Friday, May 27, 2011

Book-rific Scrumptiousness

I've talked about this collection before. But it's beautiful enough to mention again, this time with a proper picture.

Where are we here? In the bedroom. Who needs a nightstand for books, when you can sneak in a whole shelf?

We got this particular collection at auction, after fighting a fairly heated bidding war with a fairly hard-bitten antiques dealer. I knew she wouldn't treasure them like I would (and likely only saw them in terms of their resale value), so I kept at it. From my seat, I saw the Zola, the Dostoevsky, the Pepys and Harte.

After a quick volley of bids, she finally conceded, and I carried the many boxes home.

This is just one collection. There are a few others in the living room--one is a fantastic little collection of blue-bound Harvard Classics--but I'll provide a glimpse of them another day.......

Monday, May 23, 2011

A Foreigner Among Foreigners

In 1998, I lived in Munich, huddled within the textured white walls of a tiny efficiency apartment charitably doled out to university students by the city’s Studentenwerk. There, my small room perched several stories above a first floor inhabited, on one side, by an Italian restaurant and, on the other, a police station, whose cars blared their panic-inducing two-tone sirens by night and by day. Down the street, the BMW plant began cutting sheet metal at 7 a.m., even on Saturdays.

From my apartment, I could see the architectural magnificence of the Olydorf, the 1972 Olympic Village, where some people took great pride in their apartments. Their stepped terraces, decorated with flowerboxes and spilling over with vining plants looked beautiful from my large square window. I felt bad for the reciprocal view offered by my sad gray-green building, which was casually shedding small bits of stucco onto the sidewalk below and occasionally onto Moosacherstrasse, which thrummed with the regular movement of cars like blood through arteries.

On Sunday mornings, when I usually suffered from a hangover that robbed me of my peripheral vision, I would force myself to get out and roam the streets, which I did even at night. I had no fears there. Almost no one bothered me. And I say almost because, once, a man did. But that's another story, for another time.

I had an admirer in those days, a dark haired man who worked in the restaurant kitchen, a man who seemed to know my schedule. He would stand outside smoking a cigarette and staring at the cinderblock walls surrounding the dumpsters. He always turned as I left through the glass door, my shoe heels clicking against the broken asphalt. “Ciao, Bella! ” he’d shout loudly at me before tossing his cigarette away and going back inside to--I assumed, based on the rubber gloves in his back pocket--wash dishes.
I usually rode the subway from the Olympia Zentrum stop, where drunks stood by the Imbisse near the heavily populated bicycle lock-up and drank Apfelkorn or the horrible, enamel-dissolving Obstler from tiny bottles they lined up like soldiers on the high, chairless tables. I nodded to the few World War II veterans I had come to recognize, one of whom told me he was kept as a POW by the British. I doubted some of his story because he was forever incandescent with alcohol, pinkish eyes tearing, nose leaking, mucous running like a frightened woman towards his upper lip. If someone had ever struck a match near him, I feared he would explode in one giant conflagration. So, I moved quickly past him, having faltered near him once and having been forced, thanks to my lack of a hard heart, to listen to his story. Not that it was uninteresting, just slightly incoherent, even accusatory. He thought I was British and was quietly giving me the business about his suffering and privations.

Munich's Theatinerkirche, a sight that makes me
teary-eyed. I never thought it would take me so long
to get back.
Often, I traveled to the wide and regal Odeonsplatz, which was the city’s hub. I emerged from the dark earth somewhat recovered and near the base of the towering, ochre-colored Theatinerkirche, with its giant Baroque dome and twin clock towers. Feldherrnhalle stood before me, a massive neoclassical memorial to fallen military leaders and behind it, the shadowy Dodger’s Alley, once travelled by those who wished not to salute another Putsch-related memorial plaque Hitler riveted to the side of the monument that faced the Hofgarten.

And then, the delicious walk to Marienplatz: past the modest Residenztheater and the opulent state opera, whose interior walls were either mirrored with beveled glass or painted an icy blue and accented with silvered acanthus leaf moldings. Beyond this, the shops: furriers; tobacconists, whose scents wafted onto the street with each movement of their shop doors; music stores in whose windows sheet music fanned and gorgeous violins suspended over burgundy velvet. There were ‘antiquariats,’ where I looked for prints and carefully flipped through gently yellowing first editions of Mann’s Buddenbrooks under the disdainful gaze of the storekeeper, who knew I was an impecunious student, but understood by my accent that I was a foreigner with at least one of the currencies then enjoying a high rate of exchange. Still, I often tried to hide my foreignness, and the longer I lived there, the better I became at it, until no one knew I was not one of them--a Bavarian who spoke the same broad vowels and deep-formed consonants authentically.

This was how I spent my days when I was not at the museum, where I catalogued the Wittelsbacher collection, harvested lavender from the roof garden by climbing through the window above my desk, translating correspondence into first halting, then lilting English. I, a foreigner among foreigners, with a disparity soon entirely undetectable.

This was originally written, in slightly different form, for Dan Waber's hypertext project, "That Reminds Me". Soon, there will be more....

Friday, May 20, 2011

My Review of Helene Aylon's show at Forward Magazine's Blog

I'm excited to report that one of my reviews of Helène Aylon's show The Liberation of G-d and The Unmentionable, currently on view at The Warhol Museum, is now live at The Jewish Daily Forward's blog, The Arty Semite. You can read the whole review here. In the meantime, an excerpt:

Helène Aylon, The Digital
Liberation of G-D
, 2004
(Photo Credit)

 "The highlighting also reveals scornful attitudes towards the feminine. For example, Leviticus 15: 19-30 broaches the subject of female menstruation. Within these 11 lines, the word “unclean” appears 15 times. The repetition, when pointed out, is startling and calls to mind an earlier cataloging of unhygienic animals."

Pittsburgh City Paper (CP) will also run my review of the same show. However, this second review approaches the subject from a different angle, in order to offer other insights and ideas than those already presented. This should appear in next week's issue of CP. So, more to come on this next Thursday.

Other writing project are in the works, including a review for Sculpture Magazine. Details on these to come....

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

What's New in my Zoo

City Sages: Baltimore
I know, I's been almost a week since I've posted. But I've been working on a variety of projects, about which I'm pretty excited. Let's work backwards in time, shall we? Let's, indeed.

Yesterday, I finished a proposal for City Sages: Pittsburgh. All in the preliminary stages, mind you, but I put together a list of significant historical and contemporary writers, who have helped to define or are currently working to shape Pittsburgh's literary identity. It will be part of a series, published by Baltimore's City Lit Project, an organization headed by Gregg Wilhelm. Jen Michalski edited the first volume, devoted to Baltimore, and initially suggested the project's potential for Pittsburgh, which has a surprisingly rich and diverse literary legacy, even as a mosquito-infested frontier town. And while there are so many Pittsburgh poets I admire, who are making the city a literary hub, the focus will likely be on prose writers this time because of the shape of the series' inaugural volume. However, an entire volume about Pittsburgh poets is truly needed.

Now, backwards towards Friday. I finished my monthly 8-reference title LJ Review Column (<--if you click, you must scroll to the bottom to see my stuff). And on Thurday night, I completed a review of Helene Aylon's examination of the Torah, now on view at the Warhol Museum, for The Arty Semite. I undertook a fairly intense education in order to interpret the details because, when I did go to church as a child, it was to my Grandparents' Lutheran congregation (and later, in college, I attended several Episocpalian services with a boy I was dating...yet, a great deal of what i know about the Bible has come not from a pastor, but from Renaissance and Baroque art history courses. Perhaps this is something to be ashamed of, but I have a slightly different view of religion that likely aligns more with Emily Dickinson's conception than any traditional perscription. But this is another matter, somewhat private and much more complex. Not blog material, really.)

Anyway, I've got some other writing projects brewing, but we'll get to that soon. Very soon. In the meantime, check out a fascinating interview Helene Aylon conducted with legendary gallerist and champion of Abstract Expressionism, Betty Parsons, in 1977.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

In City Paper, a Review of Sung Rok Choi's "Call of Duty: Operation 100"

Running this week in Pittsburgh City Paper is my review of the artist Sung Rok Choi's exhibition, Call of Duty: Operation 100, currently on display at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts.

Sung Rok Choi, "Call of Duty: Seaweed" (2011)
Photo credit:
Here's a small excerpt:

"The Brechtian quality of these naïve depictions points up our conditioned expectations: Where is the impersonal, unfailingly heroic aura assigned to soldiers in recruitment and propaganda videos? There, physical prowess and valor eclipse any sense of individual experience. Here, Choi offers a view of the disillusioned individual. Considering South Korea's compulsory two-year conscriptions, this is likely closer to many men's understanding of 'duty.'"

Read the whole review here:
"A Korean artist's riff on Call of Duty asks us to reflect on warfare"

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

In Pittsburgh City Paper, my interview with Gary Shteyngart

Super Sad True Love Story: A Novel
My interview with author Gary Shteyngart appeared in Pittsburgh City Paper last Wednesday. Shteyngart, author of Super Sad True Love Story (2010), Absurdistan (2006) and The Russian Debutante's Handbook (2003), will be reading at Pittsburgh's City of Asylum Series, which takes place at Mattress Factory tonight. The Warhol's Interim Executive Director and Milton Curator of Fine Art Eric Shiner will introduce Shteyngart.

I've reposted part of the conversation with Shteyngart here, just below. To read the interview in its entirety, click here.

"LOVE & RUINS" (from Pittsburgh City Paper)
Savannah Schroll Guz

Absurdistan: A NovelGary Shteyngart's novels are both satirical and prescient. And while his books deal with individual experience, his characters offer broader, incisive commentary on the grim nature of the human condition and global society's ever-shifting tectonics.
Born in Leningrad, in 1972, Shteyngart was brought to America at the age of 7 and grew up in an austere Russian household. His first two novels incorporate the tension of his own dueling cultural identities. The Russian Debutante's Handbook (2003) and Absurdistan (2006) -- named one of the year's 10 best books by The New York Times Book Review -- thrum with the angst of second-generation immigrants seeking to establish themselves under the weight of crippling, often parentally imposed, expectations.

Russian Debutante's HandbookThis subject takes a back seat in his third novel, last year's Super Sad True Love Story (Random House), whose focus is a seemingly improbable relationship that develops amid a chillingly familiar social and political landscape. In the face of economic and political collapse, a hopelessly backward-looking man in his late 30s teaches an initially insensitive twenty-something female that the most redemptive kind of hope is not found in popularity or politics, but in love. The book, along with his previous work, earned Shteyngart a spot in The New Yorker's "20 Under 40" list of literary stars.

Shteyngart reads at City Of Asylum on Tue., May 10. City Paper interviewed him via email at his home in New York City.

SSG: Since The Russian Debutante's Handbook, you've moved from protagonists in their late teens/early twenties to the late-thirties Lenny Abramov of Super Sad True Love Story. How much do you identify with your main characters?

GS: I like to write about people my age. As I grow older and older I encounter a whole new set of fears and anxieties to add to my list of golden oldies. You should see my cholesterol levels. Vladimir [from Debutante] reminds me of my insecure college years in your neighbor Ohio (that's when I started writing the book); Misha [Absurdistan] is too large and in charge to be autobiographical; and this new nebbish of mine, Lenny, has a very different bald spot from the one I have.
SSG: In an interview with The New York Times, you mention the influence of writers like Philip Roth and Saul Bellow. In light of your more recent exploration of American-based dystopia, do you look to any other influences?

GS: Well, I've always been a huge fan of dystopia. I grew up in the Soviet Union and went to Hebrew school in Queens. Enough said. I loved 1984 and Brave New World as a kid. I think 1984 sticks out in my mind because it's a love story set against a horrifying society. Julia and Winston love each other and that's what I remember so well about that book. It was an inspiration when I started writing Super Sad True Love Story....

To read the interview in its entirety, click here.

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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Hysterical Machines at Wood Street Galleries

Bill Vorn's "Red Light" (2005)
currently on view at Wood Street Galleries
For a review I'm working on for Sculpture Magazine, I went to see Wood Street Galleries' recently opened, full-gallery installations, collectively titled Hysterical Machines. These robotic installations were created by Bill Vorn.  I'll have to go back....while the lights show and sounds were pretty spectacular on the third floor, the hydraulic machines seen hanging in the picture at left were not moving, and the second-floor gallery was not accessible via the elevator.

Earlier this morning, at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, I also got a chance to see Sung Rok Choi's series, Call of Duty: Opeartion 100, which I'll be writing a review of for next week's CP.

Also, while this week's CP is not yet online, it is out in print, and I picked up a copy outside the elevator entrance to Wood Street. My interview with Absurdistan author Gary Shteyngart is advertised on the front, which is exciting. I'll include a link in tomorrow's post, when the whole enchillada goes live on the CP site.