Category Archives: Article

Vraylar Vagaries & Verities

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Television Advertisement for Vraylar, 2018

A great pile of aluminum foil-wrapped sandwiches surrounds the manic mother who stands at her kitchen counter atop a pyramid of playing cards in beautiful suburbia.  Bipolar I Disorder could topple her reality, perhaps smothering her in ham sandwiches, but there is a solution in Vraylar, a drug from Forest Laboratories Holdings Ltd, an Allergan affiliate. In a second video, a woman in her office on top of a similar stack of playing cards, madly posts “Post It Notes” to a window wall. Vraylar will calm her down. Bipolar Disorder is endemic in 21st Century America. If you’re going to have a mental health issue, this is a good one to have.

 

Celebrities have admitted to being bipolar, and “Silver Linings Playbook” portrays a bipolar man who falls in love with a depressed woman. Jennifer Lawrence, who plays the woman in this offbeat romantic comedy, won the Academy Award for Best Female Actor in 2013.  The entertaining attention and the Vraylar commercials trivialize a serious mental condition. They make Bipolar I Disorder an attractive alternative if you are going to be crazy.  Patients eager to improve their perceived or diagnosed screwed-up lives can ask their doctor to give them Vraylar.  No more sandwich marathons. No more blizzards of “Post It Notes.”  You can live happily ever after with the help of a pharmaceutical.

 

The trouble is that Bipolar I Disorder is a serious mental condition. Many afflicted with Bipolar Disorder commit suicide. Many engage in behavior that is extremely dangerous. Illegal drug use, extreme risk taking, violent irritability, and a grandiose sense of self can lead to living on the edge of disaster.  The thrills of these behaviors are far more problematical than excessive “Post It Notes,” and creating too many sandwiches.  The person who loves to be besieged with ideas or gets off in marathon lunch-making is but a tip of the iceberg. Bipolar Disorder people love the up of mania. They want to go even higher, which can lead to psychotic behavior and dangerous actions. Still they love the up.  Unfortunately, I know. I have been there. The illness came close to destroying my life. The ups are followed by severe downs that are characterized by severe depression, isolation, and morbid thoughts of death. I call this the “Bipolar Coaster.” Once I attempted suicide but was saved in a hospital where my stomach was pumped. Many times, I have been close to killing myself. A particularly close encounter was the thought of jumping off a bridge into on-coming freeway traffic. Standing on the bridge, I decided I couldn’t risk someone’s else life by my body falling on or in front of their car. The Vraylar commercials fail to portray this other side of manic/depressive illness. The iceberg crushes the unwary.

 

This is not to say Vraylar is useless. I discussed Vraylar with my psychiatrist not to use, but to understand the effectiveness of the drug. She prescribes the drug for patients who have a combination of anxiety and depression. For these people, Vraylar has a calming effect. However, like all psychiatric prescriptions, one size does not fit all. What works for one person doesn’t for another, and could create conditions of undesirable side effects. I know because it took a long time for me, working with my doctor, to find the right drugs that worked long term and did not make me gain excessive weight or increase my manic behavior. Taking one of the first drugs prescribed for me, my weight escalated by 60 pounds. The Vraylar commercial doesn’t reveal that the use could be ineffective, or counter-effective.

 

The side effects of Vraylar can be catastrophic like:  stroke in elderly patients with dementia, tardive dyskinesia,  a condition in which the patient experiences uncontrolled movements of the body and face, muscle stiffness, or feelings of restlessness that can become permanent, problems with metabolism, Neuroleptic Malignant Syndrome (NMS) (a potentially fatal condition in which high fever; stiff muscles; confusion; changes in pulse, heart rate, or blood pressure; or sweating that can lead to death. Per government regulation these side effects and more common ones are verbalized in the commercial, but they are quickly passed through as the benefits are extolled and visualized.

 

There is the question of cost. Vraylar is very expensive. A month’s supply is over $1,000. Contrast this with Lamotrigine, which costs about $7 a month with insurance. The high cost of Vraylar would force most health insurance companies to try to demand the patient take a drug of lower cost.  Unless you have a good plan or are rich, Vraylar will set you back more than $14-1/2 grand a year.

 

Then there is the issue of “Big Pharma,” which may or may not be a problem for you.

