Alberto started trading text messages with Hirst, who was apparently playing snooker at a pub but eager to receive a play-by-play of the auction…

Bidding began at £2 million but quickly stalled at £3.2 million — below the low end of the house’s estimate, which was £4 million to £6 million. The auctioneer, Oliver Barker, looked beseechingly at two long tables, which were lined with perhaps three dozen Sotheby’s employees, each manning a telephone to field remote bids from collectors across the globe. But none of them proffered a bid…

But before the hammer went down, a remarkable thing happened. Jose sat up and began waving his hand, to get the auctioneer’s attention. Then he motioned toward one of the phone attendants, who he could see was still talking to somebody on her line.

Barker kept on going, and a new bidder came in. There was another lull — the piece almost sold at £3.7 million — but an auction-house staff member on another phone could be heard successfully coaxing her bidder.

Once the low estimate was reached, a couple of other would-be buyers bid £4.5 million, £4.6 million, £4.7 million and beyond — in no time, all the way past £8 million… The hammer finally landed at £8.5 million — which, once Sotheby’s commission and taxes were added in, translated to a £9.6 million payout, or about $17.2 million. The room broke into applause.

Alberto received a text message from Hirst and smiled. “Damien made one of these symbols,” he said, sticking out his tongue to demonstrate.

And then, from Sasha Frere-Jones’ lengthy piece on the original MySpace pop star, Lily Allen (subscription required):

Through her father, Lily became friendly with celebrities like the late Joe Strummer, of the Clash, and the artist Damien Hirst. “We were BlackBerry messaging last night,” she said of Hirst. “I was trying to get him on Twitter, but he wouldn’t do it. I signed off, ‘Good night. – Dame Moody Wench.'”

All of this means nothing at all, of course – except perhaps that Lily Allen and the Mugrabis share a mutual friend, a fact that probably no one will find exciting – but it was a funny coincidence of text message-friend name-dropping, nonetheless.

On Rent: The High School edition.

I had a cold earlier this week, and decided it was the perfect time to watch a bootlegged copy of Milk that a friend had lent me. [Note: I am not condoning bootlegging.]  It’s an excellent film, most notably because of Sean Penn’s skills as an actor. He has a way of completely embodying a character; to the point where it’s easy to forget that it’s Sean Penn. The story is simultaneously uplifting and sad; whether or not my emotions were out of whack due to sickness, I’m not sure, but I found myself sobbing on my couch, and thinking about the film long afterwards.

When you live in a city and have gay friends, you might forget sometimes that gay rights are even an issue. I was shocked when Prop 8 passed, and even more shocked that any state would want to prohibit gay couples from adopting children. Really? We want to keep financially stable people who desire to raise a child in a loving home from doing so?

Most of the time, I can’t believe that a debate over gay rights still even exists. It feels like it should have been over and done with forever ago, like suffrage or segregation. To me, homophobia is no different from racism or sexism. If we have no tolerance for the latter two in modern governmental affairs, why should we tolerate the first?

And that’s the disheartening part of Milk. That 30 years have passed and, as a society, we’ve only progressed a few baby steps beyond, in terms of how we view gay people. And there’s proof of that in the New York Times today, in this article, about American high schools opting to stage watered-down versions (read: they’ve taken out that orgy song) of Rent (perhaps in attempt by it’s producers to keep the spirit alive, since it closed this year on Broadway), and the uproar it’s caused.

At least three of the planned high school productions, in California, Texas and West Virginia, have been canceled after administrators or parents raised objections about the show’s morality, its portrayals of homosexuality and theft, and its frank discussions of drug use and H.I.V., according to administrators, teachers and parents involved in those cases.

Theft and drug use may be moderately understandable reasons (one could note, however, that often-produced musicals like West Side Story and Guys and Dolls, are exactly devoid of immorality) and H.I.V. is not surprising, given the ridiculous persistence of abstinence-only education in this country.

But the remainder of the article seems to stress that homosexuality part.

