Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s Anna Wintour
"Pink is punk." Thus spoke Anna Wintour at the benefit gala that marked the opening of the exhibition, Punk: Chaos to Couture, held on May 6 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Wintour, the British-born editor-in-chief of American Vogue and artistic director for Condé Nast, is a member of the board of the Met’s Costume Institute (for which she is reported to have raised more than $100 million), and an Officer of the Order of the British Empire. Apparently even the queen of England can appreciate the regal power of ad revenue and corporate expansion spiraling ever heavenward. “This blessed plot, this earth, this realm …” And yet the pronouncement, “Pink is punk,” which slipped so assuredly from Wintour’s perfectly thin lips, is both vexing and revelatory. While Wintour is not to anyone’s knowledge developmentally disabled, her remark is quite possibly the single most retarded thing any public figure has said in recent memory. Even as retardataire as the fashion industry may be, endlessly passing off the old as new, feeding on its history and ours, since vernacular style—how we dress ourselves in the every day—fuels the more vampiric elements of this industry, the remark is cause for concern. She made it, of course, to defend the dress she wore to the gala: Chanel haute couture, floor-length, flowery pink. It would not have been out of place had she strolled onto a manicured lawn for a tea party at Sandringham.
Continue

Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s Anna Wintour

"Pink is punk." Thus spoke Anna Wintour at the benefit gala that marked the opening of the exhibition, Punk: Chaos to Couture, held on May 6 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Wintour, the British-born editor-in-chief of American Vogue and artistic director for Condé Nast, is a member of the board of the Met’s Costume Institute (for which she is reported to have raised more than $100 million), and an Officer of the Order of the British Empire. Apparently even the queen of England can appreciate the regal power of ad revenue and corporate expansion spiraling ever heavenward. “This blessed plot, this earth, this realm …” And yet the pronouncement, “Pink is punk,” which slipped so assuredly from Wintour’s perfectly thin lips, is both vexing and revelatory. While Wintour is not to anyone’s knowledge developmentally disabled, her remark is quite possibly the single most retarded thing any public figure has said in recent memory. Even as retardataire as the fashion industry may be, endlessly passing off the old as new, feeding on its history and ours, since vernacular style—how we dress ourselves in the every day—fuels the more vampiric elements of this industry, the remark is cause for concern. She made it, of course, to defend the dress she wore to the gala: Chanel haute couture, floor-length, flowery pink. It would not have been out of place had she strolled onto a manicured lawn for a tea party at Sandringham.

Continue

Why I Hate Graffiti 
Have you noticed how lame graffiti in New York has become in 2013? Especially the one-liners you see more and more of, with their pseudo philosophy and visual impairment. Where exactly is the art? And what’s the message? The vast majority of the graffiti that’s out there pales in comparison to the classic Wild Style of the late 70s/early 80s, though how could it be any other way? Is it the same in other cities? Or is the increasing irrelevancy of graffiti related to just how deadly boring and commercial New York feels right now? And to how overly policed it’s become? If so, couldn’t it feed off of that? Why isn’t graffiti commenting on the shitty sad state of things? On its co-option? On being chased inside? Graffiti can be, or at least once was, an expedient way of inserting social, political, and cultural comment into public view. One of the best examples, a huge wall painting on a building alongside the BQE, visible to every passing motorist, ridiculing CON$ervative GovernMENt as nothing more than CON MEN.

As far back as the “talking statues” of ancient Rome, whose pedestals were inscribed with anonymous barbs aimed at the church and state, graffiti has been another way of spreading the news, sharing caustic opinions and cranky dissent for all to see. But nowadays, apart from the tags that kids still write, and probably always will, graffiti seems like an advertisement for itself, or for an overeducated, underemployed class that wants to use the street as a springboard to careers in art, advertising, and fashion. Or it’s a vivid backdrop for an otherwise forgettable product. You see a tag in the street and look it up. Within seconds you’re delivered to a gallery, a shop window, a clothing or skateboard line. You come face to face with the fact that the whole world is infinitely more professional and commodified than ever before, and it can only get worse. “Hip” will either go willingly or be taken forcibly, which translates as: You can sell it to us… or be ripped off. So don’t feel that you’ve sold out before you’ve been bought. That’s the writing on the wall, and it’s been there for some time now. I really don’t hate graffiti. I only despise what it, and almost everything else in this town, has become—a shadow of the shadow of its former self.
At the risk of waxing nostalgic for the supposedly good old days of graffiti covering every available surface, it’s worth recalling how it felt to enter a subway train that was totally bombed inside. For some, it was nothing less than an assault. It was visceral and it was violent, and it was hard to think of it as an expression of art or joy, especially if its acidy vibe was encountered at 7 AM on your way to work. (This was the era of “Ford to City: Drop Dead.”) For others, it was something wondrous to behold, to see a giant painting glide through a subway station, or along the tracks above the street. Whichever side you were on, it seemed as if there was no Escape From New York.
Continue

Why I Hate Graffiti 

Have you noticed how lame graffiti in New York has become in 2013? Especially the one-liners you see more and more of, with their pseudo philosophy and visual impairment. Where exactly is the art? And what’s the message? The vast majority of the graffiti that’s out there pales in comparison to the classic Wild Style of the late 70s/early 80s, though how could it be any other way? Is it the same in other cities? Or is the increasing irrelevancy of graffiti related to just how deadly boring and commercial New York feels right now? And to how overly policed it’s become? If so, couldn’t it feed off of that? Why isn’t graffiti commenting on the shitty sad state of things? On its co-option? On being chased inside? Graffiti can be, or at least once was, an expedient way of inserting social, political, and cultural comment into public view. One of the best examples, a huge wall painting on a building alongside the BQE, visible to every passing motorist, ridiculing CON$ervative GovernMENt as nothing more than CON MEN.

As far back as the “talking statues” of ancient Rome, whose pedestals were inscribed with anonymous barbs aimed at the church and state, graffiti has been another way of spreading the news, sharing caustic opinions and cranky dissent for all to see. But nowadays, apart from the tags that kids still write, and probably always will, graffiti seems like an advertisement for itself, or for an overeducated, underemployed class that wants to use the street as a springboard to careers in art, advertising, and fashion. Or it’s a vivid backdrop for an otherwise forgettable product. You see a tag in the street and look it up. Within seconds you’re delivered to a gallery, a shop window, a clothing or skateboard line. You come face to face with the fact that the whole world is infinitely more professional and commodified than ever before, and it can only get worse. “Hip” will either go willingly or be taken forcibly, which translates as: You can sell it to us… or be ripped off. So don’t feel that you’ve sold out before you’ve been bought. That’s the writing on the wall, and it’s been there for some time now. I really don’t hate graffiti. I only despise what it, and almost everything else in this town, has become—a shadow of the shadow of its former self.

At the risk of waxing nostalgic for the supposedly good old days of graffiti covering every available surface, it’s worth recalling how it felt to enter a subway train that was totally bombed inside. For some, it was nothing less than an assault. It was visceral and it was violent, and it was hard to think of it as an expression of art or joy, especially if its acidy vibe was encountered at 7 AM on your way to work. (This was the era of “Ford to City: Drop Dead.”) For others, it was something wondrous to behold, to see a giant painting glide through a subway station, or along the tracks above the street. Whichever side you were on, it seemed as if there was no Escape From New York.

