Categories
Calendar CULTURE ARCHIVES Datebook Events FILM ARCHIVES TV ARCHIVES VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES

Arab Spring Doc We Are the Giant Is All Rah-Rah Without the Context

Lazy pro-activist doc We Are the Giant tries so hard to get viewers to cheer on the recent Arab Spring uprising that it distressingly ignores the individual factors that led Libyans, Syrians, and Bahrainis into the streets in the first place.

Director Greg Barker presents three real-life protesters as the latest in a long line of historical heroes by sandwiching their stories between haphazardly juxtaposed inspirational quotes, from Thomas Jefferson to Vladimir Lenin(!), and photographs of protests around the world, including Tiananmen Square and the Sharpesville massacre.

That broad scope makes We Are the Giant‘s freedom fighters look like well-meaning rebels without a specific cause. Barker’s focus on sweeping, big-picture gestures wrongly assumes that his subjects’ accomplishments speak for themselves. He confirms Libyan American Osama’s commendation of Osama’s rebellious son Muhannad — “[he’s become] an example to others” — by selectively quoting a New Yorker profile of Muhannad.

But Barker doesn’t ask Osama what about Muhannad’s protests inspired him to join him in protest. Instead, Barker crassly highlights a quote from the Gettysburg Address — “we here resolve that the dead shall not have died in vain” — before showing Osama tearfully mourning Muhannad’s death. Barker’s tactlessness wouldn’t be so bad if he weren’t too high on his own patchwork rhetoric to ask his subjects what specifically motivates them.

We learn that Bahraini political prisoner Zainab al-Khawaja is inspired by the civil rights movement and Alex Haley’s Roots, but never really find out what Khawaja means when she says, “Sometimes there are things that you need to do.” If you try to follow We Are the Giant‘s disjointed line of argument, you’ll never know what those “things” are.

Categories
Living Media NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES Washington, D.C.

The 53 Worst Politicians in America

King George III was “a Tyrant… unfit to be the ruler of a free people,” Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence exactly 238 years ago this week.
Tommy had it right.

Ever since then, Americans have been calling out their leaders. “Tyrant” was just the start. We’ve moved on to crook (Nixon), liar (Clinton), and moron (Dubya).

Whether or not you agree with the peanut gallery, there’s no denying that such written assaults on public honchos are as American as baseball, apple pie, and the iPhone.

So on this Independence Day, those closest to American politics — 50 writers and editors of the alternative press from across the land — have combined their collective genius. They’ve named 53 of the nation’s worst elected leaders from 23 of the largest states and the District of Columbia, then separated them into five categories:




Visit our news blog Runnin’ Scared for our selections for worst elected leaders in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

And there’s more than just the usual stodgy Washington losers. Try Colorado sheriff Terry Maketa, who allegedly had sex with not one, not two, but three underlings and then lied about it. Or check out Idaho Senate GOP leader John McGee, who stole and crashed an SUV, admitted to drinking too much, and went to jail. Upon returning to the statehouse, he was accused of groping a female staffer.

Want a little old-school corruption? Florida’s governor, Rick Scott, who will soon be up for re-election, founded a health-care empire that was whacked with the largest Medicare fraud fine in U.S. history: $1.7 billion for stealing from the feds. There’s also Washington, D.C. council member Michael Brown, who once accepted $200,000 to stay out of an election and was later indicted after grabbing at a cash-stuffed duffel bag offered by an undercover FBI agent.

Of course, there are big names here too. South Carolina’s “Luv Guv” Terry Sanford made the list. So did Texas’ Green Eggs and Ham filibusterer Ted Cruz and Minnesota loon Michele Bachmann. We even snuck wannabe pol Donald Trump snuck in a side door.

So before you head out for the fireworks or swig some American brew, consider this hall of shame.

Read the full story in this week’s Village Voice: “America’s Worst Politicians

Categories
NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Bloomberg Schools Flunk the Constitution

Years ago, when I was interviewing Justice William Brennan in his Supreme Court chambers for my book, Living the Bill of Rights, he suddenly became somber.

“How,” he asked, “can we take the Bill of Rights off the pages and into the very lives of students?” He was aware, even back then, how little time was spent in our public schools on who we are as Americans and what it keeps taking to protect our individual liberties against overreaching governments. (This was before George W. Obama.)

