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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Kurt Jobst, Goldsmith and Silversmith

It all started with a question on a web forum: someone had acquired a bangle crafted by Kurt Jobst and wanted to know some basic information about the artist.

It was the first time I heard that name: the person who had put the question knew only that Kurt Jobst had lived in South Africa and wanted firstly to find out whether he was still alive. It seemed that there was a book about his art, but nobody knew where to find it: no info about the title or the author.

I decided to try a search on the web, by mere curiosity, with no idea on the outcome.

The first information I found was that Kurt Jobst had passed away in 1971.

It was a catalog edited by the Lilly Library (the rare books, manuscripts, and special collections library of the Indiana University). The catalog referenced all papers kept by the library that were related to Nadine Gordimer, the South African author, Nobel Prize laureate: early writings, articles, book reviews, novels, scripts, short stories, short story collections, speeches, as well as simple annotations. All organized in boxes and folders.

Well, in box 10/folder 8 there was an annotation on Kurt Jobst:

Kurt Jobst [address]. Given by Reinhold Cassirer at the cremation of Kurt Jobst, May 7, 1971. Final version of address; photocopy of clipping, titled: He gave Jo'burg Some Style, A Personal Tribute by Nadine Gordimer; photocopy of longer version used as foreword for book on Jobst's work, published 1977.

Looking for the traces of a person whom I was wandering whether still alive, it was kind of shocking to find the first information telling me about his cremation in 1971! At least with a fine word about him, he gave Jo'sburg some style.

A sentence telling me not only about Kurt Jobst, but also about Nadine Gordimer! It was actually the first sentence coined by her that I was coming upon: an elegant and generous sentence telling in two words a lot about the man (who had given a whole city some style), proving in the same time a subtle empathy for the burg she was living in; that Jo'burg was such a great way to say a lot about Johannesburg!

But: was that Kurt Jobst the personage I was looking for? To find the answer I had to look for that book printed in 1979, with the foreword by Nadine Gordimer.

I found the book on the web: another catalog, this time the one of Clarke's Bookshop:

23. [Jobst (Kurt)] KURT JOBST, goldsmith and silversmith, art metal
worker, 47pp., 4to., b/w & colour illus., hardback, d.w.,
Johannesburg, 1979. R750
Includes An appreciation of Kurt Jobst by Nadine Gordimer.

Now I was sure that it was the same person! Only this finding grew my appetite to find more about Kurt Jobst. So far I knew only some very basic facts: a jeweler who had lived in Johannesburg, died in 1971, a book about him printed in 1979; Nadine Gordimer knew him and wrote an introduction to the book.

Looking at the bookshop web address, I was initially confused: the termination was .ZA, I hadn't known that this was the abbreviation for South Africa (from Dutch: Zuid Afrika).

Clarke's Bookshop was located in Cape Town, and the price of the book was kind of astronomical, not to mention shipping costs, so there was no question to order it from there. I looked for the book on the Amazon: it was out of stock, with a not too encouraging note (currently unavailable; we don't know when or if this item will be back in stock).

So I went on by searching with the Google engine for books. What I found was fascinating: the whole life of Kurt Jobst was unfurling in front of my eyes (to be right, only in general aspects, but anyway).

Kurt Jobst was originary from Austria. He was born in 1905 and learned the gold and silver craft in his native country. Two books were mentioning his Austrian background:

  1. The Grove Dictionary of Art (Jane Turner editor), at page 120: foremost among them was Kurt Jobst (1905-71), who had served his apprenticeship under Karl Berthold, a master goldsmith, in the town of Hanau-am-Main, where he also attended the Goldsmith Academy...
  2. The Fleuron. A Journal of Typography (Stanley Morison, Olivier Simon editors), at page 33: two pupils of his calligraphy class, Kurt Jobst and Berthold Wolpe, have already proved to be collaborators of great ability. In the course of the last year a number of articles worked in metal were produced, some of which I should like to mention. A receptacle for the Sacred Host made of lead, ornamented by an...
Another book was briefly mentioning him as an Austrian jeweler educated under the influence of the Bauhaus School.

He quit Austria after the Anschluss. Here our now well known acquaintance Nadine Gordimer comes to our help: Conversations with Nadine Gordimer (by Nadine Gordimer, Nancy Topping Bazin, Marilyn Dallman Seymour), at page 251; here you go: there was Kurt Jobst, a jeweller, who wasn't a Jew or a leftist but had quit Austria because of the Nazis; and it goes on: he hadn't ever had any black friends. He was a middle-aged man and let part of his house to an English friend...

And finally we come again on the book about him, printed in 1979: Kurt Jobst. Goldsmith and Silversmith. Art Metal Worker (Dieter and Arno Jobst authors), with the introduction by Nadine Gordimer.

How was his life in South Africa? He did not have black friends, he had at least an English friend, he was known and appreciated by Nadine Gordimer, presumably by other members of the intelectual and artistic elite there. Was he involved in the political tumult there? Was he rather a shy person, living exclusivley in his golden and silver universe? I do not know the answer.

But what I know about him says to me a lot: he gave Jo'burg some style.

(Avangarda 20)

(Nadine Gordimer)

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An Article by David Brooks

Here is an op-ed by David Brooks in today's NY Times. The title is Revolt of the Nihilists.

