Miller's Memorabilia - East Village Eye
December 1984 - January 1986 (Selected Columns)

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Santa Claus

East Village Eye, December/Janurary 1984/85

East Village Eye, December/January 1984/85

"You better watch out, you better not cry, I'm telling you why, 'cause Santa Claus is coming to town." Last year it was bald Santas collecting money on midtown corners before going home to sing "Hare Krishna" instead of "Jingle Bells." This year it's a psycho Santa scaring kids in a television commercial for the horror film Silent night, Deadly night. Billy becomes the baddest Santa ever when the poor little orphan boy goes berserk after his boss makes him dress up like old St. Nick. (Mothers picketed the film when it opened in Milwaukee and the Bronx.) But the truth is that Xmas has long been X-rated as far as Santa's morals are concerned. Phil Spector's rock classic, "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus," tells only part of the seedy yuletide tale. Back in the 1950's, Lucky Strike cigarettes were among the goodies in Santa's sack as the shameless huckster pushed cartons of unfiltered cancer sticks as part of the gift-giving Christmas spirit. (Ho! Ho! Ho!) In those days, Santa's rival was actor Ronald Reagan, who promoted Chesterfield Kings, but even Ronnie wouldn't sink as low as evil Mr. Claus. Old Santa has even participated in a Ku Klux Klan publicity stunt when he presented two ex-slaves with a radio for Christmas. (Is the Klan getting a bad rap?) With morals like these it's no wonder that kids are afraid to sit on the lap of department store Santas - especially in Jordan, Minnesota. Who knows what's lurking under that white beard and red suit? Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus but these days it sure is hard to believe in him.

Klansmen and Santa Claus presented a radio to Jack Riddle & wife, Talladega, AL., 1948
Klansmen and Santa Claus presented a radio to Jack Riddle & wife, Talladega, AL., 1948
Luck Strike magazine advertisement depicting a smoking Santa Claus
Luck Strike magazine advertisement, 1930s
Photos Courtesy: National Archives

World's Most Expensive Painting

East Village Eye, April 1985

East Village Eye, April 1985

Picture yourself with the world's most expensive painting! That's the game they played at Sotheby's Auction House in New York when Vincent Van Gogh's "Landscape with Rising Sun" arrived as part of the Florence Gould Collection, scheduled for sale on April 24th & 25th. Some have predicted that the canvas will break the $10,023,200 record set last year by J.M.W. Turner's "Seascape: Folkstone." The Sotheby photography staff eagerly posed with Van Gogh's masterpiece to collect snapshots for their personal photo albums. Working the camera was Tom Warren, a fine arts photographer and Sotheby employee, who ironically is remembered downtown for his "Get Your Picture with Santa Claus" event done a few years back at White Columns.

Will a Van Gogh painting done while he was voluntarily committed at the St. Remy insane asylum really become the most expensive painting of all time? Sound crazy? Not really. In recent years ten paintings by the artist, who is perhaps most famous for cutting off his ear, have fetched a million dollars or more at auction.

The current Van Gogh record is an astounding $5,200,000. Sotheby's is confient that this Van Gogh will go for more than $6 millon and some say it could go for as high as $12 million. With money like this, you could buy every known painting by every living East Village artist, but in the big buck world of old master auctions such prices are mundane. In the last five years more than 125 works of art have sold for a million dollars or more and when the Gould collection goes under the gavel later this month, experts predict that in addition to the Van Gogh, five to ten other paintings (by Toulouse-Lautrec, Degas, Monet, Cézanne, and others) will join the million dollar club.

Poor Vincent, who never sold a painting in his life, must be turning in his grave. But when you're hot, you're hot, and if we can judge from the size of the sun in this painting, Van Gogh must have been boiling. And remember - when it comes to fine art, it's "Crazy" Vincent - his prices are insane!

Tom Warren, Vincent Van Gogh's painting "Landscape with Rising Sun" at Sotheby's Auction House, 1985
Tom Warren, Vincent Van Gogh's painting "Landscape with Rising Sun" at Sotheby's Auction House, 1985

Sound To See

East Village Eye, June 1985

East Village Eye, June 1985

Run DMC may have gone to St. John's University, but rap music is still not an accredited course. You can fulfill your humanities requirement though, with the three credits you earn by taking "Movie Soundtracks," one of the most popular classes there. St. John's students don't only study basketball.

