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Screenshot 2016-12-21 19.29.27

From Herbalis.

Here’s the gallery.

And here’s the New York Magazine article I commented upon.

• Tags: Art 
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Moon over Magritte

From the NYT:

Blaming Policy, Not Islam, for Belgium’s Radicalized Youth


BRUSSELS — Yves Goldstein makes no excuses for Belgium’s failure to find Salah Abdeslam and the other Islamic State recruits who attacked Paris and then bombed Brussels Airport and a subway station.

The problem is not Islam, he insists, but the negligence of government officials like himself in allowing self-contained ethnic ghettos to grow unchallenged, breeding anger, crime and radicalism among youth — a soup of grievances that suits Islamist recruiters.

… Friends who teach the equivalent of high school seniors in the predominantly Muslim districts of Molenbeek and Schaerbeek told him that “90 percent of their students, 17, 18 years old, called them heroes,” he said.

Mr. Goldstein, 38, grew up in Schaerbeek, the child of Jewish refugees from Nazism. Now a councilman from Schaerbeek, he is also chief of staff for the minister-president of the Brussels Capital Region.

Schaerbeek is almost as infamous these days as Molenbeek, two districts where Mr. Abdeslam and his group of Islamic State adherents had the space and time to live, hide and manufacture their weapons.

Adjacent to Molenbeek, Schaerbeek is richer, tidier and more mixed. Jacques Brel lived here for a time, so did René Magritte. It has a young, affluent section, which some compare to Notting Hill in London, and a large Turkish population. …

Brussels itself is about 25 percent Muslim — 70 percent are of Moroccan heritage and 20 percent Turkish, and the ethnic groups tend to stick to themselves, making them difficult for outsiders, like the police, to penetrate.

Belgium’s integration has been somewhere between the French model, which put new immigrants in suburban ghettos, and the British and American one, which created communities like Chinatown or Little Italy, Mr. Goldstein said. “In Brussels, everyone lives in the city, and we chose a model of diversity through mixing of populations in the same neighborhoods.”

But “we failed,” he said. “We failed in Molenbeek” and Schaerbeek, too, to ensure the mixing of populations.

“We have neighborhoods where people only see the same people, go to school with the same people,” he said. “What connection do they have with the whole society, what connection do they have with real diversity? It’s the establishment of the ghetto,” he said, “and it’s the thing in our urban development that we have to tackle.”

Jews have left Schaerbeek, and the last two synagogues are being sold. Instead, there is a kind of suffocating, insular, ethnic uniformity.


“These young people will never go to museums until 18 or 20 — they never saw Chagall, they never saw Dalí, they never saw Warhol, they don’t know what it is to dream,” Mr. Goldstein said. …

Young people whose parents or grandparents were immigrants face serious questions of identity, Mr. Goldstein acknowledged, speaking during and after a conference here of the German Marshall Fund. “But identity is a two-sided relation” — between young Muslims and ourselves.

“We have to fight racism and discrimination with the same force” as radicalization, he said, because “our society gives to these young people a bad idea of who and what they are.”

• Tags: Art, Magritte, Subrealism, Warhol 
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From my new column in Taki’s Magazine:

The Bolshevik Billionaire

Works of art looted by the Nazis remain a subject of much fascination in the 21st century. This year’s movie Woman in Gold with Helen Mirren as a Los Angeles woman battling in court to get back her aunt’s Gustav Klimt painting did well at the box office. Last year’s George Clooney-directed Monuments Men about WWII art historians fighting Nazi plunderers also made decent money, despite its stilted style.

On the other hand, the Communist pillage of the art treasures of Russia is a topic that seldom comes up, even though European democracies had devoted much effort in the 1920s trying to keep Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin from fencing their stolen goods abroad. Sean McMeekin’s 2008 book History’s Greatest Heist: The Looting of Russia by the Bolsheviks made little impression on the media mind.

I was reminded 0f this by visiting the posh art museum built (with other people’s money, of course) as a monument to himself by Los Angeles’ own Bolshevik billionaire, the man who had been the chief American fence for Communist-looted art.

Read the whole thing there.

• Tags: Art 
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Modernist: Torrey Pines (South) 3rd hole (designed in 2001 in style of 1957 original)

The 2008 U.S. Open golf tournament at the Torrey Pines municipal course in La Jolla, CA, with a limping Tiger Woods winning his latest (and perhaps last) major championship over journeyman Rocco Mediate, was a popular success, with terrific attendance and TV ratings. This made the blue-blooded United States Golf Association feel good about its decision earlier in 2008, as part of its PR campaign to make golf seem less country club snobby, to hold the 2015 Open at a brand new muni course, Chambers Bay on Puget Sound just south of Tacoma:

Retro: Chambers Bay (2007) 15th hole, flag is right of the tree (photo by Richard Choi)

Of course, golf course architecture is an almost completely opaque art form to nongolfers and to a large fraction of golfers. But comparing pictures of the signature par 3s at Torrey Pines (designed by Bill Bell the Younger in 1957, redesigned by Rees Jones in 2001) and Chambers Bay (designed by Rees’s brother Robert Trent Jones II in 2007) offers an exaggeratedly clear example of trends in golf course design. (And, yes, all three of these golf architects are the sons of famous golf architects. Bill Bell the Elder worked on a variety of 1920s golden age courses in California, while Robert Trent Jones Sr. was the pre-eminent golf architect of the 1948-1968 Modernist era).


Modernist golf courses were rationalized, with the eccentricities bulldozed away. In retrospect, they tended to produce good young golfers (America dominated the Ryder Cup in the wake of the RTJ Sr. era.) But among the tiny number of people who care about fashions in golf design, they are now unfashionable.

Billy Bell Jr.’s South Course at Torrey Pines was to post-WWII modernism in golf design what the World Trade Center was to post-WWII modernism in building design: the site and scale were extraordinary, but the design was streamlined and simple to the point of boredom.

