I’ll be heading down to New York City this week to galleries, museums, and many public places to promote the one and only Lena Ulanova! I went to the Guggenheim a couple years ago brandishing enthusiasm for an exhibition of Lena’s work with three other painters working in Moscow and Saint Petersburg. It was a funny place. Funny sad. I wrote about it in the exhibition book.
I Went To The Guggenheim and All I Brought Back was Gnostic Insanity
I just returned from New York after a couple days in the city that should go to sleep. A warm February afternoon in New York stepping off the E train eager to take a stroll through the park with my family. Crossing the street to look at a map and immediately accosted by a thug pushing a ride in a soiled pedicab. For three dollars a minute one of his desperate coolies will pull human flesh and bone a few hundred yards to give the feeling of what it was like to be an English snob of Calcutta a hundred years ago. The company does not take good care of the cabs and drivers. They look already chewed, broken, miserable. No dignity or devotion. Each might have been happy as a little boy licking snow. Now they survive on the street like starving pigeons with arms and their hands held out.
A walk through the park, past the Metropolitan Museum of Art where one can purchase from street vendors what appears to be art, but leave you suspecting that it’s resale of anonymous stuff that’s been passed around for years. The sellers look so damn unhappy. It can’t be joy they’re exhibiting. Must be impostors.
Then on to The Guggenheim where you believe high art will liberate you, and help build a trust again in human potential. $68.00 for the family of three to enter. By this time we’ll give whatever we got just to use a New York toilet.
Relieved and excited to see the work of painters past the army of dead-eyed ushers. Besides a small room hanging paintings from a few French and one Spanish master, and a special exhibit of five Kandinskys, that you cannot get close to for all the uninspired children huddled on the floor, there is nothing but work that looks like it could be showing right now at ANY local art association across America. I would add that it might even be worse. I have never been angry at a museum before, until this day.
Ha ha ha. They’re not really cleaning supplies. Gotcha! It’s formed plastic that’s been painted to look just like the thing that it was. Wow!
Dear young people of earth, with remarkable patience birthed from the boredom of tacit slavery, (which is school), you too can achieve this milestone. Find an over-educated, non art-maker to authenticate your clever genius. Make sure she has access to money. A ton of it. An overrated architect got enough to design and hire coolies to construct teeny tiny bathrooms that barely fit a person’s knees between the toilet and the wall. He too is on display in the basement of the Guggenheim. Here the back-scratching descends in a self-congratulating staircase all the way down to hell.
Seekers of fine art, my subjective brilliance shall not be humiliated by a Guggenheim ever again. A pretty building with barely workable bathrooms. Perfect to house an army of unwashed pedicabbers and their shredded, stained vehicles. Both they and the Guggenheim offer imaginary crap for pay. I just feel like kicking the juice out of them for accosting my wife and child in the park on such a beautiful false spring day.
But all is not lost of your legacy multi-millionaire Guggenheims of no taste. The Internet has been invented. For free you can come see on my blog what living artists are producing on any day of the week. And I’ll never charge you to squeeze your knees into a poorly designed toilet room.
Lena Ulanova is an aristocrat of the spirit.
I copied her stance in self portrait from a painting she made a couple years ago, and placed it in a Saint Petersburg vista I saw in dreamland. There is also a mute swan late to migrate, and autumn leaves swirling.
The mute swan was brought to America to ornament the gardens of grand estates. I invited Lena to send her work over here to teach my countrymen, especially those immersed in the arts and art professions, how to dream again, like they did before treading water for a lifetime in a sea of art bureaucracy, which is an enormous oxymoron pool that no one thinks beautiful. Like an atomic sea, or an ocean in hell.
Dear private galleries and museums… You don’t need us now, but you will one day. Like van Gogh, we do this for free, and we also take van Gogh in a direction he desired, of this I am certain. Communion among fellow artists! For art for the masses to survive to the next century, I advise all and sundry to take another look—perhaps to do a Timothy Leary— “turn on, tune in, and drop out” now to save your souls, or just to make yourselves more deserving of a better time, like you had when you were young and hoping foolishly.
