Saturday, February 28, 2009
"Our Thoughts Are Lawyers For Our Feelings"

Via the New Yorker's website: the author and Peter Schjeldahl in dialogue on criticism and judgment.

CJB: 1. What does it mean for an art work to “submit itself to judgment” today? I understand what that means in the context of exhibiting an art object in a public museum, commercial gallery, or even as part of an MFA studio crit. But what constitutes judgment of, for example, a digital photograph presented on the Web?

2. Are objects “art” even if they show no inclination to enter the standard art distribution channels? I have friends who make digital photographs, which they present on blogs. The photos only exist as digital images. There are no prints. I think that my friends’ photographs are art, because they are self-reflexively involved with their medium and because they are presented in a public context. But some of my artist friends think that these images are not art, because they have not appeared in an “art context,”—eg., curated presentation in a gallery. My readings of Duchamp and Greenberg make me think that you can’t discriminate against art on morphological grounds: “everything and everything” is potentially art. Even images that deliberately—some would say willfully—circumvent art’s established systems. Do you agree?

3. What criteria would you use to differentiate between digital images that want to be judged as “art” and digital images presented in non-art contexts? Aesthetic judgments are only as good as the criteria supporting them. Intent doesn’t work—you can’t judge intent, only the physical fact of the work. So what criteria do you use? Thierry de Duve once said—I’m paraphrasing—that good artists should feel the presence of dead artists they admire in their studios, gazing over their shoulders as they work and asking questions. I’m writing to you because I feel Kant and Greenberg gazing over mine, and I don’t know how to answer.

PETER SCHJELDAHL: You are thinking too much, so infectiously that you’ve got me thinking too much, too. Here are some spinoffs:

• Art is a word. Something is art when commonly spoken of as such. The designation has administrative and commercial consequences. It bears no exclusive relation to aesthetic experience, which is promiscuous and wordless.

• Aesthetic judgment is an extra step of a mind that has registered an aesthetic experience, from which it may be excited to induce a rule. Kant thinks it is a component of the experience. I'm not so sure.

• Our thoughts are lawyers for our feelings.

• Some people enjoy judging. I’m O.K. with it, but I prefer love.

• Aesthetic criteria are retroactive justifications of formed beliefs. Anyone halfway clever can invent criteria which will be seen as brilliantly fulfilled by just about anything. There is no rational criticism of art, only persuasion.

• Having great dead people looking over one’s shoulder is a haunting familiar to all who nurture creative or intellectual ambitions. You will grow through and beyond it, or you won’t (becoming a professor).

• Someone, I think Philip Guston, said that, if you’re an artist, every artist you’ve ever admired follows you into the studio. One by one, they leave. Finally you leave, too, and the work gets done.
Friday, February 27, 2009

The indoor kennels at the SPCA are bright under an open skylight. In the middle of the room, a fat black rabbit snuffles its way around an exercise pen set up in the middle of the concrete floor: low red serrated plastic fencing, a child's version of the stuff city works crews erect to stop pedestrians from stepping into holes. A young woman, maybe fourteen or fifteen, escorts us to a hand sanitizer dispenser and instructs us to squirt once and rub our hands together in between handling the animals.

The cats, lethargic and yellow-eyed in their cages, regard us coolly from a distance. A hyperkinetic white dove, SPCA name "Peace," hops around its cage all aflutter, perhaps sensing its ancient racial foe in the vicinity. The black rabbit wiggles its nose and placidly regards the sky.

In the Small Animal Handling Annex, two teenage girls invite me to pick up and pet any number of rabbits, guinea pigs, and degus. Mr. Bun, a wily red-eyed black-furred adoptee, snuffles his way around the shelves, sniffs the degus, stands up on his hind legs for a treat.

"That's an old dog," says the middle-aged Chinese guy there to look at cats with his teenage daughter, when he observes me bend down to pet a lame Jack Russell terrier through the bars of its outdoor run. "You don't want that one."

"There's a picture there."

