Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

John Portman, Architect Who Made Skylines Soar, Dies at 93

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Robert McFadden writes in the NY Times:

John Portman, the architect and developer who revolutionized hotel designs with soaring futuristic atriums, built commercial towers that revitalized the downtowns of decaying postwar American cities and transformed Asian skylines from Shanghai to Mumbai, died on Friday in Atlanta. He was 93.

Mr. Portman’s family announced his death. No cause was given.

One of the world’s best-known and most influential architects, Mr. Portman, over a half-century, redefined urban landscapes in the United States. He built the Peachtree Center in Atlanta, the Embarcadero Center in San Francisco, the Renaissance Center in Detroit and scores of hotel, office and retail complexes in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Fort Worth, San Diego and other cities.

His buildings often evoked oohs and aahs from the public, but were not always a hit with critics, who called them concrete islands, self-contained cities within cities — serving their patrons yet insular, even forbidding to outsiders. But by combining architectural talents with the savvy of a real estate entrepreneur, Mr. Portman was hugely successful and a rarity among contemporaries: both an artist and a tough businessman.

In the 1960s and ’70s, his signature hotels — skyscrapers with escarpment atriums, cantilevered balconies overlooking interiors big enough to contain the Statue of Liberty, whooshing glass elevators, waterfalls, hanging gardens and revolving rooftop restaurants — offered thrilling antidotes to the standard lot of dreary hotel lobbies, claustrophobic box elevators and shotgun corridors lined with cells for the inmates. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

30 December 2017 at 1:48 pm

Posted in Art, Business, Daily life, Memes

How far can you generalize “homonym”?

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The sound produced by reading, “The s-[long o sound]-l is h-[long o sound]” aloud. It has two meanings, as you see—one good, one bad.

I came to the thought because I am reading the Richard Stark “Parker” novels, and just started the first one published, “The Hunter.” Early on there’s something that triggered the thought. But then I started thing about what that is and trying to think of other examples. —[ Aha! Here it is: “His shoes and socks were both black and both holey. The shoes were holey on the bottom [thus bringing in “s-[long o sound]-l”)), the socks were holey at heel and toe.” I got to thinking about holey/holy, and in the context sole/soul came right along.]

It’s just a generalization of a homonym— a phase instead of a word having two meanings.

So I wondered how far you could take it, and thought of great literature—Shakespeare, for example: He writes plays in which speeches, characters, and meaning can be read many ways (see this fascinating article (PDF)). So it’s sort of the next level of generalization/abstraction. I suppose the ultimate generalization of this kind of ambiguity is life, since each person has his or her own reading of their experience/life.

And for the icing on that particular cake:

Written by LeisureGuy

22 December 2017 at 4:55 pm

Posted in Art, Daily life, Video

Endlessly zooming art

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Jason Kottke explains what’s behind this video:

Written by LeisureGuy

19 December 2017 at 12:30 pm

Posted in Art, Technology, Video

The Not Yorker: New Yorker cover designs that didn’t make it (but still are good)

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Take a look.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 December 2017 at 7:24 am

Posted in Art

The triumph of kitsch in politics

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Thorsten Botz-Bornstein, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Gulf University for Science and Technology, writes in Quartz:

What is the predominant aesthetic of the twenty-first century? According to sociology professors Ruth Holliday and Tracey Potts, “we are on the point of drowning in kitsch. A casual survey of the British metropolitan high street offers ample evidence of the kitschification of everyday life.”

Kitsch can also be called cheesiness or tackiness. Specialists have defined kitsch as a tasteless copy of an existing style or as the systematic display of bad taste or artistic deficiency. Garden gnomes are kitsch, just like cheap paintings for tourists, which are technically correct but express their “truths” too directly and too straightforwardly, often in the form of clichés.

Some people play with kitsch by using irony, which can lead to interesting results. However, most of the time, kitsch has negative connotations.


