Monthly Archives: September 2007

Richard Prince's Spiritual America

Richard Prince art

The big Guggenheim show of Richard Prince, entitled ‘Spiritual America’ is now up.

I hope to see it in person next month. I’ve seen the printed catalogue, which presents quite a nice selection of his appropriations and other works over the years. I’m quite a fan these days.

Here’s the NY Times on the show, by Roberta Smith.

Over the years, Mr. Prince has shown himself to be in touch with the same shamed, shameless side of America that gave us tell-too-much talk shows, reality TV and the current obsession with celebrity. Practically every last American could find something familiar, if usually a bit unsettling, in his work. If he were the Statue of Liberty, the words inscribed on his base might read: Give me your tired, your poor, but also your traveling salesmen and faithless wives; your biker girlfriends, porn stars, custom-car aficionados and wannabe celebrities; as well as your first-edition book collectors (of which he is one).

Ed Ruscha online


I found this nice site just recently, featuring images of Ed Ruscha’s entire catalogue, so far covering 1959-1992.

Take a look!

A Day in Haarlem

Haarlem - 1696

On Sunday I paid a visit to the city of Haarlem, which is just a short way west from Amsterdam. The market square looks remarkably similar to this view from 1696. I had a nice breakfast here outside by the church, then went to the Frans Hals Museum, which is housed in a former Alms House built for old men in the 1600s. (There was a display at the museum showing records of the lottery that was held to fund to building of the house, which led to sales of some 300,000 lottery tickets. Each entry was accompanied by a short rhyme, and they then read out the entries to determine some 600 winning entries.)

Frans Hals was a contemporary of Rembrandt, and his portraits seem quite modern. Especially his later paintings seem to point the way to the impressionists. Unfortunately even in the museum named after him there were not too many of his paintings there.

I also visited de Hallen, a museum in an old building on the market square that has modern works, currently with a group show up called “The Present Order is the Disorder of the Future”. There I most liked a short film called “Nummer Negen” (which means simply ‘number nine’; the subtitle is ‘The day I stopped turning with the world’) made just a few months ago at the North Pole, where the artist, Guido van der Werve, stood with his back continuously to the sun on a day in April this year. A photo was taken every six seconds for a twenty four hour period as the sun seems to do a complete circle around the sky. On the first viewing, I tended to look at the solitary man standing in place, but I began to appreciate the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) changes in the weather, the sky, the landscape, the lighting and shadows. The second viewing was very good; sample shot below.

Nummer Negen

Music in Utrecht

Record Planet

Today I had a chance to spend a little time just wandering in Utrecht, and was happy to find a number of music related venues. First I found a set of music stores on a small street near the train station; there are four stores all in a row called Boudisque, one for jazz, one classical, one rock/hip-hop, and one for DVDs. In the jazz store I found a flyer for the SJU Jazzpodium, a bar/club that has jazz and new music just about every night. I decided to go there tonight, to see a quartet led by Alison Isadora on violin, with drums, piano and sax. Not swinging at all, much more interested in textures and pacing it seemed like, but still some good passages.

I will probably try to make the Bennie Wallace show at Jazzpodium on Thursday.

I later found a small shop specializing in world music, and there found some flyers for RASA, a space in town which offers performances of all sorts of music. Right now they’re having an Ethiopian music festival, and they host shows most weekends. Next show I think I will try to make there is Brazilian Vinicius Cantuária playing on October 5.

Finally I note the Record and CD Fair shown above, November 17 & 18 in Utrecht – ‘Vinyl Capital of the World’ so they claim!

Turning Point – Robert Ayres (1998)

Turning Point - Ayres

Robert Ayres‘s 1998 book Turning Point covers a whole lot of ground, but focuses on the idea of economic growth; what drives it, where it takes us, etc.  What I found particularly interesting was that he places a pretty strong emphasis on the availability of cheap energy (fossil fuel) as an important factor in growth (and I definitely agree), which goes counter to most economic lore that somehow imagines energy as a product of capital and labor.

While I don’t have time to cover all the interesting bits of the book, and I’m not quite sure how the ‘economics establishment’ reacts to all of it, I’ll point out one argument that I think is excellent:

As I have noted earlier, mainstream economics tends to adopt an extremely optimistic stance in regard to questions of resource availability.  That is, it is an article of faith that, if any one material becomes scarce, another can be found to take its place at little if any increase in cost.  But, surprisingly and inconsistently, many of the same people who are optimistic about resource availability and cost become pessimists when it comes to whether there are technological opportunities to grow the economy and reduce environmental stress at the same time.  The standard argument is phrased like this: ‘If such opportunities really did exist, some entrepreneur would soon come along and take advantage of the opportunity to make money.’ (p. 159)

I think this is a great point.  We have to remember that every new idea, while it make look obvious in hindsight, takes time and effort and commitment and vision to implement, and the possibilities out there are virtually endless.

