Sunday, October 26, 2008

Guggenheim's Brave New World: RA or MT?

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, NY, Oct 24 - Jan 7

Angela Bulloch, Maurizio Cattelan, Liam Gillick, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Douglas Gordon, Carsten Höller, Pierre Huyghe, Jorge Pardo, Philippe Parreno, Rirkrit Tiravanija

organized by Nancy Spector

I have not yet seen the Guggenheim show on relational aesthetics (RA), due to the fact that the museum no longer maintains an aesthetic relationship with me. But who knows, I might drop by one of these days and actually view it.

Meanwhile, all accounts I have read or heard on what I prefer to call theanyaestheticwhatever show indicate that, in addition to being nominally RA, it also feels rather MT. Frank Lloyd Wright would probably not mind: by default this allows greater attention to be paid to his shell. But I do understand that you can have a cup of coffee there (no Thai curry this time - darn!), catch an old timey movie, sit in a padded, carpeted video lounge and watch interviews with the artists, or on various S-shaped red benches and listen to biographical factoids that are mnemonically intoned on Acoustiguide.

You can view (and even book a night in) a revolving hotel room under a domed skylight perpetually blanketed by a starry night sky. There is a drowned Pinnochio in the pond, lots of text stenciled on the floors and walls and even done up in free hanging black painted aluminum letters (like a pawnbroker sign). And as one leaves, there is a pile of small giveaway booklets filled with iron-on transfer images - of the museum itself.

Is this institutionally self reflexive or merely self regarding? Democratic and inclusive or cliquey and arrogant? Austere and pedagogic or just plain trivial? And having said all that, do I now even need to bother going?

An earlier version of this text was posted on Artworld Salon. My further commentary appears on the same thread.


This idea of laziness is stimulating, but not just in reference to RA as a “lazy term” or as subject to “lazy branding”. Rather in the very model of artistic practice encouraged by RA, a built-in posture of slackness or purposeful incompleteness, analogous to the folksinger who encourages the audience, halfway through the number, to “all join in”. We feel good after that rousing group rendition of “Kumbaya”, but might be reluctant to call it art. Or perhaps it does resonate as a form of “social sculpture”, after Beuys, who is the obvious precursor of RA, twenty years before Bourriaud’s treatise.

Not to be (too much of) a curmudgeon, but one of the cautions I bring to RA is that it requires audience participation to achieve wholeness. This is often seen as an essential strength, going beyond performance art to incorporate the viewer as an active agent. From this perspective, RA is open ended, democratic, interactive, unfinished. It conspicuously leaves a theoretical door ajar, an invitation to outside intervention.

But it can also suggest a certain sloth, with artists who are loath to commit to a final statement and execution, who happily fall back on halfway gestures, advancing only the suggestion of structure and situation, which must then be inhabited by the audience in order to fully connote. The international movable feast of RA requires the assent of an itinerant fan club, ready to travel from art capital to art capital, populate the installations and cheer.

It is interesting that the RA of the 1990s was contemporary with slacker movements in music and fashion, and that all were potentially influenced by bad economic times, when a pristine, finished product was not so essential, because it was not likely to be financially rewarded - so why not experiment in the realm of the incomplete, in hanging out and hanging on? Perhaps our current economic meltdown provides a particularly suitable climate for a reexamination of RA. Have the Guggenheim and Nancy Spector arrived at a prescient moment in the zeitgeist? theanyspacewhatever is years in the making. Back in fall 2004, when planning for the show began, the good times were still very much a-roll.

The press opening, which I did not experience, but which I imagine (like most media previews) was only sparsely populated, undoubtedly accentuated the emptiness of the installations. There were no crowds, none of the usual acolytes to add a frisson of artworld heat. No strength in numbers. Without this noise and activity, the work must have seemed thin, dry, half baked and lost in space.



Although I did not experience the Miereles piece, I enjoy your discussion of the added resonance some artwork can achieve by enlisting “unwitting participants”. My particular comment led you to the converse, that of “witting non-participation”, in which the artwork is experienced or actualized in a manner not originally intended by artist or institution.

It’s true that the chattering classes, those who do not necessarily attend an exhibition but are still able to understand it via received media coverage, are an expansion of the population that is “party” to the work. The dissemination of information online tends to enlarge this population exponentially.