It is for me. Allergan, the company marketing Vraylar, is the world’s 20th largest pharmaceutical company with revenue at $15.9 billion in 2017, an operating income of $5.9 billion, and a net income of $4.4 billion a year. This translates into 27.6% profit per year.  Pharmaceutical Companies are very profitable. Allergan’s most important drug now is Botox, the beauty treatment popular from Hollywood to Bollywood. Sales were $3.2 billion, and Botox’s market share is 70%, but the drug is under pressure.  A new competing drug is coming to market, and its effects last longer.  The treatment, called RT002, lasts six months compared to three or four months for Botox. Thus, Allergan is seeking new money makers.

 

Vraylar is one of the new money makers. Vraylar’s net revenues grew 72.2% in the second quarter of 2018 to a $114.2 million increase from the prior year’s second quarter. Allergan, an Irish-headquartered corporation, with its affiliate Forest Laboratories, licensed Vraylar from Gedeon Richter PLC, who developed Cariprazine for the treatment of schizophrenia.  Allergan, renaming the drug, is looking to expand the use and develop a large American market, of which the television advertisements are an important part. However, the corporation’s reputation is not very good.

 

Allergan ranks in the middle of the twenty best and worst pharmaceutical companies according to the Reputation Institute.  Its Rept Trak score is 71.8. Its affiliate Forest Laboratories, headquartered in New York, was sued for systematic gender unfairness. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York found Forest Laboratories guilty, after six years of litigation, of discrimination against its female employees. This is the court in which Michael Cohen (Trump’s lawyer) pleaded guilty.  I guess his pockets were not deep enough to sustain six years of lawyers’ fees. In 2018, Allergan, along with several other drug manufacturers and distributors, was sued by several municipalities and states in the U.S. owing to the company’s manufacture of opioids. After Trump’s tax cut, Allergan’s Board of Directors authorized repurchase of its stock. No benefits were given to its employees.  Allergan is driven to strong growth, i.e. profit. Vraylar patients beware.

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A Prodigal Son Returns to the Nest of Stingers for Martin Luther King Jr. Day

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I, Carlton Morris Davis Jr, have a White Anglo-Saxton Protestant (WASP) name given to me by my family, who were very proud of their white heritage and where creative naming isn’t in the genes. I got to be a junior (Jr.). Nicknames are given to distinguish the progeny. Biff, and Buffy are common. I, however, am a bit of an anomaly. My mother was an Irish Catholic night club singer. She definitely came from the wrong side of the tracks as the old admonition identified those of lower status. Lynn Quinn married Carlton senior, who was a stud. They had a rocky marriage that ended in a scandalous divorce. They produced a daughter and a son, Carlton Junior, me. Not cause generational confusion; I was given a nickname: Chinky or Chink, the slightly abbreviated version. I detested this name, which I was given because I had a slightly drooped right eyelid, making me look Chinese. No family members ever mentioned that Chink is a pejorative term for Chinese people. In school I was ridiculed. If other kids found out my nickname, I was branded: Chinky the Chinaman, Stinky Chinky, and Commie Chink. Two results came of this unfortunate name. I came to dislike WASPS, believing I was only half an upper class white. Otherwise I was a Mick, the derogatory term for the Irish. I came to loathe all racism, whether it was against: Coons, Gooks, Kikes, Ragheads, Redskins, Polocks, Wetbacks, or Wops. These labels not heard today very often, but in my youth they were common. Today the racism is more subtle, but just as deadly. My stance was and remains with all the people who came from shithole countries. As I have grown wiser, I had to abandon this negativity. Because there are WASPs I admire: William Sloane Coffin, Robert Lowell, and Walker Evans, to name a few. They stood for principals and ideas that transcending bigotry. Because of that name I received many privileges in a society with a long racist history that made my life easier than any other ethnic tribe. I can’t profoundly feel the evil done to an African-Americans, the Chinese, the Mexicans, or Native Americans. I can only empathiise. Because to discriminate, and deny is counter productive. But I can drive out my own hate. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that, “ Martin Luther King Jr. There are great juniors.