Continue

Bob Nickas: No one would expect to find the two of you together, but Sun Ra, your movie, Space Is the Place, and the film adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s book, Slaughterhouse-Five, with Billy Pilgrim in the lead, were made in 1972, and central to each story is the fact that you were both abducted. The two of you have something rather special in common—intergalactic adventure and time travel.Sun Ra: It’s true. In my case, the future was held for ransom. Billy was taken to another planet for some prenatal fun and games.Billy: They hooked me up with the girl of my dreams.Sun Ra: And you two had a baby, of all things, so the Milky Way could be even whiter.
Bob: Don’t forget that the full title of the book is Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death. Billy didn’t really have a choice.Sun Ra: He was only following… orders?
Bob: He became a willing captive in what turned out to be more of a biological experiment.Billy: Sun Ra planned to take his chosen people away from the Earth, to save them.
Bob: From who?Billy: From us. “Fear of a Black Planet” … in reverse. It was a brilliant and radical re-imagining of history. Marcus Garvey in a UFO.Sun Ra: You went on your own pilgrimage, Billy, more than once.
Bob: In my favorite scene from Space Is the Place, you’re dressed in Egyptian finery, flanked by a pair of attendants wearing gold masks. One of them is Horus, the falcon-headed God. It is a very tripped-out scene, even for the time. You walk into an Oakland youth center. On the wall are posters of various Black Panthers—Angela Davis, Eldridge Cleaver—there’s a pool table and a jukebox. The kids who are hanging out stare wide-eyed in disbelief.Sun Ra: They ask me, “Are you for real?”
Bob: And you gently lecture them: “I’m not real, I’m just like you. You don’t exist in this society. If you did your people wouldn’t be seeking equal rights. You’re not real. If you were you’d have some status among the nations of the world. So we are both myths. I do not come to you as a reality, I come to you as the myth because that is what black people are—myths. I came from a dream that the black man dreamed long ago. I’m actually a presence sent to you by your ancestors. I’m going to be here until I pick out some of you to take back with me.”
Continue

Bob Nickas: No one would expect to find the two of you together, but Sun Ra, your movie, Space Is the Place, and the film adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s book, Slaughterhouse-Five, with Billy Pilgrim in the lead, were made in 1972, and central to each story is the fact that you were both abducted. The two of you have something rather special in common—intergalactic adventure and time travel.
Sun Ra:
 It’s true. In my case, the future was held for ransom. Billy was taken to another planet for some prenatal fun and games.
Billy: They hooked me up with the girl of my dreams.
Sun Ra: And you two had a baby, of all things, so the Milky Way could be even whiter.

Bob: Don’t forget that the full title of the book is Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death. Billy didn’t really have a choice.
Sun Ra:
 He was only following… orders?

Bob: He became a willing captive in what turned out to be more of a biological experiment.
Billy:
 Sun Ra planned to take his chosen people away from the Earth, to save them.

Bob: From who?
Billy:
 From us. “Fear of a Black Planet” … in reverse. It was a brilliant and radical re-imagining of history. Marcus Garvey in a UFO.
Sun Ra: You went on your own pilgrimage, Billy, more than once.

Bob: In my favorite scene from Space Is the Place, you’re dressed in Egyptian finery, flanked by a pair of attendants wearing gold masks. One of them is Horus, the falcon-headed God. It is a very tripped-out scene, even for the time. You walk into an Oakland youth center. On the wall are posters of various Black Panthers—Angela Davis, Eldridge Cleaver—there’s a pool table and a jukebox. The kids who are hanging out stare wide-eyed in disbelief.
Sun Ra:
 They ask me, “Are you for real?”

Bob: And you gently lecture them: “I’m not real, I’m just like you. You don’t exist in this society. If you did your people wouldn’t be seeking equal rights. You’re not real. If you were you’d have some status among the nations of the world. So we are both myths. I do not come to you as a reality, I come to you as the myth because that is what black people are—myths. I came from a dream that the black man dreamed long ago. I’m actually a presence sent to you by your ancestors. I’m going to be here until I pick out some of you to take back with me.”

Continue

Andy Warhol, Race Riot over Robert Gober, Hanging Man/Sleeping Man wallpaper
Art critic/curator Bob Nickas reviews The Met’s show Regarding Warhol, via an interview with the deceased artist himself.

Andy Warhol, Race Riot over Robert GoberHanging Man/Sleeping Man wallpaper

Art critic/curator Bob Nickas reviews The Met’s show Regarding Warhol, via an interview with the deceased artist himself.