For decades, Torrey Pines South served as the minimal test of a golf design aficionado: if you didn’t feel frustrated by Torrey Pines South’s failure to fulfill its potential, you didn’t have much taste. (The more modest North Course at Torrey Pines makes better use of the ocean cliffs and arroyos.)

Modernist: Torrey Pines South 12th hole

Nonetheless, the course was enormously popular, hosting a PGA tournament every winter (with local boys Tiger Woods winning seven times and Phil Mickelson three times, suggesting that it is good at determining who the best golfers are), and being played by huge numbers of visitors to San Diego year round.

To lure the U.S. Open, the local government hired Open Doctor Rees Jones to improve the South Course, but gave him a rather limited budget. He more or less built the magnificent new third hole (top of this post) over the canyon and moved other greens closer to the cliffs and added bunkers. But Rees Jones’ budget was fairly limited ($3.4 million) so he mostly kept the generally Mad Men Era modernist style of Bell’s 1957 original.

In contrast, Rees’s brother RT Jones II’s Chambers Bay course is very much representative of the Neo-Scotland on Steroids style that dominates American golf architecture at present. Chambers Bay is an old gravel and sand pit that was an industrial eyesore, so RTJ II’s designers and bulldozer-driving shapers pushed sand around into whatever 3d shapes pleased them. (That’s the only tree on the golf course.)

Extreme complexity is the current style.

Here’s Chambers Bay’s par 3 17th hole alongside Puget Sound:

Retro: Chambers Bay, 17th hole (photo by Jon Cavalier)

Modernism has come back into fashion in building architecture.

Modernist: Ray’s restaurant at LACMA

For example, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art is booming with tourists at present, so a few years ago LACMA put up a new restaurant in the courtyard to cash in of fashionable visitors: a simple steel and glass box.

It’s possible that Modernism will start showing up again in golf courses if golf courses ever start getting built again.

Escena, one of the most recent golf courses to open in Palm Springs, where ring-a-ding-a-ding Ratpack Modernism is all the rage (Frank Sinatra’s old house has become a tourist attraction among architecture aficionados), has a fairly streamlined modernist course that complements its steel and glass clubhouse.

As the top picture on the post of Torrey Pines’s third hole shows, if your hole spans a giant arroyo and has an ocean for a backdrop, modernist simplicity can look great.

• Tags: Art, Golf 
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From my new column in Taki’s Magazine:

In “Art Over Biology,” literary critic Adam Kirsch questions in The New Republic how the arts can be explained in terms of survival of the fittest:  

In his early story “Tonio Kröger,” Thomas Mann created a parable of one of the central modern beliefs, which is that the artist is unfit for life.…Love and marriage and parenthood are barred to Tonio, because he has an artist’s soul…. 

You may not have been aware that, on average, artists are relatively lacking in sexual opportunities. But just ask artists and they’ll tell you — maybe over a drink up at their place while they are showing you their etchings — all about the sacrifices they make for their art. “The artist’s decision to produce spiritual offspring rather than physical ones is thus allied to the monk’s celibacy …” asserts Kirsch, who evidently hasn’t met many artists (or monks).

Read the whole thing there.

Speaking of Thomas Mann’s Tonio Kröger, here’s L.A. singer-songwriter Tonio K’s 1978 single Life in the Foodchain.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
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From the files of “Who? Whom?”
The official blog of the Berlin Biennale art exhibit explains, in effect, that the festival’s planned bookburning of Thilo Sarrazin’s bestseller Germany Does Away With Itself is Good because the would-be bookburners are Good (they’re artists!) and Sarrazin and anybody objecting to bookburning is Bad, and that’s really all you need to know, so why don’t all you Bad People just shut up like you are supposed to?

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
• Tags: Art 
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Libby Copeland writes in Slate on a study suggesting that voters aren’t just looking for good-looking candidates, they favor a particular kind of good looks suggesting competence: 

What does competence look like? Working with subjects rating photos of hundreds of faces, Todorov and colleagues have developed computer models of how faces can suggest character traits like trustworthiness and likability. The competent face shape is masculine but approachable, with a square jaw, high cheekbones, and large eyes. When people say Romney just looks presidential, this is the image they’re summoning. 

Todorov and other psychologists believe that otherwise expressionless faces can appear to show emotion based on how they’re formed—the shape of the eyebrows can suggest anger, for instance, while a long distance between the eyes and the mouth can suggest sadness. On Todorov’s computer model of an incompetent face, beady, close-together eyes paired with high eyebrows suggest fearfulness, even through the face is expressionless. Todorov believes our tendency to read expression into neutral faces amounts to an “overgeneralization” of a healthy trait—human beings’ ability to judge others’ intentions from a brief glance.

I added the emphasis on the long distance between eyes and mouth connoting sadness because that’s a standard in Byzantine iconography of Jesus Christ going back, oh, 1500 years. Spanish movie star Javier Bardem has a bit of that look to his face.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
• Tags: Art 
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This Martin Luther King National Memorial, which will be dedicated on August 28 on the Mall in D.C., is shaping up as the kind of farce that H.L. Mencken would have enjoyed. The vaguely Chinese-looking giant statue itself looks like the woozy recollection of some Chinese sculptor who doesn’t actually remember MLK (hey, he was busy at the time being Culturally Revolutionized — Mao didn’t even allow mention of the moon landing), nor know many black people, but he does remember Mike Tyson trying to glare down Evander Holyfield at a heavyweight title bout weigh-in (assuming Iron Mike were a little Chinese).

So, we get Martin Luther Ming the Merciless. As a commenter suggests: Martian Luther King.

And it’s white. (Is that to blend in with pigeon droppings?)
And the list of donors of the $114 million pocketed so far is pretty funny: showing good taste, very few rich African-Americans have put up significant cash, so pride of place goes to GM. But right below GM as the second biggest donor is “Tommy Hilfiger Corporate Foundation.”
Now, why would that be? Because of all the absurd rumors among blacks that the fashion designer went on Oprah and dissed blacks (just like the rumors in the 1980s about Gloria Vanderbilt going on Phil Donahue to declare how much she hated blacks — these rumors are started by black shoppers who don’t to admit they can’t afford the designer clothes they are trying on, so they make up a ridiculous story about the designer and their friends believe it and pass it on.)

