July 21, 2013

Interference Archive, Brooklyn

I've been re-reading Steven Heller's Design Literacy and Design Literacy (continued) this summer in preparation for teaching a design theory class next year. Heller's works, among other things, underscore the huge contributions left-wing and counterculture publications have made to graphic design. In that regard, there's a good article in the New York Times today (Sunday, July 21, 2013, page 25) by Maya Lau about Brooklyn’s Interference Archive. The Archive collects and stores publications, posters and other documents and ephemera generated by left and labor politics in the US. Staffed exclusively by volunteers, it also hosts exhibitions, panels, screenings and other events.  The Archive welcomes visits, participation and donations. The Times article gives some interesting background on the organization's founders. 

July 20, 2013


Don’t be fooled by the rhetoric swirling around the Detroit bankruptcy. We get the sense that Detroit’s problems are a consequence of bungled public policy, bad schools, greedy public sector unions, etc., all conveyed with the usual racist undertones. Sorry, no … not the case. This is about vulture capitalists picking the bones they were never happy about leaving on the table in the first place … taxes and pensions. This is about Republicans snatching what’s left of the public sector to deliver it to their clients and cronies, who will sell it back to us in the form of privatized schools, security, bridges, roads and water. Detroit is an example of one thing only: business socializing the costs of production and keeping the profits. Modern cities didn’t sprout from the frontier like wild flowers. Detroit grew in order to serve the automobile and other industries. Every dollar the public sector and unions were able to wrench from business was marked by struggle. And, when other venues became convenient for the absorption of social costs without collective bargaining and modest contributions to the public sector, the corporations fled. Well, guess who’s back.

image: Detroit Industry Murals, Diego Rivera (1932-33) (detail)

July 12, 2013

Jay-Z, Kool Moe Dee, Performance Art and Picasso

As to Jay-Z’s July 10 performance of Picasso Baby at Pace Gallery, two pertinent quotes: the first, from Kool Moe Dee's 1987 How You LikeMe Now and the second, from Clement Greenberg’s 1956 David Smith review (where he says Smith is the best of his generation). 

Kool Moe Dee:
Rap is an art
And I'm a Picasso
But of course
Why else would you try so
Hard to paint a picture,
and try to get ya
Self in my shoes,
but they won't fit ya
I'm bigger and better,
forget about deffer
Every time I rocked the mic,
I left a
Stain in your brain
that will remain....

Clement Greenberg:
Modernist sculpture’s present malady, here and abroad, is artiness …  Artiness is usually the symptom of a fear lest the work of art not display its identity as art sufficiently....

Rap, as Moe Dee says, is already art.  It’s great to see Jay-Z still biting on old school masterpieces, but rap does not need the trappings of high profile art galleries or art world players and schmoozers (and certainly doesn’t need visual arts critics) in order to validate its quality or art status.  Rap that does require such embellishments is insecure about its quality and status.  We won’t quarrel about whether it is or is not art. Let’s just say it’s lame --- it displays an unsavory artiness.

BTW Kool Moe Dee could eat Jay-Z for breakfast and still be very, very hungry. Click on the lists from the indispensable Ego Trip's Book of Rap Lists (St. Martin's/Griffin, 1999)

July 4, 2013

Cuban Movies

In preparation for my visit to Cuba last year, I watched a lot of great movies. Here’s some favorites in the great and growing tradition of post-revolutionary Cuban filmmaking. A few of these titles may be available online, but the best source is likely the public library (DC’s  has most of them). The list includes only narrative drama and comedy (no documentary).  It does not include films made in Cuba by international filmmakers (e.g., Agnès Varda’s 1963 Salut les Cubains, Mikhail Kalatozov’s 1964 Soy Cuba, or  Carol Reed’s 1959 Our Man in Havana … I guess that's  a separate list in the making) or any of the bizarre collection of US-made films about Cuba (e.g., John Houston’s 1949 We Were Strangers.) Director credits are in parens.

Retrato de Teresa (1979) (Pastor Vega)
Guantanamera (1995)  (Tomás Gutiérrez AleaJuan Carlos Tabío)
Barrio Cuba (2005)  (Humberto Solás)
Hasta cierto punto (1983) (Tomás Gutiérrez Alea)
Hurricanes (2003) (Entre ciclones) (Enrique Colina)
Strawberry and Chocolate (1994) (Tomás Gutiérrez AleaJuan Carlos Tabío)
¡Vampiros en La Habana! (1985) (Juan Padrón)
Honey for Oshun (2001) (Humberto Solás)
Memories of Underdevelopment (1968) (Tomás Gutiérrez Alea)
La muerte de un burócrata (1966)  (Tomás Gutiérrez Alea)
Las doce sillas (The Twelve Chairs) (1962) (Tomás Gutiérrez Alea)
Hello Hemingway (1990)  (Fernando Perez)
The Adventures of Juan Quin Quin (1967) (Julio García Espinosa)