inside art reviews visual

Art / Olafur Eliasson in the New Yorker

Two win­ters ago, I trav­eled to Lon­don for work. It was cold as hell, as a witch's tit, as the blood that runs in Dwyane Wade's veins dur­ing the fourth quar­ter. The sky was deep gray, hard, heavy and for­bid­ding, and it felt as if it wasn't more than 10 or 12 feet above my head, ready to come crash­ing down at any moment. One after­noon, in a jet-lagged haze, I wan­dered over to the Tate Mod­ern, where it seems they always have some thought-pro­vok­ing instal­la­tion (for instance, Anish Kapoor's gigan­tic lev­i­tat­ing horn which blew my mind for a while), and as I descend­ed the ramp into the muse­um, I was struck by the absolute inver­sion of win­try, out­door Lon­don. I took lots of pho­tos, but none could real­ly com­mu­ni­cate the immer­sive aspect of Ola­fur Elias­son's work, called "The Weath­er Project." It was all reds and oranges, all warmth and mist, envelop­ing you in a hap­py, gauzy glow. Cyn­thia Zarin recent­ly pro­filed Elias­son for the New York­er, and she com­ments that the Weath­er Project cement­ed Eliasson's rep­u­ta­tion in the art world … (Unfor­tu­nate­ly, I can't find a link to the arti­cle online, but by all means dig through back issues of the mag­a­zine at the laun­dro­mat, if you get a chance. The arti­cle pro­vides inter­est­ing insight into Eliasson's process, and includes some fun­ny anec­dotes relat­ing to his impulse to immerse the view­er in an envi­ron­ment. For instance, in mid-long-dis­tance-phone-con­ver­sa­tion with Cyn­thia Zarin, he places his cell phone on the lug­gage con­vey­er belt at the air­port, lets it go around the carousel once, then picks it up and asks her what the expe­ri­ence was like. Hmm.).

baseball lit reviews

Books / Game of Shadows

I was just watch­ing ESPN's Open­ing Day cov­er­age of the Braves-Dodgers game, and the con­ver­sa­tion between com­men­ta­tor Erik Kar­ros (wasn't he Rook­ie of the Year like 5 years ago?) and Rick Sut­cliffe turned to steroids. Kar­ros couldn't con­tain him­self. He blus­tered and ram­bled for a while, crit­i­ciz­ing those who demand­ed an inves­ti­ga­tion, and basi­cal­ly rehashed Mark McGwire's non-denial denial to a Sen­ate sub-com­mit­tee: Steroids were abused in the past; the league has adopt­ed a stricter pol­i­cy; let's all move on. The mes­sage was uno­rig­i­nal — a lot of cur­rent play­ers don't want to dwell on this unsa­vory devel­op­ment — but the air of defen­sive­ness mixed with dis­dain seemed odd­ly reminscent of anoth­er guilty, defi­ant per­son — Don­ald Rumsfeld.Anyway, over the past cou­ple of days, I tore through Game of Shad­ows, the recent­ly pub­lished steroids expose by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams. After a month of PR build-up and pub­lished excerpts, there weren't many surprises:

  • Bonds availed him­self of steroids. One might say, a but­t­load of steroids.
  • So did Mar­i­on Jones.
  • They're both liars.
  • So are a lot of pro­fes­sion­al athletes.

