Episode 117 – Vernissage

Virtual Memories Show:
Jonah Kinigstein – Vernissage

“Everybody was looking for the next van Gogh . . . so that opened up the space for anybody who put two sticks together to be a sculptor, or two dabs of paint on a canvas to be a painter: ‘Don’t miss him! This man is a genius!’ You’re not going to catch the next van Gogh by just throwing everything on a wall.”

Jonah Kinigstein is having a moment . . . at 92! The painter and cartoonist has published his first collection, The Emperor’s New Clothes: The Tower of Babel in the “Art” World (FU Press) and had an exhibition of his work at the Society of Illustrators in the past few months, and he’s just getting warmed up! We met at his studio to talk about the abysmal and unredeemable state of modern art, and why he elected to stay in the representative mode of painting despite the allure and rewards of conceptual art. He also talks about a near-century of New York City, his glory years in Paris and Rome, his disenchantment with the National Academy, and more! Give it a listen!

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“Here I was, studying anatomy . . . and there’s a man who’s dripping on the floor! I’ve got a lot of drippings on the floor; I think I’ll put them up!”

Jonah’s got plenty of venom to spare for artists like Pollock, de Kooning, and Hirst, but also talks about his great artistic influences, his reasons for pasting angry anti-modern-art cartoons on the walls in SoHo, why he paints on wood instead of canvas, and making a living designing department store windows and point-of-sale whiskey displays. It’s a fascinating life, and I’m glad we had the chance to talk! You can check out my photos from Jonah’s studio, including several of his panels, over here.

Jonah in the studio

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes! You might like:

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About our Guest

Born in 1923 in Coney Island, Jonah’s early influences were discovered during visits to the Metropolitan Museum- “When I really saw the old masters, it blew my mind, of course.” He attended Cooper Union for a year before he was drafted into the Army, serving from 1942 – 1945. Soon after, Jonah moved to Paris where he spent time at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière, conversing with other aspiring artists, exchanging ideas, exhibiting his work, seeing established artists, and generally soaking up a fertile creative environment. He exhibited in several shows including the Salon D’Automne, Salon de Mai, and the Salon des Moins de Trente Ans, and had one-man shows in the Galerie Breteau and Les Impressions D’Art. After Paris, Jonah moved to Rome on a Fulbright Scholarship and studied at the La Schola Di Belles Artes. After a year, he returned to the U.S. and exhibited his paintings at the Downtown Gallery in Manhattan. Like so many painters, he was unable to make a living solely from painting, so he worked in the commercial art world and did freelance illustration and design. Throughout this time, Jonah’s commitment to his own art never wavered, and he continued to paint and occasionally exhibit.

Credits: This episode’s music is Sous Le Ciel De Paris by Edith Piaf. The conversation was recorded at Mr. Kinigstein’s home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of Mr. Kinigstein by me.

Podcast 105 – Sincere Observation

Virtual Memories Show:
Mimi Gross – Sincere Observation

“My weakness is that I don’t have a set of parameters. My work always looks like a group show. But the connections are real. Anyone who looks can see the connections.”

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Artist Mimi Gross joins the show to talk about her art, her life, and the joys of collaboration. Mimi’s been part of the New York art scene for more than half a century, and her paintings, sculptures, sets and designs have been seen around the world. We talk about how she stood out as Mimi Gross when she was “daughter of sculptor/artist Chaim Gross” and “wife of artist Red Grooms”. We also get into the difficulties of having a family while being a working artist, making art in response to 9/11, designing sets and costumes for dance and how that fed back into her other art-forms, the multi-year process of building Ruckus Manhattan, the problems and perks of not fitting into a particular tradition, the experience of building the Renee and Chaim Gross Foundation, and the loose definition of success. I also ask my half-assed “Jeff Koons: Fraud or Prank?” question again, but I really get shown up for my lack of knowledge of contemporary art. Give it a listen!

“It wasn’t until I was well over 40 that I realized that not everyone has imagination.”

Mimi Gross on the Virtual Memories Show

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes! You might like:

Follow The Virtual Memories Show on iTunes, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Mimi Gross is a painter, set-and-costume designer for dance, and maker of interior and exterior installations. She has had several international exhibitions, including work at the Salander O’ Reilly Galleries, and the Ruth Siegel Gallery, New York City, the Inax Gallery, in Ginza, Tokyo, and Galerie Lara Vincey, in Paris. She has also shown work at the Municipal Art Society and at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York. Her anatomically-themed artwork is on permanent display, courtesy the New York City Parks Department, at the Robert Venable Park in East New York.