A TOUR OF THE MONUMENTS OF SALT LAKE CITY:ROBERT SMITHSON, THE MELVINS, AND THE MORMONS
by Bob Nickas


Robert Smithson, Spiral Jetty (1970), Great Salt Lake, Utah, black rock, salt crystals, earth, 1,500 feet long, approx. 15 feet wide. All photos by Jason Metcalf unless otherwise noted.
On Monday, September 3, I took a cab out to JFK for a nonstop flight to Salt Lake City. In the lounge area, sleepily waiting to board, no one really looked like a Mormon. This wouldn’t have actually occurred to me, but I had been warned. There would be young men coming back from their missions, wearing white shirts and ties, clean shaven, well scrubbed, and, as a rule, always traveling in pairs. This may have something to do, I was later told, with how they keep an eye on and watch out for one another, how they try to avoid being tempted or seduced, as they might be if they were out on their own. While this does make sense, it doesn’t account for those non-believers who, shall we say, prefer a challenge, and are not actually averse to a three-way. I had bought a copy of the New York Times, and at the moment the prospects of the paper were slightly of greater interest. The cover stories were mainly election-related, such as: “Effects of Romney’s Tax Plan? Key Variables Are Left Blank.” One major point of contention raised in the story is Mitt Romney’s claim that his policies won’t raise the taxes of middle-class Americans, and yet you have to wonder how he expects to do this while covering about $1 trillion in tax breaks annually, and without increasing the federal deficit. Economists and tax experts—no mater what their political affiliations—don’t see how he can pull it off without seriously hurting the middle-class, but boarding a plane and the economy have one thing in common: it’s always business first.
Members of the Manson “family” congregate at the Los Angeles Hall of Justice on February 24, 1970, for the arraignment of Patricia Krenwinkel, a defendant in the Sharon Tate murder case. From left are Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, Sandra Good, Mark Ross, Paul Watkins, and Catherine “Gypsy” Share holding Good’s son Ivan. Photo Wally Fong, AP.
Flipping through the paper, a headline jumped out at me, waiting as I was for a flight out west: “Inspired by the Pull of the Desert.” The photo below showed a bright-eyed attractive woman, probably mid-to-late 20s, identified as Claire Vaye Watkins, while further down the page was another photograph, obviously of a certain period, showing a hippie-ish group of young people, with brightly patterned, velvet, silk or crocheted shirts and blouses, long straggly hair, some of the men bearded, all of them smiling, laughing or looking slightly bemused or high. The only person who does not appear happy is a small baby in the arms of one of the women, perhaps overdue for a nap or just bored. According to the caption in the Times: “Claire Vaye Watkins’s father, Paul, center, and other members of Charles Manson’s family in 1970. Ms. Watkins was relieved to discover that her father was not found to be a killer.” The piece on Ms. Watkins, who is a writer, is more interestingly an interview rather than a review of her first collection of short stories,Battleborn, which was published last month. From the start, the Times refers to the book as having a “notable provenance,” the fact that her father was “Manson’s chief procurer of young girls,” though not one of his murderous henchmen, and how the opening story, “Ghosts, Cowboys,” is “a mix of history, memoir, and fiction.” We learn that she was only six years old when her father died, and was mostly raised by her mother in the isolation of the Mojave desert, near Death Valley, and later in Nevada, where all of her stories are set. In the interview she refers to these places as “pretty remote, geographically and culturally. They’re places you go if you want to be left alone.”
Robert Smithson on the Jetty, 1970, photo: Gianfranco Gorgoni.
I thought of this as the flight finally departed, and it was still very much on my mind five hours later as the plane made its descent over the Great Salt Lake, the sunlight bouncing off the water and also intermittently shadowed, as if a mirror of my own anticipation, and I couldn’t help but wonder: if your writing is about your life, and it’s somehow meant to be true, isn’t it always a mix of history, memoir, and fiction? Why should it seem exceptional, or an exception to the rule? As I craned to see out the window, I hoped to catch a glimpse of the Spiral Jetty, the great earthwork of Robert Smithson, created in 1970, and my main reason for making this trip. After all, I had waited more than 25 years to see the Jetty. It is one of the landmarks of contemporary art, and a personal touchstone. At a time when art is routinely bought and sold, and for some it’s just another form of currency and instant cultural cachet in an increasingly money-mad and superficial world, here is a work that represents, above all, the higher elevations, art’s relationship to nature, to time, to a mystic idea of a journey and endless turning. And yet it also reminds us of the limits of life, particularly where humans are concerned. The Spiral Jetty, as it appears and disappears with the rise and fall of the lake, and in terms of its setting within the landscape, is one of the only monuments of any consequence in this country. Even when it’s submerged it’s there, a question mark coiled around itself, its uncertainty at the center of the artist’s fascination with how space and time reverberate, as traced in the form of the spiral. The fact that Smithson died young, and not long after completing the Jetty, gives the work and the place a haunted quality, though in an otherworldly rather than morbid sense.       
I had also come to Salt Lake City to give a talk at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, as well as to see one of my favorite bands, the Melvins. They are, both bravely and preposterously, attempting to play all 50 states and the District of Columbia in 51 consecutive days, and are driving to all the shows except for those in Anchorage and Honolulu. Their goal: to make it into the Guinness Book of World Records. My aim, minuscule in contrast, was simply to arrange a friendly ambush and surprise them at one of the stops on their tour of tours, and the more unexpected the location the better: destination, Salt Lake City. Over the course of three days, the triangulation of the Mormons, the Melvins, and Robert Smithson was too good to pass by. Time better spent, I thought, chasing some ghosts and cowboys of my own, un-spiraling myself from the irreality of New York in order to get a closer look at the West, a very red state, and the Temple to which Mitt Romney owes his spiritual if not his political allegiance—though all places of worship, as Smithson would have it, are ultimately non-sites. But no matter. If you worship God, power, and the almighty dollar, a place will always be made for you in this mean old world.
I was picked up at the airport by Aaron, a recent transplant from Berlin, who had invited me to Salt Lake City. Once in town, we stopped for a coffee and ran into the filmmaker Trent Harris, best known for The Beaver Trilogy, one of the most bizarrely moving and unforgettable semi-documentaries of all time, starring an incredible Crispin Glover and also Sean Penn, for whom it is probably no longer listed on his resume. From there a quick stop at Ken Sanders Rare Books, where you can easily and very pleasurably lose a few hours. (Friends who knew I was making a trip to the land of the Mormons had suggested Jon Krakauer’s book, Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, but it seemed too heavy, and anyway I preferred to see what the city itself would yield.) At Sanders I found copies of Thorstein Veblen’s The Theory of the Leisure Class, for only $6, a mere pittance, and J.G. Ballard’s 1996 collection of essays and reviews, A User’s Guide To the Millennium. I had interviewed Ballard just after the book was published, and remember well how he mused on our temporal dislocation:
"Does the future still have a future? That’s what I want to know. Is it what it used to be? No, I think the future is about to die on us, actually. I think it may have died a few years ago. I think we are living in the present. We theme-parked the future just as we theme-park everything. We theme-parked the past. We theme-parked the future, and visit it only when we feel we want some sort of glittery gimmick.1
Smithson had memorably referenced Ballard in an important essay in 1966, “Quasi Infinities and the Waning of Space,” in which he quoted from the author’s story, “The Overloaded Man”—”Without a time sense, consciousness is difficult to visualize.” I kept this all in mind as I settled into a comfortable room at the historic Peery Hotel, built in 1910, a few blocks from the city’s original arrival points, the Rio Grande Depot and the Union Pacific Depot, magnificent relics of the great fortunes made here a very long time ago, twin portals which symbolized the importance of Salt Lake as the crossroads of the West, as it was once proudly acknowledged. Just 90 minutes away, near the location of the Spiral Jetty, is the marker for the Golden Spike, where the Union and Central Pacific Railroads joined the country, East and West, in 1869. Abandoned by Amtrak in the late 1990s, the depots today are used for restaurants, shops, concerts, and the offices of the Historical Society. Where travelers once boarded and disembarked the California Zephyr as they made their way purposefully across country, you now find the mindless idling of impassive tourists, weary office workers, and indifferent teenagers with skateboards tucked under their well-inked arms, all appearing leisurely bored. If only the bland airport terminals of our theme-parked present will one day be resigned to a similar fate, then the Ballardian/Smithsonian future will have truly arrived.
CONTINUE

A TOUR OF THE MONUMENTS OF SALT LAKE CITY:
ROBERT SMITHSON, THE MELVINS, AND THE MORMONS

by Bob Nickas


Robert Smithson, Spiral Jetty (1970), Great Salt Lake, Utah, black rock, salt crystals, earth, 1,500 feet long, approx. 15 feet wide. All photos by Jason Metcalf unless otherwise noted.

On Monday, September 3, I took a cab out to JFK for a nonstop flight to Salt Lake City. In the lounge area, sleepily waiting to board, no one really looked like a Mormon. This wouldn’t have actually occurred to me, but I had been warned. There would be young men coming back from their missions, wearing white shirts and ties, clean shaven, well scrubbed, and, as a rule, always traveling in pairs. This may have something to do, I was later told, with how they keep an eye on and watch out for one another, how they try to avoid being tempted or seduced, as they might be if they were out on their own. While this does make sense, it doesn’t account for those non-believers who, shall we say, prefer a challenge, and are not actually averse to a three-way. I had bought a copy of the New York Times, and at the moment the prospects of the paper were slightly of greater interest. The cover stories were mainly election-related, such as: “Effects of Romney’s Tax Plan? Key Variables Are Left Blank.” One major point of contention raised in the story is Mitt Romney’s claim that his policies won’t raise the taxes of middle-class Americans, and yet you have to wonder how he expects to do this while covering about $1 trillion in tax breaks annually, and without increasing the federal deficit. Economists and tax experts—no mater what their political affiliations—don’t see how he can pull it off without seriously hurting the middle-class, but boarding a plane and the economy have one thing in common: it’s always business first.


Members of the Manson “family” congregate at the Los Angeles Hall of Justice on February 24, 1970, for the arraignment of Patricia Krenwinkel, a defendant in the Sharon Tate murder case. From left are Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, Sandra Good, Mark Ross, Paul Watkins, and Catherine “Gypsy” Share holding Good’s son Ivan. Photo Wally Fong, AP.

Flipping through the paper, a headline jumped out at me, waiting as I was for a flight out west: “Inspired by the Pull of the Desert.” The photo below showed a bright-eyed attractive woman, probably mid-to-late 20s, identified as Claire Vaye Watkins, while further down the page was another photograph, obviously of a certain period, showing a hippie-ish group of young people, with brightly patterned, velvet, silk or crocheted shirts and blouses, long straggly hair, some of the men bearded, all of them smiling, laughing or looking slightly bemused or high. The only person who does not appear happy is a small baby in the arms of one of the women, perhaps overdue for a nap or just bored. According to the caption in the Times: “Claire Vaye Watkins’s father, Paul, center, and other members of Charles Manson’s family in 1970. Ms. Watkins was relieved to discover that her father was not found to be a killer.” The piece on Ms. Watkins, who is a writer, is more interestingly an interview rather than a review of her first collection of short stories,Battleborn, which was published last month. From the start, the Times refers to the book as having a “notable provenance,” the fact that her father was “Manson’s chief procurer of young girls,” though not one of his murderous henchmen, and how the opening story, “Ghosts, Cowboys,” is “a mix of history, memoir, and fiction.” We learn that she was only six years old when her father died, and was mostly raised by her mother in the isolation of the Mojave desert, near Death Valley, and later in Nevada, where all of her stories are set. In the interview she refers to these places as “pretty remote, geographically and culturally. They’re places you go if you want to be left alone.”


