Posting for October is effectively over

Off for a month of gallivanting around East Asia, but I am leaving a barrage of questions in my absence…

From Radical Evolution:

Remember the comic-book superheroes of the 1930’s and 1940’s, from Superman to Wonder Woman? Most of their superpowers right now either exist or are in engineering. If you can watch a car chase in Afghanistan with a Predator, you’ve effectively got telescopic vision. If you can figure out what’s inside a cave by peering into the earth with a seismic ground pinger, you’ve got X-ray vision. Want super strength? At the University of California at Berkeley, the U.S. Army has got a prototype exoskeleton suit that allows a soldier to carry 180 pounds as if it were only 4.4 pounds. At Natick Labs in Massachusetts, the U.S. Army imagines that such an exoskeleton suit may ultimately allow soldiers to leap tall buildings with a single bound.

…[talk of pills that keep fighter pilots alert and awake for a full week, pills that numb the biological function that triggers pain (NYSE:DNA), machines that telekinetically connect monkeys to computers (OTC:CYKN), etc.]…

‘The next frontier,’ says Gregory Stock, director of the Program on Medicine, Technology and Society at the UCLA School of Medicine, ‘is our own selves.’”

Should these marvels become mainstream, what will become of the human experience?

Ruminating on the work of Marcel Proust, Alain de Botton writes:

It is not the contented or the flowing who have left many of the profound testimonies of what it means to be alive. It seems that such knowledge has usually been the privileged preserve of, and the only blessing granted to, the violently miserable.”

If technology succeeds in removing the concept of suffering from the human experience, what will happen to our art? Are we attracted to works created by ailing spirits through the common suffering link, and witnessing art and great literature are the closest most of us will ever come to realizing an eloquent expression of our pangs? Without suffering, will we cease to appreciate suffering? Will the work of Hirst (pill cabinets and diamond skulls) and Koons (Michael Jackson and the Hulk) then become the gold standard for ‘enhanced’ humans, while Caravaggio evolves to represent the ailing spirit of ‘natural’ human existence? Will Caravaggio’s work then warrant a stigma in a world where perfect physical specimens inhabit the earth? I wonder if we’re, to some extent, already seeing this reflected in asset valuation growth rates of contemporary art versus works characteristic of past movements.

LAShortsFest: Futures (and derivatives)

Spent the day at LAShortsFest, a festival for film shorts held in Burbank –bore the LA traffic hell. Among the claymation music videos, Bollywood martial arts films, and glorified commercials masquerading as ‘art’ was…Futures (and derivatives). Written and directed by
Arthur Halpern, Futures… shows the audience what happens when lawyers are asked to create a power point presentation about complicated financial instruments. According to the director –presumably a lawyer, as he claimed to have shot the film in his law firm’s office –the film was inspired by a desire to create ‘something both mundane and inspiring.’

In the film, a group at the law firm is caught off guard when asked to produce a presentation for an important client. They, of course, fake knowledge of the subject and subsequently hire a Birkenstock-ish temp the day before to pull the analyst all-nighter. Not only does the temp finish the power-point presentation, but he leaves a tangible bit of himself at the firm when he leaves. That presence, manifested in *a surprise* inspires flashing lights, ruminations on the bathroom floor in the presence of much alcohol, a display of homosexuality, etc. Cinematography and the original score were both excellent; the only thing in need of change is the script. Futures (and derivatives) just began its festival rounds, but the director doesn’t have a website, so umm, good luck with trying to catch a viewing.    

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Charlie Finch @ talks leverage spillovers in the art markets


“The unseen leverage factor in contemporary art lies in the way many galleries do business: using the rising value of inventory as the basis for bank credit to pay day-to-day expenses, top-of-the-line rents and expansions to hot new neighborhoods like Loisaida. As art prices rise, debt becomes easier to acquire, gallery wall space increases to showcase the hot art for day-tripping collectors who write more checks, increasing the base value of all present and future works by in-demand artists, whose inventory valuations allow galleries to gain more credit. Reduce surplus collector cash and these equations unravel quickly, the way the inability of middle-class home owners to pay their mortgages is unraveling hedge funds managed by Wall Street’s most prestigious firms, who should know better, but never seem to.” [link]

(above: the work of Jenny Saville)

‘Past Perfect’: The New Yorker profiles Fifteen Central Park West


In some ways, the building seems less a piece of architecture than a creation along the lines of Woody Allen’s “Manhattan,” an homage to the city by someone who not only loves the New York of the twenties and thirties but actually believes that he can will it back into existence.”

Considering the fact that many of the residents’ net worths are governed by a common oscillator (save for the Denzels and other non-Wall Streeters), the herd mentality which drove the “prices that started at more than two thousand dollars a square foot and were subsequently raised nineteen times” may result in a common devalueing among the non-Loeb units, albeit a mild one. It’s not as if the goods in question are Renoir’s –the building boasts over 200 units, but the architect is responsible for more than 5x that amount in high-end luxury units on Manhattan island alone.

The official website
The New Yorker profile
Curbed coverage: [2005: scaffolding goes up] [2006: construction shots] [2006: Hulking Leviathan] [2007: fire] [2007: nearly complete] [2007: sold out] [2007: makes NY history]

On art, culture, and a generation likely to be void of such appreciation


If you have children, I recommend reading the following — an abbreviated version of Dana Gioia’s, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts — commencement speech given at Stanford University this year: The Impoverishment of American Culture (excerpts below)

And father-Wall-Streeter-VC, Roger Ehrenberg’s reaction: here 

Adult life begins in a child’s imagination, and we’ve relinquished that imagination to the marketplace.

We need to create a new national consensus. The purpose of arts education is not to produce more artists, though that is a byproduct. The real purpose of arts education is to create complete human beings capable of leading successful and productive lives in a free society.

What are we to make of a public education system [ours] whose highest goal seems to be producing minimally competent entry-level workers?

Entertainment promises us a predictable pleasure — humor, thrills, emotional titillation or even the odd delight of being vicariously terrified. It exploits and manipulates who we are rather than challenging us with a vision of who we might become. A child who spends a month mastering Halo or NBA Live on Xbox has not been awakened and transformed the way that child would be spending the time rehearsing a play or learning to draw.

If you don’t believe me, you should read the studies that are now coming out about American civic participation. Our country is dividing into two distinct behavioral groups. One group spends most of its free time sitting at home as passive consumers of electronic entertainment.

The other group also uses and enjoys the new technology, but these individuals balance it with a broader range of activities. They go out — to exercise, play sports, volunteer and do charity work at about three times the level of the first group. By every measure they are vastly more active and socially engaged than the first group.
What is the defining difference between passive and active citizens? Curiously, it isn’t income, geography or even education. It depends on whether or not they read for pleasure and participate in the arts. These cultural activities seem to awaken a heightened sense of individual awareness and social responsibility.

Art is an irreplaceable way of understanding and expressing the world — equal to but distinct from scientific and conceptual methods. Art addresses us in the fullness of our being — simultaneously speaking to our intellect, emotions, intuition, imagination, memory and physical senses… And it remembers. As Robert Frost once said about poetry, “It is a way of remembering that which it would impoverish us to forget.” Art awakens, enlarges, refines and restores our humanity.