The thought of art in your 20’s was like the anticipation of a wine buzz on a night out with friends, (in)complete with all the unknowns and surprise that could happen without cars and money. Art in your 40’s, 50’s, and beyond is like a bottle of wine for coping—a kind of temporary medication to the constant duress underpinning every sought after good time.
Established galleries and museums are missing the point. They cannot represent art. Living artists, (and I don’t mean the image-makers with polished dot coms and paid for Brooklyn studios), but the ones turning old man and old woman wine drunks into born again songwriters, the aristocrats of the spirit—they are the artists worth seeking and promoting, else you’ve learned nothing at all from van Gogh. Nothing art anyway, above rich endowment and $75,000 advertising budgets. Your end of the art spectrum is so necessary to art and artist, however you worship a bottom line declaring that the only path to art’s survival is more money.
In America, an aristocrat like Paul Allen, owns a football team and attempts to buy art. And therein lies the rub. Art cannot be bought, or sold. One can share it for a price, in order to keep moving artistically. No one pays a plumber to dig and install an old ceramic French drain (even one his great grandfather might have lovingly fired in a plumber’s kiln). Paul Allen must be an idiot to think he can pay a million times more than what a French painting costs a dead painter, and move an art world toward a gargantuan tax write-off. No. He is a dead product pusher, a little rich boy with no depth, an aristocrat of avarice and emptiness, with the spirit of a greedy flea.
And he boasts of a 10,000 bottle wine cellar for his hopeless admirers and wannabes.
There has always been an easy greed to spot in art, even of the 19th century, when any cough around the corner could spray blood, and a cool drink of water on a hot day spread the cholera to babies. Vincent van Gogh was an artist. Jeff Koons is not. Any person who speaks of the latter in art does not know art. He or she knows image, like Paul Allen. And the three of them can go figuratively hang themselves on a Seahawk’s goalpost for all I care of their loud mouths. I’m gonna put up this sign I made for Lena, quieter than most swans, and show her paintings to the world, expressively like an angry goose.
Lena Ulanova is an aristocrat of the spirit. In any age she could fall and complete a painting to uplift and inspire. There is an easy marker to tell art from artifice. Would a painter have the determination to magically land and express in any century, or is she just another contemporary middle or late age wine drunk dreaming about owning a football team?
Wake up galleries and museums. Stop selling your stuff like losers.
Can a man be an Eve? I feel I stand in the Garden of Eden often, making good and bad decisions for the future of the human race.
No. That’s just ego. Woman possess more potential to suffer. Good men can be, but they never carry a weight more than their own. Women provide. Men pretend.
Here is a short art story of my pretending from a couple years ago:
I Must Leave The Figure Drawing Class. I’d Rather Be Naive
I am surprised I made it through class these past two months. A man approaching a half-century of life does not need a new trick if he is productive and often pleasantly satisfied with his limitations. I draw better, more confidently than five years ago. The class has taught me proportion, lengths and widths of the human form. That’s good enough for me. I color better than five years ago — trial and much error, with persistence and practice… I have never sat before a canvas not painting for more than two minutes. I think I would suffocate if I did! That is a kind of success I have achieved — painting meditation. Actually, the original intent of auditing this university class has been satisfied. That is, I humbled myself before a better drawer, hoping he unveil some secrets to a lifelong study of the figure. He opened up a world to me that was practical and interesting, but only to a degree. Car mechanics are interesting too. So is bridge engineering, and volleyball tournaments. However, if I had to paint with any of these newly refined skills, I’d have killed my lust for self-liberation altogether before the second engine block torque demonstration.