In 1933, Franklin Roosevelt inherited an economic crisis. He understood that his first job was to restore confidence, to give people a sense that somebody was in charge, that something was going to be done.

This generation of political leaders is confronting a similar situation, and, so far, they have failed utterly and catastrophically to project any sense of authority, to give the world any reason to believe that this country is being governed. Instead, by rejecting the rescue package on Monday, they have made the psychological climate much worse.

George W. Bush is completely out of juice, having squandered his influence with Republicans as well as Democrats. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson is a smart moneyman, but an inept legislator. He was told time and time again that House Republicans would not support his bill, and his response was to get down on bended knee before House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

House leaders of both parties got wrapped up in their own negotiations, but did it occur to any of them that it might be hard to pass a bill fairly described as a bailout to Wall Street? Was the media darling Barney Frank too busy to notice the 95 Democrats who opposed his bill? Pelosi’s fiery speech at the crucial moment didn’t actually kill this bill, but did she have to act like a Democratic fund-raiser at the most important moment of her career?

And let us recognize above all the 228 who voted no — the authors of this revolt of the nihilists. They showed the world how much they detest their own leaders and the collected expertise of the Treasury and Fed. They did the momentarily popular thing, and if the country slides into a deep recession, they will have the time and leisure to watch public opinion shift against them.

House Republicans led the way and will get most of the blame. It has been interesting to watch them on their single-minded mission to destroy the Republican Party. Not long ago, they led an anti-immigration crusade that drove away Hispanic support. Then, too, they listened to the loudest and angriest voices in their party, oblivious to the complicated anxieties that lurk in most American minds.

Now they have once again confused talk radio with reality. If this economy slides, they will go down in history as the Smoot-Hawleys of the 21st century. With this vote, they’ve taken responsibility for this economy, and they will be held accountable. The short-term blows will fall on John McCain, the long-term stress on the existence of the G.O.P. as we know it.

I’ve spoken with several House Republicans over the past few days and most admirably believe in free-market principles. What’s sad is that they still think it’s 1984. They still think the biggest threat comes from socialism and Walter Mondale liberalism. They seem not to have noticed how global capital flows have transformed our political economy.

We’re living in an age when a vast excess of capital sloshes around the world fueling cycles of bubble and bust. When the capital floods into a sector or economy, it washes away sober business practices, and habits of discipline and self-denial. Then the money managers panic and it sloshes out, punishing the just and unjust alike.

What we need in this situation is authority. Not heavy-handed government regulation, but the steady and powerful hand of some public institutions that can guard against the corrupting influences of sloppy money and then prevent destructive contagions when the credit dries up.

The Congressional plan was nobody’s darling, but it was an effort to assert some authority. It was an effort to alter the psychology of the markets. People don’t trust the banks; the bankers don’t trust each other. It was an effort to address the crisis of authority in Washington. At least it might have stabilized the situation so fundamental reforms of the world’s financial architecture could be undertaken later.

But the 228 House members who voted no have exacerbated the global psychological free fall, and now we have a crisis of political authority on top of the crisis of financial authority.

The only thing now is to try again — to rescue the rescue. There’s no time to find a brand-new package, so the Congressional plan should go up for another vote on Thursday, this time with additions that would change its political prospects. Leaders need to add provisions that would shore up housing prices and directly help mortgage holders. Martin Feldstein and Lawrence Lindsey both have good proposals of the sort that could lead to a plausible majority coalition. Loosening deposit insurance rules would also be nice.

If that doesn’t happen, the world could be in for some tough economic times (the Europeans, apparently, have not even begun to acknowledge their toxic debt) — but also tough political times.

The American century was created by American leadership, which is scarcer than credit just about now.

Zoon Politikon)


Monday, September 29, 2008

Small Aquatic Joys

It's Born Into Us This Love For The Great Oceans

(Washington DC National Gallery of Art)

The Joyous Wondrous Magic of Marc Chagall

Marc Chagall - Eiffel Tower with Donkey, c. 1954

Black Couple and Musician, c. 1948

(Galerie Lareuse)


Dali's Leonardo

(Galerie Lareuse)

Manhattan, Tear Down These Walls!

MetLife, 200Park Avenue
(Photo: Marilynn K. Yee/NYT)

Nicolai Ourossoff, the architect critic of NY Times, has a very incisive column about some buildings in Manhattan sharing three characteristics: they are important; they are representative; they are terribly ugly. You can see them in the presentation that follows:

I respectfully disagree with Mr. Ourossoff. Not that those buildings wouldn't be ugly, no question about that. But my point is that without them Manhattan would miss its spirit. Manhattan is a fascinating city consisting in ugly impressive buildings. It fascinates because of their ugliness. It is remarkably exquisite because of their ugliness. It is sophisticated because of their ugliness.

Why is that? Here is a possible answer: Manhattan is a city of individuals. Rather than a community it is just the sum of each individuality there. These buildings express each one the determination of someone. They cannot be but aggressive and indifferent for the whole, because each one says Here I Am.

Will they disappear? Yes, each one at its own time, when another strong guy will impose his mark over the place.

Well, that's my view. Now you should read the article:

Even the most majestic cities are pockmarked with horrors. The knowledge that every shade of architectural experience, from sublime to excruciating, can exist in such compressed space is part of a city’s seductive pull. Yet there are a handful of buildings in New York that fail to contribute even on these grounds. For them the best solution might be the wrecking ball.