Bonds is the big sto­ry in Game of Shad­ows. If you couldn't already tell by his car­toon­ish­ly swollen neck/head and his late-career pow­er explo­sion, Bonds hasn't been play­ing fair. He admit­ted to a grand jury that he allowed his train­er (a known juicer) to place droplets of an "unknown" chem­i­cal under his tongue, and to rub an "unknown" cream on his joints. Bonds thought that these were legal sup­ple­ments — the drops were "flaxseed oil" — yeah, he actu­al­ly said that — and he implied that he'd nev­er inject­ed any­thing. Uh-huh, yeah. I'm a fan of the flaxseed oil, and I can tes­ti­fy that it doesn't make your head become like 5x big­ger. Plus, Bonds has always been a con­trol freak. Is it even remote­ly pos­si­ble that he didn't both­er find­ing out what his train­er was stick­ing in his mouth?The book reveals the Bonds was on a steroid reg­i­men that includ­ed more than "flaxseed oil," mak­ing it seem even more like­ly that Bonds per­jured him­self in front of the grand jury. Sources close to him indi­cate that he was on all sorts of injectable crap, includ­ing Decadurabolin (in the butt) and human growth hor­mone (in the stom­ach). He want­ed us to believe that it was all free weights and sprints and vit­a­mins, but it makes a lit­tle more sense that there was some secret sauce in the mix.A per­son­al note: Bar­ry, dude, seri­ous­ly. Just freakin admit it. You're like a lit­tle kid sit­ting in a pile of cook­ie crumbs, cry­ing and claim­ing that you didn't eat any cook­ies. It's undig­ni­fied, real­ly. Say "I took steroids because I want­ed to win, because every­one else was, because it's what I had to do." Fans under­stand com­pet­i­tive­ness, and you're a com­pet­i­tive guy, and steroids weren't against the rules any­way. So just fess up, you big baby. At some point, you could even ask for our for­give­ness. I mean, it's pos­si­ble. You always claim that you're not giv­en the respect you deserve. Here's your chance to earn it.

cinema reviews

Movies / More Oscar crap

Of course Crash won Best Pic­ture. Why wouldn't Acad­e­my mem­bers — I'm assum­ing they're most­ly white and Ange­leno — ral­ly around a film that momen­tar­i­ly relieved them of guilt they feel for liv­ing in such a racial­ly seg­re­gat­ed city? (I have to admit that I love Ludacris's rant about the racial impli­ca­tions of rid­ing city bus­es. That, and Don Cheadle's open­ing, were the only moments in the entire movie that weren't heavy-hand­ed, cheesy, or gag-inducing).The Morn­ing News has a great list of quotes from oth­er review­ers who dis­liked the movie as much as I did. A sam­ple: "Con­trived, obvi­ous and over­stat­ed, Crash is basi­cal­ly just one white man's right­eous attempt to make oth­er white peo­ple feel as if they've con­front­ed the prob­lem of racism head-on."

inside art reviews san francisco visual

Art / Richard Misrach slays 49 Geary

Hazardous waste

First Thurs­days at 49 Geary can be over­whelm­ing, peo­ple-wise, and under­whelm­ing, art-wise, and this month was dif­fer­ent only in that the over­whelm­ing­ness was crammed into one place: the Fraenkel Gallery. Packed with peo­ple, it also dis­played a face-melt­ing col­lec­tion of Richard Mis­rach photos.

When I first saw Misrach's pho­tos, I thought imme­di­ate­ly of Sebas­tiao Sal­ga­do. Both guys address big themes — civ­i­liza­tions, sea­sons, land­scapes, human endeav­ors — but they do so in vast­ly dif­fer­ent ways. Sal­ga­do frames his work around human action; his sub­jects are migrants, activi­tists, labor­ers. Mis­rach works with earth, light, space; he works with dunes, strangers, cars, pow­er plants. Salgado's work is tied to cur­rent events, polit­i­cal move­ments, regimes, defin­able moments and rec­og­niz­able things; Mis­rach works with more anony­mous objects and land­scapes. There are much more sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ences between them, but they share a social aware­ness that invests the best of their work with real intrigue and importance.

inside art reviews san francisco visual

Art / Oakland is special in other ways

Flickr photo

Last night we checked out the Oak­land Art Mur­mur. Actu­al­ly, we didn't even know that such a thing exist­ed, and drove over the Bridge intend­ing to see Jason Munn's open­ing at Bloom Screen Print­ing. So it was a pleas­ant sur­prise to see that lit­tle stretch of Tele­graph goin off when we got there. Jason's stuff was the best of the art stuff, by far, but the action on the street was out front of Rock Paper Scis­sors.That's where we saw a guy burn an Amer­i­can flag. It took him rough­ly 10 min­utes of false starts to light it with a Bic, but just after I took this pic­ture, an ambu­lance raced up the street, sirens blar­ing, on its way to some emer­gency, but it abrupt­ly slowed down when the dri­ver saw the burn­ing flag, and we could see the faces of the oth­er para­medics star­ing at the guy as they crawled by. It was one of those only-in-Oak­land moments. Holla!

