Food, Lots of It


Italy has a reputation for being, at least in some capacity, one of the food capitals of the world. This title of honor comes in no small way from the hoards of American tourists who have never had pasta cooked “al dente”, or tomatoes grown less than five hundred miles from the kitchen they’re cooking in. The truth about Italy is that for what it does, it does it best, but I’d like to try and briefly dispel some of the mythology of Italian cuisine, based on my very brief tenure in this country.


First of all, let’s give some praise. The fruit, the vegetables, the meats and the breads are all phenomenal. You can walk into the shittiest, little Aldi of a supermarket and find quality reserved for the front page of the New York Times food section. It’s perverted. And even more startling is that it’s astonishingly cheap. Granted, I’m cheap. I’ve biked miles to save 75 cents on a forty of malt liquor that is wildly inexpensive to begin with, but even without my a-penny-saved mentality you can eat like a prince on very little. For dinner I often do a couple l’ettos ( 200-300 grams) of olives, some rossetti, fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and a bottle of wine for a little under four euro. Let’s do a little comparison. 


You’re hungry, and for whatever reason, you’re in my house. So you hit up Popex at 24th and Cecil B. for their infamous “cheesesteak platter”, a rather un-sumptuous styrofoam box containing a totally superb steak that is at least partially interned in the gross amount of french fries that within minutes turn soggy from the grease bath they were prematurely pulled from. There is ketchup however, and that hangover you’re suffering talks a wee bit louder than the rumbling from your intestines. Whatever, you spent 3.50 and probably ingested about as much salt and fat as the cardiology wing at a standard hospital. Now for a touch of malt liquor.


You head around the corner to Shin’s, one of several Asian deli’s in the neighborhood, but the only one where the owner’s have hired a larger local to bag your groceries, or in our case, beer. Our friend, the bag boy, serves a second and equally important purpose removing costumers whose addictions have caused them to disrupt the otherwise pleasant atmosphere; a primary reason I go to Shin’s and not Tek Goodluck Inc. across the street, where I have witnessed horrors reserved for alleyways in Jalalabad. Here at Shin’s, unlike Popex, you find a vast array of options. For those feeling a bit less thrifty there are many mediocre beers that come in cans of the entire Roy G. Biv variety. I however, unless motivated by some unusual company or favorable occasion, tend to stick with either a forty of Hurricane High Gravity at 8.2% for 2.65, or when feeling especially self destructive opt for a 24 of Axehead at 11% for 1.65. Let’s say I cheap out ( I usually cheap out ) and buy the Axehead, I have now gotten close to as much food and booze as in my grocery run for about 5.15 USD. Adjust the 4 euros to dollars and you’re looking at a little more than 5 dollars, or a fairly equal price.


There are of course some inaccuracies in my comparison, mostly beginning with the fact that I do not regularly dine on the cheese steak platter, as the nutritional value is comparable to several teaspoons of crisco. That being said, it does serve the indelible purpose of quick, cheap and close. The marvel of Italy, or at least my experience here, is that quick, cheap and close has manifested itself in an absurdly decadent spread of mediterranean fare. So yes, all the “best” this-or-thats that every person who has ever stepped foot in Italy recalls through a sort of prophetic psalm are in fact true. 


Here’s where the problem occurs.


I’m willing to accept that I come from total privilege, and in no way is that more apparent than in the food my loving parents have spoiled me with. Despite a deep appreciation for bodega’s that have every license taped to the wall, insisting you won’t get sick from the unreasonably cheap food, my palette has more depth. And in Philadelphia, I’ve been given a food lovers paradise. Every type of restaurant you could ever dream of lives in some way in Philly; the big, boisterous fish houses; the quiet sushi bars; the hip gastro pub; ethnic cuisine from fried rice to curry to quesadillas; it’s here and it’s a fucking orgasm. 


So I’m completely spoiled. I love the diversity of flavors and the way that the cultural stew has leaked into so many kitchens in Philadelphia. I was raised on home cooked Chinese, Indian, Italian, French and Spanish foods, that despite my fairly wonder bread genetic build, would become my version of homestyle and continue into the menu I cook for myself. This is where a little bit of culture shock has definitely kicked in.


