The Unbearable Banishment: November 2011

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

All I Want for Christmas

I've been pumping out these stupid posts for close to four years now and have done so selflessly without asking for, nor expecting, any kind of compensation. I do it because I love you all so bloody much. I just want to be your performing chimp. But now it's time for you guys to step-up, band together and show me a little love. On December 13th, Sotheby's will hold an important rare book auction here in New York. I think it would be a special treat if you guys could somehow pool your resources and gift the following to me for Christmas:

A first edition of Ian Fleming's Goldfinger, inscribed to Raymond Chandler: To Ray. With much affection. From Ian.

Are you kidding me?! Do I want a first edition of Goldfinger inscribed by James Bond to Philip Marlowe? Yes, I do! Fleming, a book collector himself, rarely inscribed books. This is an association copy. An association copy is inscribed by the author to someone significant. It could be his wife or his editor or the guy who helped invent L.A. noir detective fiction. Estimate: $60,000-80,000. C'mon guys! You can do it! Pretty please. You can also pick up Chandler's personal copies of Casino Royale and Live and Let Die, but since they're not inscribed by Fleming, the estimate is a measly $7,000-10,000.

There's a large representation of signed Raymond Chandler books in this auction. There are many personal copies, including his own copy of The Big Sleep, lovingly inscribed to himself: For me. Without my compliments. Raymond Chandler. Riverside. February 1, 1939.

The fact that it's signed in the year of publication (perhaps the DAY OF publication) is significant to collectors. Estimate: $60,000-80,000.

Longtime readers know how much Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird means to me. It changed the course of my life. Well, here's my one and only chance to own a signed first edition. The estimate is $20,000-30,000 but, really, how do you put a price on something that transcends monetary value?

There are a few oddities in the auction, including Charlie Chaplin's bowler hat (estimate $15,000-20,000) and, perhaps strangest of all, the original Apple Computer Partnership Agreement and Dissolution of Contract signed by Jobs, Wozniak and Ronald G. Wayne in 1976. The estimate is an astronomical $100,000-150,000! I suppose some wealthy computer geek would be interested in this. Personally, I'd go for the copy of Goldfinger. Jobs signed his name in all lower case letters. What a weirdo.

I have a pretty healthy collection of Graham Greene first editions. There's one title that NEVER comes on the market; his third novel, Rumour at Nightfall. Greene so despised this book that he had it suppressed immediately after its publication. The only way you're going to read this and find out just how bad it is, is to buy a first edition. And this spectacular example is estimated at $50,000-60,000.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Dear self: Snap out of it!

My niece and nephew were in town for the four-day Thanksgiving holiday. The two of them are quite gifted. They show an intelligence and a creativity beyond their years. My father-in-law was doing the New York Times crossword puzzle and he asked my nephew for a four-letter word for karate school. He correctly answered "dojo." He also identified a passage through time and space as a wormhole. He's 7-years old. My niece sketched a pear on a table while the other kids sat blank-faced in front of a TV watching Toy Story. She showed the proper light source and correct shading to give it a globular appearance. She's 9.

I was thinking about all this as I was driving home and then it hit me right between the eyes. The most destructive of all human emotions.


Envy, despite the fact that I have two healthy, happy, attractive little girls who I wouldn't trade for anyone. Envy that my daughters are only well-adjusted and well-behaved, but not academically exceptional.

Enjoys dancing to mariachi music with a flower in her teeth.

What the hell's wrong with me? I'm no better than the creepy parents on the Upper East Side of Manhattan who dress their yuppie larvae in Brooks Brothers finery and jockey to get them into expensive private preschools in the hopes that 18 years from now it'll be a leg-up when applying to an Ivy League institution, all of which has more to do with the parent's public image than the welfare of their child.

I'm trying not to be too terribly hard on myself. I'm a firm believer in the old adage that the first step is admitting you have a problem, so thank God I've turned that corner. A friend of mine blasted me for being irrational and said I should count my blessings. He cautioned that gifted children can sometimes wind up feeling isolated or be social misfits. Perhaps these silly feelings of mine are nothing more than the small stones that every parent must chew and swallow.