Ron Martin, the theater teacher and director here at Corona del Mar High School, found out just how controversial “Rent” can be… He said his principal, Fal Asrani, had objected to the show because of its treatment of “prostitution and homosexuality.” “When I heard that, I stopped her and looked her in the eye and said, ‘First, there is no prostitution in ‘Rent,’ and second, homosexuality is not wrong,’ ” Mr. Martin said. “She made no comment.”

Asrani, of course, denies bringing up homosexuality. Susan Collins, a superintendant from West Virginia (who was unfamiliar with rent until “last year,” a fact I find amazing), is against Rent in high schools as well, though she takes the passive-aggressive approach.

Mr. Dillon said in an interview that when he told Ms. Collins there were two gay couples in the musical, “she got flustered and worked up and expressed concerns.”

Ms. Collins said she had no personal problem with the homosexuality in “Rent,” but she was concerned that families in her West Virginia school district would not find that content and other themes appealing.

Is it just me, or does “flustered and worked up” not sound like no personal problems with homosexuality?

The silver lining to this is that high schoolers are rebelling – they’re forming Facebook groups, and fighting to stage Rent, which could translate to a younger generation supporting gay rights – evidence that those baby steps from the Harvey Milk years are still transpiring.

On Nazi looting and bad temp jobs.

In this week’s Boston Phoenix, I write about a new novel by Brookline Native, Sara Houghteling. Here’s an excerpt:

During World War II, Nazi plunderers focused their greedy eyes on Paris and began looting the city’s artwork — operating according to Hitler’s plan to open a massive, self-aggrandizing museum in Germany. Savvy employees at the Louvre emptied the museum and stashed its paintings in dark basements of the Parisian suburbs. So, the Nazis turned to Jewish art collectors and gallery owners, and used the Jeu de Paume Museum (formerly Napoleon III’s tennis courts) as a depository for their booty.

Rose Valland, a Louvre employee assigned to oversee the Jeu de Paume under the Nazis, kept a secret list of the paintings the Nazis had stolen, where they came from, and where in Germany they were being shipped. After the war, Valland worked to recover the lost artwork and, in the process, became a real-life heroine.

Houghteling is an excellent storyteller, and Pictures excellently weaves fact with fiction – the tragedy of Nazi art-looting, the heartbreak that often comes with early adulthood romances, the struggle for parental acceptance, and the complexities of the art-dealing world.

Houghteling has been a writer and a teacher for about a decade now, and had the time and room of one’s own, as they say, to write Pictures, her debut novel, by virtue of a Fulbright Scholarship, which she used to travel to Paris to research and write this novel. As I mentioned, though, she’s a Brookline native and a Harvard grad, and she freelanced a bit for the Phoenix back in the early naughts. Here’s a funny little piece of hers I stumbled across, detailing the various odd jobs she’s had to take in the process of pursuing her writing dream. Her method of excelling at a telemarketing job, in order to raise funds to travel to Prague for a writer’s workshop, is particulary hilarious:

Mostly I called Southern area codes, so I adopted the slow, syrupy drawl of my college roommate from Arkansas. My success rate crept upward. I changed my name to fit the customer’s business. For florist shops, I was Rose or Lilac. Ophelia dialed the bookstore crone, Prometheana called the fire station, and Mary Catherine rang up churches. Ginger and Candy, my porn-star alter egos and most successful saleswomen, phoned gas stations and hardware stores. These names inspired comments such as “You must be thirsty, Candy. Like a drink of me?” Or “I’m a very dirty man, Miss Ginger. I’d like it if you were dirty for me.”

Read the rest of this piece (and marvel at the Phoenix‘s old web design) here.

The show by street artists that’s not about street art… sort of.