"Tell me why," says L., struggling to make the right hand turn onto Clark Drive through the wild rush-hour traffic.

Because the place is so visibly down-at-the heels. Because much is being done with very little. Because the volunteers are spending time that could have been spent "in the greater economy" doing something that apparently means very little to other people, but means a lot to the sick, lost and injured companion animals that come there. Because my dead friend Bruce asked that donations be made in his name to support the SPCA's work. Because Mr. Bun and the degus and the tired cats will be fed tonight, and warm, and -- in their strange non-anthropomorphic way -- feel themselves loved, or maybe only worthy of being loved.
Thursday, February 26, 2009

Q: I'd like to personally invite you down to X.

A: "My nature is such that if I can't be an equal, I will not remain in a situation." (L.E. Jones, an early employee of Lyndon Johnson)
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
10:00am: CJB arrives at work to confront 1000+ books still unpriced from a local scout's trip to Vancouver Island.

10:10am: "Are ya buyin' any books?"

10:11am: " "

10:15am: " "

10:21am: "I've got some books for trade!"

10:23am: Canpar arrives with 10 boxes from Penguin, 4 boxes from Random House.

10:24am: "You folks buying any books?"

11:15am: "I've got 15 boxes in the car!"

11:45am: "I've just got six...uh, no, seven boxes. Where should I put them?"

12:30pm: 250 pounds of remainders arrive in a shrinkwrapped pallet at the front door.

1:15pm: "You guys still buyin' books?"

& etc.
Monday, February 23, 2009

Black Tuesday busily unfolding in the Asian markets as I write. Not much change over at Anodyne HQ. I haven't sold anything in either of the play portfolios -- though my results would definitely have been better if I had -- and I've been quietly adding onto my real life RRSP portfolio here and there. My guess is that I will be very pleased with today's purchases in February 2019. I can already hear the objection that hopefully I'll be dead in February 2019, in which case there's no real purpose to my savings, & etc. The argument -- which I've heard plenty of times from friends saddled with consumer debt -- presupposes that my investments will just dissolve into the air like smoke, or one of Twilight's twinkly vampires, when I die. It doesn't work that way, even after the government takes its cut. There'll be something left, to be distributed to relatives, loved ones, old friends, favorite causes. I'd like to think that the Land Conservancy of BC will be able to do something with a cheque from my estate (though I would vastly prefer they save a rocky knoll or an islet somewhere, instead of a historic property, building or garden). In the meantime, saving and investing provides lots of opportunities for learning (about Queen Charlotte gravel pits, Chilean copper mining companies, produce distribution, & etc.) and makes me feel vaguely optimistic about the future. Optimism is an underrated character trait. Or as Gramsci puts it, "The pessimism of the intellect, the optimism of the will."
The shop has a new blog, @ PFB. Readings, interesting new arrivals, blogging authors, etc. Updated every morning Monday to Friday, God willing.
Sunday, February 22, 2009

Disclosure: during the same time period, I was also listening to Mr. Lifeson and Mr. Lee, and Mr. Belew and Mr. Buford. Anyone who now thinks my musical taste suspect is welcome to go get some influences of their own.

One more, from a slightly earlier incarnation, Mr. Peter Gabriel on vocals.

Songs I haven't listened to in years:

A Trick of the Tail


Blood on the Rooftops (Steve Hackett solo, 2004)


One For The Vine (esp. 8:25-on)

Deep in the Motherlode

1. If you can't stand Phil's armbands, bright Hawaiian shirt, and totally straight-up delivery, the New York Dolls and the Clash also recorded albums over roughly the same period that you might like more.

2. Chester Thompson is a drumming machine.

3. Phil used to be a pretty amazing frontman. The footage from the 2007 reunion tour is universally embarrassing; I prefer to remember them as they were.

