© David Levinthal / The New York Times

© David Levinthal / The New York Times

I’ve written about artist-photographer David Levinthal on this blog before. Now I’ve discovered he does photo illustrations, too. Regular New York Times readers may have seen his soft-focus photos in the August issues of the Times Sunday Magazine, illustrating “Mrs. Corbett’s Request”, a serialized story by Colin Harrison. Levinthal captures the weary, down-at-the-heel atmosphere of Harrison’s tale perfectly.

Just last week I noticed another Levinthal photo in the October 26, 2008 Travel Section (page 1, top of the fold) accompanying an article on winter vacations. The scene of brightly colored skiers in a clichéd winter landscape feels like a snow globe diorama. Continue Reading »

"Ghost Station" Ed Roos

October 17, 2008—The Train Is Coming. And With It More Ads, a New York Times article, reports that the MTA plans to sell every NYC subway surface to the highest bidder. They need the money. Advertising — lots of it — is going to appear on every below-ground surface New Yorkers pass, from the round pillars on the subway platforms to the entire interior surface of subway cars. Ad agencies are considering ways to reach even the hardest-to-reach spots with the use of projectors. No surface will go unsold — not even the tunnel surfaces between stations. Advertisers plan to line them with printed ad images that will merge into a movie reel effect as your train zooms along.

Which begs the question: Isn’t advertising on such a massive scale a form of graffiti? Isn’t it a greater transgression than any spray-painted tag? The MTA is making a huge amount of money at the expense of the commuters. Say what you want about graffiti by private citizens, at least it’s varied, surprising — and original! Think of all the influences graffiti has had on art practice and typography. And think of all the influences graphic design has had on graffiti! Continue Reading »

Photo by Marius Slaustas, cringel.com

Photo by Marius Slaustas, cringel.com

Do not underestimate the power of a single voice to make or break an election. The power is not in the words themselves; it is in the sonic experience.

Everyone has seen—and heard—mainstream media news reduced to pellets of information called “sound bites.” We rabbity news consumers meekly nibble on these empty-calorie hors d’œuvres because we are starving for the taste of real information. Performance artist David Letterman has famously turned the tables by subjecting past presidents, as well as our current one, to the sound bite test. FDR and Kennedy pass with flying colors; Bush ’43 mumbles and stumbles to failure. Sound bites back.

The current presidential campaign is delivered in sound bites. The ads, catch phrases, pundits and talking heads get more air time than the candidates themselves (except for the occasional TV drive-by, when the news camera swoops in on a candidate’s real-time delivery of a speech, then cuts away to more important matters before he has finished speaking.) Sound bites are the news media equivalent of Chicken McNuggets—looks good; tastes lousy; fills us up but leaves us hungry. Continue Reading »

When I went to the show “The Poetics of Cloth: African Textiles/Recent Art” at the Grey Art Gallery at NYU I had a preconception. I thought I was going to see beautiful, contemporary renditions of traditional African patterns. Not that I was entirely wrong, but the show features work made by groundbreaking artists who use various textile traditions as inspiration and render their work in wildly inventive and diverse fashions.

My favorite piece was made by the Ghanaian artist Rikki Wemega-Kwawu. I first saw his piece “Kente for the Space Age” from a distance as I entered the gallery and I was instantly drawn to its intense colors. The hanging “textile” had a sheen to it that suggested it was made of plastic. It hung like a long and tall shower curtain dangling from a piece of wood. The flow of tinctures hinted at traditional patterns, but it also announced a strikingly contemporary sensibility, with hues of bright orange, red, purple, blue, and chartreuse that are more common to pop art than kente cloth. Continue Reading »

©Shamil Zhumatov/Reuters

…it would be easy to mistake this military diagram for a game board, a Navajo sand painting or a Situationist map. The guy in camouflage is the giveaway.

The caption: “A Kazakh officer shows off a large map with a plan of the joint Kazakh-Russian military exercise at Otar range, some 93 miles west of Almaty, Kazakhstan, on October 3, 2008.”

From Activate.com

Sounds like 2008

"The Hat Makes the Man" (1920) Max Ernst

I’m taking my first sound environment course at Hunter College with professor Andrea Polli. Our major text is Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music, edited by Christoph Cox and Daniel Warner. Featured readings come from interviews, essays, magazine articles and manifestos written by theorists, musicians and sound artists like Pierre Schaeffer, Theodor Adorno, Marshall McLuhan, John Cage, Brian Eno, Glenn Gould and Chris Cutler. The readings have been a real eye-opener—or should I say “ear opener”?

