The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

April 14 2001 12:00 AM

The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

Among the many painters William Blake } disliked Correggio } figured prominently, as Michael Kimmelman points out in the New York Times. Exhibitions of both artists are currently on show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, though the Blake, which made its first appearance at the Tate Gallery last fall, is the more ambitious of the two. As Hilton Kramer writes, Blake "was a radical and a mystic in his every interest and endeavor—in his politics and his theology as well as in his poetry and painting—and he was radically original, too, in the principal ambition of his life, which was to combine the resources of poetry, painting and printing in a single medium, the illustrated printed book, which would address the mind as a spiritual revelation." For pursuing this ambition, Blake has always been a revered figure for radicals—and for Internet gurus, who wish the World Wide Web to become, if not necessarily a spiritual revelation, then at least a medium combining visual, written, and aural dimensions. Writing about Blake last year, the British novelist Iain Sinclair said:  "There is no reason on earth why Blake, his poetry or his art, should be of any use. It was never his business to be useful. Shovels are useful. Paper clips are useful. Blake astounds, terrifies, delights. He gives us a richer sense of ourselves ..." In Brian Sewell's view, the exhibition allows its visitors to "sense something of the man and the time and place in which he worked, his religious fervor, his political fear and, above all, [to be made] aware of a driving, careless courage."


The leaders of the Baader-Meinhof Group, the German terrorist gang of the 1970s, committed suicide while in prison, though just how two members were able to shoot themselves to death is to this day a mystery. No gun was ever discovered. In the London Review, Peter Wollen writes about the group's enthusiasm for Melville's Moby Dick. "In 1972 [Ulrike] Meinhof was already recommending the novel to her children and Gudrun Ensslin, always practical-minded, used it to provide cover names for the [Baader-Meinhof] prisoners in their clandestine communications—Baader was Ahab, Meins was Starbuck, the group's lawyer, Horst Mahler, was Bildad and Ensslin was the ship's cook. … In the book the whale is finally killed, but so too, of course, are all the crew, from captain to cook, with the single exception of Ishmael, to whom the closest surviving equivalent is perhaps Astrid Proll, the author and editor of Baader-Meinhof: Pictures on the Run, 67-77..."

John Tierney  says it is hypocritical of Woody Allen to object to Mayor Rudy Giuliani's decorum in art campaign and then to complain about a building that may be constructed next to his Manhattan home that it would desecrate the neighborhood. "The chattering classes here are famous for their eagerness to regulate other industries," Tierney writes, "but they insist that their jobs and products be completely free of government intervention—except, of course, for government money, which must be given unconditionally. For the public good, their artistic and political views must remain as unobstructed as the views from Mr. Allen's town house." That's unfair, Mr. Tierney: One can visit an art show, such as "Sensation" at the Brooklyn Museum of Art (the exhibition that did so much to ruffle the mayor), or not. Buildings, however, tend to be more permanent, are rather less avoidable, and many new ones—especially apartment buildings—are shockingly ugly and will stay ugly until, many years later, they are torn down.

Wave Hill, briefly the Bronx home of Mark Twain and the attractive setting for Woody Allen's movie Interiors, is losing its gardener, Marco Polo Stufano, to retirement. As the Times reports: "Wave Hill, [Stefano] likes to say, drawing as always on his sense of art history, is to its far larger botanical neighbor in the Bronx as the Frick Collection is to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 'This is about providing someplace beautiful for the people of the city,' he said.' It's not about a collection of plants. It's about making pictures, putting things together in a way that's pleasing.' " Now, if only Mayor Giuliani would turn the eye of his decency commission toward the house at Wave Hill, currently the shambolic office of a publicly funded environmental and educational center. The beautiful house with remarkable views of the Hudson River, the George Washington Bridge, and the New Jersey Palisades, is crying out to be converted into a museum. The Bronx would then have its very own Frick and Mr. Stufano's garden a more proper neighbor.

