Shouting ‘theater’ in a crowded fire: Chicago Schools, Summer 1968 & Beyond

chicago schools oneFrom the exhibition Now! Hairy Who Makes You Smell Good!, running at the Art Institute of Chicago from September 27, 2018 through January 6, 2019: Jim Nutt. “Now! Hairy Who Makes You Smell Good,” 1968. The Art Institute of Chicago, gift of Gladys Nilsson and Jim Nutt. © Jim Nutt.

“Free speech is the right to shout ‘theater’ in a crowded fire.”

— A Yippie proverb, cited by Abbie Hoffman — a member of the Chicago Seven arrested and charged, along with Tom Hayden and others, after protesting at the Democratic convention held in Chicago during the Summer of 1968 — in “Steal This Book” (Pirate Editions, distributed by Grove Press)

Introduction by Paul Ben-Itzak
Text from Experiments in Prose,
Edited by Eugene Wildman
Copyright 1969 The Swallow Press, Chicago
Illustrated with images from the current or upcoming Art Institute of Chicago exhibitions Now! Hairy Who Makes You Smell Good!, Past Forward: Architecture and Design at the Art Institute, and Never a Lovely So Real: Photography and Film in Chicago, 1950–1980

(Editor’s note, explanatory: The inclusion of the images from the Art Institute of Chicago exhibitions should not imply any association of the artists with the views expressed. Rather, this Chicago mix tape is intended to reflect the kaleidescopic brilliance of the multiplicity of Chicago schools of thought, literature, art, architecture, and design.)

(Editor’s note, prosatory: In dockside picnics looking out on Lake Michigan while on cross-country train trip pauses, in dreams of ame-soeurs encountered on busses crossing the lake’s glittering sea-like azure expanse, on a Sunday morning jog after an interview for a position I was offered but didn’t take (after my future boss had handed me a press release  announcing a new version of Prozac for dieters and explained “Your role would be to analyze how the news will affect the stock” and I’d thought “No, I’d be more concerned with how the product might affect the dieter”) where I ran smack dab into the final leg of the Chicago Marathon and was cheered on by bystanders as if I’d run the whole race, standing before Chagall’s “White Jesus,” a refugee from Hitler’s “Degenerate Art” exhibition, with its burning synagogues, in the cool halls of the Art Institute near the banks of the Chicago River, peering at a river-boat from the parapet of a bridge named after Hull House’s Jane Addams, contemplating, in a Paris museum, Henry Darger’s epic saga of the Viviane Girls, drawn to accompany a 15,000-page manuscript discovered in Darger’s humble janitor’s quarters in Lincoln Park before it became chic, sipping beers on the mahogany counter of a former speakeasy in the same ‘hood converted to a friend’s living room, whisked back to the train by a brisk autumnal wind while a lone saxophonist breathes life into the canned Debussy piped into a downtown district, seeing African-American workers being shooed away from a private lunch table set up in the publicly-owned Union Station, being held up at a corner outside the station for a police car chase which I soon learn was rigged for a film shoot, and contemplating a mayor, Rahm Emanuel, who seems mostly interested in privatizing city services, roads, and schools,  and where the Black population in one of the most segregated cities in the country has dropped by 250,000, aspiring to continue in the spirit of Izzy Stone, and above all inspired by Nelson Algren’s “Chicago, City on the Make” — a screed which has the sentimental effect of an homage — Chicago has always haunted and hounded me. So I was not at all surprised when, in July 2016, about to cross the flooded Seine, my other favorite body of water, I discovered, on a bench not far from a bookstand, “Experiments in Prose,” a celebration of the free-spirited Chicago-style design, literature, and activism which flourished in the 1960s produced by former Chicago Review editor Eugene Wildman for the Chi-based Swallow Press, and which opens with:

Talking

(Tape by Bruce Kaplan. Recorded primarily in the Lincoln Park area of Chicago during the 1968 Democratic National Convention and Mayor Daley’s triumph of the will.)

(From a poem about 80 lines long.)

… America, today you are a Helen
Helen, in your old age, in your wisdom
Is it to be a policy to war?
…. Your wisdom of war is too deep for me
My mind’s eye cannot see the point of what all this killing is for
Mankind from A to Z , can you see this is our time
World leaders of men, you have read the history of mankind
Why do you waste our time in war…..

That’s a very moving speech. Would you like to say what you were telling me earlier?

Well, I was for Senator Robert F. Kennedy. I had the feeling that he would have been the best to lead all the American people to a greater democracy. He would have helped the minority, the last minority, of Americans, the Negro, to get a fair share of the pie because free enterprise is… a pie, everyone wants a piece of it. I wrote some poems on Chicago too, on Kennedy for the people of Chicago….

chicago schools two

From the exhibition Never a Lovely So Real: Photography and Film in Chicago, 1950–1980, running through October 26 at the Art Institute of Chicago: Darryl Cowherd. “Blackstone, Woodlawn/Chicago,” 1968. The Art Institute of Chicago. Through prior gifts of the Harold and Esther Edgerton Family Foundation and Anonymous. © Darryl Cowherd.

You say you gave up your job to write the long one, the Kennedy speech?

Yes and uh it was my own idea, it wasn’t that I was asked to do it, but just that I want to see a greater country and after Senator Kennedy’s passing, I thought that the next best man would be Senator Eugene McCarthy.

What’s your opinion of all these people coming here to Lincoln Park?

