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IN FOCUS

Chuck Close: artist extraordinaire, master of the selfie. After almost 50 years and hundreds more megapixels on the image resolution front, his Big Self Portrait is still pretty hard to distinguish from a snapshot. But photorealism was only the beginning, as is illustrated in Chuck Close Prints: Process and Collaboration (Strand) by Terrie Sultan. From reviving ancient European techniques to working in new materials like sunscreen (it helps control light), the iconic artist has not always been recognized for his prints but often dedicates the most time to them, sometimes up to two years on a single piece. He and Sultan appear in conversation at the book’s re-release party, providing a rare opportunity to hear Close speak about the medium he’s said has “moved me in my unique work more than anything else” — and this guy’s photographed Obama and Scarlett Johanson.

Thu., May 1, 7 p.m., 2014

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BLOW-UP

How does Chuck Close make his paintings look like photos? See for yourself at “Chuck Close Photo Maquettes,” a new exhibition that gives a behind-the-scenes look into his process with a display of more than 20 photo maquettes—primarily large-format Polaroids that he draws a precise grid on to assist in his re-creation of it on canvas. As you read Close’s scribbles along the edges, you’ll find a deeper appreciation for the painstaking process that goes into making his famous portraits of friends and artists such as Elizabeth Murray, Philip Glass and, of course, himself.

Tuesdays-Saturdays, 10 a.m. Starts: April 16. Continues through May 24, 2013

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A Visit With Art-World Hero Chuck Close

“Lou Reed’s got wrinkles in his wrinkles.”

Artist Chuck Close and I are in his ground-floor studio on Bond Street. He’s describing a giant tapestry of Reed’s face that he’s hoping to have ready by mid October. The studio is jammed with assistants color-correcting dyes, poring over photographic images, and managing office business. It’s an especially busy time for Team Close—the 72-year-old painter is preparing for his long-awaited fall show at Chelsea’s Pace Gallery. Arrayed around the walls are some of his closest friends—Roy, Paul, Philip, Laurie, Cindy. In his relaxed company, it’s practically immaterial that they’re all celebrities. “I always wanted to make paintings of ordinary, undistinguished people,” Close says as if reading my thoughts. “It’s not my fault they became famous.”

There’s a certain kind of virtuosity that amplifies its achievements by a million trillion. Beethoven composed his Ninth Symphony while deaf. James Joyce wrote Finnegans Wake with a magnifying glass. Barack Obama became the 44th president of the United States while black.

For people who love art, young or old, with-it or fusty, Republican or Democrat, the painter Chuck Close has long formed part of this virtuosic pantheon. An artist celebrated like few people in or out of the art world, Close commands not just attention, but also bona fide affection. To see him at huge museum affairs, art-fair openings, or charitable events is to see Moses part waters thick with social climbing, calculation, and envy. His presence—like that of a civil rights leader or sports hero—is mollifying. As he once put it to me, “For the last 14 years, I’ve not gone a day where I go outside and don’t have someone tell me how much they like what I do. I’m really very, very lucky.” Never mind that Chuck Close is a partial quadriplegic and largely confined to a wheelchair.

To say that Chuck Close is handicapped is to miss an important part of his gift, if not to significantly misstate facts. A white tornado of activity that pulls together art, politics, education, and just plain socializing, Close has long had what Robert Hughes in 1998 called “a reputation as a stick-to-it, intensely focused, all-around good guy of the American art world.” This reputation has gone mainstream in the past few years, as Close’s constant civic-mindedness has resulted in his appointment to the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, as well as his recruitment to mentor struggling schools for Turnaround Arts—a recent administration-led arts-education initiative that closely echoes the artist’s own oft-quoted precepts.

I meet Close for pasta e vino at his favorite neighborhood restaurant, Il Buco, before our killer studio visit. It’s a spot Close likes so much he treats it as both caviarteria and canteen. I want him to talk about his art, his life, his devotion to arts education, but also what compels him to be a “good art-world citizen.” That phrase, which is his, speaks volumes about him. Not for the last time, though, he turns the subject back to children’s learning.

“Some people say we need art in school because playing violin is good for your math skills,” the National Medal of Arts winner tells me after the first glass of wine is poured. “But I believe it solves an even bigger problem than test scores, and that’s the dropout rate. When I was in school, as learning disabled as I was, we had art and music several times a week. Had I not had that, I would have dropped out of school.”

