Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The last weeks have been incredibly volatile, yet i haven't really done anything. Yesterday stands as an example: we sat here waiting for the repairmen, one for the oven and the other for the dryer. We were told approximate times (for the oven, between 11 and 4, for the dryer, between 1 and 5), and we were also told that we would be informed when they were set to arrive (they would call us before they left the previous job). So, at 1:30, we got a call and the repairman for the oven was on his way (he arrived at 1:45) ; then we got a call from the repairman for the dryer, he arrived before 3. Now everything has been taken care of, but the anxiety was intense, because we had an appointment on Thursday for the repairs, but by 5 o'clock, no one showed up! So if no one showed up this time, we were really screwed.

There was an obit today in the New York Times for Thomas Armstrong, whose tenure at the Whitney brought about the current state of the museum, which had ripple effects which continue to this day. Armstrong allowed a team of (then) mostly young curators to try to create shows which were cutting-edge, up-to-the-minute, au courant. The Biennials, which had been rather stodgy, became the beacon for the new. And it affected the art world, so that the Whitney Independent Study Program became a launchingpad for so many careers, not just in the visual arts, but in other fields as well. (The filmmaker Elia Suleiman, as an example, spent time in the Whitney Independent Study Program.) Now, not just the Whitney, but MoMA P.S. 1, the New Museum, the Guggenheim, the Brooklyn Museum, even the modern wing of the Metropolitan Museum, struggle to be with-it, in-the-know. And that, for better or worse, is Thomas Armstrong's legacy. And all of us who deal in the arts have to deal with it.

Yesterday, there was an obit for A. Whitney Ellsworth (not to be confused with F. Whitney Ellsworth; F. Whitney was the comic book person who was involved in the Superman TV series); this was more personal. Whitney Ellsworth's eldest son is Barry Ellsworth, who is a friend. Whitney Ellsworth proved that you can always make a difference: he went from being an editor at The Atlantic to being the founding publisher of The New York Review of Books, and then, as the director of Amnesty International, he transformed the organization from a little shoestring operation into a real international force. But what i remember about Whitney Ellsworth was his enthusiasm; when Barry and i were involved with Apparatus, we'd have events and Barry's parents would show up (you would think it would have been awkward, since Sallie Bingham and Whitney were long divorced, but their parental pride in Barry overrode their differences) and Whitney would always be so intrigued by what we were doing, and what our plans were for Apparatus. So, aside from his public achievements, i remember Whitney Ellsworth as a father who was just so proud of his children.

This brings me to another story. While i was in Berlin, i really became addicted to Facebook; i've since weaned myself from that obsession, but FB was one way to connect myself to other people, and i had been very isolated ever since we moved to Brooklyn. The artworld really was a neighborhood, with so many of us living in downtown Manhattan. But by the end of the 1990s, there really was a dispersal. FB gave a false sense of reconnection. Two people that i really liked being in touch with have left FB: one person closed his account a while ago, and the other person just had his account closed (he posted a picture of himself in the nude). But every so often, i do come across someone that i haven't been in touch with for a long time. Sometimes, i do try to look up people, and the Internet has a lot of sites which list people. But a month ago, i put in a name, and came up with an obituary notice.

Turns out that this person, Ken, died in 2004; the last time i saw him would have been about 1994. I tried to be his friend, but he was very conflicted about his life. He had been working on Wall Street after getting a business degree from SUNY; but when i met him, he'd given up his job, and was working as a stripper at Show Palace. Coming out, for him, was something so shameful that he was throwing his life away. He was afraid to tell his family he was gay: he was the youngest of four brothers, and he thought his brothers would shun him. So he basically was doing it for them.

But though i was saddened to read the obit, it also made me feel better: it said that, when he died, he had a "life-partner", that he had gone back to school and gotten a degree (in nursing), that he had worked as a nurse and actually won an award for his work. And the obit mentioned his family, saying that they were with him when he died. So his brothers hadn't rejected him. So though i was sad to realize he was dead, i was glad to read that he had gotten his life together in the decade before his death.

I spent the entire weekend at home, and i'm starting to feel like a hermit here in Brooklyn. I wish i could rouse myself to do something, but most weekends i just like staying at home. But the coming weekend should be different.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Sometimes, the impulse to write does get stymied; it's hard to work up much enthusiasm when the entire critical landscape seems to be in a state of decline (and this has been the topic of much discussion, as witness the panel that followed the annual AICA meeting). I've seen a lot of movies in the last two weeks: i have now seen 12 of the features that will be part of the Brooklyn Academy of Music's CinemaFest, and, yes, there are trends that have emerged. I also saw a few other movies, such as Jacqueline Caux's documentary "Prism's Colors, Mechanics of Time"; i saw two documentaries on HBO, "Bobby Fischer Against the World" and "McEnroe/Borg: Fire & Ice". I also saw Errol Morris's "Tabloid" and John Turturro's "Passione". But it's been a lot and i need to try to process it all.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

So much seen in the past two weeks. The Brooklyn Academy of Music will be having its third annual CinemaFest; there were press screenings, and i've now seen twelve of the movies which will be screened. There's a lot to think about, and quite a few trends to discuss.

The Atlantic Avenue Artwalk 2011 was last weekend, and turned out to be a lot of fun, but it seemed more a crafts fair than any sort of art event.

There's a heat advisory out: the temperatures are expected to climb to almost 100 degrees. It's brutal out there.

Last week, there was an obituary for Adolfas Mekas in the New York Times. Of course, i had not seen Adolfas in years, but it was a shock to realize he was 85 years old! When i was working down at the old Anthology Film Archives at 80 Wooster Street, i shared the basement office with Pola Chappelle, Adolfas's wife: she was working on the preservation of Jerome Hill's films. If Adolfas was 85, that means Jonas should be 82.

But on Friday, i went to Anthology (now located at 2nd Street and 2nd Avenue) for the press screening of Jacqueline Caux's documentary "Prism's Colors, Mechanics of Time", and when i got out of the screening, i heard the sound of an infant running around; turned out that a young couple was in the lobby, there to help set up for some event that evening at Anthology, and they'd brought their baby with them. But the sound of children running around Anthology: that wasn't so uncommon when i was working there, because Pola would sometimes bring their son Sean, and Jonas would sometimes bring his daughter Oona. The documentary was itself nostalgic, in that it was a document of the music scene of the 1960s and beyond, with interviews from John Cage, LaMonte Young, Terry Riley, Pauline Oliveros, Steve Reich, Phil Glass, Meredith Monk.... in a funny way, the experience was alienating, because i was by myself, and Anthology wasn't the Anthology of my youth (when it started at the Public Theater and then moved to 80 Wooster Street) and yet the experience was one which was reminiscent of Anthology in the mid-1970s. And that included Jacqueline Caux's documentary.