Her work is included in numerous public collections, including those of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, The Brooklyn Museum, the Jewish Museum, le Musee des Art Decoratifs in Paris, the Nagoya Museum of Art, the Onasch Collection in Berlin and the Lannon Foundation, as well as the Fukuoko Bank in Japan and New York’s Bellevue Hospital.

Gross has been the recipient of countless awards and grants including from the New York State Council on the Arts, twice from the National Endowment for Visual Arts, the American Academy & Institute of Arts and Letters, and a “Bessie” for sets and costumes. She held the McMillan/Stewart Endowed Chair in Painting at the Maryland College of Art in 2010-2011, and has taught at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Rhode Island School of Design, the Penland School of Crafts, Syracuse University, SUNY Purchase, as well as other universities and educational institutions, giving workshops and advising students, as a visiting artist.

From 1960-1976, Gross collaborated with Red Grooms on many large, multidimensional installations, including the fabled Ruckus Manhattan. Since 1979, she has collaborated in a fruitful (and on-going) partnership with the dancer, Douglas Dunn and his company, designing sets and costumes for his performances. She also collaborated with the poet Charles Bernstein. Her on-site drawings of the World Trade Center from 9/11 and after are included in the volume, Some of These Daze, published by Granary Books.

Credits: This episode’s music is Shoulda Been a Painter by Karl Hyde. The conversation was recorded on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Lower photo of Ms. Gross by me, no credit given for upper photo (studio shot).

Got The Time

Following his quintuple-bypass a few years ago, my old man began compulsively buying watches. He bought a ton of them on ebay, convincing himself they were genuine Breitlings and such . . . for only $50!

Dad even bought cases that auto-rotated the watches, keeping their automatic winders winded. He must’ve bought more than 30 watches in the months following his recovery. He gave me one; it promptly crapped out. At one point he told me, “I don’t understand why I’m so interested in these now.”

My father, 67 and really facing mortality for the first time, could not put together the connection between having surgery for his ticker and the compulsion to buy timepieces. Literary symbolism is not his strong suit.

I try to be more honest with myself. Two weeks ago, I bought a nice watch to celebrate turning 40. It cost a bunch more than I ever thought I would spend on a watch, but that’s not saying much, since I never thought I’d spend more than $25 on one.

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I did some other things for my 40th, too.

The day began with a torrent of e-mails and Facebook notices from friends and family wishing me a happy birthday. I was cheered by them. I know it’s easy to send a quick b-day note to someone on Facebook, but still: it’s a few moments that someone took to think of me. I felt a little guilty about the birthday notices I’ve let pass by when I log on in the morning.

What did turning 40 mean to me? I’m not sure. I think I wanted to invest it with some sort of meaning, but I don’t feel as if a rubicon has been crossed. I’m realistic about what I’ve achieved so far, and am perversely looking forward to how fast the world will pass me by.

Once upon a time, I thought about quitting my job at 40 and spending a year writing and reading, but the prospect of re-entering the job market at 41 filled me with dread. So instead I just took the day off.

My birthday fell on a Tuesday, so after I finished editing some articles, I made my way into New York City for a few hours. My plan was to take care of some errands and then go to the Met to spend some time with a Rembrandt or two.

The errands consisted of returning some boots at the Billy Reid store on Bond St., where I came across the latest in Auschwitz fashion —

— and Sol Moscot opticians on Rivington St., as recommended by my pal Mark (as well as Anderson Cooper and John Hodgman). I ordered some prescription sunglasses, in the Lemtosh style:

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From there, I drove to the Upper East Side. I’d written about the area a few days earlier in that piece about the movie Metropolitan, but I didn’t have much basis of comparison for the UES of today vs. c.1989. I’m sure it’s undergone some degree of New Jersey-fication, as the rest of Manhattan has.

I found an underground garage on 71st that had an entry ramp so steep I literally couldn’t see it beyond the hood of my Outback. There was a moment of panic where I thought it might just be a 50′ drop to oblivion, but was sure there would have been an expose about it in New York Magazine by now.

Safely parked, I walked out to Madison Ave. and decided to make a pilgrimage to the Ralph Lauren men’s store at the Rhinelander mansion on the corner of Madison and 72nd.