Trump shithole-2a

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The “Q Balls” of Electricalism

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Acre, India, 2015

I am not an economist, nor a philosopher. I am an observer seeking a way to understand what I see in the world around me. Everywhere I look I see evidence of the penetration of some form of electrical system in everyday life. The newest and fastest growing is the cell phone. No one can take a picture in any part of the world where people are gathered to do things, discuss things, or record things, where you won’t find humans with cell phones to their ears, in their hands looking at its screen, or raised to their heads to record an image. They populate the pictures you are about to take yourself. This fact, I believe, surpasses the technology becoming the seminal marker of the lived reality. The world lives in Electricalism and is steeped in its ethos, which shapes its economics, culture, government, and human interactions. The saturation is so complete we don’t see it; and we don’t understand the degree to which it has changed how the world works.

Perhaps humans are rediscovering their alignment with the universe’s fundamental truth. The stars we see are light rays penetrating through the dark. The light that heats and allows life on earth is an electrical pulse emanating from the sun. The earth itself is an electrical force field, where currents flow here and there through it ground and out into its ionosphere. This force is wireless, and humans exist in a cavity filled with electricity. We have traveled time from a place where Electricalism was a mystical reality that could only be defined as lightning or God. Think of Benjamin Franklin and his kite. Today we inhabit a planet enriched by Electricalism’s benefits, warped by its human utilization, and badly damaged by its results.

Electricalism, I posit, began primitively with Thomas Edison’s creation of a commercially reproducible light bulb in 1879. This first stage of electricalism lasted nearly 100 years, when Motorola made the first cell phones. The physical reality of electric technology altered the world. Think of electric lamps, electric motors, illuminated signs, movie projectors, televisions, computers, power plants, and transmission lines. Electricalism at this stage is Proto-electricalism. The prefix “proto” denotes fossil in Greek, and so I name it thus because this era has been powered by fossil fuels and uses physical forms. There is an ironic sense to my use of the term. The fossil era created as many negative results as positive outcomes.

Today’s phone is still an object powered by hidden batteries that get their charge through a connection to the grid. Nonetheless we have moved into a new age. The cell phone morphed into the smartphone, and it’s wireless interconnections swept over the world. Wireless power is not new. Nicola Tesla, the mystical engineer and inventor of the alternating current system that became the world’s standard, was able to create balls of light without form. Not long after Edison’s creation of the light bulb, Tesla proposed the development of wireless electrical power, but his financial backer, J.P. Morgan, wouldn’t fund the idea. No one was able to recreate Tesla’s “Q balls” again. Wireless telephone communication awaited the cell phone. Humans stepped into new era of Electricalism, which I call Anthro-electricalism. The prefix “anthro” represents human in Greek. This age has barely begun. Its fruition could mean a whole new relationship to the earth and its occupants. Understanding the physical record of Proto–electricalism provides insight into what happened and what could come next.

Both negative and positive can be surmised from looking at the picture of smartphone users in Acre, India. Phones can now connect everyone to everything — the world’s knowledge, the world’s materials, and the world’s groups. Conversely the phone isolates its users. In the midst of a business thoroughfare, the operators are not fully present in the immediate environment. The Acre man with the phone to his ear is dangerously close to the passing tourist bus. He is in another elsewhere. Users become separated individuals. They are susceptible to the influence of the seductive forces connecting them through the wireless. The consumers can be become addicts of the manipulators. Power that could be vested in anyone’s grasp is given away. The unwired force, like the force of Yoda in Star Wars, can be deflected and dissipate into nothing. Some science fiction devotees call it the “Q” force. I call it the “Q balls,” after Tesla, and imagine his wireless light orbs forming and disappearing from his hands. We need this energy back and to evolve into a fully realized positive Anthro-electricalism. The evidence needed for change is printed on the world around us. The “Q balls” can be in our hands.

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Tesla’s “Q balls”

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Filed under Article, Electricalism, Nicola Tessla, Smartphone, Thomas Edison, Uncategorized

Avatar of Avarice

This is the Opening Statement for the essays:

Sick America’s Electricalism Infection and Inoculation

BLADE RUNNER 2049

Avatar of Avarice

America is sick. The land is infected with malicious segregation into racial, economic, religious, and geographical clusters of poisons. These poisons are attributable to the growing isolation created by and manipulated for the requirements of Electricalism, which has arrived at it full flowering and control with the digital age. President Trump is the Electric Epidemic’s Embodiment. The cult of celebrity defines its prophets and false messiahs. Has he not said that as a star, a celebrity, “when you’re a star, they let you do it, you can do anything… grab them by the pussy?”

