Banksy’s latest: The hype is strong with this one

Oh, come on. This is just too much.

If you haven’t yet heard, you soon will. An event went down yesterday at Sotheby’s in London that will surely be part of art-world lore forevermore. “Girl With Balloon,” one of the most recognizable works by the enigmatic street artist Banksy, was on the block and had just sold for a cool £1.02 million ($1,340,000). Moments after the gavel came down the piece self-destructed. It fed itself through a shredder apparently hidden in the lower edge of the frame. Banksy, who might have been in attendance, and possibly remotely triggered the spectacle, posted a photo of it on Instagram with the caption “Going, going, gone….”

Sotheby’s denies collaboration and foreknowledge. A senior director for the auction firm, Alex Branczik said, “It appears we just got Banksy’ed.” The as-yet unidentified buyer hasn’t commented, and it isn’t even clear that he or she would be now obligated to complete the sale. They’d be advised to consider their options carefully, though: some appraisers are saying that the value of the newly segmented painting instantly increased by at least 50 percent.

So there’s likely to be at least one winner to come out of this conspicuous prank. Two, if you factor in the ballooning (so to speak) of the Banksy brand. The losers? Any of us credulous to take this episode at face value.

A shredder hidden in the frame? Really? And Sotheby’s never noticed? Either they’re extraordinarily bad at their pre-auction due diligence, or they’re lying through their teeth.

And as for Banksy—what the hell was gained here? Seems to me a Banksy prank used to serve a higher purpose. Banksy’s art had a message, and all the unexpected ways Banksy sneaked art into our consciousness were central to that message. Banksy pranks were non-lethal rounds fired in the street-level skirmishes of the social revolution.

Does even Banksy think that’s what happened last night? Or does Banksy recognize, as we all should, that it was just self-serving hype?

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Clock-Work

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So you think there’s no art to telling time? You think that whether it’s analog or digital, it’s purely utilitarian? Check out, then, the Schiphol Airport clock in the Netherlands, created in 2016 by artist Maarten Baas. It features a silhouetted man (with just enough visible color—blue, black, and yellow—to pay homage to fellow Dutch artist Piet Mondrian)…on a never-ending task to erase and repaint the clock hands in accordance with the inexorable march of time. And you thought you were a slave to the timeclock.

(Don’t feel to bad for that clockwork gremlin. He’s actually a twelve-hour filmstrip, playing on a loop.)

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Cosby’s great fall

Bill Cosby has spent his first 24 hours behind bars. You can’t help but wonder what that must have been like.

When did it become real for him? Was it when he heard the sentence, or shortly thereafter, when he was first shackled? If neither of those, it was surely sometime last evening or last night, when he was directed into some small, confining space, and the door was locked behind him. That might have been the first time, maybe for weeks or months or years, that he was finally alone with this thoughts. How did he cope with that?

By now he’s surely interacted with other inmates—is his celebrity or his age, or his crimes, impacting the way they treat him? By now he’s had a few jailhouse meals—did anyone suffer upon him the thousand different Jell-O jokes that occasion was begging for?

Most importantly, what are his regrets? Last night he laid down on a cot smaller and far less luxurious than anything he’s experienced in decades. He did not sleep. I wasn’t there and I haven’t heard anything you haven’t, but this I’m sure of: He did not sleep. So what went through his mind? Was he regretting his pattern of predation, the unspeakable things he’s done to women for decades? Or was he regretting just that one he was convicted for? Was he regretting only that he got caught?

There’s something pitiable, in the abstract, about an infirm old man falling so far and landing in a place that he’ll in all likelihood spend his remaining days. But knowing what we know about Bill Cosby, we know he deserves no pity. It’s just a pity his crimes went unchecked for so long. And it’s a pity that for so long, we were so wrong about what kind of man he was.

Because in a lot of ways, the evolution of Cosby marched alongside the evolution of a few very different generations. My parents saw his groundbreaking mid-’60s role in I Spy. I was raised first on the ’70s strangeness of Fat Albert, then on that camouflaged wholesomeness of the Huxtable household. For my daughter, back in the aughts, it was Little Bill. All of us saw these disparate faces of Cosby, then all of us together saw the mask ripped off, and the ugliness beneath.

In that way Bill Cosby is again, for one last time, a Man For His Times…because these are the days of scouring away the veneer and of revealing the underlying rot. We’re finding a lot of rot, we’re finding it every-damned-where we look, but we have to do this. It’s going to take a while longer yet, and some of these stains we find will be more resistant than others. But it must be done.