Peter Culley, Vancouver Tree, 2009

Lee Bacchus, Bear Enclosure, Stanley Park, 2006

John Latta, Unseasonably, 2008

Adam Harrison, Reflection, 2009

Four photographs posted on the Internet, late 2008- early 2009. As far as I know, two are digital originals (Tree; Unseasonably) and two are reproductions of paper prints (Bear; Reflection). One characteristic of photography is the ease with which some photographs' reproductions can stand in for the photographs themselves. Eg., the Charles Sheeler exhibition I saw at the Met in 2003, whose catalog reproductions exactly match the size and tonal qualities of the framed originals. These descriptions -- "originals"; "reproductions" -- aren't meant to be pejorative. What interests me vis-a-vis digital technology and photography is how digital technology simultaneously facilitates the wide distribution of pictures like Reflection and Bear, which physically exist at a particular point and place in time, with images like Tree and Unseasonably, which exist, like museum catalog reproductions, at many points in time and places simultaneously. Simultaneity isn't something new to photography; it is a very old quality, maybe one intrinsic to the medium, that has been brought forward into sharp relief by Flickr, personal websites, blogs & etc.

I like these pictures; what catches my attention, before questions of "aesthetic quality," is how each photographer addresses the configuration of space and light before them. Note the shadow on the grass in Peter Culley's picture; how it mimics, in two dimensions, the shape of the fully rounded limb above it. Or Bacchus' piled-up concrete blocks, which protrude up and out of space, like some weird Constructivist sculpture. Or Latta's silent cascade of scarlet leaves; his suggestion, like Cezanne, of a bulging organic presence just behind the picture plane. Or Harrison's conjunction of the mouldy bled-out edges of the unfolded cardboard cartons covering with the window with the more regularized "scaffolding" of the gaps between the cartons. Considerations like these, in my judgment, overwhelm labels like "original" and "reproduction"; photography has room for both.
Friday, February 20, 2009

Alison Yip: Drawings 2002-7

Alison Yip's new exhibition at CSA Space records her ongoing engagement with the act of drawing. Stylistic variety is the exhibition’s hallmark. Two paintings are hung on one wall. (These are properly considered drawings made with brushes and pigment, that emphasize contour and the “edginess” of their subjects.) But the exhibition largely consists of a swarm of paper drawings culled from a much larger image archive made from 2002 to 2007, which speaks to Yip's careful observation of the world around her, the people, animals, and objects occupying it, and her sensitivity to the subtleties of dress and gesture that define her human subjects.

Yip’s drawings are made in many different styles. Some are very tightly detailed, and are reminiscent of the carbon transfer drawings of haystacks and palm trees that she previously exhibited at Monte Clark Gallery, whose densely hatched lines achieve an effect akin to etching. Some are much looser, and executed in pastel, or crayon, or colored chalk. Some are on sheets of fine white art paper. Others are executed on hotel stationery, or yellow Post-Its, or torn out notebook pages.

By exhibiting these images side by side -- loose alongside rough, colorful next to black and white, “finished” beside hesitant and provisional – Yip asks us to focus not only on each drawing’s materiality, but on the thinking that animates her work process. Her democratic attention to the world is a kind of realism, one that does not attempt to pre-categorize experience.

Yip’s refusal to winnow down her drawings into just a few highly finished “works of art” asks us to look beyond the blunt facility of each individual drawing’s marks and gestures. Her art practice is informed and shaped by the daily encounters between her observing consciousness and the world.

Christopher Brayshaw
February 2009
Thursday, February 19, 2009

Dear Peter Schjeldahl,

This is a three-part question with a wind-up. I'm an independent (read: self-marginalizing) Canadian critic-curator-gallery owner-bookseller-photographer and lately this stuff has been preying on my mind.