For me, retail therapy rarely involves actually buying anything. I’m content to walk through stores, look at wares, and maybe make snide observations about people’s shopping habits. Or, in the case of Ralph Lauren, I marvel over the way the entire retail environment is put together. See, stores really can have a narrative structure to them. It’s rare, at least in menswear (and especially in my suburban setting), to find one with a really well planned arc. Generally, they’re simply assembled in a psychographic/planogrammatical manner intended to maximize large-margin sales.

But a few months ago, I visited the Lauren store in Short Hills Mall in NJ (or, as Amy & I call it, “Rich People’s Mall”) and was struck by how carefully the shop was curated, how the various collections/labels were demarcated, how the tone of the store changed from area to area. And so I wanted to visit the new men’s store at the Rhinelander to see if that retail vision could be writ large.

Please note: I only own one piece of Ralph Lauren clothing. It’s a gray blazer I picked up in an outlet store. It looks awfully good, but it may be the cheap brand they make specifically for outlets. I’m not one to spend thousands on a single article of clothing, even if I have upped my wardrobe game in the past year. (Hint: you can get by with less expensive gear, but be sure to take your things to a good tailor. And no, your local dry cleaner doesn’t count.)

So, even though I was only window-shopping, I was nonetheless blown away by the layout and display of the RL mansion. The floor-by-floor transitions among collections were sharp, but not disconcerting, while the clothes and shoes themselves were presented beautifully. The elegance of the Black and Purple Labels segued with the rustic RRL section and the more affordable Polo collection. The only jarring experience was the RLX collection on the top floor, a brand so distinct that its sharp white walls and neon-colored sports/performance-wear have to be cordoned off from the rest of the joint.

I walked through the sections for a bit, laughing over price tags, listening in on wealthy British and Brazilian tourists as they talked about suits or casualwear. I demurred each request to help by the sales staff, which must have pegged me as a window-shopper. I wasn’t dressed poorly for the occasion, but I surely didn’t give off an air of money.

Once I’d had my fill, I walked up Madison for one more bit of menswear-meandering. JCrew had recently opened a men’s store on 80th & Madison, and some of the style-bloggers I follow (I’m not ashamed) praised it pretty highly. Sadly, compared to the Rhinelander, the JCrew men’s store was like a barn. It wasn’t simply the luxury of the RL goods, but the presentation and general sense of curation that made the JCrew shop pale in comparison. It’s good to know that my snobbishness can transcend literature and comics.

On the walk up Madison, I saw three things:

  1. an autograph store with a letter by Alexander Hamilton in the window, since we share a birthday,
  2. Tom Selleck (possibly), and
  3. the Whitney Museum.

I’d never visited the latter, and had no idea that its facade is a monstrosity:

Some people praise this building to the heavens, but it just looked brutal (not Brutarian, necessarily) to me. There’s an exhibit about Edward Hopper at the museum, so I thought I’d stop in and see it on the walk back.

But first, I needed food & caffeine. I stopped for lunch at an espresso bar called Sant’Ambroeus. The tone of the place reminded me of Milan, although less dirty and much more moneyed. I staked out a small table in the front of the place, ordered a coffee and two little prosciutto and mozzarella sandwiches ($9 each) and broke out my notebook to write about The Day So Far.

There was a steady parade of customers who lived in a different world than mine. Some of the women were Real Housewives-like in their opulence, plastic surgery, and vapidity of conversation. A middle-aged jet-setting British couple chatted at the table to my right, while a Bulgarian-Israeli fashion model to my left kept jabbering on her cell and adjusting her cleavage.

Looking up from my notebook, I found myself being glared at by a pair of European men in their 50s, who gave me the impression they were connected to one of the modern art galleries in the area. They were stylishly dressed, waiting for one of the few front-tables to clear, and fixated on mine. I imagined an art-house version of Road House, where I was challenged to a fight because I’d inadvertently sat at Their Table. Once the Brits left, they moved in.

Waiting for my coffee, I played wih my iPhone for a few moments. The sitemeter for my blog revealed a flood of hits coming in throughout the day. Investigating further, I discovered that my previous day’s post about Metropolitan caught the attention of someone on a forum at Criterion Collections. Between that web-traffic and the ongoing e-mails of birthday wishes, I felt pretty good.