The class itself was a private torture. I won’t elaborate out of respect for my professor’s occupation, except that the environment created and methods used, no matter how traditional, to me were painfully rote and joy-stultifying. Art students paying for his tutelage will graduate later in the spring feeling accomplished, but less confident and overflowing with new doubt — exactly how I felt while petitioning the master for a free spot in his class. Here is my letter I wrote to him, followed by a reason why I was probably knocking on the wrong monastery:
Are you familiar with the book “Training of a Zen Buddhist Monk” by D.T. Suzuki? If not, it’s an account of a monk’s life in a dojo — from beginning to release. Before entering he must wait at the gate for days, suffering the elements and jeers of other monks heckling him from behind the wall, until he is allowed entrance to live and learn with the master.
This week I received a modest grant to sit with Russian figurative painters using Skype, amass work with them, transport it, to finally show in exhibition in the fall at The Art Association. Our first meeting was last Monday. It was the most humbling experience of my life. I learned (yet always knew) that I can’t draw. I am in love with paint — a naive painter through and through. But I can’t draw! Sitting in my studio plugged in live to social media friends six thousand miles away, a huge language barrier, and a room full of more experienced figure drawers — it was like the biology student being called upon to perform brain surgery on his own child. Okay, not quite like that. But I have been pacing the floor for several days and thought of you.
Anyway, to the point. Do you have room for me to audit your Figure Drawing I class this spring? I see that it is almost full, but I promise to be a very non-invasive yet eager student. I do not expect miracles, nor do I desire trompe-l’œil skill achieved in this lifetime. I just want to see better. Who better to learn from than you?
Well, as mentioned before, I have learned a more confident approach to gesture and proportion of the human being. Good. And I must leave it at that, or I fear regression to a point where I begin to doubt my own powers of expression, when alternately at this time in my life, I feel born again and more productive than I ever felt.
Barring any private or mass public tragedy, my future is paint because I have determined that there be no other for me. If I draw so badly that you can’t see this painting to be my figure drawing professor suffering his own demons, then label me abstract expressionist. Heck, if I wanted to, I could have given him beach balls for legs, if it helped express what I believe most men my age feel on their darkest nights.
I express to charge my world — my politics, philosophy, and emotion — with repetition of my humanity. I guess I already knew before taking this class that I did not need to draw better in order to express myself.
I need to feel more, dream more, live more. There is no regress to progress. Daily, all any person should do is take his or her humanity and fly with it.
My resignation letter: I am writing to thank you for the chance to audit your Drawing 300 class these past two months. It was challenging as you said it would be. Still, I learned a great deal — about just as much as I need to carry on. Too many new tricks for this old dog and he may undo all he has unlearned over the years. I guess I like where I go with painting more than I felt I did. Self-doubt is a big part of any adult life. I feel that I have hit a point where the trade off of learning the figure in a traditional way just piles on more doubt than I desire at this time and station of my life. I guess, overall, I truly enjoy my naivety. As you said in the last lecture, it is good to know our abilities and work with them. Coincidentally, I have long said that all I want out of a productive life is to perfect my limitations.
I’ll have you know that I am exactly half way there 🙂
If you are ever around my neighborhood, please stop by for a cup of coffee. I keep a messy studio around back. We can discuss painting, art, planetary alignments, what have you… I also host house exhibitions about twice a year to keep me in touch with other human beings of my locale.
Always merry and bright,
I know there is a reference here. Perhaps Houdini?
Maybe not, and it’s just a well-dressed man leaning over the Moyka. I’ll walk along that river someday, if I haven’t already in another time or dimension.