Arts education is a subject extremely dear to Chuck Close’s heart. As an official portraitist, he recently got to bend Obama’s ear on the subject as the president sat down for his Polaroid picture. “I photographed him last week for an hour and a half,” Close relays, “and boy, did I take the opportunity to lobby him.”

The memory of that conversation shifts quickly to a less friendly encounter with Mayor Bloomberg and former NYC schools chancellor Joel Klein. At a small dinner party—”10 or 12 people, no more”—Close shared his thinking about why the two powerful city politicians remained flummoxed by New York’s high dropout rates.

“It’s because you have such a narrow definition of what success is,” he told them. “If you’re not good at math and science, you’re not a successful person.” Close proceeded to illustrate his case with his own biography and to chastise the two for shifting funds from the arts to remedial education. Bloomberg’s response was casually condescending: “Oh, Chuck, you would have been all right because you’re a genius.” Angered, Close shot back, “I suppose I should be flattered, but how would I know that I had any abilities if I’d had next to no exposure to art and music.” (According to Close, the scrappy colloquy’s final chapter came days later, when Klein rang to tell him that the city had restored “a couple of million dollars” to school arts funding.)

[

Charles Thomas Close was born severely dyslexic. “I still can’t add or subtract in my head,” he says, “and never learned my multiplication tables, which meant no algebra, geometry, physics, or chemistry.” He knew nothing about the disorder until he attended a lecture on the subject with his eight-year-old daughter in the 1970s. Close also suffered from neuromuscular problems as a child. This meant, despite his height and build (he’s six feet three inches), that he “couldn’t run, couldn’t throw a ball, and couldn’t keep up with the other kids physically.” Art gave Close a competitive edge—it offered him pure learning beyond the understanding of most adults. Close still grimaces when recalling the advice he got from educators: “My high school counselor told me that I would never get into college, but that I should consider body and fender school.”

Driven to excel at a visual language at which he’d proven himself crackerjack, Close ignored their lousy counsel. “Art saved my life in two ways,” the artist says today with undiminished enthusiasm. “It made me feel special, because I could do things my friends couldn’t, but it also gave me a way to demonstrate to my teachers that, despite the fact that I couldn’t write a paper or do math, I was paying attention.”

What Close didn’t know then, but would learn much later, was that his own precocious ability to draw and paint was linked to a condition called prosopagnosia, or face blindness. It’s an ailment he shares with his friend, the neurologist and writer Oliver Sacks—”the worst face blindness I’ve ever seen.” Close has long connected his hunger to understand the mechanics of pictures with his own inability to process written symbols and recognize faces. (He once accidentally blanked an ex-lover on the subway, despite having lived with her for years.) The artist’s famously large-scale gridded portraits of faces turn out to be one important way Close makes recognizable (and nearly mathematically abstract) the obstacles he has stubbornly overcome.

“Virtually everything I’ve done is influenced by my learning disabilities,” Close told the anchors of CBS This Morning back in April. “I think I was driven to paint portraits to commit images of friends and family to memory.” This might be so, but few artists and critics in the late 1960s were prepared for Close’s unexpected meshing of process art, minimal brushwork (there was none, because he used an airbrush), and representational painting. “If you were stupid enough to be a painter,” Close remembers, “no one would do figurative art, and of all the moribund ideas out there, the dumbest was to do portraiture.”

But a work like Big Nude (1967–68) wasn’t just a painting of a reclining nude. Instead, it was a rigorous painting of a photograph—an inch-by-inch, 10 x 21 foot, methodically layered, handmade reproduction of a ubiquitous mechanical process. Another early black-and-white breakthrough, Close’s famous Big Self-Portrait (1967–68), effectively translated minimalism and conceptualism into figurative terms. Put differently, Close could have his cake and eat it, too. “Once a face is flattened out, I can remember it much better,” the artist tells me. The flip side of that experience is how the viewer relates to the hairs, blemishes, or colored lozenges populating Close’s oversized faces—folks are forced to concentrate on details as opposed to the whole of what are essentially warts-and-all, Brobdingnagian mug-shots-as-landscapes.

