David Lynch at the Milan Triennale: The Air is on Fire

Congratulations to Triennale President Davide Rampello for bringing to Milan (until Jan. 13, 2008) this exhibition of David Lynch‘s paintings, drawings, photographs and early experimental and animation shorts. Organized by the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, curated and installed by Lynch himself, The Air is on Fire is the largest retrospective ever to focus on Lynch’s art outside cinema, digging among other things into two black folders containing a lifetime’s worth of sketches, doodles and notes.

Fans will recall that Lynch studied art in Washington and Boston; after a short interlude in Europe (he was meant to stay for three years, studying painting with Oskar Kokoschka, but returned to the United States after 15 days, apparently upset by the neatness and cleanliness he encountered in Salzburg), Lynch attended the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. He then stumbled into the movies more or less by accident, and the rest is history (of cinema).

Walking through this exhibition is a bit like sitting through INLAND EMPIRE, but, at your choice, shorter. Lynch’s paintings look like they’ve been made by a terminally traumatized child of Anselm Kiefer and Louise Bourgeois, extensively trained in Art Brut technique and living in a dark attic where the main pastime is invoking Jean-Michel Basquiat’s comeback from his grave. Lynch’s photographs carry echoes of Hans Bellmer and Max Ernst. His sketches belie a fine draftsman. His presentation of the works is deliberately neither chronological nor thematic, following only his imperscrutable inner logic.


Paola’s Facebook account valued at $306; Microsoft pays $240m for a 1.6% share

Since I am one of Facebook’s 49 million active users, it looks like I’ve just made Mark Zuckerberg and his pals five bucks richer (but I am implicitly being valued at over 300 bucks). I ought to be feeling good about it. After all, if I am somehow generating $3 of revenue for Facebook this year (the company’s top line is rumored to be about $150 million in 2007), and my lifetime value is 100 times that, and I don’t think I’ll ever use Facebook more than I’ve used it this year, it means that I am going to live until I am almost 140 years old and add about 10,000 more friends. That’s called scaling.

Get Facebook to 490 million users at some point in the future, though (not unlikely given current growth rates), and the burden I’m carrying decreases. I only have to spend 10 more years on Facebook and add 1,000 more friends.

That’s a relief: I’m looking forward to having time left over for doing other stuff with my life.

Vandalism or Dada? Red water in the Trevi Fountain

A mysterious group calling itself “Futurist Action” poured a bucket of red stuff in the Trevi Fountain in Rome yesterday (more pictures here and here). The unknown perpetrator left behind a stack of flyers explaining that the gesture is meant to criticize the waste of taxpayers’ money to subsidize mayor Veltroni’s Rome Film Fest this week, and ranting on about various ills of today’s society.

There is no permanent damage to the fountain, which has already been washed out and refilled with clear water. Of course we ought to protect our cultural heritage and have tough laws against vandalism, and of course the far-right anti-market pseudopolitical subtext in the futurist flyer is bonkers. But I can’t help appreciating the subversive creativity of the gesture, and in this I find myself in unusual and uncomfortable agreement with art critic Vittorio Sgarbi, who reportedly said “I can’t condemn the gesture: a bit of color in a sleeping city.”

UPDATE (Wednesday Oct. 24): journalists and bloggers are still in a lively debate over the episode. Here are a few links for each side of the debate (in Italian):

“It’s vandalism”: Manteblog, Leonardo.

“It’s art”:  Cristina Tagliabue, La vita istruzioni per l’uso, Prudentino (but with ambiguity – maybe it’s satire).

Fun with books: “1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die”

I’ve had quite a few evenings of fun with friends by playing the 1000 Places To See Before You Die game. It is quite a simple game: one person opens Patricia Schultz’s book at a random page, reads out the name of the location that is reviewed on that page, and if you’ve been there, you get one point. Whoever has the most point when people are falling asleep on the sofa at the end of the evening is the winner.

I am now looking forward to playing the game with 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, edited by Peter Boxall. It is the sort of glossy coffee-table book that you can criticize from almost any angle: too Anglo-American, too skewed towards the last couple of centuries, too heavy on pictures and not enough on substance, too intellectual, too commercial, whatever. I’ll say one thing in defense of the editors: they decided to focus on a specific form of the “book” category, the novel (while making a small number of exceptions for short story collections). If one tries to select 1001 novels, then by definition the list has no Aeschylus, no Seneca, no Dante, no Chaucer, no Machiavelli, no Shakespeare. (Boccaccio, though, should have been there – Aesop, Ovid, Apuleius and The Thousand and One Nights all make the cut in the pre-1700s category).

So, we have a list of 1001 novels, or story collections; of these, 67 have appeared in print since 2000. And even of these, running my own quick stats, I’ve read fewer than half; I haven’t yet ventured out to measure how abysmally I perform on the 1800s and 1900s. The chief use of such books, no matter how imperfect, is to become uncomfortably aware of one’s own ignorance. And because time isn’t infinite, the memento mori in the title is quite appropriate.

I am often drawn to the minor work by a favorite author, the self-help bestseller of the season, the introverted essay collection, the trashy airport paperback. But for each one of these I read, I don’t get to read one Great Novel. What do you say, my readers? Should I better contain my airport-paperback urges and discipline myself to catch up on some more of those 1001 books?

“If you’ve got a book inside, it’s really not a bad idea to keep it there”: Carole Cadwalladr on the Frankfurt Book Fair

Writer and journalist Carole Cadwalladr reports from the Frankfurt Book Fair for The Guardian. And what she sees there ain’t pretty.

To put this in context: I find it amazing that the Fair has over 300,000 visitors, and it’s about books. The Genoa International Boat Show had about the same number, but a tiny percentage were the superrich who could actually afford the boats on show there, and all the others were, well, ogling the same boats with wishful longing. The Milan International Furniture Fair this spring had about 200,000 visitors – and keep in mind that everybody needs furniture, while not everybody needs books; on the contrary, hardly anybody does.  So why do 300,000 people get so excited about a book fair?

The book publishing industry, while retaining some glamour (and definitely not on par with huge sailboats or design kitchens), is at the end of the day quite a small industry – and it’s strangled in cheap and abundant supply. The work of agents and publishers is to stem the huge tide of supply for which there is no demand; top agents do not read unsolicited manuscripts, and publishers tellingly refer to such manuscripts as the “slush pile”. “You look around and you think the world needs another book like it needs a hole in the head”, says an agent in Cadwalladr’s article. To be a writer, says an editor, is “a sort of mental derangement”. Perhaps some day the heroes of the publishing world will be the people who drum up demand for books, rather than trying to contain supply: not the marketers, but the teachers or parents who show their kids the joy of reading.

In the meantime, if you’ve got a book inside you, it’s not a bad idea to keep it there.