Well I think it’s the greatest uh thing to see the young people seeing America, discovering it, there’re young, they’re going all about the country and seeing it, and they want a chance to uh participate in their democracy. It’s a sad thing to see that so many political men have held on to power for close to fifty years, not one of them has [the] grace to bow out and let the younger lawyers and other young men into the government. They hold on with one foot in the grave, they still refuse to bow out gracefully. My name is John F——-, Irish-American, 38 years old, seven months in Chicago from New York City, eighth grade education.

MAN, AMERICA, MANKIND
I stand here before you a man
Not with the idea to teach you
That I cannot do, for I have learned from you
Shakespeare still is a poet, and a painter, and a musician….

I worked very hard on that. You see, Kennedy loved Aristotle, and all the great poets, see, and I reached in for Helen of Troy because Helen of Troy was so beautiful that they all went to war.

chicago schools three

From the exhibition Never a Lovely So Real: Photography and Film in Chicago, 1950–1980, running through October 26 at the Art Institute of Chicago: Valeria “Mikki” Ferrill, Untitled from The Garage, 1972. The Art Institute of Chicago. National Docent Symposium Endowment. © Mikki Ferrill.

(Group of girls.)

We’re carrying nothing that hasn’t proved its practicality and necessity by several years of experience. The heavy jeans and turtleneck are protection against mace, likewise the vaseline. The tape on the glasses to keep from getting hit on the glasses. The helmet liner is to protect the head. We tested these helmet liners last night by beating each other over the head with metal vases. The gas mask is again against mace or tear gas or worse, which they are using. For instance, that tear gas shell that exploded in Soldiers Field last night, they mentioned powdered irritants injuring police and National Guard, well come on there are no powdered irritants in mace or tear gas. That had to be something else.

They laid three of them up in the hospital. Probably military and domestic reagents. (?)

chicago schools four

From the exhibition Now! Hairy Who Makes You Smell Good!, running at the Art Institute of Chicago from September 27, 2018 through January 6, 2019: Jim Falconer, Art Green, Gladys Nilsson, Jim Nutt, Suellen Rocca, and Karl Wirsum. “The Portable Hairy Who!,” 1966. The Art Institute of Chicago, gift of Gladys Nilsson and Jim Nutt.

All right what else are we carrying….

Is the radio necessary?

That’s just to follow the news. The medical kit for obvious reasons, bandages, iodine, alcohol for mace. We have a half pint of absolute grain alcohol. The fact is, something that was bitterly learned at Ann Arbor, where we’re from, is that if you are blind drunk mace will not touch you.Time and again they have tried to subdue mad drunks with mace and wound up with a bunch of maced cops and a mad drunk.

Do you have any idea why that is true?

No idea why it’s true, just that it works. For the same reason that we don’t know how mace suppresses the part of your metabolism that digests vitamins. It does, that’s one of the effects of it. These are army surplus gas masks. You can get them for eleven dollars at the Army surplus store on Barry Street. You have to frighten them into giving them to you because the police have talked them out of selling gas masks. The World War II gas masks have been bought up by the fire department; these are World War I. Ah, but they’ll work. The black is because the worst of the police brutality is after dark, they seem to feel bolder in the dark, therefore the black is to protect you. You can hide easier.

chicago school fiveFrom the exhibition Never a Lovely So Real: Photography and Film in Chicago, 1950–1980, running through October 26 at the Art Institute of Chicago: Billy Abernathy, “Mother’s Day,” from “Born Hip,” 1962. The Art Institute of Chicago. Gift of the Illinois Arts Council.

You obviously feel there is a great deal of danger in coming to Chicago. Why did you?

We have had the word from some of our friends in New York, who were in Washington, and looked over the situation here, that we ought to have helmets, gas masks, and the works. The usual reaction by the police is not in regard to any action taken by the demonstrators, rather in accordance to the size of the crowd — the bigger the crowd the much more likely the possibility of police violence. This has been proved over and over again. The marchers don’t have to start anything, just a sizeable enough crowd will incite them. For instance, already two people here, that brings the count to what seven so far? In the past three days. And this is before anything’s even started.

Three killed, four injured, so far.

There was a guy killed last Thursday?

Dean Johnson and two others.

Who were the others killed?

I’m not sure, I don’t have all the information….

It was in the papers but we had to leave the papers and everything back because we can’t carry anything that isn’t absolutely essential. Oh, this uh experience too, the name of the defense fund. These are so that if I get hit on the arms I won’t get my wrists cut.

chicago school sixFrom the exhibition Never a Lovely So Real: Photography and Film in Chicago, 1950–1980, running through October 26 at the Art Institute of Chicago: Gordon Parks, Untitled, Chicago, Illinois, 1963. The Art Institute of Chicago. Anonymous gift. © The Gordon Parks Foundation.

What’s worth the risk…. Why are you here?

Freedom man.

Freedom man, that’s all there is. Freedom’s where it’s at. We gotta get it.

What’s frightening now is not so much that the uh…. What’s really terrifying in the world situation today is how much we’ve become like the Soviet Union. As much as them like us, we like them. The same people that are demonstrating against Vietnam are now demonstrating against Czechoslovakia. It’s the exact same thing. One of our favorite anti-Vietnam people in New York is out throwing rocks at the Russian embassy.

I heard some people standing around talking before, fairly straight looking, saying it looked like the newsreels from Prague.

