The Real Election

November 15, 2008

Today is Municipal election day in British Columbia.   These are the least supported elections compared to the already low turnout for Provincial and Federal elections; and that’s crazy really, because it is the municipalities that have the greatest effect on our day to day living.

It is the municipalities that determine our house taxes, that collect our garbage, that operate our libraries and community centres, that control how our schools are run, that fix our streets and set parking policies, that control zoning and planning permissions, that regulate taxis and businesses.  In Vancouver and a few others, they operate a police force, too.  If we could only get the voters to see that their best interests are best protected by their participation at the local and municipal level; then we could facilitate change that directly affected people’s everyday lives.

Provincial and Federal levels of government are the super-structures erected by the elite to draw power away from the people.  The municipalities are where individuals can claim back that power.  So go vote!

Anyway, with all that being said, this voting business in Vancouver is an exhausting process!  You only have to vote once for Mayor, so that’s easy enough.  But then there are 10 Councillor, 9 Parks Board and 7 School Trustee positions to choose.  And even when you’ve plowed through those, you turn over the ballot paper and find yet another four propositions to vote on!   No wonder they have seats at all the voting booths;  you are going to be there a while.

The Economy Gives Retail A Malling

November 12, 2008

Earlier this summer, I wrote about the proliferation of empty malls around the world.  Now it seems, in North America at least, that problem could soon get worse.  General Growth Properties Inc., the USA’s second-largest mall operator, is close to bankruptcy.

Chicago-based General Growth Properties said in an SEC filing late Monday that it has $900 million of property secured debt and $58 million of corporate debt coming up for renewal by Dec. 1. It also faces another $3.07 billion in debt that matures in 2009.   But “given the continued weakness of the retail and credit markets,” the mall operator fears it may not be able to refinance its loans at lower rates to meet its short-term cash needs … “Our potential inability to address our 2008 or 2009 debt maturities in a satisfactory fashion raises substantial doubts as to our ability to continue as a going concern,” the company said in the filing. Shares of General Growth Properties tumbled 66% to 46 cents on Tuesday.

General Growth properties are in 44 States, including the Paramus Park Mall in New Jersey, Cumberland Mall in Atlanta, Water Tower Place in Chicago and the Glendale Galleria in California.  And they are not alone in this time of trouble as several other large mall operators have significant debt coming up for renewal at the end of 2008 and early 2009.  Store vacancies at regional malls are up 6.6%, the largest increase since early 2002, according to real estate research firm Reis.

We could well be facing the prospect of some major city malls becoming empty echoing hangars.  The real problem is what do you replace them with?  Most downtown malls, at least, are huge spaces embedded in the physical infrastructure on and below our streets.  We cannot simply knock them down and replace them with parks or other amenities. Maybe we could at least use them as homeless shelters in the winter.

A Good Dinner

November 11, 2008

OK, OK, I’ll boast about dinner tonight.

The other day I found a broccoli recipe on Amateur Gourmet that seemed different.  I love broccoli AND it’s good for us, so I was up for it.   First, I prepared a version of Poulet Normande — chicken pieces dusted in cornstarch, sauteed in good oil until lightly coloured, added a chopped onion and cooked until done, then added chopped apples and a good amount of thyme, and finally cooked for another four minutes or so.   I deglazed the chicken pan with apple juice, reduced it thoroughly and poured it over the chicken/apple mix.  I served it with butter-drenched small boiled potatoes, and the wonderful baked broccoli and garlic tossed with lots of lemon juice and a good handful of Parmesan cheese.

Simple but tasty and balanced.  A keeper.

Marketing and Distribution

November 11, 2008

Marketing and distribution are key elements of any successful retail strategy.  And the sale of art is no different.  Adam Neate is finding solutions to both by very publicly giving away hundreds of his works.


Art worth an estimated £1m is being given away by one of the world’s leading street artists, Adam Neate, in an exhibition that will see 1,000 pieces deposited across the capital and left for whoever wishes to take them.  In recent years Neate’s work has graced the fashionable Elms Lesters Painting Rooms in London, yet his roots lie in creating paintings and sculptures designed for urban locations. And this Friday’s Street Art Action marks a return to that way of working – only now his pieces fetch up to £43,000 each. The action will begin before dawn, when helpers will begin distributing the hand-painted pieces on the outskirts of the city, moving inwards towards the city centre as the day goes on … Each piece will be autographed, so anyone who stumbles upon an original artwork on Friday, or on subsequent days, will know whether or not the piece is an Adam Neate original.