During the next ten days of solemnities up through the dedication, no giggling allowed! This is a very serious occasion in the national civic religion and anyone who cracks a smile will be dealt with.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
• Tags: Art 
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Chief Seattle explains the hulking Martin Luther King statue debuting on the National Mall in D.C.:

It’s a monument to modern American corruption and incompetence in every way. First King’s family held it up because they wanted a payout. A payout to “use his likeness”. Not only were they not willing to “donate” his likeness for free to be used on a public monument, but some scumbag lawyer apparently managed to argue that chiseling an statue of a famous historical figure violates copyright.

Then they get a mainland Chinese to sculpt it. Is that because out of 1 million art students in college at any time that none of them are competent enough to chisel some stone? Or that the powers that be just can’t bear to miss out cheap Chinese labor? Or maybe someone just figured that no one understands the American civil rights struggle and the physique of a black man like a mainland Chinese communist? 

Then after they hire the Chinese he picks the wrong color stone. Was there a sale on white? Someone cancelled their marble countertop at the last minute and he got a half price special? Nope, turns out it was just what the Chinese prison labor dug up that month. 


The cherry on top is this little nugget from wikipedia: 

In September 2010, the foundation gave written promises that it would use local stonemasons to assemble the memorial. However, when construction began in October, it appeared that only Chinese laborers would be used. The Washington area local of the Bricklayers and Allied Craftsworkers union investigated and determined that the workers are not being paid on a regular basis, with all of their pay being withheld until they return to China.[53] 

Lawyers and academics and copyright whores spend so much time and money arguing that the only way to afford the project is cheap foreign labor with substandard materials. And the result speaks for itself. Truly a monument for our times.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
• Tags: Art 
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“I am King-Ton. As overlord, all will kneel trembling before me and obey my brutal commands.” [Crosses arms] “End communication.” 
– Adapted from the “Don’t Blame Me, I Voted for Kodos” episode of The Simpsons 
Was it really necessary to make this new colossal sculpture on the D.C. National Mall look like something out of a Percy Bysshe Shelley nightmare? And did the Chinese artist/contractor they hired for this sculpture really think through this whole white granite angle? This thing looks less like Martin Luther King than a cross between Chairman Mao, Michael Jordan, Mike Tyson, and an albino.

As a commenter points out below, the sculptor is from Changsha in Hunan, where Mao converted to Communism, and Changsha is always building giant statues of Mao to plop down as a “gift” in places like recalcitrant Tibet. (Gee … thanks Uncle Changsha for the nifty Chairman Mao statue.) The commission that commissioned this statue made a big deal about how they just chose this Chinese guy because he had the experienced workforce to build a giant stone statue, but the reason his workforce is experienced is because they make massive Mao statues. So, the USA ends up with a Maoist colossus between the Lincoln Memorial and Jefferson Memorial, with MLK looking like he’s about to dispatch to the pig farms any bourgeois revisionists who doubt that backyard steel mills are a great idea.

Anyway, this doesn’t have anything (specifically) to do with MLK or sculptures or Mao, but I always liked this Simpsons dialogue:
Kang vs. Kodos for President: For some reason, right now I’m reminded of the 1996 Simpsons episode “Treehouse of Horror VII” in which flying saucer aliens Kang and Kodos abduct Presidential candidates Clinton and Dole and impersonate them:
Kent Brockman: Senator Dole, why should people vote for you instead of President Clinton?
Kang: It makes no difference which one of us you vote for. Either way, your planet is doomed. DOOMED!
Kent: Well, a refreshingly frank response there from Senator Bob Dole.
Kent: Kent Brockman here, with Campaign ’96: America Flips A Coin. At an appearance this morning, Bill Clinton made some rather cryptic remarks, which aides attributed to an overly tight necktie. 
Kodos: I am Clin-Ton. As overlord, all will kneel trembling before me and obey my brutal commands. [crosses arms] End communication. 
Marge: Hmm, that’s Slick Willie for you, always with the smooth talk.
Announcer: Ladies and Gentlemen, 73-year-old candidate, Bob Dole. 
Kang: Abortions for all. [crowd boos] Very well, no abortions for anyone. [crowd boos] Hmm… Abortions for some, miniature American flags for others. [crowd cheers and waves miniature flags]
Later, Kang and Kodos are walking down the streets, holding hands. 
Kang: Fooling these Earth voters is easier than expected. 
Kodos: Yes. All they want to hear are bland pleasantries embellished by an occasional saxophone solo or infant kiss. 
A Democratic National Committee van pulls up, and George Stephanopoulos pokes his head out. 
George: Uh, Mr. President, Sir. People are becoming a bit… confused by the way your and your opponent are, well, constantly holding hands. 
Kang: We are merely exchanging long protein strings. If you can think of a simpler way, I’d like to hear it.
Springfield holds a Dole-Clinton debate. Clinton is giving the opening speech:
Clin-Ton: My fellow Americans. As a young boy, I dreamed of being a baseball, but tonight I say, we must move forward, not backward, upward not forward, and always twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom.
Kang: The politics of failure have failed. We need to make them work again. Tomorrow, when you are sealed in the voting cubicle, vote for me, Senator Ka… Bob Dole. [applause
Kodos: I am looking forward to an orderly election tomorrow, which will eliminate the need for a violent blood bath. [applause] div>
Homer: America, take a good look at your beloved candidates. They’re nothing but hideous space reptiles. [unmasks them] [audience gasps in terror
Kodos: It’s true, we are aliens. But what are you going to do about it? It’s a two-party system; you have to vote for one of us. [Murmurs from the crowd
Man1: He’s right, this is a two-party system. 
Man2: Well, I believe I’ll vote for a third-party candidate. 
Kang: Go ahead, throw your vote away. [Kang and Kodos laugh out loud] [Ross Perot smashes his "Perot 96" hat
The next day, Kodos announces the result: “All hail, President Kang.” The field in front of the Capitol has now become a working ground where humans are whipped by aliens and used to carry materials to build a giant ray gun. The Simpsons, with chains around their necks, are working too, with Homer and the kids carrying wood, and Marge pushing a wheelbarrow of cinderblocks — with Maggie on top. 
Marge: I don’t understand why we have to build a ray gun to aim at a planet I never even heard of. 
Homer: Don’t blame me, I voted for Kodos.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
• Tags: Art 
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Here’s Mark Tansey’s ten-foot wide 1984 neo-conceptualist painting The Triumph of the New York School, which is roughly modeled on Velasquez’s Surrender of Breda. It hangs in New York’s Whitney Museum.
Tansey’s painting shows defeated French artists (on the left) dressed in Great War uniforms signing the instruments of surrender of world art leadership to American critics and artists (on the right) dressed in casual WWII khaki. Surrealist writer Andre Breton, back to the viewer, is signing the surrender document while Duchamp, Matisse, and Picasso look on. 
The general of the victorious American forces, with his hands in his pockets, is critic Clement Greenberg, the chief expounder of Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings. The second most dominant American figure is the MacArthuresque general on the right, critic Harold Rosenberg. In agreement with Tom Wolfe’s 1975 book, The Painted Word, the actual American painters, such as Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Mark Rothko, are depicted as adjutants in the background behind their critical leadership.
The actual paintings themselves are a matter of personal taste, but there’s no disputing the triumph of American art during the early Cold War years over stodgy Moscow-approved socialist realism as fashion.
After WWII, the U.S. government attempted to win European intellectuals away from the Communist Party by sponsoring avant-garde art, such as the New York School of abstract expressionist painting. But, American politicians, such as President Truman, objected to the taxpayers dollars being wasted on ugly stuff that their kids could do. 
So, funding moved to the black budget of the CIA. 
Frances Stonor Saunders’ 1995 article in The Independent, Modern art was CIA ‘weapon,’ revealed some details of CIA sponsorship of the New York School. Her method of research was basically to call up old CIA men (or their kids) and get them talking about their triumphs during the good old days. This is not a particularly reliable method (it invites old-timers to exaggerate their importance), but it’s certainly better than nothing. 