In the early 1960s, Dan Graham ran an independent exhibition space, the John Daniels Gallery, where he showed his friends: Carl Andre, Sol LeWitt, Dan Flavin, Robert Smithson & etc. Reflecting on the experience later, long after the gallery had closed, Graham said that the process of running the space had shown him what art was: something that was reproduced and/or written up in an art magazine. Maybe this was a tongue-in-cheek answer but Graham had a point: only a limited number of people would ever see an art object installed in an obscure New York gallery. Reproduction, on the other hand, facilitated a work's exposure to a much broader audience, and also reassured potential patrons that the work was good enough to have made it out of the gallery and into the "virtual space" of the art magazine distribution system. Graham claimed that this insight led to his creation of his first "magazine pieces," works that disposed with the gallery all together, existing only as texts and/or photo-text hybrids published in art magazines.

Artists nowadays can access any number of distribution tools that weren't available to Graham. (Personal websites; Flickr; Facebook; blogs; "curated" blogs and webpages;; various other online services permitting them to self-publish and distribute texts, books, prints, photographs & etc). In Graham's time, reproduction and publication in an art magazine signified that some kind of aesthetic judgment had taken place. Someone, even if only a lowly art magazine writer or editor, had judged the reproduced work to be "art." My admittedly shaky grasp of aesthetics (Baudelaire; Greenberg; Thierry de Duve) suggests that art only gets to be art via aesthetic judgment. Art isn't art until it submits itself to judgment. Whose judgment? Everyone's. (Art doesn't know who its audience is going to be in advance). So: question #1: what does it mean for art to "submit itself to judgment" today? I understand what that means in the context of exhibiting an art object in a public museum, commercial gallery, or even as part of an MFA studio crit. But what constitutes judgment of, for example, a digital photograph presented on the Web?

Question 2: Are objects "art" even if they show no inclination to enter the standard art distribution channels? I have friends who make digital photographs, which they present on blogs. The photos only exist as digital images; there are no prints. I think that my friends' photographs are art, because they are self-reflexively involved with their medium (eg., are modern) and because they are presented in a public context. But some of my artist friends think that these images are not art, because they have not appeared in an "art context," eg., curated presentation in a gallery. My readings of Duchamp and Greenberg make me think that you can't discriminate against art on morphological grounds: "anything and everything" is potentially art. Even images that deliberately -- some would say willfully -- circumvent art's established distribution systems. Do you agree?

Question 3: What criteria would you use to differentiate between digital images that want to be judged as "art" and digital images presented in non-art contexts? Aesthetic judgments are only as good as the criteria supporting them. Intent doesn't work -- you can't judge intent, only the physical fact of the work. So what criteria do you use?

Thierry de Duve once said -- I'm paraphrasing -- that good artists should feel the presence of dead artists they admire in their studios, gazing over their shoulders as they work and asking questions. I'm writing to you because I feel Kant and Greenberg gazing over mine, and I don't know how to answer.

Best regards,

Christopher Brayshaw
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Forum Addendum -- cut 'n paste! The text in question will be ready to go shortly as a typeset PDF meant for interpolation into the official programme.

CHRISTOPHER BRAYSHAW is a Vancouver-based critic, curator, bookseller and photographer. His writings on conceptual art, photography, and aesthetic judgment have appeared in Canadian Art, Border Crossings, fillip, Pyramid Power, Doppelganger, CV Photo, and many other publications. He is currently co-curator and co-director of CSA Space, an independent Vancouver project space.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Thinking About Tomorrow

Today's second customer wants to know why "Vancouver bookstores suck." She's buying books, and says, "Don't get me wrong, I like your store. I buy stuff here all the time. But other than that I'll save my money and go to the States." She says, "I live in Vancouver, and I buy thousands of dollars of books a year, but I spend most of my money in Seattle or Portland. Why is that? Any thoughts?"

Well, yes, a few:

1. There are exactly two good new bookstores in town (Duthies on 4th Avenue and the Book Warehouse ably managed by my pal Elinor on Davie Street). Hager Books on 41st Avenue is good but tiny, and Banyen Books has an amazing collection of Eastern Studies, esoteria and self-sufficiency titles hidden off among the scarves, Nag Champa, whale music CDs and crystals. None of these stores matches the selection available at Powell's, Third Place Books, the Elliott Bay Book Company, or the University of Washington bookstore. Fewer good new bookstores in town equals comparatively fewer good new books with a hope of becoming equally good used books.