It is certainly a nice thought, to give back, to remove art from the marketplace.  I guess I need to be a little less cynical about motives.

Synchronizing the Details

November 10, 2008

A century or more ago when I was in my early teens at school, I recall going caving with my class on more than one occasion.  England’s West Country is riddled with wonderful nooks and crannies if you can get over the early stages of claustrophobia.   I remember not being too impressed with stalactites and stalagmites and such like.   Luckily, others had more sense.

monsoon-climate-change-chinese_21Via, I learn of work that has been done on a stalagmite in Wanxiang Cave, China, that allows researchers to figure out the detailed climatic conditions back more than a thousand years at intervals of just 2.5 years.  In particular, they can pick out the drought of the ninth century that seems to have contributed to the collapse both of the Tang Empire in China and of the Mayans in the Americas. The researchers have also found evidence of low rainfall at the times of the end of the Yuan and Ming dynasties.

In all cases it seems, the carrying capacities of their agricultural systems couldn’t handle the pressures caused by years of low rainfall, and the civilizations crashed.

We usually look at the histories of empires, their rise and fall, as a confluence of human emotions, power, technology, military advantage, economics.  We often forget that climate is a truly global player that can cause history-changing effects simultaneously on both sides of the globe; effects that no human power has yet figured out how to tame.

Have Gun, Will Travel

November 10, 2008

America’s a tough town.  And what better way to face the challenges than to start the day with an egg in the shape of an automatic pistol?

gun-egg-fryers-urban-trend2Only in America, eh?

You Know You’re In Trouble When ….

November 9, 2008

… the credit crisis disrupts the annual white truffle sale in Tokyo.  As Bloomberg’s reports:

truffle“An 850-gram white truffle from northern Italy sold for 24,000 euros ($30,900) at the 10th Annual World Alba White Truffle Auction in Tokyo last night. By weight, that’s 84 percent less than the $330,000 Macau casino billionaire Stanley Ho paid for a 1.5 kilogram truffle last year.

The auction, held simultaneously in Tokyo and the Italian towns of Grinzane Cavour and Merano, raised a combined 118,000 euros for various charities, including the United Way and victims of the September bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad. A similar charity auction last year raised $453,000.”


November 9, 2008


“Surf” (2008), acrylics on canvas, 24″ x 36″

This Sporting Life #4

November 9, 2008

This is a great time of year for an armchair jock like me.  Football (soccer) and hockey seasons have been going for a few weeks now, there have been some important cricket matches in sunnier climes, and the Fall basho began just yesterday in Koyushu.

aminishikiThe great sumo champion Asashoryu seems to be confirming negative views of his fading career by withdrawing from this basho because of an injury.  That news seemed to leave fellow yokozuna Hakuho with an easy path to his 9th Emperor’s Cup.  The main interest for this tournament was to see if our favourite, Ama, the smallest rikishi in the sport’s senior ranks, could gain 11 wins out of the 15 bouts and thus win promotion to ozeki.  But then came last night’s opening.   Ama won a challenging first fight against Kotoshogiku.  But Hakuho found himself floored by the popular though erratic Aminishiki.  Hometown favourite ozeki Kaio lost too, as did ozeki Kotooshu (confirming, perhaps, the belief that his Cup victory in May was a lucky blip).  Even after just one day, this basho already seems excitingly unpredictable and open for a surprise victor.

nhl_g_luongo_580In the NHL, our beloved Canucks started the season with a series of victories. They then slumped, but now, after last night’s game, and due in no small part to three straight shutouts by goaltender Roberto Luongo, they lead the Northwest Division.   They are an exciting, attacking team with 48 goals already, and from a wide range of players.  Whatever changes GM Mike Gillis wanted in the team, coach Alain Vigneault seems to be delivering.  If only he could have been half this positive last year!

Over in England, Chelsea still march forward, leading the Premier League with an incredible +25 goal difference.  With Manchester United losing yet again today, only Liverpool stand in the way of total domination!  [Reader Alert: cliche-ridden sentence to follow:] But there’s a long way to go in the season yet,  we have to take it one game at a time, believe in ourselves and give 110%.

Landscape 4

November 8, 2008


“Landscape 4” (2008), Powerpoint to TIFF, 24″ x 24″

A Bad Night For Christies

November 6, 2008

The Fall auction circuit continued last night with a disastrous outing at Christies New York.

