May 13th, 2002 § Three comments § permalink

It was a beautiful weekend to be in San Francisco. I spent Saturday afternoon at SFMOMA, and although I was particularly excited about the Eva Hesse exhibition, my favorite work was Video Quartet, a video collage by Christian Marclay. It was shown in a long, rectangular room, with four video screens lined up side by side on one of the long walls; from dozens of movies1, Marclay extracted a 10-minute symphony. Besides being a remarkable work of art, it offered one of the best arguments for fair use that I can imagine. If the entertainment industry had its way, it would be technologically impossible to create a derived work like this one.

I expected to enjoy Perfect Acts of Architecture as well, but that exhibit was dominated by self-righteous modernists who don’t give a tinker’s damn about such petty concerns as whether a space meets its users’ needs. Perhaps it’s worth focusing purely on theoretical questions as a thought experiment; what bothers me is the extent to which some of those architects’ work is informed by the cold vacuum of theory. On the other hand, the exhibit succeeded in making me genuinely angry, which was a nice reminder of the power art can hold.

Before SFMOMA, my brother took me to Vik’s Chaat Corner, a hole-in-the-wall place in Berkeley that he described as “the BEST INDIAN RESTAURANT EVER.” I’m not inclined to disagree. When I told one of my Indian coworkers that I’d been there, he mentioned that he used to drive down to Berkeley occasionally just to go to Vik’s. Good sign.

  1. A sampling of the movies I remember picking out: My Fair LadyMr. Holland’s Opus;Woodstock; footage of Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, and Frank Sinatra; The Music Man; a Marx Brothers movie; and M. There were many others. []

Comics are brain food

March 26th, 2002 § Two comments § permalink

This week’s installment of Cat and Girl is dead-on (and smart and funny, as always). Nine-tenths of artistry is the mastery of form.

The utility of it all

March 10th, 2002 § Comments off § permalink

The March issue of Metropolis featured an article (not online) about collectors of African utilitarian objects, including ladders made from forked tree trunks. Collectors pay $250 or more for these ladders. The art dealers who bought them from African farmers paid about $5 apiece:

So if you buy a Tamberma ladder, you are certainly purchasing a utilitarian object with an authentic connection to the rhythms of life in a premodern society. You are also helping to fetishize those objects such that, when sold to Westerners, they are worth vastly more than anything the people who actually use them could ever produce from them.

That’s not intrinsically wrong; most aesthetic judgments fetishize their subjects to some extent. The problem is the unequal distribution of benefits. The solution, obviously, is to pay the farmers more for their ladders.

It’s not a bad model for globalization as a whole. In a recent American Prospect article, Amartya Sen argues that

the main issue is how to make good use of the remarkable benefits of economic intercourse and technological progress in a way that pays adequate attention to the interests of the deprived and the underdog. …It is not sufficient to understand that the poor of the world need globalization as much as the rich do; it is also important to make sure that they actually get what they need.

That goal doesn’t seem like it should be difficult to achieve. Which shows you what I know.


December 1st, 2001 § Comments off § permalink

If you’ve read any of Chris Ware‘s comics, like Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, then you know about the wonderful cutout toys he creates. One patient soul has assembled and photographed many of them.

Oh boy!

November 16th, 2001 § Two comments § permalink

There’s currently an Eames-designed exhibit at San Francisco’s Exploratorium. I have got to get up to the city.

The Powers of Ten

November 14th, 2001 § Comments off § permalink

Finished watching The Films of Charles & Ray Eames – The Powers of 10. If I taught a sixth-grade science class, I would definitely make my students watch The Powers of Ten.

The DVD also included a short film, made after Ray Eames died, that showed what was in the Eames studio before its contents were packed up and sent to museums. Unfortunately, the murky quality of the film doesn’t do justice to the Eames’ work, but it still gives a sense of the catholicity of their interests and the extent of their genius.

The Library of Congress has a great exhibition of their work (more photos). If you can recommend a particularly good book about Charles and Ray Eames, please do.

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