Saturday, September 13, 2008

Platform2's "Parade for the Future"

Platform2’s “Parade for the Future” attracted 15 participants (including me) dressed in blue or various nautical attire to Boston’s Park Street T stop this afternoon for a global-warming-themed procession. The idea of organizers iKatun, Andi Sutton and Jane Marsching was to walk “along the flood line of the neighborhood, tracing a worst-case scenario future geography from the year 2108.” It’s part of a growing trend in art and activism to mark predicted high-water marks – and remarkably similar to a global warming protest in Boston Common in April 2007.

Today’s parade was mostly a fun lark, but it attracted attention. Matt Nash, dressed in an Aquaman costume, lead the way through Boston Common and the Public Garden to Arlington Street and back again. A woman dressed in a mermaid costume pulled a cart behind her bike with speakers playing music. Marsching (with a gauzy blue umbrella) and Sutton (dancing along in some sort of cockamamie diving apparatus) tied blue ribbons to trees, fence posts, sewer grates, trash cans, vendor carts and statues along the way – marking the future high-water mark. Or something like that. A couple random drunk guys joined in the procession.

The point of the thing was bewildering to most observers. And a pamphlet that paraders handed out to watchers only mildly helped clear things up. “Come on, come all to a Parade for the Future!” the flier read. [Click on the pamphlet images at bottom to enlarge them.] “Let’s celebrate what hasn’t happened yet, notably the impending submergence of our city under water due to climate change.” The writing, like the parade, was more of a goof – a happening, with a tinge of melancholy – than a serious warning: “What songs would Bostonian gondolianers [sic] sing while propelling us around? … Would tourists traverse the Freedom Trail by submarine? … Where would people get their Burberry scarves if lower Newbury flooded?” One biting note: “Will we open our doors to our displaced friends and neighbors?”

The parade’s ultimate star was my pal Abigail Cook (no relation), who recently turned 4. She helped hand out pamphlets and candy (that turned tongues blue) to people in the parks. And, dressed in her fish costume, she proved irresistible to shutterbugs. I think that was the main success of the event: its direct appeal to the audience. Dozens of people in the parks got the pamphlet and dozens of people photographed and videoed the parade. (I look forward to seeing it on Flickr.) It was one of those “WTF!” things you just had to snap a picture of.

Photos by The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Davis Museum director resigns

David Mickenberg, the director of Wellesley College’s Davis Museum and Cultural Center and an art teacher at the college, has resigned “to pursue other opportunities,” college President H. Kim Bottomly announced yesterday. (Her full statement is at bottom.)

Wellesley officials declined to comment when asked if Mickenberg’s departure had anything to do with the recent, shocking revelation (by Geoff Edgers) that the museum had lost its 1921 Fernand Leger painting “Woman and Child” (pictured below). Spokeswoman Mary Ann Hill said by e-mail, “Because this is an internal personnel matter, I will not be able to provide any further information on the topic.”

The Davis’ assistant director Dennis McFadden will serve as interim director while Bottomly, who just joined the school this May, forms a search committee seeking Mickenberg’s successor.

Mickenberg became director of the museum in January 2001, after working as director of the Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University in suburban Chicago for 14 years. He filled the shoes of Susan Taylor, who left the Davis to lead Princeton’s art museum.

At Northwestern, Mickenberg organized exhibits but his most prominent achievement was leading a $25 million redesign and expansion of the Block, which reopened a year before he left. At the Davis, Mickenberg oversaw repairs to the Rafael Moneo-designed building that the museum moved into in 1993. Humidity levels required to protect the art in the building were causing condensation “during exceptionally cold winter weather,” Mickenberg had said. So the building closed for work in May 2006 and reopened last September. While the museum was closed, works from the collection, including the Leger, were exhibited at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art – where the Leger was apparently last seen in April 2007 as it was packed into a crate to be shipped back to the Davis.

At the Davis, Mickenberg was given credit for refocusing “the museum’s effort toward building and researching the collection and significantly increasing opportunities for collaboration with students and faculty across all academic disciplines,” according to a history of the museum on the institution’s website. “Under his leadership, the museum made several important acquisitions and introduced a new adjunct curatorial program with college faculty members, a visiting scholars program, and several new internship opportunities for students.”