Robert Smithson on the Jetty, 1970, photo: Gianfranco Gorgoni.

I thought of this as the flight finally departed, and it was still very much on my mind five hours later as the plane made its descent over the Great Salt Lake, the sunlight bouncing off the water and also intermittently shadowed, as if a mirror of my own anticipation, and I couldn’t help but wonder: if your writing is about your life, and it’s somehow meant to be true, isn’t it always a mix of history, memoir, and fiction? Why should it seem exceptional, or an exception to the rule? As I craned to see out the window, I hoped to catch a glimpse of the Spiral Jetty, the great earthwork of Robert Smithson, created in 1970, and my main reason for making this trip. After all, I had waited more than 25 years to see the Jetty. It is one of the landmarks of contemporary art, and a personal touchstone. At a time when art is routinely bought and sold, and for some it’s just another form of currency and instant cultural cachet in an increasingly money-mad and superficial world, here is a work that represents, above all, the higher elevations, art’s relationship to nature, to time, to a mystic idea of a journey and endless turning. And yet it also reminds us of the limits of life, particularly where humans are concerned. The Spiral Jetty, as it appears and disappears with the rise and fall of the lake, and in terms of its setting within the landscape, is one of the only monuments of any consequence in this country. Even when it’s submerged it’s there, a question mark coiled around itself, its uncertainty at the center of the artist’s fascination with how space and time reverberate, as traced in the form of the spiral. The fact that Smithson died young, and not long after completing the Jetty, gives the work and the place a haunted quality, though in an otherworldly rather than morbid sense.       

I had also come to Salt Lake City to give a talk at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, as well as to see one of my favorite bands, the Melvins. They are, both bravely and preposterously, attempting to play all 50 states and the District of Columbia in 51 consecutive days, and are driving to all the shows except for those in Anchorage and Honolulu. Their goal: to make it into the Guinness Book of World Records. My aim, minuscule in contrast, was simply to arrange a friendly ambush and surprise them at one of the stops on their tour of tours, and the more unexpected the location the better: destination, Salt Lake City. Over the course of three days, the triangulation of the Mormons, the Melvins, and Robert Smithson was too good to pass by. Time better spent, I thought, chasing some ghosts and cowboys of my own, un-spiraling myself from the irreality of New York in order to get a closer look at the West, a very red state, and the Temple to which Mitt Romney owes his spiritual if not his political allegiance—though all places of worship, as Smithson would have it, are ultimately non-sites. But no matter. If you worship God, power, and the almighty dollar, a place will always be made for you in this mean old world.

I was picked up at the airport by Aaron, a recent transplant from Berlin, who had invited me to Salt Lake City. Once in town, we stopped for a coffee and ran into the filmmaker Trent Harris, best known for The Beaver Trilogy, one of the most bizarrely moving and unforgettable semi-documentaries of all time, starring an incredible Crispin Glover and also Sean Penn, for whom it is probably no longer listed on his resume. From there a quick stop at Ken Sanders Rare Books, where you can easily and very pleasurably lose a few hours. (Friends who knew I was making a trip to the land of the Mormons had suggested Jon Krakauer’s book, Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, but it seemed too heavy, and anyway I preferred to see what the city itself would yield.) At Sanders I found copies of Thorstein Veblen’s The Theory of the Leisure Class, for only $6, a mere pittance, and J.G. Ballard’s 1996 collection of essays and reviews, A User’s Guide To the Millennium. I had interviewed Ballard just after the book was published, and remember well how he mused on our temporal dislocation:

"Does the future still have a future? That’s what I want to know. Is it what it used to be? No, I think the future is about to die on us, actually. I think it may have died a few years ago. I think we are living in the present. We theme-parked the future just as we theme-park everything. We theme-parked the past. We theme-parked the future, and visit it only when we feel we want some sort of glittery gimmick.1

Smithson had memorably referenced Ballard in an important essay in 1966, “Quasi Infinities and the Waning of Space,” in which he quoted from the author’s story, “The Overloaded Man”—”Without a time sense, consciousness is difficult to visualize.” I kept this all in mind as I settled into a comfortable room at the historic Peery Hotel, built in 1910, a few blocks from the city’s original arrival points, the Rio Grande Depot and the Union Pacific Depot, magnificent relics of the great fortunes made here a very long time ago, twin portals which symbolized the importance of Salt Lake as the crossroads of the West, as it was once proudly acknowledged. Just 90 minutes away, near the location of the Spiral Jetty, is the marker for the Golden Spike, where the Union and Central Pacific Railroads joined the country, East and West, in 1869. Abandoned by Amtrak in the late 1990s, the depots today are used for restaurants, shops, concerts, and the offices of the Historical Society. Where travelers once boarded and disembarked the California Zephyr as they made their way purposefully across country, you now find the mindless idling of impassive tourists, weary office workers, and indifferent teenagers with skateboards tucked under their well-inked arms, all appearing leisurely bored. If only the bland airport terminals of our theme-parked present will one day be resigned to a similar fate, then the Ballardian/Smithsonian future will have truly arrived.

CONTINUE

"THE LOGICAL EXTENSION OF BUSINESS IS MURDER" - DAVID CRONENBERG’S ‘COSMOPOLIS’
By Bob Nickas
SPOILER ALERT: This article examines David Cronenberg’s new film, Cosmopolis, in great detail. Many of the movie’s plot points are discussed. If you haven’t seen it and want to experience all of the surprises in the theater firsthand, you should probably wait to read this. You’ve been warned.
Why has one of the best movies of the year gotten so many bad and iffy reviews, registering from lukewarm to hostile? It’s well written, cast, directed, performed, sequenced, and shot, offering a lot to think about, if you’re so inclined—the world, your place in it, etc.—and funny in its own weird and disturbing way, just like life. It achieves depth from its flatness, which is something very few filmmakers can manage. Then why such a lame response? When you consider that the director of Cosmopolis, David Cronenberg, is not without his fans and defenders, especially among reviewers, the question is even more perplexing. Or maybe not. The quote that kicks off this column is taken from the movie, and the book which it’s more or less faithfully based on, the 2003 novel by Don DeLillo. It’s one of the most memorable lines in Cosmopolis, either written or spoken, whether it reverberates from the page or the screen to your mind, and it’s a possible clue to answering the question of why the movie hasn’t been more favorably received.
Continue

"THE LOGICAL EXTENSION OF BUSINESS IS MURDER" - 
DAVID CRONENBERG’S ‘COSMOPOLIS’

By Bob Nickas

SPOILER ALERT: This article examines David Cronenberg’s new film, Cosmopolis, in great detail. Many of the movie’s plot points are discussed. If you haven’t seen it and want to experience all of the surprises in the theater firsthand, you should probably wait to read this. You’ve been warned.

Why has one of the best movies of the year gotten so many bad and iffy reviews, registering from lukewarm to hostile? It’s well written, cast, directed, performed, sequenced, and shot, offering a lot to think about, if you’re so inclined—the world, your place in it, etc.—and funny in its own weird and disturbing way, just like life. It achieves depth from its flatness, which is something very few filmmakers can manage. Then why such a lame response? When you consider that the director of Cosmopolis, David Cronenberg, is not without his fans and defenders, especially among reviewers, the question is even more perplexing. Or maybe not. The quote that kicks off this column is taken from the movie, and the book which it’s more or less faithfully based on, the 2003 novel by Don DeLillo. It’s one of the most memorable lines in Cosmopolis, either written or spoken, whether it reverberates from the page or the screen to your mind, and it’s a possible clue to answering the question of why the movie hasn’t been more favorably received.

