Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Writing on the (Art Gallery) Wall: rappel a la ordre: "Picasso and Rivera" @ LACMA

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art's (LACMA) newly-opened exhibition Picasso and Rivera: Conversations Across Time has provided me with some insight into the very distressing current socio-politico-economic climate in the USA and in westernized nations world-wide.

One of the galleries in this provocative, sophisticated exhibition presents the curator’s premise that the works reflect “rappel a l’ordre”, return to order, in Europe after the unprecedented devastation of WWI.

The writing is really on the wall, folks, and, like all great art, the works provoke viewers to consider life today.

From the didactic (exhibition narrative on the wall): 

“A renewed interest in classicism emerged in the visual arts as a reaction against Cubism and other prewar avant-garde movements.” In France, there was a “widespread desire to return to stable, universal values and traditional aesthetics”.

Of course, these “universal” values -- especially the notion of "tradition" are in the eyes of the beholders, and were amplified and solidified through the echoes via media across space and exhibitions across time.

“In a number of Latin American countries with multiple indigenous populations, particularly in Mexico, the return to traditional values in the arts took the form of indigenismo. This was a complex political and social phenomenon that sought to address disparities between the indigenous population and the educated elites of European descent. Anthropologists and politicians looked to solve these problems by creating an ideal of the mestizo, being of mixed race, that helped to unify the country while erasing multiculturalism."

Westerners do not easily understand how to engage in a “game” with more than two teams. It’s usually “us” vs “them. Good guys (white hats) and bad guys (black hats).
The assumed prominent -- and thus, entitled -- "class" creates an "us" by stereotyping an otherwise diverse "them". What poses as news on the consumer-focused media looks more and more like the back (sports) page of the news paper or broadcast. Is this a natural outcome of our binary-based computer-dependent life?

Another key question that is provoked is ...

Who is “traditional”?

  • The Native Americans at Standing Rock who hold treaties with the US government as sovereign nations and who are vocally, peacefully but forcefully advocating #NODAPL? 
  • The immigrants to this country -- some risking life itself -- to willfully work to abide by the Constitution in hopes of earning a coveted place in civil society and do so through expressions of their cultures of origin. 
  • Post-colonial red-white-blue (but mostly red) patriots who are claiming rights to "traditional" value shave no recollection beyond 3 generations as to why they live where they do and why their assumptions of protecting traditions of “universal values” may not hold up.
Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr.'s Finding Your Roots genetics-based TV programs has greater resonance than ever before. But these programs assumes that the viewer is a member of an informed, educated public.
Wrong. and it's getting wrong-er.

I venture to say that being satisfied being ill-informed, suspicious, under-educated is the basis of the new American tradition. It is racial (white is right). It is entitled (cause I say so and so does He). And it is empowered (2nd Amendment says I can have my gun to protect me and my family.). It is a collection of disparate elements who will gladly follow blindly someone who, as they are drilled weekly, will make them free if they will only give away their freedom to Him.


Photo credits - a l’ordre
Seated Standard Bearer, 15th–early 16th century, Aztec, sandstone, laminated, 31 3/4 x 13 3/8 x 13 in., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1962, photo courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Diego Rivera, Frida’s Friend (El Amigo de Frida), 1931, oil on canvas, canvas: 26 × 31 3/4 in., Nader Latin American Art Museum, Gary Nader Bequest, © 2016 Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, photo © Nader Latin American Art Museum
Unknown, Male Torso, Roman; 100 AD; marble; 40 9/16 x 24 x 11 7/16 in.; The J. Paul Getty Museum, Villa Collection, Malibu, California (73.AA.93), photo courtesy The J. Paul Getty Museum, Villa Collection, Malibu, California
Pablo Picasso, Self-Portrait (Autoportrait), 1906, oil on canvas, 25 5/8 x 21 1/4 in., Musée Picasso, Paris, © 2016 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, photo © RMN-Grand Palais/Art Resource, NY, by René-Gabriel Ojéda

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Beating of the Earth's Heart

Spoiler Alert: I have no answer, but this is what I've seen and the conclusions I have reached.

