April 1, 2013
September 20, 2012
In the wake of Mitt Romney‘s problems this week with remarks that he made at a fundraising dinner in May, Bloomberg ran an article about another swell dinner that doomed a Republican presidential candidate in 1884. According to an article by Richard John of the Columbia Journalism School, in October of that year, the GOP standard-bearer former Speaker of the House James G. Blaine of Maine, running neck and neck with Grover Cleveland, came to New York for a series of speeches. On the 29th, he attended a rally hosted by several hundred Protestant clergymen at which a Presbyterian minister denounced the Democrats as the party of “Rum, Romanism and Rebellion.” Unsurprisingly, the slur outraged Irish Catholic voters, who soon turned out in droves for Cleveland. But the real blow came that evening when Blaine, known in the press as The Plumed Knight, attended a sumptuous fundraising dinner at Delmonico’s, a financial district restaurant favored by high rollers. Among the guests, as John points out, were several of the richest, best-known and most politically connected businessmen in the country, including the Navy contractor John Roach and the financier Jay Gould. This enabled illustrator Walt McDougall of New York World to have a field day. His cartoon — titled “Royal Feast of Belshazzar Blaine and the Money Kings” — portrayed Blaine as a supplicant answering to plutocrats who dined on “monopoly soup,” “patronage” and “lobby pudding” while a humble laborer and his family looked on, begging for crumbs. A few days later, when Cleveland carried New York by 1200 votes, the cartoon was credited with tipping the election.
September 7, 2012
Found on Facebook, a photo of a couple, Alexis Creque and Russell Murphy, after their arrest last month for allegedly spray-painting a Lower East Side building. An 1980s-era infraction, but the sentiment is au courant.
July 27, 2012
Shot from the window of a northbound Harlem Line train.
July 22, 2012
There is an article in the Times today by Sarah Maslin Nir about “Civic Virtue,” am immense marble sculpture by Frederick MacMonnies. First unveiled in 1922 in City Hall Park, the statue, depicts a broad-chested nude man representing Virtue standing above two vanquished naked women representing Vice. From the beginning the statue, whose main, triumphant figure has been given such nicknames as Rough Boy, Fat Boy and Cave Man, earned howls of criticism, derision and protest. Feminists objected to its depiction of women, prudes to its depiction of nudity, and art lovers to its existence. Before long the statue was exiled to Kew Gardens, where it has sat outside Borough Hall for the last 70 years, popular if only among the youngsters who dived from the figures into the surrounding pool.
The Times reports that there are now signs that the little-loved statue may end up in Brooklyn, in Green-Wood Cemetery, where several of MacMonnies’ relatives are buried, and where another work of the artist can be found, and where its neighbors have never been known to be very local in their complaints.
This exile would be preferable to the usual alternative that has been proposed, which is to demolish the thing. But I have a different idea. The problem with “Civic Virtue” isn’t what it looks like; it’s what the thing is called. I wouldn’t hide or destroy the thing; I would rename it “Smug Self-Satisfaction,” and erect copies around the country. Maybe put one outside Eric Cantor‘s office, for example.
July 13, 2012
I must say I kind of love this painting by Alex Schaefer, a Los Angeles artist. I really appreciate this peacefully anarchic protest. According to the website at Hive Gallery, where this and other paintings in this series are being exhibited, “Alex wants us to “get over our apathy”…to let the regulators, economists, bankers know “that we recognize the problems.” And that the federal bank is made up of “monsters and racketeers.” Hear, hear!
May 14, 2012
May 11, 2012
The incidences of writers taking ownership of words are few and far between. Moses or whoever wrote Genesis certainly owns begat; the authors of the Declaration own inalienable; and Maurice Sendak owns rumpus. I cannot hear the word without thinking of reading Where the Wild Things Are to my children. When we reached the moment when Max declares the wild rumpus begin., we would begin the bouncing and tossing and squealing and tickling that constituted a rumpus in our house. One author, one word, striking memories in a house miles and years removed.