Incidentally, we found out who the federal allies they brought in are, the Eighty-Second Airborn, the one that was used at the Pentagon, the Dominican Republic, and Vietnam. What they do when they train people, it’s for riot training, what they do we found is they give them all sorts of stuff about these kids are all Commie agitators trying to stir up, etc etc. which is so much bull. Honestly there’s nobody quite like SDS [Students for a Democratic Society], the New Left, and so on for throwing out Marxists wherever they find them. [In the early 1980s, reports surfaced that SDS had been infiltrated by government agents.] That happened at the last convention and they’re throwing them out steadily. The actual number of SDS people here is rather small. You’d be surprised, not all SDS members carry cards. Most of them are in other organizations too; it’s an interlocking thing.

Why do you think so many fewer people have come to Chicago than everybody was saying?

Nothing about it makes sense….

***

Those are the grooviest helmets I ever saw.

Thanks. Would you believe that more than half the people in this coutnry have no vote, no voice, and this is what we’re protesting. We can’t vote in the ballot box, we can’t get our words in a magazine, in the papers, all we can do is bring our bodies to the demonstrations, and vote that way. If we’re not given a voice, not listened to, well the imbalance remains and there’s only one way to correct it, we hope it won’t come to that. It has happened before.

What’s that?

It’s water, just water. Water is the one good antidote for mace. The vaseline will keep the mace out, but the water will wash off the vaseline. The water’s to get the mace out once it’s in your face.

chicago schools eightFrom the exhibition Past Forward: Architecture and Design at the Art Institute, now running at the Art Institute of Chicago: Stanley Tigerman, “The Titanic, 1978.” The Art Institute of Chicago. Gift of Stanley Tigerman. © 1978 Stanley Tigerman.

Revolution brothers….

(in unison) Revolution… si … black flag, great…. By the way, anarchy and chaos are not the same thing if anyone wants to know. We’ve been saying it for years but who listens to us, once again. The whole idea behind the anarchy thing here is simply that people will by themselves without outside control….

…. These men have a hitherto untested capacity for self direction….

They will, on their own, order their own society. People don’t need the whip, what they carry is enough, that’s what we’re fighting for, why we to take all the whips out of society, there’re garrets enough. People will naturally form an order and stick to it, and when they can’t, well, society sure as hell can’t do it for them. Society’s supposed to serve man, not vice versa.

chicago schools sevenFrom the exhibition Now! Hairy Who Makes You Smell Good!, running at the Art Institute of Chicago from September 27, 2018 through January 6, 2019: Art Green. “Consider the Options, Examine the Facts, Apply the Logic (originally titled The Undeniable Logician),” 1965. Smart Museum of Art, University of Chicago, Anonymous Gift. © Art Green.

chicago school nine newFrom the exhibition Never a Lovely So Real: Photography and Film in Chicago, 1950–1980, running through October 26 at the Art Institute of Chicago: Bob Crawford, Untitled (Wall of Respect), 1967. The Art Institute of Chicago. Through prior gifts of Emanuel and Edithann M. Gerard and Mrs. James Ward Thorne. © Bob Crawford/ courtesy Romi Crawford.

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Sonnez la matine: La Culture, c’est pas une ‘annexe’

Around the world, French culture is its calling card

“Même si les civilisations successives étaient des organismes, et semblables, la nôtre montrerait deux caractères sans exemple. D’être capable de faire sauter la terre ; et de rassembler l’art depuis la préhistoire.”

— André Malraux, Néocritique*

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2017 Paul Ben-Itzak

Once upon a time, France’s siren call to the world was its culture, of which the most potent register was its literature. And yet today, this siren call has often been drowned out, or at least muffled — and, at Charlie Hebdo, literally assassinated — by the threat of and acts of terrorism, unfortunately resulting in a state of siege mentality on the part of many. The knee-jerk response to the real and present threat of terrorism in some quarters — in the U.S. as in France — has been to in effect cede to the terrorists by being terrorized, putting up walls, ostracizing the Other, and erecting a citadel we like to think will be impregnable but that risks to swallow us in solipsism. And the understandable and completely justifiable responses of military Defense and verbal Sanction have been under-accompanied by strategies to treat the problem at its roots. To put the question concretely: How to head off that child at risk before s/he becomes a teenager and, in that stage of life so subject to alienation, potentially fertile territory for the manipulation and brainwashing of the ideologues and terrorists?

In France, the tragedy has been that the ‘better offer’ has always been there: In its culture, in ideas, in philosophy, and in the ‘lumieres,’ as they’ve been handed down in the country’s LITERATURE.

To behold this rich heritage and potential anecdote to Obscurantism being so under-exploited has been particularly tragic for an American who from the moment he could have stories read to him has been seduced by the siren call of French and Francophone culture: Babar, “Madeline” (technically not written by a Frenchman, but qualified by its rebel spirit and its luminous setting: PARIS), Tintin and, later, through the lyrics of song, Jacques Brel, Yves Montand, Jacques Dutronc, Serge Gainsbourg…. (Indeed, the first music I remember mimicking is not “Michael row your boat ashore” but “Frere Jacques, Frere Jacques, dormez vous, dormez vous?”) And if we extend the literary rubric to film — also, after all, a form of composition — “The Red Balloon” planted the siren of the Belleville neighborhood of Paris in my young head and heart and, later, Truffaut and Godard made their respective imprints with Gallic right and left brains which mined the poetry in romantic as well as societal strife.

