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Kultursalon Madame Schoscha

Letter from New York City [36]

Monthly Column | Kultursalon Madame Schoscha: Altobelli received a first letter from B. Reynard.
New York City

Madame Schoscha lebt jetzt schon eine Weile in Barcelona. Ihr alter Bekannter, Herr Altobelli, weiterhin in Berlin. Beide leben sie in einer ganz eigenen Zeit. Und dennoch in dieser Welt, worüber sie sich gegenseitig berichten. Sie schreiben sich Briefe. Im monatlichen Wechsel flattert ein Brief aus Berlin oder Barcelona herein und vereint die aktuelle, kulturelle Erlebniswelt der beiden. Ganz wie im gleichnamigen Kultursalon Madame Schoscha, der sich mehrfach im Jahr an wechselnden Orten zusammenfindet, geben sich die beiden Auskunft über ihre Entdeckungen aus Kunst und Alltag. In diesem Monat erhält Altobelli zum ersten Mal Post aus New York! Von einem neuen Freund: dem Kunstliebhaber B. Reynard.


Dear Mr. Altobelli

A few months have elapsed since we first met at the opening of David Fox in Berlin. I was glad to make your acquaintance, as I am glad to meet anyone who'll listen to me ramble on for hours and hours about my hometown, New York.

Bild: David Fox I must admit I am quite puzzled that you seemed to mistake me for Mr. Fox himself. But then you had arrived rather late when the opening was quite crowded and difficult to speak above the noise and chatter of the crowd. It became apparent after a few minutes that you were more interested in me and especially New York than the art. I am proud of my city and I was happy to answer your many questions regarding the culture and way of life there but I was a little surprised at your apparent lack of interest in the exhibition and the altogether strange and inspiring paintings and prints of Mr. Fox. Having spent much of my life frequenting art galleries and openings it had become all too commonplace for people to gather at these events and not take the slightest notice of the art. These days it's all about chatting up the right people, if one can identify those individuals. However, I am not judging you by any means and really did enjoy our brief chat.

You seemed very keen to know more about the Big Apple and its machinations. I did say a few things to pique your interest at the vernissage but I am not sure you could take it all in especially as there was a rather awkward person behind you with a very tedious habit of gesticulating wildly every two minutes almost threatening to  pour her glass of wine on your head. She of course was quite oblivious to you standing there. You had a fearful look on your face, as I waxed lyrical about the joys and pitfalls of New York City.

On reflection I am beginning to see that making your acquaintance wasn’t such an ‘accident’ at all but a very deliberate plot on your part. Did I detect that you might have some ulterior motives regarding New York? You mentioned a certain ‘friend’ and that made me wonder if you know someone living here who may be a mutual acquaintance. I thought about this on the plane back to New York from Berlin and concluded that Mr. Altobelli is perhaps keeping a dark secret. I do know a certain lady who fits the description you gave, mid thirties, elegant and very beautiful with blond hair and always impeccably dressed. In fact, I bumped into her only the other day on my travels around the art galleries of Chelsea. She is often to be seen in this milieu because of her profession. I mentioned my trip to Berlin and a Mr. Altobelli I had met at an opening. She didn’t say much but began to fidget and blush a little. Her body language definitely gave some indication that she was at least acquainted with you but she did not confirm this. I let the issue drop, as I am, if nothing else, a perfect gentleman when it comes to delicate situations such as these.  I don’t know if you wish to tell me more about her, if indeed she is the same person, and if so, would you want me to relay a message to her?  I am very discreet. Let me know.

So now that I'm back in New York and mopping my brow through another long and very hot summer I can finally sit down and write some anecdotes about living here you were so keen to understand.

Why, only yesterday I was strolling the concrete sidewalks of Midtown Manhattan, a busy and bustling part of town crazed with business people, tourists, and the general public all darting this way and that in a whirlwind of uncertain and probably, inconsequential activity. But it was a scorching day and the swipe of blue sky visible only between the peaks of skyscrapers was a pleasant sign as I made my way to MoMA. Even when it gets very hot, the long shadows cast by the buildings, offer some relief.

MoMA is not ‘hopping’ this summer season in spite of the tourists. On a weekday it is bearable. The mobs come on Friday evening when it is free. They queue for quite sometime and the line wraps around the block. Still it does save them $25, quite a hefty admission these days. MoMA just bid farewell to a grand show of Degas monotypes, which are in some, respects the best things he ever did. All those naughty brothel scenes etc. But my preference is for the landscapes, something Degas reputedly scorned in his lifetime. But what experimentation!

A show of Bruce Conner, a California artist of the late fifties and sixties is about the best thing to see at the moment. A very interesting artist who made work in many disciplines: painting, drawing, sculpture, and film. His movies, really collages of found footage of war, atomic bomb tests, and a myriad of other subjects are fascinating viewing. One in particular, "Reports" are clips of slowed down atomic bomb tests, the United States government made in the Pacific during the fifties. They have a strange and terrible beauty to them. Other films examine the elements of war and power, a subject my dear friend, David Fox, the artist at whose exhibition we met, often touches on.

What else can I tell you about a New York in the blazing days of summer? It does smell a bit, especially on trash nights when the garbage is piled high on the sidewalks. Of course, the city has gone through many changes since I have lived here. In my early days, I can remember walking home in the evening past the public library on Fifth Avenue, only to be greeted by numerous rats that lived around there and in Bryant Park directly behind it. If, on the other hand, I took Madison Avenue, I might well pass Mr. Andy Warhol also on his way home from his studio on Union Square, going uptown to his house on Lexington Avenue. I always wanted to stop him and ask for his autograph but somehow never summoned the courage.