* * *

Everyone at work has a nameplate outside their office. Check out this guy's name:


Get it?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Frightening the Kiddies: Tim Burton/Thanksgiving Edition

If you're in the U.S., don't forget to tune in to the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade this Thursday morning. It's nothing more than a three-hour commercial, but I've been watching it ever since I was a little kid and wouldn't miss it. I even attended once! Much like a trip to the Statue of Liberty and spending New Year's Eve in Times Square, once is enough. I froze my ass off. A pal of mine liberated about a dozen tiny bottles of Harvey's Bristol Cream from a British Airways flight and brought them in a paper bag. Drinking amongst all those happy families and little children felt kind of creepy, but drink we did.

I have no idea how THIS got approved but this first pic is one of the new balloons. It was designed by Tim Burton! Seeing "Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade" and "Tim Burton" appear in the same paragraph is something I never could have predicted. The character is B. Boy. According to Mr. Burton:

B. was created, Frankenstein’s monster-style, from the leftover balloons used in children’s parties at the Great Ormond Street Hospital in London. Forbidden from playing with other children because of his jagged teeth and crazy-quilt stitching, B. retreated to a basement lair, where he obsesses over Albert Lamorisse’s film "The Red Balloon" and dreams that he, too, will be able to fly someday.

Fantastic. This may portend a general turn to weirdness, as last years' parade debuted Kaikai and Kiki, balloons created by Takashi Murakami.

Surprisingly, NONE of these new balloons exist to promote a product. I guess you can classify them solely as artistic endeavors. It's enough to give you hope. Here's how Mr. Murakami dressed last year to march alongside
Kaikai and Kiki. I'm hoping that Mr. Burton dons an appropriate outfit to march alongside B. Boy.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Tiny Demons

We send The Daughter to CCD. For the uninitiated, CCD is the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine. Sounds ominous, doesn’t it? It is. It’s where you send your kids if you’re Catholic but don’t attend a parochial school. It’s religion class. I attended when I was a kid and I turned out okay. (Didn’t I?)

I think it’s good that Mrs. Wife takes them to church and gives them a spiritual foundation. Later on, when they get older, they can make up their own minds as to whether they want to continue to embrace church teachings or do as I did and reject Catholicism. I predict that they will become, what I refer to as, Chinese menu Catholics. About 90% of Catholics are Chinese menu Catholics. My mom was one. You pick and choose which aspects of church doctrine you are comfortable with, but reject the silly stuff. Most Catholics don’t feel that birth control is a sin. Divorcees stand in line for communion. For many years, you weren’t supposed to eat meat on Friday, but so many people ignored that one that *presto!* it’s no longer a sin. I believe that most Catholics would love to see women enter the priesthood. I would.

I was surprised to discover that The Daughter's CCD class was taught by a student from the local Catholic high school. I was always taught by either nuns or parents. I think my mom even taught classes for a while. It seemed to me that leaving some poor high school girl to the tender mercies of a room full of 9-year olds was unfair but, apparently, she’s a whiz with kids and it works.

You know what happens when there’s a substitute teacher, right? Bedlam! Except that this evening, it wasn’t the students who rioted. Their usual beloved teacher was out sick so she was replaced by two mean girls from the Catholic high school. They proceeded to tear the class apart. They made fun of one kid's name and told some poor girl she was a nerd. They immediately spotted the class hellion, a kindred spirit, and bonded with him. He performed a profanity-laced rap song which the girls recorded on their phones. It’s probably up on YouTube right now. It’s the first time The Daughter heard the word “fuck” so now THAT cat’s out of the bag. After his rapping, he told my daughter’s friend that he was going to “...put my foot up your ass.” Nine years old! It was about as far away from the teachings of Mathew, Mark, Luke and John as you can get.

The next morning, Mrs. Wife wrote a fantastic, scathing letter to the director of the church and CCD program. Apparently, they were deluged with similar letters. As Daughter was relaying this, I got angrier and angrier. I mean, scary angry. Don't make me elaborate. This sort of thing is going to happen with increasing frequency as she gets older. I'm worried about my self control. Or lack thereof. I'm not a tough guy. I'm liable to get my ass kicked pretty good.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Central Park + Autumn

Typically, I'll spend my lunch hour reading in Central Park. I've been reading Haruki Murakami's The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle for the past several weeks. It's a 600-page behemoth. I usually avoid books of this girth because I don't have as much time to read as I used to and it takes too bloody long to finish. Murakami's new book, IQ84 is 925 pages! The new Stephen King novel is 850 pages! What the hell is wrong with these guys!? I once asked Nick Hornby how he was able to get through so many books and he told me to keep in mind that he doesn't have a "proper job." So that's the secret. But I like Murakami and was willing to make an exception. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is good, but not nearly as good as Norwegian Wood. That book is his masterpiece.