Back in the 1980s there was a Native American standoff near the 4 Corners at Black Mesa against the Peabody Mining Company. The concern was that a Dine Tribal Council group were getting kickbacks from mining companies, and the very traditionalist folks were feeling their ancestral values were being violated. I got involved a bit out of my concern for the otherwise many generations long persecution of indigenous peoples. I hosted a few folks who were traveling form LA there and bought a T shirt. 

I also had lunch with a high school neighbor who was at Penn State when I was there; he studied mining. I went to an annual dinner event with him where several of the professors were on oxygen; one I believe was in a wheel chair. Supposedly there was a mine under the engineering building. I don't know that, but during the lunch, he kept referring to his wife, who was sitting next to him/across from me as, "her"/"she". I decided to address my comments and look at "her" (I forget her name now, but I did know at the time.) His employer in Colorado was one of the mining companies that was digging deeply into sacred native land.

I couldn't understand why the native folks were content to beat a drum when they could otherwise go and sue the mining company and their corrupt tribal group. What good is beating a drum. 

What I realized a number of years later was that the drumbeat kept their spirits informed that they were still there, that they weren't eaten up by the greed of the colonists. 

About 10 years later a friend and I traveled to West Yellowstone in deep winter to be with the Buffalo Field Campaign to monitor the movement of the last wild buffalo herd in the USA. These animal were being slaughtered with the blessings of the Montana Dept. of Livestock under the influence of local ranchers. The later claimed that the buffalo carried a disease. Not true. Some of the folks in that freezing cabin were Native Americans, but most were not. It was not clear then that we might have to put ourselves between a buffalo and a bullet. We went out on cross country skis before sun up, looking for large shadows in the early snowfall or fog. Didn't see much, but realized that many of the folks there were not in any condition to be in the elements of deep snow, etc.

Now we have Standing Rock stand-off regarding the DAPL. Courage my friends. I may not be related now, but we have 7 generations of the past and future to work that out. Your concerns touch me deeply. Your traditions caring for this land of y/ours are important to share. Your understanding of how we can live together with the sun and moon, with the water and air, with the land and all that must co-exist. 

We need to learn from you. May we be worthy.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Chakdu = Liberation

Sometimes a word comes along that just sums up everything in a simple, compact way.

 This week the notion of chakdu came to me booming as "Liberation".

There are many thing that can be said for the Korean shaman tradition of standing high overhead of the crowd barefooted atop the twin rails of two razor sharp chakdu, rice straw cutting blades.

It defied belief that a person wouldn't severely slice through skin when I first heard of it and even saw photographs.

It defied belief the first time I saw a shaman whip one across her bare-skinned arm and inserted along the lip line into the mouth. It defied belief the first and only time I saw and heard them being sharpened. It defied belief when my finger was close enough to feel the sharpness attract my own skin.

Liberation from one's comfort zone while still being a resident of that bunker is exhilarating!

The moment of liberation for me came when I realized that it happened then and on subsequent occasions, both watching in the "audience" and then even as a confidant of the people who "performed" it in ritual. It happened without needing me to "believe" that it happened, for I did and continue to believe that it can't be done without severe injury, much less, death.

I mentioned what I had seen to an intelligent, sophisticated Korean man once and he just shook his head. "I don't believe," he remarked about the act. "That's just it," I replied. "It does not require you to believe it.

The shaman climbs the tower atop which her assistants have place the twin rails of the assembly of two chakdu with the sharp edges facing upwards like two hands in prayer. She carefully steps one foot after another, steadies herself with tall bamboo poles festooned with ribbons of five colors that echo the colors and fringes of her spirit costume, and then begins to pronounce the gifts from the god she embodies.

She, too, is liberated from the mundane plane and need only to receive  the blessings to deliver forth.

Then she gets down, returning to the every-day, and to the blessings needed to get through the every-day.

Friday, September 9, 2016

In Memoriam: Zorigtbaatar Banzar

Zorigtbaatar Banzar was the owner of this Honda SUV and the head shaman / founder of the "Center Shaman Eternal Heavenly Sophistication", headquartered in the virtual mobile ger (Russian: yurt), pictured on its back fenders.

This gentle giant who was fully capable of stopping thunder and lightening died in an accident with his teenage daughter in August 2016. He is survived by his wife Bayermaa Osor and a teenage son.