Stars are electrical light sources, impulses emerging out of the darkness of the universe. Einstein was the first and perhaps the greatest celebrity of Electricalism. He formulated its first truth: energy equals mass times the speed of light squared. Thus began the information age. More fallout continued. Space curved; mass warped it; hellish weapons blasted it; computers saturated it. Political celebrities defined its first century; the greatest of these was Adolf Hitler. Truth became relative. Now in the 21st Century, we now have: the reality show, apprentice president. The stars are klieg lights. The orange coiffed hair mouths the sermons of electronic capricious capitalism, the heir to all previous economic philosophies: communism, socialism, and free market capitalism. Electricalism, like electricity has two poles. Proto-electricalism is the negative. Anthro-electricalism is the positive. Proper balance creates magnetism; imbalance creates rejection. America is severely imbalanced causing social and physical disease.

The second celebrity president of the United States, Trump, more than Reagan, a product of film and factory age, believes as the all-emerging electricalists do, that he can do no wrong. He is all-powerful. He is the winner. Winning is the meaning of life. Money is the marker of success. Nonetheless a celebrity is only a public avatar for the real masters: the financiers, the venture capitalists, the investors, the hedge-fund managers, and inherited wealth aristocrats, who like to hover in the shadows.   Trump draws the moths to the diode flame obscuring those who actually control the digitally manipulated society. Their truth is what the Electricalists say it is. Otherwise, “You’re fired!” They lie, but they are very good at it. The battle to cure the earth will be long and difficult, but try we must, or else this common tabernacle will wither and die. It will become the Las Vegas of 2049, portrayed as a yellow hazed empty place in “Blade Runner.”

 

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Filed under Art, Article, Blade Runner 2049, Capitalism, Electricalism, Las Vegas, Racism, Wall Street

Michelangelo’s Twisted Light of Day & Secret Shadow of Night

“The world has many kings, but only one Michelangelo”

In 1537, Pietro Aretino, poet, critic, and public relations advocate, offered his alliance to the artist in a letter. Michelangelo, irascible and often uncommunicative, gave a brief cordial reply declining the offer. Michelangelo never worked with others as an equal. Michelangelo was an independent contractor with higher aspirations than his class. Aretino was perhaps the first to the declare an artist to have powers that “rivaled those of God.” Michelangelo acted as if he were the equal of God’s emissary of earth, Pope Clement VII. The pope, a Medici whose noble family ruled Florence off and on during the 16th century, conversed frequently with the artist, a tradesman, whose social status was far beneath the Roman Catholic Church’s leader. Cardinals and kings thought the familiarity unwise. Aretino created the myth of supreme artistic genius.

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Pope Clement VII, by Sebastiano del Piombo, before 1527

satin DProbably using a contract specifying a cost and a time limit, Pope Clement IV engaged Michelangelo to carve tombs in Florence’s San Lorenzo Basilica to commemorate the two of the Medici family’s lesser members: Lorenzo II, Duke of Urerbino, and Giuliano de Medici, Duke of Nemours. For ten years, 1524–1534, Michelangelo labored, delayed, complained, and controlled the fabrication of the project down to the smallest detail. The pope grumbled he wished the artist would pay a bit more attention to the jobs the pope had given him. Michelangelo’s enemies said of him that he never completed anything while monopolizing the best projects for himself and never used the assistance of others. The wall tomb for the Duke of Nemours was never finished.

The tomb is a powerful composition, oddly discordant, yet imbued with energy at once distinctive to the artist and evocative of his client’s family’s authority. The sculpture, Day, is male with a highly polished body, but its head, partly obscured behind a mammoth shoulder, appears roughly chiseled and unfinished, contrasting with Night, a polished female with a rather masculine body whose breasts seem strangely appended. Day is twisted backward in tension, and coiled in frustration, perchance a partial statement of the artist’s outer persona. Night is bent and turned forward in melancholy, and stilled by grief, perhaps capturing the artist’s hidden homosexuality layered under a spoken spirituality that contemplates death, the tortured fate of sodomites. Day, the time of light, is turned away from illumination, and Night, the time of dark, is turned toward the shadows. Both sculptures, balanced at the two ends of the sarcophagus, appear to be sliding off its bowed surface, while the figure above seems unengaged and remote to what is below.