I am not the only American who has been drawn to this heritage. (In some cases, more even than the French themselves. During an initial sojourn in Paris in 2001, accustomed to lines around the block for his films in New York and San Francisco, I was shocked to find that Godard’s “Eloge d’Amour,” fresh from Cannes, was allocated the tiniest screen in the tiniest room of a multiplex near the Luxembourg Garden, where all of 10 people watched his latest experimentations. My French actress friend clutched her head in agonized frustration, while I — at that juncture French illiterate — remained perched on the edge of my seat for the entire picture.)

So you can imagine my chagrin in reading, just before the recent presidential election, New York Times columnist Roger Simon’s “France at the End of Days,” a one-sided portrait of a supposedly crepuscular France in which the Neo-Xenophobes were battling the Neo-Liberals for control of the wheel that would determine the country’s direction for the next five years. (Nowhere in the article was it explained that if the National Front had doubled its support since the last election in 2012, it wasn’t because an additional 17 percent of Frenchmen and women suddenly woke up racists, but because a)like my retired neighbors here in the Southwest of France, they’re weary of making their grocery purchases every week based on what’s on sale, and b) the end run by leaders of both the principal parties around the popular rejection of the European Constitution in 2005 with a Treaty of Lisbon not subject to popular confirmation, capped by Francois Hollande’s running in 2012 as “the enemy of Finance” only to (in the view of some; I’ll take the Fifth) embrace Capitalism after he was elected president left many voters disillusioned with the establishment parties.)

Hollande didn’t do much better with the cultural agenda, all three of his cultural ministers qualified more by their allegiance to the Socialist party than their cultural accomplishments. The low point was a minister who, asked to name her favorite Patrick Modiano work after the latter won the Nobel Prize, couldn’t name a single title, finally explaining that she didn’t have time to read books, as her most famous predecessor André Malraux no doubt jumped out of his grave.

So when Emmanuel Macron, asked during the 2017 presidential campaign about his cultural program, said that a pillar would be expanding library hours at night and on the week-ends, I was encouraged.

In the lower-class, mixed, crime-ridden neighborhood of East Fort Worth, Texas where I lived before returning to France, the library was always packed — most of all with young people, often bilingual. (As was the library’s small collection.)

The Library is a crucial point of First Contact with Culture.

The Library is a social nexus that provides a constructive alternative to hanging out with and getting recruited by gang-bangers.

Or terrorists.

And, unlike many other cultural outlets, it’s free. And it’s accessible, in the neighborhood.

And yet, around the world, library hours have been eviscerated and libraries shuttered for the past 30 years. (In the Anglophone culture, this is what we call Penny-wise, pound-foolish.)

With Emmanuel Macron, elected president May 7 with a 66 percent majority, increasing library hours is not just a pat solution. This is a man who carefully chooses his words. During his presidential debate with National Front candidate Marine Le Pen, after two hours of not taking the bait and remaining calm, he finally called her and her party “parasites.” This was not an ill-considered empty put-down but an exact diagnoses; parasites feed on bodies whose immune systems have been weakened. (Also along the lines of better immunizing the country’s infants, Macron has pledged to cut class size in difficult neighborhoods in half, to 12 students.)

And yet for France, it doesn’t have to be this way. Words — words — build up immune systems. They build up our defenses against ignorance, against intolerance, against fear, against pain, against hate, against ‘fermeture.’ I’d even argue that they forge pretty solid inroads against mortality because, as Albert Moravia once pointed out, they augment our existence laterally with a multitude of other lives… and cultures.

But let’s pause on that word Defense.

In analyzing the cabinet named yesterday by Macron and his new prime minister, Edouard Philippe (also a book maven, having launched book-mobiles around his coastal city of Le Havre), most of the media I audit has been commenting that even if half the 22 members are women, only one, the new minister of armies, was accorded a ‘regalian’ ministry. (I can’t find this word in any of my French dictionaries, so it must be a recent — Franglaise? — innovation of the political pundits.)

One Radio France reporter even grouped the ministry of Culture and Communication with those he dubbed ‘annex’ ministries.

This in France, the cradle of literature.

Never mind that the most ‘regalian’ of French presidents in the 60 years of the Fifth Republic, the man still more likely to be referred to by the French as “the General” than “the president,” Charles De Gaulle, appointed as his first and long-time minister of culture André Malraux, himself a Nobel laureate.

The General understood that Culture was not an ‘annex,’ but a pillar of national defense and an essential component of the foundation of a society. And that the best way to protect a nation’s heritage is not to pillory other cultures but to incorporate them in the national cultural identity. (As for Macron, he did not, as some media here inaccurately reported, say that there was no such thing as French Culture, but that it was rather a question of French cultures.)

Francois Mitterand — another literary president — understood this too, appointing Jack Lang to incorporate contemporary elements into the French cultural vision and agenda. (It was Lang who implemented the now European-wide Fete de la Musique, coming up this June 21, just when we’ve got something to dance about.) As did even Nicolas Sarkozy, appointing to the post Mitterand’s nephew Frederick, whose outsized erudition would certainly qualify him as ‘regalian.’

Another normally astute Radio France commentator alleged Wednesday that Macron, seeking gender equilibrium in prime minister Edouard Philippe’s cabinet, had called a cultural figure and asked him to provide the names of three women who worked in the sector. Setting aside that this allegation may be the product of a ‘mauvaise langue,’ I’d respond: “Et alors?” Admitting the possibility — if the story is true — of a latent sexism in the idea that Culture is a ‘woman’s ministry’ and thus only fit for dames and pansies, isn’t this an improvement on the procedure followed by François Hollande, who seemed to choose his cultural ministers not for their cultural currency but on the bit-coin of party loyalty?