I know they are deeply missed by his extended family of friends throughout the world. Here is a Youtube video taken by someone other than me at a ritual.

All photos copyright Lauren W. Deutsch 2016

Shedding Light on the "Ancient" Japanese Tea Ceremony

Despite the many references that fly around the cultural strata, chanoyu, the Japanese way of preparing hot water for making matcha, is not ancient; it is timeless. 
There is no consensus about how old "ancient" is, but it is clear that Western civilizations are pipsqueaks in comparison; so, the term is more a reference to way older than I am at this moment.
Haniwa / Kofun Period, LACMA
If you want ancient in Japan, you have to back to Japan's prehistoric Jōmon period (縄文時代 Jōmon jidai), from about 12,000 BC and in some cases cited as early as 14,500 BC to about 300 BC, when Japan was inhabited by a hunter-gatherer culture which reached a considerable degree of sedentism and cultural complexity. 

Or hope to the Kofun period (古墳時代 Kofun jidai) is an era in the history of Japan from around 250 to 538 AD when things got a bit more organized and ceramic tomb sculptures, haniwa, appeared.
While the epitome of cultural complexity, the practice of growing in comparison, came to Japan from China (via Korea) about the 9th century CE with Buddhist Priest Yeisei who brought the first seeds, and two millennia later popularized by Priest Ikkyu . Would you call the Battle of Hastings "ancient"?

Nope, chanoyu is relatively new, but it enjoys a long, living tradition that is reflected in the posting by #Mamoru Fujiwara of these images from Kyoto.

Yakimono (ceramics) and okashi (sweets) are two aspects of the tangible culture of chanoyu in which we can appreciate a 500 year (give or take a decade) continuum of shape, material -- same type (rice, beans) or actually same (clay) -- as well as intangible qualities, how these are appropriated, handled, thematically assembled, etc. 
To see these machiya (street-level stores common in Kyoto's older districts, with manufacturing and residential areas inside) with the kamban (store boards) and noren (entrance curtains), one could be back at lease in the 19th century. It all works the same. Add an electric light bulb ... it still works the same, but brighter perhaps (now the risk of electric fire threatens the structure whereas in the past it was only a charcoal cinder). 
When I would go into "antique" shops in Kyoto, of course you see such things from the Meiji period / Victorian period, as a wind up grandfather clock or, from later times, golf clubs, electrified chandelier, etc. At least I can recognize one item's age from the other, a decade or two more or less. 

I remember when I was in Suzhou China and purchased two small ceramic bowls (likely for rice) and was told they were Qing Dynasty. Sure they could have been from 1645, but more likely 1911 (or later). I couldn't imagine why I would have such an object that was so old. Venerable in my mind (and hand). I had no reason to want to make them older.

Thanks to Mamoru Fujiwara, my Facebook friend, for inspiring this posting.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

LACMA Zen Koan: It Rains. It Reigns

Do we detect a theme? Los Angeles' drought conditions has inspired LACMA to turn on the tap full force.

First it was the Rain Room, still packing them in with promises of an entertainment with the weather. I personally prefer a tent in the Sierras under a downpour, but a few more ions are better than no ions at all. Even when the black-garbed (repels water!) masses were standing in line in BCAM, the Costume and Textile folks were suiting up over 20 be-wigged mannequins for the exhibition.

LACMA’s new exhibition, Reigning Men, attempts to present 300 years of men’s fashion (read “couture”) impact on white, Euro-centric culture. It is not a survey of menwear from bearskins and togas to kilts and spacesuits. There is an assumption of elegance which may or may not be shared equally across the region’s highly multi-cultural – ethnic population. It was a monumental undertaking. 
To illustrate the later, one of the guests, ostensibly a member of the media as it was a preview for journalists, was overheard by this writer sharing her recent experience dealing with getting from here-to-there: “There are such interesting people on the train!” Begs one to inquire whether she has skipped the Prius and Uber phases and gone straight to LACMA via METRO (stop for which won’t really be accessible for years.)