Just now I picked up one of my older publishing failures and randomly opened to a story about that man on a bridge and a historical account of Saint Petersburg. From 1999, when the world was supposed to end…
A Thursday Afternoon
This is a perfect day! The town is erupting with fall color. Kevin came to my door—not Jeff, although Jeff came later, at the moment I turned to Rose and said, “I hate my life.” But Kevin came first. He peeked his head in the doorway and swore, pretending to be Jeff. We went out to breakfast at Joe’s dirty diner and filled up on bacon omelets and bread soaked in butter. I cannot successfully relate to you the actual, incredible horror of Wade’s Diner in Oswego. If you could stand five minutes of the pent-up aching misery showing on the faces of its clientele, or swallow your food with ease after speaking to one of God’s cruelest earth creatures (the American diner waitress); if you could stand the nicotine-stained floral pattern on the wall, just talking and chewing for five minutes and not be moved by the hideousness, chances are that you don’t read anything outside the celebrity sex chronicles in the aisle of the supermarket anyway, and therefore my little book does not exist for you. Chances are that you are one of these zombies terrifying me today. If so, then the chance is great that a pig is luckier than you.
When I am bitter I can paint quite a sour portrait of Oswego. When I am bitter, which is often, I upbraid this truck stop of a country of pot-bellied, middle-aged, dangerously educated cowards. Then, when I am happy, any moment can be the start of a perfect day. I feel smart to myself and overwhelmingly secure and fizzing inside. At these moments of clarity there are two of me; one is constantly skipping, punching at the air and singing, while the other pretends not to notice and thinks only of how to subdue his friend, the incorrigible opposite. Today there are two of me walking, and there is Kevin. I have fixed the holes in the ceiling, smoothed joint cement over the cracks, and said the word “Dostoevsky” to myself three times, which repeated just twice on a fall day becomes an incantation. Blue sky, white clouds, St. Petersburg in 1865. Dostoevsky. Next to you stands a constant reminder of death. Your sister is white with the cholera. You shit in a box, and the richest gentleman on the street walks with a cane and dresses smart, but smells like an outhouse. The middle class of Dostoevsky’s neighborhood are intelligent enough to seize the opportunity to read and practice their signatures, while in the most ironic juxtaposition, the little sillies of today, have blocked their intelligence to such a degree that it can be read like a book painfully and laboriously written by a thirty-one year old insurance agent, a man who reads the Sunday paper and watches professional wrestling on TV.
Dostoevsky. Are there any words richer than this one? Or more terrifying? Does anyone feel ashamed to hear it? I do. But to myself, not to men. Kevin is here, and we will drive to breakfast… Stop.
In St. Petersburg there aren’t any buildings taller than these.
Horses, kalomp, kalomp, clippety-clop, walking and trotting, whips, black carriages, dung, urine, and top hats. Kevin locks the door to his boardinghouse and whistles down the steps onto the busy street. The sun is bright. The air is brisk. The morning is noisy with the sound of human traffic. Walkers are dressed to their class, their caste. No free state. No free men. Just rich and poor people. Human walkers and horse stompers, carts, carriages, kings and crooked constables. He walks and tips his hat to the ladies. He says, “Good morning gentlemen,” to gentle men discussing business. Can Kevin see their breath? Yes. He passes by. One man grunts. He hears the grunt loud and clear. Pigeons coo at his feet. Geese fly overhead. The clouds are miraculous. The morning is so agonizingly alive. Thank God he doesn’t have rabies! He walks along feeling the way an iris feels the many moods of spring. He is affected, to say the least.
Kevin is here and I am already up at my writing desk. There is wood in the stove and the coffee is hot. My boots are old leather. I offer him the chair. He throws me my cloak and laughs, “The day is new,” he says. “Why do you want to ruin it?”
So we take our poetry outside onto the street. There is nothing in store for either of us. We are two poor enthusiastic idiots.
September. Vladimir. Plague. Landlord. Horse and Buggy. The Laundry Girl. Green Grass. Clean Sky. The First Time in Man’s Murder and Death History That Love is Intangible. These are words and it is words that keep the young men occupied on the first park bench planted in St. Petersburg. We share a loaf of fresh baked bread. We hold the warm crust between our fingers. We are dreaming out loud of things to come. Man’s accomplishments are prodigious. We are affected, alive, and always despairing because it’s St. Petersburg, 1865. God’s bells are ringing from the churches, but there is a pile of
human waste in the church puddle. There’s an orphan selling pencils, and a cart full of corpses riding by. Our laughter is a hearty kind, its like unheard of today. A hard laugh is frightening because it bursts forth from a mouth that knows better.
