Human nature; that of a giant rock and my own.

Envy.

What a useless emotion. You can’t use it as motivating force. You can’t build or repair anything with it. It’s the leech of all emotions. And yet it’s an ingrained part of our human nature. Why hasn’t it been phased out via genetic selection? I just read an article that said the DNA of cockroaches has been altered so that sweetness is no longer an appealing flavor to them. They figured out that poisons are baited with sweetness, so over a few generations their molecular structure changed and they now avoid anything sweet. Brilliant! Why hasn’t envy been genetically torn out by its roots?

I walk up 6th Avenue and it seems that everyone swirling around me, darting in and out of expensive hotels and restaurants, riding by in hansom cabs, well manicured, well dressed, youthful, are all more successful, smarter, happier, together than I can ever hope to be.

I went to the drug store next to Carnegie Hall to buy eye drops. The druggist was chatting with a very pretty lady in front of me. They knew each other. She lives upstairs in Carnegie Towers. She’s back in New York from her home in St. Moritz. It wasn’t a boastful conversation. It was all perfectly civilized. They exchanged pleasantries. Seemed genuinely happy to see one another after a long separation. I felt a hole open in the floor and swallow me.

As I get older I realize that certain things are never going to happen for me. I envy the young and their wonderful naïve sense of limitlessness. I know this is all a terrible illusion but I have to acknowledge it. It’s a whispering voice. Human nature.

I feel the sense of possibility
I fee the wrench of hard reality
The focus is sharp in the city.

Peart

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My human nature feels a lot like Ugo Rondinone’s Human Nature exhibit looks. (Now through July 7th at Rockefeller Center.)

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Nine giant stone figures stand sentinel in the plaza.

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There’s something beautiful, sad and majestic about them.

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Each stone weighs around 30,000 pounds. They had to do an engineering study to insure that the exhibit didn’t crash through the sidewalk.

30 Rock, indeed.

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Old dog. New trick. Rollover!

I’ve been bored with everything recently, especially myself, but instead of spending the evening wallowing, I taught myself how to code a rollover of a photo. You young punks who are laughing because a rollover is coding 101 and you knew how to do it when you were 12-years old can all kiss my ass. It’s a minor miracle that I figured it out and I am in short supply of minor miracles, so I’ll take it.

One of Agatha Christie’s most popular titles is And Then There Were None. It’s been reprinted hundreds of times, made into plays, movies and even a point-and-click online game in 2005—more than 60 years after its publication!

And Then There Were None is NOT the original title of this book. It was once titled Ten Little Indians. But we live in a more enlightened time, so they gave it an innocuous title.

Actually…Ten Little Indians wasn’t the original title, either. Hover your pointer over the image (or, if you’ve got an iPhone, tap it) to reveal the true original, utterly shocking title.

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Good God in heaven! What was she thinking?! That’s a first edition that I saw at the recent Park Avenue Armory bookfair. Yours for only $12,000. The rollover functionality doesn’t work on some mobile devices. Get thee to a desktop and prepare for an outrage!

Voilà. Right before your unbelieving eyes.

I’ve seen some things.

While on a search-and-rescue mission down in Florida with the Coast Guard, our boat cut through a large school of flying fish. Dozens of silver fish with insect wings flew—flew— just above the surface of the water in every direction.

While in Las Vegas, I bought into a craps game with $100. I took the dice in my hand and rolled for :40 minutes without rolling a seven. I was surrounded by high rollers who made tens of thousands of dollars off of my good fortune. When I finally crapped out, a few of them tossed black chips to me as a tip.

But I’ve never seen anything more astonishing than the :90 minutes of magic performed by Steve Cohen at the Waldorf Astoria.

I’ve seen plenty of magicians over the years. Here in New York. Las Vegas. Atlantic City. Both big and small venues. Penn and Teller. Ricky Jay. Chris Angel. David Blaine. A whole slew of unknowns, too. You tend to see the same tricks performed with slight variations. I don’t mind the repetition as long as they’re executed cleanly and with some panache. I’m a bit of a magic snob, though. It’s become hard to impress me in my old age.

Steve Cohen’s Chamber Magic is an intimate, close-up show performed in a private suite at the Waldorf Astoria (an art deco masterpiece). It’s a quintessential New York City experience that harkens back to an era when people were entertained in their parlors. The audience is small. No children are allowed. In keeping with the surroundings and spirit of the evening, cocktail attire is required.