The figure above that stands for the Duke. This sculpture embodies the glory and authority of Rome, which the Medici’s saw as their heritage. Obliged by agreement to glorify the powerful family, the artist composed a vault that incorporates a duality. The duke doesn’t look like the duke and isn’t dressed like the duke. Michelangelo recreates a heroic leader with his sword balanced across his knees and expressing a gaze of disinterest. He turned Guiliano de Medici into a type. A writer later remarked the artist gave the duke “a size, proportion and beauty,” because “in a thousand years nobody would know they had been different.” The artist fashioned a dynamic assembly of contradictions that are a testament to his own genius. Michelangelo will be known forever, the Medici dukes will fade in an obscure past. The artist accomplished his aspiration to be more than the ruling aristocracy. The Medici Tomb, along with the Pieta, David, the Sistine Chapel ceiling, and the Last Judgment, marks the artist’s place among the gods of art.

Medici Tomb by Michelangelo

Tomb of Giuliani de Medici, Duke of Nemours, by Michelangelo

in San Lorenzo Basilica Florence, 1524 – 1534

Artists like Michelangelo’s acclaimed challengers — Leonardo Da Vinci, Raffaello Santi (Raphael), and Sebastiano del Piombo — were highly paid employees for their work with brush, mallet, and chisel by the rulers in France, Spain, Florence, and the Papal States. Their jobs were to legitimize the rulers. The dukes, the kings, and the popes needed portraits, tombs, glorifying sculptures, libraries, and residences to reflect their status and make them comparable to the Roman ancestors. They needed art that made them heroes and that gave them metaphors immersed with Christian theology. The artists made visible the power, glory, and ethics of the age. This is what artists did long before the Renaissance. This role extended back in time to the Romans, Egyptians, Hittites, Assyrians, and to the dawn of human hierarchies. In the distant past only a few had identities. Many weren’t even free. They were slaves doing the bidding of rulers who were often the religious elite. The Renaissance artist rattled the role, but they didn’t break it.

Three centuries would pass before the subservient position of the artists changed, and it only changed in means, not in value. The French monarch in1648 established the French Academy to control cultural production for the benefit of the crown. The concept was to insure that art in terms of its content and its quality serve the sovereign’s power equal to its political dominance. Neo-classicism founded on the veneration of Greeks and Romans became the prevailing style. “Theth of Horatii,” 1784, by Jacques-Louis David is a telling example. The British crown not to be out done by the French, established the Royal Academy. Portraits of distinguished nobility became the English obsession. Thomas Gainsborough’s 1777, Portrait of Anne, Countess of Chesterfield, 1777, comes to mind. Academies in Vienna, Berlin, Stockholm, Madrid, and St. Petersburg follow. Painting and sculpture supported the values of the upper classes. In America, The Philadelphia Academy of Art was founded in 1805. Its goal was to promote the Odemocratic values of the new democracy. This ideal faded by the late 19th Century, when the Robber Barons sought cultural validity through acquisition of the aristocratic approved art.

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Oath of Horatii, 1784, David, Louvre, Paris

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Gainsborough, 1777, Portrait of Anne

The only blip to national academy dominance of art production was the French Revolution, where the royals died by the guillotine. The revolutionaries declared the elite arts to be of no use to the nation. This verdict didn’t last long. Napoleon, quickly learning the importance of the arts in supporting a regime, reversed the situation. Not until artists established an individual status often connected to alternative political philosophies did the situation start to alter. In France, it was Realism, whose two champions Millet and Courbet rocked the arts establishment. Courbet, a political radical with a supreme ego, formulated the concept of “Realism,” which others philosophers, poets, and writers gave intellectual heft. The artist stated, “Realism would not imitate the art of ancients.” Realism would “represent the customs, ideas,” and “the appearance of my own era according to my own valuation.”