Fed and caffeinated, I headed back out to the street. On a whim, I checked out a gallery called Other Criteria. The main room was a gift shop of various modern art books, DVDs and other paraphernalia. Further back was a room with a number of first editions of books from the 1950s and ’60s, followed by a room with international art magazines. A staircase with stenciled footprints led me down to a well-lit gallery.

The exhibit was of Damien Hirst’s work (he’s one of the co-owners of the gallery/store). Several of his human skulls were on display under glass; only the $25,000 variety, of course, not the $100 million one. There were various wallpapers from his studio on the walls. Rolls were going for $700, I think. I laughed over some of the pharmaceutical-oriented wallpaper. I consider most of this era’s art to be bullshit, but if it’s able to part rich people from their money, then more power to the artists.

Back outside, I decided to pass on visiting the Met. I was feeling a bit anxious, and worried that the sheer volume of people in the museum would drive me further into myself. I’m funny like that. I mean, I’d been alone all day once my wife had left for work, I’d missed phone calls from my mom and my brother — my old man didn’t call till 6:30 or so that night; I’m pretty sure he was tipped off — and had only spoken to garage attendants, the wacky old Italian salesman at Moscot’s and the manager at Billy Reid, but I felt pretty good. I felt like I wasn’t rushing anywhere, like the day was just for my whims as I chose to follow them.

(Just to be clear: this wasn’t anxiety. This was worrying about anxiety. Yes, I’m 40 years old and still experience this.)

I walked down Madison to take in the Hopper exhibition, only to discover that the Whitney was closed for the day. Undaunted, I walked down to the Frick Museum, one of my favorite museums in the city, where I could commune with the Vermeers, Whistlers, Turners, El Grecos, Holbeins, and of course the Rembrandts.

One of my favorites is a self-portrait from 1658. He’s seated, holding a stick, awash in browns, golds and reds. His dark eyes look out from under the shadow of his hat. Oh, heck. you can just look at it here.

When my old man was in the hospital for that bypass surgery — you remember the beginning of this post, right? — he was in intensive care for a while. The morning after the surgery, his girlfriend and I were standing vigil for him, when the doctor told us about the internal bleeding dad had suffered, and how they’d need to keep him sedated for a while, until he was stable. We stayed for an hour or more, while nurses attended to him in various states of what seemed like an emergency. My anxiety grew pretty intense, and I eventually begged off the scene. Dad’s girlfriend said she’d call if there was any change.

I went to the Frick that day, and for the first time I realized that Rembrandt’s self-portrait looked like my father. After his recovery, I bought him a small, framed reproduction of it.

What I’m not saying very clearly is, if 40 means anything to me, maybe it’s as a measuring stick of where I am in relation to Dad. I don’t want to go into that too much right now; I’ve been thinking a lot lately about our relationship, and I’ll write more about that when the time’s right. But I thought it was only fitting to spend some time with that Rembrandt self-portrait on this special day.

So you can imagine my disappointment when I learned it wasn’t on display. (I think it’s being cleaned up or otherwise prepped for the Frick’s coming Rembrandt exhibition.) I took a deep breath, turned around in the West Gallery, and bathed in the radiance of Turner’s Harbor of Dieppe.

I let the light wash over me for a while, before I took out my iPhone and looked up the painting. “Well,” I thought, “Turner was 51 when he painted this, I’ve still got time to –”

— to what? Not to paint, maybe, but to bring a little more beauty into the world. I thought about the Hirst skulls I’d seen an hour earlier and the Laurana bust that captivated me in previous visits (also not on display this time around). I thought about the sheer gray facade of the Whitney and the light from Vermeer’s windows. Goya’s smiths, forging and forged out of myth, a few blocks from menswear mansions and Eurotrash cafes. I thought about St. Jerome, the first El Greco I ever saw, sending me tripping back to George Orwell’s essay about Henry Miller:

In passing [Miller] refers to an essay that Aldous Huxley wrote some years ago about El Greco’s picture, The Dream of Philip the Second. Huxley remarks that the people in El Greco’s pictures always look as though they were in the bellies of whales, and professes to find something peculiarly horrible in the idea of being in a ‘visceral prison’. Miller retorts that, on the contrary, there are many worse things than being swallowed by whales, and the passage makes it dear that he himself finds the idea rather attractive.

I thought about half my life gone, or fulfilled.