There’s some fashionability, if that’s the right word, to say that #MeToo must carry on in the names of and on behalf of all our mothers, sisters, daughters, wives. And while that’s not incorrect, exactly, I think it’s needlessly reductive. #MeToo isn’t a movement to benefit women. It’s a movement to benefit us. All of society suffers the malfeasance of people like Cosby. All of society is bettered when people like Cosby are put away.

At this moment—the moment I’m writing this and the moment you’re reading it—chances are very good that Bill Cosby is still ruminating over how high he soared and how low he fell. He’s probably wallowing in regret, although once again we can’t be sure how honest those regrets might be. But that doesn’t matter.

In the end it doesn’t matter if Cosby sees the light or goes to his grave feeling sorry only for himself. His fall serves a much higher purpose. Years from now or maybe tomorrow or maybe in an hour, someone will think of doing something despicable, and when they think about Bill Cosby, maybe they’ll think twice.

Multiply that by a thousand Bill Cosbys, and by the untold years ahead of incremental #MeToo progress. The result is that the society we need and deserve is coming—not at all quickly enough, but it’s coming.

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Putin on the Potomac (a painting, a prank)

New York City artist Brian Whiteley is laying claim to an epic prank executed last month at Donald Trump’s very own D.C. profit center, the Trump International Hotel. The hotel, located near the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue, on the site of the Old Post Office (the site is still owned by the federal government), opened just 13 days before the 2016 election, and is the epicenter of a host of Trump-related controversies and alleged conflicts of interest.

Whiteley, who has something of a history of targeting Trump through art, says he checked into suite 435 of the hotel on the first of August, and hung his painting of Russian president Vladimir Putin on the wall. The painting shows Putin in a state of menacing repose, with the White House behind him and to his left. Whiteley says the painting, and its temporary residence at the Trump International, is a “commentary on the cult of authoritarianism” that he says the Trump regime engenders.

Per Whiteley’s account, he and an unnamed accomplice stayed one night in the suite, and after hanging the painting they went out for dinner and drinks. They met a party of Trump supporters, out on the town celebrating a birthday, and invited them back to the hotel. Whiteley and his partner say they didn’t call attention to the Putin picture, but they saw that several of their guests noticed it. One of them said, “Putin, fuck yeah.”

Whiteley says he left the painting in place after checking out, and returned a month later to find it still on display. He believes numerous hotel patrons must have stayed in the room during that interim, but none seem to have questioned its existence. Around the beginning of September he convinced lobby staff to allow him to return to the room, then unoccupied, telling them that he’d left something there during a previous stay. A doorman accompanied him, and summoned hotel security when he saw Whiteley removing the painting from the wall. Whiteley was able to prove the painting was his and that it was covering hotel-owned art (which Whiteley left undisturbed), but he says he was questioned at length and was unceremoniously ejected from the hotel.

Officials from the Trump International deny that any of this ever happened.

Read the full story at Hyperallegic.

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Labor Day ’18 – a movement on the cusp

If you’re a worker, today’s your day. Labor Day is more than just the unofficial end of summer—it’s the annual recognition of the irreplaceable role that callused hands and dripping sweat and unyielding grit have played in building our civilization. So today’s your day: enjoy your acclamation.

Tomorrow—get your ass back on the line.

Sparse celebration is about all we can expect, because that’s all the paymasters are willing to give. Like everything about the labor movement it has to be demanded in order for it to be received.

The policies of the present administration, not to mention those in conservative state legislatures all across the country, seem to have labor on its back heels. From anti-union right-to-work laws, to tax policy favoring the rich at the expense of working families, it feels as though prospects have never been darker for the foundational class of American producers.

That’s an illusion, though. Suppression from above is hardly a fresh phenomenon—what we’re seeing today is a culmination rather than a new development.

That pamphlet above dates from 1947; an eyeblink, really, after the industrial “arsenal of democracy” was mobilized to save the world. Workers were seeking a collective share of the promised peace dividend, and the Chamber of Commerce, clearly, was not having it.

So that was just an early example of the demonization of labor, but it was hardly the last. The same pols and pundits who pay lip service to the nobility of the individual worker—you’ll hear plenty of that today—sow distrust and discord when those workers collectivize and seek strength through their numbers. So it has ever been, so it will ever be.

The only answer to that, from a labor standpoint, is to stay strong and keep on keeping on. Remember that nothing, including your own dignity, has been given; you’ve had to claim it. You’ll have to continue doing that to beat back the current attacks.

This includes staying informed and getting engaged. It means not buying into the politics of divisiveness, and not voting against your own interests. It means looking beyond the present frays to a brighter future that you, and only you, will create for yourself and your family.