Were he still with us, Brennan would be even more disturbed by a report from an organization that honors his principles and actions, the Brennan Center for Justice in New York.

On April 13, the center released “A Report Card on New York’s Civic Literacy” by Eric Lane and Meg Barnette. The report received scant attention or follow-up, but a week later in the New York Daily News, Eric Lane–Distinguished Professor of Public Law and Public Service at Hofstra University Law School–did get space to emphasize that here and nationally, “unless we quickly address our disengagement from and ignorance of the way our government works through aggressive teaching of the basics in our schools, the nation’s very strength and prosperity will be at stake.”

And especially such very personal Fourth Amendment rights to privacy against “unreasonable searches and seizure.” Under our Education Mayor and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, this city leads the nation in “stops and frisks,” largely of blacks and Latinos, without the cops first going to a judge. Between January and March of this year, Kelly set a record: 183,326 interrogated with only 12 percent arrested or given a summons (Daily News, June 12).

How would the city’s students know about the Fourth Amendment? Here, and throughout the country, the fixation on collective standardized tests in reading and math has led to the absence of civics classes throughout the country. Early in his tenure, I asked Joel Klein about this most basic educational need if this generation and those that follow are not to be conditioned to accept being in a police state as normal. “I’m working on that,” Klein assured me. If he ever actually was concerned, this Brennan Center report gives him an F for what he did. And I’ve heard nothing from Chancellor Dennis Walcott about bringing the Constitution back to our students.

Let me challenge you, Chancellor Walcott.

What do students know about presidential and Justice Department contempt for the separation of powers, which were intended during the formation of the Constitution to prevent our becoming a kingdom? The rampant use, for a present example, by Bush-Cheney-Obama of “state secrets” to prevent cases against a unilateral federal government from even being heard in our courts?

Also, the almost daily increase in our society being in a state of surveillance. The FBI, for instance, can start an “assessment”–an investigation–of any of us without going to a judge.

In what is reliably called “the nation’s report card,” the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reported on how much citizens know about–and care about–the most dangerous subversions of the Constitution by the Bush-Cheney and now Obama administrations.

This is what “the nation’s report card” revealed particularly about students across the country: “Only one in 10 demonstrated acceptable knowledge on the checks and balances [the separation of powers] among the legislative, executive and judicial branches” (New York Times, May 4).

Also: “a smaller proportion of fourth and eighth graders demonstrated proficiency in civics [who we are as Americans] than in any other subject the federal government has tested since 2005.”

What is the subject of which they are most ignorant? History!

Now dig this from the Brennan Center Report on New York’s Civics Literacy: “For years [all of] New York required social studies [civics] assessment tests for its fourth and eighth grade students. The eighth grade assessment consisted mostly of history questions . . . Overall, New Yorkers did not perform well on those tests, and New York City students performed horribly. At a 2005 hearing of the New York City Council’s Education Committee, school officials informed the council members that “more than 80 percent of New York City eighth graders failed to meet state standards in social studies.”

So what happened as a result? “School officials said that they pay little attention to fourth and eighth grade social studies assessment tests ‘because they are not among the criteria used to determine if schools are performing adequately, either under state regulations or the federal No Child Left Behind law.'”

I remember that when Eva Moskowitz was a member of the City Council–before her Success Charter Network of schools had Harlem parents urgently trying to have their children accepted–she was the only council member to keep after Joel Klein about what he was actually doing to restore classes in civics. Klein did help her charter schools, but I recall nothing he actually did to respond credibly to those questions by her.

Hey, Chancellor Walcott, what do you have to say in response to the following urgent concern in the Brennan Center Report?

“Civic literacy is the prerequisite for developing the ties that bind us together as a nation. It enables us to disagree and pursue our interests and the common interest . . . Without these tools, we are now moving in a different direction, heading toward what the philosopher Michael Sandel calls a ‘story-less condition,’ in which ‘there is no continuity between present and past, and therefore no responsibility, and therefore no possibility for acting together to govern ourselves.” While Ray Kelly keeps zealously stopping and frisking citizens.

This column is open to you, Chancellor Walcott, to tell New York students, parents, and other citizens and residents what is being done in real life, real time, to engage students in learning why Thomas Jefferson often warned that the only basic safeguards of our constitutional rights and liberties are in the people themselves.

In one of the last conversations I had with Justice William Brennan, he said to me, “Remember, pal”–he called many people “pal”–“liberty is a fragile thing.”