In politics, most dictators have attempted to reinforce their authority with the help of kitsch propaganda. The former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was called “the kitsch-dictator,’ and Saddam Hussein, who designed his own monuments in a Stalinist spirit, is one of the few turn-of-the-century leaders able to debate his title. The tastes of the nouveau riches in Russia, China, the Middle East, and the US excel in a kind of conspicuous vulgarity that perfectly matches academic definitions of kitsch.

Terrorism, graphic images of which have invaded our lives in the past two decades, prefers kitsch. Al-Qaeda propaganda indulges in romantic presentations of sunrises, pre-modern utopias, as well as Gothic presentations of skulls and bones. Sociologist Rüdiger Lohlker, who analysed jihadist aesthetics, wrote that the jihadi magazine Al-Qaeda Airlines displayed “a fascination with gothic elements (skulls and bones) and kitsch.”

Videos put out by the so-called Islamic State offer even more explicit kitsch expressions as they cultivate the art of violence for its shock value.


So why is there so much kitsch? Is there more kitsch now than there’s ever been? A lot of cheesiness has been around in popular religious art, and Caligula is probably the kitsch champion of all times. Enlightenment brought kitsch (then contained in Baroque art) to a temporary halt but it seems that we are catching up again. American screenwriter Kevin Williamson has called Donald Trump in the National Review “the worst taste since Caligula.”

Trump goes back to the pre-Enlightenment taste of Absolutism: his gilded Manhattan penthouse is replete with marble, Louis XIV furnishings, and haphazardly assembled historical themes.

According to my analysis, this attraction for kitsch has to do with the phenomenon of “deculturation,” a phenomena in which a particular group is deprived of one or more aspects of its identity. The term emerged in sociology in debates about the effects of colonialism and subsequent loss of culture, for example in Pierre Bourdieu’s early work Sociologie de l’Algérie.

Humans have always needed truths to believe in. Whereas in the past those truths tended to be transmitted through cultures, they are now increasingly produced instantaneously without cultural mediation. Kitsch employs this mechanism in the realm of aesthetics. In today’s world, kitsch is redefining our perception of truth; it is a truth devoid of culture or context.

The production of immediate, pure, and decultured truths is most obvious in the sphere of fundamentalist religions. Islam scholar Olivier Roy has shown that religious fundamentalism arises when religion is separated from the indigenous culture in which it was embedded.

Radicalization occurs when religions attempt to define themselves as culturally neutral and “pure.” When religions are disconnected from concrete cultural values, their truths become absolute; fundamentalist religions tend to see themselves as providers of scientific truths.


Studies have shown that kitsch has its roots in an intrinsically narcissistic impulse. That’s why it thrives particularly well in neoliberal environments determined by the dynamics of the information society. Social media are narcissistic because they enable individuals to recycle their own selves without being confronted with the culture of the other.

When there is no cultural other, only the “I” will be taken for granted. In the worst case, this system produces self-centered “alternative truths” and conspiracy theories, which are “kitsch-theories” because of their narcissistic, self-confirming structures. Algorithms tell us which books we like, based on previous choices. The narcissist structure of this model is obvious. Through algorithms, signs are quantified and classified along the guidelines of abstract forms of excellence. In a decultured world, the self becomes the only remaining ethical reference.

“Kitsch truths” establish themselves . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

8 December 2017 at 11:59 am

Posted in Art, Daily life, Politics

The art of the fake: Forgers are the art world’s antiheroes.

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Fascinating discussion of art forgery and links to two books by the author which sound also fascinating.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 November 2017 at 1:33 pm

Posted in Art, Books, Law Enforcement

What Do We Do with the Art of Monstrous Men?

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Claire Dederer has a provocative essay in The Paris Review about how to approach the art of men who are monsters (e.g., Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby—though she does not mention them, they are the first two to spring to mind). It begins:

Roman Polanski, Woody Allen, Bill Cosby, William Burroughs, Richard Wagner, Sid Vicious, V. S. Naipaul, John Galliano, Norman Mailer, Ezra Pound, Caravaggio, Floyd Mayweather, though if we start listing athletes we’ll never stop. And what about the women? The list immediately becomes much more difficult and tentative: Anne Sexton? Joan Crawford? Sylvia Plath? Does self-harm count? Okay, well, it’s back to the men I guess: Pablo Picasso, Max Ernst, Lead Belly, Miles Davis, Phil Spector.