Wellesley College President H. Kim Bottomly’s statement on Mickenberg’s resignation:
Date: September 10, 2008
To: Wellesley College community
From: H. Kim Bottomly
Re: Director of the Davis Museum and Cultural Center

I am writing to let you know that I have accepted the resignation of David Mickenberg, Ruth Gordon Shapiro ’37 Director of the Davis Museum and Cultural Center, who is stepping down to pursue other opportunities.

Since assuming the leadership of the DMCC seven years ago, David has enhanced its outreach and visibility to the campus community, our neighbors, and the broader arts community. I am thankful to David for his service to the College and wish him well in his future endeavors.

I am grateful to Dennis McFadden, associate director of the Davis, who will serve as interim director for the immediate future. I am forming a search committee to work with me to select the new director.

Wellesley is fortunate to have one of the oldest and most comprehensive art museums of any college or university in the United States. The Davis Museum and Cultural Center plays an important role in the intellectual life of the campus community and the educational experience of our students. I am committed to doing all I can to ensure its continued excellence.

Peter Schumann interview, part one

Circus, Lubberland dancing, Bread and Puppet post-Bush

Bread and Puppet Theater founder Peter Schumann discusses the troupe’s circus, “Lubberland” dances (one of which is planned to tour this fall), and what the political theater will take on at the end of the Bush presidency. The theater will march in the Honk Parade from Somerville to Cambridge on Oct. 12 and perform in Providence from Oct. 15 to 19. This is the first of three edited excerpts from an Aug. 12 conversation I had with the 74-year-old at the theater’s farm in Glover, Vermont. Parts two and three are coming soon.

Peter Schumann:
“The circus is something that developed out of the need that many other people come through the theater also and need to find manifestation in the theater. So the circus from the beginning on was something I stayed out of as much as I could. And only when it goes really bad and schlocky and kitsch and so on, I try to radicalize it. And that’s sort of my function. So it’s not like the other pieces, which are clearly designed and choreographed by me, or written and so forth.”

“I do [have a significant hand in directing the circus]. I made the circus from almost from its beginning as something where many people go in different directions and come back with experimental products that then get put under one helmet that is still a choreography. And yet the particles are what makes the circus, it’s odd collection of jokes and politicizing things.”

“Lubberland was my birthday present to myself when I turned 70. Since I had a dance company many many years ago I thought this is the right time to do that again. So probably I was 21 or 22 when I had my first dance company. So I thought now I would pick that up again and make it into separate work, even though there are dances in the pageants and circuses quite often. But I wanted to have something for community to come specifically for that element, to do dance. So we started in that winter, and we started with cold dancing, and then medium cold dancing, and then slowly getting warmer dancing. And that was done in really, truly in the cold in the new building. You had to go through snow banks this deep. You had to go on snowshoes. And we started in there with big fat coats on our shoulders, everybody. And that was the beginning of it. Then it became politicized very quickly. Then we did major political issue dances. So the Israeli attack on Lebanon was one big dance. Now it’s the election campaign. I think we will stick to that theme, even though the dances may change in the summer. They did change already. But that will stick for these last three weeks [of the summer], these dances. Maybe even for longer when we take it on tour.”

“Taking it on tour is very different from the other shows. Taking it on tour means that either I go or Maura [Gahan] goes, or the two of us together. We don’t need a company for that. We go somewhere and then when we find people who can only hit pots and pans then we do it people who can only hit pots and pans. Or if we find grand piano players, so it will be grand pianos. Whatever we can find will be put into that Lubberland production. So it will be again a fresh start wherever you go. Because it is a construction of movement and sound.”

“Just to separate the dance element more from all the other show-makings. To say: let’s take dance as dance. And the important thing in the Lubberland dancing wasn’t politics, but was really to start from that freest of all elements that is experimental dancing. We started truly with just moving in a room, and then slowly organized that movement into most simplistic possible choreography. So that superceded everything else, that it really came from the dance seemed to be the important part of it and not from first another idea.”