reviews visual

Kansas / The best state quarter so far

It just hap­pens to be from my home state. Nice work, Kansans.

music reviews san francisco

Music / Konono #1 lights it up

Last night, Konono #1 played the Palace of Fine Arts. Before the show, I was a lit­tle wor­ried that their scruffy, off-kil­ter sound may get washed-out by the fan­cy sound-sys­tem of the PoFA, and that they may end up sound­ing like lame-ass Ashke­naz-style "world music."But from the first moment, they total­ly ruled, and their sig­na­ture sound — with home­made elec­tric pick-ups for their ikem­bes (thumb pianos), dent­ed met­al discs serv­ing as cym­bals, and MASH-style mega­phones as a PA — was faith­ful­ly recre­at­ed. The PoFA is a cham­ber-music-style venue with cushy seats and lit­tle room to boo­gie, but most of the crowd was stand­ing and danc­ing by the third song, and groups crowd­ed at the sides of the stage to impro­vise a lit­tle dance floor. Their final song was an epic, 45-min­utes trance-induc­ing jam that had every­one clap­ping and chant­i­ng along with the track-suit-clad front man.Most remark­able was the vital­i­ty of it all, the sense that there was some­thing essen­tial and healthy and real being cre­at­ed. Each band member's intense, insis­tent pres­ence was spell-bind­ing, espe­cial­ly the old­er guy in the blue base­ball hat who trad­ed off with Mingie­di (the leader, pic­tured) on the thumb piano and per­cus­sion. He was locked into a seri­ous groove the whole night, bang­ing out pre­cise rhythms, and belt­ing out crisp, deep monot­o­ne har­monies that were jar­ring but some­how per­fect. It's not often that San Fran­cis­co crowds get up and shake their ass­es, so it was espe­cial­ly impres­sive that Konono #1 made danc­ing in a con­cert hall on Sun­day night seem total­ly natural.

mobile reviews san francisco

Burgers in SF

Flickr photo

After a chill after­noon at Chi­na Beach, we checked out some burg­ers at Bill's Place, which made me think about all of the good burg­ers to be found in San Francisco: 

  • Bill's Place (pic­tured) grinds its own, and names its burg­er plat­ters after local celebri­ties. Extra cred­it for the chan­de­liers and non-mayo cole slaw. On the down­side, it's unjus­ti­fi­ably pricey. $10 for a burg­er? Maybe at Zuni, but it seems weird to pay this much at a diner.
  • If you're inter­est­ed in din­er-style ambiance more than good-tast­ing burg­ers, you can check out Joe's Cable Car. I real­ly wish that the burg­ers tast­ed good there, but the real­i­ty is that they don't.
  • For fake retro ambiance, high tourist quo­tient and real­ly mediocre burg­ers, Mel's is your place. There are at least three very uncon­ve­nient Mel's loca­tions, if you're Mis­sion/Low­er-Haight based.
  • Slow Club has (or used to have) a good yup­pie burg­er — sprouts and fan­cy aioli, on some kind of Euro roll. Being from the Mid­west, I dis­like froofy inter­pre­ta­tions of burg­ers, but in weak­er moments I have been known to order this burg­er. And enjoy it. 
  • Speak­ing of froofy, Zuni serves a burg­er amidst its gen­er­al­ly tasty Cali cui­sine. In 1996-ish, I could not bring myself to admit that it was good; in 2005, I can. 
  • On cold nights, Zeit­geist can ring your chimes with a good char-burg­er. On warm, busy nights, expect extra char. 
  • Burg­er­Meis­ter and Burg­er Joint are all about hap­py cows (Niman Ranch beef), ster­ile, flu­o­res­cent-lit din­ing rooms (creepy) and, in the end, sim­i­lar burg­ers. Hip­sters split hairs about which is bet­ter. I call it a tie. (But the Meis­er has Mitchell's ice cream.)
  • I'm a recent con­vert to the virtues of Big Mouth in the Mis­sion. Qual­i­ty con­trol is in full effect on both fries and burg­ers, plus greasy-spoon atmos­phere dis­tin­guish­es it from the ster­ile envi­rons of the BJs and BMs of the world.
  • Every­one talks about Barney's Gourmet Ham­burg­ers but I per­son­al­ly don't see what the fuss is about. It's not that I dis­like white peo­ple, but it annoys me that the own­ers avoid all but the whitest of white neigh­bor­hoods — North Berke­ley, North Oak­land, Noe Val­ley. Dude, next stop: Mill Val­ley.