2. Canadian new book distributors make me want to light my face on fire. One local distributor has a habit of ordering interesting new titles, then arbitrarily de-listing them the moment they start to sell. They also make a habit of carrying a single backlist title by a major author, apparently picked at random, but none of their other titles. So I can order Haruki Murakami's Kafka on the Shore, which I sell one or two copies of a month, but not his Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, which reliably sells four or five copies a week.

3. "Canadian rights." The US has nice mass market paperback editions of desirable science fiction and fantasy (Terry Pratchett; Scott Lynch; Steve Erickson; M. John Harrison). All of these are NCR: No Canadian Rights. Lucky Canadians get to order expensive UK trade paperbacks -- at approximately time-and-a-half to double the cost of the US titles -- from flaky Ontario distributors who seem to order the books from the UK two or three at a time. Thus the UK edition of Pratchett and Gaiman's Good Omens, one of Pulpfiction's best-selling titles ever since we started carrying new books, has been backordered at Random House since the 29th of December. When is Good Omens coming? "When we receive backstock from the UK," says Random House customer service. When might that be? Don't ask; they don't know and apparently don't care.

4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, etc. Coming soon. Right after I special-order Kafka on the Shore.

Bear Removers

Via the internets:

A man wakes up one morning to find a bear on his roof. So he looks in the yellow pages and sure enough, there's an ad for "Bear Removers."

He calls the number, and the bear remover says he will be over in 30 minutes. Soon the bear remover arrives and gets out of his van. He's got a cage in the van plus a ladder, a baseball bat, a shotgun and a mean old pit bull.

"What are you going to do?" the homeowner asks.

"I'm going to put this ladder up against the roof, then I'm going to go up there and knock the bear off the roof with this baseball bat. When the bear falls off, the pit bull is trained to grab his testicles and not let go. The bear will then be subdued enough for me to put him in the cage in the back of the van."

The bear remover hands the shotgun to the homeowner.

"What's the shotgun for?" asks the homeowner.

"If the bear knocks me off the roof, shoot the dog."
Monday, February 16, 2009 Word of the Day
- interminable: seeming to have no end
Sunday, February 15, 2009
My My, Hey Hey

"[W]here is art in all of this? Proliferating but languishing. 'Quality,' primarily defined as formal skill, is back in vogue, part and parcel of a conservative, some would say retrogressive, painting and drawing revival. And it has given us a flood of well-schooled pictures, ingenious sculptures, fastidious photographs and carefully staged spectacles, each based on the same basic elements: a single idea, embedded in the work and expounded in an artist’s statement, and a look or style geared to be as catchy as the hook in a rock song."

[Excellent article by the NYT's Holland Cotter, reprising numerous themes on high repeat at Anodyne HQ, including canny D.I.Y., the creation of autonomous parallel structures, self-distribution, and the refusal of academic/art-school careerism]
Friday, February 13, 2009

The Party of Lincoln

Registered Republican and kindred independent thinker Charles T. Munger, vice-chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, has some thoughts about rebooting the US economy:

"Public deliberations should include not only private morality and accounting issues but also issues of public morality, particularly with regard to taxation. The United States has long run large, concurrent trade and fiscal deficits while, to its own great advantage, issuing the main reserve currency of a deeply troubled and deeply interdependent world. That world now faces new risks from an expanding group of nations possessing nuclear weapons. And so the United States may now have a duty similar to the one that, in the danger that followed World War II, caused the Marshall Plan to be approved in a bipartisan consensus and rebuild a devastated Europe.