“Dazzling and tremendous, how quick the sun-rise would kill me
If I could not now and always send sun-rise out of me.”
Dostoevsky is only a word, yet it is a kind of word that sustains me. Beside mankind’s hero worship and death history there are books of words he has invented to record his good deeds. Words upon words upon words, ad infinitum. It began innocently enough. The wonder of a word might be expressed by a bourgeois’ gratitude. He might have it inscribed on a gold plate below the gazelle head in the parlor. It might be “paradise,” and it makes the simple boob dream of America and the Wild West while his wife and their servant girl wash dishes in green putrid water. Their wonder may one day make them rich enough to bend over and kiss the Czar’s hand. “Hope” is a hard word that back in a hopeless time was the living word day after day. I would guess that for more people than not, just to be alive was fortunate, or lucky, or divine. To have life with a national currency… To buy an ottoman and a train ticket south to the palm trees when the wife was pale again and coughing blood… Oh my God the happy wonder of the Nineteenth Century! For once in human history some content fool could look up at the sky and shout out an ecstatic “Yes!” Back in America Walt Whitman was giving our relatives these joyous revelations, although some of these relatives were still raping brown women in a wood shed. Some were beating up their wives with a coal shovel, or sneaking guzzles of whiskey in the cow barn to push life’s misery out of their minds. Not Mr. Whitman. “Wow, I have a body. She has a body. My voice is my voice. I can stand here for five minutes and not starve to death. What the hell am I doing here? I can jump up and down on that rooftop and yawp yawp about anything which pleases me.”
Today I am Walt Whitman yawping. There is so much to yawp about on a Thursday afternoon, even if one is down on his ass in a dirty diner. I tell Kevin these thoughts and I try to get him to yawp, like I try to get Rose to yawp. I would try to get the waitress to yawp if she had just a breath of life in her. But she wouldn’t change her approach to the table if the sun just blew out and the coffee turned to ice. I am reading a free weekly newspaper entitled The Oswego Shopper. In times past I brought Hamsun, Thoreau, or Giono into diners for breakfast. Now I carry “The Shopper.”
1999. Mankind as seen by the editors of a free weekly newspaper. One, sometimes two, is dropped at every doorstep in Oswego. “Don’t Be cruel To Your Domestic Pets”—the title to a weekly column. There’s a picture of the author hugging a poodle that she loves more than her dead husband. That’s okay. I don’t love her dead husband either. A picture of four local business people holding golf clubs between their legs. A benefit. A birthday party. The Oswego Shopper puts out the same continuous stream of unbelievable crap when earthquakes swallow up Turkish cities. They have printers employed there. They are well paid and always ready to eat. They are disproportionate. Fat and short, or long and fat. The boys wear baseball caps and the women… Well, it doesn’t matter what they wear because physically they are en route to ruin and will never be pretty again, inside or out. They ride around with their moronic husbands in big trucks. They don’t cry. They say “minga”, which according to the FDRA means either “dick” or “hey” in Italian. The Future Dumb Rapists of America sat next to Rose and I at the movie theater. I wanted to stand up and murder each one of them, and cut them, and cook them, and feed them to their parents. Obviously the next course will be their mothers and fathers. I will feed them to the dogs. Rapists aren’t born, they are nurtured. Mom and dad have a hand in every rape that has happened. I promise.
I have this “society” paper in my hands and I am perusing the want ads. “Perusing” is a word 18 year old girls use when attending a poetry reading and paying for their coffee with a signed check.