For the visually inclined, soundtrack music may well be the ultimate listening experience. While artists like Wassily Kandinsky made paintings inspired by music, soundtrack composers achieve the opposite: music inspired by films. During the silent era the music was played live, and since few movies had their own score, theatre musicians often improvised.

But with the advent of talkies, film music came of age. Suddenly every movie needed its own soundtrack.

From painting a call girl in a Hong Kong brothel to experiencing an earthquake in California, there's a soundtrack for everything. You don't have to be Indiana Jones to put a little excitement in your life - just grab your Sony Walkman and put on Raiders of the Lost Ark.

But latent schizophrenics beware! Soundtrack music can cause uncontrollable movie flashbacks. As John Hinckley knows, too much Taxi Driver (including a Robert DeNiro soliloquy) leads to the theme from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

Experiment in Terror, 1962, music by Henry Mancini
Experiment in Terror, 1962, music by Henry Mancini
Earthquake, 1974, music by John Williams
Earthquake, 1974, music by John Williams
World of Suzi Wong, 1958, music by George Duning
World of Suzi Wong, 1958, music by George Duning

Who's The Fastest?

East Village Eye, October 1985

East Village Eye, October 1985

During the cynical 70's, when even Minimal Art took weeks of hard labour, it was often said that a painting that took less than a minute to make, took less than a minute to look at. But in the dynamic 80's, fast art rules. So appropriately the 1985/86 art season has gotten off to a running start with exhibitions by three of our quickest painters - Morris Katz, Keith Haring, & Sri Chinmoy.

Who's the fastest painter on earth? According to the Guiness Book of World Records it's Morris Katz, a local Greenwich Village artist who got his start in the 1950's working in a Mississippi schlock art factory. During his thirty-five year career, Katz has made and sold 131,652 paintings including one 22"x28" work done in 1984 that took only 97 seconds. Last month Morris demonstrated his unique palette knife and toilet paper technique at the Limelight, where in three hours he did 30 canvases (mostly landscapes of the Washington Square Art Fair variety) which were then distributed by lottery to eager club goers.

To qualify for the Guiness record, an artist has to make a salable work out of oil paint that completely covers the canvas surface. If spray paint was allowed, one sure contender for the "Fastest Painter" crown would certainly be East Village wunderkind Keith Haring whose big double show opens October 26th at the Castelli & Shafrazi Galleries. Haring learned to work fast by doing graffiti in the subways where he had to rush to stay one step ahead of the transit cops. In five years he has done over 10,000 works (a modest number in this fast crowd), but he can paint his highly salable crawling baby complete with radiating line in a mere 6 seconds.

While Katz and Haring paint fast to reach the masses, the artist Sri Chinmoy who showed last month at 112 Greene Street, works fast in order to achieve spiritual enlightenment. For the Indian-born Guru, painting is a by-product of meditation and a way to reveal the shapes and colors of the inner plane. Using watery acrylic paints and a sponge, Sri Chinmoy has produced over 132,500 works in just ten years. In one 24 hour period in 1975, he painted an astounding 16,000 pieces. That's one painting every 5 seconds! It may seem hard to believe, but would a spiritual master lie?

Back in the 19th Century, the painter James McNeill Whistler defended fast art when he sued art critic John Ruskin for ridiculing his quickly done "Nocturnes." "My paintings are done quickly," Whistler admitted to the jury, "but they take a lifetime of training." (If Whistler were alive today he could learn the art of fast painting in just three months by taking Morris Katz's course at the Learning Annex.) Ruskin was convicted of libel, and Whistler's enduring popularity proves that fast art can withstand slow scrutiny and it can even win an artist more than 15 minutes of fame.

Keith Haring
Keith Haring
Morris Katz
Morris Katz
Sri Chinmoy
Sri Chinmoy

Snuff Shots

East Village Eye, November 1985

East Village Eye, November 1985

Could it be that our local art institutions know something that we don't know? With trustees drawn from the highest levels of American society, museums may well be privy to inside information, which affects our choice of shows. But let's hope this is needless paranoia, since this fall the current vogue in exhibitions seems to be war photography.