Call me old fashioned, but I believe that artist, institution and audience are best served by the traditional model, by the actual presence of bodies, brains and eyes to directly experience an exhibition. The basic fact, the physical presence of the spectator/participant, is obviously that much more vital in the realm of relational aesthetics.

On a practical, operational level, if the museum does not encourage direct access to the exhibition, or even somehow manages to obstruct same, it commits a great disservice and betrays a large part of its cultural mission. In the special case of media access, which has the potential to exponentially expand the population that is “party” to the work, as discussed above, the problem is aggravated.

Sadly, this is a problem for the Guggenheim, but not attributable to RA or MTness. Rather to NS. As in BetC.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Meat After Meat Joy, Daneyal Mahmood Gallery, October 16 - November 15, 2008

review of Meat After Meat Joy, curated by Heide Hatry, at Daneyal Mahmood Gallery, New York, October 16 - November 15, 2008

I sing the song of meat, of its joys and discontents. For text demanded is now text made manifest. For meat is not only murder but also medium. Not merely the flesh, bone and sinew of corporeal existence but also an aesthetic construct replete with its peculiar and innate ontology. Not just tissue but also a symbolic projection of the impolite body into the rarefied space of the contemporary art world.

As for Heide Hatry, who participates in the exhibition at Daneyal Mahmood Gallery as both its curator and one of the artists, meat is a sine qua non, an act of brazen clarity, revelation and defiance somewhat akin to William Burrough's famous explication of the title of his novel Naked Lunch: "a frozen moment when everyone sees what is on the end of every fork."

Meat is food. Meat is death. Meat is torture. Meat is production. Meat is raw, although it can be cooked. Meat is dissection, substratum, structure. Meat is the bridge between human and animal, a reminder of where we come from, of our shared morphology, and of our place in the food chain. But meat is, above all, metaphor. It drips with larger aesthetic and political implications. It is laced with the gristle of artistic effort, striated by the tendons of semiotic theory and the ligaments of art school curriculum, greased with the lard of unctuous careerism, inflamed in the rotisserie of the contemporary art market, braised on the skillet of critical acclaim or indifference, its physical wholeness challenged by entropy, time and the maggots of eventual dissolution. It is a pungent medium, and should this not be immediately apparent, just give it a day or two without refrigeration.

So what brought Hatry to embrace this unusual material? (Unusual in the context of art, although not on the butcher block). There is the historical precedent of Carolee Schneemann's original Meat Joy, the 1964 video of a performance that incorporated raw fish, chickens, sausages and wet paint in an oozy, orgiastic group grope. It is included in the current exhibition and linked below.

Hatry has previously organized a concise retrospective of Schneemann's early work, and her celebration of the artist's proto-feminist impulses provides a good impetus for this show, not just because (from an interview with Hatry in my two catalogs) "Meat Joy seems to indict the complicity of women in their own subjection, even while averting to the fact that her liberation is always at hand, immanent as it were", but also "because like so much else in her opus, it was, in fact, the starting point for countless other bodies of work for innumerable other artists".

So who has Schneemann inspired? Which works from which artists are chosen? There are meaty, photographic efforts by a number of women artists. For example: Jana Sterbak's flesh dress, Tania Bruguera's The Burden of Guilt performance with a decapitated lamb's ribcage, Steffy Bleier's images of animal organs hanging from hooks, and Nezaket Ekici's Culture Beef, pieces of meat on which are written texts that concern a dual Turkish/German identity.

Perhaps the best known, and certainly the most iconic work in the exhibition is the video of Chinese artist Zhang Huan's performance from the 2002 Whitney Biennial, My New York (image at top), in which he dons a meat suit and confronts the viewer as some sort of grotesque bodybuilder or superhero, lifted on a board from the Whitney moat, walking on the sidewalk releasing white doves. His bulging pecs, deltoids and hamstrings seem like a parody of American largeness and arrogance. In some ways, Zhang's piece feels like a companion to Joseph Beuy's I Like America and America Likes Me (1974), in which the demiurgic German artist similarly enacts rituals of cultural acclimation in order to mark his entry into the United States.