Like so many revolutionaries, it is difficult to see the influence of Sendak in the world that he remade in his image, only because that influence has become so pervasive. When I began reading to my children, there was no shortage of complicated stories and characters, Alexanders with the their terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days and others even sadder and more unsettling. But long before that, before Sendak began writing, the books I had as child were simpler and sweeter, Golden Books filled with apple-cheeked girls and boys whose hair must have been parted with a plough. Starting in the fifties, Dr. Seuss came along with his anarchists and iconolclasts, Brandos and James Deans of the children’s book world, upsetting every apple cart and embellishing everything with their own jazzy, snazzy inflections. Then, starting in 1963, Sendak, who had for a decade been illustrating books, began publishing his own books. Lo and behold, they featured era-appropriate anti-heroes: the obstreperous Max of Wild Things, the jubilantly disruptive Mickey of In the Night Kitchen, preening Rosie of Really Rosie, “I don’t care’’ Pierre. Encountering scenes and people who alarmed them, or dismissed them, or tried to regulate them, these characters reacted the way characters played by Hoffman or Nicholson or Pacino or Dunaway did. Hoffman shouts “Elaine!’’ Pacino shouts “Attica!’’ Max shouts “Let the wild rumpus begin!’’
Sendak, of course, was a double-threat man; his illustrations were intrinsic to the experience. Not only do Sendak’s characters break form; so do his very drawings. Like his contemporary, the peerless comic book illustrator Jack Kirby, Sendak literally cannot contain his thoughts within the box. Mickey breaks out of the panel, and skips and clambers from frame to frame like Spiderman scampering up the face of a high-rise. And when Sendak isn’t exploding panels, he is packing them with information, filling rooms with objects, filling shelves with products, creating labels for all the boxes. Even the drawings he did for the books of other writers are crowded with information: look, for example, at his illustrations for Dear Mili, written by Wilhelm Grimm in 1816 and illustrated by Sendak in 1983. Dark and deep are these woods, but not even Frost could look at the thickets of barren branches and gnarled roots and layer upon layer of concealing foliage and call them lovely. They see impenetrable. They look scary.
But it’s an important part of Sendak’s message to realize that scary looks aren’t everything. Early on he disclosed that the monstrous wild things he drew were in fact based on impressions of his own relatives . Knowing that, one could no longer look at the bug-eyed, pointy-toothed, scaly-skilled, cucumber-nosed monsters without seeing my own beery-breathed uncles and fat aunts with their heavily lilaced bosoms, all squeezing and hugging to the point of repulsion. It was an act of great generosity, after having exaggerated their sad human imperfections into forbidding fangs and claws, to have redeemed them, and turned the wild things into Max’s merry playmates.
Appearances aren’t everything, Sendak tells us. The world is a scary place, but half of what we fear lies in our own perceptions, and most of that will yield, if not to courage, than to our own rambunctiousness.
January 3, 2012
The peerless Ronald Searle has died in his sleep in France at the age of 91. Best known for a manically gothic style that invigorated his illustrations of the frantically anarchic schoolgirls of St. Trinian’s, the grinning, lustful oenophiles in The Illustrated Winespeak, the Molesworth series, The Rake’s Progress, The Adventures of Baron Muchausen, and his prolific magazine work, Searle’s subjects always seemed to be on the verge of exploding off the page. It was, in a phrase, a lively and comic style, which seems somewhat ironic, given that during World War II, Searle spent three years suffering as a prisoner of the Japanese Imperial Army. Captured during the fall of Singapore in 1942, Searle was among 3270 men selected to work on the Burma-Siam railway, the experience which provided the real-life basis for TheBridge on the River Kwai. “My friends and I, we all signed up together,” he told an interviewer. “We had grown up together, we went to school together … Basically all the people we loved and knew and grew up with simply became fertiliser for the nearest bamboo.” Underfed and undernourished, suffering from tropical diseases and other infections, and subjected to harsh labor and sadistic brutality, Searle not only survived, but he bore witness to the horrific experience with a group
of sketches of his comrades and captors. The miracle is that both the artist and his works survived; the double miracle is that the artist managed to return with a joie de vivre and a comic zest that constituted a triumph of his spirit. I would like to have known him.
November 27, 2011
Yesterday I finally took myself out of the running to become the last person in the greater metropolitan area to visit the High Line, the terrific elevated urban park built on the elevated rail bed that runs through Chelsea on Manhattan’s far west side. I will now add my puny voice to the great chorus singing the park’s praise–it’s terrific! Fun, stimulating, perspetive-shaking–I can’t wait to go back.