When it comes to displaying images of bloodshed, few institutions can compete with the International Center of Photography at 5th Avenue & 94th Street. Two years ago they showed the work of photo journalist Don McCullin, this summer they had Soviet photographs of World War II, and now (until November 10th) they have a retrospective of the works of Robert Capa, the legendary war correspondent whose brother, Cornell Capa, is director of the I.C.P. Capa is famous for his pictures of the Spanish Civil War, World War II, and the first Arab-Israeli War.

The lovingly curated exhibition portrays him as an advocate photographer, happiest when he is taking pictures in the service of a righteous cause. But there is another side to Capa. He was a daredevil who courted danger and once said, "If your pictures aren't good enough, you're not close enough." He certainly got close enough when he took his famous 1936 photo of a Spanish Loyalist being shot. But he then got too close, when he stepped on a landmine and was killed, while covering the French-Vietnamese War in 1954.

Some claim that Capa's "committed" photographs and adventurous life-style glorify war. The press release for "The Indelible Image: Photographs of War, 1846-The Present" at N.Y.U.'s Grey Art Gallery (until November 16th) claims that its exhibition will "force on the viewer the full realization of the enormity of war." With pictures of corpses in coffins, beheadings in China, medical close-ups of war wounds, and an execution at the moment the bullet strikes, the show has plenty of gore. The snuff shots might make you sick, but will they make you anti-war? It's a questionable proposition. But peaceniks should be pleased that this show - not the Capa retrospective - will be going to the Corcoran Museum in Washington, D.C., a mere two blocks from the White House. Maybe Reagan can tear himself away from Rambo reruns long enough to see it.

Robert Capa, Falling Loyalist Soldier, 1936
Robert Capa, Falling Loyalist Soldier, 1936
Hines, ULSL Army (USA), Bullets' Impact, 1944
Hines, ULSL Army (USA), Bullets' Impact, 1944

Let's Go Crazy!

East Village Eye, December/January 1985/86

East Village Eye, December/January 1985/86

Is modern art truly insane? Adolf Hitler thought so, and to prove it he displayed drawings by mental patients alongside paintings and sculpture by Cubists, Surrealists, and Expressionists in the notorious 1937 "Degenerate Art" exhibition in Munich. Hitler got the drawings from the psychiatric clinic of the University of Heidelberg which retained a large collection of art from the psycho wards of Germany, Austria and Switzerland. These objects had been gathered in the name of science by the physician Hans Prinzhorn in 1919 for his tome The Art of the Mentally Ill. The famed Prinzhorn Collection still exists, and this month (until December 22) selections from it are on display at the Neuberger Museum at S.U.N.Y. Purchase. Under circumstances more favorable than those provided by Hitler, New Yorkers can reflect on the relationship of art and madness.

One artist/patient on display is Franz Karl Buhler, a metalsmith who became a paranoid after he lost his teaching job at a trade school because of aberrant behavior. His skillfully done drawing of a spread-eagle hermaphrodite is the product of a tortured mind and defies conventional logic. The electrician August Natterer suffered from hallucinations and delusions of grandeur. He had been institutionalized for over four years when he painted a vision of an alluring, naked, she-devil he named "Satana." The striking imagery and intensity of these works has over the years attracted the interest of psychiatrists and artists alike. In their artistic search to overcome convention and achieve primal expressions, modern artists such as Emil Nolde, Paul Klee, Max Ernst, André Breton, and Jean Dubuffet have sought inspiration from the Prinzhorn Collection.

Do you have to be crazy to be an artist? In the nutty world of modern art, the muse does not come cheap. Contemporary artists however, might do worse than to heed the advice of Max Ernst, who saw too well the pain and dangers of the borders of madness. Ernst suggested alternative routes to inspiration, such as alcohol, blind drawing, dream depiction, and even drugs. The artist of the Prinzhorn Collection have made striking pictures, but the price they paid was high.

Franz Karl Buhler, Untitled, 1901
Franz Karl Buhler, Untitled, 1901
August Natterer, Santana, 1901
August Natterer, Santana, 1901