Until now there has been no first-hand evidence to prove that this connection was made, but for the first time a former case officer, Donald Jameson, has broken the silence. Yes, he says, the agency saw Abstract Expressionism as an opportunity, and yes, it ran with it. 

“Regarding Abstract Expressionism, I’d love to be able to say that the CIA invented it just to see what happens in New York and downtown SoHo tomorrow!” he joked. “But I think that what we did really was to recognise the difference. It was recognised that Abstract Expressionism was the kind of art that made Socialist Realism look even more stylised and more rigid and confined than it was. And that relationship was exploited in some of the exhibitions. …

To pursue its underground interest in America’s lefty avant-garde, the CIA had to be sure its patronage could not be discovered. “Matters of this sort could only have been done at two or three removes,” Mr Jameson explained, “so that there wouldn’t be any question of having to clear Jackson Pollock, for example, or do anything that would involve these people in the organisation. And it couldn’t have been any closer, because most of them were people who had very little respect for the government, in particular, and certainly none for the CIA. If you had to use people who considered themselves one way or another to be closer to Moscow than to Washington, well, so much the better perhaps.” 

This was the “long leash”. The centrepiece of the CIA campaign became the Congress for Cultural Freedom, a vast jamboree of intellectuals, writers, historians, poets, and artists which was set up with CIA funds in 1950 and run by a CIA agent. It was the beach-head from which culture could be defended against the attacks of Moscow and its “fellow travellers” in the West. At its height, it had offices in 35 countries and published more than two dozen magazines, including Encounter [edited by English ex-Communist poet Stephen Spender]. 

The Congress for Cultural Freedom also gave the CIA the ideal front to promote its covert interest in Abstract Expressionism. It would be the official sponsor of touring exhibitions; its magazines would provide useful platforms for critics favourable to the new American painting; and no one, the artists included, would be any the wiser. 

This organisation put together several exhibitions of Abstract Expressionism during the 1950s. One of the most significant, “The New American Painting”, visited every big European city in 1958-59. Other influential shows included “Modern Art in the United States” (1955) and “Masterpieces of the Twentieth Century” (1952). 

Because Abstract Expressionism was expensive to move around and exhibit, millionaires and museums were called into play. Preeminent among these was Nelson Rockefeller, whose mother had co-founded the Museum of Modern Art in New York. As president of what he called “Mummy’s museum”, Rockefeller was one of the biggest backers of Abstract Expressionism (which he called “free enterprise painting”). His museum was contracted to the Congress for Cultural Freedom to organise and curate most of its important art shows. 

The museum was also linked to the CIA by several other bridges. William Paley, the president of CBS broadcasting and a founding father of the CIA, sat on the members’ board of the museum’s International Programme. John Hay Whitney, who had served in the agency’s wartime predecessor, the OSS, was its chairman. And Tom Braden, first chief of the CIA’s International Organisations Division, was executive secretary of the museum in 1949. 

Now in his eighties, Mr Braden lives in Woodbridge, Virginia, in a house packed with Abstract Expressionist works and guarded by enormous Alsatians. He explained the purpose of the IOD. 

“We wanted to unite all the people who were writers, who were musicians, who were artists, to demonstrate that the West and the United States was devoted to freedom of expression and to intellectual achievement, without any rigid barriers as to what you must write, and what you must say, and what you must do, and what you must paint, which was what was going on in the Soviet Union. I think it was the most important division that the agency had, and I think that it played an enormous role in the Cold War.” 

He confirmed that his division had acted secretly because of the public hostility to the avant-garde: “It was very difficult to get Congress to go along with some of the things we wanted to do – send art abroad, send symphonies abroad, publish magazines abroad. That’s one of the reasons it had to be done covertly. It had to be a secret. In order to encourage openness we had to be secret.” 