    There are lots more. I'll update soon.

lit reviews

Termites eat New Orleans

After Hur­ri­cane Kat­ri­na, the recent Harper's mag­a­zine fea­ture about the uncon­trol­lable, unfath­omed ter­mite infes­ta­tion of the French Quar­ter seems down­right eerie. Equal parts infor­ma­tion and med­i­ta­tion, Dun­can Murrell's "The Swarm" is an effec­tive, mov­ing blend of first-hand report­ing on bliz­zard-like ter­mite swarms, spooky inter­views with insect experts, and gen­uine South­ern goth­ic moments:

Where the For­mosans are for­ag­ing — in the studs of a wall, for instance — the car­ton some­times takes the shape of the very thing they're eat­ing. Pest-con­trol oper­a­tors in New Orleans told me many of sto­ries of rip­ping out dry­wall to expose what looked from a dis­tance like sol­id two-by-four fram­ing pieces, only to find that they were look­ing at car­ton nests, the ghosts of a wall long since consumed.

It also pro­vides a peek into the world of the ter­mi­tol­o­gist, touch­ing on the trag­ic tale of a man­ic-depres­sive South African ento­mol­o­gist who became so obsessed with ter­mites that he began to view their behav­ior in per­haps over­ly sophis­ti­cat­ed terms:

[Eugene] Marais believed that colonies of ter­mites were dis­tinct, com­pound organ­isms not unlike the human body, that every com­po­nent from queen to work­er served a func­tion not just anal­o­gous but iden­ti­cal to the func­tion of our own hearts and liv­ers and brains and blood cells. Marais thought that the ter­mite colony lacked only the pow­er to move togeth­er as one organ­ism, and that some­day they would devel­op even that skill.

Next on my read­ing list: Marais's "clas­sic work of obses­sive obser­va­tion," The Soul of the White Ant.

lit reviews tip

Nurse! Get me Rolling Stone on the phone!

Has there been a more thank­less task in mod­ern lit­er­ary his­to­ry than edit­ing Hunter S. Thomp­son? Accord­ing to for­mer Rolling Stone edi­tor Robert Love, the mag­a­zine actu­al­ly assigned junior edi­tors the task of babysit­ting Thomp­son as he approached his dead­line. (Okay, there are worse junior edit­ing tasks than that; I've done them). In a recent in the Colum­bia Jour­nal­ism Review arti­cle, Love dis­cuss­es this and much more in his essay about edit­ing the good doc­tor at Rolling Stone. Charm­ing rev­e­la­tion: HST's blus­ter and bom­bast attained read­abil­i­ty only after long, hard edi­to­r­i­al over­sight. The kind of over­sight that involves tear­ing the thing apart and and reassem­bling it sen­tence by sentence:

So, a flur­ry of man­u­script pages would arrive, buzzing with bril­liant, but often dis­con­nect­ed pas­sages, inter­spersed with what Hunter would him­self call "gib­ber­ish" (on cer­tain days) and pre­vi­ous­ly reject­ed mate­r­i­al, just to see if we were awake. "Stand back," the first line would inevitably say, announc­ing the arrival of twen­ty-three or twen­ty-five or forty pages to fol­low in the fax machine. Soon there were phone calls from Deb­o­rah Fuller or Shel­by Sadler or Nicole Mey­er or anoth­er of his stal­wart assis­tants. We always spoke of "pages," as in "How many pages will we get tonight?" "We need more pages than that." "Can you get those pages marked up and back to Hunter?" Pages were the coin of the realm; mov­ing pages was our mis­sion. I would mark them up, make copies for Jann, and then send them back.

The issue for the mag­a­zine was nev­er that Hunter wasn't the fun­ni­est, clever­est, most hilar­i­ous writer, sen­tence to sen­tence or para­graph to para­graph. The editor's role was get­ting those sen­tences to pile up and then exhib­it for­ward momen­tum. (Hunter called this process "lash­ing them together.")

  • Heard about this from the fun­ny folks at The Morn­ing News. Thanks, guys.