Monthly Archives: July 2007

Miscellaneous Moses


Buried at the bottom of an article on the NY Times’ records being donated to the New York Public Library, an account of the high-school lunchroom effect Moses had on people:

‘A much touchier and longstanding issue was coverage of New York’s master builder, Robert Moses, a close friend of the Hays Sulzbergers. Moses repeatedly complained about Times reporting and editorials in the late ’50s and early ’60s, and these triggered testy exchanges with the newsroom, which Catledge called “the Book of Moses.” Attached to a December 1965 letter to Arthur Hays Sulzberger from Moses suggesting a get-together is a note: “For the File: Mr. Sulzberger said, ‘Well get him in for lunch some time.’ Punch screamed and said he refused to be present. I proposed tabling this for the time being.”’

For Public Library, a Trove of New York Times Records (NY Times)

Bonus: Paul Goldberger’s February appreciation is available online.
Eminent Dominion: Rethinking the legacy of Robert Moses (New Yorker)


General Synaesthesia: Orphism and Jeremy Blake

Blake 1

This should be my last post into the poetics of Jeremy Blake and Theresa Duncan’s deaths. I still feel that there are harmonies with the story of Orpheus and Eurydice—that somehow, when Blake swam out from Rockaway beach, he was swimming toward getting Duncan back, or at least getting back to her.

Blake’s digital animations are frequently compared to American abstract painting of the color field variety. But his works share striking similarities to the earlier movement known as Orphism, arguably the first abstract paintings and certainly the first based around color. Its major practitioners, Robert and Sonia Delaunay*, Frantisek Kupka, and Francis Picabia, were preoccupied with the application of color theory to mimic the effects of music. Compared to the static colors of postwar Americans, the Orphic painters’ colors vibrate and move, kind of like Blake’s blends of color with snippets of music and sound (or straight-up music videos).

Sonia Dalaunay

When Guillaume Apollinaire coined the term Orphism in 1912, he recalled the Symbolist associations of Orpheus as the poet who illuminated the world’s mysteries through song. Apollinaire claimed that just like Orpheus, these artists would make the stones dance and wild animals listen. People could get away with sweeping statements back then, but his point is the mystic-mythic status of the artist within a larger, less talented society. The Orphic view is the old discredited idea of the artist as young god.

Its vestige today is the artist as collaborator on cool consumer products. Though we don’t consider them as visionary as we did a century ago, when artists collaborate on fashion, hand bags, and (insert Blake here) music videos and film graphics, it is the artist’s aura as other-and-above that’s being lent to commercial goods and high-end entertainment.

Blake’s frequent interaction with films, music, and video games is admirable, but it depended on this old-school idea of the artist. Blake’s sequences updated holdovers from modernism — abstraction, stream of consciousness, romanticism — which he mixed with pop imagery to create his “peep show for poets.” He called to mind this idea of painter-poet in the Orpheus mold. With his disappearance last week, that association is sealed.

Kupka 2

Blake 5
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Orpheus v. Sirens

Corcoran: Jeremy Blake show will go forward (Modern Art Notes)

Jeremy Blake’s fall show at the Corcoran will still happen, but otherwise there have been little to no developments since Saturday. I interpret the silence to mean that he didn’t show up at the Siren Festival on Sunday.

There is a literary precedent for an Orpheus-Sirens matchup. Orpheus was on the A-Team assembled to steal the Golden Fleece with Jason in Apollonius of Rhodes’ Argonautica. When the crew of the Argo is faced with the threat of the Sirens’ music, Orpheus counters them with a song of his own. He drowns them out and they sail on, and Apollonius checks another off his list of variations on Homer. The responsible scholarly conclusion is that Orpheus must have liked to play it loud.

Update: The waters may have finally given him up— Body Found May Be Blakes (MAN again)

Jeremy Blake missing

Two Artists, One Suicide, the Other Missing

According to the NYPD Jeremy Blake, 35, swam out from Rockaway Beach into the Atlantic on Tuesday evening, after his partner Theresa Duncan committed suicide last week.

There’s danger signs everywhere. The Rockaways continue to be a site of disproportionate tragedy. The waters off New York and Long Island continue to call on our city’s artists. This summer’s play is Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice, which (for the first time) takes the woman’s point of view on the familiar tale of the distraught Orpheus’s journey to the underworld to rescue his lost beloved.

Later today, a big enough group will gather for the Siren Festival at Coney Island, a couple of miles from the Rockaways in the direction of the tide. Among the performers this afternoon is Elvis Perkins, who may be, calling Orpheus, today’s most threnodic musician. I know it’s four days too late, but if the mythic pull of lost love was powerful enough to lure Blake into the sea, there may still be a chance the mythic power of the sirens can call him back to shore.

Jeremy Blake
Theresa Duncan
Elvis Perkins
Elvis Perkins While You Were Sleeping mp3
Romantic young dead, all boys

So much to answer for


Above is an image of Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s “Untitled” (Oscar Wilde’s Tombstone) from 1989. I posted it to show the inscriptions above and below Oscar’s name: “Manchester, so muc” and below, “Morrissey [illegible]”

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I saw Thomas Reichman’s 1968 film Mingus last weekend. It documents Charles Mingus’s last night before eviction from his New York City apartment. He philosophizes, shoots his rifle (“this is the same kind of gun that killed Kennedy”) at the ceiling, and gives his five-year-old daughter wine. But true to the documentary’s verite style, we never find out why he is evicted. And no review or coverage of the film I could find gives any background information.

I wondered because of the role the City of New York plays in the film and the eviction: Mingus discusses them as if they are the only party involved. I imagined it must have been connected to urban renewal, and this being the sixties, in Greenwich Village, maybe even an order handed down by Robert Moses. (This might have been a nice echo to Beneath the Underdog, the recent Moses-centered exhibition that name checked Mingus’s 1971 memoir).

The truth had more to do with standard downtown gentrification than bureaucratic conspiracy. Mingus was evicted from his loft at 5 Great Jones Street on November 22, 1966 by city marshals. Mingus had been getting fewer engagements and was on a downward trajectory. Jazz clubs had begun booking pop groups as audiences developed other interests and recoiled from avant-garde jazz’s increasing militancy. (The concert footage was filmed at Lennie’s-on-the-Turnpike outside Boston: Roast Beef and Cocktails. Next week Nina Simone.) But Mingus was hopeful enough about the documentary to drop out of an already booked Rollins-Mingus-Roach trio tour of Europe.

Mingus had moved into 5 Jones Street in the spring of 1966. He was subletting through a friend of his wife Sue, Judith Nathanson. Desperate for a place, since he owed back rent on his old apartment, he paid Nathanson $2000 upfront as “key money” (a common practice in loft sublets at the time). He was unaware at the time that the landlord was planning to void Nathanson’s lease. Mingus blamed the city, which was involved in his earlier dispute and approved the 5 Jones Street move.

The last scene of the film is Mingus being taken away under arrest, after the city marshals found a gun and hypodermic needles in their sweep of his apartment. He was released after producing his permits and prescription. “It isn’t every day that you see a Negro walk out of a police station with a box of hypodermic needles and a shotgun.”

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