I’m going to make a bit of a an oversimplification, but I’m employing my artistic license for just a moment. Italians only eat Italian food. I’m sure there are some gastronomers walking around Rome who enjoy an unusual flavor from the far east, but it’s scant at best. The food here is truly exceptional, but you’re talking about few more than five ingredients. Bread, pasta, tomatoes, olive oil and garlic. This shit is in everything. You don’t like it? Don’t come here. The super markets yield few options, and the term “international” cannot apply to any of them. Trying to find a spice that doesn’t pair with pasta is a probable impossibility, and the little variation that occasionally shows up is reserved for the occupy wall street’s “1%ers”. Even as a die hard fan of carbs, I occasionally have the sensation in the middle of bowl of pasta that the gluten has finally had enough and is devouring my intestines in a vengeful act of mutiny. I fear that I will awake a bloated future self, like the Michelin Man man of bread who sweats and pisses the only thing that keeps him alive, olive oil. Thankfully the cornucopia of cheap wine thins my blood just enough to squeeze through the bits of ancient Popex Cheese Steak that act as toll booths on the highway to my heart. 


There is an undeniable learning curve in this country. You show up and can’t believe how good, literally everything is. That shit hole pizzeria just gave you the oddly best pizza you ever had. The boring little alumentare, wow, this prosciutto sandwich is incredible. And then it happens. Someone brings up the Turkey Hoagie and despite being five minutes from the St. Peters Basilica, you feel like the jury just pronounced the word “guilty”. There are many substitutes, panchetta is sort of like bacon, a rosette is sort like an Amoroso’s roll. You make excuses, “I’ve always eaten tons of pasta”. And you feel a little insane. How can you crave the cheap, processed imitation of the divine products that surround you. But that’s how it is, condemned to only dream of cheddar cheese and marshmallow fluff.


A few days ago, it started to lift. I felt like a recovering heroin addict, knowing my urges would persist, but able to believe in myself and my life once again. The pizzetti I eat for lunch have taken the place of my beloved soft pretzels, and the obscene amount of olives I consume help to calm my nerves when the cravings for lamb over rice grow to crippling heights. A few of my friends and I have even talked about trying to cook some Mexican, and I’ve been looking around for the right spices to make the halal food my friend Nick and I crafted so endlessly this summer. 


The vast number of relatives and friends who swear that the food in Italy is the best are not lying, it really is incredible. But every now and again I remember some beautiful summer night in America; first the people, and the scenery; then the noise, the air, the smells; and then I remember the taste of something I had just had, it could of be as small as a button mushroom; and for just an instant, that food gently grasps me, and I’m reminded once again of how much I love America.