Flooded with myself, I left the Frick and began walking back toward my garage. On the way, I saw the storefront for the Tom Ford men’s store. If I was following whims, why not? I entered the boutique and nodded to the pretty receptionist. Two young salesmen were in the casualwear section, so I walked instead to the formalwear room, eyeballing the $4,000 jackets and their broad lapels. In a side window, the world’s greatest smoking jacket was on display:

I admit that I find Ford an interesting character. I read an interview with him in Fantastic Man a year or two ago, and was struck by his degree of self-invention. I suppose I admire that trait, that willingness to blow oneself up and rearrange the fragments with pieces from the outside world.

But the clothes: impossibly gorgeous, occasionally outrageous, and so far beyond my budget that it was ridiculous. As I walked through the casualwear, one of the salesmen asked if I needed any help. I said, “. . . I turned 40 today and I’m having an aspirational day. I’d just like to look around, if that’s alright.”

“Congratulations, sir! Feel free,” he said. The store was empty but for us. I took it all in for a while: the perfumes, the shoes, the glasses, the . . . ibex horn with a cigar-cutter attached? “It’s for the man who has everything,” one of the men told me when I inquired.

I like to think I have everything, but that’s in the Whitmanian sense of containing multitudes, not ibex-horn cigar-cutters.

Outside, I inadvertently overshot my garage, but found a pair of bookstores on the next corner (Lexington and 71st). I hadn’t been to a bookstore all day. Once upon a time, they would’ve been the center of any trip I made. Now I have 1,500 books at home, a Kindle, and a desire to make up for lost time; I need to browse for more?

I browsed for more. I visited Archivia first, an art-book shop on Lexington. I decided that the only book I would buy there would be the glorious slipcased two-volume illustrated edition of Homer that Chester River Press put out last year. It goes for about $400, so I’m glad I found no sign of it.

A little bit south of Archivia was Bookberries, a thoroughly generic bookstore with a full collection of whatever the latest and best books are. It was a sad last stop for my day-trip, but the last stop always is. I looked over shelves of disposable contemporary books that I’ll never get around to reading, that help to discourage me from my own writing, that add to the cacophany I’m doing my best to avoid. (Present tempest in a teacup excepted.)

And then it was time to go home. I got the car, sat in FDR Drive traffic from the 70s to the Triboro and left voice-mails for my mom and my brother. I thought about how I used to drive up the FDR on Sunday nights after dropping Amy off at her apartment in Stuy Town. The night in 2005 I proposed to her, I sat in some FDR traffic on the way home. I remember calling friends to tell them the news. I remembered my friend Ian’s exclamation of “Outstanding!” I remember my friend Cecily being a sentence-and-a-half into a story before she realized what I had just told her, then bellowing, “WHAT?! Oh, my God! Congratulations!”

The traffic was crawling along, but I smiled. I was 40 years old and I’d had a wonderful day off from work.

Poor Excuse for Art

I’m not sure I agree with the writer’s point — that post-crash poverty freed Rembrandt do pursue his art for its own sake — but it’s been a long time since I posted a Rembrandt link up here, so enjoy.

Light

Ingmar Bergman’s death seemed like a good occasion for me to finally watch a movie I’d been saving for a while: Light Keeps Me Company, a documentary about Bergman’s great cinematographer, Sven Nykvist, who died last September. The irony is that the only Bergman film I’ve seen is The Seventh Seal, but that’s one that Nykvist didn’t shoot.

Anyway, following the standard model, the documentary consists of talking head interviews with people he knew professionally and personally, short clips of movies on which he worked, on-set footage, and “present-day” scenes of Nykvist in the Swedish countryside. Within that framework, Carl-Gustaf Nykvist assembles a glorious and sad portrait of his father’s life.

The movie’s a gem, and the array of reminiscences shows how many lives Nykvist touched during his career. Of course, the key moments are the interviews with Bergman, who implies that he and Nykvist were more perfectly attuned to what they were doing than any other two people have ever been:

Nobody, while practicing their profession, during our work on films together, has been as close to me as Sven. However, we have never ever had a private acquaintanceship. But the intimacy between us, our belonging together, the sense of parallel minds, of thinking, of feeling the same way, when it comes to practicing our craft, that feeling was total.

What’s interesting to me is that he doesn’t fall into condescension, doesn’t cast Nykvist as his “eyes” or any other tool to pursue his own vision. Near the end of the movie, there’s footage of the two men walking hand-in-hand through a garden, as Bergman’s voiceover recounts Bibi Andersson‘s plans for the men’s old age: they’ll give Sven an empty camera and reassemble the actors and let the men keep ‘filming’ away.