There are several male artists in the show who enjoy painting chops, ribs and other cuts seemingly right out of the meat locker. David Raymond's elegant, minimal, flat, acrylic efforts make him the Alex Katz of the pork chop, whereas Anthony Fisher's thick impasto of oil paint and trickily portentous titles imply weightier, perhaps meatier, intentions. Also included are sculptors who suggest the essence of flesh and viscera without actually using much organic material. Adam Brandejs fashions a Nike sneaker, swoop and all, stapled out of fleshy latex and hair; it twitches via an internal motor. Simone Racheli creates familiar looking household objects, like toilets or chairs, that seem composed of muscles and bodily organs, but are actually made of wood, paper and wax. Tamara Kostianovsky engages in similar trompe l'oeil efforts, constructing sides of beef from her own clothing.

Then there is the strange case of Betty Hirst, who does in fact use flesh, and only flesh, in her oeuvre. The problem is, these meat sculptures - a head on a pedestal, a book on a stand, a rat on the floor, an American flag made of meat and lard, semi-consumed by maggots and enclosed in a vitrine (some perverse homage to Jasper Johns?) - were on view just on opening night. Due to their unstable organic nature and tendency to putrefaction, they were taken out of the freezer and placed on exhibit only once. Perhaps Betty needs to learn the joys of formaldehyde from her namesake Damien Hirst, who is rather good with cutting up sheep and cattle and placing them in vitrines, and seems to make a good living from same. His art seems remarkably well preserved and of noteworthy duration, while his fame is undeniable. If "Betty Hirst" is in fact invoking her British counterpart, I note a superficially arch cleverness but do worry about the underlying significance.

There are several notable omissions in the exhibition. One of Betty Hirst's meat pieces, fashioned to look like a penis, is titled Homage a Schwarzkogler in deference to the Viennese artist who notoriously severed his genitals during a performance. But there is no work in the current show by Herr Rudolf, nor by Gunter Brus, Otto Meuhl or any other proponent of Viennese Actionismus. Especially AWOL is Hermann Nitsch, whose ritualized sacrifices, processionals and bloodlettings, performed by a cast of acolytes during his two-week-long Orgies Mysteries Theaters at Schloss Prinzendorf, present a remarkable and remarkably relevant body of work. Also absent are the mid-1960s wax effigies of Paul Thek, thick layers of faux epidermis, dermis and muscle, sometimes skewered by metal rods, exhibited under sickly green or yellow Plexiglas, and often interpreted as critiques of the Vietnam War. Belgian conceptualist Wim Delvoye has produced several bodies of work that could have been appropriate here; his tattooed Chinese pigs, and the skins that are eventually harvested, might be an interesting addition to a show on meat joy.

Finally, there is the agriculturally referenced work of Peter Nadin, pig farmer, beekeeper, poet and artist, who has distributed smoked ham as an interactive performance at Art Basel Miami Beach, the grease stained butcher's paper that remains after the meat is eaten being the enduring piece. Any and all of these are thematically relevant and might expand the frame of the show. But I do not wish to second guess Hatry's curatorial prerogative, nor the difficulties in securing, transporting and insuring work by well known artists. Certainly there is quite a bit to see, and to sense, in Meat After Meat Joy.

The exhibition was initially mounted earlier this year at Pierre Menard Gallery in Cambridge, Massachusetts. And this review was written in one sitting, or in two shakes of a catalog's tail - whichever you prefer. Thus my pound of flesh is unarguably delivered, erasing all debts and making all accounts square.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Call Me Ishmael, or Plus ça change ...

Moby Dick; or The Whale, by Herman Melville 1851

Chapter One: Loomings

Ishmael introduces himself, considers the Fates, or Providence, or God, and elects to embark on a whaling voyage.

I should now take it into my head to go on a whaling voyage; this the invisible police officer of the Fates, who has the constant surveillance of me, and secretly dogs me, and influences me in some unaccountable way- he can better answer than any one else. And, doubtless, my going on this whaling voyage, formed part of the grand programme of Providence that was drawn up a long time ago. It came in as a sort of brief interlude and solo between more extensive performances. I take it that this part of the bill must have run something like this:

"Grand Contested Election for the Presidency of the United States. "WHALING VOYAGE BY ONE ISHMAEL." "BLOODY BATTLE IN AFFGHANISTAN."