The consensus was grounded in Secretary of State George Marshall's concept of moral duty, supplemented by prudential considerations. The modern form of this duty would demand at least some increase in conventional taxes or the imposition of some new consumption taxes. In so doing, the needed and cheering economic message, 'We will do what it takes,' would get a corollary: 'and without unacceptably devaluing our money.' Surely the more complex message is more responsible, considering that, first, our practices of running twin deficits depend on drawing from reserves of trust that are not infinite and, second, the message of the corollary would not be widely believed unless it was accompanied by some new taxes."
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Homespun Love, 2009

("Facebook meme" via my outdoor pals Q. and Mad_Owl_Woman. Anyone who does not have a Facebook account but still wants to play is welcome to email through the usual channels)

Here's the deal:

The first five (5) people to respond to this post will get something made by me.

This offer does have some restrictions and limitations:

- I make no guarantees that you will like what I make.

- What I create will be just for you.

- It'll be done this year (2009).

- You'll have no clue what it's going to be. It may be dinner. It may be a photograph. I may draw something. I might bake you something and mail it to you. Or take you on a trip. Who knows? Not you, that's for sure!

- I reserve the right to do something extremely strange.

And in return, all you need to do is post this text into a note of your own and make 5 things for 5 others.

No Leftovers

Chicken thighs x 4, skin on. Wash, dry. Kosher salt, generously sprinkled. Coarsely ground black pepper, lots. Tablespoon olive oil in pan. Hot. Chicken in, skin down. 8-10 minutes, turning once. Chicken out on plate. Lots of skin left on bottom of pan. Remove from heat, discard most (but not all) fat. Set aside.

Chop 1 head celeriac, approx. 3/4" dice. 1 head garlic, peeled but whole.

Pan on heat. 1 tablespoon unsalted butter. Foams. 1 cup organic chicken stock, 1/4 cup acidic white wine (I used a Calona Vineyards Artist Series Pinot Blanc). Boil. Scrape pan like blazes. Add celeriaic and garlic. Heat down. 6 minutes, stirring frequently.

Chicken breasts and juices in. Fresh sage laid overtop. Lid. 20 minutes.

We ate this with crusty French bread and the remaining wine.

I know those London Transit eyes are meant to represent a regime of unblinking visual surveillance, but they definitely also resemble a flock of K-ships parked above the capital, like the Imperial Star Destroyers sighted last Fleet Week over Alcatraz.

(Image via Sit Down Man, via Pete)
The NYT's Maureen Dowd, apparently a fan of the same version of capitalism as me:

"Wall Street cannot be trusted to change its culture. Just look at the full-page ads that Bank of America (which got $45 billion) and Citigroup (which got $50 billion) are plastering in newspapers, lavishing taxpayer money on preening prose.

We don’t want our money spent, as Citigroup did, to pat itself on the back 'as we navigate the complexities together.' Bank of America cannot get back our trust by spending more of our cash to assure us that it’s 'getting to work' on getting back our trust.

Just get back to work and start repaying us."
Saturday, February 07, 2009
Bookmark in used copy of Robert Greene's The Art of Seduction: unused BreatheRight (tm) Single Use Only nasal strip.
Friday, February 06, 2009

Rodney Graham, Loudhailer, 2003

Isabelle Pauwels, B&E, 2008

Tim Lee, Untitled I (The Pink Panther, 2049) 2007

Gareth Moore, Uncertain Pilgrimage: Gesellen Work, 2006/2007. Various scrap wood including signpost from The Eden Project, stake from an abandoned goldmine, scrap from Donald Judd's studio, European paddle, wind fallen branch, metal handle, screws, string.