Unlike the old days, I rarely see celebrities in Manhattan now. Back then I could spot Tony Curtis eating a hot dog with his young, blond and beautiful girlfriend on the corner of Fifth and 58th just at the entrance to Central Park. Or Muhammad Ali in a doorway on 57th street signing autographs for adoring fans.

These days of course everyone is a celebrity. You see hoards of people all taking selfies in Museums, in cafés, on street corners or in front of tourist landmarks. One new development is the selfie in the dressing rooms of department stores or clothing shops. Sometimes there are long lines waiting to try on clothes while teenagers hog the cubicles with their iphones taking countless selfies in their new attire ready to post on Instagram. But I suspect this happens across the world and is not unique to New York. Warhol’s dictum about everybody being famous for fifteen minutes has finally come true.

To escape the summer heat one must leave the city for upstate or go to the Hamptons. I often go to East Hampton or Amagansett. There you will find, ironically, Manhattanites all trying to escape Manhattan too. I tend to ignore this unfortunate coincidence and go off to the wonderful beaches and mind my own business. Besides, who can stand all day to watch the super rich in East Hampton village shopping for $2000 handbags?

I did visit Mr. Fox this summer in his upstate New York studio. Wandering into his rather large garden, there he was, on a ladder painting an enormous canvas pinned to the side of his house. He told me that it was the first time he'd worked this way in all the years he'd live there. What he paints is a topic perhaps for a lengthier discussion. But it seems to be about power and war and tragedy and that wretched thing called the human condition. I felt for him though, baking in the intense sun of an August afternoon tackling the big issues that seem to preoccupy him. We took a break for coffee and went inside to look at his studio. What a mess! Everything is in complete disarray. I'm surprised he gets anything accomplished. There are finished and unfinished works all over the room, some leaning here, some there.

Then of course there are the many different media he uses. Well, I’m not sure I could take it all in. He paints in one style and then another style, very precise and then rather loose. It’s overwhelming... what kind of mind he has. There’s a certain crazy intensity to his activities. He tends to do thing sporadically but with great attention and succinctness and I might add a mastery of execution. All the time I was asking him questions about his motives he would be wielding a large brush over an enormous canvas filled with images from all kinds of references and sources. Books and photos from 20th century, medieval icons, film noir stills, and especially WW1 pictures littered the floor. There were chips of wood everywhere as he makes many woodcuts. It is nothing if not a hive of industry.

The other evening there was a grand opening of all the galleries in Chelsea. Chelsea, as you may know, is the main gallery district of Manhattan and they do this at the beginning of every season in September. It was a zoo and that's putting it mildly. Throngs of people all partaking of the many offerings of free beer and wine, spilling onto the street. The art seemed to be a second consideration. But that is the way the art world works here. It's a market and money driven operation. People all networking and trying to connect with the right dealer or collector, anyone who might give them a helping hand. Very ugly in a way. But the streets were filled with beautiful young people; girls dressed in short dresses and heels, men in all manner of garb. In many ways it was a joyous sight and great to observe.

I did run into someone though, James Kalm. James Kalm is the man on Youtube who makes videos of many art shows in Manhattan and calls them the “Kalm Report”. He is very well known in the art community here. He provides a great and useful service to those who do not live in New York and are unable to see the hundreds of exhibitions the galleries put on. If you care to look him up on Youtube you will see his work.

I of course know him as Loren Munk, from Idaho. I used to live next door to him in Brooklyn years ago. He is still living there! He is a painter in his own right and makes interesting work based mainly on the History of Modern Art and in particular, New York art movements. They are impressive and resemble abstract flow charts. I would say they are somewhat inspired by the humorous musings and cartoons of Ad Reinhart, the famous New York School abstract artist.

I had to be a little wary of people though because I was with someone and people always jump to the wrong conclusions. You know there are many things going on in plain view on hot summer nights in New York. It makes whole city pulse. And who isn’t up for a little spice in their life?

While we were talking at the opening in Berlin I remember you wanting to know more about the upcoming elections for the United States Presidency. I rolled my eyes at the prospect of even discussing it and offered some quick thoughts on Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton. I dread the subject. You were not alone in wishing to understand how these two candidates made their way through to the nominations. Most Berliners I met were completely at a loss for words when it came to Trump. I can only say that they are not alone. At least half the US population shares their shock and disgust. The real shock is that the other half seems to embrace him wholeheartedly as if he is the savior they have been waiting for to deliver them from the evils of left wing liberals. Not that Mrs. Clinton is so liberal. She is not advocating Socialism, the kind Bernie Sanders was touting. In fact there is no doubt she owes a great debt to corporate America and their 'donations' to her war chest. Everyone I know mistrusts her. As for Donald he is seen largely as a buffoon and a dangerous one at that. The real tragedy and embarrassing part is he's a New Yorker. Not our proudest export.

So back to our friend Mr. Fox who, after all, is the subject that brought us together in the first place. We occasionally meet in the city to see some exhibitions. Mr. Fox never misses a chance to walk the High Line which is a renovated old elevated subway abandoned and disused for many years, now a beautiful landscaped walkway running from 30th street to 14th street terminating at the new Whitney Museum. It has become a tourist destination but Mr. Fox likes to observe the people against the city buildings and the western sky, often at night. He has painted a number of these observations and I believe has exhibited some recently in Copenhagen. I have attached a photo of one of his paintings for you.

Having written this missive over a period of a few weeks, I will conclude with a note that the weather has changed quite dramatically here in New York. Fall has arrived. The leaves are turning and the temperatures have cooled down. Sweaters and jackets are already being worn. I do hope we have a little more warmth before the long New York Winter.

Faithfully yours
B. Reynard

Fixpoetry 2016
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