Not a day goes by, I would guess, that a Parisian strolling through the Luxembourg Gardens doesn’t glance up at the lifeless silhouette of the Montparnasse Tower and wish it away.

Tour Montparnasse, Paris

The endlessly repeated joke is that the tower offers the best views in the city because it is the only place from which you cannot see it.

View of Paris from Tour Montparnasse

Many New Yorkers feel the same way about the MetLife Building (formerly the Pan Am Building), whose dull gray concrete facade punctuates the southern end of Park Avenue like an anvil, blotting out a once-glorious view of Grand Central Terminal. In my own neighborhood near Union Square I’ll occasionally catch people shaking their heads as they pass by a bizarre confection decorated with a vulgar pattern of gold rings on 14th Street.

So here’s what I propose. True, the city is close to broke. But even with Wall Street types contemplating the end and construction of new luxury towers grinding to a halt, why give in to despair? Instead of crying over what can’t be built, why not refocus our energies on knocking down the structures that not only fail to bring us joy, but actually bring us down?

Ugliness, of course, should not be the only criterion. There are countless dreadful buildings in New York; only a few (thankfully) have a traumatic effect on the city.

For this reason buildings that I’ve often ridiculed failed to make my list. I toyed with the idea, for example, of including the AT&T Building (now the Sony Building). I’ve disliked it since 1984, when it appeared (in miniature) cradled in the arms of its architect, Philip Johnson, on the cover of Time magazine. Its farcical Chippendale top was an instant hit, and a generation of architects grew up believing that any tower, no matter how cheap and badly designed, could be defended if you added a pretty fillip to the roof. Yet Johnson’s building also represents a turning point in architectural history. And I eventually came to the conclusion that destroying it would be cultural censorship.

Nor have I included the MetLife Building, although it is one of the most resented structures in New York. (The name change made things worse. Pan Am evoked the glamour of 1960s air travel; MetLife makes you think of life insurance and car crashes.) The tower’s chiseled concrete exterior does create a nice tension with Warren & Wetmore’s 1929 Helmsley Building. And while the lobby was callously renovated in the 1980s, it could be restored, amplifying the flow of movement from 45th Street down into the station.

So the list will not include affronts that are merely aesthetic. To be included, buildings must either exhibit a total disregard for their surrounding context or destroy a beloved vista. Removing them would make room for the spirit to breathe again and open up new imaginative possibilities.

Here, then, are my top candidates for demolition.

No site in New York has a darker past than this one. The demolition of the old Pennsylvania Station, the monumental McKim, Mead & White Beaux-Arts gem that stood on this site until 1964, remains one of the greatest crimes in American architectural history. What replaced it is one of the city’s most dehumanizing spaces: a warren of cramped corridors and waiting areas buried under the monstrous drum of the Garden.

Old Penn Station

Over the years the city has entertained dozens of proposals to improve the station, but none have amounted to much of anything. A decade ago Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan unveiled a multibillion-dollar plan to relocate the entrance at the grand old Farley Post Office Building, a McKim, Mead & White treasure on Eighth Avenue, which would free up more space underground. But the plan became entangled in New York’s byzantine development politics and fizzled.

A few years ago two of New York’s biggest developers, Vornado Realty Trust and the Related Companies, came up with an ambitious plan to move Madison Square Garden to a site west of the Farley Building. New towers would rise on valuable land above and around Penn Station, but the plan would also have opened up enough space above the station that light and air could filter into the waiting areas below. Unfortunately that all unraveled when a scandal brought the resignation of Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who had been a supporter of the project. With little room to maneuver, the state and city are now desperately trying to patch together a modest proposal that would create a new entrance to the station from Eighth Avenue.

The lesson from all this? Demolish the Garden. As arenas go, it is cramped and decrepit. And with it gone we could begin to imagine what a contemporary version of the old Penn Station might look like, with light and airy spaces and cavernous entry halls. In short, it could be a monumental gateway to the 21st-century metropolis. Any other plan is just fiddling around.

Several years ago I had the opportunity to peer into Donald Trump’s heart over a brief lunch. The meal was pretty sedate until Mr. Trump seized on the topic of Mar-a-Lago, his palatial estate in Palm Springs, Fla. Have you ever watched craftsmen apply gold leaf? he asked, his eyes lighting up. I hadn’t. You really have to see it, he said. The sheets are so thin that if you hold one up to the ceiling and blow, it takes the shapes of the molding. It just sticks there.

Extending his fingertips in front of his lips as if they were supporting a sheet of gold, he blew into the air.

The moment summed up the magic of Donald Trump. You may find his Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue gaudy, but doesn’t its cockiness makes you grin?

So how to explain Trump Place? A cheap, miserable contribution to an area of the city already in need of some mending, this luxury residential complex is about as glamorous as a toll plaza.

Viewed from the West Side Highway its regimental rows have the mind-numbing regularity of Soviet-style housing. A few concrete planters try to soften the complex’s relationship to the elevated highway, but the effect only makes the buildings look more inhuman. On a recent visit I watched a nanny pushing a stroller up the sidewalk and found myself wondering what effect such a dehumanizing environment would have on the little creature bundled up inside.