If this meant playing pope to this century’s Michelangelos, well, all the better: “It takes a pope or somebody with a lot of money to recognise art and to support it,” Mr Braden said. “And after many centuries people say, ‘Oh look! the Sistine Chapel, the most beautiful creation on Earth!’ It’s a problem that civilisation has faced ever since the first artist and the first millionaire or pope who supported him. And yet if it hadn’t been for the multi-millionaires or the popes, we wouldn’t have had the art.” 

Would Abstract Expressionism have been the dominant art movement of the post-war years without this patronage? The answer is probably yes. Equally, it would be wrong to suggest that when you look at an Abstract Expressionist painting you are being duped by the CIA. 

But look where this art ended up: in the marble halls of banks, in airports, in city halls, boardrooms and great galleries. For the Cold Warriors who promoted them, these paintings were a logo, a signature for their culture and system which they wanted to display everywhere that counted. They succeeded.

Basically, this was the kind of painting that the American ruling class, circa 1945-1964, liked.

Their wives in Darien found it fashionable and their cousins bought it for the lobbies of their corporate headquarters. It was a new sort of imperial art for a new sort of empire. Rather than an in-your-face colossal statue of Emperor Ozymandias, this imperial art was depersonalized (an asset in the global twilight struggle for the allegiance of peoples who all looked different), cool, enigmatic. Rather than overpower the spectator, it undermined the viewer’s self-confidence (as in Norman Rockwell’s genial The Connoisseur):

Somebody with a lot of money and power caused this enormous canvas of drips to be displayed here. But why? What do they know that I don’t know? If they can pull this off, what else can they do? What can’t they do? They look like they are going to win, so wouldn’t it be smarter for me just to go along with them?
As James Jesus Angleton might have said, abstract expressionism was a sort of objective correlative for the CIA.
(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
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David Brooks explains that America will do swell economically in the 21st Century:
The crucial fact about the new epoch is that creativity needs hubs. Information networks need junction points. The nation that can make itself the crossroads to the world will have tremendous economic and political power. … In fact, the U.S. is well situated to be the crossroads nation.
Okay, but, that raises the paradox that in 2010 the American state that is the biggest drag on the economy at present, California, is also the one blessed with two vast creative hubs, Silicon Valley and Hollywood, both of which are doing reasonably well right now. (Here’s Apple’s balance sheet, which is a lot better looking than mine.)

Yet, California, as a whole, isn’t doing well.

A population cannot live by creativity alone.
Yet, what really struck  me about Brooks’ column was this section:

Howard Gardner of Harvard once put together a composite picture of the extraordinarily creative person: She comes from a little place somewhat removed from the center of power and influence. As an adolescent, she feels herself outgrowing her own small circle. She moves to a metropolis and finds a group of people who share her passions and interests. She gets involved with a team to create something amazing.

Then, at some point, she finds her own problem, which is related to and yet different from the problems that concern others in her group. She breaks off and struggles and finally emerges with some new thing. She brings it back to her circle. It is tested, refined and improved.

Is this self-parody or self-abasement? My impression is that Brooks tends to get the joke, and that he does this kind of thing on purpose to ingratiate himself with the huge audience of Gladwellians who don’t get the joke. As an officially designated “conservative,” it’s particularly necessary for Brooks to periodically humiliate himself like this to assuage suspicions that he might get the joke. Perhaps I’m wrong, though.
Obviously, the first thing anybody would notice when drawing up a composite picture of the “extraordinarily creative person” is that she isn’t a she. 
I mean, isn’t that a theme in The Social Network: 21st Century Silicon Valley is overwhelmingly dominated by guys? By the way, the creators of The Social Network are named David and Aaron, so Hollywood isn’t that different from Silicon Valley.
Further, my vague impression of extremely creative women is that they are less likely than extremely creative men to come from somewhere “removed from the center of power and influence.” I don’t have a good database of creative women right at hand, but let’s take as examples the two women who have been nominated for a Best Director Oscar over the last decade (out of 50 nominees): Sofia Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow. The former is the daughter of the man who made The Godfather and the latter used to be married to the man who made Terminator and Titanic. That’s about as close as you can get to the center of power and influence in the filmmaking.
My general impression is that women who have made a big splash in a creative (artistic or scientific) field are more likely, on average, to have had strong support from loved ones than their male peers enjoyed. For example, the two most famous female painters of the 18th Century, Angelica Kauffman (left) and Louise Elizabeth Vigee Le Brun (above) were daughters of professional painters, married into artistic families, and were both adorable-looking. The first major female painter, Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1653) was the daughter of a follower of Caravaggio, although she was of more Rubenseque proportions than her Rococco heiresses.
I went to look up some of my favorite female creative artists of the late 20th Century to see if this trend continues. Choreographer Twyla Tharp — here’s a minute of Baryshnikov in her witty 1975 ballet, Push Comes to Shove, about how much fun it is to be a heterosexual male ballet god — turns out to have been born on a farm in Indiana. Her parents then moved to the San  Bernardino area and bought a drive-in movie theatre. So, that’s one strike against my theory.
How about portrait photographer Annie Liebowitz? (Here’s a sneering British article about how she’s broke because she won’t play along with galleries and museums in artificially restricting the supply of her pictures. But, so what? If you had the chance to pick the photographer who would take the picture by which you would — or wouldn’t — be remembered, who wouldn’t make Liebowitz your number one draft choice?) She turns out to be a military brat, the daughter of an Air Force Lt. Colonel. As with Tharp, that’s an above average background, but it’s not like being Sofia Coppola.
So, my impression went 0-2 with my more recent examples. Perhaps it’s becoming less true.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
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Aviation art is this remarkable little corner of the art world. Quite a few representational painters make a decent living painting war birds from days gone by.
I was at an Arby’s in Orange County on Monday, where the owner had put on the wall paintings by a fellow named Stan Vosburg depicting Southern California in 1944-1948, with an emphasis on locally manufactured warplanes and on affordable family formation, such as mpressing the Night Shift (note to pilot: flirt equally with the babe in the Barbara Stanwyck slacks carrying the tool kit; you do not want to get on her bad side in she has to repair her plane); Twin Tails and Carrot Tops featuring my Dad’s old plane, the P-38 Lighting; I Shooting Star of the 94th featuring what looks like a young me shooting at the Shooting Star jet; and The Spider and the Fly featuring the ominous P61 nightfighter. It’s all about a half generation before my time, but I can relate.
Kicking Axis butt and kicking off the SoCal Baby Boom.
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Here’s The Fortune-Teller by Georges de la Tour from about 1630. A suspicious but stupid young toff is having his fortune told by the old crone while the three young confederates pick his pockets. The girl in profile on the left looks particularly Roma-ish, although the girl who is cutting off the mark’s medal (watch?) looks Dutch.