Photo by Hargo

Photo by Hargo

You could say I’m slightly obsessed with the Wall in Central Square. It’s sort of the same way I feel about certain bands, or certain musicians. Like when I’m watching a really phenomenally great band, and it’s maybe a band that not many people have heard of, or that isn’t making any money really (that’s pretty much everyone nowadays), and I get to witness That Moment. The moment where someone is just totally and completely lost in the music – hunched over, or crawling on the floor, or shaking their head, and sweating, and just totally oblivious that anyone is watching, because they are so absorbed and enamored by what they are creating, and I’m sort of caught up in it, too – well, those are my favorite moments. It’s amazing and slightly overwhelming, even just to witness, especially when it’s people I know or am friends with, because I feel suddenly feel so in awe of them that I don’t even know what to say afterwards. “Great show?” “Thanks for spilling your guts out on stage for no apparent reason other than just to do it?” And this is what makes me love music.

And that’s the same feeling I get from street art. When you walk into the alleyway by Central Kitchen that encompasses the Wall, it’s like the visual incarnation of that moment. Honestly, I think I have a stronger emotional reaction to the wall than to the Louvre or the nine million churches I was forced to visit for art history classes in Italy. I’ve always been more of a modern/20th-21st century art gal. The Mona Lisa, etc. always felt sort of dead to me, not just in the sense that the artist is literally dead, of course, but it just didn’t really speak to me in any way that later art, also by now-deceased artists like Mark Rothko or Matisse could. Obviously there is a place in this world for fine art; there’s a whole chain of influences in place. But visiting the Wall just feels so now. It’s truly imaginative, put there for no other reason than to create art, and all you have to do to see it is walk down the street.

So, when I heard about the latest show at the Distillery Gallery, in South Boston, I knew I had to write about it – just based on the list of names alone: Hargo, Dark Clouds, Buildmore, Kenji, Noir Boston, Alphabet Soup…

From today’s Phoenix:

Not long after walking into the Distillery Gallery on a Monday evening, Thomas Buildmore removes two painted-over NO PARKING signs that had been screwed into the wall. “This show isn’t about street art,” he says.

If it were, “we’d have some cliché conversation about street art versus fine art.” Moments prior, I’d had that cliché conversation, with Cantabridgian artist Morgan Thomas. We agreed that “Paint It Now” — the show that opens tonight at the first-floor alt-gallery in the Distillery, South Boston’s living space-cum-artistic haven — is street art moved into the fine-art world. It’s just a change of location, with the added luxury of time, which most street artists — who are constantly looking over their shoulders — lack.

Buildmore’s sentiment is a surprising one, given that the show features a dozen or so artists, many of whom use city walls as their canvases. He and Thomas, who are part of a collective called Overkill Studio that’s based in the same building, organized the show with Scott Chase, the director of the Distillery Gallery.

The idea behind “Paint It Now” is simple: give two white walls and an unending supply of black paint to several of Boston and New York’s young artistic talents, and see what happens.”

Read the rest here. (Or come to the opening tonight.) Also, I took a film making class, and made my first ever movie at (you guessed it!) THE WALL. I’ll post that eventually.

Wednesday headphone songs

Oh, hello. Here’s a list of songs I’m currently listening to overandoverandoverandover. Some are old, some are new, some aren’t even officially “out” yet. Listen to them with a solid pair of headphones – not earbuds! Why not try the sparkling pair above? – they’re better that way. Sort of like hot dogs are always better at baseball games, popcorn is always better at movies (even when it costs half your paycheck), and coffee is better… oh wait, coffee’s always good. Listen away, friends:

French Kicks, “Abandon” from Swimming

Blitzen Trapper, “The Green King Sings” from Wild Mountain Nation

Beck, “Chemtrails” from Modern Guilt

The Helio Sequence, “Keep Your Eyes Ahead” from Keep Your Eyes Ahead

Faces on Film, “Natalie’s Numbers” from The Troubles

Deerhunter, “Little Kids” from Microcastle

Boards of Canada, “Dawn Chorus” from Geogaddi

Age Rings, “Rock ‘n’ Roll is Dead” from Black Honey (But I’m not allowed to post this one yet, because I don’t have the final version. So you’ll have to trust me – it’s awesome.)