Macron’s eventual choice, Françoise Nyssen, definitely has cultural credibility. The long-time director of Arles-based Actes Sud, founded by her father in 1978 and since grown to one of France’s most respected publishing houses, Nyssen’s authors include Salman Rushdie, Paul Auster, and Kamel Daoud. The author of “Mersaut: Counter-Investigation,” a response to Albert Camus’s “The Outsider,” and an independent thinker unafraid to criticize Occidental or Oriental mores, Daoud has also described Camus himself as the last Outsider, a man with no country. (Following the suicide of her son, Nyssen also founded a school focused on listening to children, the School of Possibilities.)

… Or, I’d argue, multiple countries — like Nyssen, an immigrant whose publishing house excels in promoting authors in translation; thus eminently French and open to the world. Not so anecdotally, Arles itself is best-known outside France for having welcomed Vincent Van Gogh, yet another foreigner who expanded French culture even as it assimilated him. (These days, also not so anecdotally, the Provencial city is home to ATLAS, the country’s leading association for literary translation.)

As have so many of us (assimilated French culture), even those who rarely set foot in France. Take Ludwig Bemelmans, the author of the “Madeline” series of children’s adventures, whose courageous heroine exemplified the Gallic strategy of responding to terror with words during a visit to the Paris zoo:

“To the tiger in the zoo
Madeline just said, ‘Pooh-Pooh.'”**

*Published in “Malraux: Être et Dire,” with texts assembled by Martine de Courcel. Plon, Paris, 1976. Copyright André Malraux.

**From “Madeline,” copyright Ludwig Bemelmans, 1939, renewed Madeleine Bemelmans and Barbara Bemelmans Marciano, 1967.

Europe at the Crossroads: Portes Ouvertes de Belleville & the Prè Saint-Gervais, Performers from Around the World — Artists Converge on Paris; Help the Arts Voyager be there

Parce que oui, la Culture française – comme d’ailleurs tous les cultures qui déferle vers Paris – appartient au monde qu’elle a si souvent rayonné, et il faut refusé de la laisse etre confiné et sequestré par les forces de l’Obscurantisme.

For subscription and sponsorship opportunities starting at $69, contact Paul Ben-Itzak at artsvoyager@gmail.com.

 The Open Studios or Portes Ouvertes de Belleville  and those of the Prè Saint-Gervais, performers including Berlin’s Constanza Macras, Portugal’s Vera Mantero, a major exhibition devoted to Camille Pissarro paintings rarely seen in France, Belgium’s Alain Platel, Spain’s Israel Galvan, Crystal Pite — these are just a few of the major cultural happenings in Paris and environs this Spring that the Arts Voyager and Dance Insider will be able to cover with your support.

Many of you first read about these internationally renowned artists and events for the first time in English in our journals and, continuing our 20-year mission of bringing you stories not told elsewhere, we’ll also be reporting on Giulio D’Anna, a Netherlands-based Italian choreographer whose “OOOOOOO” is inspired by Zagreb’s “Museum of Broken Relationships,” and Jasna Vinovrski’s “Lady Justice,” addressing the relationship between justice and art. Speaking of art, we’d also like to bring you Yasmina Reza’s “Art” as interpreted at the Theatre de la Bastille by the pioneering Belgium theater company STAN . And of intersections between art and society, this year’s Chantiers (Building Projects) d’Europe festival at the Theatre de la Ville features countries in the front lines of the refugee crisis, notably in six short films from Greece addressing this topic and a public brainstorming session with artists from six countries. Most of all we’ll be able to bring you into the studios of the 200+ artists taking part in the Open Studios of Belleville — a neighborhood which in its very MULTI-CULTURAL contours and dimensions provides the best retort to the cloistered vision of French culture represented by the National Front. (We share the FN’s stated pride in traditional French culture; we simply argue that this definition is too limited and does not do justice to the grandeur and ouverture to the world that has always been French culture.) Click here to read our coverage of last year’s Open Studios / Portes Ouvertes de Belleville.

Already a subscriber or sponsor? Please forward this story to your colleagues. Want to become one? Contact us at paulbenitzak@gmail.com . Subscribers receive full access to our 20-year archive of more than 2,000 reviews by 150 leading artist-critics of performances on five continents, plus five years of the Jill Johnston Letter as well as Arts Voyager art galleries, film reviews, and travelogues from Paris, New York, and across the U.S.. Sponsors receive this plus advertising on The Dance Insider, and/or the Arts Voyager.

France, too, is at the crossroads. On May 7  the country will choose between the fear represented by the National Front and the hope and optimism represented by Emmanuel Macron. Between closure and opening. In the campaign between these two ‘cultures’ that has raged in this country for the past two years, CULTURE has been all but forgotten. (Among Macron’s refreshing ideas: More library hours.) With your help, we will be able to do our part in restoring some light to what has always been France’s principal calling card around the world. Our calling for more than 20 years.Many thanks and

Cheers,

Paul
artsvoyager@gmail.com

When presidents had false teeth but spoke the truth & Texas recruited immigrants

wash-teeth

Copyright 2012, 2017 Paul Ben-Itzak

First published on January 19, 2012. Like what you read? Then please stop “liking” us and help pay for it. Designate your PayPal donation to paulbenitzak@gmail.com, or e-mail us at that address to learn about donating in Euros or by check.