“You move around and in that movement you automatically find extraordinary devices, some things that speed or slow motion or feet or arms provide, the separation of the torso movements to the knee movements. Whatever you come up with arbitrarily will provide you with themes for dances. The dance isn’t guided by the intellectual guidelines that you have in theater making, it has it’s own guidelines. It doesn’t have a vision that you have first and then you go about recreating. It starts with nothing, and then what’s available to you is the untrained body of a dilettante who wants to partake in this general dilettantism. And it is meant to be dilettantic and wants to be and should be. Well it’s the opposite of the professional idea of chiseling something to some form of perfection. That is not desired. Movement is raw and big, and then you eat and shit, whatever you do in your normal life. These movements are elementary. Those elementary movements are neglected movements because they are really utilitarian in normal life. And then when you take them and take them serious, then all of a sudden they reveal they have great chances of being beautiful or being extraordinary or being juxtaposed with something else and have meaning. So it’s an extraordinary feel to be in dance. And that’s what the Lubberlanders want to do: real dancing. If it ends up like political satire that is almost like an afterthought, not the original thought.”

“The politics [in Lubberland] came directly from the titles and not from the dance. The dance itself doesn’t provide political information only the title. … That juxtaposition is lovely to work with. To cheat the audience out of aesthetic enjoyment.”

“The normal person is so overloaded with the desire of over interpreting, and having to connect from one meaning to another. Which in an artist’s work is not the case. That’s not how it is. Art is overwhelmed by unconsciousness, by grand old inside events that don’t fit into that rationalistic thinking at all. The rational modern client sits a little stupefied. If he rids himself of some of the inhibitions that our cultures have, if he sees the fun in it, if he sees the childishness, if he sees a few things that help him to enjoy it he’s lucky.”

What is the theater’s role at the end of the Bush presidency? “To protest the new era that’s coming after the Bush era, which is the same era as the Bush era. That’s what we do. It pretends to be this totally new direction that already it cannot be because of what it says. It’s the sad late stages of this form of capitalism that can’t possibly be longer with us. That will kill us for sure. Unless we get enough population aroused and Lubberized and puppetized and traumatized to rise up against this bullshit and just to stop believing it and pointing out how ridiculous it is. It just doesn’t work, you can’t live in this grabbing style, vis-à-vis the rest of the world. It doesn’t work. You’re going to be suffering for it badly. The most likely thing is the horror of nuclear power and whatever. That seems to be just totally devastatingly near all of us, that there is something happening. The Russians right now are talking about tactical nuclear weapons if American should end up at war with them. So if that would happen then heaven knows what all breaks loose. That’s just one incident. I could imagine that the Israelis do a foolish thing in Iran. Or rather the Americans through the Israelis, that could happen. There are so many points. Look at Pakistan, what Pakistan is up to. It’s all over the world. And we in the Second Vermont Republic strongly advise to immediately get hold of nuclear weapons as the obvious solution to be a respectable member of the community.”

The Second Vermont Republic is “ a utopian movement that pretends to be a little more than that. Which it definitely isn’t. It has totally no chance whatsoever. The easiest way to find out about this no chance is that it isn’t taken serious, because if it were taken serious then there would be police. It’s a foolish proposal that should be taken very serious. It’s part of this utopian design of another world that this existing world will do everything it can prevent, whether it’s Second Vermont Republic or a third party in the United States, or whatever it is. All of these things are in reality impossible, unless there is a revolution.”

“You address yourself in the theater not so much to the existing politics as to all the people who suffer and live in those politics. To the raw participants who don’t know why they are made to participate. And whose participation amounts to this ridiculous off and on voting which doesn’t have much meaning. All this theater and artwork, all this addresses itself to the people who are suffering from this system. And with that trying to loosen up, not only to suffer from the system, but to recognize the system as what it is. And that could then include a standing up against that system. So it’s the beginnings of cultural or the desire for cultural revolution preceding the revolution. Because the revolution has to be preceded by cultural revolution. The minds of masses have to be changed and turned against the existing order in order to achieve anything. And the masses are now solidly in the hands of commercial powers that gain money from having this thing go as it goes.”

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Fawcett’s Antique Toy Museum

What caught my eye was the big grinning orange face on the sign for “Fawcett’s Art, Antiques, Toy Museum.” It stood outside a nondescript white house alongside a nondescript stretch of Route 1 in Waldoboro, Maine, and depicted a bald, bearded fellow with a vague resemblance to the Wizard of Oz.
The place was deserted when I entered, but chockablock with pop artifacts for sale – books and toys and cartoony paintings. The proprietor, John Fawcett, appeared, a tall, curmudgeonly fellow, whose white-whiskered face was the one on the sign. And for five bucks, he offered a tour of his museum at the back of the store.