Gustav Courbet, like Michelangelo, saw himself the equal if not superior to his aristocratic clients. His painting “The Meeting,” 1855, is an excellent example of both the artist’s realism and his egoism. On a country road, the artist is greeted by his patron, Alfred Bruyas, and his servant Calas. The servant bows his head to the great artist, while Bruyas, doffs his hat. The artist, dressed like a workingman with his painting supplies hung off his back, accepts the adulation with head raised in a regal pose. Bruyas, son of a wealthy financier, had a 30-year career as a serious collector of art, and he believed art could change lives and promote social progress. He championed Courbet, who fancied himself a rebel against the prevailing concepts of art and the aristocratic rulers of France. Courbet refused to accept the Legion of Honor award from Emperor Napoleon III. His fame and his wealth came from the patronage he viewed as inferior to his genius.

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Courbet, 1855, The Meeting, Musee Fabre, Montpellier

When Paris became the socialist commune in 1871, after France’s loss to Prussia, Courbet joined the communards and proposed a significant role for artists, in which they would participate in the running of and selecting exhibitions for Paris’s public museums. The fine arts section of the Institute of France and the French Academy would be closed. Metals and decorations would be abolished. Artists have not been the clearest thinkers about management or governance. The plan for artists’ control of the French art institutions quickly broke down. The commune didn’t last long and Courbet paid a heavy price for his involvement. He was briefly imprisoned and accused of initiating the destruction of the Napoleonic Column in Place Vendome, for which the new right wing state demanded that he pay the price for its reconstruction. The artist escaped into exile in Switzerland. The artist inflated to enormous size by disappointments of his fortune, died a drunk. In his characteristic self-important manner, Courbet claimed he was the foremost drinker in the Canton of Vaux, Switzerland. He colluded in the fraudulent creation of paintings by others that he signed. His reputation was vastly diminished.

The contradiction of his political views and the reality of his situation as a supplier of luxury objects for the rich and the nobility never troubled his conscience. He considered himself a great artist beyond the ordinary human. Current art historians and subsequPlaent collectors, especially American capitalists of the late 19th century, have honored that assessment. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York abounds in Courbet paintings. Many of the landscapes are marvelous. The world of legitimized art returned to its prior status. Yet Courbet began the great shock of Modernism that ended the culture academies when the next generation of artists — the Impressionists, and Post-Impressionists — demolished classicism, romanticism, and realism with a new way of seeing. They ended the old context, but not the reigning social value of art.

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Gustave Courbet, Artist, 1819-1877

Art of that Day, like Michelangelo’s unfinished sculpture, squirmed in a new light revealed in a transient, engaging, enticing, and ultimately very accessible way to the minimally visually knowledgeable, while the late 19th century Night, like Michelangelo’s enigmatic creation, remained the veiled, but unspoken force as it has always been. The luxury product held by the elite, which expresses their cultural hegemony. Look for Article Three in the art and economics series: Cezanne to Warhol – Pissing in the Photo Booth.

 

 

 

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Filed under Architecture, Art, Article, Courbet, Jacques Louis David, Michelangelo, Thomas Gainsbourgh

Pity the Pieta

Michaelangelo's Pieta -2

Michelangelo’s Pieta, 1500

Michelangelo’s Pietá came to the New York World’s Fair in 1964. I was 20 years old when I saw it, and knew little about art but the required college art history course I took made me aware of this genius artist and his sculpture of 1500 for the old basilica of St. Peter’s. Michelangelo was 25 years old, and the Pietá made him famous. The sculpture was the sensation of the fair. I had to see it. Enormous crowds lined up for hours to get into the Vatican Pavilion. I stood in line on a hot and humid day for three hours to see it.

A three-tiered conveyor belt moved us past a gigantic fabric-draped cross hovering above and the blue illuminated young Mary and the dead Jesus below. Mary holds the crucified Jesus across her thighs with his right arm falling slack over one of her knees, his head bends back face upward behind a raised shoulder, and his two lower legs dangle over Mary’s left knee. You could see the beauty of the softly rubbed white marble, the deftly shaped folds of Mary’s cloak, and the stable yet dynamic composition of the two figures. However, this theatrical placement, more like a movie-opening extravaganza, was not how the sculpture should be seen. The Pieta’s white surfaces were meant to resonate in the half-light from the basilica’s rotunda windows above. They needed no enhancement by the blue light shadows cast over the bodies. Nor was the Pietá to be seen from below as the three moving walkways positioned the visitors. The sculpture’s full effect of the glorious death could only be appreciated by the viewer being on the same level; otherwise the upturned face of the soon-to-be-resurrected Christ was obscured. I didn’t know that when I visited, but what I did see was unsettling; something wasn’t right.