Continue


KOMP-LAINTDEPT.A DATE WITH DEATH ON THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE
By Bob Nickas


San Francisco, August 7, 1937. A midsummer day like so many others—a blanket of fog above the bay, the air warming as the sun lazily filters through and burns it off, teasing brightness from the city’s glittering new symbol, the Golden Gate Bridge. It was a Saturday, a day off for most, to relax, see friends or family, maybe picnic in the park, or, as many would choose to do, indulge in a new and thrilling pastime—walk across the bridge and take in the magnificent view. From one side, the city rose against the bay. From the other, the horizon of the Pacific spread out as far as the eye could see. Much more than a remarkable feat of engineering and a source of great pride for the city and for the country, the bridge was a gateway, named for the strait which it spanned, and as imposing and graceful an embodiment of the promise of California and the golden West as had ever been seen.
While there are beautiful bridges all over the world, the Golden Gate looms in the collective imagination, a stunning structure set within an equally magnificent landscape. In America, New York and the Atlantic can be thought to look back, forever bound to the customs of England, Europe, and the past. San Francisco and the Pacific, however, represent a greater unknown and a sense of freedom, connected to nature and Eastern thought, to the cycle of life and eternity. Traveling the country from east to west, one might end up in a San Francisco park named Land’s End. Set high above a rocky coast, it offers an unparalleled view of the ocean and the Golden Gate from its wild, windswept cliffs. In 1937, against a backdrop of seismic world events—from murderous purges in the Soviet Union to the Spanish Civil War and Japan’s invasion of China—the bridge would also symbolize the heights to which humans could aspire. Built in the midst of the Great Depression—a convulsive period of economic crisis, increasingly nationalistic aggression, and lingering resentments from the First World War that served as the ominous prelude to the second—it is one of the lasting achievements of its time. Unhealed wounds, of course, are not only the burden of the vanquished but of the victor, and even among the victorious there are those who remain deeply traumatized, are resigned to emotional defeat and forgotten. Do we memorialize those who are haunted in this way, or are there only memorials by default?     
On that summer day 75 years ago, a man named Harold Wobber was walking across the bridge. Along the way he encountered Dr. Louis Naylor, a college professor from Connecticut who had come to San Francisco on vacation. A conversation was struck up between the two men, and they continued on together. At about the midpoint of the bridge, Wobber came to a stop, took off his jacket and vest, and reportedly said, “This is where I get off.” As he hopped the railing, Naylor attempted to take hold of his belt, but Wobber was able to break free and leapt from the bridge, its first recorded suicide. This is the man’s claim to fame, such as it is, and though not much more is known about him, what little information is available is telling.
Continue

KOMP-
LAINT
DEPT.
A DATE WITH DEATH ON THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE

By Bob Nickas

San Francisco, August 7, 1937. A midsummer day like so many others—a blanket of fog above the bay, the air warming as the sun lazily filters through and burns it off, teasing brightness from the city’s glittering new symbol, the Golden Gate Bridge. It was a Saturday, a day off for most, to relax, see friends or family, maybe picnic in the park, or, as many would choose to do, indulge in a new and thrilling pastime—walk across the bridge and take in the magnificent view. From one side, the city rose against the bay. From the other, the horizon of the Pacific spread out as far as the eye could see. Much more than a remarkable feat of engineering and a source of great pride for the city and for the country, the bridge was a gateway, named for the strait which it spanned, and as imposing and graceful an embodiment of the promise of California and the golden West as had ever been seen.

While there are beautiful bridges all over the world, the Golden Gate looms in the collective imagination, a stunning structure set within an equally magnificent landscape. In America, New York and the Atlantic can be thought to look back, forever bound to the customs of England, Europe, and the past. San Francisco and the Pacific, however, represent a greater unknown and a sense of freedom, connected to nature and Eastern thought, to the cycle of life and eternity. Traveling the country from east to west, one might end up in a San Francisco park named Land’s End. Set high above a rocky coast, it offers an unparalleled view of the ocean and the Golden Gate from its wild, windswept cliffs. In 1937, against a backdrop of seismic world events—from murderous purges in the Soviet Union to the Spanish Civil War and Japan’s invasion of China—the bridge would also symbolize the heights to which humans could aspire. Built in the midst of the Great Depression—a convulsive period of economic crisis, increasingly nationalistic aggression, and lingering resentments from the First World War that served as the ominous prelude to the second—it is one of the lasting achievements of its time. Unhealed wounds, of course, are not only the burden of the vanquished but of the victor, and even among the victorious there are those who remain deeply traumatized, are resigned to emotional defeat and forgotten. Do we memorialize those who are haunted in this way, or are there only memorials by default?     

On that summer day 75 years ago, a man named Harold Wobber was walking across the bridge. Along the way he encountered Dr. Louis Naylor, a college professor from Connecticut who had come to San Francisco on vacation. A conversation was struck up between the two men, and they continued on together. At about the midpoint of the bridge, Wobber came to a stop, took off his jacket and vest, and reportedly said, “This is where I get off.” As he hopped the railing, Naylor attempted to take hold of his belt, but Wobber was able to break free and leapt from the bridge, its first recorded suicide. This is the man’s claim to fame, such as it is, and though not much more is known about him, what little information is available is telling.

Continue

Jennifer Herrema and Neil Haggerty, photo by Nina Gouveia
Where creative couples are concerned, breaking up is hard to do. When a partnership is dissolved, there’s no guarantee that the individuals involved will thrive on their own. Why some stay together past the expiration date remains a mystery to all but their bankers and managers. How two people can converge as a fluid, productive entity, able to sustain shared beliefs and goals over a significant period of time is nothing short of remarkable. The risk that a merged identity will overshadow and dominate individual egos, and make one artist or performer subservient to the other, or to the image of their duality, looms constantly overhead, and most likely explains why creative partnerships simply unravel or seismically implode. Where the uncoupled had been romantically involved, shifting from significant other to significant other-fucker, the fall-out is exponentially blown, or, like those fragile and needy egos, overblown. Even in a professionally platonic arrangement, there must be some measure of unrequited love. In a working relationship, how often does one person believe that it’s all them? That the genius behind their most glorious ideas—and none of their idiotic missteps—is due to them and them alone? And what does the delusion really represent? This is the egomaniac’s kiss, or kiss-off, as the case may be. Against all odds, the show must go on.
Ike & Tina Turner, Outta Season, 1968
The great comedy team Martin & Lewis went on to greater heights apart, as Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. The same wasn’t the case for Ike & Tina Turner. Once Ike took a hike, Tina became the mega-million selling star. With bands, the front man almost always takes center stage—but never more so than when he goes out on his own. Rod Stewart & the Faces became Rod Stewart and turned several shades of platinum. Who needs a reason to believe? And what’s love got to do with it? But with artists and designers, such an evolution may be trickier. Can a brand simply continue to be marketed despite the end of the chemical interaction that gave birth to a shared creative charge?
Gilbert & George, Magazine Sculpture, 1969
The wildly successful artist duo Gilbert & George have been symbiotic for more than 40 years now. Could you have one without the other? Never. “To Be With Art Is All We Ask,” they famously proclaimed in 1970, a statement that turns perfectly on the “we,” uniting them and their audience. The same sentiment expressed in the first-person would be absolutely ludicrous. At the same time, standing together side-by-side, G & G project not only a joining of forces, but a united “us-against-the-world.” As self-proclaimed living sculpture, G & G’s art is embodied in their very being. It is an extended performance, and they are inextricably entwined. Always dressed in matching tweed suits, the duo, for all their rude and provocative pictures, embody absolute respectability. While they claim, as few of us cannot, to have never been searched in an airport, it is more than their uniform that keeps (in)security at bay; it is their attachment to one another that makes them, in a sense, utterly impenetrable.
Continue reading

Jennifer Herrema and Neil Haggerty, photo by Nina Gouveia

Where creative couples are concerned, breaking up is hard to do. When a partnership is dissolved, there’s no guarantee that the individuals involved will thrive on their own. Why some stay together past the expiration date remains a mystery to all but their bankers and managers. How two people can converge as a fluid, productive entity, able to sustain shared beliefs and goals over a significant period of time is nothing short of remarkable. The risk that a merged identity will overshadow and dominate individual egos, and make one artist or performer subservient to the other, or to the image of their duality, looms constantly overhead, and most likely explains why creative partnerships simply unravel or seismically implode. Where the uncoupled had been romantically involved, shifting from significant other to significant other-fucker, the fall-out is exponentially blown, or, like those fragile and needy egos, overblown. Even in a professionally platonic arrangement, there must be some measure of unrequited love. In a working relationship, how often does one person believe that it’s all them? That the genius behind their most glorious ideas—and none of their idiotic missteps—is due to them and them alone? And what does the delusion really represent? This is the egomaniac’s kiss, or kiss-off, as the case may be. Against all odds, the show must go on.