As Ian Buruma acutely points out in this week's New Yorker, David Irving, the Holocaust denier and vengeful snob, "seems to be absolutely serious only in his hatreds—most of all, in his hatred of 'our traditional enemies' (that is to say, 'Jewish fraudsters'), of professional historians, and of anyone else he takes to represent the establishment." In a review of D.D. Guttenplan's book about the Irving trial, Martin Bright says: "Guttenplan's final chapter is a call for solidarity among his fellow Jews in the fight against prejudice. In Britain, he suggests this might mean Jewish leaders speaking out more against police brutality and the treatment of asylum-seekers. 'What does it say when the two recent Home Secretaries—one Conservative, one Labor—who have done more to restrict the rights of refugees are themselves respectively the son and grandson of Jewish refugees?' " As Graham Turner's article about Jewish life in the United States and Britain suggests, perhaps it says something about assimilation. "The statistics certainly look ominous. In America, six out of 10 Jews are marrying out. In Britain …  it is as many as two thirds. The consequences for the future of the community in both countries are dire. …  To the Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, the rate of marrying out spells 'massive demographic devastation and confusion.' In Britain, the Jewish community has fallen from 450,000 in the Fifties to 260,000 today. In America, where the birth rate among all Jews is the lowest of any ethnic community, Jews now make up only two per cent of the population, half what it was 40 years ago. Israel Lau, the Chief Rabbi of Israel, says the Jews have lost more to 'attrition' than they did to the Holocaust."


Now that President Bush has issued an apology to China (the Telegraph explains the complexities of saying sorry in Chinese), the 24 U.S. reconnaissance personnel can soon expect to be whisked across the Atlantic and greeted as heroes as their feet meet American tarmac. ( Christopher Hitchens writes about the recent history of Sino-American relations in the London Review.) Meantime, while the bugles play, U.S. immigration officials, like their Canadian counterparts, will scour the Pacific horizon, on the look out for next tramp steamer or cargo boat with a secret cargo of Chinese men, women, and children attempting to emigrate to North America. As the National Post reports, these immigrants' arrival is unlikely to be pleasant, and many will be deported back to China—even if the journeys they endured to reach what they hoped would become their promised land are as heroic as they are tragic.


Last year, Nicholson Baker acquired 7,500 bound volumes of newspapers for his American Newspaper Repository. He told the Telegraph: "[T]hese volumes are physical objects that represent history, the raw store of history that we have—the chief, the main, the principal urban record of the late-19th and early-20th centuries, rarer than most of the stuff that libraries keep in their rare book collections." In a review of Baker's new book, Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper, Robert Darnton questions the novelist's conception of history—evidence, in itself, is not history—but believes Baker's recommendations for the protection of books and newspapers are very important. "Unlike bison and forests, [newspapers] cannot be revived. The moral of the tale stands as a corrective to the lore of the journalists: Nothing is more dead than yesterday's newspaper, except yesterday's destroyed newspaper. P.S. The Council on Library and Information Resources … has just issued a draft report recommending a nationwide effort … to save original copies of books and newspapers. It also proposes steps to be taken toward a national preservation policy that would include audiovisual and digital materials, which are even more endangered than print on paper."

According to Sheryl Garratt, the Japanese can't stop shopping, but as Murray Sayle points out, one of the big challenges for Japanese treasury officials is to persuade people to spend more of their savings. "The Japanese are the world's keenest savers; they spend so little on themselves that the Government has to do it for them in order to keep the national economy, and the world's, ticking over. The Japanese Finance Ministry estimates that in the financial year to March 2001, central and local government debt will exceed 140 per cent of GDP; the authorities in the world's second largest economy will, in other words, have laid out almost a year and a half's income before a single yen has come in. On what? … The gleaming 512-foot monster that towers over our local trout stream, for instance, barely generates enough electricity to run its own lavish PR show, much less to light the mountain village where I live, or earn anything to repay the four billion dollars it has cost."


According to Parkinson's Law, work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. But as Jim Holt points out in Lingua Franca, there are occasions when a well-developed sense of procrastination may help you make better choices. There is, of course, no better way of wasting time these days than flying to or from La Guardia, and the delays at the New York airport affect air travel throughout the United States. Not that you have much choice in the matter, nor has anyone proved conclusively that wasting time in Queens, New York, is a good thing. As a New York Times editorial explains, inefficient use of bad runways (too many planes of the wrong size taking off and landing on a field designed in the age of the prop, not the jet) is chiefly to blame. The solution, it seems, is an auction scheme. As the Times puts it, "the Port Authority and the F.A.A. would agree on the airport's ideal capacity and the highest bidders would win those slots not already grandfathered. … The alternative would be to raise and restructure La Guardia's landing fees so that airlines adjust their behavior—say by flying fewer but larger aircraft on a given route. At present, aircraft pay according to their weight, so private planes and regional jets pay far less than a 767 crammed with more than 200 passengers. This makes no sense. Slower both on the runway and in flight, smaller regional airliners and private jets strain the airport's capacity a great deal more, not less, than bigger planes."


