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June 24, 2019

Good enough, making do, and getting by


Financial Times arts critic Edwin Heathcote and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales wouldn't seem to have all that much in common — but appearances can be deceiving.

In an August 13, 2006 New York Times story by David Colman, Wales discussed his Wikipedia ideal of information that is "good enough."

The very next day, August 14, Heathcote's interview with British sculptor Richard Wentworth noted the title of Wentworth's recent series of photographs, "Making Do and Getting By."

Wrote Heathcote, "Since the 1970s Wentworth has been documenting... ingenious and creative use, reuse, misuse, and abuse of everyday things."

Here's that article.

An alchemist of everyday trifles

As I strolled up to the Kings Cross café where I was to meet the British sculptor Richard Wentworth I noticed that the rubber doormat was being used to hold open the front door on a day which was already sweltering first thing in the morning. That, I thought, is exactly the kind of thing Wentworth would like. Sure enough, he rolls up a few minutes later, greets me and excuses himself while he takes a quick photo of the surrogate door wedge.

Since the 1970s Wentworth has been documenting precisely this kind of ingenious and creative use, re-use, misuse, and abuse of everyday things. His photographic series entitled "Making Do and Getting By" is an open-ended poem to improvisation — a coat hanger propping open a broken sash-window, brooms used as barriers to close off a doorway, a cigarette stubbed out in a bottle-top and, he is keen to show me the latest one on his camera, a paintbrush wedged between a pair of cupboard handles as a makeshift lock.

But the series is also a heartfelt poem for the Kings Cross he lives in (an exhibition at an old builders' supplies store was entitled "An area of Outstanding Unnatural Beauty"), a world in which things take on an almost human pathos and charisma — a glove impaled on iron railings, creative littering in the form of styrofoam cups wedged behind drain pipes or railings, broken office chairs and TVs piled on the pavement.

It is a world where discarding becomes a creative act, where things are placed deliberately and produce new meanings and possibilities. Once you look at the work it is hard not to see the world in those terms, to see objects as things with parallel lives of their own.

In his sculpture too, Wentworth creates curious and beautiful paradoxes, everyday things somehow made strange: ladders, buckets, junk-books, lightbulbs, punctured and penetrated by other things, leaning and balancing, given character through juxtaposition, by being displayed on shelves, suspended on wires, by being massed together. These things bring with them the ghosts of Laurel and Hardy and Jacques Tati as much as that of Marcel Duchamp.

"I've got some kind of filter," he tells me, "so I always see that [he points to an odd, undersized manhole cover next to our table] before I see the pavement, the crack before the glass. I see figure before ground. To me that's a kind of syntax of assemblage, which is actually what culture is."

Wentworth's world really is a world of things. By the end of our conversation virtually every object on our table has been used to demonstrate a point. Even the table itself, which wobbles (he gently admonishes the designer). "I’ve never been able to let go," he says, picking up a knife. "I know this is a one-piece knife and how odd it is that the blade and handle are made in one and that once the handle would have been made of something else. These things are all forged and formed and they all have meaning."

Then he gets out his new digital camera and points out a scratch. "This must have happened in my pocket, keys or something — at what point does use become misuse or abuse?" He points to the battered surface of the table — "look at this, this is good isn't it? So why am I upset about my camera? These things we have now, they all look like they were made in heaven, look at that bottle of water, where did that come from? These things are like us, they have skin, they can be damaged and wounded. Like this."

He points to a small circular scar on his palm.

"I drilled into this accidentally. It's very useful when you need to buy a new drill bit” – he holds out his stigmata — "this size please."

So does he think this world he's been so assiduously documenting is disappearing under all these shiny, brand new goods?

"No, it's not disappearing. Look, I don't seek this stuff out but it just seems to find me" – and at that he scrolls through some pictures on the camera alighting on one of a "closed" sign crowned with a handwritten "We are now."

"What other kind of closed is there?" he asks me, then ("look at this") he shows me the paintbrush/cabinet lock ("and this"); he scrolls on. "This 1930s building in Baker Street is being rebuilt and there's a hoarding wrapped around the site. At the top is a flagpole, the whole building seems to be building up to this flagpole, which is all about empire and saying 'we are here.' Someone has gone to the trouble of getting some stickers and made a flag of St. George on the rendering."

And there it is, a stiff sticker flag on this virtual future. Funny, poignant, and ingenious, it's all about the lengths people will go to, to do eccentric, often extremely funny, occasionally touching little gestures.