Ike & Tina Turner, Outta Season, 1968

The great comedy team Martin & Lewis went on to greater heights apart, as Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. The same wasn’t the case for Ike & Tina Turner. Once Ike took a hike, Tina became the mega-million selling star. With bands, the front man almost always takes center stage—but never more so than when he goes out on his own. Rod Stewart & the Faces became Rod Stewart and turned several shades of platinum. Who needs a reason to believe? And what’s love got to do with it? But with artists and designers, such an evolution may be trickier. Can a brand simply continue to be marketed despite the end of the chemical interaction that gave birth to a shared creative charge?


Gilbert & George, Magazine Sculpture, 1969

The wildly successful artist duo Gilbert & George have been symbiotic for more than 40 years now. Could you have one without the other? Never. “To Be With Art Is All We Ask,” they famously proclaimed in 1970, a statement that turns perfectly on the “we,” uniting them and their audience. The same sentiment expressed in the first-person would be absolutely ludicrous. At the same time, standing together side-by-side, G & G project not only a joining of forces, but a united “us-against-the-world.” As self-proclaimed living sculpture, G & G’s art is embodied in their very being. It is an extended performance, and they are inextricably entwined. Always dressed in matching tweed suits, the duo, for all their rude and provocative pictures, embody absolute respectability. While they claim, as few of us cannot, to have never been searched in an airport, it is more than their uniform that keeps (in)security at bay; it is their attachment to one another that makes them, in a sense, utterly impenetrable.

Continue reading

A candid conversation on the horrendous state of new construction in New York, with the crankiest of architecture critics, Ivana Force-Majeure, and our own Bob Nickas.
Bob Nickas: Ivana, looking lovely as ever. Your outfit is so well constructed, as are you yourself, poised with style and restraint. What are you wearing today?Ivana Force-Majeure: Don’t you know? It’s Schiaparelli. In honor of the exhibition at the Met—Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada. Either of them, with their eyes closed, could design a better building than the flashy mediocrities you see today. Most of these architects are men, and most are frustrated artists. A frustrated artist is one thing when you’re talking about someone tucked away in an attic studio, but it’s quite another when they get to plop down one of their overblown sculptures in a residential neighborhood. I mean, we’re not talking about a garden folly on a country estate—a place to play for the idle rich. Here in the city they’re more like the blanded gentry.  
You recently made a rather remarkable proposal. You said that the most offensive and boring of the new architectural trophies should be demolished, even suggesting that a hit-list of buildings be put together by concerned New Yorkers. Where would you start?Oh it’s not just new buildings that should go. There are plenty of atrocities around. How about Trump Tower? It’s not exactly the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. More like a skyscraper with a pubic patch. But I’d start in my own neighborhood, NoHo, and work my way north. There’s 40 Bond Street, for example, designed by Herzog & de Meuron. They’ve done good things in Europe, but not in New York.
Are they giving us the buildings we deserve?Possibly. But if it’s the architect who takes the heat when a building isn’t well received, don’t forget that the client may also be to blame.

40 Bond was built for Ian Schrager. I’m just saying. I mean, what about the ridiculous fence that runs along the street? It looks like a bastardized take on a Jackson Pollock splatter, rendered in Swiss cheese. What is that, abstract fondue?
The material is expanded polystyrene.I remember Poly Styrene, the singer from X-Ray Spex, and all her prophetic songs from the late 70s: “I Am A Poser,” “Germ-Free Adolescents,” “Prefabricated Icon,” “Genetic Engineering.” Take a look at architecture and people today and you realize that it all came true.  
I have a friend who lives on Bond Street, and she says that anytime anything sizable is delivered to that building they have to bring in a big crane and hoist it up to get stuff inside. It’s very disruptive to the block.That’s because there’s no service entrance. That would have cut into sellable or rentable space. But the city doesn’t care if long-term residents of a neighborhood are inconvenienced day after day. The developer gets what he wants, the city gets what they want, and all is well.
CONTINUE

A candid conversation on the horrendous state of new construction in New York, with the crankiest of architecture critics, Ivana Force-Majeure, and our own Bob Nickas.

Bob Nickas: Ivana, looking lovely as ever. Your outfit is so well constructed, as are you yourself, poised with style and restraint. What are you wearing today?
Ivana Force-Majeure: Don’t you know? It’s Schiaparelli. In honor of the exhibition at the Met—Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada. Either of them, with their eyes closed, could design a better building than the flashy mediocrities you see today. Most of these architects are men, and most are frustrated artists. A frustrated artist is one thing when you’re talking about someone tucked away in an attic studio, but it’s quite another when they get to plop down one of their overblown sculptures in a residential neighborhood. I mean, we’re not talking about a garden folly on a country estate—a place to play for the idle rich. Here in the city they’re more like the blanded gentry.  

You recently made a rather remarkable proposal. You said that the most offensive and boring of the new architectural trophies should be demolished, even suggesting that a hit-list of buildings be put together by concerned New Yorkers. Where would you start?
Oh it’s not just new buildings that should go. There are plenty of atrocities around. How about Trump Tower? It’s not exactly the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. More like a skyscraper with a pubic patch. But I’d start in my own neighborhood, NoHo, and work my way north. There’s 40 Bond Street, for example, designed by Herzog & de Meuron. They’ve done good things in Europe, but not in New York.

Are they giving us the buildings we deserve?
Possibly. But if it’s the architect who takes the heat when a building isn’t well received, don’t forget that the client may also be to blame.

40 Bond was built for Ian Schrager. 
I’m just saying. I mean, what about the ridiculous fence that runs along the street? It looks like a bastardized take on a Jackson Pollock splatter, rendered in Swiss cheese. What is that, abstract fondue?

The material is expanded polystyrene.
I remember Poly Styrene, the singer from X-Ray Spex, and all her prophetic songs from the late 70s: “I Am A Poser,” “Germ-Free Adolescents,” “Prefabricated Icon,” “Genetic Engineering.” Take a look at architecture and people today and you realize that it all came true.  

I have a friend who lives on Bond Street, and she says that anytime anything sizable is delivered to that building they have to bring in a big crane and hoist it up to get stuff inside. It’s very disruptive to the block.
That’s because there’s no service entrance. That would have cut into sellable or rentable space. But the city doesn’t care if long-term residents of a neighborhood are inconvenienced day after day. The developer gets what he wants, the city gets what they want, and all is well.

CONTINUE


These ramblings pick up from the previous column, which commented on the recent case against Richard Prince, who was sued for copyright infringement by the photographer Patrick Cariou. The presiding judge, Deborah A. Batts, sided with the plaintiff, and the case is now on appeal. Since some curious “evidence” has come to light, with no small bearing on the case, a brief follow-up seems in order. While “evidence” may not be entirely appropriate to describe this new discovery, is coincidence any more accurate? As always, you’ll have to judge for yourself, but here goes.