Though I cannot tell why it was exactly that those stage managers, the Fates, put me down for this shabby part of a whaling voyage, when others were set down for magnificent parts in high tragedies, and short and easy parts in genteel comedies, and jolly parts in farces- though I cannot tell why this was exactly; yet, now that I recall all the circumstances, I think I can see a little into the springs and motives which being cunningly presented to me under various disguises, induced me to set about performing the part I did, besides cajoling me into the delusion that it was a choice resulting from my own unbiased freewill and discriminating judgment.

Monday, October 13, 2008

McCain/Palin's Last Gasp: Rabble Rousing, Race Baiting, Death Threats Against Obama

Washington Post, October 4: McCain Plans Fiercer Strategy

Sen. John McCain and his Republican allies are readying a newly aggressive assault on Sen. Barack Obama's character, believing that to win in November they must shift the conversation back to questions about the Democrat's judgment, honesty and personal associations, several top Republicans said.
With just a month to go until Election Day, McCain's team has decided that its emphasis on the senator's biography as a war hero, experienced lawmaker and straight-talking maverick is insufficient to close a growing gap with Obama.

AmericaBlog, October 6: McCain does nothing as supporter calls Obama a "terrorist"

McCain was speaking today in New Mexico, doing his usual personal attack on Barack Obama, as the stock market plummeted (you can see the ticker next to McCain on the screen, an apt reminder of what McCain and his fellow Republicans represent), and McCain asked the crowd "who is Barack Obama?" Immediately you hear someone yell "terrorist." McCain pauses, the audience laughs, and McCain continues on, not acknowledging, not chastising, not correcting. Oh, but McCain does say in the next sentence that he's upset about all the "angry barrage of insults."

Washington Post: Palin Crowd in Florida: "Kill Him!"

In Clearwater, where Palin, speaking to a sea of "Palin Power" and "Sarahcuda" T-shirts, tried to link Obama to the 1960s Weather Underground. "One of his earliest supporters is a man named Bill Ayers," she said. ("Boooo!" said the crowd.) "And, according to the New York Times, he was a domestic terrorist and part of a group that, quote, 'launched a campaign of bombings that would target the Pentagon and our U.S. Capitol,' " she continued. ("Boooo!" the crowd repeated.)

"Kill him!" proposed one man in the audience.

Radar Online: Secret Service Looking Into Obama Death Threats

Washington Post: Race Hatred Surfaces at Palin Rally

Palin's routine attacks on the media have begun to spill into ugliness. In Clearwater, arriving reporters were greeted with shouts and taunts by the crowd of about 3,000. Palin then went on to blame Katie Couric's questions for her "less-than-successful interview with kinda mainstream media." At that, Palin supporters turned on reporters in the press area, waving thunder sticks and shouting abuse. Others hurled obscenities at a camera crew. One Palin supporter shouted a racial epithet at an African American sound man for a network and told him, "Sit down, boy."

Jezebel: Race-Baiting Tactics of McCain/Palin Reprehensible

The candidates have had numerous, direct opportunities to interrupt their stump speeches and call for an end to the increasingly vitriolic and hate-filled speech of their supporters and have not only declined to do so, but continued to encourage it...
Even Republicans recognize this for what it is. Frank Schaeffer, a former McCain staffer from his 2000 run, thinks McCain knows exactly what he's doing with all his coded talk about race and says
Stop! Think! Your rallies are beginning to look, sound, feel and smell like lynch mobs. John McCain, you're walking a perilous line. If you do not stand up for all that is good in America and declare that Senator Obama is a patriot, fit for office, and denounce your hate-filled supporters when they scream out "Terrorist" or "Kill him," history will hold you responsible for all that follows.
New York Times editorial, October 8: Politics of Attack

It is a sorry fact of American political life that campaigns get ugly, often in their final weeks. But Senator John McCain and Gov. Sarah Palin have been running one of the most appalling campaigns we can remember.
They have gone far beyond the usual fare ... into the dark territory of race-baiting and xenophobia. Senator Barack Obama has taken some cheap shots at Mr. McCain, but there is no comparison...
[Palin's] demagoguery has elicited some frightening, intolerable responses. A recent Washington Post report said at a rally in Florida this week a man yelled "kill him!" ... and others shouted epithets at an African-American member of a TV crew.
Mr. McCain's aides haven't even tried to hide their cynical tactics, saying they were "going negative" in hopes of shifting attention away from the financial crisis -- and by implication Mr. McCain's stumbling response.
We certainly expected better from Mr. McCain, who once showed withering contempt for win-at-any-cost politics. He was driven out of the 2000 Republican primaries by this sort of smear, orchestrated by some of the same people who are now running his campaign.