MISSING As Andrew O'Hagan writes in the New York Review of Books, Lord Lucan, a subject of Muriel Spark's new book, is a figure for the Internet age—at least, for that part of the Internet obsessed with conspiracy and the supernatural. "The kinds of people who seek information on these things … are people who used to subscribe to weird magazines, used to meet in pool bars or in fields on weekends, and who can now be found in Inter-net chat-rooms at three o'clock in the morning. It is becoming possible to understand these groups as new international tribes: the People of the Grassy Knoll, the Clan Roswell, the Global Fraternity of Boys Who Love Pamela Anderson, the Elvises, the Hitlers, the Worldwide Believers in the Sanctity of the Meteorite. Every classroom in the New World used to have one or two of these types; every mall had a dozen or so; but now, thanks to the glories of the World Wide Web, these odd twos and dozens can link hands across time zones and space, making of each contingent, from Dundee, Scotland, to Delmar, Iowa, a brotherhood of cranks the size of Katmandu."


Where will you live when you get old? The nature of retirement facilities in America is changing to match older citizens' developing needs—and growing numbers. Designers are looking for plans that stress activity and interaction—and are eschewing colonial-style furniture. Baby-boomers will become seniors virtually in one fell swoop. According to Hubble Smith in the Las Vegas Review Journal, "the population of people 55 to 69 will increase by more than 6 million in the next five years," and "[d]emand for new active adult housing is expected to rise to 700,000 units in 2002, compared with 400,000 unites in 1999." (Las Vegas did not make it onto the list of "hip" places to live when you're aged.) Anne Eisenberg in the New York Times profiles a new kind of "smart house" for the elderly that uses tracking-type devices to detect changes in rate of motion (which might signal an emergency) and can also prompt old folks to remember indispensables like taking pills or even eating or drinking water. Though cameras are used, designers stress that there is no "Big Brother" feeling to the homes. Dr. Irfan A. Essa, a developer of the tracking systems, insists, "our intention isn't to spy."—Sian Gibby

The relations between humans and animals are manifold and complex. We have been sharing the planet for so long they could hardly be otherwise. In the 21st century we find ourselves more inextricably linked than ever. On one hand, we are constantly discovering new connections. For example, according to a piece by {{Frank Shirrmacher#2:{B1312000-FBFB-11D2-B228-00105A9CAF88}&sub={05125C1D-0263-11D5-A3B3-009027BA22E4}&doc={263CF17E-3A21-11D4-B98C-009027BA226C}&width=1024&height=740&agt=explorer&ver=4&svr=4}} from the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, it seems possible that fruit flies share not only our liking of sweet fruits, but also possibly our tendency toward depression. Chicago Tribune foreign correspondent Ray Moseley reports from Britain that we humans find our misery almost symbiotically bonded to that of hoofed animals, as foot-and-mouth continues to ravage the lives of humans in the tourism industry there. And in more intimate spheres, some writers have resurrected, inexplicably, the notion of bestiality. Peter Singer writes an article putting forward the case for; Slate's Timothy Noah takes a bewildered look at the issue, and William Saletan examines the logic of bestiality and finds it lacking.—Sian Gibby


Now that street urchins have apparently vanished and the gardens of New York's City Hall are spick and span, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has turned his tastes and attention to the city's publicly funded museums. In a move that will have his critics comparing him to a Counter-Reformation pope or even Sen. Jesse Helms, Giulaini has proposed that the city's Cultural Affairs Advisory Commission should let the mayor know if any art show is, in their view, indecent. As reported by the New York Times, Giuliani said: "This is the perfect place to accomplish a mission to work out guidelines that would be sensible ones and fair ones … for what guidelines should exist in terms of should those programs defame, destroy or attack religions, ethnic groups [or racial groups]." This new campaign for decency is chiefly a response to two art shows held at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, which both offended the mayor. As Robin Cembalest, editor of ArtNews, argues, the mayor's attempts at silencing art he doesn't care for have, on more than one occasion, backfired. As for the decency movement, as Cembalest writes, "the whole thing's enough to convince artists to send 'offensive' art directly to City Hall. They'd better hurry up—Giuliani's leaving office soon."