It could be that Mr. Trump was out of his element on the Upper West Side, which until recently at least was culturally distant from the glitzy boutiques of Midtown. But what is more likely is that it was a cynical effort to cash in on the Trump name. One answer is more gold leaf. A better one is to demolish the complex and start again.

Pei Cobb Freed & PartnersJavits Center was never considered one of the firm’s best designs. Many of its most graceful features, like a glittering entry hall that would have opened up to the Hudson River, were eliminated because of budget constraints. And the black glass exterior gives it the air of a gigantic mausoleum.

Javits officials, meanwhile, have been complaining for more than a decade that the building is too small to compete with bigger convention centers. The city has considered several expansion plans, but there was never money to pay for them.

It wasn’t until a few years ago that a number of planners pointed out the obvious: With the continuing redevelopment of the Hudson River, the convention center stands on some of the most promising — and valuable — land in the city. As is, it cuts Midtown off from the waterfront. The site would serve better as housing than as a shed for dog shows and car fanatics.

What inspires architects? Central Park, conceived as a place of social healing, is one place to start. The pledge of medical workers to do no harm could be another.

So what were the designers at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill thinking when they created the Annenberg Building? Completed in 1976, this towering structure, clad in rusted Cor-Ten steel, looks like either a military fortress or the headquarters of a sinister spy agency. The narrow horizontal bands of bronzed windows add to the sense of hostility.

But what’s more disturbing is the tower’s savage effect on its surroundings. The tower anchors a sprawling complex that extends from Fifth to Madison Avenue, just north of 98th Street. Seen from Central Park the complex bears down on pedestrians with brutal indifference. To the east it faces the grim towers of the George Washington Carver public housing development. Together the two complexes break the rhythm of low brick prewar buildings as they march up Madison Avenue from Midtown, creating a silent barrier between the world of the moneyed classes to the south and East Harlem to the north. It’s a vision conceived without compassion.

During the 1970s AT&T built several towers to house wiring systems. The giant windowless boxes, clad in panels of pink granite or limestone, added nothing to the skyline.

But the New York Telephone Company (now Verizon) tower at 375 Pearl Street is a unique kind of horror. Seen from the Brooklyn Bridge’s elevated walkway it blots out one of the world’s greatest urban vistas, from the neo-Gothic crown of the Woolworth Building down to City Hall Park and across to the massive Beaux-Arts Municipal Building — a wedding cake building in the mold of Moscow’s Stalin-era apartment towers. Each time I cross the East River, I find myself wanting to throw my cellphone at the building.

So when I learned a few months ago that a proposal was in the works to transform the building into an office tower, I went to take a look. Could anything possibly save this horror? The plan was not only elegantly conceived; it also demonstrated a keen understanding of the tower’s singular qualities. The design, by Cook & Fox, would strip away the tower’s gray limestone cladding and rewrap it in glittering sheets of glass. The location of the elevator core at the building’s west side would allow for big open floors inside, and office workers would have some of the most stunning views of the city, from the Brooklyn Bridge and its tangle of offramps across to Wall Street and up to the Midtown skyline.

Unfortunately, what is needed is beyond the capacity of an upbeat developer and an enthusiastic architect. Anywhere else, the proposed redesign of this building would be a revelation.

Some patches of earth are cursed. Nearly a decade ago Cooper Union had ambitious plans for a small parking lot between the school’s main building and Lafayette Street. Ian Schrager, the hotelier, agreed to develop the site and hired two of architecture’s brightest stars: Rem Koolhaas and Jacques Herzog. Their collaboration led to a likable wedge perforated by round windows, giving it the look of a slab of Swiss cheese. But the budget quickly spun out of control, and Mr. Schrager eventually fired his architects.

A few years later he tried again, hiring Frank Gehry, who designed a hotel with an elaborate glass skin that resembled a woman’s billowing skirt. But then came the World Trade Center attack. The hotel business died, and Gehry too was dumped.

Frustrated, the school turned to the Related Companies, one of the city’s biggest developers, which hired the New York firm Gwathmey Siegel & Associates to design a luxury residential tower.

Though the tower’s curving glass-and-steel skin is an obvious reference to one of the masterpieces of early Modernism, Mies van der Rohe’s unbuilt 1922 Glass Skyscraper project, the crude quality of its execution is an insult to Mies’s memory. His vision was slender and refined. Gwathmey’s tower is squat and clumsy. Clad in garish green glass, it rests on a banal glass box that houses — what else? — rows of A.T.M.’s inside a Chase bank.

But lack of taste is not the point here. Neighborhoods are fragile ecosystems. And while enlightened designs can challenge the past, that is not the same as being oblivious to it. Astor Place would seem more comfortable in a suburban office park.

The East Village is saturated with memories of youthful rebellion. In recent years it has emerged as a crossroads between the world of would-be punks, awkward students and rich Wall Street types. The Gwathmey building serves only the last camp: it’s a literal manifestation of money smoothing over the texture of everyday life.

Edward Durell Stone’s building, which opened as the Gallery of Modern Art in 1964, incited one of the most bitter preservation battles in recent memory. Its defenders, who ranged from the writer Tom Wolfe to youthful preservation groups like Landmarks West, hailed its faux Venetian exterior as a slap against the prevailing standards of mainstream Modernism. Detractors, who would have been happy to see it leveled, mostly held up their noses, denouncing its swanky décor and cramped galleries as an urban eyesore.