Although Wentworth's work is so tied up in the ingenious strangeness of the London streetscape, there seems to be something vaguely Parisian about it. In fact his photos appeared together with those of Eugène Atget, the French photographer who died in 1927, in an exhibition at the Photographer's Gallery five years ago. Atget’s images of a disappearing old Paris inspired the Surrealists and the surreal is ever-present in Wentworth’s images. But also present is that very French idea of the flâneur looking at what happens on the city's streets, and the Situationist idea of the dèrive, the urban walk that exposes the hidden patterns of the streets and the life that seeps up from the beach below the paving stones.

But one figure in particular comes to mind: Duchamp. In fact one of Wentworth's sculptures was based around a very familiar looking bottle rack.

"I bought that rack in France, as an antique. Incredibly the French name for it is an 'if,' which I just love. I'm a kind of inserter. I don't mean to do it, things just stack. I'm sure there's some kind of psycho-sexual thing there. It was like waving at Duchamp — and I think I got away with it.

"I once spoke to someone who photographed Duchamp and he told me how vain he was. There are artists who willfully self-mythologize."

Born in 1947, Wentworth studied first at Hornsey College of Art and then the Royal College. While still a student he worked for Henry Moore, and then became a key member of the highly influential New British Sculpture generation of the late 1970s, which included Tony Cragg, Antony Gormley, Richard Deacon, and Anish Kapoor. Since 2004 he has been Master of the prestigious Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art in Oxford. So he is profoundly qualified to talk about what he describes as "a small tribe producing luxury goods." Overall, in fact, Wentworth is alternately politely withering and gently forgiving about the art world. For him it is "a bit of an ingrowing toenail — you have to decide if you can live with that discomfort." Later he says, "we can't really tell what's good art. There's a longer story there and some of this stuff will become part of our culture. The good stuff sticks and the other stuff floats off, like not very good transfers."

As we start to wrap up, he looks at all the bits and pieces that have accumulated around our table.

"It's all about stuff," he says, "all these things, here at our service. Everything is always performing. Your bag is sitting there open, waiting for you to put stuff back into it, my glass is waiting for me to finish off the water. These guys' laptops [he gestures towards our neighbors] are acting as fortifications, their screens as modesty boards in the same way we might use these books as barriers.

"We're negotiators, not controllers. All this stuff surrounds us and hits us and, in order not to go mad we have to throw some of it out but it's the pieces we keep inside us which make us us, which make you Eddie and me Richard. In the end it's all stuff in the plughole."

As we leave, the doormat has been moved slightly, to a different, more deliberate angle. He gets his camera out and takes another snap.

Here's Colman's piece on Jimmy Wales.

Possessed: Industrial Art Illuminates Life

Jimmy Wales does not come across as the great philosopher king of the technical age. He does not utter sweeping statements about the disconnect of modern society and the salvation that the Internet offers. He does not have a catchy book on the best-seller list; he does not lay down heady projections of where society will be in 20 years.

If anything, Mr. Wales, the founder of the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, who has become an unlikely lightning rod for the quality-versus-quantity debate over information on the Internet, is a figure out of a 1930's Frank Capra film, a likable guy with a Southern twang whose simple social experiment has run away with him.

So Mr. Wales works at keeping it simple and staying dedicated to the Wikipedia ideal of information that is helpful, more or less accurate and ''good enough,'' to borrow a term from Barry Schwartz, the author of ''The Paradox of Choice.''

This applies not just to Wikipedia's content but also to Mr. Wales's own style. His home is not an Italianate villa on a grape-ridden hillside in Napa but a four-bedroom ranch house in St. Petersburg, Fla., where he moved for the simple reason that it was sunny and cheaper than San Diego, his former home.

At home, Mr. Wales has honed the good-enough style so well — or rather, not honed it — that the place will not even remotely be featured in House & Garden. He dresses casually, Florida-style, goes by the nickname Jimbo, and although he does drive a foreign car, it's a Hyundai Accent.

''It's sort of like an appliance as a car,'' he said. He bought his DVD player at Walmart, and his television set has something inside it called a cathode ray tube. Heard of it, kids?

About the only thing he has that aspires to a higher ideal is, of all things, a flashlight. The SureFire M6 blasts the competition, which averages 60 lumens, with a 250-lumen light beam. The company bills it as a ''searchlight disguised as a flashlight'' and boasts that ''SWAT teams use the lights to temporarily blind suspects at night.''

''Who needs a baseball bat?'' said Mr. Wales, who keeps his M6 on his bedside table not as a weapon but in case he, you know, needs a flashlight. ''You have to love the kitsch of that, that there's an assault flashlight now.''