Frankly I am not too interested in finding a job. I listen to Kevin. He tells me to slow down. I eat too fast. All of our lives we have waited patiently for this. One Christmas Eve I didn’t care if the world exploded, as long as my wonderful Santa came. He came and he came, year after year, and then all of a sudden… nothing. No more. Jesus! That’s the sorrow of it! But I will keep eating my omelets fast, vacuum the floor fast; I’ll talk fast, drive fast to some place, any place that is always in a minute, just a second, by 9 o’clock, and I will start to hunch over slightly, just enough to notice my belly-button becoming more elliptical. “I’m turning into one of them,” I’ll say. Rose will say “Nonsense,” and “I love you.” So I am bound to forget that I am a man, eventually… But not now. There is still some fight left in me on this perfect day.
Yellow leaves on a Thursday afternoon. They remind me of shiny yellow lemons. You know, I can throw one a hundred yards. Let me explain…
Four years ago on a rainy September night I borrowed Scott’s car because I was poor and extremely happy, but tired of making Rose think she was doomed to walking an entire life time with me. I was going to surprise her with a fresh baked quiche, a bottle of wine and a car for the night. Scott had a Trans Am which made me feel very sinewy behind the wheel. I knew that Rose knew it was a big fake-out. She understood I had nothing but my daughter. Wonderful! The night was going perfectly. We set up our picnic at Rice Creek. We drank the wine, ate the quiche, and rushed home to make love. Afterwards she walked around topless in jeans, which was quite nice because it was the first time any woman did that for me. What joy! We listened to “Mozambique,” and “Black Diamond Bay,” and with the rain, the rain smells, and the wet, taillight traffic shining out the window, I decided to drive back out into the night and do something special for her. We drove to the market, bought six lemons, and then rode over to the high school football field. A very wet and dark night. I sent her to the opposite goal post. I could barely make out her yellow raincoat while I launched all six lemons in her direction. She was supposed to mark where each fell. She claimed that she did just that, and I threw one over 100 yards. “Really?”
“Yes, and one bounced even further.”
That was my success, and I bragged about it often to Kevin and Joe. Neither believed me. Joe said if such were true, then I would be pitching in the major leagues. Then I guess it wouldn’t matter if I pitched the ball over the upper deck or over the plate. I am a distance thrower, and far from accurate.
Anyway, last spring I took Rose and Rachelle out to the field again. This time on a windlass, sunny evening. I could throw the lemon a measly 85 yards. That was it! Oh how terrible getting old and set in my ways. Then Rose admitted that maybe she was counting bounces on that fateful night back in ‘95.
I was crushed.
Today I am happy. When one is happy, he tends to ignore the past. Also, the king shouldn’t care if his loyal subjects stretch the truth for him. Everyone fires at the same target, but I am told it was my shot that killed the deer. Rose loved her king. She was acting on my favor. I will throw one of these lemons the length of the field. Kevin will be shocked. I will be as calm as can be, for I believe in the unbelievable easily, without much reason or intelligence. When the sun shines stark and brilliant and the air is cool enough for a wool shirt, then I become very mentally retarded, and accomplish the impossible with ease.
92 yards. I say 94, but Kevin says 92. That is good enough for me. Plus, I have the excuse of a very heavy bacon and cheese omelet weighing in my stomach. Next time there won’t be any excuse.
So on a Thursday afternoon at the dawn of the 21st century, what can I believe?
I can believe that The Eternal Husband was in my hand once when I was desperate and spending lonely nights on the streets of New York. I can believe that I never finished The Idiot because during that early autumn of several years’ past there was a stream of glorious white cloud and blue sky days. So instead, I walked about town in sneakers and stopped to write about wonder in my journal. I believe that one extremely cold and snowy winter I brought Crime and Punishment into a myriad of hot baths and then into my bed by the bay window and the howling wind. I believe that is all the Dostoevsky I have read. That is enough if one has an imagination. One doesn’t need to read past the point of realization. That would be overkill.
All that a fool has to do is think about what is wrong, to know it is wrong, and to want to do right. Modern life is a horrifying series of juxtaposition and irony to the sensitive man. 1865 Russia. 1999 America. Neither of the two are right, but one is better. If only one Thursday afternoon in my lifetime allows me to see this, then that is enough. I hope.