Huffington Post, October 6: Obama Hatred At McCain-Palin Rallies: "Terrorist!" "Kill Him!"

American News Project went inside a pro-Palin rally set up by the McCain campaign to watch the vice presidential debate, where supporters booed moderator Gwen Ifill and laughed when Sen. Joe Biden got choked up talking about his first wife and daughter's deaths.

Washington Post, October 12: McCain and Palin Are Playing With Fire

Twice last week alone, speakers at McCain-Palin rallies have referred to Sen. Barack Obama, with unveiled scorn, as Barack Hussein Obama ... The real affront is the lack of firm response from either McCain or Palin. Neither has had the moral courage, when taking the stage, to ... denounce the use of Obama's middle name as an insult. Instead, they have simply delivered their stump speeches, lacing into Obama as if nothing out-of-bounds had just happened.
The McCain-Palin ticket has given toxic speeches accusing Obama of being a friend of terrorists, then released short, meek repudiations of some of the rough stuff, including McCain's call Friday to "be respectful." Back in February, the Arizona senator apologized for the "disparaging remarks" from a talk-radio host who sneered repeatedly about "Barack Hussein Obama" before a McCain rally. "We will have a respectful debate," McCain insisted afterward. But pretending to douse flames that you are busy fanning does not qualify as straight talk.

What I find most unconscionable is the refusal of the McCain-Palin tandem to publicly condemn the cries of "traitor," "liar," "terrorist" and (worst of all) "kill him!" that could be heard at recent rallies. McCain is perfectly capable of telling hecklers off. But not once did he or his running mate bother to admonish the people yelling these obscene -- and potentially dangerous -- words.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Where's The Bottom?

On October 10, 2008 the Dow Jones dropped 697 points in the first six minutes of trading, rebounded to positive territory after the first half hour, then fell again and maintained a loss of several hundred points (up to 520) for most of the session. In the final half hour it rallied for a gain of 322 which it could not sustain, lurching negative, positive, negative, and finally closing 128 down.

It was the most volatile day in the 112 year history of the index, over a thousand points between high and low. And it followed six straight losing sessions for October 2008, including several daily drops of 500 - 700 points, during which the Dow lost 22 percent of its value.

This has been the worst week ever for the Dow, which closed at 8451, its lowest level since April 2003. On October 9, 2007, just a year ago, the index set an all-time high of 14165. Five years of gains have effectively been erased in the past year, with half of these losses coming in the last week.

After all these dramatic and painful fluctuations, the question everyone is asking: will we soon find the bottom, and what will it look like?

Or let's put it another way: anyone who didn't go to cash a year ago must feel like a complete ...

PBS Poll: Is Sarah Palin qualified to be Vice President?

PBS created an online poll on September 5, asking whether Sarah Palin was qualified to hold the office of Vice President. The poll results will eventually be reported on PBS and broadcast in the mainstream media. They could potentially influence undecided voters in swing states.

In the interest of user privacy, PBS did not at first implement cookie registration, allowing multiple votes to be placed from one computer. The entire site soon began to experience system overload due to massive accessing of the poll. When it became clear that right wing activists were abusing the situation, voting multiple times and flooding the site with YES votes in an effort to reverse an initial NO majority, PBS implemented a cookie registration system on September 23. Now it is one computer, one vote.

This from the PBS website:

So, is the Palin poll now "scientific"? Absolutely not. It is still subject to large scale efforts on the left and the right to mobilize people to vote. The poll has become something of a Rorschach test, a tiny political marker in a tightly contested race. Over the past two weeks, the results of the poll see-sawed back and forth from a majority saying "No" to a majority saying, "Yes". At the moment the single-voter system was implemented, it was close to a tie: 50% say Sarah Palin is qualified to serve as Vice President, and 48% say no. Those results, in my view, are actually a measure of the mobilization and manipulation efforts by partisans on both sides. Now it will be all about mobilization, and less about manipulation. Blogs on the left and right are circulating viral emails with the exact address of the poll.