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I love close-up magic. With the audience sitting just a few feet away, only the ninja grand masters of misdirection can pull it off. All the tricks in Cohen’s show, save one, were new to me, so the show was remarkably fresh. It’s not padded with a lot of pedestrian, off-the-shelf tricks. There’s no let-up in the pacing. I’d love nothing more than to detail what I saw—or what I thought I saw—but that would be a disservice to Mr. Cohen and any of you who might be lucky enough to see his show. I’ll give you a taste and beg his pardon. If you know how this, or any of his tricks, are executed keep it to yourself. Don’t bother to post it in the comments section. It’ll be deleted unread. I don’t want to know. I NEVER want to know! I can assure you he doesn’t use audience plants because I participated and I’m not a plant.

How many times have you seen a magician take three large, silver rings, couple, and then uncouple them? It takes some dexterity but it’s a fairly common trick. Cohen’s version is more complex. He took my wedding ring and rings from two other audience members, dropped them into a wine glass, swirled them around and when he pulled them out they were linked together in a chain. He brought them over to me so I could confirm that it was my ring in the middle, with the other two linked to it. He then held the rings in his fist above the glass. Asked for quiet. We heard a *click* and my ring dropped out of his fist into the glass. He held up the two rings, which were now connected to one another. He held them in in fist, another click and they dropped in, separated. Amazing. And there’s plenty more where that came from, brothers and sisters.

I met him after the show. He’s an interesting chap. Fluent in Japanese. Lived in Japan and worked as an interpreter for the Japanese government. He obtained a degree in psychology from Cornell which, he said, helps with his magic. The magic bug bit him at age six when his beloved uncle showed him a few tricks. His audience has included titans of business, politics, entertainment, royalty and, most recently, your humble unbearableness.

See that kettle? That’s Think-a-Drink. Guess what it pours? Whatever the hell you tell it to. It defies the laws of time and nature. Needs to be seen to be believed.

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Twilight on Park Avenue. The Waldorf Astoria on the left flying the South Korean flag, the Helmsley Building front and center and MetLife (née Pan Am) behind that.

Grab your paddles! It’s auction time!

It’s time for the semi-annual Impressionist and Modern Art auction at Christie’s. Obviously, I cannot afford to spend tens of millions of dollars on art, but what I can do is attend the auction preview and, best of all, pass judgement on the work.

The vast majority of these pieces are being passed from one private collector to another. They’ve never been seen in public and after the auction, they won’t ever be seen again. They’ll hang above some swell’s mantelpiece. I’ve provided the pre-auction estimates and have included the prices realized where available. There’s lots to cover so let’s get busy!

Two by Edward Hopper. I like Hopper a lot. I know a lot of art aficionados sneer and lump him in the “pretty picture” category, but does anyone depict sunlight better than Hopper? Nay. I don’t see many Hoppers at these auctions. There’s always a gaggle of Warhols,  Lichtensteins, Picassos, etc., but not so many Hoppers.

 

Blackwell’s Island. $15,000,000 – 20,000,000. That’s a lot but it’s a big piece. 35 x 60 in.
Sold for $19,163,750
Kelly Jenness House. $2,000,000 – 3,000,000. The master of shadows, too. Sold for $4,155,750

Look at this beauty by Matisse. The red! You won’t see this in any Matisse exhibit catalogue.

Jeune femme assise en robe grise. I’ll say. $5,000,000 – 7,000,000. Sold for $4,939,750

Here’s the obligatory Monet. If you press your face close to the painting, you can see that he did a very nice job with the surface of the water. The frames on these Monets are always quite gaudy.

Argenteuil, fin d’apres-midi. $5,000,000 – 7,000,000. Sold for $6,059,750

Here’s a delicious sculpture by Degas. It took my breath away when I turned the corner. She’s not attached to the wall. That’s a shadow trick. She’s on a pedestal, where she belongs.

Grande erabesque, troisieme temps. $600,000 – 800,000. Is that ALL? Where’s my paddle? Sold for $1,203,750

There are several works by Picasso being offered. Boy, was that guy prolific! Here are two that I like. Please don’t ask me why I like some Picassos, but not all. That’s a question to be explored by the boors who write for ARTNews.

Broc et Verre. $2,000,000 – 3,000,000. I like the piano keys. Did not sell.
Buste d’homme a la pipe. £900,000 – 1,200,000. It’s painted on a piece of corrugated cardboard. The ribbing looks cool. Vibrant.

Here’s another Picasso—oh, no…wait—that’s Roy Lichtenstein ripping off Picasso. That guy ripped off a lot of people. He ripped off the entire comic book industry. Made a bazzillion dollars doing it, too. Pretty fucking lazy, but I don’t mind too much.

Woman with Flowered Hat. Estimate on Request, but an internet search turned up $12,000,000 – 16,000,000. Why the big secret? Sold for $56,123,750. Ripping off other artists pays.
Nude with Yellow Flower. $12,000,000 – 16,000,000. I think she’s a shot of hot pop. Sold for $23,643,750

Speaking of pop, here’s a quarto of Andy’s flowers.

