COLUMNS

  • Books

    The Harold Letters

    THE HAROLD LETTERS is a curious addition to the Clement Greenberg literature. The volume encompasses some fifteen years of correspondence from Greenberg to his college friend Harold Lazarus, beginning in 1928 when the two were nineteen-year-old classmates in the English department at Syracuse. The missives are chatty, lubricious, name-droppy, gossipy, vulgar. Plainly juvenilia, The Harold Letters will amuse Greenberg devotees, demonstrating that before he congealed into the dome-headed oracle of AbEx and Color Field, he was once young and arrogant and sexed up and ambitious as opposed to merely

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  • Film

    Steal This Movie!

    I DON'T REMEMBER precisely when I first learned to equate Grateful Dead fandom with class privilege, when I finally figured out that those hokey dancing bears glued to the rear window of a Saab signaled that you were tailgating a pleasure-loving scion of American entitlement, but it must have been around the same time that Abbie Hoffman, having resurfaced after a decade underground, was beginning to dabble in the hopeless leftist causes of the '80s. This unhappy coincidence was no doubt what provoked my first glimmers of doubt concerning the '60s counterculture.

    Yes, there was something genuinely

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  • Film

    The Ballad of Ramblin' Jack

    AIYANA ELLIOTT'S DOCUMENTARY about her demi-legend of a folksinger father, The Ballad of Ramblin' Jack (which opens nationally this month), is the kind of plainspoken memoir-cum-biography you might stumble across on PBS some uneventful night and gradually get caught up in, the rhythms of its unspooling anecdotes seducing you against your will. “I've never heard anybody that was so enchanting on subjects I didn't give a damn about,” is Kris Kristofferson's affectionate characterization of the sixty-nine-year-old raconteur, rake, and self-made myth whose pale faux-Guthrie warble may be his least

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  • Books

    the New Vienna School

    THE SO-CALLED VIENNA CIRCLE, which flourished in the years before the Second World War, was an informal association of philosophers and scientists dedicated to the overthrow and eradication of metaphysics, regarded by them as nonsense, portentously disguised. Nonsense was understood as whatever could not be verified empirically. This was the notorious verifiability criterion of meaning, which, they believed, the natural sciences exemplified to perfection. Final solutions, of course, were much in the air in '30s Vienna, and such was the ferocity of the Vienna Circle, whose texts bristled with

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  • Books

    Jed Perl

    JED PERL ISN’T WRONG about everything, but even when he’s right, he’s wrong. Perl is right to be suspicious of academics—most of us are far from brilliant. And he’s right to be suspicious of journalism, almost all of which is dreadful. And he’s probably also right that many dealers only like what sells. But in turning away from the “vanguard” of the contemporary art world, he is wrong to look to the tweedy, “cultured” intelligentsia for the true vine: Whether neo-con or old left, their ideas about art tend to be obtuse.

    A Hilton Kramer protegé formerly of the New Criterion, Perl has been the art

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  • Books

    Frances Stonor Saunders

    AS CONSPIRACIES GO, this one featured a most unlikely concatenation of players and aims. A few years after its founding in 1947, the CIA began a campaign to promote international “cultural initiatives” in complex, covert association with the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF), an organization of intellectuals, writers, scientists, and artists established by anti-Stalinist, social-democratic Americans and Europeans in the Berlin of 1950. The CCF aimed to mobilize the energies of the “Non-Communist Left” and to meet head-on the worldwide challenge of the Cominform, the Soviet cultural organization.

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  • Music

    Downtown 81

    DOWNTOWN 81, A “LOST” NO-BUDGET FILM shot on location in Manhattan some nineteen years ago, finally had its debut last month, at Cannes. Directed by Edo Bertoglio and written by Glenn O’Brien, this lighthearted document of the East Village scene stars a twenty-year-old Jean-Michel Basquiat as himself, with countless hipster cameos, including hip-hop pioneer Fab Five Freddie, ’80s Fiorucci designer (and the film’s producer) Maripol, record-label guy Marty Thau, and Blondie chanteuse Debbie Harry as the fairy princess.

    But the real star of the film is the gritty milieu of a New York long gone. A

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  • Music

    Fischerspooner

    You may not actually have known any of the songs, but with their pleasingly familiar New Romantic techno-pop beat, you felt like you should. In any case, by the time you filed out of Gavin Brown’s Fifteenth Street gallery—filled to capacity for every performance of Fischerspooner’s five-night run—you were more than ready to shell out twenty bucks for the CD. And weeks later, it has become your sound track. Every time “Fucker” or “Invisible” comes on you’re back in the strobe-lit, sweaty heaven of Fischerspooner’s synching and dancing extravaganza.

    Transformed by black fabric and a series of

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  • Interviews

    1000 WORDS: KERRY JAMES MARSHALL

    Kerry James Marshall is best known for large-scale paintings, but Rythm Mastr is a project of a different sort. A site-specific installation of comics realized for the 1999 Carnegie International, Rythm Mastr also encompassed an eight-part comic-strip that ran in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and new installments are to be published by the artist in serial form.

    The setup: In a gunfight with gangbangers, Stasha and her boyfriend, Farell, are separated. Stasha is shot; plotting revenge, she applies her growing knowledge of computers and robotics to create remote-control cars for use in retaliatory

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  • Interviews

    1000 WORDS: DOUG AITKEN

    “A lot of times I dance so fast that I become what’s around me.” So says the lone protagonist of Electric Earth, 1999, Doug Aitken’s hyperkinetic fable of modem life in the form of a sprawling eight-screen installation that took home the International Prize at last summer’s Venice Biennale. An uncanny cross-pollination of genre conventions sampled freely from music video, documentary, and narrative film alike, the work forged a weirdly precise portrait of urban angst, wedding installation to the vernacular vocabularies of cinema and dance. In Electric Earth as in Aitken’s previous works, the

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  • Slant

    the Austrian Boycott Debate

    THE VIENNA SECESSION has put its distinctive facade—one of the most photographed tourist attractions in the city—at the disposal of artists like Franz West and Renée Green for work critical of the new Austrian government, a coalition formed by the conservative People’s Party (known by its German initials ÖVP)—the hitherto dominant Social Democrats’ long-time partner in the Austrian government—and the openly racist, far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ). Encouraged in part by the harsh international reaction to this dismaying coalition, almost every noteworthy Austrian intellectual, artist, filmmaker,

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