My introduction to Nykvist’s gorgeous work was Another Woman (1988), one of Woody Allen’s “Bergman-esque” dramas. It’s a movie I’ve gone back to many times over the years, and one that I try to foist off on friends so I’ll have people to discuss it with. Light Keeps Me Company offered a little revelation about his experience on that movie.

Following the heartbreaking segment about his son Johan’s suicide (c. 1977), Nykvist cryptically remarks, “Mia became very important to me. She helped me back to life,” as we see home-movie footage of a beautiful Mia Farrow in a tropical setting, playing peek-a-boo with a straw hat. (Okay, so maybe it’s not so cryptic. Still, it does come out of the blue, and doesn’t get mentioned again.)

Shortly, there’s a segment about working with Woody Allen, who says

All the crew love working with him. . . They’re never happier than when I tell ’em that Sven is going to be the cinematographer on the picture, because they know that he’s sensitive, and sweet, and they’re going to be able to do a high-quality visual picture, but without any personal or emotional cost.

Soon, we see various New York settings at night, and Nykvist says,

Despite the fun of working with Woody, I wanted to get away from New York. I was disturbed by Mia and Woody’s marital co-existence, even if my relationship with her had ended long ago. It was the first time that I’d felt really lonely on a shoot.

Woody Allen: king of missing the obvious.

It’s good to see, throughout the film, that Nykvist was regarded so highly within the industry. Stellan Skarsgard has a wonderful moment explaining how, whenever he tells anyone in movies that he’s from Sweden, they always ask him about working with Nykvist. They all want to know ‘how he does it.’ “Except for actors,” he says. “They want to know what Bergman’s like.” But the crews are more interested in Sven, because he’s the bringer of light.

It’s a wonderful film, even as it must portray Nykvist’s descent into dementia characterized as aphasia. Mercifully, the son doesn’t expose too much of the father’s decline, instead choosing a wonderful progression of scenes that illustrate Nykvist’s bonds with his family. (Given that they’re Swedish, there’s a certain distance/coldness by our standards, but it remains poignant.)

So do me a favor and put this in your Netflix queue. It’s an amazing portrait of a man who saw light as beautifully as Rembrandt did and brought some wonderful visions to the screen.

(He also shot Sleepless in Seattle.)

More from Paris

We went to the Louvre today, then took a walking tour of a bunch of passages, the covered shopping areas that used to dominate before the arrival of department store. I’m sure Walter Benjamin wrote about that in the Arcades Project, but I’ll likely never get around to reading it.

Anyway, I posted a bunch of my pix, added to my original Paris photoset. Amy hasn’t gone through hers to figure out which ones to post.

I head out to my conference tomorrow morning, so we’ll see what sorta shenanigans she gets into while I’m up at Villepinte. Presumably, it’ll involve shopping.

Bonus! Louvre joke: You thought Britney was a bad mom?

Unrequired Reading: party like it’s 5767

Happy Jewish New Year, dear readers! In honor of Rosh Hashanah, this week’s Unrequired Reading features a bunch of Jewish-connected links and others that have nothing to do with Judaism.

First, we have Michael Totten’s interview with Yaacov Lozowick, author of Right To Exist: A Moral Defense of Israel’s Wars. He thinks neither of the Lebanon wars is defensible, and provides some good insights into the shifting emotional landscape of Israelis during the most recent war.

If the story about Israel’s use of cluster bombs in the war’s last days proves true, that oughtta get categorized as “really REALLY indefensible.”

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Johnny Knoxville isn’t Jewish , but he gets to celebrate our new year with his new movie’s debut. Here’s an interview with him and Jeff Tremaine, the director of Jackass Number Two.

On Howard Stern this week, Knoxville admitted that he got the idea for getting gored by a bull (watch the trailer) from watching a Tom & Jerry cartoon. We’ll probably see the movie tomorrow, along with a shopping expedition to the new Century 21 store in Paramus, and a White Manna run. Because we’re all about the gracious living.

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For its first season or two, The State was one of the funniest television shows ever (I seem to recall the last season completely melting down in attempts at absurdism that went nowhere, as it its wont). Even though every other series in the world has gone DVD, The State languishes in MTV vaults. Good news: the first season is getting released on iTunes’ video store!