Close has often spoken publicly of the value of putting up obstacles for himself—of “repeatedly putting rocks in my shoes”—to satisfy what he calls his need to “escape from virtuosity.” But nothing—not even the death of his father at age 11—could have prepared the artist for the terrible crisis he suffered in late 1988. A watershed (and potential Waterloo) the artist respectfully refers to as “The Event,” Close’s nearly career-ending catastrophe took place after an awards ceremony at Gracie Mansion. According to Christopher Finch’s excellent 2010 biography, Chuck Close: Life, Close had spent the day racked by chest pains, yet dutifully showed up to present a prize. After official chitchat, introductions, and a Borscht Belt ramble from Ed Koch, Close delivered his citation—”for Louis Spanier, visual arts coordinator, Community School District 32″—then walked across the street to Doctor’s Hospital and went into 20 minutes of uninterrupted convulsions. When these were over—and before doctors acknowledged the extent of his massive spinal cord injuries—a fully conscious Close knew he was paralyzed from the shoulders down.

From the day he began his amazing embrace of his new life until today, Chuck Close has grown beyond what he once was (a famous artist) and what some would have him become (a poster boy for quadriplegia) into an American master every bit as fundamental as Edward Hopper, Woody Guthrie, or Mark Twain. A painter whose life, work, and popularity are perfectly consonant, Close has achieved something that eludes all other modern American artists alive (and most dead ones): the sort of crossover appeal that makes art matter, often urgently, to folks beyond the professional fishbowl of art and culture.

[

Close’s message has remained amazingly positive and instructive throughout his trials—just ask the children he mentors at Roosevelt Elementary, in Bridgeport, Connecticut. “We’re encouraging kids in a failing school,” he says, “to find another way to be successful and to feel good—everyone deserves to feel good about themselves.” He is, after all, a self-described “glass-three-quarters-full man.” “When I was six feet three inches, no one came up to me,” he tells me as we’re finishing our three-coffee lunch. “Being in a wheelchair cut me down to size, so now people do that all the time. The truth about me is that I would never make art without an audience—ultimately, all I ever wanted to do was to make stuff that made a difference to other people.”

“In an art world that has a shelf life of about a year and a half, there’s a whole generation of people who’ve never heard of me,” Close had said modestly as we entered his crowded studio.

Chock-full of work made for the long-awaited October 19 exhibition (his last New York solo show of paintings was in 2009), the space holds the results of the past few years of intense, methodical effort. “I make about three pieces a year,” the artist says. Leaning against the walls are a number of “heads” Close has mostly painted for decades. There are likenesses of the artists Laurie Anderson and Kara Walker, the art collector Aggie Gund, the singer Paul Simon, and the composer Philip Glass; an unfinished painting of Cindy Sherman sits on Close’s motorized easel. While pointing to prints and other works bound for the exhibition, Close genially explains his working method with a sports analogy. “What I do is like golf—I move from general to specific in an ideal number of correcting moves,” he says as we scan the different-colored, mosaic-like squares making up Glass’s head. “At the start, you can’t even see the green, but you get to the ninth hole eventually.”

Much later, after I’ve left the studio and am kicking my familiar Brooklyn sidewalks, it occurs to me that Chuck Close had just revealed to me how he taught himself to paint again. “Every stroke,” he’d said, summing up his life and generous career, “is a leap of faith.”

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CLOSE UP

In 1988, 20 years into a successful career, the iconic photorealist painter Chuck Close suffered a collapsed spinal artery, paralyzing him almost completely from the neck down. His inspiring struggle to work from a wheelchair with a paintbrush strapped to his wrist as well as his life before “The Event,” as Close calls it, is detailed in a new biography by his longtime friend Christopher Finch titled Chuck Close: Life, a companion book to Finch’s 2007 Chuck Close: Work. Tonight, the Strand presents An Intimate Evening with Chuck Close & Christopher Finch; the $50 ticket includes a signed copy of Chuck Close: Life and your choice of an always-chic Strand tote bag.

Thu., July 15, 7 p.m., 2010

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Meet Herb and Dorothy, Mascots and Great Collectors of the Art World

Chuck Close calls them the mascots of the art world. Christo and Jeanne-Claude once offered them a drawing in exchange for taking care of their cat, Gladys, for a summer. The passion for minimalist and conceptual art that aging Manhattan collectors Herb and Dorothy Vogel have shared for nearly a half-century is sweet—if obsessive enough for a 12-step program—and has yielded one of the world’s major contemporary collections on a modest income. How did a retired postal clerk and librarian manage to accumulate thousands of important works (Picasso, Pollack, Schnabel), particularly when one of their buyers’ rules of thumb is that everything must fit in their rent-controlled one-bedroom apartment? Former journalist Megumi Sasaki’s warmhearted celebration of these adorable do-gooders—shot as the Vogels negotiated with the National Gallery of Art to take their collection for free (as one artist notes, asking the couple to sell even a single piece is like asking him to cut off a square yard from his painting)—cements their significance to the art world and introduces them to the rest of us. With no curatorial training beyond an instinctual “We like what we like,” watching the Vogels mull over art that they don’t need to understand only makes their delight more infectious.

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BLUE-COLLAR GALLERY

When Herb and Dorothy Vogel began collecting art in the 1960s, Richard Tuttle, Chuck Close, and Christo were not well-known names—but then, neither were Herb and Dorothy Vogel, who turned out to be two of the most important collectors of the 20th century. Dorothy, a librarian, and Herb, a postal clerk, found a way to indulge their passion by devoting all of Herb’s salary toward acquiring enough art to wallpaper their entire Manhattan apartment. The couple managed to assemble a packrat’s version of Sotheby’s, with some 4,000 works worth several million. Director Megumi Sasaki tells their story in Herb and Dorothy and will be on hand after the screening for a Q&A.

Wed., May 20, 8 p.m., 2009

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Chuck Close

“I am tired of looking at myself; why do I keep doing self-portraits?” This from Chuck Close at the beginning of
Chuck Close: An Elegant Portrait of the Art World’s Leading Portraitist, and it’s a question—and a tension—that keeps great artists toiling their entire lives. Director Marion Cajori began working on this documentary in 1993, and continued on it until her death last year. Unseen and unheard throughout the nearly two-hour film, Cajori alternates focus between Close, who is in the months-long process of painting a wall-sized self-portrait, and his artist friends, most of whom have been Close’s subjects. The result is an open, vivid symposium on not just Close’s career, but that of many artists of the same vintage: Kiki Smith, Philip Glass, Robert Rauschenberg, and Brice Marden speak eloquently about Close, but Cajori goes further, constructing a primer on the work of those individuals as well, who define their own aesthetics by setting themselves in relief to Close.

At once grid-specific (Close works from large, pore-invading Polaroids) and wholly intuitive, Close’s piecemeal, coherent style is wonderfully, almost winkingly well suited to Cajori’s: Hers is a portrait of a portraitist that follows the process of painting a portrait that is not about a person but a process. Lest your head be spun by the interviewees’ arty-speak, Cajori regularly slows the gorgeously crisp, high-def film down to the brush-stroke, tightly framing the hands of the wheelchair-bound Close (who has painted via an elaborate system of assistants, levers, and pulleys since an occlusion of the spinal artery paralyzed him in the 1980s) as he layers color upon color into box upon box in isolation. Although the painting montages become somewhat burdensome in their repetition, and an epilogue feels academic in every sense, when Cajori finally pulls away from the finished portrait, the sense of a job done to brimming satisfaction is acutely twofold.

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The Coincidental Cousins

Every night out has its bizarre themes, tiny lights of synchronicity that flash in conversations, a certain irrational logic. All the possibilities in New York City pile up to form a devilish consciousness.

A few nights ago, you leave the office with an immense coffee-table book about Chuck Close and another about the Wooster Group. You drop the books at home, forget about them, head to the Bowery to meet up with Kara.

You’ve seen a lot of your artist cousin Kara recently. Yes, that Kara—Kara Walker. The MacArthur genius whose cutout-silhouette installations of “sex pickaninnies,” as you once called them, have generated accolades, anger, and sales. Her career is ablaze—again. Whitney retrospective (through February), New Yorker cover, New Yorker profile, Time‘s 100 Most Influential People. Her humility is hilarious, though. About illustrating the New Yorker cover, she says, “See, I can do something else, in case this gallery stuff doesn’t work out.” Only half-joking. You’re like, “If this isn’t ‘working out,’ what is?”

Your relationship in seven words: She amazes you, you make her laugh. It started in junior high. This year you spent a semi-vegetarian Thanksgiving at her place, and the following Sunday was her birthday party. Tonight your significant others are busy, so you hit the opening of the New Museum of Contemporary Art’s new building, reminiscent of a stack of gray books, then go off to see Sister’s Keeper, a thriller at the African Diaspora Film Festival.

You get to the museum before Kara. In the stark lobby, lit by flat-screen TVs, a boyish caterer holds out a tray of glasses filled with golden liquid. “What is this?” you ask, expecting to hear “Chardonnay” or “Sauvignon Blanc.” “White wine,” he replies. Is this racial profiling? You just say thanks.

Despite the cavernous spaces in the New Museum, it still feels cramped. The offices have low ceilings, the galleries no windows. A truly claustrophobia-inducing staircase squeaks down from the sixth floor. You make it to the seventh floor, lured by the promise of hors d’oeuvres. Up there, the DJ is hooked on AOR—songs in 6/8 time, wtf? The hors d’oeuvres disappear fast—seared salmon on a potato lattice with a hint of orange flavor. Kara, characteristically dressed down, emerges from the elevator with her pal Eungie Joo, director of education programs at the museum.

Soon, art historian Robert Hobbs—who has written about Kara and wants to write lots more—corners her. The one thing Kara isn’t good at is ending conversations assertively. “I need you,” Eungie says, almost angrily grabbing Kara’s forearm. Eungie leads the two of you through the inaugural exhibition, “Unmonumental.” Most of the works are large-scale sculptures made from cheap materials: a mountain of chairs, rags bound together. Eungie points out her favorite piece: four pieces of sandpaper balanced on a pair of two-by-fours. “My grad students at Columbia are making work like this,” Kara says, “perhaps trying to avoid something, like content.” She decides we’ll come back later. At the coat check, she rips a fiver by accident. “What should I do about this?” she asks. “Tape it back together?” “It’s the least we owe Marse Lincoln,” you say.

Honey-voiced performer Kyle deCamp recently hepped you to the charms of the passé restaurant—quiet, empty places with good food and no wait—in particular the nearby Rialto, on Elizabeth Street. Tonight the front room is relatively full; only two tables open. “They’re coming out with this huge Chuck Close book,” Kara starts. The same one you brought home. “And Robert wants to put a similar one out for me, but I don’t need another book right now.” Earlier in the evening, you’d referred to Robert as her remora, the fish that attaches itself to a shark and feeds on its crumbs. Then again, you qualify too.

You talk a lot about astrology. All your intense, volatile relationships are with Cancers, hers with Tauruses. You order a thick pork chop with polenta; she has a stack of grilled veggies. “This dish only lacks one thing,” she says. “Flavor.”

A guy at the next table looks like Philip Roth. His friends all lean in to listen to him, which seems like proof. “That reminds me of a tryst I had with a downtown performer, in college, when I was working in that bookstore in Atlanta.” Another Kara habit: blurting out things she might not want to see in print. A Sagittarius trait, supposedly. “Er, who? If I promise not to print it, will you tell me?” She tells you. It’s another coincidence from your day. “I was investigating something about myself,” she explains. “That must have made two of you,” you respond. She describes her mother’s sex-ed lesson: “Men don’t like the feel of condoms. That’s how we got you.”

Outside it’s crisp, and golden leaves skitter everywhere through the streets. The two of you dash to Anthology Film Archives, and you’re soon watching a film with 20 other black people.

Kent Faulcon stars and directs this thriller, Sister’s Keeper, a stylish yet low-budget movie about a hired killer who falls in love with the woman he’s supposed to murder. Think Soul Food meets Shadowboxer—if you dare. The heroine mistakes the assassin for her estranged brother. Hints of incest, a rifle-toting grandma, a cameo by Eric Roberts. “Can I leave?” Kara whispers, maybe sickened by the female lead’s perkiness. “Only if you tell me why,” you say. She stays; the film gets more absorbing—even the actress—though it’s literally murky. Black people in the dark have only been shot this haphazardly by the NYPD. “These are some silhouetted Negroes,” you say to Kara. “Who was the cinematographer? You?”

During the film, Kara whispers, “I have never seen a black woman in a film that I wanted to meet in person— except Beloved,” and writes on your scratch pad: “I am going to make a feature!” You thought of the shell-shocked fogies you watched leave the room at the Whitney where her short film 8 Possible Beginnings is still on view. They had just witnessed a scene of interracial gay sex and male pregnancy, followed by the difficult birth of a cotton-ball ghost-child. Nicole Kidman will not star in the upcoming feature version.

The screening ends at midnight, but Kara wants a nightcap. You wander through the Lower East Side, appalled by the fratty atmosphere of the East Village Yacht Club. A comparatively empty video bar, the Blue Seats, has about 30 flat-screen TVs embedded in its walls. You order a sidecar, she a mojito. You turn to the handsome, lost-looking white man next to you—whose last name turns out to be Whitman—and ask, “Wanna meet a famous artist?” He’s polite but clearly has no clue who Kara is. Coincidentally, he’s waiting for his cousin, who seems to have stood him up. Kara, born in Stockton, recognizes in him a specific Northern California privilege. “Don’t you just want to fuck the entitlement out of him?” you ask. “That’s the danger,” she says. “My whole career started out as revenge on ex-boyfriends.”

After the one drink, she considers going dancing. Most people with kids are in bed by now, if not asleep. But she’s only considering. You put her in a northbound cab, and then have trouble finding one yourself.

The next morning, Eric Roberts appears in a saccharine AIDS film on TV, his lover soothing him into the next world by describing a scene on a ski lift. You watch him slowly die.

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Free Will Astrology

ARIES (March 21–April 19): Chameleons use their stupendously strong tongues to reach out and capture their prey, which can be up to one-sixth their size. The equivalent for you would be if you could snag a big chicken with the muscular organ in your mouth. I’m not predicting you’ll develop that skill in the coming days. But I do believe you’ll have a powerful tongue in the sense that the words you shape with it will have a prodigious capacity to change your surroundings and influence everyone around you.

TAURUS (April 20–May 20): “Inspiration is highly overrated,” says photorealist artist Chuck Close. “If you sit around and wait for the clouds to part, it’s not liable to ever happen.” I share his assessment of the creative process. The books and music and columns I’ve produced owe their existence largely to my hard work, which generates a burst of inspiration every now and then but mostly gets things done without much flash. Keep that in mind, Taurus. Though you may not be inundated with a series of epiphanies in the coming days, you have the potential to spawn a lot of useful and original stuff. Your fertility quotient is high.

GEMINI (May 21–June 20): To best take advantage of the fresh and innocent cosmic forces that are offering themselves up to you, try experiments like the following: eat food you’ve never tried; listen to new music; climb a hill that has always been in the distance; have a down-to-earth conversation with a person who up till now hasn’t been quite real to you; try erotic experiences you’ve wondered about; scrawl graffiti on a wall that has never been written upon; and push yourself to feel positive emotions that you may sometimes be too lazy or cynical to seek out, like playful reverence, intense curiosity, voracious gratitude, and surprised delight.

CANCER (June 21–July 22): Near the end of World War II, a soldier named Shoichi Yokoi was serving in the Japanese army on the island of Guam. As American troops invaded, he fled into the dense jungle and hid in an underground cave. There he stayed for the next 28 years. When he finally returned to civilization, his first words were, “It is with much embarrassment that I have returned alive.” In comparing you to Yokoi, Cancerian, I am of course exaggerating. You have not been concealing yourself so literally or so thoroughly. And yet I feel a similar poignancy about the way you have kept yourself from revealing your full beauty. Please come in from out of the dark and shine the full blast of your iridescent light.

LEO (July 23–Aug. 22): “I will tell you a great secret,” wrote Algerian philosopher Albert Camus. “Do not wait for the last judgment. It takes place every day.” Author and activist John W. Gardner spoke of the same issue from a different angle. “To sensible people,” he said, “every day is a day of reckoning.” I offer up those words for your guidance in the coming days, Leo. May they inspire you to be fierce and willful, exuberantly unstoppable and wildly resourceful. May they remind you that even though there might be a world of pressure on you, that pressure is natural, merciful, and exactly what you need.

VIRGO (Aug. 23–Sept. 22): The coming weeks will be an excellent time for you to become dramatically clearer about the nature of your ambitions. To jumpstart the process, read this insight from career counselor Robin Hirschberg: “People tend to confuse their purpose (‘What do I love to do?’) with their ideals (‘How am I comfortable behaving?’) and their desired results (‘What can I achieve?’).” Now get to work figuring out the truth about those three foundation stones, Virgo. Once you do that, develop a plan for getting them to work together synergistically.

LIBRA (Sept. 23–Oct. 22): “Who has done more good for the planet, Mother Teresa or Bill Gates?” asked businessman John Mackey. “No contest: Gates has helped far more people.” Whether you agree with that assessment or not, Libra, act as if it’s true in the coming weeks. As you express your generous urges, don’t so much model yourself after Mother Teresa, who felt pious feelings and gave mostly symbolic assistance to a few thousand poor, sick people. Model yourself more after Gates, who spends billions of dollars to provide technological resources to schools in the U.S., and to bolster health care and reduce poverty in the Third World. In other words, don’t just be emotionally and spiritually supportive. Be aggressively helpful in the most practical ways.

SCORPIO (Oct. 23–Nov. 21): Militant atheists make the claim that religion has always been a primary cause of war. If humans weren’t under the sway of “the God delusion,” they fume, armed conflicts would be infrequent. But military historian Eric Bergerud says that’s absurd. He notes that while there have been a few religious wars, “most wars in history have been driven by the lust for power and loot.” In other words, the materialist delusion is far more lethal than the God delusion. People who believe there’s nothing of value beyond what the five senses can perceive are often the most dangerous of all. Make this the seed for your meditations, Scorpio. Think about how much less fear and loathing you’d suffer if you knew for a fact that your soul lives forever. Imagine the peace and wonder you’d feel if you knew there are realities and spiritual beings that aren’t visible to the naked eye or to the technology that science has dreamed up thus far.

SAGITTARIUS (Nov. 22–Dec. 21): Read this passage from the Talmud: “When the fetus comes forth into the air of the world, what is closed opens and what is open closes.” I believe that’s an apt metaphor for what’s going on in your life, Sagittarius. You’re leaving behind a situation that has nurtured you even as it has bound you. Ahead of you lies a scary freedom that will flood into you with a pleasurable shock. Welcome to the brilliant shouting mystery of it all!

CAPRICORN (Dec. 22–Jan. 19): “To have more, desire less.” I urge you to make that your motto in the coming days, Capricorn. You’re in a phase that’s ideal for expanding your horizons by cutting back on your attachments. Your wealth will grow if you renounce any greed you may be harboring. Your power will intensify if you give up your longing for control over things you can’t control. So be brave. Be nervy. Have fun. As you shed insubstantial wishes and barely-relevant obsessions, you may come to resemble a monarch.

AQUARIUS (Jan. 20—Feb. 18): A flower is in one sense a brilliant advertisement. With its alluring aroma, appealing color, and voluptuous shape, it captures the attention of insects and birds, inviting them in for a visit. It’s not false advertising: The pollinators get to imbibe sweet food at the heart of the flower. But the flower also has a hidden agenda. Its male reproductive material, the pollen, gets stuck to the pollinators’ bodies, and they carry it away to the female organs of new flowers, thereby facilitating the plant version of impregnation. Now imagine that you are a flower, and re-read everything I just said, interpreting it as a metaphor for the approach you might want to pursue in the coming days.

PISCES (Feb. 19—March 20): “Dear Rob: I would love to live on the ocean, I mean literally in a floating village, so that I could always sense the pulse of the Mother of Us All. I want the wild revelation of the horizon to be uncluttered before me. I want to smell the tang of salt in the air, to hear the cries of seagulls. No more towers, no more labyrinths of concrete—just breathtaking, incomprehensible expanses of waves. — Piscean Immersion-Junkie.” Dear Immersion-Junkie: Good news! You Pisceans will soon be invited to get tastes of this restless primordial spectacle. It’ll come to you in many ways, including (but not limited to) your dreams, meditations, hot baths, saunas, massages, love- making, music-playing, journal-writing, and sailing.

Homework Comment on Karen Pino’s quote: “The use of intellectual rigor for the purpose of increasing fear, sorrow, or doubt is the greatest cowardice of all.” Go to freewillastrology.com.

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Art

After all the anticipation (or am I the only one who starts a countdown in June?), the American fashion magazines’ hefty September issues are decidedly underwhelming. Nicole Kidman gives Vogue a neat jolt of star power in photos shot by Annie Leibovitz, Helmut Newton, and the always arresting Irving Penn. But even Madonna on the cover can’t save the terminally lackluster Harper’s Bazaar. These cover girls have serious competition from iconic ad campaigns, where Steven Meisel’s ethereal Christina Aguilera for Versace easily trumps Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott’s android J.Lo for Vuitton. Normally, I’d pass them all up for Kate Moss, who gets 40 pages and nine separate covers in the new W. But that project fizzles, too, and is barely saved by Mario Sorrenti, Lisa Yuskavage, and Chuck Close, whose daguerreotype portraits of Moss in the nude are as tender as they are unsparing.