The result? Everybody lost. The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission was too cowardly to render a verdict and never reviewed the case. The building was turned over to the Museum of Arts and Design, which gutted it to make room for new galleries and stripped away its white marble exterior.

If the city had chosen to preserve it, a key historical landmark would still be intact. If the building had been torn down, a talented architect might have had the opportunity to create a new masterpiece on one of the choicest sites in the city. Instead we get the kind of wishy-washy design solution that is apt to please no one: a mild, overly polite renovation that obliterates the old while offering us nothing breathtakingly new.

(New York, New York)

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Paul Newman a incetat din viata

Paul Newman va ramane pentru mine intotdeauna asa cum l-am vazut in rolul lui Rocky Graziano, marele boxer din Cineva acolo sus ma iubeste.


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Small Sculpture

Kenny Harris

Kenny Harris - Bath-Florence
oil on canvas
Artist Statement:
I have been drawn to space, light, isolation, reflection, surface, and environment. These come together in various genres- the spare interior, the figure in contemplation, the atmospheric landscape. Within these I try to articulate the feeling I get in transitional low light conditions. The light is the focus of the paintings, creating mood but with a lively, varied surface.

Principle Gallery)

MAD opens in Columbus Circle

The New York Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) moved to a new site, at 2 Columbus Circle. It will open on September 27. The old site (40 W 53-rd Street) has closed.

Three exhibitions will start on the opening day: Elegant Armor (innovative pieces of jewelery created from the 1940s to the present; four thematics - sculptural forms, narrative jewelry, painted and textured surfaces, radical edge); Second Lives (objects and installations comprised of ordinary and everyday manufactured articles, most originally made for another functional purpose - see also ArtLog); Permanently MAD (works from the permanent collection).

If you look at MAD's web site and browse the pages devoted to the three exhibitions you'll discover amazing art works. I chose for here just a chair: believe me, it's the finest choice! Ray Charles touched it once and said that he felt the soul of the hardwood!

Sam Maloof, Rocking Chair, 1957
walnut, upholstery fabric; constructed, turned, joined, shaped

(New York, New York)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

No Regrets, Coyote!

The coyotes of Markus Pierson are shy and delicate. They look always awkward, small innocent souls hidden in big bodies.

Of course, like any other coyotes, they are early up in their ranches, brushing out a brood mare's tail, while the sun is ascending. And then they are driving their motorbikes, sometimes passing by a farmhouse burning down in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night. So they are often in jail, always mistakenly: it's enough to be the wrong guy in the wrong place at the wrong moment. And they stay there, in jail, till the sheriff discovers that the actual smuggler, (or arsonist, or just troublemaker) was somebody else.

Sometimes they examine their heart, always perched by an arrow: they discover that they are again in love, again and again.

And they try to please their sweetheart, bringing her flowers, and dancing unbelievable pirouettes.

But the sweetheart is always much too aware that they just come from such different sets of circumstance:

Joni Mitchell in a video by SpotNFlo)

(P&C Art)

Jennifer Balkan

Jennifer Balkan - Bird Face
oil on canvas

Principle Gallery)

Bailout Hearing in Real Time

Mike Nizza has this post in the LEDE Blog:

Too Little?
, 1:36 p.m. Senator Bunning, citing Alan Greenspan’s view that the $700 billion is nowhere near enough, asked Mr. Bernanke whether he may come back for more taxpayer money? Agreeing, Mr. Bernanke said that it’s hard to know how much is enough, and even raised the possibility that we may come back and say we didn’t need the whole $700 billion.
Dodd’s Vow, 1:25 p.m. The witnesses have spent most of the day trying to convince the panel to set aside punitive measures for executives until after the bailout. But Senator Dodd heard enough of that by 1:24 p.m., and decided to draw a line in the sand. Any bailout would include executive compensation, he said. Count on it.
The Background, 1:11 p.m. On Economix, the newest blog on NYTimes.com, there’s an excellent post that explains the bailout options. As Catherine Rampell writes, there are other options besides total inaction on the one hand, and Mr. Paulson’s $700 billion bailout on the other.
A Wall Street Apology?, 1:04 p.m. Do you think Wall Street owe the American people an apology? The question from Sherrod Brown of Ohio provoked quibbling from the professor-turned-Fed-chief Bernanke: Wall Street is an abstraction. There were many people who made mistakes, many regulators who made mistakes. Then, Mr. Paulson exercised his empathetic powers, saying, I share the outrage … There’s a lot of blame to go around. If any apologies are owed, we’ll find out later, they suggested.
The Bailout Tightrope, 12:34 p.m. David M. Herszenhorn, a New York Times business reporter, e-mailed with an observation on the hearing so far:
Senator Bennett did perhaps the best job of explaining the quandary in dealing with the financial system: if the price of distressed assets to be purchased by the government is set too low, the financial firms have to take steep, potentially crippling losses. If the price is too high, there’s little upside for taxpayers to get their money back or even profit.
And there is no second act, as Mr. Dodd said earlier.
Reacting to Paulson’s Line, 12:30 p.m. Inside the hearing room, snide laughter greeted Mr. Paulson’s line, This is all about the American taxpayer. What was your reaction?
Another Way to Look at It, 12:27 p.m. If it works the way it should work, this is not an expenditure, it’s an investment. — Secretary Paulson
Schumer Speaks, 12:24 p.m. Senator Schumer raised the idea of assessing a fee on larger institutions, similar to FDIC fees, to defray part of the cost of the bailout — rather than leaving it all on the taxpayer. Mr. Paulson says he’d be open to the idea of a broad industry wide tax or fee. Mr. Bernanke agreed, but said it was more important to address the too big to fail problem of institutions that the government has no choice but to rescue, which he said in an earlier answer was worse than we thought.
Next, Mr. Schumer proposed a staged bailout instead of one big one. How about doing this in stages, with, say, $150 billion now, and then come back in January and see how we’re doing?, he asked. Mr. Paulson said that he sought full authority up front, even though we are unlikely to spend the full amount by January.
Could you live with less? Mr. Schumer asked, specifically accepting a provision like that in the legislation. I think that would be a grave mistake, Mr. Paulson said. Give us the tools we need to make this work.
Big and Small, 12:19 p.m. Senator Enzi asked whether small community banks and credit unions would be left holding the bag by the program while big institutions got all the help. In response, Mr. Paulson assured him that if the intent was just to help a few big institutions, the administration would have designed an entirely different program with a different structure.
The 4th Witness, 11:55 a.m. While Mssrs. Paulson, Bernanke and Cox are receiving almost all of the panel’s attention, James Lockhart, director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, just got a question from Senator Johnson.
What will the [government-sponsored enterprises] look like when they come out of conservatorship?
Lockhart’s answer: That depends on what Congress wants. He cited the July legislation enabling the Fannie/Freddy takeover and says that under it, there is now strong regulatory supervision of the mortgage agencies.
The Homeowners, 11:51 a.m. Senator Shelby turned to the homeowner who is going to lose his home. What about them? Mr. Paulson’s answer was that not everybody will be able to keep their home, but the damage would be greatly limited by jump-starting bank lending. Nothing is more important.
What If It Doesn’t Work?, 11:45 a.m. When Senator Shelby raised the possibility that the $700 billion plan may fail, Mr. Paulson defended his record so far. I believe Freddie and Fannie worked, he said. If the Federal Reserve didn’t step in with A.I.G., we’d be facing a major calamity.
From Paulson to You, 11:41 a.m. In response to a question, Secretary Paulson sought to clear the air about who the bailout was supposed to help. This is all about the American taxpayer, he said. That’s all we care about. He continued:
Any banking operation in the United states that is doing business with the American public is important. The American public in dealing with the financial system doesn’t know who owns that bank.
Later, he added, You ask me about taxpayers being on the hook? Guess what, they are already on the hook.
Market Update, 11:36 a.m. Here is a market update from Michael Grynbaum of The New York Times.
Stocks moved higher after the open, when Mr. Bernanke and Mr. Paulson began their testimony, but had fallen back by 11 a.m. The Dow Jones industrials were up about 20 points after losing a 100-point gain earlier in the morning. A broader measure of the stock market, the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index, was up 0.2 percent.
Shares of banks and financial firms turned lower, erasing modest gains. Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs were both off about 2 percent; Bank of America, Citigroup, and Merrill Lynch all traded lower.
The modest gains in stocks came a day after the Dow lost 372 points amid a surge in oil prices and a sharp drop in the dollar. Investors remain nervous that the bailout plan will not offer a panacea to the host of problems plaguing the financial system.
Paulson Speaks, 11:03 a.m. So much for prepared statements. When the spotlight turned to Mr. Paulson, he began by addressing several themes that emerged from the panel in the previous hour or so. While he returned to the text released earlier today, he expanded on several other sections before finishing. Did the senators sound different notes than he expected?