Or then, again, as a 60 Minutes episode in 1982 argued, this picture that the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC bought at great expense in 1960 could be, appropriately enough, a 1920s forgery.

It does look rather like a Norman Rockwell magazine cover, although Rockwell would have changed the color schemes of the dresses to make the old lady’s hands stand out better against the background. The odd thing about this painting from about 1630 is that it’s kind of funny (granted, it’s not that funny), and few things stay funny for more than a century or so.

De La Tour had been virtually forgotten until the 20th Century, so, like Vermeer, he would be a logical target for forgers: the provenance of even the most authentic De La Tour would be less certain than, say, a Leonardo, because Leonardo has been hugely famous ever since the later 1400s.

Then again, as the Met has s trenuously argued, it might be authentic.

In any case, it’s a fun painting.

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From the Washington Post, an unintended reminder of the magnanimity, broadness of vision, and faith in our common humanity of Steven Spielberg, as compared to art critic Blake Gopnik’s identity politics-driven rage at how Norman Rockwell just won’t stay shoved down the Memory Hole.

Norman Rockwell exhibit opens at the Smithsonian American Art Museum
By Blake Gopnik
Sunday, July 4, 2010; E01

This Fourth of July, let’s celebrate courage. It took courage to split from England, courage to risk democracy and still more courage to dream up a constitution to preserve it.

Courage has been the signature virtue of almost every great American: Emily Dickinson was brave to warp grammar, Louis Armstrong was brave to blow jazz and Jackson Pollock was brave to paint splats.

Norman Rockwell is often championed as the great painter of American virtues. Yet the one virtue most nearly absent from his work is courage. He doesn’t challenge any of us, or himself, to think new thoughts or try new acts or look with fresh eyes. From the docile realism of his style to the received ideas of his subjects, Rockwell reliably keeps us right in the middle of our comfort zone. 

Definitely not in the middle of Mr. Gopnik’s comfort zone, however. 

A new show of 57 Rockwells, borrowed from the collections of Hollywood celebrities Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, opened Friday at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Right, Spielberg and Lucas are “Hollywood celebrities,” same as Paris Hilton and the Kardashians. (By the way, I’m not a big fan of Lucas’s movies after American Graffiti and Star Wars, but I’ve got to admit the man’s got good taste in architecture. His Skywalker Ranch in Marin County looks like what the world would look like today if the Great War hadn’t come along in 1914 and ruined the West’s self-confidence.)

It includes oil paintings and drawings, and every one of them is a perfect depiction of what we’ve been taught to think of as true Rockwellian America.

There’s the small-town runaway, and the cop who takes him out for a malt before returning him home. Aw, shucks.

There are the three old biddies gossiping, imagined as so ancient and gnarled that Rockwell had to use a man in drag to model them. What a hoot!

There’s the remote blonde in her convertible being joshed by a couple of truckers. Jeez, lady, wontcha give those guys a wink? …

Of course, the “art” in Rockwell’s pictures isn’t that modern stuff promoted by Picasso and his crowd. Rockwell’s painted realism tells us that his pictures are the real thing, old-fashioned and skilled — the very art admired by the kinds of regular, all-American folk his craft is used to depict, and to whom it sells magazines and products.

By the 1930s, making pictures the way Rockwell did couldn’t count as just a neutral preference for the old. In the hands of America’s Favorite Artist, it stood as a willed repudiation of the new. Judging from the fan mail that survives, that’s precisely how it was read. Rockwell panders, in the very substance of his pictures’ making, to his public’s fear of change.

Rockwell’s greatest sin as an artist is simple: His is an art of unending cliché. The reason we so easily “recognize ourselves” in his paintings is because they reflect the standard image we already know. His stories resonate so strongly because they are the stories we’ve told ourselves a thousand times.

They became clichés after Rockwell recognized these stories in daily life and showed that, by taking endless pains, they could be clearly conveyed in a single memorable image. Golden Age Hollywood then amplified his influence. (Frank Capra is the most obvious analog to Rockwell in fertility of invention.) But moviemakers had it easier in a way because they could tell his kind of stories using actions, words, and music.  It’s amusing, though, how the frequently Rockwellian products of Golden Age Hollywood seldom comes in for quite so much fury.

… Most reactions to Rockwell, however, continue to be decidedly simpler. Steven Spielberg has said, “I look back at these paintings as America the way it could have been, the way someday it may again be.” He and others have bought Rockwell’s bill of goods. But what these speakers, and these pictures, fail to grasp is that the special, courageous greatness of the nation lies in its definitive refusal of any single “American way.” 

Norman Rockwell died 32 years ago. And Mr. Gopnik’s views have been representative of elite discourse for longer than that, burying Rockwell’s reputation under a barrage of anger. But, Gopnik, even though he’s on the winning side, is still furious that his victory isn’t total.

If you want a picture of Mr. Gopnik’s ideal future, imagine a boot stamping on Norman Rockwell’s face — forever. (But not, let me hasten to add, a well-painted realist picture of a boot stamping on a face. Instead, say, a picture of a surrealist boot stamping on a cubist face with Jackson Pollock-like blood splatters on the floor.)  