In the early summer of 2009, the writer J.D. Salinger, most famous for his novel, The Catcher In the Rye, and just as well-known for being a recluse who refused to publish any writing in the last 45 years of his life, prevailed in his suit against a Swedish writer for copyright infringement. The author, Fredrik Colting, had produced a book he titled 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye, using the literary alias John David California. The book was published in England, but the ruling effectively blocked its subsequent appearance in the United States. In Colting’s version of the story, he advances characters from The Catcher well beyond the temporal frame of the original novel, set in a future where its once youthful protagonist, Holden Caulfield, is now well over 70 years old, and referred to as “Mr. C.” Despite transforming the character from a young to an elderly man, Colting identifies him as the invention of Salinger, though at a distant point in his life, something which Salinger himself never attempted. Even using a pen name, Colting in no way intended to deceive anyone who might purchase the book, thinking it was a sequel that might in fact have been written by Salinger.
What, if anything, does this have to do with the case against Richard Prince? Well, as it so happens, the judge in the Salinger case was the same judge in Cariou vs. Prince: Deborah A. Batts, of the U.S. District Court in Manhattan. In her ruling against Colting, as reported in the New York Times of July 1, 2009, the judge was firm, insisting “… it can be argued that the contrast between Holden’s authentic but critical and rebellious nature and his tendency toward depressive alienation is one of the key themes of Catcher. It is hardly parodic to repeat that same exercise in contrast, just because society and the characters have aged1. To begin a counter-argument, why exactly is it that a work has to satisfy a definition of parody to be considered transformative? Is the artist who reinterprets or reexamines the work of another only protected from the law if they can be dismissed as a parrot, and a mocking one at that? This is simply unreasonable. The only travesty would appear to be on the part of the law itself. Artists can’t always be called upon to add a mustache to theMona Lisa. Now let’s think about that “just because” for a moment: “just because society and the characters have aged.” If the span of 60 years is not enough time to have passed for our view of the world to be re-imagined in an entirely new way through the lens of a familiar literary character, then how long do we have to wait? More than half a century is not an insignificant amount of time to have elapsed. It seems a marvel that Salinger himself was yet in this world, but there he was, at the age of 90, suing someone for writing a book that he hadn’t, or couldn’t, or simply didn’t care to2. This was his prerogative, and maybe this sort of annoyance kept him alive, gave him something to occupy his mind. If Salinger hadn’t forfeited his intellectual property rights legally, then maybe they had been surrendered intellectually. In The Catcher, its author ardently hopes for things to stay the same, to remain in place, just as they have always been. This yearning is in a sense an expression of something already lost. By the end of the novel, Holden Caulfield hasn’t appreciably matured. Perhaps, as some parents may feel towards their children, Salinger never wanted Holden to grow up. This we will never know. Holden was more than a character to his creator. Salinger identified with him and to some extent believed that he existed. When a proposal to turn the book into a Broadway play was once put forth, the author said he would consider the possibility, but only on the condition that he played the lead part. Subsequently refusing the offer, Salinger insisted, “I cannot give my permission,” and added, with genuine or mock trepidation: “I fear Holden wouldn’t like it.” Life goes on, whether we want it to or not. Salinger passed away about five months after the suit was heard. A once censored book, perversely enough, was made to censor another. And what of Judge Batts? Having gone on to preside over the Prince case we might wonder if she is, how shall we put this, less than receptive to works of art and literature which quote from and expand upon others that came before? Does she think it’s stealing? Does she always think it’s stealing?
Back to The Catcher.

Often in cases involving copyright infringement the argument is made that someone has been deprived of their living, of their creation, by someone who has usurped their work. (Even when more than 65 million copies of a book have been sold.) And yet for Salinger, who hadn’t published anything in decades, The Catcher wasn’t exactly a Harry Potter franchise. There were no sequels, no movies—despite intense interest, from Marlon Brando and Jerry Lewis to Steven Spielberg and Harvey Weinstein (such is the passage from old Hollywood to new). J.K. Rowling was herself no stranger to unwanted advances, as she fended off accusations that parts of her stories were thematically derivative of those of other writers. Happily, she wielded a heavy sword backed by billions of corporate pounds, and her would-be snatchers and dementors were dispatched as if by a magic spell. But for all of Rowling’s productivity over the course of seven installments, a story milked more than the only cow in the barn, compared to Salinger’s one perfect book, it’s clear that as far as literary consequence is concerned, J.K. is no J.D. At the time of his death in 2010, Salinger hadn’t set any new books on the shelves since 1965. That year, Richard Prince would have been 16—the same age as Holden Caulfield—and Judge Batts would have been 18. They might well have read the book as teenagers, and it may even have an important place in their lives, as it does for others. George H.W. Bush claims to have been greatly inspired by the book, and it tragically bedeviled Mark David Chapman3. Maybe this book isn’t truly owned by one person, but belongs to everyone—for better and for worse. This, of course, is the public domain, albeit understood in terms of its emotional resonance. The Catcher In The Rye is one of the great American books of all time, and it’s certainly worth reading again. Which brings us back to Prince, and also to the idea of “catch as catch can.” While the exact origin of the phrase is open to debate, it’s generally considered to mean: inventing something, or finding a solution to something, with whatever’s at hand.
Consider a recent, somewhat elusive work by Richard Prince, his facsimile version of the first edition of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher In The Rye. Although the two books physically appear the same, having identical cover artwork, with both Salinger’s and Prince’s being dedicated “To My Mother,” there are a number of differences between them, most obviously the author’s attribution. Rather than “a novel by J.D. Salinger,” we see: “a novel by Richard Prince.” Is this a comment after-the-fact on these cases, presided over by the same judge? Or just one of life’s great coincidences? In its one-on-one relationship with an original, this work is classic Prince, as good as anything he’s ever come up with. A doppelgänger, an object of his affection? Apparently Prince considers his version of The Catcher to be a sculpture, a work of art. On the back flap of the dust jacket there is an author’s note in which he is quoted as saying, “I worked on The Catcher In The Rye, on and off, for ten years.” Opposite the dedication page, © Richard Prince is printed, and there is a notable disclaimer: “This is an artwork by Richard Prince. Any similarity to a book is coincidental and not intended by the artist.” Judge Batts, of course, may be in some disagreement. But would it really come as any great surprise? J.D. Salinger, for his part, doesn’t know and doesn’t care. Alienation—the estrangement between the self and the world—will always be with us. And there is no greater estrangement than leaving this world. Intellectual property rights don’t expire with the person, and The Catcher In The Rye will live on after Salinger, as all great literature and art does, though perhaps in ways he never expected. “People,” after all, “are always ruining things for you”4.
Notes1. Sewell Chan, "Judge Rules for J.D. Salinger in ‘Catcher’ Copyright Suit," New York Times, July 1, 2009.2. The suit was settled with the Salinger Estate just over a year ago. While Colting may not publish his book in the United States or Canada, once The Catcher in the Rye enters public domain he is free to do so. This will be in 2046. In the meantime he is allowed to distribute and sell the book outside of North America. He also agreed to the removal of Coming Through the Rye in his title.3. On Dec. 8, 1980, when Mark David Chapman shot and killed John Lennon in New York, he had with him a worn copy of The Catcher In The Rye, inside of which he had written, “Dear Holden Caulfield, From Holden Caulfield, This is my statement.” He was reading from the book when the police arrived on the scene, and his obsession with the book was cited by his defense when he was on trial for the murder.4. Richard Prince, The Catcher In The Rye, American Place, New York, p.114.
Previously - Richard Prince Vibration, Yeah!

These ramblings pick up from the previous column, which commented on the recent case against Richard Prince, who was sued for copyright infringement by the photographer Patrick Cariou. The presiding judge, Deborah A. Batts, sided with the plaintiff, and the case is now on appeal. Since some curious “evidence” has come to light, with no small bearing on the case, a brief follow-up seems in order. While “evidence” may not be entirely appropriate to describe this new discovery, is coincidence any more accurate? As always, you’ll have to judge for yourself, but here goes.