I, for one, am happy to be mobilizing on the left. So, if you feel Palin is not qualified, if you resent the free ride she is being given courtesy of the mad dog right, then please do two things -- it only takes 20 seconds.

* Click on the site and vote yourself. Vote NO.

* Send the link to every Obama-Biden voter you know. Publish it in the blogosphere. Urge others to vote and then to pass it on.

The country you save could be your own!!

From The New York Times, 10/10/08: Alaska Inquiry Concludes Palin Abused Powers

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Vacation in Hell, courtesy of John McCain?

I received a multi-forwarded email yesterday, an account of a vacation in Fiji attributed to a professor of literature in California, and amounting to a character assassination of Senator John McCain, the Republican candidate for President.

That the text rings true is no doubt based on McCain already seeming a bit "high strung", and to the heightened partisanship of this election year. But I have since been informed that it might well be an internet hoax.

I contacted the purported writer of the letter by email, asking for confirmation before posting it here. Her answer, appended below, confirms the various confusions, but also states "the account is not necessarily false", and that I should "pass this information on to anyone interested in this story." I have acceded to her wishes.

My Vacation with John McCain

It was just before John McCain's last run at the presidential nomination in 2000 that my husband and I vacationed in Turtle Island in Fiji with John McCain, Cindy, and their children, including Bridget (their adopted Bangladeshi child). It was not our intention, but it was our misfortune to be in close quarters with John McCain for almost a week, since Turtle Island has a small number of bungalows and their focus on communal meals force all vacationers who are there at the same time to get to know each other intimately.

He arrived at our first group meal and started reading quotes from a pile of William Faulkner books with a forest of Post-Its sticking out of them. As an English Literature major myself, my first thought was 'if he likes this so much, why hasn't he memorized any of this yet?' I soon realized that McCain actually thought we had come on vacation to be a volunteer audience for his 'readings' which then became a regular part of each meal. Out of politeness, none of the vacationers initially protested at this intrusion into their blissful holiday, but people's buttons definitely got pushed as the readings continued day after day.

Unfortunately this was not his only contribution to our mealtime entertainment. He waxed on during one meal about how Indo-Chine women had the best figures and that our American corn-fed women just couldn't meet up to this standard. He also made it a point that all of us should stop Cindy from having dessert as her weight was too high and made a few comments to Amy, the 25 year old wife of the honeymooning couple from Nebraska that she should eat less as she needed to lose weight. McCain's appreciation of the beauty of Asian women was so great that David the American economist had to move his Thai wife to the other side of the table from McCain as McCain kept aggressively flirting with and touching her.

Needless to say I was irritated at his large ego and his rude behavior towards his wife and other women, but decided he must have some redeeming qualities as he had adopted a handicapped child from Bangladesh. I asked him about this one day, and his response was shocking: 'Oh, that was Cindy's idea – I didn't have anything to do with it. She just went and adopted this thing without even asking me. You can't imagine how people stare when I wheel this ugly, black thing around in a shopping cart in Arizona. No, it wasn't my idea at all.'

I actively avoided McCain after that, but unfortunately one day he engaged me in a political discussion which soon got us on the topic of the active US bombing of Iraq at that time. I was shocked when he said, 'If I was in charge, I would nuke Iraq to teach them a lesson'. Given McCain's personal experience with the horrors of war, I had expected a more balanced point of view. I commented on the tragic consequences of the nuclear attacks on Japan during WWII –- but no, he was not to be dissuaded. He went on to say that if it was up to him he would have dropped many more nuclear bombs on Japan. I rapidly extricated myself from this conversation as I could tell that his experience being tortured as a POW didn't seem to have mellowed out his perspective, but rather had made him more aggressive and vengeful towards the world.

My final encounter with McCain was on the morning that he was leaving Turtle Island. Amy and I were happily eating pancakes when McCain arrived and told Amy that she shouldn't be having pancakes because she needed to lose weight. Amy burst into tears at this abusive comment. I felt fiercely protective of Amy and immediately turned to McCain and told him to leave her alone. He became very angry and abusive towards me, and said, 'Don't you know who I am.' I looked him in the face and said, 'Yes, you are the biggest asshole I have ever met' and headed back to my cabin. I am happy to say that later that day when I arrived at lunch I was given a standing ovation by all the guests for having stood up to McCain's bullying.