Anyway, last week, I left my book in the office, grabbed my camera and went for a stroll. Here's one of the most photographed stone bridges in the world. I, myself, have posted numerous pics of this bridge in various seasons.

Here's the view looking south at The Plaza Hotel. The Plaza was bought and refurbished by Donald Trump. Trump is kind of a buffoon and I can't stand his taste in architecture, but The Plaza was a landmark of faded beauty that needed rehabilitating, so I guess I'm okay with it. I'm just grateful that he didn't wrap the building in gold and mirrors. He likes shiny things. He's like a parrot.

I took this one with my iPhone and ran it through a vibrancy filter. Not sure I like the results. It gooses up the color levels a bit too much for my tastes and gives it an unnatural look. The greens are too green. It's like looking at an old black and white movie that's been colorized.

As I was uploading these, it dawned on me that they look rather pedestrian. Like greeting card photos or holiday photos your friends bore you with. Too late. I was too deep into the process to stop.

Musicians, musicians everywhere, but not a venue to perform in! Throw a stone in any direction and you'll hit someone who has mastered their instrument but has to busk for a living. The acoustics of this passageway are perfect for a sax, don't you think?

And, of course, this being New York City, as I was enjoying this splendid performance, some guy walked up to the passageway entrance and relieved himself. Right in front of me! He heaved a great, audible, sigh of relief. You've really got to take the good with the bad in this place.

Friday, November 11, 2011

:15 second reviews

I can't put these off any longer. I'll try be as succinct as possible but you know how I can get.

* * *

I've seen a few of Theresa Rebeck's plays and her new comedy, Seminar, is clearly her best work. There is no thinness to the characters (which was an problem with Mauritius). Rock solid performances from everyone. That damn Alan Rickman knows how to chew up a stage. In the good way. He plays a writer of faded glory who gives private lessons to aspiring authors. He's not a gentle instructor. Here's his teaching philosophy in a nutshell on a poster outside the theater:

Isn't that a great line? The play is loaded with them.

As my pal CB said afterwards, Rickman could read the phone directory in a compelling manner. There are no weak links in the supporting cast. Lily Rabe, who I saw go toe-to-toe with Al Pacino last season in Merchant of Venice, stands her ground in front of another seasoned veteran. Great direction and pacing. Can't wait for the reviews. I'm CERTAIN the critics will agree with me [this time].

* * *
What the hell was I doing at this show? I'm not a fan of Big! Broadway! Musicals! They're too damn cheery. I am NOT the target audience for this sort of thing. Hugh Jackman Back on Broadway is a one-man singing and dancing extravaganza. ( man with a full 18-piece orchestra and six hot, hot back-up singers who have angelic voices and look to have been poured into their little black dresses.

The pre-opening hype has been fierce. The understanding around town is that the run is completely sold out and is, therefore, critic-proof. A sweet spot to be in! I was walking past the Times Square half-price ticket booth on my way home from work and, astonishingly, discount tickets were available. I got caught up in the groundswell of hype and decided to go. The lady in the ticket booth told me Jackman insisted that blocks of tickets be made available at a discount to make it affordable to a wider audience. Nice guy!

It's as good as they say it is. I'm sure the critics are going to fall all over themselves with praise. But I probably would have enjoyed it more if I were a fan of musicals. Did I need to hear Oh, What a Beautiful Morning or songs from Carousel and The Music Man? Not so much. He played clips from his movies and made very funny self-effacing comments about them. He juxtaposed still photos of big, tough, Wolverine with big, gay, Peter Allen, who he played on Broadway a few years ago. A helluva good dancer. He worked his ass off to please the crowd and isn't that where the rubber meets the road?

* * *

How's this for a pedigree: Three one-acts written by Ethan Cohen, Woody Alan and Elaine May. A large cast of seasoned professionals including Julie Kavner, Marlo Thomas and Steven Guttenberg. How can it go wrong?

When it opened a few weeks ago, it received lukewarm reviews. Once again, the critics got it wrong. Lukewarm is being kind. It was one of the worst things I've seen in quite some time. If it were one play, I would have walked out at intermission but because it was three separate pieces, I hung in there hoping the next one would be better. The Woody Alan piece was so filled with negative Jewish stereotypes that if a Gentile had written it, Mossad would assassinate them. The Cohen play unraveled at the end and not only was Elaine May's contribution NOT funny, it actually made me angry. She was the biggest offender. The three of them owe me a refund.

* * *

The Public Theater down in the East Village is NYC's epicenter for Shakespearean productions. It's been around for a long, long time. Currently on the main stage, there's a production of King Lear starring Sam Waterson that got a bunch of mediocre reviews. The production is 3:30 long and it's not cheap! I won't be going to that. But I DID see a spectacular production of Love's Labor's Lost in the tiny, upstairs theater.

Not many props. Sparse costume budget. But there was electricity in the air, which just goes to show you that venue and marquee names count for very little. It's all in the acting, kid. It's one of those productions tucked into a corner that I discovered and want to share with everyone. The tickets were a measly $15 bucks! I've paid more and have gotten a lot less in return (see above). I think Love's Labor's Lost is considered one of Shakespeare's early lightweight plays but I thought parts of it had real gravitas. [Note to Daisyfae: the Princess of France, the lead female role, was played by Renee Elise Goldsberry, who played the upscale wife in Good People. Now, THAT'S range!]

* * *

Poor Hugh Dancy.

Imagine turning out an exhausting, effective performance, but having to share the stage with a firecracker just out of acting school. Such is poor Hugh's plight. In Venus in Fur, he plays a director trying to cast a role. He shares the stage with Nina Arianda, who just recently graduated from the NYU acting program. Graduate from school and go to Broadway! That's like a newly minted lawyer arguing a case in front of the Supreme Court.

It's a two-hander so there's no place for the actors to hide. I couldn't take my eyes off of her. That she's a Goddess dressed in black leather and lace underthings who exudes sexuality throughout much of the show certainly does not help poor Hugh. I think her seductions were directed at me specifically, even though I was in the back of the balcony. I wonder how she was able to sense my presence from so far away? Acting!


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Part 2: Bad Art for Sale

[Edit]: I misidentified the Tomato man sculpture below. It's called Tomato Head (green) by Paul McCarthy. The estimate was $1,000,000-1,500,000. It sold last night for $4,562,500. My feelings about the piece have not changed. I've added the prices realized. Prices include buyer's premium.

Last week's Impressionist auction at Christie's met with limited success. Degas' Little Dancer failed to sell. The experts feel the $25 million estimate was too aggressive. Many of the lots didn't sell. It's the economy, stupid!

So we move from the sublime to the ridiculous. The Contemporary Art auctions will be held this week. There are a few interesting lots but I have chosen to focus on the pieces that I simply don't understand. They strike me as preposterous and the estimates make me dizzy.

It's the old kitchen sink argument I can do that myself. It's a silly thing to say. One can retort well, then, why don't you? But logic has never been welcome on this blog and I'm not about to start now. So take a walk with me. This is the kind of self-indulgent junk that makes people dismiss art and shun museums.

This is Driftwood by Richard Long. It's 48 pieces of driftwood laid out just so on the floor. That's it. Chunks of wood on the floor. If I brought 5-Year Old Daughter to this, she'd immediately start picking them up and stacking them, thereby ruining the aesthetic of the piece. Estimate: $100,000-150,000. Did not sell.

Here's a doozy. This is Untitled (Into a Greater World) by Jim Hodges. It's a statue of a guy with a gigantic tomato head, a block of wood for a penis and a carrot stuck up his ass, surrounded by gardening tools and blocks of wood. Where would you display something like this? No corporation is going to put this in their lobby. I hope.

Is this supposed to be playful? Because I would argue that any playfulness is negated by the carrot sodomy. Even the title reeks of pretense. Untitled, but then, a title. Oy. Estimate: $500,000-700,000. Yeah. I'd be willing to drop half a million on this.

I'm probably going to catch some hell for this. This is Untitled by Jean-Michel Basquiat who I cannot stand. This is a terrible piece. It's infantile scribbling. Basquiat helped legitimize graffiti as an art form. The people who deemed graffiti "art" lived uptown and didn't have to look at it every day while walking to the corner bodega for a quart of milk. It got old. Take my word for it. And stupidly throwing your successful life/career away on a heroin overdose is inexcusable. Estimate: $900,000-1,200,000. Sold for $2,546,500.

This is 6765 by Mario Merz. 85 stacks of aging newspapers with glass plates and neon tubes. Actually, I saw something just like this last weekend at the town recycling center. Estimate: $750,000-950,000. Sold for $1,426,500.