It was impossible to see from the shop, over a latched gate, and around a corner into the museum. So I wasn’t quite sure which proud American tradition the museum belonged to – an eccentric’s roadside cabinet of wonders, or a huckster’s bait.

But I paid up, got a little red ticket, and then, wow, it was like stumbling upon some pop culture heaven. The museum was perhaps only six rooms on two floors, but every surface was encrusted with toys and books and posters, most dating to the first half of the 20th century.

Fawcett claims to present first Disney toys and watches, rare atomic-themed toys, Gene Autry’s pink and yellow satin rodeo shirt from the 1940s, and the duds the radio (!) Lone Ranger wore. It’s a magical dream library of American boy pop culture (almost no Barbies here). There’s so incredibly much good stuff that its very existence feels impossible. The sensation is something like a pop culture version of rediscovering Pompeii. On Route 1 in Maine.

There are dozens of early Mickey Mouses (the scrappy, scamp country mouse from before World War II, before he got all cleaned up and plastic and suburban in parallel with returning war GIs), Popeyes, Lone Rangers, and Felix the Cats. You can see Peanuts characters and Star Wars toys, toy robots, Disney-designed World War II military insignia, a 1930s French Donald Duck carousel figure, pulp paintings, animation cells, tin toys, wind-up toys, and comics pages. Pictures of Farrah Fawcett in her mid ‘70s glory and some little figurines made from lobster shells (this is Maine after all) round out the collection.

“If it’s here, it’s because I like it,” Fawcett told me. “It’s here for aesthetics, not for nostalgia. It’s the basis of my artwork.”

The 68-year-old grew up in Watertown, Massachusetts, taught art at the University of Connecticut for 32 years, and displays his own artwork on the walls of a gallery in his store.

They are trippy pop paintings, toy assemblages and cartoony drawings that look like something that could have appeared in Robert Crumb’s seminal late 1960s “Zap” comics or the ‘60s pop art of Peter Saul or Peter Blake. Fawcett’s work has appeared in Theodore Stebbins’ 1976 book “American Master Drawings and Watercolors” and the 1993 book “The Art of Mickey Mouse” and in the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art. He insists – correctly – that the treasures in his museum are art too.

“I’m collecting,” he said, “little pieces of sculpture.”

Fawcett’s Antique Toy & Art Museum, 3506 Route 1, Waldoboro, Maine; open Memorial Day to Columbus Day every day except Tuesday and Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; open Columbus Day to Dec. 24 from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Photos by The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

30,000 Years of Art

From my review of the book ""30,000 Years of Art":
"30,000 Years of Art" is so big and heavy (13 pounds) that one could easily confuse it for a survey of all art ever made, reproduced at actual size. It’s actually 1,000 art greatest hits laid out chronologically, one per page, each with its own dry encyclopedia-style description.
Read the rest here.

Monday, September 08, 2008


From my May interview with designer Stefan Sagmeister:
You may not know Stefan Sagmeister’s name, but you’ll likely recognize his firm’s lion design for the Rolling Stones’ 1997 album "Bridges to Babylon," as well as album covers for Lou Reed, Talking Heads, and Aerosmith. Design geeks bow before the 45-year-old Austrian-born, New York–based designer’s witty topographical experiments and bad-ass stunts — a poster for a talk he gave in 1999 was a photo of all the event info carved into his chest. His new book, "Things I Have Learned in My Life So Far" (Abrams), collects a series of billboards, magazine spreads, and short videos in which musings from his diary — “drugs are fun in the beginning but become a drag later on,” “trying to look good limits my life,” “assuming is stifling” — were spelled out in flowers, yellow “caution” tape, drink glasses at a party, and chopped-up hotdogs.

What was it like to work with Talking Heads, the Rolling Stones, Lou Reed, and Aerosmith?
All completely different. Aerosmith was by far the most difficult. The worst job I’ve ever done in my life. It had nothing to do with the band. It was much involved with the management at the label. The one-sentence version would be: I’d rather do another 10 posters where I have to cut my breast up than do another Aerosmith CD.
Read the rest here.