Although I have shared my McCain story informally with friends, this is the first time I am making this public. I almost did so in 2000, when McCain first announced his bid for the Republican nomination, but it soon became apparent that George Bush was the shoo-in candidate and so I did not act then. However, now that there is a very real possibility that McCain could be elected as our next president, I feel it is my duty as an American citizen to share this story. I can't imagine a more scary outcome for America than that this abusive, aggressive man should lead our nation. I have observed him in intimate surroundings as he really is, not how the media portrays him to be. If his attitudes toward women and his treatment of his own family are even a small indicator of his real personality, then I shudder to think what will happen to America were he to be elected as our President.

Email from the purported writer

I have received thousands of emails and phone calls about the Turtle Island account. I spend many hours every day replying but still can't keep up.

I did NOT write that account (or any version of it, since I gather there are different ones circulating), forward it under my name, or ask for it to be widely distributed.

I have never been to Turtle Island (which costs $2000/day), have never met Senator McCain, was a classics major (not an English Literature major), and don't like pancakes.

When I received it three weeks ago the author was identified as Ana (Anasuya) Dubey, a psychologist in San Francisco. But she was not the sender of the email. I forwarded the account, with full email trail information and the name of the purported author, to three friends with whom I discuss politics. It was further forwarded, and at some point I was identified as the author or as making the story public on behalf of Ms. Dubey. I suspect whoever did this thought that my name and contact information would make the story more credible.

I regret any misinformation which is circulating. This is NOT an organized effort on the part of any political candidate.

The account is not necessarily false. I have spoken to several people who know Ms. Dubey and vouch for its truth. Snopes is investigating and lists its current status as "undetermined." I have just today heard that Ms. Dubey is working with a reporter to substantiate her account. Until the actual author comes forward, however, we will not know whether the account is valid.

I hope you will pass this information on to anyone interested in this story.

Mary-Kay Gamel
Professor of Classics, Comparative Literature, and Theater Arts
Cowell College
University of California, Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz, California 95064

In a postscript, she recommends an article on McCain that recently appeared in Rolling Stone.

Monday, October 06, 2008

On Martha Rosler's "Great Power" at Mitchell-Innes & Nash, Chelsea

A response to the Jerry Saltz review in New York Magazine.

Martha Rosler has typically been too pat and jejune in her politics, and in her assumption that it makes for good art, and Jerry Saltz correctly nails the rehash aspects of the current Mitchell-Innes & Nash show. The word "on the street" (in this case West 26th) is that Rosler is breaking no new ground, merely updating and enhancing both the scale and production values of her familiar collaging of images. Once they were taken from the Vietnam battlefield and conflated with magazine clippings from the home front: fashion models, washing machines, living room sofas and credenzas, Playboy nudes. Now they include some "relevant" Iraqi/Afghani footage - burkas and amputees - and benefit from Photoshop. Rosler might have succeeded in "bringing the war home" in 1968, but as Thomas Wolfe said, "You Can't Go Home Again". The epithet "pretty war porn" might be a bit harsh, but it is not that far from the mark.

But unmentioned by Saltz is how the artist's characteristic LCD reductivism can occasionally wind up being an asset. Semiotics of the Kitchen (1975, 6 minutes) is a proto-feminist video in which a deadpan Rosler, channeling Chaplin, goes through a lexicon of appliances and tools, A to Z, demonstrating their uses and abuses. The simple set and static camera manage to trap Rosler mid-screen as she "names her own oppression". It is eerily repressed, confrontational and decidedly loopy, one of her most effective works, probably because it is both specific and personal.

A performance piece might have enlivened the current exhibition. But sadly, the only performance is left to us, the audience, as we are asked to drop a quarter in a turnstile in order to enter the gallery. This "threshold" event might have hoped to evoke a carny-like, populist, big tent atmosphere for this overtly political show, especially in the context of an election year. Personally though, I find the demand just a bit presumptuous. It brings to mind the sideshow trivialization of Steve Powers' Waterboarding Thrill Ride: "Ladies and gents, step right up and get your torture here!"