America isn’t about Rockwell’s one-note image of it — or anyone else’s. This country is about a game-changing guarantee that equal room will be made for Latino socialists, disgruntled lesbian spinsters, foul-mouthed Jewish comics and even, dare I say it, for metrosexual half-Canadian art critics with a fondness for offal, spinets and kilts.

I don’t want to live by the clichés of a wan, Rockwellian America, and I don’t admire pictures that suggest that all of us should. But I see why we need to look into how, in a world full of threats, so many of us have been soothed by their vision.

Telling Stories: Norman Rockwell From the Collections of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg is on through Jan. 2 at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, at Eighth and G streets NW. Call 202-633-7970 or visit

To be frank, if a WASP critic displayed this much overt ethno-cultural animus toward a Jewish painter, he would be unemployable at the Washington Post.
It should make us all appreciate Mr. Spielberg even more.

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Norman Rockwell, painter of hundreds of Saturday Evening Post covers, was long derided as an artistic dead end because he had so little influence on subsequent celebrity painters. But that always struck me as stupid because Rockwell was hugely influential on one of the most influential cultural figures of the later 20th Century, Steven Spielberg, who mostly paid for the Rockwell museum in Massachusetts. 
That Rockwell didn’t have much impact on subsequent painters just shows that painting was becoming a minor art due to technological advance. Rockwell operated much like a modern filmmaker, holding auditions for models and having his staff construct sets and assemble props. If he’d been born a couple of generations later, he might well have become a movie director.
It turns out that George Lucas owns even more Rockwells than Spielberg does. Together, they are mounting an exhibit at the Smithsonian: “Telling Stories: Norman Rockwell From the Collections of George Lucas and Steven Spielber g.” 
If your followers include Spielberg and Lucas, your influence lives on.

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An excerpt from my new column in Taki’s Magazine:

The sharply contrasting careers of two Slavic-American artists who both died in 1987, the droll commercial illustrator Andy Warhol and the titanic sculptor Stanislaw Szukalski, illustrate much about how culture has changed over the last century.

For over 40 years, Warhol (1928-1987) has been famously famous for saying, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” Warhol’s own renown, however, is undying. Last week, for example, saw the opening of a musical with the onomatopoeic title POP! about Warhol’s shooting by an irate feminist in 1968.

In contrast, Szukalski (1893-1987) spent much of his life on the edge of poverty. Yet, Szukalski actually was suddenly famous in his native Poland in the late 1930s. Then, much of his life’s work was blown to smithereens during WWII.

The great screenwriter Ben Hecht, who had met him in Chicago in 1914, wrote of him in the 1950s:

His works are vanished. He is without public, without critics, and so complete is the world’s ignorance of him that he may as well have never existed.

Yet, Szukalski toiled on, endlessly creating statues and drawings, a living legend to a handful of admirers, including Leonardo DiCaprio in 1980s Burbank.

Szukalski’s politics weren’t helpful. In Chicago in 1914, to which his blacksmith father had brought him a half decade earlier, he was training 20 Polish boys in the manual of arms, “So when the time comes they will be ready to go back and fight for the freedom of Poland.” Polish nationalism, however, was not exactly the most career-promoting ideological obsession for a 20th-century artist. To the right is his plate, Ahuman and Human commemorating the Soviet massacre of the young leaders of Poland at Katyn in 1940, which shows an ape in a Soviet Red Army uniform shooting a Pole in the back of the head.

As C. van Carter pointed out to me, Szukalski’s fan Jim Woodring wrote in “The Neglected Genius of Stanislav Szukalski”:

Among his most strongly held (and extensively documented) theories was the notion that a race of malevolent Yeti have been interbreeding with humans since time out of mind, and that the hybrid offspring are bringing about the end of civilization. As proof of this, he pointed to the Russians.

Szukalsi dared the world that his stupendous talent would make it forgive his megalomania, obstreperousness, obsession with vicious apes, general craziness, and exquisitely bad manners, the way it had forgiven Beethoven, Wagner, and so many other artistic heroes.

It didn’t.

Warhol, in contrast, invented a more consumer-friendly role for the artist in a culture tiring of greatness. Andy pointed out, “Art is what you can get away with.”

Read the whole thing there and comment upon it below.

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So much creative talent goes into video games these days, but the downside is that games are something you either do or you don’t, so there’s little in the way of reverberations in the rest of society.

This isn’t just an old fogey picking on young folks’ video games either. This is also true of my favorite minor art form, golf course architecture, another game-based art. It has been practiced on an aesthetically high level in the U.S. for a century now, since Charles Blair MacDonald’s National Golf Links of America emerged on Long Island in 1909. But, what does any non-golfer know or care about golf course architecture?

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Following up his comparison of classical composers’ popularity on vs. their historical eminence in works of music history as tabulated in Charles Murray’s Human Accomplishment, Agnostic has up on a study of painters from the scholarly vs. popular point of view. He measured popularity from the number of posters on sale at

The ten top painters who do best among the poster-buying public relative to their more moderate historical prominence (i.e., their influence on subsequent artists) are:

Claude Monet
Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Vincent Van Gogh
Salvador Dali
Camille Pissarro
Edgar Degas
Henri Rousseau
Fra Angelico
Marc Chagall

These are definitely not unimportant figures in the history of art — they’re just even more popular now than they were influential then.

Basically, to sell a lot of posters in the 21st Century, you will have wanted to have been in Paris in the late 19th Century.

The Impressionist Claude Monet absolutely dominates poster inventories, with the Expressionist Van Gogh second and the Impressionist Renoir third.

Henri Rousseau was an obscure retiree who painted charmingly childish fantasy jungle scenes cobbled together from the Paris zoo and horticulture exhibit. He’s famous today because the cool kids on the early 20th Century Paris art scene, such as Picasso, Brancusi, and Apollinaire, adopted him as a sort of mascot. Who knows how many other primitive painters could have made it big if they happened to be in Paris in 1905? Well, it’s good that he got lucky because his pictures make you happy.