FORT WORTH, Texas — Heritage is a messy business, especially in a country built out of multiple heritages. There may be no more vivid microcosm of this principle right now in the United States than that found in the few blocks that make up the Cultural District of this cosmopolis which calls itself “Cowtown” with pride and whose concentration of world-class museums and Western heritage seems to justify the city motto, “Cowboys & Culture.”

Monday at the Will Rogers Memorial Center — named after the American cowboy journalist, humorist, actor and philosopher — the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo, running through February 4, celebrated the opening of its 116th year with a Cowboys of Color Rodeo, aptly held on the day honoring Martin Luther King, who did more to emancipate African-Americans than any other American in the 20th century. Across Gendy Street, the Cowgirl Hall of Fame is honoring with her own exhibition (“The cowgirl who became a justice”) retired Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who, in voting to stop the Florida ballot re-count in the 2000 presidential election, helped enable the disenfranchisement of thousands of African-American voters. Right across the street, the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History is hosting an exhibition on George Washington — including the last intact set of his dentures — that acknowledges that the father of our country was also a slave holder, as well as an exhibition which recalls when Texas *campaigned* to bring a million immigrants into the U.S. through the port of Galveston… which was also a major entry for… slaves. And the Rodeo, meanwhile, seems to have forgotten that a founding principle of the nation whose Western heritage it celebrates was freedom of religious expression, which also means that the majority should not impose its religion on the minority; spectators for Cowboys of Color had no choice but to listen to the announcer open the event by invoking Jesus Christ before the first bull even hurtled out of the chute. (Here’s what Will Rogers said about religion: “I was raised predominantly a Methodist, but I have traveled so much, mixed with so many people in all parts of the world, I don’t know just what I am. I know I have never been a non-believer. But I can honestly tell you that I don’t think that any one religion is the religion.”)

Being American is not in itself often thought of as an ethnicity. And yet there seems to be at least one ethnic trait that most Americans have inherited: Bad teeth. This correspondent for one feels a little less self-conscious about his own dilapidated mashers after pondering a set of our founding father’s dentures and reading about his troubled dental history in “Discover the Real George Washington: New Views from Mount Vernon,” a touring exhibition on view at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History through January 22. Most revelatory is the text accompanying the display of dentures (composed, by the way, of ivory, cow teeth, and human teeth; other sets also included hippo teeth — and none of the president’s eight dentures were made of wood). Beset by dental problems from his early 20s, by the time he was sworn in as the first president in 1789 General Washington had only one of his natural teeth remaining in his mouth, a possible explanation for his sallow cheeks, we’re told. (The exhibition also uses computer science to construct life-sized mannequins of the younger Washington from later portraits.) On another occasion, he provided a lesson in resourcefulness that perhaps ought to be included in our history books alongside Valley Forge for health-care strapped contemporary children to consider: Following his dentist’s instructions, Washington used wax and plaster of Paris to make a mold of the inside of his mouth to send away to the dentist. By the time he left office, all of Washington’s original teeth were gone.

Does the exhibition’s attempt to digest Washington as slave-holder have any teeth? Visitors can watch a series of video interviews with African-American scholars and others who differ on the degree to which perceptions of the president should be influenced by his having owned slaves. Most say it taints him, but one suggests that Washington  wanted to free his household’s slaves, but most of them were owned by Martha Washington, and he couldn’t afford to buy their freedom from his wife.

galveston-1From the exhibition Forgotten Gateway: Coming to America Through Galveston Island. Images courtesy Fort Worth Museum of Science and History.

“Forgotten Gateway: Coming to America Through Galveston Island,” a massive exhibition running in the gallery next door to ‘Washington’ through April 1, does a much better job of balancing the pride and shame of American heritage related to immigration, devoting almost equal time to the slaves who were hauled in chains through this Texas Gulf port beginning in 1845, and the voluntary immigrants who decamped there through 1924, an immigration not merely welcomed by the nation and later state of Texas, but encouraged. At one point, we’re informed, the state launched a campaign to bring a million immigrants to Galveston. Even the railway companies pitched in, offering free jump on, jump off privileges so that the immigrants could explore the state at their leisure to pick a place to settle, where they could usually find low-cost housing. About the only immigrants who — late in the game, after 1913, when rules became stricter — had a harder time getting in were people like me: Jews, who some immigration officials claimed were shifty. (Perhaps tolerating invocations of Christ at Texas rodeos is one of the costs of our admission.) The exhibition even features a wall with an immigration timeline to which visitors can add their own family’s entry history with handy post-its. The only criticism I have of the exhibition is that it’s heavy on explanatory text, audio, photographs, and reproductions and very light on actual artifacts. A better bet is to head over to the Cattle Raisers Museum, housed in the same building, and into the legacy room, where “legacy drawers” contain photographs as well as personal memorabilia from pioneering cowboys and the occasional cowgirl.

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One of the first things immigrant Charlie Hoffman (left) did after debarking at Galveston Island was to don cowboy gear so he could take a picture to send back home. Jewish immigrants (right) found it harder to gain entrance after 1913, with some officials labeling them slackers.

If you thought the cowboy was an artifact, then you’ve never been to the rodeo. I attended my first on Martin Luther King Day, when the 116-year-old Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo — one of the three largest in the U.S., running through Feb. 4 at the Will Rogers Memorial Center — offered as one of its opening events the Cowboys of Color Rodeo. This wasn’t just about token inclusion; a third of the wranglers who settled the West were cowboys and cowgirls of color. I however felt momentarily excluded with the opening prayer invoking “the Lord,” i.e. Jesus Christ.