In one case, he was simply underscoring a point in the text meant to dissuade senators from refusing to approve the bailout until wider regulatory issues are fixed. Here was the key line from his prepared text:
Many of you also have strong views, based on your expertise. We must have that critical debate, but we must get through this period first.
Don’t Overdo This, 10:58 a.m. We must prevent panic both in the markets and in our government, said Sen. Wayne Allard, Republican of Colorado. Overreaction, in the long run, will be worse for our economy.
Against God’s Timetable, 10:55 a.m. The Associated Press reported a Congressional zinger on whether rushing to a decision would be wise:
Just because God created the world in seven days doesn’t mean we have to pass this bill in seven days, said Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas.
Setting the Tone, 10:42 a.m. A comment from Senator Dodd at the outset of the hearing seemed worth noting as the opening statements continue:
Regardless of how some may feel about the decisions these leaders have made and the impact they have had, we all ought to be able to agree that these four individuals are good, talented, knowledgeable and experienced individuals who I think want to do the very best for our country.
Not Mincing Words Dept., 10:39 a.m. Senator Jim Bunning, Republican of Kentucky, has emerged as one of the most strident enemies of the bailout proposal, and he did not disappoint today. It’s financial socialism, and it’s un-American, he said in his opening statement. On Friday, he offered a eulogy for the economy, saying, The free market for all intents and purposes is dead in America.
Senator Elisabeth Dole, Republican of North Carolina, had some harsh words for the mortgage giants that the government took over earlier this month. Fannie and Freddie have utterly failed to deliver on their intended purpose, she said. In fact, they have done just the opposite.
White House Reassurances, 10:18 p.m. The White House was urging faith in the legislative process and free markets this morning. From Steven Lee Myers, a New York Times reporter covering the White House, a statement from President Bush on today’s proceedings:
Now there’s a natural give and take when it comes to the legislative process, Mr. Bush said in brief remarks with the president of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari. There are good ideas that need to be listened to in order to get a good bill that will address the situation. But I’m confident Mr. President, as I’ve told you and other leaders, that there will be a bipartisan bill. That the Republicans and Democrats will come together to get this legislation passed, which is necessary to address the financial situation and provide a rescue plan to make sure that there’s some stability in the markets.
And Sheryl Gay Stolberg of The Times reports on another contingent at the White House:
The vice president and the other White House officials will be talking to members of the Republican Study Committee, the group of free-market conservatives whose members have raised objections to the plan. Tony Fratto, Mr. Bush’s deputy press secretary, said Mr. Cheney and others hoped to reassure the critics that the proposal is an emergency response to a critical problem, and not an abandonment of the belief that our markets work and our free market system works.'
Working the Hearing Room, 10:06 a.m. So far, each senator has spent some time railing against Wall Street, but Senator Mike Enzi’s criticisms earned several rounds of applause in the hearing room before Senator Dodd brought down the gavel. After threatening to clear the room if they didn’t settle down, he demanded silence. This is a serious hearing, Mr. Dodd said.
Mr. Enzi has been pushing for punitive measures against the leaders of companies who are responsible for the bad investments. Those C.E.O.’s and decision makers at the financial institutions who caused this crisis must feel the pain of recovery, he said on Monday.
The position was backed by experts interviewed for an article in The New York Times today:
It absolutely has to be punitive, [Dean Baker, co-director of the liberal Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington,] said. If they sell us the junk, then we own the company. This isn’t a way to make these companies and their executives rich. This should be about keeping them in business so the financial system doesn’t collapse.
Opening Statements, 9:51 a.m. It may come as no surprise that the world’s greatest deliberative body is expressing a bipartisan feeling against rushing things too fast. At the same time, they are combining the call for debate with an acknowledgment that time is indeed a critical factor.
– Senator Dodd, the Democratic chairman of the panel: I understand speed is important. But I am far more interested in whether or not we get this right. There is no second act to this.
– Senator Richard C. Shelby, Republican and ranking member of the panel: Before I sign off on something of this magnitude, I want to make sure we’ve exhausted the alternatives
For Mr. Dodd, a larger issue was at stake in Mr. Paulson’s plan. After reading this proposal, I can only conclude that it is not just our economy that is at risk, but our constitution as well. Mr. Shelby echoed the point, saying the Treasury department was continuing its ad hoc approach on a grand new scale.
Punch List, 9:47 a.m. Richard Beales of Breaking Views has compiled a list of questions for Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr.. First one: Where does the $700 billion figure come from? We’ll come back to this later.
Take Your Seats, 9:34 a.m. In a packed room in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, Senator Christopher J. Dodd has opened a hearing on Turmoil in US Credit Markets featuring the chiefs of the Treasury Department, the Federal Reserve Board, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Housing Finance Agency.
Flanking Mr. Dodd are the members of the Senate Banking Committee, which represents the first major hurdle for the Bush administration’s plan to bail out the mortgage industry to the tune of $700 billion. Underscoring the urgency of the situation were strict time limits on members of a body known for wordiness.
After short statements from members of the committee, a question-and-answer session with senior government officials was expected to end before 1 p.m. Eastern time.