Pieta Crowds

The Vatican Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair 1964-65

The image stayed with me as a troubling benchmark for the art experience for decades. Since living the artist’s life starting in the 1980s and crossing into the new millennium with visitations to galleries, museums, and other spectacular art locations, where dissonant sensations became more pronounced, reasoning for what I first felt 50 years ago emerged. Art is being stripped of meaning. It has become an amusement park for the consumer-driven and authenticity-barren culture. The Pieta positioned in a pavilion as a destination for ogling of those briefly passing by, who can mark it on their list as seen and therefore recognized. It loses it’s meaning, but maintains its historical reference by keywords: Renaissance Art, Great Artist, Michelangelo, Florence, Italy, Gone-but-memorialized as a marker of significance.

The Pieta was mined of the capacity to inspire spiritually or to generate passion by several means. The experience of seeing didn’t allow the viewer to halt and contemplate either the sculpture’s ecstatic refinement, its composition, or its inclusion of spiritual importance. The Pietá became a thing seen on an endless itinerary of things needed to be seen that validate the viewer. In this sense it was no different from another great attraction of the fair, the “it’s a small world,” boat float by Walt Disney that provided an amusing, but totally irrelevant ride through models of toy soldiers and sunny animated flowers. Disneyfication is an apt metaphor for the displays at the New York World’s fair.

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“it’s a small world” at the New York World’s Fair, 1964-65

The Pietá was elevated, made precious, and removed from close experience. The Madonna and dead Son of God were diminished as art, but reinterpreted by the soft blue illumination as an important statement of western culture. In this sense it relates to another great attraction of the New York World’s Fair, the IBM pavilion, where Charles and Rae Eames installed the immensely influential Mathematica Exhibition. The Eameses were masters of enhancing information. The New York World’s Fair made them master communicators of the new American-driven computer culture. The Pietá installation was heavier handed, but the principle of enhancement is similar. The purpose was more emotive. Nonetheless the emotion was hollow based on allegiance, either as a Catholic or an admirer of art as learned in a college textbook, collected on a postcard, seen through TV, or in a toured visitation to an identified monument.

 

Mathamatica NYC fair 1964-65

IBM’s Mathematica Exhibition at the New York World’s Fair 1964-65

This is what the art world, its institutions, and many of its monuments have become: an amusement park for sanctioned culture. Driven by visitation counts, money received, and justification of the elite, art drifts toward emptiness teetering on the abyss of irrelevance. Pity the Pietá, marred by fame and overfamiliarity, which later in 1972 was badly damaged by a deranged man and now lies isolated behind a bulletproof glass in the Vatican, removed forevermore from anyone to experience close at hand its majesty and the inspired vision of the artist who chiseled it. There is residue of wonder in the Pieta, but much has been drained away. Similar diminishment has happened to other great works and other great locations. This sorry circumstance is perhaps inevitable, when art becomes a rich persons collectible, a financial asset, and celebration of celebrity. Art shouldn’t need augmentation. More on this in the next installment: jewel boxes, gift shops, and restaurants.

 

 

 

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Filed under Art, Article, Charles and Rae Eames, Culture, Michelangelo, New York World's Fair 1964-65, Walt Disney

Contemporary Art is a Farce

Contemporary Art is a farce. Most of it is meaningless and boring to view. Note that the artists who make it aren’t important. Who is important are the curators. They, carefully trained at Universities to know what is worthy of our attention, are the arbiters of cultural significance. It is they who are mentioned first in any reviews.

I find I can say this without concern because artists like me will never get the attention of the curators, the mainstream galleries, the art market, or the museums. Therefore I have nothing to lose. There is no reason to hold my tongue or kiss ass.

Why? Perhaps it’s because I am a lousy artist? That I can’t measure, but I can measure these factors: I am too old. The art world feeds in the young, whom the market devours in new batches every year. Most of whom are forgotten within a year of discovery. At 72, it is presumed, I have nothing new to add to the art dialogue. New is lexicon of selection. There is always a new, even if it is really old, because if it looks different, utilizes a weird material, technique, or context. It is new at least to the selectors. What I do is not new. I draw in an old way. I do not have an art degree. I came to art after first being an architect.