I was quickly distracted by the bareback riding, in which the cowboys appear to be surfing the horses while straddling their backs (the legs have to start out over the animals’ shoulders). I was just noting how cruel the tie-down roping seems, with the calves quickly and rudely wrestled to the ground and then bound, including around their necks, when the informative announcer pointed out, “For those of you attending your first rodeo who might be thinking [this is cruel], remember this is where your meat comes from, and to do things like give the cows their medicine and get ’em to the doctor, you gotta rope ’em down.”

More pure — and seeming like more of a collaboration between horse and rider — was the thrilling Pony Express Relay Race, which is just what it sounds like, two relay teams racing around barrels, barely slowing for the hand-off of a rolled up parcel until the final rider drops it into a barrel in the center of the arena. The teams were mixed, cowboys and cowgirls; the prior event, pure barrel racing (with the winner being the fastest to get around the barrels and cross the finish line), was all cowgirls, as young as nine, and all fleet. My biggest thrill came during the bull-riding, when a bull the size of a killer whale tried to bolt from the chute above which I was sitting and into the stands. (“Arts journalist mauled by bull.”) This event still struck me as cruel and, as a Taurus, I found myself rooting for the bulls. Not that the combat isn’t dangerous for the human participants, despite that the points were trimmed from these animals’ horns. The performers who seemed to be putting their lives most at risk were the three ‘clowns.’ I put clowns in quotes because don’t let the make-up, floppy costumes, and wigs fool you: their role is serious, to distract raging bulls from fallen cowboys long enough for the cowboys to amscray. One of these jesters, sporting a multi-colored wig, took up his post in a barrel, ducking into it just before a bull charged and pushed the barrel around the grounds with his horns.

After the rodeo I moseyed (sorry) over to the animal barns, avoiding the ‘swine’ hangar and making straight for the boer goats. Except for the occasional “baaaaaaaaaah,” these animals, about the size of deer and just as pretty with white coats, brown heads, and floppy ears, seemed like they’d make ideal pets. Some even propped themselves up with their fore-legs on the fences of their pens. “Are these used for milk?” I asked a middle-aged woman minding one of the goat pens, meaning “cheese” but not wanting to seem too effete. “Meat,” answered the goat-keeper matter-of-factly. I decided maybe it was time to re-think my hankering for a particular recipe from “The Cowboy Grill” cookbook, edited by Cheryl Rogers-Barnett (Roy Rogers and Dale Evans’s daughter), Ken Beck, and Jim Clark: Johnny Cash’s Barbecued Mexican-Style Fiery Goat.

Finally I left the stock show grounds and gamboled towards the giant blue crop-duster plane hovering over the corner of Montgomery Street, turning left towards the Trinity River. I stopped at the empty lot below the railroad tracks to pour a hot cup of java from my ’60s-era red polka-dot German thermos scored for a buck at a Paris garage sale. (“These days, Tex Ben-Itzak does his wrangling at flea markets.”) A sign by the tracks warns, “Many of these trains have no human conductor and will not stop,” but I still like to look up at the mustard-colored engine cars with “Union Pacific” in red letters over the rusted wheels and imagine there’s a real-life conductor making them march forward and go “choo-choo.” I looked up at the thunder clouds in the big 6 o’clock calico sky and decided they’d dubbed the wrong state “Big Sky Country.” Then I lifted up my dark brown working cowboy boots (Fort Worth garage sale, $10 with bandana) and headed towards the underpass and the Trinity, stepping right into a field of wet cement, a wanna-be cowboy grounded by progress.

Witness

pinter-belarusBelarus Free Theare in “Being Harold Pinter.” Photo copyright Alexandr Paskannoi.

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2011, 2017 Paul Ben-Itzak

(Author’s note, 2-8-17: On Tuesday, Amnesty International reported that an estimated 13,000 people had been killed by the Syrian government in Syrian prisons in the first four years of the Syrian war. On Friday, United States president Donald Trump attempted to bar the doors of the United States to refugees and other visa-holders from seven predominantly Muslim countries, ranging from Syrian refugees to Iranian doctoral students to 12-year-old Yemenite girls whose parents are American citizens, prompting a national, multi-colored, multi-gendered revolt. On Saturday, addressing a gathering in front of the Stonewall Bar in New York, where in 1969 a raid by authorities ignited the Rainbow Revolution on the same day Judy Garland died, Sex in the City actress Cynthia Nixon, speaking after Egyptian out of the closet refugee Omar Sharif Jr., proclaimed, “We are allies united by our Otherness… And if we didn’t know it before, thanks to Donald Trump we know it now.” All of this evidence that the subject of the piece below, first published on January 14, 2011, is today more crucial and relevant than ever.) (Source for Nixon citation: Democracy Now.)

NEW YORK — In his 2005 work “Puur,” which I caught in Paris that year (see elsewhere in the Dance Insider Archives), the Belgian choreographer Wim Vandekeybus promised “an act of resistance in the face of the violence of the world.” In fact he did little more than replicate the brutality — including acts of barbarism against children — on film, as live dancers writhed about on stage. The film was simply repulsive, the dancers simply not credible; what did they know about torture? And where was the resistance, let alone the tools for resistance, or even proposed mechanisms for coping with such violence? If I’d been familiar with the work then, I might have thought of Devlin’s interrogation of Rebecca in Harold Pinter’s two-person play “Ashes to Ashes”: “What authority do you think you yourself possess which would give you the right to discuss such an atrocity?” To which Rebecca responds: “I have no such authority. Nothing has ever happened to me. Nothing has ever happened to any of my friends. I have never suffered. Nor have my friends.”