The auction house had put together similar materials from two well-known collections — the Lawrence Collection and the Hillman Collection — into a show called “The Modern Age”.  The rumours are that, in the summer when life was different, Christies had given the Lawrence Family a significant price guarantee.  However, only about $50 million was raised against pre-sale minimum estimates of more than $100 million, and 17 lots out of 58 failed to sell.  One wonders just how much this show must have cost Christies.

“The estimates were from an earlier time, and the market has changed now,” said Christopher Burge, honorary chairman of Christie’s in America and the evening’s auctioneer.

The highlight of the Lawrence pieces was supposed to be Mark Rothko’s “No. 43 (Mauve)” but no-one bit at the opening $10 million suggestion, not at any lower price indeed, even though the estimate was $20 million to $30 million — a very big hole in the sale’s expectations.  Other major failures were a Cezanne watercolour ($4m to $6m) and a $12m to $18m Manet.

chiricoThere were some successes:  Magritte’s “Empire of the Lights” sold at $3.1m, just above its high estimate, while Lucian Freud’s portrait of George Dyer (at $6m) and Fernand Leger’s “Study For A Nude Model” (at $2.9m) both sneaked (barely) over their lower estimates.  And, in a perfect illustration that estimates do not mean the same as reserves, one lucky buyer picked up a Toulouse-Lautrec for $4.4 million.  The estimates had been between $6 million and $8 million.  Someone got lucky!

The big sale of the show was Giorgio de Chirico’s “Metaphysical Composition“, a bizarre still life (see image on right), that sold for $6.1m, just above its minimum estimate.

There had been grumblings about the quality of the catalog (“Mutton dressed as lamb,” complained one critic) and even some specific comments about the condition of the Rothko, for example.  But still, this was clearly another example of the current market crisis affecting the art-buying wealthy.  I continue to read “experts” who suggest that the art market is not at all affected by the current recession, but I think they are wrong.

A Natural High

November 4, 2008


54 Stories of Old Ireland

November 3, 2008


54 Stories of Old Ireland” (2003-2008), TIFF, 20″ x 16″

Click on the image for a better view.

The Sale Ends

November 3, 2008

renoirSince our last report, a $2 million Chagall, a $10 million Cezanne, another $3 million Pissarro, and a $20 million Monet all failed to sell.  Renoir’s beautiful Portrait de Nini made $5.5 million, within the estimates range, but his portrait of Louise Benzel made only $3.4 million, more than half a million below the low estimate.

The Surrealists were, quite rightly, all over the place.  A delightful Dali miniature sold for $542,500 (see image left), well within its estimate, but a strange little statue of his failed to sell.  A Klee was below estimate, but a Jean Arp work and one by Rene Magritte both climbed above the minimum bar.

daliThe second half of the evening didn’t see any improvement for Picasso.  His Nus Masculins sold for $1.8 million, well under the $2 million pre-sale minimum estimate, and Le Modele dans l’atelier was bought in.

A total of $224 million was paid — and a quarter billion can’t be a bad haul in these straitened times.  But still, a lot of canvas didn’t get on the moving van.  The catalogued minimum for the show didn’t include the Malevich (sold for $60 million), Munch’s Vampire ($38m.) or Danseurs au repos ($37m.)  Deducting those amounts from the take leaves just $89 million actual against the minimum estimate of $218 million for the balance of the catalogue.  Not so great.

Update: The New York Times today has a review of the sale that comes to much the same conclusions as me.  However, it includes good details about price guarantees the auction house has to honour to its cost, and the “irrevocable bid” — the only bid, in fact — that pushed Malevich to such heights.


The Sale Begins

November 3, 2008

The Impressionist and Modern Art Sale at Sothebys in New York has just begun.  And the Henti Matisse that started the sale went for $902,000, well positioned within the range of pre-sale estimates.   So far so good.

The next three lots (Kandinsky, Vlaminck and Beckman with a minimum aggregate estimate of $6.5m) seemed not to have sold.  A small Picasso with a pre-sale estimate of $6m – $8m hammered out just below $5m.  But then….

A work called “Supremacist composition” by Kasimir Malevich has sold for $60 million!   It had a pre-sale estimate that was not made public, so I guess they knew something like this was likely to happen.  Extraordinary for a work of this type (see image at right).

A $7m – $10m Van Gogh just went by without selling, as did a $1.5m estimate Sisley.   Some Monets are up next.