Flowers. $6,000,000 – 9,000,000. Sold for $8,411,750

These haunted, hollow eyes are by Kees Van Dongen. I dated this girl once. I’m not kidding. She was a firecracker in bed but I was paranoid that I’d wake up one morning to find her standing over me clutching a Ginsu knife in her fist, so I had to break it off.

La femme au collier vert. $3,000,000 – 5,000,000. Sold for $2,587,750

Finally, here’s something by Clyfford Still. Man, I love this piece. This photo doesn’t do it any justice. It’s more vibrant in person and you can’t see all the beautiful textures that are layered on the canvas.

PH-1. $15,000,000 – 20,000,000. $20 mil! That’s what I’m talking about! You’d think for that kind of money he’d have put some thought into the title. Did not sell.
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Now for the fun part. The crap. I’ll go easy this time. This is the stuff that I wouldn’t hang in Coco’s sleeping crate. Proof positive that tremendous wealth is a lousy barometer for good taste.

Here’s some very large, very expensive CRAP-OLA by Jean-Michel Basquiat. I have tried over and over again to understand and appreciate his work but the well of comprehension is bone dry. Here, he tries his hand at using pretty colors.

Dustheads. $25,000,000 – 35,000,000. Not a typo. Sold for $48,843,750. Not a typo.
Ribs Ribs. $3,000,000 – 5,000,000. Ach. So ugly and lifeless. Sold for $5,163,750. Suckers.

William DeKooning, once again, pulling the wool over the eyes of the art world. Gross.

Woman (Blue Eyes). $12,000,000 – 16,000,000. Sold for $19,163,750
I like Francis Bacon. I always have. Baroness Thatcher called him “that horrible man.” That’s good enough for me! But just because you admire someone’s work, it doesn’t mean you have to love EVERY piece. I don’t see any merit in this one.
Study for Portrait. $18,000,000 – 25,000,000. Did not sell. Told ya.
Ditto Picasso. Nice stuff, but not this one. She has flounder eyes.
Femme assise dans un fauteuil.  £4,000,000 – 6,000,000. I’m so fickle. I posted this pic early in the day. Now that I’ve taken a second look while doing the captions, I’ve changed my mind. I like it.
I think I’m getting sick of looking at these Warhol Mao paintings. In fact, I think I might be getting sick of Warhol.
Mao. $3,000,000 – 4,000,000. Sold for $6,283,750
Oh, my.
Gerhard Richter. Abstrakts Bild, Dunkel. $14,000,000 – 18,000,000. Pure SHITE. Sold for $21,963,750. Suckers part deux. 
*     *     *

Let’s imagine you can take one of these home with you. Which one? Remember, you have to look at it every day.

We’re off to never never-land

…and that title is from? Wait…here’s a hint.

I was walking through Union Square on my way to meeting and drinking and I stumbled across the sandman. This is Joe Mangrum. He uses sand to create intricate designs.

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He pours colored sand through his hand. The piece lasts until the wind and weather say that’s enough.

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I chatted him up a bit. He started around 2:30 that afternoon and I walked by around 5:30. I mentioned that it reminded me of a mandala. He said he prefers to call them sand paintings. He feels that mandala is a quasi-religious eastern term that might box-in his work and alienate potential customers. He’s absolutely right, you know. It’s all about branding.

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It looked like painstaking, back-breaking work. The crowds were appreciative and respected his space. Check out that red. It really makes the work pop.

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*      *      *

I sat next to this brick to read. Guys like this used to take my lunch money away when I was in junior high school. Tattooed neck. Piercings. Big stomping shoes. A steely look in the eye. Doesn’t smile easily.

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Except that most of them would not have used a teddy bear iPhone cover or painted their fingernails black.

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*     *     *

After the sandman and my junior high flashback, I met two former colleagues for margaritas. We wanted to practice for Cinco de Mayo. I got a little drunk. I’m not a drinker and don’t treat myself to a proper sousing very often. It’s not my thing. It never really was. I was always more of a narcotic guy. I snobbishly thought that narcotics were more elegant and had more panache than alcohol. Can you imagine? What idiots we are in our youth.

I hadn’t planned on a dunking (especially, it being a Tuesday) but we started talking and laughing and that always leads to another round, doesn’t it? Two guys and one girl. The conversation is different than if it had been three guys. This is my preferred configuration. Girls are fun. Each round peeled away another layer of reserve. The conversation pinged between hilarious anecdotes and deep intimacies. You can’t plan evenings like this, folks. They unfold unexpectedly, happily.

The restaurant had this cool little diver sculpture against a lighted blue background.

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As a matter of fact, there were a bunch of them.

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Actually, there was an entire wall of them.

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