In the early summer of 2009, the writer J.D. Salinger, most famous for his novel, The Catcher In the Rye, and just as well-known for being a recluse who refused to publish any writing in the last 45 years of his life, prevailed in his suit against a Swedish writer for copyright infringement. The author, Fredrik Colting, had produced a book he titled 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye, using the literary alias John David California. The book was published in England, but the ruling effectively blocked its subsequent appearance in the United States. In Colting’s version of the story, he advances characters from The Catcher well beyond the temporal frame of the original novel, set in a future where its once youthful protagonist, Holden Caulfield, is now well over 70 years old, and referred to as “Mr. C.” Despite transforming the character from a young to an elderly man, Colting identifies him as the invention of Salinger, though at a distant point in his life, something which Salinger himself never attempted. Even using a pen name, Colting in no way intended to deceive anyone who might purchase the book, thinking it was a sequel that might in fact have been written by Salinger.

What, if anything, does this have to do with the case against Richard Prince? Well, as it so happens, the judge in the Salinger case was the same judge in Cariou vs. Prince: Deborah A. Batts, of the U.S. District Court in Manhattan. In her ruling against Colting, as reported in the New York Times of July 1, 2009, the judge was firm, insisting “… it can be argued that the contrast between Holden’s authentic but critical and rebellious nature and his tendency toward depressive alienation is one of the key themes of Catcher. It is hardly parodic to repeat that same exercise in contrast, just because society and the characters have aged1. To begin a counter-argument, why exactly is it that a work has to satisfy a definition of parody to be considered transformative? Is the artist who reinterprets or reexamines the work of another only protected from the law if they can be dismissed as a parrot, and a mocking one at that? This is simply unreasonable. The only travesty would appear to be on the part of the law itself. Artists can’t always be called upon to add a mustache to theMona Lisa. Now let’s think about that “just because” for a moment: “just because society and the characters have aged.” If the span of 60 years is not enough time to have passed for our view of the world to be re-imagined in an entirely new way through the lens of a familiar literary character, then how long do we have to wait? More than half a century is not an insignificant amount of time to have elapsed. It seems a marvel that Salinger himself was yet in this world, but there he was, at the age of 90, suing someone for writing a book that he hadn’t, or couldn’t, or simply didn’t care to2. This was his prerogative, and maybe this sort of annoyance kept him alive, gave him something to occupy his mind. If Salinger hadn’t forfeited his intellectual property rights legally, then maybe they had been surrendered intellectually. In The Catcher, its author ardently hopes for things to stay the same, to remain in place, just as they have always been. This yearning is in a sense an expression of something already lost. By the end of the novel, Holden Caulfield hasn’t appreciably matured. Perhaps, as some parents may feel towards their children, Salinger never wanted Holden to grow up. This we will never know. Holden was more than a character to his creator. Salinger identified with him and to some extent believed that he existed. When a proposal to turn the book into a Broadway play was once put forth, the author said he would consider the possibility, but only on the condition that he played the lead part. Subsequently refusing the offer, Salinger insisted, “I cannot give my permission,” and added, with genuine or mock trepidation: “I fear Holden wouldn’t like it.” Life goes on, whether we want it to or not. Salinger passed away about five months after the suit was heard. A once censored book, perversely enough, was made to censor another. And what of Judge Batts? Having gone on to preside over the Prince case we might wonder if she is, how shall we put this, less than receptive to works of art and literature which quote from and expand upon others that came before? Does she think it’s stealing? Does she always think it’s stealing?

Back to The Catcher.

Often in cases involving copyright infringement the argument is made that someone has been deprived of their living, of their creation, by someone who has usurped their work. (Even when more than 65 million copies of a book have been sold.) And yet for Salinger, who hadn’t published anything in decades, The Catcher wasn’t exactly a Harry Potter franchise. There were no sequels, no movies—despite intense interest, from Marlon Brando and Jerry Lewis to Steven Spielberg and Harvey Weinstein (such is the passage from old Hollywood to new). J.K. Rowling was herself no stranger to unwanted advances, as she fended off accusations that parts of her stories were thematically derivative of those of other writers. Happily, she wielded a heavy sword backed by billions of corporate pounds, and her would-be snatchers and dementors were dispatched as if by a magic spell. But for all of Rowling’s productivity over the course of seven installments, a story milked more than the only cow in the barn, compared to Salinger’s one perfect book, it’s clear that as far as literary consequence is concerned, J.K. is no J.D. At the time of his death in 2010, Salinger hadn’t set any new books on the shelves since 1965. That year, Richard Prince would have been 16—the same age as Holden Caulfield—and Judge Batts would have been 18. They might well have read the book as teenagers, and it may even have an important place in their lives, as it does for others. George H.W. Bush claims to have been greatly inspired by the book, and it tragically bedeviled Mark David Chapman3. Maybe this book isn’t truly owned by one person, but belongs to everyone—for better and for worse. This, of course, is the public domain, albeit understood in terms of its emotional resonance. The Catcher In The Rye is one of the great American books of all time, and it’s certainly worth reading again. Which brings us back to Prince, and also to the idea of “catch as catch can.” While the exact origin of the phrase is open to debate, it’s generally considered to mean: inventing something, or finding a solution to something, with whatever’s at hand.

Consider a recent, somewhat elusive work by Richard Prince, his facsimile version of the first edition of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher In The Rye. Although the two books physically appear the same, having identical cover artwork, with both Salinger’s and Prince’s being dedicated “To My Mother,” there are a number of differences between them, most obviously the author’s attribution. Rather than “a novel by J.D. Salinger,” we see: “a novel by Richard Prince.” Is this a comment after-the-fact on these cases, presided over by the same judge? Or just one of life’s great coincidences? In its one-on-one relationship with an original, this work is classic Prince, as good as anything he’s ever come up with. A doppelgänger, an object of his affection? Apparently Prince considers his version of The Catcher to be a sculpture, a work of art. On the back flap of the dust jacket there is an author’s note in which he is quoted as saying, “I worked on The Catcher In The Rye, on and off, for ten years.” Opposite the dedication page, © Richard Prince is printed, and there is a notable disclaimer: “This is an artwork by Richard Prince. Any similarity to a book is coincidental and not intended by the artist.” Judge Batts, of course, may be in some disagreement. But would it really come as any great surprise? J.D. Salinger, for his part, doesn’t know and doesn’t care. Alienation—the estrangement between the self and the world—will always be with us. And there is no greater estrangement than leaving this world. Intellectual property rights don’t expire with the person, and The Catcher In The Rye will live on after Salinger, as all great literature and art does, though perhaps in ways he never expected. “People,” after all, “are always ruining things for you”4.

Notes

1. Sewell Chan, "Judge Rules for J.D. Salinger in ‘Catcher’ Copyright Suit," New York Times, July 1, 2009.

2. The suit was settled with the Salinger Estate just over a year ago. While Colting may not publish his book in the United States or Canada, once The Catcher in the Rye enters public domain he is free to do so. This will be in 2046. In the meantime he is allowed to distribute and sell the book outside of North America. He also agreed to the removal of Coming Through the Rye in his title.

3. On Dec. 8, 1980, when Mark David Chapman shot and killed John Lennon in New York, he had with him a worn copy of The Catcher In The Rye, inside of which he had written, “Dear Holden Caulfield, From Holden Caulfield, This is my statement.” He was reading from the book when the police arrived on the scene, and his obsession with the book was cited by his defense when he was on trial for the murder.

4. Richard Prince, The Catcher In The Rye, American Place, New York, p.114.

Previously - Richard Prince Vibration, Yeah!

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