Labor Day reminds us that we’ve built whatever freedoms we enjoy, and that more work, unending work, is required to sustain them. And it reminds us that tomorrow when we’re back on the job, that’s Labor Day too. And so is the day after that, and the day after that.

Get informed:

5 Myths About Labor Unions

The Labor Movement: Facts & Summary

Working Families

AFL-CIO

Industrial Workers of the World

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A 15-storey tribute to Johnny Cash’s Folsom Blues

Half a century ago Johnny Cash gave two performances at Folsom Prison near Sacramento, California, and thereby shone a rare light–for that time–on prisoner rights and the need for prison reform.

Contemporary graphic artist Shepard Fairey is also a champion for prison reform. He has recently unveiled his salute, in the form of an expansive wall mural, to his spiritual forebearer, The Man in Black. Painted on the side of the Marriott Residence Inn in downtown Sacramento, it features an image of Cash in the style of a famed 1968 photo by Jim Marshall, taken at Folsom Prison. Fairey has positioned his work so that Cash’s gaze is directed toward Folsom, some 20 miles away.

Enjoy below Shepard Fairey’s description of the mural and an overview of its creation. And below that, enjoy even more Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues:

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H.P. Lovecraft’s not-so-private horror

Howard Phillips Lovecraft would have turned 128 this week. As it was, he died in 1937, aged just 46, but if he’d enjoyed such startling longevity we likely wouldn’t be discussing today what infernal bargain was keeping him alive, but rather if age, perspective, and modernity had made him any less deplorable.

H.P. Lovecraft is rightly recognized as the father of ‘cosmic horror,’ and a strong cornerstone of the entirety of the horror genre as we know it today. Giants like Stephen King, Clive Barker, and Neil Gaiman cite his influences, and his Cthulhu Cycle continues to slo-mo morph right before our eyes, from a cracking good monster story into a modern-day mythos.

But here’s the thing. H.P. Lovecraft was an out-and-out, wholly committed racist. His racism, anti-semitism, misogyny, and bigotry were, from all evidence, core facets of his character.

So the question becomes, can you separate that from his writing? It’d probably be a cop-out to say this is an individual choice (even though it almost always is). And it can’t be denied that some of his stories (none worth naming here) were blatantly and explicitly bigoted—there shouldn’t be much argument in shunning those works wholesale.

But the others? The majority of his corpus doesn’t seem to advertise his prejudices, although the cynical might presume that as long as the protagonist was WASP-y and male, all was right in Lovecraft’s world, and he could bring on whatever was eldritch and wrong with that world.

Elsewhere in this space I’ve discussed similar, dreadful failings in another American author, Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway, too, brought his personal prejudices into his writing—again, not all his writings, but enough to make his readers all too aware of who and what he was.

And I like Hemingway—I like him a lot. I read and re-read A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Dangerous Summer, and many others, usually several times per year. But on the other hand, I read The Sun Also Rises and To Have and Have Not each only once. The gratuitous racism in each, frankly, turned me off and I’ve never wanted to read those books again.

The way I’ve compartmentalized that—which mirrors, probably, the way I’m compartmentalizing Lovecraft—is either a defense mechanism or an apology for men who neither asked for nor earned one. But it’s where I’ve landed on this issue.

As with the work of Ernest Hemingway, I’ll probably continue to enjoy the Lovecraft stories I like, while shunning the ones I find objectionable. And I’ll advocate for historical honesty: we should remember these authors as they were, warts and all.

Along the way I’ll honor and support anyone compelled to take it further. If you want to burn Lovecraft in effigy I won’t light your torch but I won’t douse it either.

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RIP Aretha Franklin (March 25, 1942 – Aug. 16, 2016)

She was one of a kind with pipes of gold. Her privacy was preserved, for the most part, throughout a long and heart-breaking illness. She died today at home in Detroit. May the Queen of Soul rest in peace.

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They stole the crown jewels! (This is not a metaphor)

Here’s an obligatory disclaimer: thievery is bad, mmkay? And we endeavor not to encourage or glorify roguish behavior in any form. Even if it’s in really, really badass form.

On July 30th a pair of pilferers pulled off a daring daylight heist, in the form of a smash-and-grab in the Strängnäs Cathedral, near Stockholm, erstwhile home of the Swedish crown jewels. They seized two crowns and a golden orb, all dating from the 17th century, then made good their escape.

And oh what an escape. They pedaled away from the cathedral on bicycles, then transferred their loot onto a motorboat (possibly jet skis; accounts vary) and disappeared somewhere on the area’s sprawling network of lakes and waterways. They remain at large.