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A Night in the Villa

ImageI have always loved parks, particularly at night. So much of my adolescence unraveled itself in warm grass that glowed orange under distant street lights. Parks are that small oasis of the last bit of nature that has yet to be snuffed out by skyscrapers and highways, a nature that manifests itself not only in birds and trees, but also the seedy side of humanity; prostitutes; drugs; bonfires. And then parks themselves describe a city plan, or stand in place of mansion, a castle, a garden. Best of all, because most tourists and even residents care little for history and even less for nature, parks give you a city in delicate isolation. So when I find myself in a new city, I am always eager to find the really good parks. 
Perhaps I just don’t watch the right travel television, but the city Rome has never been described to me as a city with good parks. Instead, you hear about the seemingly endless list of “must see” piazzas, palazzos, churches, cafes and restaurants. And as much as I enjoy that sort of metropolitan atmosphere, when the evening falls I like cheap booze and free space, with a real preference for parks. So I was at least a little intimidated that a city so filled with worldly gems and sophisticated living wouldn’t have much room for a North Philly boy raised on woodsy bonfires in burnt out mansions. In fact, when I finally stumbled across the park that will eventually become this story, I was nothing short of thrilled; with the lingering homesickness I had been suffering since my brutal misadventures in London, finally starting to lift.
It’s called the Villa Borghese, named coincidentally enough after the Villa Borghese which sits in the large park and houses rare sculpture and painting from antiquity and early renaissance. The land surrounding the museum and formal gardens is essentially a collection of various fields, more formal gardens and some wild look out spots that provide the picturesque view of Rome one finds after a google image search of the city. I had visited the Villa Borghese a few times, hardly exploring much more than one of the scenic vistas and a couple sculptures. So one evening, with a couple of new friends, the topic of the park came up in conversation and after a few bottles of wine to soften the mood, we made our way over.
We stumbled up the many flights of stairs the lead out of Piazza del Popolo, stopping every now and then to piss or complain. But the view was entirely worth it, and because the closest thing to a skyscraper in Rome is one of the many extraordinary churches, the city truly allows itself to be seen in an unusual totality. Even in January, Rome feels oddly warm to an American like myself. The humidity makes it feel like a late summer night when you forgot you would need a light jacket, it’s a comfortable sort of shivering, that instantly leaves when you start to walk. And walk we did.
After a few more bottles of wine, my friends and I decided to test the Villa Borghese a bit. We walked down into the park, surrounded by lines of cypress and umbrella pines. We crossed fields and ran quickly across the highway that awkwardly meanders through the vast greenery. When we’d encounter a fence, we walk along until a hole appeared and climb on in. If we had any doubts that we were alone in this place, they quickly left us as we climbed more fences and played on concretes structures that looked like soviet era jungle gyms. At this point, the combination of wine and just a general lack of knowledge, had left us in what could very well have been the middle of nowhere. The Italian signs that would occasionally bombard us, again offered little in the way of help, and as we took a break on some grandstands, all we knew was that we were somewhere between the highway and a horse jumping track that we had played in just long enough to smell the manure that now covered our shoes. 
Somehow the more strange the paths, the more jovial and ambitious we became . It was as if we were forgetting the complacency that we’d had hammered into us for the past week, as professors and an ambassador became the spokespeople of proper decorum abroad. And as we unbuckled the belts of our id, we wandered down a sloping and curved path into a dirty old man-made canyon. The stone walls of the trench would occasionally provide a crudely locked door, or a couple of windows. And 10 feet below the ground, with only the deep blue night sky for light, we discovered that the locked doors and windows were the derelict remains of public bathrooms. Perhaps the thought of abandoned bathrooms doesn’t interest most people, but the possibility of finding some anachronistic bidet, or perhaps even some small artifact to act as a souvenir is well worth the entry fee of a tight squeeze through an open window. Of course, sometimes an old bathroom is just that, an old bathroom; a sad admission I had to give a few minutes later, after a more treacherous climb back out the window.
As we came to the end of the abandoned restroom trench, I spotted a strange corridor cluttered with things that sat tightly nudged against the ramp that lead us back to level ground. As we attempted to get back into the space to investigate a little farther, we found two old doors that conveniently were unlocked and slightly ajar. Despite being the same subterranean structure as the bathrooms, this new room proved much more fruitful. Through the fog of near pitch darkness we could hear the hum of pigeons fluttering in rafters. Shelving lined the walls and divided the large space into two long halls. With the glow of a cell phone screen we could make out the old wicker chairs and tables that sat stacked from floor to ceiling. Piles of conduit and wire sat in stalls that looked like the former stables of a wealthier Rome. The birds had shat on nearly every inch of ground and much of the old park furniture, dating the age of retirement for these antiques to decades earlier. The corridor outside that had first grabbed our attention seemed to be just another annex of the make shift storage space, that held onto these relics in hopes of a future that could use them. As we left the old entrenched building we found a walkway onto it’s roof, that despite preventative fencing and much decay, seemed to be the most evident vestige of little seating area for picnicking before the modern vacancy. 
Our Roman archeological dig had began to wear us down, and we were glad to finally see what appeared to be the edge of the park in the distance. Strangely however, as we approached we could hear the loud drone of shitty Italian techno, rising out of the ground. My memory is nothing short of foggy in exactly how we were able to see it, but through some strange, large hole in the ground we could make out what appeared to be a club. As we continued to walk towards the road, we discovered a series of escalators, many of which were abandoned, while the few working ones were dutifully guarded by husky Italians, who oddly enough seemed to understand our poorly pronounced “di dove?”. We marched off in the direction that the bouncer had pointed us in, with a reaffirmed spirit, committed to dance. It was nothing short of confusing however, when we came across a metro stop, that seemed to be the only way underground. After wandering through the maze of tunnels, following euro trash, we finally came to our club. Every other shop in the station was closed, and the lack of people along with the harsh florescent light, pointed out just how dirty this station was. In the midst of this was an unmarked doorway with a handful of slick looking guys standing out front. There were no windows, and the facade to whatever we were looking at appeared to be some sort of plywood painted beige with crass, floral decorations; a knockoff Olive Garden sort of appeal. Still, the people going in and coming out were nothing short of serious, exemplifying the tackier side of “bella figura”. 
With all confidence despite a fowl appearance due to park escapades, we made our charge at the front door. To our complete surprise, our front member Allison walked right on in, and then to even greater surprise, the bouncer pulled the rope in front of the three of us remaining. Hours earlier, we had heard countless stories of unsuspecting Americans who awake in the Villa Borghese park without their shoes, memory or any other belongings. So, already being in the park, we felt at least a little uncomfortable watching our only female companion disappear into what we could only suspect was some sort of makeshift, underground club. Through incredibly broken Italian we tried to talk our way in, but our poor numbers and total lack of physical threat, meant Allison was on her own. Several minutes later though, she appeared at the doorway, and through more broken Italian tried to convince the bouncer to let us in. Inevitably however, we didn’t fit the part, and with our hopes of dancing crushed, we again set out on our journey home.
As we walked along the long highway that led back to Piazza del Popolo, I couldn’t help but notice the large ancient wall that seemed to follow us. Two or three stories tall and made of the wonderful tan brick that so defines classical architecture, the walls height prevented us from seeing what was on top. Despite a rather raucous night, I decided one more adventure was deserved, and so I talked my three partners into an attempt at climbing the large wall. We walked quite a bit, before a break in the fence and drain pipe invited us up. The climb was fairly easy, though the drain pipe certainly felt questionable towards the top. Still, as I climbed over the last little bit of wall, I could not believe what I stumbled across. It was the Villa Borghese itself. In front of me sprawled hedged gardens and ornate sculpture, that hours later I would learn were made by Bernini and other famous artists. Behind it all, lit by the moon that sat just above the hedged horizon, was the grandiose Villa, the Carrara marble nearly luminescent at the buildings edge as the rest sunk into a silhouette. I wandered through the gardens, cautious not to make noise or find myself in front of a security guard. While the Borghese park is open all night, the Villa closes in the evening to protect the many treasures inside its gated walls. I could not contain my excitement as I waited for my friends to join me, carefully sitting in a bush so as to be completely out of view. Many minutes passed and still no one had come up. I went back to the wall only to see my friends walking back across the highway. I wasn’t sure why they had left, but I began to climb back down, hoping to catch up.
The climb down felt much riskier, the large height daunting as the darin pipe shook with my every movement. As I neared the ground, I began to hear the yell “LA POLIZIA LA POLIZIA!”, as I turned, I could make out an older man on the other side of the fence. He continued to yell as I climbed back over, grabbing me by my coller as soon as I touched the ground. Using, plenty of broken Italian I attempted to explain that I couldn’t speak english, assuming he was the police. Quickly I realized however, he was simply calling the police, and I struggled to break his grip and run, but could not. My mind flashed with every incident I had had with police, remembering the ambassador hours earlier discussing deportation. Suddenly, he stopped yelling “La Polizia” and just “MONEY, PAY ME, PAY ME!”. I was pinned by a large Italian, who was committed to either getting money or seeing me go to jail, and given my lack of faith in talking to police, a bribe seemed the more appealing route. “VENTI VENTI!” he continued to yell, I pulled out my wallet and payed him, eager to get away, unsure of his commitment and the distance of police. As soon as his grip released I ran off, hopping across the highway divides and highways, that in that moment felt like my Mason-Dixon line. My friends were not far off, and glad to see I was not in police custody or be forced onto a plane headed for America. We walked back, them laughing, myself a little shaken. 
As I finally took off my shoes and lay down in the bed so many thousands of miles from my house in Philly, I could not have felt more at home; safe and assured that at least tomorrow I’d wake up free again. 
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Why We Left


As I got on the Picadilly line east from Heathrow I had a sensation that I have either not had in a long time, or never had before, travel anxiety. I was undoubtedly excited to be in a new city, but I had never been so far away on my own. And watching the plump old brit with half his teeth sip “sugar free” cola from a Tesco bag in the flashing darkness of the London tube felt like the parallel universe I had avoided for so long.

Britain really isn’t that far a cry from my city of brotherly love. People speak english, are alarmingly proud of their city, and treat outsiders like enemies. But the most stark difference I found in London was simply that Londoners did not smile. It sounds hokey, and in many ways it is, but people were so intensely bleak, as if they were the embodiment of the endless drizzle that looms over their city. In fact, the few times I saw a couple smiling, or a crowd laughing I would quickly come to realize they were French, Spanish, or American. And perhaps it was that I spent so much of my time in London traveling alone, but that lack of smiling, that infinite melancholy; it seems to so perfectly summarize London for me, whether in its people or its streets.

Much of my time in London was spent doing what tourists do best, visiting Museums, which given the average ticket price of free, was right up my alley. Of all the things I could complain about, the Museums were downright perfect. They’re decadence is overwhelming, built as magnificent palaces for some of the most incredible works of art in the world. But for my money, and as much I adore Museums (particularly when they are free), I can’t say they ever seem to tell much about an actual city. For that I look to cemeteries.

A quick google search brought up a helpful list of cemeteries, some well known, some not so well known, but a glowing endorsement for the pseudo abandoned Abney Park Cemetery caught my eye.

Abney Park is one of the magnificent seven cemeteries of London, though unlike the others and just about every other green space in London, it appears to have no groundskeeper. It would make for a solid tourist trap being a perfect stand in for the infamous “Omen” cemetery scene where Gregory Peck has to fight off a demonic dog, but thanks to a complex and lengthy commute Abney Park is little more than jogging grounds for locals in the Pakistani and Jewish neighborhood it sits next to. Even after taking 3 trains and a bus, it took some helpful advice on the street to find the front gate, which seemed strangely bare for the victorian graveyard. The muddy paths within led me through what I can only describe as the most densely packed cemetery I’ve ever seen. Headstones and sarcophagi sat inches from each other in grids only broken by thin unmarked trails. Most graves seemed out of reach, unless you were willing to make the impressive climb over other headstones and vines first. And due to the soft and moist, English ground these tombs had slowly shifted, forcing headstones to turn crooked and at their most dramatic points, even lean against each other. As I navigated these paths I soon found right in the very center of the mossy, entangled mess was an abandoned gothic chapel, with birds fluttering in and out the steeple that rose just high enough above the trees to be seen from anywhere in the cemetery walls.

This little old chapel was out of the London one imagens when Dickens is read to them as a child. The grandeur slowly outdone by it’s own cost, with empty lead wires melting out of rose windows that once held stained glass. Old doorways filled in with cinder blocks and mortar that didn’t pretend for even an instant to be a part of a society that could afford such splendor. In back of the chapel sat an old Indian Bean tree that was planted when the cemetery was built, and despite multiple nests within it, several types of diseases and many dead limbs, was still said to have a few flowers bloom every spring. It’s thick, knotted trunk and few spindly branches were the last thing I had to see, and then I left.

But that tree was far gone as I got off the train in central London. I went to meet my friend Gabe for dinner and cheap cider at his college residence by Kensington Gardens, one of the many beautiful parks that closes at dusk. We drank and ate pasta before deciding that tonight would be a good time to try clubbing, something I was sadly determined should be part of a true London experience.

With a few friends of Gabe’s we headed to Leicester Square which was supposed to be good for clubs and bars, and came across a place called “The Zoo”. I will not give actual prices, but I will say that I cannot imagine any actual zoo making as much money as this place must of raked in that night. The atmosphere was like that of a high school dance, but with a heightened sex drive and plenty of very expensive alcohol. Despite this I met quite a few friendly people, and being as cheap as I was, happily drank half drunk beers abandoned for a busy bartender to dispose of. I feel no need to defend my dumpster diver behavior in such pricey situations. The music was pop hits from every era, played to a sloppy drunk crowd that shouted along, while trying to mingle. Though I enjoyed the night for what it was, the people I came with didn’t have such a good time and left hours before I finally stumbled out.

It was nearly 3 am when I left, and despite a tremendous underground system, subways stop running at midnight. And while the underground is pretty straight forward, the bus system which runs all night, has no maps. So a few miles from my Regents Park hostel, I started walking, looking for buses going in the general direction. On my way I took a break outside a club that had just closed and found myself in a conversation with three friends, two guys and a girl. One of the friends, an Irishmen, decided that we were all getting along so well that we should have a pint. Sadly, like nearly everything else in London, pubs close around midnight and even clubs tend to close around 3. Still, the determined Irishmen set out on a journey to find a pint, with the 3 of us in close pursuit. We went from closed pub to closed pub, occasionally finding a bouncer only to point us to another closed pub, when finally someone recommended a strip club a block away that stayed open later. At three in the morning, the rabbit hole of my night leaves little room to say no, so we paraded to a hardly marked door and walked downstairs. In the dim, red glow were two doors that, despite our strip club quickly becoming a speakeasy brothel, encouraged my drunken Irish companion to start knocking. Interrupted, angry cries from inside the doors started billowing out, and once again we found ourselves on the streets without a clue, or a pint. It had grown late enough that I bid farewell to the three friends, and two hours later, after several buses and lots of running, I managed to find myself back at the hostel with a bag of chips from Tescos.

A few days later I was more than ready to leave London. Despite some marvelous nights at pubs, and a few good adventures, the expense of the city, the unreasonable times at which things closed, and the complexity of their streets, had begun to make me a little stir crazy. My bus to Stansted airport was at 2:40 am, and I was eager to get on it and begin my journey to Rome. With all my belongings in a massive backpack I headed for the night bus which would take me to Victoria Station for my Stansted bus. After about 15 minutes of uncomfortably standing amongst a sea of drunks on the bus, one older brit asked me what I was doing with such a large bag, and after telling him where I was headed, he kindly pointed out amid chuckles that I was going to the wrong way. So I found myself back out on the streets waiting for the bus, but with no time to spare. Despite all my predictions I managed to make it to Victoria Station five minutes before 2:40, but with just the dinky map on my ticket and a total lack of knowledge by people on the street, I began frantically sprinting around reading street signs, looking at my map and asking for help.

Finally, I saw my bus a block away, and began running down the street towards it as it began to pull forward towards me. It came to a stop as I got in front of it and began yelling that I had a ticket, waving it in front of the driver, who refused to open the doors for me. After fifteen minutes of running around the most poorly marked streets in the world, I was committed to getting on my bus, and wouldn’t move. A crowd of people on the street joined me, and started yelling at the bus driver to open the doors, but still he just sat there and looked blankly at me and my mob. Several minutes later, police on motorcycles arrived, and thankfully seemed to be on my side, letting the bus driver save face by pulling around the corner. I was so thankful; the exhaustion causing euphoria, but it was quickly broken by the discovery that my bus ticket was for an entirely different bus company. The police must have felt bad enough for me, as they didn’t say anything else but just pointed me in the direction that my map showed. Luckily, I caught the next bus, and through tears I watched the rainy streets of London disappear, eating cheap candy and feeling the weight of traveling alone like that green backpack I’d carried only minutes earlier.

I had no heartfelt goodbyes for London as my plane pushed off the ground, and finally took me hundreds of miles away from that Island in the pond.

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Few people outside the world of art, and even many within, couldn’t point out a Phillip Guston painting if it was sitting next to the Mona Lisa. Ofcourse this is true for most artists, but Guston isn’t most artists, his career spanned and inspired more genres than almost any other 20th century painter. At one moment he’s Paul Klee and at another he’s Diego Rivera. He can compose like Chagall, invent like De Chirico, but when the painting is finished a Guston stands entirely alone as a Guston.

I am guilty of having been unaware of Phillip Guston too. In the massive vault of art from the period of Expressionism, Kandinsky and De Kooning often steal the lime light, but I’d like to make a case for Guston.

In 1948 the painting Tormentors was completed. The piece at first reads much the way of Miro. A black background with reductive canvass carved out in thin contours to give glowing but subtle images. Bright, uneven patches of cadmium red straight from the tube, build a tumultuous foreground. In many ways, the initial read is fair stylisticly speaking, but in content Guston reaches far beyond, with imagery of Klan members that entirely rebukes the playful tones of Miro. The subjects in the painting are not treated in the grotesque way one would expect, but are rather awkward, bulbous creatures that escape our convictions and seem unaware of their own evil.

20 years later, Guston completed the painting Central Avenue. At a time when minimalism was on the tip of every tongue, Central Avenue took a very different approach. The entirely literal subject matter again focuses on Ku Klux Klan members, a recurring theme in Guston’s work, but unlike Tormentors the characters are fully painted with a roughly linear background that depicts a town in cadmium red with light blue roads and pink clouds. The Klan members sit in a car with crosses, not hiding in the darkness of Tormentors, but rather parading in a calm daytime scene. This painting is much more playful than the last, but is that much more chilling as well, and shows the subtle qualities of Guston that make his work striking without being heavy handed.

Between these two paintings, Phillip Guston brings together a breadth of different artists, while maintaining an independent voice. He’s uncompromising to fads and yet always willing to change when it benefits the painting. Guston is one of the greatly overlooked painters, and I think for the sake of contemporary art. should be heard once more.

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Chain Link Fence

“Chain Link Fence”

Larkin Dugan



The general attitude of art today seems to be a differentiation between itself and what is deemed “commercial”. Even in the world of commercial art such as graphic design or industrial design, there is a need to distinguish the “real art”. For instance, to liken a high brow furniture manufacturers work to that of Ikea has become almost a slur, and while Ikea furniture is mass produced the Bauhaus styling is often quite appealing. Shit, I sleep in an Ikea bed every night and it rocks. In this vain, in a less commercial sense, fine arts attempts to talk about the real in very unreal terms. It would far less expensive to fly to Giverny and see Monet’s actual water lillies, but several collectors have chosen to spend 40 million pounds on a nearly blind mans idea of that scene from 150 years ago. I’m not actual cynical enough to deny the importance of paintings, and I suspect Giverny is nowhere near as beautiful as Monet gives it to us, but at a superficial level the question of why remake again and again seems of importance.

In building my chain link fence, as distant as water lillies are, this question of remaking became my thesis. As I built my fence I considered the act of creation much the same as a painting. Laborious, imperfect and ultimately a crude stand in for the real thing. Still, like a painting, the result was far more valuable than the real thing. Somehow, human craft, as faulty as it is, becomes our most remarkable signature. And while the links and welds of my segment of fence show error, the piece illustrates the impressive but ultimately sterile nature of the thousands of feet of chain link we encounter in our life. The real thing is perfect, yes, but mine is more valuable. It is the sum of my labor, my time, and my thoughts. I suffered bending every link, my back hurt from hunching over the table with an oxy-acetylene torch for hours, and in the end I had a chain link fence that couldn’t stop a toddler in a tantrum. “Chain Link Fence” is my concession to art, my conversation with the commercial, and my pleasure of creation.


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Art Machine 1

The self-portrait is perhaps the most open-ended assignment one receives in art school. In sculpture in particular, the idea of the self must become entirely an abstract representation, with the exception of busts, and statuary which unfortunately are outside of my physical vocabulary. So when I approached a self-portrait I tried to think of myself in absolutes. I considered myself in terms of the physical, then the historical and finally settled on the functional. It seemed to me the idea of making a device that could make art satisfied what has become my main purpose, and for the sake of simplicity I settled on a drawing machine. In thinking about myself I realized one other function that the device would have to carry out for it to represent me, which was the capability of dying. With this in mind I built a machine consisting of two cranks, one turning two writing utensils, one turning a board that acted as a table for the utensils. However, as the cranks turned they also turned larger wheels that slowly collected nylon string pulling on a cinderblock that held a second cinderblock from falling. Over the course of turning the cranks and producing drawings on post-it notes, the piece would ultimately be destroyed. For the placement of the piece, I was attracted to an industrial space I had been in previously, both for aesthetic purposes, and because the empty shelving catered to the falling cinderblocks. In addition, I liked the vaguely industrious nature of my non-utilitarian invention, and was also interested in the machines life within the space after its demise, particularly because the industrial space itself was abandoned. After all was said and done, I left the installation with 12 completed works of art on florescent, pink, 3 inch squares. Though I feel the smashed kinetic machine to more accurately depict me, I quickly found that the jestural marks on the post-its quite beautifully seemed to depict the machine. Not that all art is a self-portrait, but our influences often stretch themselves into our work where unintended, and in the most mystic sense of this truth, my art machine seemed follow along. I set out to re-create myself in simpler terms, but in turn my creation recreated itself. And while I have feelings for the late art machine 1, it’s body of work ultimately is more interesting and peculiar than the pile of dowel rods and plywood that has taken it’s place.

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Cast Wax C-Clamps
Budd Company Steel Plant, Philadelphia, PA

A site specific installation analyzing the use of numerical ordering in manufacturing settings, as well as the deterioration of industry in late 20th century America. The white, wax c-clamps hang in a luminescent abacus, ordered in the sequence 1981 to reference the period of Budd’s decline and ultimate collapse. The piece is intended to be reordered by viewers, each leaving a brief footprint to be undone by other explorers of the abandoned complex. The nature of the c-clamp echoes industry and strength juxtaposed with the weakness of wax, another reference to contemporary economic decline. Ultimately Overtime is a small memorial to the once grand Budd Company.

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