Jeff Wall, Hillside, Sicily, 2007

Lunch with Michael Turner at the brand new identity-conflicted British-themed gastropub down Broadway at Ontario, whose weathered wooden tables clash with the black naugahyde couches that used to belong to the bankrupt Italian cafe previously occupying the space. Big satisfying plates of bread, meat, cheese, and pickled condiments. Discussion veers all over the place, from Isabelle Pauwels' superb videos at Presentation House, to Johan Lundh's deeply felt but not particularly well justified dissatisfaction with most Vancouver curating (viz. recent cryptic Facebook carping), to Kathleen Ritter's new regional survey show at the VAG, to Gareth Moore at Catriona Jeffries, and, in a roundabout way via Tim Lee and Rodney Graham, to the question of making artworks as "instances of a style or a series" as opposed to making autonomous works that exhibit little or no apparent visual resemblance to one another. The Gareth Moore show works well as an ensemble, or a suite of sculptures, but it is also easy to imagine it broken down into so much discrete merchandise: this art-object to a private collector, this one to the VAG, this one to the AGO, and so on, distributed like Lego blocks, each work carrying within it residual traces of the "look" of Moore's sculptural practice as a whole (weathered surfaces; abraded color and texture; evidence of the material's passage through time; complex allegorical layering). As opposed to, say, a Rodney Graham tree photograph, his film projection Loudhailer, and one of his Judd Freud slipcases: three works that could have been made by three totally different artists. Or, for that matter, Jeff Wall's striking Hillside, Sicily, a work that looks more like a Lee Friedlander desert picture than an instance of "Wall style." ("Style" in this case signifying a negative aesthetic judgment, the reduction of rich artistic subjectivity to the orchestration of a series of tropes). What I take from Wall's best (largely post-1990) work is the injunction to not develop anything remotely resembling a series. Thus the unnamed online photography magazine who recently returned my portfolio with a note saying, we have no real sense of how this stuff fits together, you just make pictures of things. . . .

Well yes, exactly.
Thursday, February 05, 2009

Go see: Isabelle Pauwels, B&E, 2008 at Presentation House Gallery through 3 March 2009.
Tuesday, February 03, 2009

A photograph I wish I'd made: El Cenizo, near Laredo, Texas, by Richard Mosse

Monday, February 02, 2009

Terrace, Casa Grande, Hearst San Simeon State Historical Monument, 2009

Ersatz Atget or Geoffrey James, Hearst Castle. Twilight, rich colors unaltered by filters or digital postproduction. The castle tour makes it seem like you're visiting an American version of the Sistine Chapel, but a closer and more accurate comparison might be Las Vegas Boulevard, which we saw later on the same week. Hearst's faux-classical nymphs and angels and the huge plaster busts of Sigfried and Roy on display outside the Mirage have more in common than you might expect, modernism having apparently never arrived at Casa Grande. And yet, exquisite Baudrillardian irony -- bottled ketchup and mustard on the dining table! -- the gold-leafed indoor pool! -- only gets you so far with the hilltop compound, whose undeniable natural beauty (orange trees; magnolias; feral zebras; the spectral, oversaturated light) keeps thwacking you in the face the longer you look.

Dusk. Assembly Room, Hearst San Simeon State Historical Monument, 2009
Sunday, February 01, 2009
Intoxicated By Your Arousing Arouselness

CJB: What we need around here is more "art patrons."

CJB's SWEETIE "L.": Like me! I'm an "art patron." I can patronize you for hours.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium's two Giant Pacific Octopi were asleep in the upper corners of their respective tanks, their arms gently gripping the windowglass. Surrounding the female octopus were long white trails of what I first took for candlewax: octopus eggs.

Crush of bodies around the tanks. Disappointed voices: "They're sleeping." "They're asleep."

Small tentacles waved gently in the tanks' currents, like a napping cat's paws.

We went away and returned when the other visitors were gone. L. and the cats went to look at another exhibit and I was alone in front of the male octopus' tank when his arms suddenly uncoiled and he slid gracefully down and stopped level with my face.

A pause. Then his arms flexed, slowly lifting himself to meet my gaze with his old hooded eyes.

A moment of perfect communion. And then, like stealthy Dr. Lecter taking leave of Clarice Starling*, he arm-over-armed it back up the glass and to sleep.

* "Hannibal Lecter, polite to the last, did not give her his back. He stepped backward from the barrier before he turned to his cot again, and lying on it, became as remote from her as a stone crusader lying on a tomb." (Thomas Harris, The Silence of the Lambs)

Dominus Estate Winery, Herzog & de Meuron Architects, Yountville CA, 2009

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