Miller's Memorabilia - East Village Eye
Ignited in part by the changes in music, art and fashion that occurred at CBGB, the East Village experienced a cultural renaissance in the 1980s that matched and even exceeded the neighborhood's glory days in the late 1960s. The old East Village had been chronicled by the newspaper East Village Other. For the new East Village it was the East Village Eye, whose first issue hit the street in May 1979. Shepherded through good times and bad by publisher Leonard Abrams, the Eye continued through January 1987 and ultimately numbered over 70 issues.
My involvement with the Eye began when I provided Leonard with some archival images of Hiroshima and of confiscated Nazi propaganda art. I soon began writing a monthly column which ran without a break from February 1983 – January 1986. While most articles in the Eye spotlighted current events, "Miller's Memorabilia" specialized in unearthing obscure pictures from the past that would resonate with the East Village crowd. The hip, cynical text owed much to my Eye editor, Spencer Rumsey, a veteran of the Berkeley Barb, who later moved on to Rupert Murdoch's Star before finally settling in at Newsday. At first "Miller's Memorabilia" appeared in the Eye's news section, but over time it migrated to the art pages, where it added a historical dimension to the frenzy that for a few years characterized the East Village's flourishing gallery scene.
Miller’s Memorabilia - East Village Eye, October 1983
Tony Shafrazi Sprays Picasso
Can an art vandal find success as an art dealer? Yes, but only in New York and only in Soho! This month's Memorabilia unearths the incredible but true front-page story in the Daily News about a young Iranian graffiti artist ahead of his time who tagged Guernica with spray-paint as it hung at the Museum of Modern Art in 1974. Arrested at the scene of the crime - and charged with only a misdemeanor since a heavy coat of varnish protected the priceless painting from damage - was Tony Shafrazi, who's now the owner of a prominent Soho gallery specializing in graffiti art and including among its roster the graffiti-superstar Keith Haring.
"I sprayed the Guernica as a work of art," says Shafrazi, who claims he knew that Picasso's celebrated anti-war masterpiece was safe from harm. Shafrazi was interested in the power of words and surfaces and in making public art. He was influenced not by the street and subway graffiti that was emerging here in the early '70s but by more highbrow theories of the Art & Language group in England (where he went to school) and by the political rhetoric of the Vietnam Art Strike Group in N.Y. Shafrazi wanted to make the message of the Guernica "live again," but unfortunately something got lost in translation. Apparently carried away by the excitement of the act, Shafrazi amended his intended message from "Lies All Lies" to "Kill All Lies" but wound up with "Kill Lies All" when he ran out of space - and time.
Although Shafrazi's youthful excesses seem to have been forgiven by today's art world, he does not revel in his past. From the moment he decided he had to tag the Guernica as an "act of faith" in his own aesthetic, he told the Eye, he has had to "live with the terror" that is the result of "trespassing" for the sake of art. "I am marked for life," says Shafrazi with resignation. "Everyday I live in fear that someone, some place, will do something and cite me as an example. As Picasso once said, 'I would not wish my fame on anyone.'
Miller’s Memorabilia - East Village Eye, December 1983
The Blue Marble
Ex-astronaut Harrison "Jack" Schmitt had the right stuff at the wrong time in November. The "Last Man to Step on the Moon" was brought down to Earth by a coalition of environmentalists who defeated the right-wing Republican senator in his bid for reelection from New Mexico. According to the League of Conservation Voters, Jack (whose birthplace is now an open pit copper mine) had the worst Senate record on ecological issues - quite a slap in the face for the only American geologist in outer space, whose famous "Blue Marble" photo of our planet adorned the Whole Earth Catalogue. Seeing Terra Firma floating in the Ether has been touted by some as a religious experience - one astronaut returned from the heavens to look for Noah's Ark, another to run for president - but this Apollo 17 spaceman with a PhD. in geology from Harvard became a darling of the defense and mining industries. Perhaps that explains why the oil fields of Saudi Arabia are crystal clear in this shot seen 'round the world.
Miller’s Memorabilia - East Village Eye, December/Janurary 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.
Miller’s Memorabilia - East Village Eye, April 1985
World’s Most Expensive painting
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!
Miller’s Memorabilia - East Village Eye, June 1985
Sound to see
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.
Miller’s Memorabilia - 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.
Miller’s Memorabilia - East Village Eye, December/January 1985/86
Let’s Go Crazy!
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.