We repeat: thievery is bad. By the transitive property of criminal law, thieves are also bad. We condemn them.

But they stole the crown jewels, and escaped on bicycles and boats. Damn.

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A symphony for the people

I’ve boasted more than once about the state of the arts in my beloved hometown. We’re at the resilient epicenter of a rust-belt renaissance, and we take our public arts very seriously. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this burg loves to put on a show, and its citizens love to come out for it.

So come out we did, the fam and I and a couple hundred kindred, on Sunday evening to enjoy the Akron Symphony performing for us first under a perfect summer evening sky and then finally, poetically, under the stars.

I can’t quite express for you how much this 90-minute fanfare meant to me, or how much I treasured it—mostly because I lack the 75 or so strings, woodwinds, brass and the rest to recreate for you just what I experienced. The program was as eclectic as you could ask for: orchestral classics like the overture from The Barber of Seville, and Gounod’s Funeral March of the Marionette (cast your mind back and remember the opening theme of Alfred Hitchcock Presents). There was true Americana from Sousa, Gershwin, and Bernstein. And there were surprises—dancers on, below, and about the stage, and some familiar film-score selections, like West Side Story, Vertigo, and even Star Wars.

What that all added up to was a certain, perhaps unexpected, informality. There’s nothing stuffy or pretentious about music in the park, and that means it and everyone involved is relaxed and relatable.

One of the most charming examples of this was the children’s music instructor stationed near the base of the stage. Early on our conductor, Eric Benjamin, invited the cohort of “mini maestros” to come down for a lesson in waving the baton. On the first pass, the symphony started up just a tad too early. “Hey, stop,” the instructor shouted. “The kids aren’t ready.” The orchestra gamely halted, waited, and began playing again only when the children prompted them to do so.

The conducting lesson also led to one of the most unexpectedly thrilling parts of the evening for me. I was admittedly a bit jealous that I couldn’t wave my own baton, but I nonetheless led my daughter down into the tutelage environs so she could give it a go…and thereby found myself closer to an orchestra-in-action than I’d ever been, closer than I’d ever thought I could be.

It became then a full-sensory experience, one I’ll never forget. It became an encompassing onslaught; I could feel the music. It was a sort of forced synesthesia, and not at all in a bad way. Notes and measures and bars gained mass and density, right there in front of me.

I rode that out for a few numbers, and that was long enough for me to get a grip on my rhapsody, to begin paying attention, and to even snap a few pics. One thing I noticed then, that I hadn’t been able to see from further up the lawn, was just how contented the musicians appeared. Most were smiling, and all of them were displaying this sense of repose that can’t be faked, that can only come from someone in the throes of doing exactly the thing they live and love to do.

We, that lucky audience, were invited and encouraged to take pictures (no rude flashes though, please), but we were adjured from all types of recordings. I’ll admit I found myself tempted to flout that, if only to share with you some pale representation of what I saw and heard and felt. In the end I opted to do as asked, reckoning that they’d given so much I’d be a true chancre to do otherwise. I have since confirmed that the Akron Symphony has a YouTube channel, and I’d accordingly direct you there. I’ve also embedded their preview of the upcoming season below.

But in recognition of the facts that my words can’t do them justice and compressed video format can only one-up me around the margins, I’ll offer the most obvious advice, advice I’m sure comes through by way of my enthusiasm: Go see them for yourself!

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A pox on all our houses

I won’t go so far as to say this country has become ungovernable, but it surely isn’t being governed. That’s become evident as we wrap up a jaw-dropping couple of weeks. The madness coincided with Trump’s foray off-shore; he started off predictably enough: gratuitously insulting our closest allies, and doing his level best to implode the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Trump views NATO the same way he looks at everything: transactionally; and he seems to be convinced the U.S. is getting the worst of that bargain. I’d bet my life that Trump is blissfully unaware that NATO’s Article 5, the mutual-defense clause, has been invoked exactly once in the treaty’s 70-year history: by us, in the aftermath of 9/11. Our allies honored their commitment and came running.).

The real bombshell (or a barrage of them) came days later, as Trump sat down and rolled over in Finland. The story has been well-told by others, and is being busily revised as we speak by the White House, so I needn’t remind you of the horrifying tableau of a sitting U.S. president being so thoroughly dominated by that grim personification of KGB perfidy. Might not be fair to call Putin grim, though—normally that rictus he calls a smile comes nowhere near his eyes…but on this occasion, watching Trump dance for him, he seemed positively joyful.

Trump has been spinning, as he does, recasting the meanings of “would” and “wouldn’t” but more importantly, defending himself. He’s the toughest on Russia there’s ever been, he says. The summit was the greatest success, he says.