Zoon Politikon)

Foggy Bottom

I met this musicant several times and we became friends.
Yesterday he was in front of the Foggy Bottom metro station. It's perhaps my favorite place in DC. Full of youth, full of movement. It gives me a sentiment of joy, of freedom, of full life. A sentiment of starting point. The campus of George Washington University is there. The red shuttle gives free rides to the Kennedy Center. Georgetown is pretty close. Life is to live it.

Gas Station near Watergate

A Flavor of Old Style

A Group of Tourists near George Washington Hospital

(Washington, District of Columbia)

Ion Vincent Danu

Ion Vincent Danu - Pescar in tundra


(Contemporary Art)


Monday, September 22, 2008

acrylic on canvas

Kurt Larisch was born in Vienna in 1913 and life carried him all over the world. He left Austria in 1938 for England, later he settled in India, where he became the art director of an advertising agency, dealing with 25 different languages. He would come later to the States, to move again in 1970, to Mexico.

For his artistic career each new country brought new experiences, new perspectives. However one can always recognize in his works the place where he started: Kurt Larisch belongs hundred percent to the Avant Garde of the Twenties, you can see in his canvases the aspiration for geometrical purity, the fingerprint of Constructivism and Bauhaus, I think.

(Ed Chasen Fine Art in Georgetown)

(Suprematism and Constructivism)


Jonathon Kimbrell

Wonder Woman Revolt, 2007
acrylic on canvas

Jonathon Kimbrell likes recycling bits of paper or printed materials into his paintings and enjoys anything that looks like it’s been run through the printing press a few times. So he tries to catch this look and feel in his work, sometimes manually. This gives to his pop-art some kind of strange delicacy: there are two universes in any of his paintings; both universes seem very shy and fragile (though sending energetic signals to each other) and you don't know any more which is the real world. The foreground seems a fairy tale floating in the background, or is the background immersed in the foreground? Is this what makes Kimbrell distinct from obvious models (like Warhol or Lichtenstein)?

And a sudden connection to a great naive: Pirosmani!

Shake Well, 2008
ink jet transfer on acrylic on canvas

Thank God for Sophia Loren, 2008
ink jet transfer on acrylic on canvas

(Fine Art & Artists Gallery in Georgetown)

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Saint Stephen - Martyr Catholic Church

Saint Stephen - Martyr
Church is in DC, on Pennsylvania Avenue towards Georgetown. I step by on my weekend walks to Georgetown. I tried to record a video: unfortunately it was dark inside, so you cannot see too much in my video.

A memorial plaque on one of the benches (as well as an image in the small lobby at the entrance) reminds us that President Kennedy and the First Lady were among the parishioners.

(Church in America)

(Washington, District of Columbia)

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Tehran: One Man's Temple of Modern Art

I want to educate students in art. Give something back to society: architect Gholamreza Motamedi created Iran's only private modern art museum, open to all, free of charge.

Here is the story, from Washington Post:

It's the statue of a lion in the front yard, welded from old engine parts, that makes 31 Soheil Alley stand out in a Tehran neighborhood of palatial houses surrounded by high walls. Unlike the barricaded, burglar-alarmed entrances of its neighbors, the door to 31 is wide open, inviting all to enter.

A modest hall gives way to an astonishing seven-story labyrinth of layered-brick passageways, rugged steel staircases and rooms with hidden alcoves. Visitors come upon collections of experimental video art, couches shaped like octopuses and abstract warriors made from pieces of wire.

The building, constructed along the slope of a hill, belongs to Gholamreza Motamedi -- art lover, erstwhile dissident and former architect. It houses Iran's only private modern art museum.

Motamedi, 58, designed the entire structure, from the entrance to the exhibition rooms to the coffee shop. And even though he says Iranian authorities have revoked his permission to operate the museum, he opens its doors every day.

I created a space that hides secrets, full of closed atmospheres, Motamedi said. To add to the mystery, there is no charge, not even for the coffee, tea and cakes -- shocking in a country where partaking of culture costs money. A little confusion forces people to think, he said.

Much about the museum and Motamedi seems unusual in the Iran that has taken shape since the 1979 Islamic revolution. The museum is not owned by the state, it exhibits Western and local modern art and design, and its owner has forsaken the chance to fill his pockets by putting his property to a more lucrative use.

I want to educate students in art. Give something back to society, he said, showing off an armchair created by American designers Charles and Ray Eames. You can't find these in Iran. It's good for young Iranian designers to see and feel these objects, to sit on them, Motamedi said.

Many people think I'm insane. Why would one man spend his money on students? Why is the entrance free of charge? But when they come here and see the museum, they tell me there should be much more of these places in Iran, Motamedi said.

The administration of former president Mohammad Khatami gave Motamedi a permit for the gallery when it opened in 2004. They had a somewhat more liberal view of art, he said. But the present government tries to structure art according to its policies of returning to the values of the revolution. So museums here don't show international poster exhibitions, but only posters from Islamic countries, Motamedi continued. Three months ago, they revoked our permit, he said of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. The ministry now wants us to send them pictures of what we plan to exhibit a week before we organize something.

Born to a wealthy family, Motamedi had the sports car, foreign trips and affluent lifestyle that came with being a member of Iran's elite in pre-revolution years. But as oil money poured into the country and Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi sought to force a Western lifestyle upon what was then a mostly rural population, Motamedi was struck by the inequality he saw. Rich Tehranis celebrated modernization with champagne and beluga caviar, while peasants continued to work in brickmaking factories and drive taxis.

Motamedi led a double life in the years leading up to the revolution, which ultimately brought to power a group of Shiite clerics. As a young architect, he made a living designing bars and clubs that were often burned down by Islamist revolutionaries. At the same time, he become involved with leftist groups and envisioned an Iran where class differences would be gone and the poor would have a good life. But Motamedi and his comrades lost out to the Islamists, who sentenced him to four years in prison for his membership in parties they deemed illegal.

When Motamedi was released, he and some friends started an advertising agency, cashing in on an economy that boomed after the eight-year war with neighboring Iraq ended in 1988. Art, however, remained his passion, and he later decided to encourage Iranians to focus on the art surrounding them. A poster can be art, a car can be art, a spare wheel can be art. People just need to see it. I hope that when they come to the museum, their eyes will be opened, he said.

Sitting in the coffee shop, Motamedi noted that the revolution opened the way for many Iranians to come in contact with art. In the time of the shah, families didn't allow their children to watch television, because it was regarded as morally corrupting. The same goes for sending their daughters to university in those years. But this has all changed now, he said, noting that Iranian television now has art shows and that more than 65 percent of university students are women.

On one wall, Motamedi has recreated an ancient tablet written by the Persian King Darius I. It's a text of a prayer for the future generation of Iran, to protect them from lies, Motamedi explained. After all those years, it's still relevant

(Contemporary Art)