The $400 M6, which is eight inches long, holds six lithium batteries and is housed in aerospace-grade aluminum, is the product of a design school that might be called Modern Militant, the most familiar example of which is the Hummer. ''It's really, really, really, really bright,'' Mr. Wales said. ''Anyone who tries to one-up me with their fancy car or whatever, I've got 'em. I say, 'Well, I have a brighter flashlight.' ''

Not that the flashlight was bought with one-upmanship in mind. As Mr. Wales explained: ''We were living in California, there had been earthquakes and terrorist attacks, and we had these crappy $2 flashlights. I started reading flashlight-geek websites and just went crazy and got very into this. The M6 was like 10 times brighter than any normal flashlight.''

Still, the flashlight sees very little active duty. He likes that it is there next to his bed, just in case. Even at rest, it functions as a little totem of safety and quality. ''It's almost like an object of art for me,'' he said.

It may not be the best piece of art in the world, but hey, it's good enough.

"Use, reuse, abuse, and misuse" was how Edwin Heathcote described Richard Wentworth's philosophy.

That sums it up pretty well.

"What does it sum up, joe?"

Hey, come on — you might recall Picasso's observation, to wit: "Computers are useless. They can only give you answers."

I take a backseat to no computer.

June 24, 2019 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Experts' Experts: Top 15 mystery novels of all time


Arthur Conan Doyle: "The Complete Sherlock Holmes" (1887-1927)

Dashiell Hammett: "The Maltese Falcon" (1930)

Edgar Allan Poe: "Tales of Mystery and Imagination" (1852)

Josephine Tey: "The Daughter of Time" (1951)

Scott Turow: "Presumed Innocent" (1987)

John le Carré: "The Spy Who Came In From the Cold" (1963)

Wilkie Collins: "The Moonstone" (1868)

Raymond Chandler: "The Big Sleep" (1939)

Daphne du Maurier: "Rebecca" (1938)

Agatha Christie: "And Then There Were None" (1939)

Robert Traver: "Anatomy of a Murder" (1958)

Agatha Christie: "The Murder of Roger Ackroyd" (1926)

Raymond Chandler: "The Long Goodbye" (1953)

James M. Cain: "The Postman Always Rings Twice" (1934)

Mario Puzo: "The Godfather" (1969)


The Mystery Guild of America in 2006 created a list of the top 15 mystery novels ever written; it appears above.

The list does not appear to be in any particular order.

How many have you read?

I've read six: "Presumed Innocent"; "The Spy Who Came In From the Cold"; "Rebecca"; "Anatomy of a Murder"; "The Postman Always Rings Twice;" and "The Godfather."

Pictured at the top of this post is the cover of the 1926 first edition of Agatha Christie's novel.

June 24, 2019 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

When Citroen turned the Eiffel Tower into a giant ad — for nine years



From Arnold Clark:


How Citroën turned the Eiffel Tower into a huge advert in 1925 — for 9 years

André Citroën, the  founder of Citroen, has always been considered a marketing genius. Citroën was one of the first car companies to sponsor car races and rallies, and he promoted his car plant to tourists as the most beautiful in Europe. 

In 1925, Citroën actually rented the Eiffel Tower and had the Citroën brand name embellished across it using 250,000 lights.

A total of 250,000 light bulbs and 373 miles of electric cable were used to make the 98-foot-high letters.

It was recorded in the Guinness Book of Records as the world's largest advertisement. The illuminations were so bright that Charles Lindbergh used the tower as a beacon when coming into land after his solo flight across the Atlantic.

The sign remained in place until the company went bankrupt in 1934. The company was saved a month later by Michelin at the request of the French government — Michelin was Citroën's biggest creditor. Pierre Michelin replaced André Citroën as chairman.

June 24, 2019 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Apple News+ is cheap at twice the price


A subscription to Apple News+ costs $9.99/month = $119.88/year.

A subscription to the New Yorker costs $149.99/year.

Oh, yeah, one more thing: Apple News+ includes the New Yorker — along with subscriptions to over 250 other newspapers and magazines, including every title you're likely to find at an airport newsstand.

Besides which, magazines on an iPad are way better than the increasingly thin paper versions: color is more vibrant, images sharper, it's much easier to "page" through them, you can send pictures and clips and articles to people as you're reading or save them for later for yourself.


Lagniappe: unlike with a New Yorker subscription cancellation, which may or not result in a refund of the unpaid portion after a long time on hold and then a semi-combative phone call with the service department, you can quickly cancel your Apple News+ subscription here and now online, since it's on a monthly basis.

Also, you never have to worry about not receiving an issue or getting several at a time weeks late, or magazines arriving looking like they took part in a Times Square New Year's Eve celebration.

June 24, 2019 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Paper Straw Cigarette


"Lit cigarette image printed on paper straw."

Another eruption from the turbulent mind of Scott Amron.


25 for $4 (16¢ each); 300 for $15 (5¢ each) — Pepsi not included.

June 24, 2019 at 08:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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