I can legitimately tie this into this week’s Jewy theme because of the great skit in which the cast members were all asked to introduce themselves and make a personal confession, as a way of becoming closer to the audience: “I’m Michael Ian Black. My real name is Schwartz, but I changed it because I’m ashamed of being Jewish.”

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My buddy Ian’s not Jewish, but he IS a chief petty officer! Congrats! Check out the pix from the ceremony!

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Cory Maye’s not Jewish either, but there are probably Jews at the law firm that helped get him off death row, pending a new sentencing hearing. Here’s hoping it’s the first step to springing Maye from prison!

Oh, and the “informant” whose tip led to the botched raid that landed Maye on death row probably doesn’t like Jews. He sure doesn’t like black people.

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Rich people don’t always stay rich. Larry Ellison is Jewish, and he spent a ton of money, but he managed to stay rich:

A raft of e-mail messages and financial documents introduced in a lawsuit that disgruntled shareholders filed against Mr. Ellison and other Oracle executives in 2001, give witness to some of Mr. Ellison’s budgeting practices. (The suit was settled last November and the judge in the matter subsequently unsealed financial documents submitted as exhibits in the case). The documents, first reported by The San Francisco Chronicle earlier this year, also show how far Philip E. Simon, an adviser who described himself as Mr. Ellison’s “financial servant,” went in trying to persuade his boss to pay off about $1.2 billion in loans. (Neither Mr. Ellison nor Mr. Simon responded to interview requests for this article).

Mr. Ellison’s ledger around the end of 2000 included annual “lifestyle” spending of about $20 million, the purchase of a Japanese villa for $25 million, a proposed underwater archeology project earmarked for $12 million and his new yacht, budgeted at $194 million (news reports later said that the yacht’s final cost approached $300 million).

“I know you view me as a pessimist,” Mr. Simon wrote Mr. Ellison in an e-mail message in 2002, several months after banks began sounding alarms about Mr. Ellison’s debt. “Maybe you’re right, though I would disagree. Nonetheless, I think it’s imperative that we start to budget and plan. New purchases should be kept to a minimum. We need to establish and execute on a diversification plan to eliminate (yes, eliminate) all debt and build up a significant, conservatively structured, liquid investment portfolio.

“I know you don’t like to discuss this,” Mr. Simon added. “I know this e-mail may/will depress you. View this as a call to arms.”

* * *

During my previous visit to Paris in 2002, I visited some of the monuments and shrines that commemorated the Jews that France shipped out for the camps. There’s plenty of other stuff for us to do this time around, as this BW slideshow sez.

* * *

Sven Nykvist wasn’t Jewish, but he was the cinematographer on several Woody Allen flicks, including one of my favorite movies: Another Woman. (Also, he had an affair with Mia Farrow pre-Woody, which makes their subsequent collaborations just plain weird. On the other hand, Amy & I had exes perform the readings at our wedding, so hey.) He died last week after a long illness.

A few weeks ago, Amy was looking through our Netflix queue, and asked, “What is Light Keeps Me Company and why is it in our queue?”

Yes, she married someone who’s interested in seeing a documentary about a cinematographer. All I can say is, like Rembrandt, Nykvist’s work taught me new ways of seeing light. Rest in peace.

* * *

Tiki culture: something that could bring all the world’s faiths together. Except the ones that prohibit drinking, I guess.

Yo-ho-ho and l’shana tova!

The Greatest and Most Natural Movement

Good article by Robert Hughes on Rembrandt, in honor of the 400th anniversary of the artist’s birth. It turns out that Hughes likes one of my least favorite R. paintings, The Polish Rider, which I saw at the Frick and was convinced was a joke.

Discussing the majesty of Peiro, Raphael and Poussin, he writes

But what you are not likely to feel is a sense of community with these magnificent products of human thought and imagination. Were there really people who looked like this, who could be seen walking the streets of Rome, Arezzo or Paris? Who could be spoken to, and answer your voice? It seems implausible. We look at them for quite different reasons. We admire their difference, and their distance, from us.

But then there are artists whose work is not like this. They are the ones who acknowledge human imperfection and mortality. And not only acknowledge it, but in some sense glory in it, making it the prime subject of their art. For if men and women were perfect, mentally, physically, morally, spiritually, why would they need art at all?