Two Monets, a Pissarro and the first of the Degas fetched at or just below their minimum estimates.  But Degas’ Danseuse au repos fetched $37m against a private estimate.  Two more Degas have just come in a touch below expectations, and two others, with minimum estimates of $10.5m to $14m went unsold.

These failures were followed by another Monet and another Pissarro, both of which hammered down at about 10% below minimum estimates.   This seems to be about the level this sale is reaching.   I wonder if the Malevich was a surpise or expected or whether it, too, failed to meet its private expectations (hard to imagine at $60m for a non-household name).

Edvard Munch’s evocative Vampire has sold for $38m.  The pre-sale estimate was private, so it is hard to guage the success of this particular lot (see image at left).

A colourful still life by Matisse ($8m to $10m) went unsold, but Toulouse-Lautrec’s Bal masque made $4.5m, half a million above its minimum estimate.

The big Modigliani is up next with an estimate of between $18m and $25m.    But — it passes unsold, along with a $6m Picasso, a $12m-$18m Matisse, and a $7m Giacometti.

The Picasso’s also continue to under-perform, with Bouteille de bass et verre missing the $1.2m minimum by almost $300,000, while a Matisse portrait of a woman sitting has crept $200,000 over its $4m minimum.

Now there are three works by Boris Grigoriev that, together have done rather against estimates.  The first made $3.7m (estimated $2.5-3.5m), the second $3.2m ($4 -6m), and the third $1.1m ($600,000-800,000).

…continuing coverage…

The Assassination of Painting

November 3, 2008

I have to be honest up front and say that I have never liked or appreciated the work of Joan Miro.  However, the critical analysis surrounding a major new show — “Joan Miró: Painting and Anti-Painting 1927-1937” — at MOMA, New York, has done its work and gotten me interested.

The exhibition illustrates, step by step, exactly how Miró stalked and attacked painting — zapped its conventions, messed up its history, spoiled its market value — through 12 distinct groups of experimental works produced over a decade. If, in the end, painting survived, that’s neither here nor there. The story’s the thing. Crisp, clear and chronological, the show reads like a combination of espionage yarn and psychological thriller set out in a dozen page-turning chapters,

says Holland Cotter in the New York Times.  The first seven pieces in the show display Miro getting rid, more or less, of paint.   The next set shows what Cotter calls the elimination of “skill”:

The wood panel used as a support in a piece called “Spanish Dancer I” is covered with a sheet of colored paper. A small rectangle of plain sandpaper is tacked on top of it. Glued to the sandpaper is a tiny cutout image of a woman’s shoe. That’s about it: no paint, almost no image, almost no artist.

Cotter notes additional series seemingly aimed at destroying standard notions of art history, collages and sculpture.

By 1934, collage, assemblage, drawing and painting had blurred together into freakish hybrids that seem products less of objective experiment than of pathological obsession. Two drawing-collages on reflective paper from this time have an unhinged, fun-house look. A third, of uncertain date, combines ripped paper-doll figures with tied-on cardboard paint tubes resembling cartridge shells. The whole piece looks derelict and must have even when new.

Another set of over-sized pastels are followed by colourful painted miniatures.  Then:

He makes just one more murderous lunge at tradition, in a series of paintings on Masonite panels from 1936. The attack is very physical and feels a bit desperate. In many ways this series brings him back to 1927. The pictures are abstract; he leaves the Masonite surface mostly bare. But what he adds has changed: oil stains, vomitlike substances and fecal-looking hunks of tar and dirt. In addition he hacks away at the surface, stabbing and gouging and leaving deep ruts and splintery scars.

Cotter makes an interesting point:  As durability was one of the attributes that Miro struggled against, one has to wonder whether he expected or wanted any of these works to actually survive.

The critic completes the exhibition and declares it a marvelous tour de force.  It is not

the blockbuster slog but the experience of one artist’s creative process and the experience of an exhibition as a form of thinking. Like reading a book, the process makes you part of the trip, not just a witness to it. In this case the trip is fairly demanding but one I suspect that audiences with even a casual interest in how art is conceived and made will enjoy.

He is probably right.  I would enjoy the show for what I can learn about technique and meaning rather than from a new enjoyment of the works themselves (which I still don’t like).  And it is hard to ask more of an exhibition than that.


November 1, 2008

“4-shadow” (2008), PowerPoint to Photoshop to TIFF image, 16″x20″