The ten painters who sell the fewest posters relative to their historical importance are:

Pol de Limbourg
Antonio del Pollaiolo
Max Ernst
Giorgio de Chirico
Piet Mondrian
Hugo van der Goes
Martin Schongauer
Frans Hals

A few comments: Masaccio was the first painter known to use perspective (which was perhaps invented by his friend Brunelleschi). That makes him a very big name in the history books. But he died young, so we don’t have many examples of his work. And his colors aren’t terribly vivid because the Florentines didn’t yet have the Norwegian invention of oil paint, plus his frescoes have faded somewhat over the last 600 years. So, posters of his work wouldn’t do much to liven up your living room with a splash of color, the way a Monet poster does.

The popularity of Impressionist painting posters is related to the fact that posters of paintings compete with posters of photographs. If you want a clear image of something to hang on your wall, you’ll probably buy a poster of a photo, not a painting by, say, Poussin. And if you want to look at an image from Roman history, you’ll probably go to a Ridley Scott movie rather than buy a Poussin poster.

The Impressionists were the first painters to figure out that photographers were starting to compete with them and they’d better do something that played to painting’s strengths over black-and-white photography: color and mood.

They were very successful at creating attractive colorful canvases. By being the first movers, they were able to grab the lowest-hanging fruit of a strategy: Go someplace nice-looking when the sun is shining and splash a lot of color quickly on the canvas. Hey, this isn’t rocket surgery.

Ever since, painters have been striving to distinguish themselves by inventing new alternative strategies to combat competition from photography, with ever diminishing returns.

Sculptors count in Murray’s rankings–thus Michelangelo comes out #1–but a poster of a sculpture is kind of, well, flat. Thus, the Big 4 sculptors, Donatello, Michelangelo, Bernini, and Rodin, don’t sell that many posters.

Reproducing sculpture well is vastly more difficult than reproducing a painting well. For example, the Florentines put a reproduction of Michelangelo’s David outside when they moved the original inside to protect it from the elements. Presumably they put some effort into getting a good reproduction, and being Florentines they access to the best copyists, but the result is still ho-hum. When you see the reproduction, you say: “Hey, look, it’s that big naked guy, you know, what’s his name?” Then you go inside to see the original and say: “Wow! That’s the greatest work of art in the entire world!”

I looked at a lot of famous paintings over six weeks in Europe in 1980, but it was mostly not too different from looking at them in my Janson’s History of Art textbook. The “David,” though, is in another dimension altogether.

Raphael: Since is in English, I presume it’s aiming at an American audience. American tastes are influenced by what’s in our museums, both directly and indirectly (art history textbooks tend to use examples from the writer’s local museum — that’s why the Chicago Art Institute seems almost as good as the Louvre to somebody who took art history using the Chicagoan Janson’s textbook).

There are very few Raphaels in America. The only one I’ve seen is a small but ineffably beautiful Madonna in the Norton Simon in Pasadena. Raphael died young and was recognized as a genius in his own lifetime, so his works were treasured from the start. The Pope would pay to have first dibs on Raphael’s work. His greatest painting, The School of Athens, is on the Pope’s apartment’s wall, and he ain’t selling.

In contrast, Monet painted a lot of canvases, and Americans were rich enough to buy up a fair number.

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This is a big question raised by Denis Dutton’s book “The Art Instinct,” so I’m going to focus just on one small field where I actually kind of know what I’m talking about: golf course architecture. Specifically, are golf courses naturally attractive to a sizable fraction of the male population around the globe? Since they are hugely expensive to build, their sheer existence testifies to that proposition.

The answer is: time will tell. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if the look of golf courses proved universally popular by the end of this century. Golf courses, which originated in Scotland, first became popular in the Anglosphere about a century ago. They have since become wildly popular in East Asia (the LPGA tour is now dominated by South Koreans, and you frequently read about Chinese peasants protesting that corrupt local officials have stolen their land to build golf courses), and almost as popular in Western Europe. The oil sheikdoms have built golf courses in the Persian Gulf.

On the other hand, golf has yet to prove terribly popular in Russia, South Asia, black Africa (north of South Africa), or Latin America. I see that mostly as a matter of time and money, but I could be wrong.

By the way, there are two main styles of golf courses: the original links, which emerged out of crumpled, treeless Scottish sand dunes otherwise useful only for grazing sheep, and the sleeker inland American-style courses with tree-lined fairways and lakes.

My impression is that the original style is a bit of an acquired taste. Generally, golfers don’t come to appreciate the look of golf courses built on sand dunes until they’ve some experience with the game. In contrast, the American-style golf course look is frequently imitated for non-golf purposes, such as corporate campuses and rich men’s estates.

And then there’s the issue, as Dennis Mangan raises in the comments, of changing tastes over time in landscape, from the “beautiful” to the “sublime.” From my golf course architecture article:

The distinction Edmund Burke made in 1757 between the “sublime” and the “beautiful” applies to golf courses. The beautiful is some pleasing place conducive to human habitat — meadows, valleys, slow moving streams, grassland intermingled with copses of trees, the whole English country estate shtick. The sublime is nature so magnificent that it induces the feeling of terror because it could kill you, such as by you falling off a mountain or into a gorge.

Beautiful landscapes are most suited for building golf courses, since a golf course needs close to 100 acres of land level enough for a golf ball to come to rest upon. But golfers get a thrill out of the mock sublime, where you are in danger of losing not your life, but your mis-hit golf ball into a water hazard or ravine. One reason that Pebble Beach on the Monterey Peninsula is so legendary is because it combines sublime sea cliffs with beautiful (and thus functional for golf) rolling plains (My father, though, almost walked off the cliff in the middle of the eighth fairway at Pebble Beach and into the wave-carved chasm, which probably would have satisfied Burke’s theoretical rigor.)

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
Steve Sailer
About Steve Sailer

Steve Sailer is a journalist, movie critic for Taki's Magazine, columnist, and founder of the Human Biodiversity discussion group for top scientists and public intellectuals.

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