Advisory for Trump: when members of your own damned party are so befuddled by your behavior that the likeliest explanation they can come up with is that you’re being blackmailed—then no, the summit was not a success.

Of course, not all Republicans have been that forthcoming. A distressing number are still in lockstep with their leader. Most fall somewhere in the middle: willing to offer some mild rebuke for the hellscape in Helsinki, but not much more. They seem to be approaching it like they do the totality of Trumpdom: just waiting for it to blow over.

The Democrats aren’t exactly holding the high ground, however. The opposition party is united in disdain, but I haven’t seen or heard much from them other than zippy tweets and sound bytes. And much worse—they’re fundraising off this. That’s parasitic.

And it’s ample evidence of what a stain that partisanship has become on the fabric of our republic. This is not hyperbole: a chief executive who plainly and blatantly serves the interest of an unfriendly power is a clear and present danger to the nation. The only people who can possibly stop him—or even mitigate him a little—are overwhelmingly self-serving or ineffectual, or both. What we need now are patriots who’ll work together for the sake of the nation. What we have is a mob that can’t get out of its own way.

So rounding back to the beginning: are we ungovernable? Perhaps based on the system we’ve subjected ourselves to, we’re getting exactly the government we deserve.

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On this date…he threw away his shot

On July 11 1804, founding wunderkind Alexander Hamilton committed history’s most misguided act of chivalry by deliberately firing over Aaron Burr’s head during America’s most famous duel.

Burr, who was only the first U.S. vice president to shoot someone will in office, didn’t share Hamilton’s understanding of the Duel Commandments, and shot him in the breadbasket. Hamilton died the next day.

As a result we have a helluva story, and a Tony-award winning musical. What we missed out on was the probable presidency of one of our country’s most extraordinary geniuses. Crappy bargain, all things considered.

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The art of the Fourth

Happy birthday, America. Enjoy this retrospective of Independence Day in the arts…

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The way of no attachments

It’s been a quiet few weeks here at Deconstruction Central; perhaps you’ve noticed. There may or may not be a reasonable explanation for this…I guess it all depends on your definition of reasonable. I might partially blame it on a sort of paralysis born of these strange and swirling times of ours. What commentary can you make on culture, when the culture seems to have gone mad? And what can you say about art when art is failing to save us?

Oh, but those excuses ring hollow, even to me. So I’ll say just this: I took some time off to regroup and decompress. I suppose I’m nearly there.

In lieu of anything insightful to say, then, p’haps I can just share with you a glimpse of this little project that occupied a bit of my time this week past? The missus and the child were kind enough to obtain for me (as part of my massive and much-appreciated Fathers Day haul) an unpainted Buddha ceramic. It was a veritable blank slate, in a way that I think Siddhartha himself would have appreciated. I opted to go a strange route with it, and I think he might have been good with that too.

Is it an unwarranted mixing of the Eastern paradigms? Have I taken Shakyamuni down the path of the Tao, without his express approval? Maybe. But sometimes paradigm-jacking isn’t just acceptable, sometimes it’s called for. Sometimes you just gotta shake things up.

If you should meet Buddha on the road – give him my best, and tell him I said so.

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RIP Anthony Bourdain (June 25, 1956 – June 8, 2018)

This one stings. Today and in coming days we’ll be hearing a lot of descriptions for Anthony Bourdain: celebrity chef, TV host, travel guide…but to me he’ll always be remembered as an extraordinarily gifted writer.

Not sure how Bourdain preferred to think of himself—the tragic fact he took his own life hints at some conflicts that weren’t readily apparent to the world. But I do recall hearing him laugh once when someone called him a celebrity chef. He said something about not having worked as a chef in a while. “But when I was, I was a working chef. There’s a big difference.”

He could be caustic, critical, devastatingly witty…and also sensitive, charming, and always blindingly intelligent and insightful. But now it’s clear these were public faces—the private might have been very dark, very different. We just don’t know.

We know only that he leaves behind a young daughter, who must be broken by this. We know that his good friend Eric Ripert found his body, and will surely be haunted by that for life.

We know this truth: suicide is a permanent solution to temporary problems. We know it leaves behind grief and anger, confusion and havoc.

I don’t want to judge Anthony Bourdain, because I don’t know what brought him to that terminal place. I want to remember him as a storyteller, as one of the most interesting people who lived in these very interesting times.

Everything’s a little darker this morning, and it’ll probably stay that way unless and until this makes some kind of sense. I suppose all we can do is hope he’s found the peace he felt was lacking.

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