By contrast, the members of the Belarus Free Theatre, who last night performed “Being Harold Pinter” at La MaMa, where it continues through Sunday with an added performance Monday at the Public Theater, have authority, authenticity, and even Harold Pinter, a melange of whose plays, notably “Ashes to Ashes” — as well as his 2008 Nobel Prize for Literature acceptance lecture (see elsewhere in these DI Archives) — they mash up with actual testimony from survivors of repression in Belarus, one of the last remaining Soviet-style dictatorships in the former Soviet Union. The work is also a testament to Pinter’s authenticity in that sometimes it’s difficult to tell which sections and text are drawn from his plays and which come from the reality of the country the performers had to literally escape from just to get to New York and present the piece, part of the Under the Radar festival curated by Mark Russell. That they knew they had a venue waiting for them which would attract an audience which would make their escape worth it is also a tribute to Ellen Stewart, who founded La MaMa 50 years ago and whose demise the night before, at the age of 91, was announced on stage last night prior to the performance by Russell and his La MaMa colleagues, each tolling a single bell before they surrendered the stage.

To receive the rest of the article, Arts Voyager & Dance Insider subscribers can contact publisher Paul Ben-Itzak at paulbenitzak@gmail.com. Not a subscriber? Subscribe to the Arts Voyager & Dance Insider for just $29.95/year ($99 for institutions gets full access for all your teachers, students, employees, company, association and collective members, etc.) and receive full access to our Archive of 2,000 exclusive reviews by 150 leading critics of performances on five continents from 1998 through 2017. Just designate your PayPal payment in that amount to paulbenitzak@gmail.com, or write us at that address to learn how to pay by check or in Euros. Contact Paul at paulbenitzak@gmail.com .

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cubaaab1-smallThis afternoon on French public radio, a high school student said that if she could vote in next May’s presidential election, she’d choose the Front National, because at least Martine Le Pen’s party would close the borders and keep the foreigners out so they’d stop attacking France. (Never mind, as a classmate pointed out, that the majority of those who have massacred more than 236 French and other nationals over the past two years here have been French.) All the more reason to give thanks for associations that continue to champion crossing borders and frontiers like the Ateliers d’Artistes de Belleville and L’Un dans l’Autre, the former of which is hosting an exhibition of the fruits of the latter’s May residence and collaboration with the Cuban artists of the Espacio Altamira in Havana. The exhibition runs December 8 – 11 in the AAB’s gallery at 1 rue Picabia in Belleville, Paris, with an opening night vernissage from 7 p.m. on. Featured artists include: Guillaume Berga, Luis Blanco, Sigolène de Chassy, Jorge Braulio Rodríguez, Jean-Christophe Cibot, Edel Bordon, Sarah Dugrip, Pablo Victor Bordon Pardo, Nicolas Dupeyron, Ignacio Carballo, Laurence Geoffroy, Michel Deschapells, Patrizia Horvath, Inès Garrido, Hector D. Palacios, Raul Villullas, Yamilé Pardo, Aissa Santiso, and Catherine Olivier, an Arts Voyager featured artist who took the bottom copyrighted photo of the collective work “Trinidad.”  The top photo of the collective work “La Rampa” was taken by and is copyright Sarah Dugrip. — Paul Ben-Itzak

 

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Stereotype or not, the mercenary reputation of some art merchants — or gallerists, if you prefer — hasn’t much improved in the 60 years since Michel Ragon‘s novel “Trompe-l’oeil” pilloried them as arbitrary taste-makers ready to ruin an artist over a caprice. But they can also be capable of not just unveiling new talent but re-awakening interest in forgotten figures. Such was the role of Jean-Claude Riedel, who after re-discovering the Franco-Chinese denizen of Montparnasse Sanyu in the middle of the 1960s — Sanyu died in 1966 — championed him for the next four decades from his gallery on the rue Guénégaud in Paris. “The importance of Jean-Claude Riedel in the post-humous recognition of Sanyu cannot be over-estimated,” explains Rita Wong, author of the three catalogues raisonnés on the artist. “Of the 257 paintings repertoried in the first volume of the catalogue raisonné, more than half passed through his hands.” In China and southeast Asia, some of Sanyu’s paintings can go for as much $10 million. The 45 drawings from Riedel’s collection to be dispersed in Artcurial’s December 6 sale marking the 50th anniversary of Sanyu’s death — and on exhibition at the auction house’s Paris headquarters December 1 – 5 — are estimated at much more modest prices, starting in the high four figures. “Sanyu’s paintings are today impossible to find, and collectors are crying for his works on paper,” said Bruno Jaubert, Artcurial’s director of Impressionist and Modern Art. “Jean-Claude Riedel’s collection is exceptional.” Left: Poster for a Sanyu exhibition organized at the Galerie Jean-Claude Riedel. Right: Sanyu (1911 -1966), “Femme au chapeau bleu.” Watercolor and ink on paper, 46 x 30 cm. Collection Jean-Claude Riedel. Artcurial pre-sale estimate: 20,000 – 30,000 Euros. Image courtesy and copyright Artcurial. — Paul Ben-Itzak