News that Ellen Fein, author of a guide to secure a perfect marriage titled The Rules, will separate from her husband has led to much Schadenfreude. Katie Roiphe, however, warns against overkill. "It's too easy to dismiss The Rules, to mock them for their earnestness and deplore them for their sexist, condescending attitude towards women. Because this silly paper-back, with pink ribbons all over its cover, obviously captured the imagination of millions of women all over the world. Five years after it first came out, I have noticed The Rules on all sorts of intelligent people's bookshelves, tucked away between The Brothers Karamazov and Zadie Smith. I have noticed smart women buying it and following its ethos." Writing about some recent books on marriage in The New Yorker, Rebecca Mead concludes "that marriage does not provide happiness (though it can often provide an environment in which to experience happiness), and that it is not an exhilarating private journey of self-discovery but a mode of living in the social world." Last year, Jane Smiley wrote about the rules of divorce. "The choice of staying or leaving," she said, "presented itself to me as a choice between suicide and mass murder."


When will an editor publish the collected articles of George Gurley? Over the last few years, the New York Observer's journalist has chronicled the absurdity of New York money culture as well as anyone. This week, Gurley writes about Lee Munson, a young stockbroker of considerable self-aggrandizement and much exaggeration, who seems to believe that every other word should begin with "f" and end with "k," with stops at "u" and "c" in between, and occasionally adding "ing" for emphasis. What makes Gurley's articles entertaining is that he allows his subject to speak for themselves rather than dwelling on his reaction to the man or woman sitting before of him. For other Gurley articles, click here, here, here, and here.

What with all the British and wildlife programming on public TV, it's been said there's little else on PBS other than British people talking, animals having sex, animals talking, British people having sex, and Washington Week in Review. Now that's all changed; not because PBS is so different, or that animals have sex with British people on American public TV, but because there's another outlet for British TV, namely BBC America. The British presence does not stop there, of course; some reality shows and Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? are British imports. Beginning in April, NBC will broadcast a wildly popular British game show, The Weakest Link, where a matronly host named Anne Robinson (somewhere between the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland and a Judi Dench portrayal of "M" in a James Bond movie) insults her contestants for their lack of intelligence and bids the many losers an executioner's farewell. If the conceit about Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? (an illusionary one, of course) is that you, too, can get rich, then the defining theme of The Weakest Link is about who is willing to look an idiot in public. (Robinson, who will also host the U.S. version, becomes the first Briton to host a game show on network television.) In Britain, there's no shortage of people willing to risk such humiliation. (Critics such as Geoffrey Wheatcroft believe that shows such as The Weakest Link illustrate their point that the BBC should no longer receive public funding.) Whether Americans will prove as willing to be tossed and shaken remains to be seen.


It can but be a matter of a time before the only acceptable form of attire at the Oscar ceremony is drag—what else can possibly be new?—although as Jan Moir pointed out in the Telegraph, Elizabeth Hurley, always ahead of the curve, successfully looked like a man in a woman's dress at this year's Oscars. Some might disagree: Surely Pamela Anderson, who proved that women are as likely to come from Mars as from Venus. (For photographs and streaming video from the red carpet, turn to the Los Angeles Times or E! Online.) Martians and drag queens aside, the notices for this year's Oscars attire were generally poor, even if several actors did their best. As Ginia Bellafante writes:"As much as Hollywood likes to display a penchant for packaged refinement on Oscar night, it can't help itself in the presence of raunchy bad taste. Once Ms. Anderson arrived looking as if she'd just been arraigned for prostitution on an episode of 'The Dukes of Hazzard,' it was easy to forget about the studied exquisiteness of Julia Roberts in her white-trimmed vintage Valentino, or the elegance of Ashley Judd in her silver Armani, or even the welcome code-breaking chic of Sarah Jessica Parker in her black Calvin Klein minidress."