They did or said something awful, and made something great. The awful thing disrupts the great work; we can’t watch or listen to or read the great work without remembering the awful thing. Flooded with knowledge of the maker’s monstrousness, we turn away, overcome by disgust. Or … we don’t. We continue watching, separating or trying to separate the artist from the art. Either way: disruption. They are monster geniuses, and I don’t know what to do about them.

We’ve all been thinking about monsters in the Trump era. For me, it began a few years ago. I was researching Roman Polanski for a book I was writing and found myself awed by his monstrousness. It was monumental, like the Grand Canyon. And yet. When I watched his movies, their beauty was another kind of monument, impervious to my knowledge of his iniquities. I had exhaustively read about his rape of thirteen-year-old Samantha Gailey; I feel sure no detail on record remained unfamiliar to me. Despite this knowledge, I was still able to consume his work. Eager to. The more I researched Polanski, the more I became drawn to his films, and I watched them again and again—especially the major ones: Repulsion, Rosemarys BabyChinatown. Like all works of genius, they invited repetition. I ate them. They became part of me, the way something loved does.

I wasn’t supposed to love this work, or this man. He’s the object of boycotts and lawsuits and outrage. In the public’s mind, man and work seem to be the same thing. But are they? Ought we try to separate the art from the artist, the maker from the made? Do we undergo a willful forgetting when we want to listen to, say, Wagner’s Ring cycle? (Forgetting is easier for some than others; Wagner’s work has rarely been performed in Israel.) Or do we believe genius gets special dispensation, a behavioral hall pass?

And how does our answer change from situation to situation? Certain pieces of art seem to have been rendered unconsumable by their maker’s transgressions—how can one watch The Cosby Show after the rape allegations against Bill Cosby? I mean, obviously it’s technically doable, but are we even watching the show? Or are we taking in the spectacle of our own lost innocence?

And is it simply a matter of pragmatics? Do we withhold our support if the person is alive and therefore might benefit financially from our consumption of their work? Do we vote with our wallets? If so, is it okay to stream, say, a Roman Polanski movie for free? Can we, um, watch it at a friend’s house?


But hold up for a minute: Who is this “we” that’s always turning up in critical writing anyway? We is an escape hatch. We is cheap. We is a way of simultaneously sloughing off personal responsibility and taking on the mantle of easy authority. It’s the voice of the middle-brow male critic, the one who truly believes he knows how everyone else should think. We is corrupt. We is make-believe. The real question is this: can I love the art but hate the artist? Can you? When I say we, I mean I. I mean you.


I know Polanski is worse, whatever that means, and Cosby is more current. But for me the ur-monster is Woody Allen.

The men want to know why Woody Allen makes us so mad. Woody Allen slept with Soon-Yi Previn, the child of his life partner Mia Farrow. Soon-Yi was a teenager in his care the first time they slept together, and he the most famous film director in the world.

I took the fucking of Soon-Yi as a terrible betrayal of me personally. When I was young, I felt like Woody Allen. I intuited or believed he represented me on-screen. He was me. This is one of the peculiar aspects of his genius—this ability to stand in for the audience. The identification was exacerbated by the seeming powerlessness of his usual on-screen persona: skinny as a kid, short as a kid, confused by an uncaring, incomprehensible world. (Like Chaplin before him.) I felt closer to him than seems reasonable for a little girl to feel about a grown-up male filmmaker. In some mad way, I felt he belonged to me. I had always seen him as one of us, the powerless. Post-Soon-Yi, I saw him as a predator.

My response wasn’t logical; it was emotional.


One rainy afternoon, in the spring of 2017, I flopped down on the living-room couch and committed an act of transgression. No, not that one. What I did was, I on-demanded Annie Hall. It was easy. I just clicked the OK button on my massive universal remote and then rummaged around in a bag of cookies while the opening credits rolled. As acts of transgression go, it was pretty undramatic. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

24 November 2017 at 4:38 pm

Posted in Art, Daily life

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