I’m a visual specialist. My music knowledge is as shallow as my art background is deep. Sure, I took piano lessons as a kid. But after I learned to play Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” well enough to impress my father, I lost interest. Like a lot of people, I’ve accumulated a “personal soundtrack” based on haphazard exposure to radio stations, TV, advertising jingles, movies and live performances. Unlike most, my personal soundtrack hasn’t been transferred to an MP3 player. It resides solely between my ears, where snippets of Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” bubble up through layers of B. B. King, the “Dr. Zhivago” soundtrack and Alka Seltzer’s “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz” jingle.  Continue Reading »

Performance art, as a practice, may have found its fullest realization in the work of Saturday Night Live (SNL)’s Tina Fey. Fey’s channeling of Sarah Palin’s character is uncanny. In her re-staging of Katie Couric’s Palin interview and Palin’s performance at the Vice Presidential “debate,” Fey has merged the absurd-in-the-real to the really absurd, producing a composite memory of Sarah Palin that defies separation. When Sarah Palin appears on my television screen I see Tina Fey’s performance of Sarah Palin, rather than Sarah Palin’s performance of Sarah Palin. Fey has altered my perception. She—along with Amy Poehler as Hillary Clinton and Darrell Hammond as John McCain—has seamlessly infiltrated the mainstream political flabber-jabber.

Saturday Night Live, along with a handful of other comedy shows, has become the best political commentary and performance art ever. Part of its influence comes from the cheerful participation of real politicians in the parodying of their own personas. Continue Reading »

Sarah Palin’s qualifications for the second most powerful position in the land have nothing to do with her experience (or her lack of it) or the fact that she doesn’t know about the Bush doctrine. Indeed it has nothing to do with the realization that she never met a foreign leader until she visited the UN recently. It has everything to do with the tale she tells and the image she presents. Palin is a consummate performer who asserts her identity perfectly in her hairstyle, her eager grin, her wink, and the way her family—and even McCain himself–become props on her stage. While McCain is faltering, Palin is busy rebranding the Republican Party.

Palin was immediately recognizable to the American people as soon as she appeared at the Republican Convention. For the guys, Palin positioned herself as their high school sweetheart they shouldn’t have let get away. For the gals, Palin became the pal you have fun with on a girls’ night out. Even though she comes from Alaska Palin really emerges from the country’s fictional landscape. She is the mythic pioneer woman who will stop at nothing to protect her family–she can shoot better than any of the guys but still doesn’t mind being asked to dance when she puts on a frilly frock for the local dance. Continue Reading »

Wall Street has jumped the tracks. Its former liquidity is iced. The bulls have morphed into bears. The “masters of the universe” have gotten their pink slips and the rest of us are waiting for the shit to roll downhill. Oh, I’m sorry — for the shit to “trickle down.”

For a while, it looked like the big dogs — the ones with the golden parachutes — would actually get their asses kicked and their appetites curbed. Wrong! Congress (your senator, my congressman) wants to step ‘n fetch some more kibble to feed the yawning maw of corporate greed and irresponsibility.

We’ve been told the “assets” taxpayers are poised to absorb (for a cool $700 billion) should increase in value; taxpayers will get their money back, eventually. Hmmmm… when was the last time the government returned some of our money? Oh yeah, when Bush ’43 sent us $600 to shop at Walmart, so the whole country could stay afloat, so what’s happening now wouldn’t happen. As Dr. Phil would say, “How’s that workin’ for ya?” Continue Reading »

Notorious Design

Roland Emmerich. He’s the big-budget director of “Independence Day,” “Universal Soldier” and “Eight-Legged Freaks.” I came across an article on Emmerich and his design aesthetic in the New York Times’ August 7, 2008 Home section.

The Times devoted two whole pages and thirteen photos to the redesign of Emmerich’s townhouse in the “buttoned-up” Knightsbridge section of London. Apparently he redesigned the place primarily to shock his neighbors. It’s not a townhouse anymore; it’s a fun house of cultural and pop-cultural references: Mao Tse-Tung, Pope John Paul II, pseudo Renaissance paintings, Barbie dolls and Philippe Starck chairs… If it shocks the neighbors, he’s happy. Whatever…

But what about the miniaturized diorama tables in the living room? The ones that Emmerich commissioned from his movie prop department. The ones that depict, in the Times’ words, “notorious events”? Continue Reading »

%d bloggers like this: