Thursday, January 31, 2013

Linnea Quigley's Horror Workout (1990)

Vine Is the Latest, Greatest Form of Web Kitsch

Vine from Braden Thompson
By now you may have heard of Vine. If you’re on Twitter at all, you’ve definitely heard of and/or seen it. You may not have actually used Vine, but you probably will soon — it’s the newest multimedia format to hit social networks, a more complicated version of a GIF or a simplified version of a home movie.
The format, which was designed by a company that was bought by Twitter, consists of six seconds of video with sound. What makes Vines interesting is that they can also feature cuts, connecting disparate clips of film or making rudimentary stop-motion animation. It’s easy to create a Vine: just open your favorite Twitter app and choose “Take photo or video” from the camera button. A simple interface makes cutting together a finished clip easy.

Vine from Mashable.
On Hazlitt, Navneet Alang memorably describes Vines as “a bit like slowly walking past a living room in which a party is going on: it’s just a fleeting vision, but it can be evocative enough to conjure up quite the reaction.” In other words, there’s enough visual information to be engaging without being overwhelming, much like a GIF or more subtle Cinemagram.
No short-form video-sharing (or GIF-sharing) app has ever really caught on to the same degree as Instagram, and Vine could be the first major competitor. For now, though, Vine is relegated to a Twitter tie-in — there’s no reason for the company to make its own network based solely on the video hybrids. Twitter itself is pushing multimedia, as an official blog post reveals.
The easiest way to catch Vines en masse might be Vine Peek, a quick project that streams the latest Vines being posted. The subjects of the videos aren’t anything particularly special: shots of cats lazing near keyboards, emptying Diet Coke bottles, views into technology start-up offices. Other users are pushing the boundaries of the Vine format, creating elegant animations and clips that may as well be short films or documentaries.

Vine from Ian Padgham.

Vine from Ian Padgham.
The destiny of Vine, if it becomes a popular vehicle for self-expression, is to descend into the realm of digital kitsch. The new format presents users with a powerful range of new possibilities, including a rare emphasis on sound (be sure to unmute the clips when you open them). But like the Polaroid, or Instagram after it, or the buzzy Snapchat, it’s also a limited medium that will soon develop its own typical aesthetic vocabulary. The familiar arguments will ensue: Can you make documentary with Vine? Are you just using it to shoot yourself eating breakfast? Is that okay?
Until the point when we all become accustomed to and bored with it, however, we can enjoy its brief novelty.
Vines embedded with VineIt.



Permission to Flirt

JudgmentsRosea Lake
By now, you’ve probably seen art student Rosea Lake’s photo Judgments, which went viral earlier this month. Unlike, say, videos of children on laughing gas, this went viral for a very specific reason: It does what the strongest images do, namely that whole “worth a thousand words” bit. Judgments communicates the constant awareness of, well, judgments that women face every day we leave the house (and probably some when we don’t), and I won’t say much more about the actual image because it speaks well for itself. 
That said, I’ve read commentary on the image that has also struck a chord, specifically Lisa Wade’s spot-on post at Sociological Images about how Judgments pinpoints the constantly shifting boundaries of acceptable womanhood, and then relates that to something women are mocked for: all those darn clothes (you know women!). “[W]omen constantly risk getting it wrong, or getting it wrong to someone. … . Indeed, this is why women have so many clothes!  We need an all-purpose black skirt that does old fashioned, another one to do proper, and a third to do flirty….” Wade’s main point is an excellent one, as it neatly sums up not only what’s fantastic about the image but why women do generally tend to have more clothes than men. 
But my personal conclusion regarding Lake’s piece was actually somewhat different: To me, it illustrates why my own wardrobe is actually fairly limited in range. The first time I saw it, I was struck by how effectively it communicates exactly what it communicates. The second time I saw it, though, I made it personal and mused for a moment about how save one ill-advised maxidress and one black sheath that hits just above the knee, literally every single one of my hemlines is within an inch of “flirty.” This is semi-purposeful: It’s a flattering length on me, and I’m a flattery-over-fashion dresser, so I’ve stuck strictly with what works. And isn’t it a funny coincidence that what happens to flatter my figure just happens to be labeled as “flirty” here, when in fact “flirty” is probably, for the average American urban thirtysomething woman, the most desirable word on this particular chart to be described as? (Depending on your social set you might veer more toward proper or cheeky, and of course I don’t actually know which of these words women in my demographic would be likely to “choose” if asked, but I have a hard time seeing most of my friends wanting to be seen as prudish—or, on the other end, as a slut.) 
Of course, it’s not a coincidence, not at all. I may have believed I favored that hem length because it hits me at a spot that shows my legs’ curves (before getting to the part of my thighs that, on a particularly bad day, I might describe as “bulbous”). And that’s part of the reason, sure, but I can’t pretend it’s merely a visual preference of mine. As marked on Judgments, that particular sweet spot—far enough above the knee to be clear that it’s not a knee-length skirt, but low enough to be worn most places besides the Vatican—also marks a sweet spot for women’s comportment. Flirty shows you’re aware of your appeal but not taking advantage of it (mustn’t be cheeky!); flirty grants women the right to exercise what some might call “erotic capital” without being seen as, you know, a whoreFlirty lends its users a mantle of conventional femininity without most of femininity’s punishments; flirty marks a clear space of permission. Curtailed permission, yes, but sometimes a skirt’s gotta do what a skirt’s gotta do, right? So, no, it’s no accident that nearly all my dresses fall to this length. I wear “flirty” skirts in part because I play by the rules. I’ve never been good at operating in spaces where I don’t have permission to be.
Of course, that permission will change: The lines as shown on Judgments indicate not only hemlines and codes women are judged by, but where women are allowed to fall at any particular ageA “provocative” teenager might be slut-shamed, but she isn’t told to keep it to herself; a 58-year-old with the same hemline might well be told just that, if not in as many words. “Proper” isn’t necessarily a sly way of saying “frowsy” when spoken of a middle-aged woman, as it would be for a 22-year-old.
Given how widely this photo made the rounds, it’s clear it struck a nerve, and I’m wondering what that nerve is for other viewers, in relation to their personal lives—and personal wardrobes. Do you take this as commentary on rigid rules for women, or on the constant flux of expectations—or are those just two expressions of the same problem? Do you dress within “permission,” or do you take pleasure in disregarding permission altogether? Or…?

Monday, January 28, 2013

Christianism And Violence

I just read a post on National Review arguing that Christianity is in part about armed self-defense and the Second Amendment. I kid you not. Christianity is now apparently compatible with the gun lobby. For some reason, this particular statement from Jesus - one of the most famous in all of human history - doesn't appear in the post:
You have heard that it was said, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth". But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.
You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.
The great drama of the Passion requires absolute nonviolence in the face of even immense injustice. Not only did Jesus not resist the violence done to him, he refused even to offer a word of self-defense in front of Pilate. When Peter used a sword to cut off the ear of one who had come to arrest Jesus in Gethsemane, Jesus' response is unequivocal:
While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people... Jesus said [to Judas], “Do what you came for, friend.” Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him. With that, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.“Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.
He then heals the wound created in self-defense. The whole point of Christianity, on a personal level, is a refusal to use violence even in self-defense and even when one's own life is threatened. For centuries, this radical nonviolence was celebrated by the church in its canonization of martyrs who chose to be mauled alive by animals than submit to the civil order's paganism. Martyrdom was the first and ultimate form of nonviolent resistance to injustice and, like the Christian-rooted civil rights movement or Gandhi's campaign for independence, it was precisely this staggering refusal to defend oneself, the insistence on being completely disarmed, that changed global consciousness. It was what made Christians different. It's what made Martin Luther King Jr different. To use Jesus as an advocate of armed self-defense is almost comical if it were not so despicable.
I can see much more worldly arguments for physical self-defense, course; it is at the core of the modern Hobbesian and Lockean model for Western civilization. In a fallen world, there is also a case for just war (but one that Aquinas had to come up with, for Jesus was uninterested). Machiavelli went even further - but there is a reason he is associated with evil, and remains one of Christianity's greatest intellectual foes. And I can see David French's point about defending one's family. But here's another news alert to the allegedly Christian right: so far as we can tell from the Gospels, Jesus disowned his family in public in his teens and abandoned them on his ministry, telling his disciples to abandon theirs - and their entire source of income - as well. Jesus, we are told, said the following words - outrageous today, unimaginably heretical in its time:
If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple.
This man is now a symbol for "pro-family" and "pro-gun" Republicanism. And yet he had no property to defend, no wife to protect, no children to keep safe, no house to live in. He never carried a weapon and rebuked his friends when they used one against a mob armed with clubs and swords about to arrest and torture him to death. He was homeless, completely dependent on the good will, shelter and food of others. He was, as today's Republicans would say, a "taker". But of course, it is in giving that you receive in Christianity. Jesus inverted the entire maker-taker paradigm. So no, congressman Ryan, you cannot be a disciple of Ayn Rand and Jesus of Nazareth. In any way whatsoever.
In my view, Jesus should not be dragged into any of our current policy debates. The issue of gun control in this country at this time is complex and worth debating in civil and secular terms. I think we can make things a little safer, but given the ubiquity of guns and the Constitution of the US, I wouldn't expect much that doesn't end up making things even worse. Bishops who pontificate on this in political contexts are equally violating Jesus' apolitical spirit.
But when Jesus's example is used to defend violence, to celebrate self-defense, to find ways to look away from the mass murder of children, beware. Jesus' response to unspeakable violence was unconditional surrender and yet more still:
Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.
(Painting: The Taking Of Christ by Carravaggio)


The Unfuckables

image by imp kerr
“Ooh, the bitch,” Jenny said. “Just let me get my hands on her. That’s real immoral, is that … They get us girls a bad name, they do, bitches like that. Ooh, that bloody bitch, I can’t get her out of my head.” Graham smiled at her, a lovely smile she had not seen before.
—”Take a Girl Like You,” Kingsley Amis
I love to play strippers and to imitate them. I love using that idea for comedy, but the idea of actually going there? I feel like we all need to be better than that. That industry needs to die, by all of us being a little bit better than that.
—Tina Fey, Vanity Fair (2008)
In a 1976 interview, Betty Friedan suggested to Simone de Beauvoir that women who wanted to stay home and raise their children had a right to do so. De Beauvoir disagreed: “No woman should be authorized to stay at home to raise her children … because if there is such a choice, too many women will make that one.” Given the multiple levels of female self-surveillance, with women being watched by other women, women being watched by men, women being watched by women being watched by men — a sorority house built in the shape of a panopticon — De Beauvoir’s patronizing sentiment remains alluring to some ostensible feminists who want to protect women from the harmful effects of a scopophilic culture that doesn’t permit them to flourish.
New York magazine writer Ariel Levy’s 2005 cultural study Female Chauvinist Pigs described a new kind of misogyny perpetrated by women who curry favor by “Uncle Tomming” mainstream frat behavior in the guise of sexual empowerment. Chelsea Handler, whose raunchy essay collections My Horizontal Life and Are You There Vodka, It’s Me Chelsea sold 1.7 million copies and spawned a number of Chelsea Lites, is one offender. The so-called Fempire — the Hollywood woman-screenwriter foursome of Diablo Cody, Lorene Scafaria (now dating Ashton Kutcher), Dana Fox (writer of big-budget rom-coms What Happens in Vegas and The Wedding Date), and Elizabeth Meriwether — is another. A 2009 New York Times article brought most of the backlash on ringleader Cody, who taught us that there is such a thing as “stripping ironically,” for her smug attitude. There wasn’t an ounce of “everywoman” among them. They were a female Entourage without a chubby Turtle.
Such female chauvinist pigs are supposedly guilty of play, and Levy admonishes them: “If you are the exception that proves the rule, and the rule is that women are inferior, you haven’t made any progress.” But it’s less the Fempire and the Handlerites who need to heed this advice then the likes of Tina Fey, whose “nerdy” onscreen persona and adamant faux feminism masks a Thatcherite morality and tendency to slut-shame. In Baby Mama, for example, Amy Poehler’s character finds redemption after the Fey character shows her how to be less “working class” and “trashy,” two inexorably linked traits in the Fey slambook.
Some viewers seem to believe that it’s progressive to appreciate a weird, nerdy female loser, but there is nothing especially new about Fey’s attractive, upwardly mobile, wealthy, white, college-educated Liz Lemon: only a mashup of existing formulas. 30 Rock is one gourmet food montage short of a Nora Ephron movie. Her relationship with Jack Donaghy borrows liberally from the Sam-and-Diane model (over-educated, cerebral woman versus chauvinistic prig, the cerebral equivalent of “hot wives and chubby husbands”) and the Mary Richards–Lou Grant dynamic, in which an infantilized Liz asks Jack to approve her boyfriends.
Sady Doyle’s 2010 essay “13 Ways Of Looking At Liz Lemon” frames Fey’s character as one who has read Ariel Levy’s book and taken it so much to heart that she shares Simone de Beauvoir’s opinion of limiting women’s choices for their own good. Because they all need to be better than that. “The twist of Lemon, basically,” Doyle writes, “makes it possible for the hissing girls to cloak it in something political. Something about ‘beauty standards,’ maybe. Or ‘raunch culture.’ ”
Fey and company responded to this vein of “girl-on-girl crime” critique — with an Emmy-winning episode of 30 Rock called “TGS Hates Women,” in which Liz Lemon launches a vendetta against a baby-voiced comedienne with an oversexualized image only to learn that the woman has adopted the persona to escape an abusive husband. But why does the woman’s choice have to justified by a weirdly solemn, male-made deus ex machina? What would be wrong with her doing it just because she felt like it?
Fey’s hissing is not limited to her Liz Lemon mouthpiece. When Fey returned to host Saturday Night Live in April 2010, she ranted about Jesse James’s mistress Michelle McGee, for whom James dumped Sandra Bullock. Fey was disputing the idea that infidelity was a curse visited upon female Oscar winners:
It’s not an Oscar problem, it’s a lady problem. The problem is there are girls like Bombshell McGee out there. For every Sandra Bullock there’s a woman who got a tatoo on her forehead because she ran out of room on her labia. For every Elin Nordegren there’s a Hooters waitress who spells Jamee with two Es and a star. You could be the woman who cures cancer and you would still be up against some skank, rocking giant veiny fake boobs where the nipples point in different directions like an old Buick. Seth, the world has always been full of whores.
She frames herself as a gender informant for Seth Meyers, the man, hammering home the fact that she is the loophole woman, the exception. Later, Fey gives her support to the only women who she feels deserve it: “Wives, you’re not the losers in these situations. You are the winners.”
“Winning” in Tina Fey’s playbook means being immensely attractive but safe from being marginalized thanks to a smart sense of self-deprecation as well as the compulsion to slam other women who don’t feel the need to sublimate their looks or their sexuality. Fey has built a career on feministy bon mots like “Women are called crazy in Hollywood when they’re still talking after nobody wants to fuck them anymore.” But there is no reasonable argument that movie star and Vogue cover model Tina Fey is not, in fact, attractive. She is currently in a Garnier Nutrisse shampoo commercial in which she tosses her glossy mane without a trace of irony. Still, much of 30 Rock is devoted to depicting other “aware” attractive women as self-obsessed bimbos, like the show’s Jenna and Cerie, while Fey tries to pass for a nebbish loser.
While Fey may play at being dumpy on 30 Rock, the fate of her peers who are actually considered unattractive by the entertainment business is markedly more dismal. Her SNL castmate and friend Rachel Dratch was often used on the show for desexualized and unappealing characters, like an inbred freak or pre-adolescent boy. In 2008 she left Saturday Night Life after 11 years to commit full-time to her role on 30 Rock as Jenna Maroney. After the pilot taping, Fey and producer Lorne Michaels fired Dratch and replaced her with Jane Krakowski. At the time Michaels said the change was made because Dratch would “be able to portray many more characters and get more screen time,” but actually she appeared on 30 Rock three times in small parts and was not asked back after 2009. “I am offered solely the parts that I like to refer to as The Unfuckables,” Dratch deadpanned to Slate. “If you saw me walking down the street, you wouldn’t point at me and recoil and throw up and hide behind a shrub. But by Hollywood standards, I’m a troll.”
What of the comedians who won’t Uncle Tom for Fey’s shame-based version of “Ladies, you’re better than that” feminism? What of the women who don’t pretend to be ugly when they’re not, but instead work like hell for recognition and never stop calling attention to the unfair fight? Some 50 years ago, Joan Rivers appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show in an understated black dress to defend the kind of women that Fey would slut-shame today, with a performance that feels more like a sermon than a stand-up routine: “I feel sorry for all the single girls today. The whole society is not for single girls. A girl—you’re 30 years old, you’re not married, you’re an old maid. A man? He’s single and 90 years old—he’s a catch! It kills me!”
She laid out her version of sexual and domestic liberation for single women one furious punchline at a time, shouting “Yes! Yes!”, unsmiling, after each wave of laughter. She was one of the first comedians to acknowledge abortion in her act. Her willingness to stick up for the Bombshell McGees in a far less hospitable cultural climate emphasizes Fey’s cattiness by comparison, her willingness to sell her gender down the river to come off as the smart, funny, above-it-all one.
Fellow “loser” Kathy Griffin’s career trajectory has a lot in common with Rivers’s. Both are compulsive workhorses, unwilling — really, pathologically unable— to turn down anything regardless of how distasteful, sauntering onto stages in the farthest outreaches of some podunk town, decked out in feather boas and fake eyelashes. The joke becomes meta: How low can I go? Where Fey carefully curates the facets of herself that should be presented, Griffin and Rivers expose their whole selves: desperate, intentionally-unrelatable losers who are hard to swallow: After Rivers’s second marriage ended in the suicide of her husband in 1987, she made the incomprehensible choice to produce, write and star in an autobiographical TV movie with her daughter called Tears & Laughter: The Joan and Melissa Story. These are not the neat, normalized gags of the uptight career woman eating ice cream on a treadmill. This is something far more complicated.
Whereas Fey’s image is pretty and undersexed (the wife), the likes of Rivers and Griffin are, on a visceral level, grotesque and oversexed (the whores). The most intimate details of these comedians’ lives and bodies are slashed up and cannibalized for comedy. Both are frank about their extreme plastic surgery. Rivers jokes about her low-hanging vagina. Griffin’s book contains pictures of her botched full-body liposuction. I’ve found through personal experience that Griffin’s Bravo show My Life on the D-List is considered gauche by the kind of liberal-artsy audience that’s drawn to NBC comedies. Although much of their humor derives from lampooning others on the stage or the red carpet, it is never anti-women-in-general. Anti-certain-actresses, sure. But where Griffin attacks millionaire untouchables like Nicole Kidman for a poor fashion choice, Fey goes for the little people: Internet commenters, obscure mistresses, strippers. Would you rather have another woman insult your dress or call you a whore?
Sarah Silverman, who was part of Griffin’s outer circle in the 1990s, was among the  first of the female comedians to figure out the benefits of swimming against the current of your conventional hotness. Her 2007 Maxim cover, on which she slips out of a gorilla suit, wearing very little clothing and arching her back seductively, is a thematic template of sorts for Fey’s Bossypants cover, with her Photoshopped man arms. Because both women present the acceptable canvas, the blank conventionally attractive look, they can add a cute layer of visual masculinity to illustrate that they’re different from all the other pretty girls and therefore their comedy is more accessible to male (i.e. more “general”) audiences.
As Levy complained of the female chauvinists, they are exceptions that prove the rule. The only funny women who are free to cross over to mainstream audiences are the ones who are free from the beauty hang-ups that limit their jokes to female audiences. The game, then, is how effortlessly and subliminally someone like Fey can convey her exceptionalism using ironic male touches and the feminism as an alibi for their looks advantage, reinforcing the patriarchal standards she often pretends to critique.
If a politician applied Fey’s feminist rationale to public policy, he would be one of those blinders-wearing classists to the point of fascism. He would launch a vicious attack on the sort of parents who fed McDonalds food to their children, and, if he could, he would shut down every McDonalds in the country without instating an affordable dietary alternative–because as far as he is concerned, those people don’t deserve to eat. Frankly, if someone found this heartless and militant idea of human (and female) worth agreeable, you can’t help but wonder what makes them laugh the hardest.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

“The ‘Gees” — Herman Melville

by Biblioklept
“The ‘Gees” by Herman Melville
In relating to my friends various passages of my sea-goings I have at times had occasion to allude to that singular people the ‘Gees, sometimes as casual acquaintances, sometimes as shipmates. Such allusions have been quite natural and easy. For instance, I have said The two ‘Gees, just as another would say The two Dutchmen, or The two Indians. In fact, being myself so familiar with ‘Gees, it seemed as if all the rest of the world must be. But not so. My auditors have opened their eyes as much as to say, “What under the sun is a ‘Gee?” To enlighten them I have repeatedly had to interrupt myself and not without detriment to my stories. To remedy which inconvenience, a friend hinted the advisability of writing out some account of the ‘Gees, and having it published. Such as they are, the following memoranda spring from that happy suggestion :
The word ‘Gee (g hard) is an abbreviation, by seamen, of Portugee, the corrupt form of Portuguese. As the name is a curtailment, so the race is a residuum. Some three centuries ago certain Portuguese convicts were sent as a colony to Fogo, one of the Cape de Verdes, off the northwest coast of Africa, an island previously stocked with an aboriginal race of negroes, ranking pretty high in civility, but rather low in stature and morals. In course of time, from the amalgamated generation all the likelier sort were drafted off as food for powder, and the ancestors of the since-called ‘Gees were left as the caput mortum, or melancholy remainder.
Of all men seamen have strong prejudices, particularly in the matter of race. They are bigots here. But when a creature of inferior race lives among them, an inferior tar, there seems no bound to their disdain. Now, as ere long will be hinted, the ‘Gee, though of an aquatic nature, does not, as regards higher qualifications, make the best of sailors. In short, by seamen the abbreviation ‘Gee was hit upon in pure contumely ; the degree of which may be partially inferred from this, that with them the primitive word Portugee itself is a reproach; so that ‘Gee, being a subtle distillation from that word, stands, in point of relative intensity to it, as attar of roses does to rosewater. At times, when some crusty old sea-dog has his spleen more than unusually excited against some luckless blunderer of Fogo his shipmate, it is marvelous the prolongation of taunt into which he will spin out the one little exclamatory monosyllable Ge-e-e-e-e !
The Isle of Fogo, that is, “Fire Isle,” was so called from its volcano, which, after throwing up an infinite deal of stones and ashes, finally threw up business altogether, from its broadcast bounteousness having become bankrupt. But thanks to the volcano’s prodigality in its time, the soil of Fogo is such as may be found on a dusty day on a road newly macadamized. Cut off from farms and gardens, the staple food of the inhabitants is fish, at catching which they are expert. But none the less do they relish ship-biscuit, which, indeed, by most islanders, barbarous or semi-barbarous, is held a sort of lozenge.
In his best estate the ‘Gee is rather small (he admits it) but, with some exceptions, hardy; capable of enduring extreme hard work, hard fare, or hard usage, as the case may be. In fact, upon a scientific view, there would seem a natural adaptability in the ‘Gee to hard times generally. A theory not uncorroborated by his experiences; and furthermore, that kindly care of Nature in fitting him for them, something as for his hard rubs with a hardened world Fox the Quaker fitted himself, namely, in a tough leather suit from top to toe. In other words, the ‘Gee is by no means of that exquisitely delicate sensibility expressed by the figurative adjective thin-skinned. His physicals and spirituals are in singular contrast. The ‘Gee has a great appetite, but little imagination; a large eyeball, but small insight. Biscuit he crunches, but sentiment he eschews.
His complexion is hybrid ; his hair ditto ; his mouth disproportionally large, as compared with his stomach ; his neck short ; but his head round, compact, and betokening a solid understanding.
Like the negro, the ‘Gee has a peculiar savor, but a different one—a sort of wild, marine, gamey savor, as in the sea-bird called haglet. Like venison, his flesh is firm but lean.
His teeth are what are called butter-teeth, strong, durable, square, and yellow. Among captains at a loss for better discourse during dull, rainy weather in the horse-latitudes, much debate has been had whether his teeth are intended for carnivorous or herbivorous purposes, or both conjoined. But as on his isle the ‘Gee eats neither flesh nor grass, this inquiry would seem superfluous.
The native dress of the ‘Gee is, like his name, compendious. His head being by nature well thatched, he wears no hat. Wont to wade much in the surf, he wears no shoes. He has a serviceably hard heel, a kick from which is by the judicious held almost as dangerous as one from a wild zebra.
Though for a long time back no stranger to the seafaring people of Portugal, the ‘Gee, until a comparatively recent period, remained almost undreamed of by seafaring Americans. It is now some forty years since he first became known to certain masters of our Nantucket ships, who commenced the practice of touching at Fogo, on the outward passage, there to fill up vacancies among their crews arising from the short supply of men at home. By degrees the custom became pretty general, till now the ‘Gee is found aboard of almost one whaler out of three. One reason why they are in request is this : An unsophisticated ‘Gee coming on board a foreign ship never asks for wages. He comes for biscuit. He does not know what wages mean, unless cuffs and buffets be wages, of which sort he receives a liberal allowance, paid with great punctuality, besides perquisites of punches thrown in now and then. But for all this, some persons there are, and not unduly biassed by partiality to him either, who still insist that the ‘Gee never gets his due.
His docile services being thus cheaply to be had, some captains will go the length of maintaining that ‘Gee sailors are preferable, indeed every way, physically and intellectually, superior to American sailors—such captains complaining, and justly, that American sailors, if not decently treated, are apt to give serious trouble.
But even by their most ardent admirers it is not deemed prudent to sail a ship with none but ‘Gees, at least if they chance to be all green hands, a green ‘Gee being of all green things the greenest. Besides, owing to the clumsiness of their feet ere improved by practice in the rigging, green ‘Gees are wont, in no inconsiderable numbers, to fall overboard the first dark, squally night; insomuch that when unreasonable owners insist with a captain against his will upon a green ‘Gee crew fore and aft, he will ship twice as many ‘Gees as he would have shipped of Americans, so as to provide for all contingencies.
The ‘Gees are always ready to be shipped. Any day one may go to their isle, and on the showing of a coin of biscuit over the rail, may load down to the water’s edge with them.
But though any number of ‘Gees are ever ready to be shipped, still it is by no means well to take them as they come. There is a choice even in ‘Gees.
Of course the ‘Gee has his private nature as well as his public coat. To know ‘Gees—to be a sound judge of ‘Gees—one must study them, just as to know and be a judge of horses one must study horses. Simple as for the most part are both horse and ‘Gee, in neither case can knowledge of the creature come by intuition. How unwise, then, in those ignorant young captains who, on their first voyage, will go and ship their ‘Gees at Fogo without any preparatory information, or even so much as taking convenient advice from a ‘Gee jockey. By a ‘Gee jockey is meant a man well versed in ‘Gees. Many a young captain has been thrown and badly hurt by a ‘Gee of his own choosing. For notwithstanding the general docility of the ‘Gee when green, it may be otherwise with him when ripe. Discreet captains won’t have such a ‘Gee. “Away with that ripe ‘Gee!” they cry; “that smart ‘Gee; that knowing ‘Gee! Green ‘Gees for me!”
For the benefit of inexperienced captains about to visit Fogo, the following may be given as the best way to test a ‘Gee: Get square before him, at, say three paces, so that the eye, like a shot, may rake the ‘Gee fore and aft, at one glance taking in his whole make and build—how he looks about the head, whether he carry it well; his ears, are they over-lengthy? How fares it in the withers? His legs, does the ‘Gee stand strongly on them? His knees, any Belshazzar symptoms there? How stands it in the regions of the brisket, etc., etc.
Thus far bone and bottom. For the rest, draw close to, and put the centre of the pupil of your eye—put it, as it were, right into the ‘Gee’s eye—even as an eye-stone, gently, but firmly slip it in there, and then note what speck or beam of viciousness, if any, will be floated out.
All this and more must be done: and yet after all, the best judge may be deceived. But on no account should the shipper negotiate for his ‘Gee with any middle-man, himself a ‘Gee. Because such an one must be a knowing ‘Gee, who will be sure to advise the green ‘Gee what things to hide and what to display, to hit the skipper’s fancy; which, of course, the knowing ‘Gee supposes to lean toward as much physical and moral excellence as possible. The rashness of trusting to one of these middle-men was forcibly shown in the case of the ‘Gee who by his countrymen was recommended to a [[w:New Bedford|]] captain as one of the most agile ‘Gees in Fogo. There he stood straight and stout, in a flowing pair of man-of-war’s-man trousers, uncommonly well fitted out. True, he did not step around much at the time. But that was diffidence. Good. They shipped him. But at the first taking in of sail the ‘Gee hung fire. Come to look, both trousers-legs were full of elephantiasis. It was a long sperm-whaling voyage. Useless as so much lumber, at every port prohibited from being dumped ashore, that elephantine ‘Gee, ever crunching biscuit, for three weary years was trundled round the globe.
Grown wise by several similar experiences, old Captain Hosea Kean, of Nantucket, in shipping a ‘Gee, at present manages matters thus : He lands at Fogo in the night ; by secret means gains information where the likeliest ‘Gee wanting to ship lodges; whereupon with a strong party he surprises all the friends and acquaintances of that ‘Gee; putting them under guard with pistols at their heads ; then creeps cautiously toward the ‘Gee, now lying wholly unawares in his hut, quite relaxed from all possibility of displaying aught deceptive in his appearance. Thus silently, thus suddenly, thus unannounced, Captain Kean bursts upon his ‘Gee, so to speak, in the very bosom of his family. By this means, more than once, unexpected revelations have been made. A ‘Gee, noised abroad for a Hercules in strength and an Apollo Belvidere for beauty, of a sudden is discovered all in a wretched heap ; forlornly adroop as upon crutches, his legs looking as if broken at the cart-wheel. Solitude is the house of candor, according to Captain Kean. In the stall, not the street, he says, resides the real nag.
The innate disdain of regularly bred seamen toward ‘Gees receives an added edge from this. The ‘Gees undersell them working for biscuit where the sailors demand dollars. Hence anything said by sailors to the prejudice of ‘Gees should be received with caution. Especially that jeer of theirs, that monkey-jacket was originally so called from the circumstance that that rude sort of shaggy garment was first known in Fogo. They often call a monkey-jacket a ‘Gee-jacket. However this may be, there is no call to which the ‘Gee will with more alacrity respond than the word “Man!”
Is there any hard work to be done, and the ‘Gees stand round in sulks? “Here, my men!” cries the mate. How they jump. But ten to one when the work is done, it is plain ‘Gee again. “Here, ‘Gee you ‘Ge-e-e-e!” In fact, it is not unsurmised, that only when extraordinary stimulus is needed, only when an extra strain is to be got out of them, are these hapless ‘Gees ennobled with the human name.
As yet, the intellect of the ‘Gee has been little cultivated. No well-attested educational experiment has been tried upon him. It is said, however, that in the last century a young ‘Gee was by a visionary Portuguese naval officer sent to Salamanca University. Also, among the Quakers of Nantucket, there has been talk of sending five comely ‘Gees, aged sixteen, to Dartmouth College; that venerable institution, as is well known, having been originally founded partly with the object of finishing off wild Indians in the classics and higher mathematics. Two qualities of the ‘Gee which, with his docility, may be justly regarded as furnishing a hopeful basis for his intellectual training, is his excellent memory, and still more excellent credulity.
The above account may, perhaps, among the ethnologists, raise some curiosity to see a ‘Gee. But to see a ‘Gee there is no need to go all the way to Fogo, no more than to see a Chinaman to go all the way to China. ‘Gees are occasionally to be encountered in our seaports, but more particularly in Nantucket and New Bedford. But these ‘Gees are not the ‘Gees of Fogo. That is, they are no longer green ‘Gees. They are sophisticated ‘Gees, and hence liable to be taken for naturalized citizens badly sunburnt. Many a Chinaman, in a new coat and pantaloons, his long queue coiled out of sight in one of Genin’s hats, has promenaded Broadway, and been taken merely for an eccentric Georgia planter. The same with ‘Gees; a stranger need have a sharp eye to know a ‘Gee, even if he see him.
Thus much for a general sketchy view of the ‘Gee. For further and fuller information apply to any sharp-witted American whaling captain but more especially to the before-mentioned old Captain Hosea Kean, of Nantucket, whose address at present is “Pacific Ocean.”

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Reasons to be cheerful

Tibetan Sand Mandala: Ven. Losang Samten and the "Wheel of Life," Santa ...

Marks. Remember?

Is there anything that isn't porn?

Call for Submissions: Write for AFC!

by The AFC Staff on January 25, 2013 · 0 comments
Pinckney Marcius-Simons, 'The Writer', c. 1890, detail. Not an accurate representation of the state of arts blogging.
Can’t sleep at night for all the burning ideas you have about art? Time to write a few of those words down.
Art Fag City is now accepting pitches in two areas:
  • Art outside New York:  We live in New York, and it shows. We want to talk with more people, about more art, in more places, but we can’t do it alone. Have you found a conversation we aren’t having?  Can you tell us if Mexico City is actually cool now? We want to hear from you. Specifically, we’re looking for reviews, news, and interviews, but if you can craft a good pitch about anything else, we’ll listen. Please be specific: the mere fact that there are people making art you like in the town you live in, is not on its own, interesting enough to warrant a post about it.
  • Net art: We won’t make you define “net art” first. Do you often find yourself making grand pronouncements about the state of the internet? Want to turn your trend-spotting into discourse? We double-dog want to hear from you.
Submission is easy. Just send us:
  • No more than 250 words outlining your idea.
  • 3 writing samples.
AFC offers a small stipend to contributors. All emails should be sent to with the word PI

"Thar she blows!"

List of Smutty Sounding Moby-Dick Chapters

by Biblioklept The Spouter-Inn.
A Bosom Friend.
The Mast-Head.
Moby Dick.
The First Lowering.
The Spirit-Spout.
The Gam.
The Town-Ho’s Story.
Of the Monstrous Pictures of Whales.
The Dart.
The Crotch.
Cutting In.
The Battering-Ram.
The Nut.
The Pequod Meets The Virgin.
The Fountain.
The Tail.
Fast-Fish and Loose-Fish.
Heads or Tails.
The Pequod Meets The Rose-Bud.
A Squeeze of the Hand.
Leg and Arm.
The Needle.
The Log and Line.
The Cabin.
The Pequod Meets The Delight.
The Chase.s

Kevin Swanson and Dave Buehner parse feminism on Generations Radio

January 26, 2013
WHICH KIND OF FEMINIST ARE YOU?  12:26 pm January 26, 2013

Jesus: Don’t Let Your Daughters Go To College To Turn Into Ugly Feminist Whores

Then Jesus saw all the feminist whoresWe are sure these Christian radio hosts were not trying to gift us with the joy of laughter, the heartiest, most cleansing laughs we have had in weeks. We believe they are quite serious, as they prove without a doubt the link between letting your daughter go to college and her ugly feminist professors turning her into a family-destroying, child-hating, ugly, angry feminist whore. In fact, if they could see us, sitting at our monitor, drinking our fair-trade shade-grown organic French roast coffee in our Stylish Urban Loft Of Destroying the Family and Whoring, and they could see our happy, beaming VERY ANGRY face, they would probably get even angrier than they are now, and that is really saying something. Give them just shy of five minutes of your time. You’ll be so glad MAD you did!

Here are a few choice quotes from our compatriots at Right Wing Watch, transcribing so the rest of us can ctrl-c/ctrl-v.
Kevin Swanson: Now remember, the goal is that these women have to be independent. The goal is lots and lots of birth control. The goal is lots and lots and lots of fornication. The goal is abortion. The day-after pill will help. And it will help a lot. Remember, the goal is to get that girl a job because she needs no stinkin’ husband, she’s got the fascist corporation and government-mandated insurance programs and socialist welfare that will take care of her womb to tomb. Who needs a cotton-pickin’ husband? Who needs a family? That’s pretty much the worldview that’s dominating, my friends. That’s what the college is all about.
Dave Buehner: Because her feminist professors have told her her husband will abuse her, she will be like a slave to him. Instead she will just go to the slave market and sell herself, at least sell her body, to the highest bidder. See, that’s much, much better!
Feminists! Always teaching young girls to sell their bodies for cash. But are some feminists good feminists? Well, maybe. There is the Sarah Palin kind of feminist, who is pretty! And wants a husband! But maybe she doesn’t want to “submit” to him, so maybe that is bad too? We cannot really parse their point, whether Palin is a good witch or a bad witch.
Buehner: Actually, you’re talking about perhaps even a third stream of feminism. There’s the Sarah Palin kind of feminism that wants to have a husband, just not one to submit to. And she still wants to…
Buehner: Right, there are two forms of feminism, and it actually has to do with a division of how attractive a woman is. So, you have the group that is very attractive, they’re in the sororities, they’re gonna be in the beauty contests. They’re actually going to get the good jobs. They’re going to leverage their attractiveness in the marketplace because it has a market value. Marketing. It helps market who you are. They’re going to proceed, now they will probably some of them become the Sarah Palin-style feminists, they’ll get themselves a husband, but they’ll never be dependent on the husband, they’ll never submit to the husband, in fact they will use their power probably to make their husband submit to them.
Swanson: Okay, so you have the cute feminists.
Buehner: Right, you have the good-looking ones.
Swanson: Well, who are the others?
Buehner: Well, the other ones are those who we should say are, um, attractive-deficient. And they have not been…
Swanson: That’s nicely put. Attractively challenged.
Buehner: Attractively challenged. Optically challenged. These are the kinds that will look for careers mostly likely in academia.
Swanson: Now, just to say, they’re ugly. They’re the feminazis that Rush Limbaugh likes to refer to.
Buehner: Right, right, and they’re generally very angry about it because their attractive…or their lack of attractiveness has not given them access to power that they wanted in the marketplace. So they can get jobs…
Swanson: And they’re certainly not going to get a lot of power sexually.
Buehner: No, but they can get jobs in the government bureaucracy, they can work as an FDA administrator, or you can actually run the EPA if you want, or academia. Academia’s actually the best place because you can be angry, ugly and you can also get tenure. It’s great, it’s the big trifecta.
Swanson: You’re gonna make some people mad about what you’ve just said. There will be some very angry feminists.
Buehner: You mean there will be angrier angry feminists.
Ha, that was kind of a good one! Good job, you guys!
Swanson: Angrier angry feminists are gonna come at you for what you just said, and probably from our listening audience, because if we tick anybody off we’re ticking two different folks off, the feminists and the homosexuals, they can’t stand this kind of stuff.
Buehner: Neither one of them have a high regard for the family or for the Word of God.
Swanson: That’s true, yeah, you’re right, you’re right, you’re right. And they’re the ones who are destroying society.
Well, duh, obviously. Homosexuals and feminists are always out to destroy society. Everybody knows that!
Buehner: I believe history will go back to this period of time and will look at feminism and say there was a time in which women lost the love of their children. They no longer cared about having children, they no longer loved their children, they no longer loved their husbands, where for all of history women very much cared about protecting the family. Now they only cared about themselves. They were riled up into a froth about how they were victims of society, patriarchal society, and they decided to become selfish, narcissistic, family-destroying whores.
You know, it was all just a fun time, a good time, laughing at ugly angrier angry feminists, until the child-hating ugly angrier angry feminists forced Buehner to get worked up into a froth about their selfish, narcissistic, family-destroying whoredom. Why do these angrier angry feminists insist on making this Christian radio host so angry?
Edgar Degas:  Low Tide  (1869)

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Trials of Art Superdealer Larry Gagosian

“Hey, Larry.”
Alberto Mugrabi was having a drink in the lobby at Claridge’s Hotel when his cell phone flashed to tell him Larry Gagosian was calling. It was June 2009, and they were in London for a week of auctions. Gagosian and Mugrabi are among the richest and most powerful figures in the art world, though the two function differently. Working primarily as a gallerist, Gagosian puts on exhibitions for several dozen artists and is responsible for building their careers—or, in the case of the deceased artists he also shows, representing their estates. Mugrabi, along with his father and brother, operates a private art dealership and trades with other collectors behind a cloak of relative obscurity. Gagosian and the Mugrabis collect several of the same artists and sometimes purchase pictures together as a way not so much of halving their own respective costs but of ensuring that they are committed to the same investments.
That was why Gagosian was phoning. In a couple of hours, Sotheby’s big evening contemporary sale would begin at the auction house’s Mayfair headquarters. There were three paintings by Andy Warhol on the block that Gagosian and the Mugrabis were following closely, offerings from, according to the catalogue, “an important European collection.” The owner was Josef Froehlich, a wealthy engineer of automotive parts from Stuttgart, who since the early eighties had painstakingly built a formidable Samm­lung of German and American artists: Gerhard Richter, Georg Baselitz, Frank Stella, and Warhol, among others. But, Mugrabi told Gagosian, he’d just been informed by a Sotheby’s executive that at least two of the three Warhols might not sell—which meant that Mugrabi and Gagosian could have to buy them themselves.
Larry Gagosian essentially created the posthumous market for mid- and late-career Warhols, defining them as a subcategory and hugely raising their value. This is arguably his signal accomplishment, paving the way for everything else he’s done. But, as for all his artists, the market still requires careful husbanding.
Gagosian and the Mugrabis weren’t so much looking for a bargain as they were intent on protecting the value of the other Warhols they own. The Mugrabis, Colombian Jews by way of Trump Tower—where the family patriarch, Jose, and his wife raised the boys—possess more than 800 Warhol artworks (in addition to at least 100 works each by Damien Hirst and Jean-Michel Basquiat and numerous large pieces by Jeff Koons and Richard Prince). They didn’t want to see anything “bought in” by the auction house—which is what occurs when bidding doesn’t reach the reserve price the auction house had privately set for a piece, the artwork being returned to the seller. If that happens, says Richard Polsky, a private dealer in California and the author of the books I Bought Andy Warhol and I Sold Andy Warhol—Too Soon, the public reads that “three Warhols failed to sell last night,” and it can trigger some kind of panic: “Maybe prices for Warhol begin to slowly drop, maybe there’s a sell-off.” The effect on the Mugrabis’ or Gagosian’s collection would be like what happens to a hedge fund with a composition overweighted to a given commodity when that commodity’s price goes into a sudden free fall. There might be a ripple effect. Sarah Thornton, a writer for The Economist, has described the Warhol market as a bellwether for the entire contemporary-art market. And the prices for Warhols, as for most of the artists that Gagosian has handled, are set at auction. Which means Gagosian tries to manage what goes on there as closely as possible.
While auction houses are forbidden from explicitly sharing certain details prior to the sale of a lot, such as the reserve price, a good deal of information gets signaled to a favored collector—particularly if interests align. This was certainly the case for Gagosian and Mugrabi, who were told by Sotheby’s not to worry about the most valuable of Froehlich’s three Warhols, Mrs. McCarthy and Mrs. Brown (Tunafish Disaster), a 1963 painting—of two suburban housewives whose deaths from food poisoning had briefly been the subject of tabloid notoriety—with an estimate of £3.5 million to £4.5 million. Sotheby’s already had interest in it, Mugrabi told Gagosian: “The Tunafish Disaster is pretty covered. That’s going to sell.”
As for Froehlich’s two remaining Warhols, they were late-career works. One, a large Hammer and Sickle painting, had been produced in 1976 and was estimated at £2 million to £3 million. The other, a glittering silvery image of women’s pumps titled Diamond Dust Shoes, was made in 1980 and carried an estimate of £600,000 to £800,000. “Do you like the shoe painting or not really?” Mugrabi asked Gagosian. “I’m gonna try to buy it cheap if I can.” Gagosian was apparently interested. “Okay, we’ll always give you an option,” Mugrabi assured him, and also ran through some of the other lots. He suggested Gagosian bid on an Andreas Gursky photograph of Dubai (“the blue one”) that he thought was unlikely to sell above its estimated price range—“especially if you want to try to lure this guy in.” Gagosian was eager to represent Gursky, and has since signed him. But two Alexander Calder mobiles, a large Jean-Michel Basquiat work painted in the year of his death, and “the European art—like the [Lucio] Fontana and the Yves Klein, all that stuff”—would probably do well without their help, Mugrabi said. “I hate that Basquiat, you?” he added. “I like the ones we got so much better than that.”
Finally, according to a word-for-word record of Mugrabi’s end of the conversation, witnessed and transcribed by an associate who was at Claridge’s, he agreed to phone Sotheby’s again to negotiate. It appears that Gagosian told Mugrabi to try to float by Sotheby’s a price of £350,000, for one particular work with an estimate of £500,000, and then call Gagosian back.
What the two dealers were apparently attempting to do was thread the needle on the two lesser Warhols. To bid high—as much as the consignor was hoping to get—might serve to prop up values for the Warhol market at large, but would be expensive and make the paintings that much more difficult to sell down the road. When Mugrabi got off the phone with Gagosian, he immediately phoned Alexander Rotter, a Sotheby’s director. “The Hammer and Sickle will be difficult,” Mugrabi said. “This painting should be much less than that, you know?” He told Rotter that “at the height of the market,” he had sold “a painting like this” for $3 million. “But it’s insane that the market has gone down and I have to pay the same price because there is some stubborn guy?”—meaning Froehlich—“That’s surrealist. He’s a surrealist.” When Rotter attempted to say his piece about the consignor’s attachment to the painting, Mugrabi got agitated. “Obviously, he’s putting the painting because he wants to fucking sell it, not because he wants to, you know? If he wants to sell the picture, tell him to be realistic … Which is only better for him and better for me.”
Rotter doesn’t remember the specifics of the deal, but says that “as a rule we don’t disclose the reserve to a buyer. We have conversations with the seller throughout the process. The buyer can’t say, ‘I’ll give you this’ and make it a sure thing, but we can relay that information to the consignor and say, ‘This is a good price, you might consider lowering your reserve.’ ”
Mugrabi—along with many other art-world denizens—describes a kind of Dance of the Seven Veils. “Of course I want to have the auction house lower their reserves. They’ll tell you where the reserves will be—within a range.”
The conversation at Claridge’s is an unusually intimate window into how the art market is shaped at its highest levels by Larry Gagosian and his associates. Gagosian has been, for the past two decades, the most powerful gallerist in the world, by a wide margin. In 2011, a survey of dealers in The Wall Street Journal estimated that his annual sales approached $1 billion. That May, roughly half the works for sale by the major auction houses in New York (evening sales only) were by artists on Gagosian’s roster. In addition to his three gallery spaces in New York, he owns two in London, two in Paris, and one each in Beverly Hills, Rome, Geneva, Athens, and Hong Kong. “In many ways, having a show with him is synonymous with having a show at MoMA or the Tate Modern,” says Eric Shiner, the director of the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh.
Gagosian is as responsible as anyone for the globalization of the art market—chasing new collectors in Russia, China, the Middle East. He and the Mugrabis, working as a sort of tag team, are widely considered the force that, by purchasing in bulk, has driven a Warhol boom along with a group of like-minded investors that includes Peter Brant and Bruno Bischofberger. And he’s continually driven into new markets by applying it—as a buyer and a seller—not only to the ­oeuvres of Warhol, Koons, Hirst, and Basquiat but also Urs Fischer, Anselm Kiefer, Richard Prince, John Currin, and Takashi Murakami (not to mention Pollock, Lichtenstein, and Picasso).
There’s been resentment of Gagosian’s tight management of these markets for decades, but lately, along with talk of an art bubble, it’s reached new levels of intensity. And, in what amounts to a sort of court rebellion, some of his most dependably high-value sources of income have shown their displeasure at constituting, well, sources of income. As a result, Gagosian’s control may have begun to slip. In December, Hirst announced that after seventeen years with the gallery (and following Gagosian’s decision to give over the entirety of his eleven gallery spaces to a retrospective show of Hirst’s “dot” paintings), he was severing ties. That came just a week after The Art Newspaper reported that Jeff Koons was planning to hold a major exhibition at the David Zwirner gallery in New York. In a statement sent from his studio, Koons says simply: “As an artist, I’ve always worked with multiple galleries. Gagosian Gallery has represented my work since 2001 and continues to do so. I enjoy working with Larry and at the present time plan to have an exhibition at Gagosian Gallery New York in May.” Richard Serra also gave word that he’ll be exhibiting with Zwirner this spring, a show of sculptures made between 1966 and 1971. It was also reported that Yayoi Kusama, who just last year had large retrospective shows at the Tate and Whitney museums, was in the process of quitting Gagosian. Serra dismisses the insinuation that’s he’s bolting. “I have no intention of leaving Larry,” he says, and adds that the art-world preoccupation of talking about which artist shows with which gallery turns artists into “horses in their stalls.”
In the past year, two major collectors have also filed lawsuits against Gagosian for profiteering at their expense via deals that defied common practice. One is Ronald Perelman, the corporate raider, who sued Gagosian in September in part over “secret contract provisions” that the dealer had attached to a $4 million as yet uncreated Koons sculpture titled Popeye—stipulations that Perelman felt would make it difficult for him to resell the work. His suit makes much of his decades-long “close relationship” with Gagosian and the fact that they invested together as partners in the Blue Parrot restaurant in East Hampton. “They have been guests in each other’s homes, have met often for dinner or drinks, and have attended the same social events,” the complaint reads, then accuses Gagosian of having “abused his position of trust.”
The other is Jan Cowles, a 94-year-old collector, who has been involved in two legal disputes with Gagosian. First, Gagosian sold a work from her collection that had hung at the Met, because her son Charles, evidently hard up for money, claimed he had the authority to sell it—even though one of Gagosian’s gallery directors has testified that he believed at the time that the painting was owned by the Met, until Cowles convinced him otherwise. The buyer had to return it. Now Mrs. Cowles is suing Gagosian for a similar transaction involving a Roy Lichtenstein epoxy enamel on metal.
Gagosian’s rise over the past 25 years, concurrent with the development of modern Wall Street, certainly shares a strand of its philosophical double-helix with the hedge-fund approach to investing. The idea is to leave as little to chance—or, in his case, taste—as possible in order to put a value of his own choosing on his assets. Auctions are a crucial mechanism not merely of selling pictures but of establishing and maintaining the value of art that may change hands privately. It makes sense that many of Gagosian’s biggest clients are self-appointed titans of high finance, money management, and global megaretail: Leon Black, François Pinault, Victor Pinchuk, Eli Broad, and especially the embattled hedge-fund king Steve Cohen. Whatever their bona fides as patrons of culture, these are people who wouldn’t allow themselves to buy art as a bad investment. It’s another market to be played—and mastered.
Cohen has at times acted as a bank for Gagosian. In one deal Gagosian brokered, Cohen paid a reported $80 million in 2007 for a turquoise-hued Warhol portrait of Marilyn Monroe. And he was believed to be one of two backers in 2008 when Gagosian spent $200 million on ten Warhol paintings from the estate of Ileana Sonnabend, a widow of Warhol’s longtime gallerist Leo Castelli. Gagosian has since struggled to sell the works—he exhibited some of them in Abu Dhabi in 2010 to little avail. Cohen’s collecting pace, meanwhile, is believed to have slowed in the past year as prosecutors have brought cases against his employees for insider trading.
Gagosian is 67, block-jawed, silver-haired, pale-eyed. He bought the former Harkness Mansion, an enormous townhouse on East 75th Street, in 2011, and also owns Toad Hall, a 1983 compound in East Hampton that was designed by Charles Gwathmey for François de Menil. He grew up in Southern California, where his father was an accountant and his mother worked as a bit-part movie actress. He graduated from UCLA in 1969 with a degree in English, then held a series of odd jobs: in a record store, a bookstore, and a supermarket, and as Michael Ovitz’s secretary at the William Morris Agency. By the mid-seventies, he had started selling posters on a sidewalk in Westwood. “It wasn’t my assumption that this would lead me to a career as an art dealer,” he said in a deposition in October. “I didn’t really consider it—if you saw the posters, you wouldn’t think it was art.”
He often says that his earliest business triumph was the realization that his profits multiplied the moment he offered the posters pre-framed. It wasn’t long before he abandoned the West Coast to start a gallery in Chelsea. In 1980, there was a deal that set in motion Gagosian’s ascent, though he played no part in it. The Pace Gallery founder Arne Glimcher brokered the sale of Jasper Johns’s large Three Flags painting to the Whitney for $1 million, a record for a living artist that merited front-page coverage in the Times. The owners of the painting, Burton and Emily Tremaine of Connecticut, had bought it in 1959 from Castelli for $900—plus $15 for delivery. Dealers who knew them recall that Castelli considered Glimcher’s gambit, persuading the Tremaines to offer the work to the Whitney, poor form. Why hadn’t they brought it back to Castelli to let him sell it? It was the beginning of a new market, as a number of dealers set out to resell Castelli’s artists. Gagosian came along and began to work with Castelli, who was happy to have someone to fend off his rivals. Soon, Gagosian was in the news for helping Si Newhouse to acquire Johns’s False Start for $17 million and Mondrian’s Victory Boogie-Woogie for a reported $11 million (from the Tremaines).
Gagosian had courted Castelli since his arrival in New York in 1979, and made an acolyte of himself—they even shared a gallery on Thompson Street for a time—but in truth Gagosian was something new. The Castelli model was to get the best young artists and nurture their careers without pushing their prices too high too quickly. The Gagosian model is to ratchet up their prices, encourage them to produce as much as possible (there has been less risk, with a burgeoning global economy, in flooding the market; there is a need, as new constituencies present themselves among Russian oligarchs and Qatari sultans, to feed the collecting beast), and keep artists, collectors, and estates away from his competition—“to make a market,” in the words of someone who knew both men, who adds: “Leo wouldn’t have done well in the current era—the money is too tempting—and Larry wouldn’t have done well in the Castelli era.”
One day in 1985 or 1986, Gagosian recently told Interview, he found himself having lunch at the Factory, Warhol’s studio on 33rd Street. On the floor were several canvases, which when he unrolled them for Gagosian turned out to be striking: up to 25 feet long and full of abstract green and gold splotches, pools, and squiggling, metallic lines. Warhol called them his “Piss paintings” and explained that the effect had been achieved by using copper paint, which was then “oxidized”—when the paint was still wet, the artist had employed several people, most notably his assistant Ronnie Cutrone and Halston’s boyfriend, Victor Hugo, to urinate on them.
The works were nearly a decade old, and Warhol said nobody had ever thought much of them—particularly not Castelli. But Gagosian persuaded Warhol to let him show them in his upstart gallery in late 1986—one of Warhol’s last exhibitions in New York (he died in February 1987). Gagosian saw Warhol—and large portions of his oeuvre—as an undervalued commodity. Speaking of Warhol and Cy Twombly, whom he also went on to work with, Gagosian said, “They were both represented by Leo, but neither of them were, in my opinion, given the attention they deserved.” He mentioned the way Castelli was so dismissive of Warhol’s dollar-sign paintings—they seemed “vulgar,” Gagosian said—that he would only display them in his Greene Street gallery’s basement. “It pissed Andy off,” Gagosian added. “I know, because he told me.”
“What Larry started doing with the ‘Piss paintings’ was an extraordinary thing: He had the idea to find overlooked areas of Andy’s inventory and create a market for them by giving them a show that identified them together as an important body of work,” says Vincent Fremont, a founding director of the Andy Warhol Foundation. Over the years, Gagosian’s galleries have held more than two dozen posthumous shows for Warhol. Sometimes they’ve consisted of art that wasn’t even for sale—though he likes to say that any piece has its price—and sometimes Gagosian himself had to purchase the works up front in order to sell them, but he has always kept an eye on increasing the perceived worth of Warhol’s output.
These were the circumstances by which both Warhol’s Diamond Dust Shoes series and the Hammer and Sickle paintings entered the canon. In 1999, Gagosian got hold of and exhibited some 60 canvases Warhol had done of women’s shoes in 1980, using acrylic, silk-screen ink, and finely ground glass that made the surfaces glitter. Tim Hunt, an art agent for the Warhol Foundation, recalled an early attempt to use real diamond dust from the cutting-room floors of John Reinhold, a diamond dealer and Warhol’s good friend. “But it didn’t quite stick, so Andy went to the synthetic option,” Hunt said. The Diamond Dust Shoes painting that Froehlich purchased directly from Castelli in 1992 was apparently never in Gagosian’s galleries. But his Hammer and Sickle, which Froehlich bought in 1991 from Joshua Mack, a collector in New York, had been loaned to Gagosian in 2006 for the gallery’s “Warhol: Cast a Cold Eye” exhibition.
Even before Herr Froehlich acquired the two pieces, they had a sort of shared lineage. Reinhold, the diamond merchant, had been the initial owner of the Hammer and Sickle. “Andy let me have my pick from a whole pile of Hammer and Sickles, and my cousin said to take that one because it was the strongest by far,” Reinhold says. His cousin, the late Henry Geldzahler, was a scenester and a cultural-affairs commissioner for New York City. “It was red and black and white. It had a certain power to it. I do remember Henry saying, ‘You must eventually give this to a museum,’ but I sold it around 1984. I remember seeing it in the Sotheby’s catalogue a few years ago, and it bothers me that it’s not mine anymore, so I didn’t really want to know what happened to it.”
When collectors and dealers describe Gagosian as “brash,” “shameless,” and “ruthless”—his own publicist lauds him as “a real killer”—what they really seem to be talking about is not only his drive but how different he is from many of his peers. Fellow gallerists complain that he poaches artists and spikes prices, and that he has a history of offering to sell paintings that aren’t for sale on the promise of photos he’s torn from a catalogue or surreptitiously snapped when visiting a collector’s house. More than a decade ago, his name was mentioned in discussions for the Art Dealers Association of America, but he has never been admitted.
“Temperament-wise, Larry’s got a lot more in common with some of his ­collectors—the uncouth, winner-take-all big shots and the foreign oligarchs—than he does with other dealers,” says a man who has bought and sold dozens of major artworks through transactions with Gagosian over the past two decades. “He can be extraordinarily eloquent and ridiculously charming, with, say, a curator from the Modern—especially if the curator is there with a rich collector. He can woo artists, but it’s a great effort. What comes naturally is being a bully. Most of the time, he talks like a thug: ‘Tell him I’m very interested.’ ‘Why would I want to do that?’ Or, ‘That’s a million-dollar picture: It’s colorful, it has tits, and the guy’s a good painter.’ ”
Noam Gottesman, a billionaire investor who has been collecting through Gagosian and other dealers for twenty years, praises his ability to obtain works not previously for sale: “When you do a deal with him, there’s no hemming and hawing. He’s very aggressive, but the good part of that is that it means you get a deal done.”
During Gagosian’s deposition in the ­Lichtenstein case, Mrs. Cowles’s lawyer kept trying to get him to acknowledge his absence of allegiances—neither toward artists (as many blue-chip gallerists pledge), nor collectors (the satisfied-­customer model), nor even to the seller in a two-client deal in which he’s the broker, but simply to his own dominance. Cowles’s lawyer, David Baum, asked, “Do you believe that under a consignment agreement with a seller you have a duty to be loyal to the seller?”
“I don’t know what ‘loyal’ means,” Gagosian said, adding that a common consignment arrangement might involve “where the seller says I want X, and there is no stipulation about what the gallery makes. And in fact conversations involving those very often will be: ‘I want a million dollars. Whatever you make is your business.’ ”
Later in the deposition, Gagosian was asked if he knew Sam Waksal—the ImClone head who was at the center of the Martha Stewart insider-trading case. Waksal is an avid collector who bought a number of artworks through him, including a large Mark Rothko. One person familiar with the purchase recalled him laughing at Waksal’s willingness to pay $3.5 million for the painting, which he derided as “hard-edged,” “in bad condition,” and “shit-brown.”
Gagosian makes a healthy profit from his living artists—he typically takes 30 to 50 percent from a sale where many in his cohort take less. His gallery staff work mostly on commission. Many artists have thrived from the relationship. Cy Twombly, for example, was considered the painterly equivalent of a midlist author when he came to Gagosian—shunned by the New York Establishment and major collections, he had moved to Italy and was not producing much new work. “I think Larry helped Twombly enormously, and it was exciting to watch,” says Richard Serra. “He helped get that work out into the world. He gave him new potential and possibilities to show, and the last years of his life were remarkable.”
For younger artists—John Currin, Richard Phillips, Tom Sachs—their names take on a heightened level of value. “Larry makes their work worth more, in the same way that he sold a dollar poster for a fifteenfold profit when he put it in a metal frame,” says the artist Mark Kostabi, who first met Gagosian in the early eighties and quickly sold him more than 100 of his works. “He doesn’t want to be the first person to discover major talent. He wants to be the second. But he became the context. He’s the frame.”
That the Gagosian imprimatur has come to suggest ever-rising prices seems to be at the core of his dispute with Ronald Perelman. Perelman may well be an important collector, possessed, as his friends claim, of “a great eye” and a list of cultural institutions that have benefited from his charitable and brand-burnishing write-offs, but he is above all a money person. His collection is an investment vehicle, an “art fund,” actually, within an umbrella company that also owns large stakes in the biotechnology, gaming, and financial-services industries. Perelman claims in the complaint that he agreed to purchase the Koons from Gagosian in May 2010, but before he even took possession decided he wanted to exchange it for a major painting, and to receive credit for more than the $4 million he’d paid for it—essentially flipping the work and hoping to turn a profit, assuming its value had risen while he waited for Koons to finish making it. When Gagosian told Perelman that he had little incentive to take the sculpture back because he had promised Koons 80 percent of any profit from a resale before the piece was actually finished, Perelman apparently felt he’d been had. In a countersuit he later dropped, Gagosian alleged that Perelman had failed to pay for two artworks and failed to follow a payment schedule for a third.
The Cowles case, by contract, represents an instance of Gagosian coming under siege from art-world true believers, for treating the members of an old-guard art family as chumps. Jan Cowles is an honorary trustee at MoMA. Charles Cowles is a former publisher of Artforum magazine and an art dealer whose gallery closed in 2009. They’re the sort of people who put their art on a wall. The suit alleges that Gagosian breached his fiduciary duties. The two sides have agreed to go to mediation out of court. But more illuminating, perhaps, is the tone the principals took as they went about making the deal.
“Hi Tom Dean! Seller now in terrible straits and needs cash,” Deborah McLeod, a Gagosian gallery director in Los Angeles, wrote to the eventual buyer, Thompson Dean, in July 2009. “Are you interested in making a cruel and offensive offer? Come on, want to try?”
When Dean replied that “liquidity is an issue,” and later asked how an offer of $2 million “would be received,” McLeod wrote back: “That’s approximately half price, so I like it!” The offer would’ve apparently been more than enough for poor Charles Cowles, who’d been persuaded by Gagosian to accept a price of $1 million—enabling the gallery to keep half of Dean’s $2 million as a commission but without telling Cowles what the commission was. McLeod wrote to Dean from Los Angeles that the gallery could only secure him the deal by having Dean pay 25 percent up front. On July 30, Dean replied that he could make it up to Gagosian within a few months: “I am selling a big company with the deal expected to close in December ($50 mm to me!) at which time I could pay the whole amount.”
Gagosian was asked during his deposition if he had ever solicited a bid “of a ‘cruel and offensive offer.’ ” He replied that McLeod’s language in the e-mail to Dean “was based on, I think, the nature of their repartee and that he is a distressed-asset guy and private equity and maybe she was trying to appeal to his animal instincts … I find it amusing, to be honest with you … because it was so hyperbolic, kind of excessive to the point of being amusing.”
The negotiations among Gagosian, Mugrabi, and the Sotheby’s team reflect the sort of favored-client privileges many gallerists who don’t speculate in the secondary market claim can be dangerous to collectors and artists. Mugrabi told Rotter that if Froehlich, the seller, didn’t agree to their price, he ought to take the piece off the market rather than risk a buy-in. “I’ll tell you what the bottom price is, and if the guy wants it, we can at least have a secure bid on it,” he told Rotter. “And if he doesn’t, then maybe he withdraws it from the sale.”
Then Mugrabi called his father. “Froehlich está muy stubborn,” he complained. He proceeded to have a conversation, mostly in Spanish, about which pictures were covered (“El Tuna, sí. El Hammer and Sickle, no. Los Zapatos tampoco…”). He took his father’s remarks as instructions to make an offer “por los dos.” When Mugrabi called back to Rotter at Sotheby’s, he said, “What’s up, Alex? My dad said that he can pay for the two pictures—for the Hammer and Sickle and the shoes—£2 million, all-inclusive.” Then he said, “Okay, cool. Okay, okay.” They hung up.
All that remained was to hold the auction. At Sotheby’s, Gagosian and Mugrabi sat next to each other and, reporters in the room noted, took turns raising their hands to bid on both paintings until they reached the final price (Gagosian’s lawyer says he did not bid on the Hammer and Sickle.) It appeared to others in the room that there were no other bidders. The prices for the two works were roughly £2 million and over £600,000.
Mugrabi says that a few days after the auction, Gagosian decided not to co-­purchase the Hammer and Sickle piece with him, but took sole possession of the shoe painting. The larger piece sat in a warehouse until “about a year or two later,” when the Mugrabis gave it to a European dealer.
“We have several other Hammer and Sickles—three, four, I think—and this was the one we were willing to sell,” Mugrabi said. How much did it go for? Mugrabi laughed. “More than we paid for it, of course.”
Hirst’s decision to leave Gagosian followed the defections of a number of somewhat less high-profile artists over the past couple of years—Tom Friedman (Luhring-Augustine), Philip Taaffe. It turns out that Yayoi Kusama’s representative informed the gallery last summer of the artist’s plans to end their relationship. Kusama, who has iconic status in Japan and a following of wealthy collectors—her market footprint was enhanced by a large-scale collaboration with Louis Vuitton stores—had apparently been frustrated by the gallery’s treatment for a couple of years. People close to her have complained privately that Gagosian left them out of major decisions, such as how her work would be exhibited and which pieces would be shown, and raised prices without her knowledge.
As Kusama attempted to quietly retrieve her artworks from Gagosian’s storage facilities, her studio was said to be surprised in late November to receive an e-mail invitation from the gallery announcing an exhibition—alongside Koons—of some of that very work at Gagosian’s Beverly Hills space, to be held the following week.
People consider the German-born Zwirner just as financially ambitious as Gagosian, though with a more refined manner. Gagosian’s colleagues speculate all manner of things—that Richard Prince may be leaving next, that artists whose careers were considered “made” by Gagosian decided this was not so much of a gift. “Larry and Richard Prince exploited the crap out of Richard’s market for several years, and it began to backfire,” an auction-house executive says. Gagosian used to make fun of Prince’s earlier paintings as “curator art,” though he decided he was a big fan when the nurse paintings began to sell for more money, and he eventually poached Prince from Barbara Gladstone. Prices rose under his stewardship, from six figures in 2003 to $6 million in 2008, but now hover in the low millions. “Once it stops working, the artist gets upset, and Larry’s not going to be the gallerist who holds his hand and says, ‘Just because your market has dropped by more than 50 percent, I believe in your work more than ever.’ Larry says, ‘I’ll take 30 percent of whatever you’re making and ignore you unless you start to sell for more again.’ ”
Hirst’s prices have fallen recently, but that doesn’t seem to be the reason for the breakup. “You don’t put on a show for an artist and give him all of your eleven galleries if you don’t have a good relationship,” said James Kelly, Hirst’s business manager (the artist employs a team of some 160 people—spread among his six studios and Science, Ltd.). But, he went on, there has been a discernible disconnect forming between the two in recent years. “Larry has a very, very large machine, that’s part of it.” He cited Gagosian’s persistent growth and preoccupation with the secondary ­market—“He’s representing a lot more estates now, dead artists”—and Hirst’s desire to produce fewer artworks. “Damien told me, ‘I want to slow down, and therefore there’s no point in staying with Gagosian.’ He’s got to the point in life—his collector following is very loyal—where he doesn’t need it.”
From the beginning of his career, Hirst has also shown with Jay Jopling of London’s White Cube Gallery, the pioneer dealer of the Young British Artists movement. Kelly said Hirst would continue to be represented by White Cube. “The difference between Larry and Jay is that Damien grew up with Jay, they are part of something together. It’s a very different relationship there, which Damien has no intention of severing.” He added that while Hirst never minded the treatment, an artist’s interactions with Gagosian himself are all business. “Larry has his staff look after artists—I dealt with Larry, while Millicent Wilner in London is who Damien worked with.”
In the marriage of art and money that’s taken place over the past quarter-century, Hirst and Gagosian have been the groom and bride (with Andy Warhol, hovering over, blessing all, as paterfamilias). The fact that Hirst and Gagosian are getting divorced, and the reasons they’ve grown apart—Gagosian too controlling, too focused on his own upside; Hirst wanting his space, tiring of a certain kind of dealmaking—may represent a turning point in the fraught relations between dealers and artists. Hirst had always treated wealth as a theme of his art, partly a subject of comedy, even as he amassed a reputed fortune of more than $300 million and bought a Downton Abbey–size estate. The shark in formaldehyde, the diamond-encrusted skull are remarks on the culture he and Gagosian helped to create; the works’ prices themselves were somehow part of their aesthetic import. But Hirst’s flight from his comfortable position is bound to be a cautionary tale for artists entering into such relationships.
Still, there’s something about Larry Gagosian that’s thrilling to certain artists. He’s a force of nature, a predator—a shark. “He’s a player,” says Richard Serra. “I mean, nothing frightens the guy.”
*This article originally appeared in the January 28, 2013 issue of New York Magazine.