For that, we need Rembrandt. I’ve written about his paintings a few times in the three years I’ve been keeping my virtual memories (I missed my blogiversary a few weeks ago), but I’ve only done so tentatively. The best of it was probably in this Interminably Long Ramble.

If you’re going to be in Amsterdam in the next few months, you should check out the Rembrandt-Caravaggio exhibit that Hughes’ article is plugging.

If you’re a fine art aficionado and a NASCAR fan, check out the Rembrandt 400.

Night Watch

Today, I saw Rembrandt’s Night Watch at the Rijksmuseum.

There are moments for which we spend all our lives waiting, and there are moments for which we don’t even know we’re waiting.

* * *

The Rijksmuseum’s undergoing a massive renovation, so the masterpieces of the collection have been put on display in the Philips wing. I’m immensely thankful that I’m in the midst of the Baroque Cycle while I visit this place. It’s providing me with an amazing context for this place and the short period in which it became the center of the world.

That said, this is the most confusing city I’ve ever walked in, even worse than Boston. I’m not sure what it is, but I lose track of street names almost instantly, and barely recognize previously traversed intersections (a key method of finding one’s way around). The sheer number of canals has something to do with it, of course: something that, in a single instance, should be an easy landmark, multiplied becomes confusion.

I’ll probably catch hell for this, but I didn’t visit the Van Gogh Museum, around the corner from the Rijksmuseum. I used to feel quite passionate about Van Gogh’s paintings, but that’s just not the case for me anymore. When I look at reproductions of his work, nothing awakens in me. I recognize the genius of his work, but I’ve somehow lost the enthusiasm I once had for it.

Maybe my past enthusiasm for Van Gogh tied more into the biography and my old identity as Misunderstood, Partially Insane Artist. As I’ve grown into a different world, that vision of color and shape doesn’t resonate in me. I’m drawn more to the darknesses and ambiguities of Rembrandt’s best work.

Perhaps it has something to do with why I loathe most modern art. Maybe this is it: I don’t like the Lowest College Denominator context to which Van Gogh’s been reduced. The cheap clones, the too-easy “I don’t need training! I’m expressing myself!” method that many visual artists employ: maybe that’s what Van Gogh’s come to represent in my psyche. Not that he was practitioner of that method, but that yahoo-artists use him as a champion.

Or maybe I’m just getting older and my classics-background means more to me.

* * *

Walking through the “Rembrandt & his pupils” section of the museum, I thought about how much it must’ve sucked to be Hals, van Hootch, et al., painting in the time and place of Rembrandt. Doing your best work during a time of someone else’s genius must be a major bummer. The obvious version of this is that Amadeus movie/play, but from what I gather, the relationship between Mozart and Salieri was more complicated than the fictionalized version.

* * *

Last night, I walked around in the Leidseplein for a bit. Lots of bars, restaurants, shops, etc. Here’s a funny-looking building. I didn’t have my map with me, so I didn’t know how near or far I was from the Red Light district. I thought I might be close, because I saw numerous women who were absolutely phenomenally/pneumatically built, dressed in some of the most sex-oriented clothing I’d ever seen in public. When I looked at the map this morning, I realized I was nowhere near that section of town, and that some women in Amsterdam just dress like that.

* * *

Some pictures from this afternoon’s jaunt to the museum:

The view from a canal near my hotel. When the Meridien Apollo’s website said that the hotel had a view of five canals, I thought that meant it was pretty amazingly located. Now I realize that, in Amsterdam, you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting five canals.

Still, it’s a nice hotel, and in a pretty quiet location, which is good for me.

Here’s a section of the Rijksmuseum.

Thank you, sir! May I have another?

Same place, different side.

A statue on the grounds, commemorating the back strain suffered by the guys who had to move it there.

Always with the museum pix!

At least we’re coming up to the entrance.

I didn’t want to use the flash, for fear of scaring the 10 million Japanese tourists in front of me. (Note: as a goof, I took a photo of a totally dull building this afternoon, because a ton of Japanese tourists were walking by. They immediately stopped and began taking pictures of the same building.)

I got to the museum when this guy was getting his “uniform” on. I gave him a euro for dressing like a homo.

Not many people know that Rembrandt was also a killer ‘boarder.

The big concert hall.

They have these strange birds here, which have white bills, black feathers, and black eyes, and look like they have no faces. I’ll try to get a better pic later. Sadly, I made this observation and I haven’t even tried the hash yet.