Flowers, Mary's Table by de Kooning. I don't like ANYTHING de Kooning did. It's noise. This piece gave me a headache just by walking past it. Ready for this? Estimate: $8,000,000-12,000,000. Totally worth it. Did not sell.

Another head-scratcher. One and Three Coats by Joseph Kosuth is a photograph of a leather coat, the leather coat and the definition of coat. Again, I ask, where is the artistic merit in this? And where would you proudly display it? Estimate: $140,000-180,000. Sold for $146,500.


Finally, a Jeff Koons I can appreciate. Two Ball Total Equilibrium Tank (Spalding Dr. J. Silver Series, Wilson Aggressor). Two basketballs suspended in sodium chloride reagent and distilled water. You'd have to see this in person to really appreciate it. It's bright and clean with sharp edges and it's funny. I love it. But not for $2,000,000-3,000,000. Sold for $4,226,500.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Random NYC Photos: Dark Shadows

There are a couple of days in the year when the sun rises and sets in perfect alignment with the city grid. This anomaly produces some interesting, long shadows.

These were taken early in the morning, just after sunrise.

This only happens for a couple of mornings and if it's cloudy you miss it altogether. The sun moves out of alignment within a few minutes. It doesn't last long. I took these from my 10th floor office.

As the sun appears just above the horizon, the shadows stretch almost the length of the avenue.

* * *

We went to Costco today, which is always a horrific experience for me. I think we needed some soap but ended up spending $171.83 on impulse purchases mostly instigated by ME. Did I really need that big plastic jug of chocolate covered almonds? It seemed pretty important at the time. I walk up and down the aisles like a goddamn zombie.

I am easily distracted. If I spot a shiny object out of the corner of my eye, I'll wander off to examine it, leaving dear family behind. Sometimes, I'll be sampling some Italian sausage or mac and cheese, look up and discover that I'm all alone. I had to phone Mrs. Wife TWICE to locate them. It's a big, scary, crowded place!

After locating everyone the second time, 9-Year Old Daughter handed me this note as a reminder to pay attention to my surroundings.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Part 1: Good Art for Sale

This week is the start of the fall auction season here in New York. Christie's and Sotheby's are holding big, BIG Impressionist and Modern auctions. As is longstanding tradition, all lots are put on display a few days prior to the auction. It's always been important for me to try and visit the auction houses and view the works before they're sold. They're like great museum shows except you can buy stuff. These are pieces that were held in private hands and after the auction will disappear back into private hands, where they will never be seen by the public (i.e., me) again.

I'm lucky enough to work just a few blocks away from Christie's, so I popped over on my lunch hour. Here are a few lots that I would love to own, but never will for obvious reasons. Please take a minute and really meditate on the estimates. Try to grasp the astronomical amount of cash that these works might sell for. It boggles the mind! The first painting is being sold in London and the estimate is in British Pounds. Also, the quality of the pics isn't that great. The lighting wasn't optimal and you can only do so much with a cell phone camera.

Part 2 will be a post of art for sale that boggles the mind for a different reason.

Here's a lovely, thick van Gogh that's estimated to sell for £5,000,000 - 7,000,000. Remember, van Gogh died broke, having sold only one painting to his brother.

I became a bigger fan of Mark Rothko after I saw Alfred Molina play him on stage. The play, Red, gave me a better understanding of his work and his creative process. Estimate: $18,000,000 - $25,000,000.

How would this Matisse look hanging in your parlor? Estimate: $4,000,000 - $6,000,000. I think I remember a storyline in Doonsbury whereby Zonker won the lottery and spent all the money on a Monet. He ruined it by spilling mayonnaise on it. If I had this Matisse, I'd probably do something like that.

Here's one of Andy's Liz's! Pretty lips. Estimate: $16,000,000 - $19,000,000.

Margaret Thatcher once called Francis Bacon, "That horrible man." That's good enough for me! I especially like Bacon's sinister painting of the Pope. I had to take this photo on an angle because of the glare from the glass. Estimate: $12,000,000 - $18,000,000.

Finally, here's the crown jewel of the auction. One of Degas' little dancer statues. You don't see many of these come out on the open market!

9-Year Old Daughter has been in love with this statue for a long time and I'm sure she'd like to see it adorn bedroom. At bedtime, I used to read a children's book to her about the little girl who posed for the statue. I think the story was contrived but it did serve to endear her to the statue.

When The Daughter turns the corner and sees her at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, it's like she's seeing a long, lost friend. Estimate: $25,000,000 - $35,000,000!!