Ayres has a background in physics, which gives him a different view than standard economics.  Another line from the book: “The possibility of de-linking economic activity from energy and materials (“dematerialization”) has been one of the major themes of my professional career.”

Portland for Indie Rock 'retirement'


Just thought I’d stick a pointer over to Richard Florida’s site for a post on Portland and the indie rock music scene it increasingly supports.  Post is “Why Place Matters – to Music”.

Virtual 'Stuff'

Second Life image

Interesting article in yesterday’s Times on the virtual world Second Life, and the economy there: In a Virtual World, ‘Stuff’ Still Matters by Shira Boss.

To set the stage:

To have a Second Life, one needs a computer, the Second Life software, and a high-speed Internet connection. You use a credit card to buy Lindens, and Lindens earned during the game can be converted back into dollars via online currency exchanges. Players start by choosing one of the standard characters, called an avatar, and can roam the world by flying or “teleporting” (click and go). Nobody can go hungry, there is no actual need for warmer clothes or shelter, and there is much to do without buying Lindens.

What I found interesting were a couple items – the first here on some of the classic brands:

Big corporations like Toyota have set up islands in Second Life for marketing. Calvin Klein came up with a virtual perfume. Kraft set up a grocery store featuring its new products. But those destinations are not popular.

“These brands that have this real-world cachet are meaningless in Second Life, so most are ignored,” said Wagner James Au, who blogs and writes books about Second Life. “Just showing up and announcing ‘We’re Calvin Klein’ isn’t going to get you anywhere.”

I’m a bit curious as to why the brand reputation doesn’t necessarily work online…

And the second on the apparent lack of imagination, in a world where so much is possible.

But the more mundane items are what really drive the economy: clothes, gadgetry, night life, real estate. “People buy these huge McMansions in Second Life that are just as ugly as any McMansions in real life, because to them that is what’s status-y,” Mr. Wallace said. “It’s not as easy as we think to let our imaginations run wild, in Second Life or in real life.”

While my initial reaction was to find this kind of sad, I think it points out just how hard it is to imagine new worlds. And even if you can imagine something new, what are the chances that it ostracize you from others rather than connect you.

See also this earlier post on Julian Dibbell’s book Play Money

Winning brands!

Apple logo

Since I’ve done a couple posts on brands that seem to have problems, it’s time for a look at brands that are working.

I’d have to nominate Apple as perhaps the best branding job of recent years. Long known for their creativity in personal computers, I’d say they’ve established the brand as standing for “elegant technology” and are doing a great job at extending into new areas. The advertising is also elegant, supporting the brand nicely. (As for Microsoft, I’d have to say their brand image is more like “inelegant technology”).

Apple has gotten well into the digital music realm with iTunes and iPods, and they’re now going into telephony with the iPhone. As the recent kerfuffle on the price drop for the iPhone shows, it may not be as easy to win there as they thought – it’s a brutally competitive market. But in any case they’ve introduced significant re-thinking in the market and will be a player.

Thoughts on other brands doing a great job?

Spoon @ Crystal Ballroom – 6-Sept-2007

Spoon Ga Ga

Last night the 2007 MusicFestNW opened up, with pop heroes of the moment Spoon playing the Crystal Ballroom. I thoroughly enjoyed their set, probably an hour and a half, for the first hour just one tune after another, no fooling around.

Lead man Britt Daniel said that this time the rest of band had come to him here in Portland, and they had been rehearsing a good bit in the last week. They played most all of “Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga”, which despite the goofy name is a darn good pop record, one of the year’s best. They also featured the Honey Bear horns on six or seven numbers, borrowed from openers Black Joe Lewis out of Austin, TX.

Looks like Spoon is touring the U.S. for the next couple months, so check ’em out!

Other dying brands?

EMI logo

BMG logo

Something I’ve been thinking about lately – the branding in the recorded music business.  Does anyone really care about ‘brand identity’ and the like with regard to the big music labels?  Does anyone rush out to buy music because it’s the latest from EMI (for example)?

For one thing the big music labels put out such a variety of music that their customers are all over the map in terms of musical taste and demographics.

At certain times indie labels have had a certain identity:  SST in the early eighties, SubPop in the nineties, I’m sure there are small rap and electronic labels today that have an image.  I remember reading that the fact that Sonic Youth had signed to Geffen back in the early nineties gave a ‘thumbs up’ to the label, perhaps influencing Nirvana to sign with them.  So perhaps there is some value to having respected artists on a label in order to sign additional artists.

And recently I saw some article that talked about how consumers seemed to find that Columbia records had some sort of ‘good identity’ still (I think of it as the label of Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen).

But in general I just don’t see much value in these label brands (not to say that these companies don’t have power and influence).   I think that’s part of their problem, and why most people will not mind in the least if they disappear.  (Not to mention the piracy lawsuits!)