This takes me to the exhibition of some 200 maniquins (whitish skin) with fascinating whitish hairdoos ranging from peaked–and-powdered wigs to piked “mohawks” constructed of tailor batting and styled by top designer in the film industry. There is a lot of information on the “tombstones” demonstrating the curatorial staff’s deep research into the styles of the periods in this not-necessarily-chronological exhibition. It was at the first maniquin, a (nationality) dandied up in a style noted as “Macaroni” (left), referring to the Italian impact on young British gents of the 18th Century. When I walked into the exhibition, I expected to hear the theme song from Hair, but instead, after seeing our Yankee Doodle Dandy I opted for "... stuck a feather in his hat and called it ...” or even Cohan & Cagney's opus, "... real live nephew of my Uncle Sam ..."
One of his neighbors had an entire long stemmed floral arrangement stuck into the top and out through a few holes below within the vertical row of very large buttonholes. This is the geneises of a boutinier, sans the lapel which we normally see (if at all). My mother says if there’re candle sticks or a vase on the dining room table, there should be lighted candles and flowers in them.

To discuss the draping of cloth over human body parts, one needs to name those parts, such as derriere, here called “bum.” I never used that word before, rather, “backside” or the more jovial, “tuchas”, as in “tuchas aufn tish”, which means get on with it.

Likewise, one can learn the dervation of the word “tuxedo”, as in Tuxedo Park”, a hoity-toity area near Gotham where the super rich hung out in formal attire. Now, anyone can get a tux, even rent one to look upper class, much as folks in the upper echelons can buy ripped jeans and renditions of longshoremens and sailors shirts, military camo and punk leathers, all of which are represented.

I used to work in a department store and, one Christmas holiday gift-geddon, was stationed behind the “mens furnishings” counter. My domaine consisted of ties (bow and straight), handkerchiefs, jewelery (tie tacks, tie clips, cuff links and shirt studs, wallets, scarves, and, as it was in the East, gloves.

But, honestly, who were these men and why doesn't the title of the exhibition provide important reference to the fact that these men were a real specific group, and perhaps not even of parallel social status. For example, there was not an example of a "courtier" -- perhaps a Secretary of State under Reagan of Obama, dressed for a state dinner.

Men and hats ... what can be said about them? Many of the maniquins were sporting them. My dad wore a brimmed hat to work (in his Saville Row and Brooks Brothers style) for many, many years; he even had a full head of hair well into his 80s. One day, on the Philadelphia subway, someone stole it off his head and he never took the subway again. Today’s insecure gents will go bareheaded with formal wear, but think their baseball caps and other headgear are foolin’ us. But I can’t criticize, as I’ve never experienced baldness.

This brings us to be speaking about bespoke, made-to-order. According to Merriam-Webster ( in the English language of yore, the verb bespeak had various meanings, including "to speak," "to accuse," and "to complain." In the 16th century, bespeak developed a new meaning,"to order or arrange in advance." I would imagine that whoever first said this was not speaking as we do today.

I will have to go back to see if there is any mention of shatnes, the Jewish prohibition (from the Torah ... don’t question) against wearing cloth that is made from the combination of wool and linen. It pertains to men’s clothing as well as women’s and children’s, so maybe it didn’t make the cut. I would think, however, that such a prestigious exhibition should include clothing worn by male clergy, gorgeous robes of cardinals and bishops, as well as that of the ultra orthodox Jewish Satmar men with their mink fur hats, brocade coats, white knicker sox and pantaloons. You can easily see this every shabbos in Beverly/La Brea area.

Finally, but not really, this brings me to the matter of androgyny. There are many outfits that I would like to be able to wear, and why not? The other part of my brain wants to know what about reigning women’s fashions so captivates men that they will go to no expense or discomfort to slip into something a little more ... what? Is this a good reason to undergo hormone treatment and surgery? Look at all the fabulous clothing guys have!

I must confess that I would have enjoyed a section on the cross-over-and-back of women's  fashions leaning toward the male power-suit (think Coco Channel) and another on female drag. Where do those guys get those awful shoes in giant-size? This particular interest me because perhaps while there may be a desire for someone born into the male gender to be attracted to women's clothing for aesthetic purposes and to work out one's transgender identity. (Rhinestones, dahling! Oooh! Look at that boa! Where DID you get those shoes?) The last thing I would do is to undergo sex reassignment just to have gaudy clothing. Most of this was awful without the pain of surgery.