Art schools are what produce contemporary artists. They are professionals, and art is now a profession. It is the place that is patrolled for the next versions of the viable for the art market’s needs. This deplorable situation, which to me leads to phony and pompous intellectualism from the teachers, most of whom aren’t intellectuals, but probably read the current art rags. and the students, most of whom weren’t smart enough to get into medical school or business or management school. This wasn’t always the case. Many of the acclaimed modern masters weren’t trained artists. Henri Matisse was first a lawyer.

Then there is size. Contemporary art should be big. The size inflation, I think, began with Abstract Expressionism. Some of the Pollock’s are really big. Size seems to have grown over the decades. I remember going to the old Whitney Museum in New York in the 1960s and 70s; the Poons’, Oliski’s, and Morris Lewis’ were huge. I was impressed with this stuff and bought into it as a definition of the avant-garde. James Rosenquist, an artist I liked who just died in 2017, had a painting that spread over more than one wall. I was blown away by this appropriation of billboards into art.

Every year big kept getting bigger. This could of course have to do with the expansion of the art market to contemporary work. In this market that equates cultural value with economic value, it could be said, that art is best appreciated by its square footage. For whom then, but a rich man or a museum, could have the wall space to display and the wallet to acquire huge art? But as art got bigger, it seems to me, content faded away.

Morris Lewis at Whitney

Morris Lewis, Tet 1958, 12’ by 8’, Whitney Museum of Art

Pop Art was the precursory to meaninglessness because, in my thought, the less content the more art was avant-garde. Andy Warhol, the artist who is the icon of the importance for Pop Art, established the idea that art was not the arcane territory of the historians and the cultural elite, but should be accessible to all. He, whom I neither dismiss nor dislike, initiated the slide into vacuousness of contemporary art. To see an Andy Warhol is to get it. It is a fast transfer of meaning. You don’t stand in front of one of his self-portraits and contemplate. You look and move on. Warhol was no intellectual. He liked money, and money was what he achieved. He was a perfect fit to the needs of the art market — Easy to comprehend and ultimately expensive to buy. That is once it was declared culturally acceptable.

Others might argue it was Marcel Duchamp, who began this process. I would argue that this is not true. Duchamp, a French intellectual, changed the idea of what art could be with his fountain, the urinal displayed under the name R. Mutt at the Armory show in the early 20th Century. Ever since then artists have been searching for meaning in different way. Duchamp with his room, his boxes, and his spinning wheels created the precursor of most of them. Conceptual art was becoming the mode, where meaning had its last gasp.

Thus art traveled down the lane to irrelevance. Each movement: Op Art, Minimalism, Neo-expressionism, and others descending ever further into the cave of nothingness. I look at the current rages in art: feminist outrage, black backlash at exclusion, LGBT expression, climate change awareness and description, as important issues, but do they do more than point the finger at cultural problems? Most, like Warhol’s work you get by a quick take, and move on. Why linger and look? They are visually uninteresting, and these issue-oriented works are the best of the lot. All, perhaps not all, (John Baldessari is a prime example) are pure rubbish for art market consumption. Dare I say balloon dogs and stuffed sharks in tanks?

Thus, I not being a member of a identifiable movement, not much of a maker of beautiful objects, nor someone who does big all the time, and who doesn’t hew to the model of making consistent things as if I were a light manufacturer serving the market of oligarchs, corporate elites, or financial manipulators, have no chance in this world. I strive for something meaningful, visually and comprehensibly, that is outside the established new parameters, (Perhaps it is conservative of older values?), and I am not alone. I know artists who follow this same course and feel the same frustration. Video artists in general suffer the same fate. They don’t attract the same fervor of hip curators. Most museums aren’t audio-visually set up to display the work. For example a recent show at the Whitney on portraiture displayed a large photograph augmented by video of rippling water by Corey Arcangel, called Diddy/Lakes, 2013. It was a wall work that explored none of the greater possibilities of video. I found it pretty but thoroughly meaningless. The Whitney has become the warehouse of contemporary cultural vacuity. I shall explore more on this situation in a second article about why make art and three subsequent articles about the artistic, social, and economic value of art.

VideoatWhitney

Corey Arcangel, Diddy/Lakes, 2013, Whitney Museum of Art

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