And if you don’t know what your constitutional liberties are, how will you be able to realize they’re gone?

If I were teaching civics in this public school system, I would ask students to react–after they’d discovered who Jefferson, James Madison, Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black (“Don’t be afraid to be free!”), et al., were–to what an underrated Supreme Court Justice, David Souter, said while declaring his retirement at the National Archives Museum on May 21, 2009: Who we are as Americans “can be lost, is being lost, it is lost.” What’s needed “is the restoration of the self-identity of the American people.”

Imagine Thomas Jefferson in East Harlem seeing cops stopping and frisking people in total disregard of the Bill of Rights’ Fourth Amendment. He’d think King George III had taken back the colonists.

Categories
VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES Where To

MOMMA’S BOY

“A coward is much more exposed to quarrels than a man of spirit,” Thomas Jefferson said. And it’s likely that the main sissy of playwright Nick Jones’s The Coward would have to agree. The period comedy set in 18th-century England concerns a wimpy young gentleman who challenges another man to a pistol duel. However, instead of going through with it, he hires a common criminal to fight in his place—blood is shed and the coward’s reputation grows as a fighter. Jeremy Strong stars as the cowardly Lucidus Culling and the always-lovely Kristen Schaal stars as Isabelle Dupree, an upperclass lady who only shows interest in the coward after she learns of his bravery; Sam Gold directs.

Nov. 8-Dec. 4, 2010

Categories
ART ARCHIVES CULTURE ARCHIVES Education Living NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES Theater

A Founding Father Prowls the Ohio Theatre Stage in Red-Haired Thomas

As curator and administrator of the Ohio Theatre, white-haired Robert Lyons is a man much admired. As the playwright of Red-Haired Thomas, now showing at the Ohio, he may receive less approbation. Set in an anxious Manhattan of the mind, Red-Haired Thomas opens with a scene of a half-naked Thomas Jefferson (Alan Benditt), who congratulates himself for having “fathered the most human of all human rights—and the most elusive: the right to pursue happiness.” He also claims to have fathered two singularly unhappy men: Cliff (Peter Sprague), “a delusional dreamer with a penchant for violence,” and Ifthikar (Danny Beiruti), an immigrant from Asia Minor who runs a newsstand.

Under Oliver Butler’s direction, Red-Haired Thomas is a play about everything and nothing. It encompasses discussions of financial uncertainty, global unrest, domestic terrorism, even New York housing laws. But the characters never fully emerge, nor do the relationships engage, save for appealing interactions between Cliff and his precocious daughter, Abby (Nicole Raphael). The tone volleys uneasily between realism and absurdism—at times verging on parody—as when Ifthikar orders Cliff to “Denounce the Electoral College!” In the evening’s loveliest moment, Cliff’s wife, Marissa (Danielle Skraastad), and Thomas Jefferson escape the play entirely, slipping out the Ohio’s barn doors and into the street beyond. The show ends soon after—loosing audiences into the night to better pursue their own happiness. ALEXIS SOLOSKI

Categories
NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

The Next American Revolution: When It Becomes Necessary To Bring King George to Justice

A revolutionary, Thomas Jefferson, provided the reason for continuing the project started at the Robert H. Jackson Conference on Planning for the Prosecution of High-Level American War Criminals, which I first mentioned last week. The conference brought together 120 legal authorities, activists, law professors, public officials, and scholars in Andover, Massachusetts, on September 13 and 14. Its aims were summed up by Jefferson: “Every government degenerates when trusted solely to the rulers of the people. The people themselves, therefore, are its only safe depositories. And to render them safe, their minds must be improved to a certain degree.”

Since Obama, McCain, Palin, and Biden have never once mentioned the Constitution during the campaign, let alone any of the specific war crimes by the Bush administration, the people, to prevent further degeneration of their individual liberties, will have to learn how to restart the American revolution through the work of this conference and other such groups as the national Bill of Rights Defense Committee, Amnesty International, and the ACLU.

One of the participants at the Andover Conference was Army veteran Christopher Pyle, professor of politics at Massachusetts Mount Holyoke College, whose research and revelations of the Army spying on civilians go back nearly 50 years. They include his work as an investigator for Senator Sam Ervin’s Judiciary Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights, whose Watergate probes pushed Richard Nixon out of the presidency.

Said Pyle, whose witnessing for the Constitution I’ve known for years: “We would be here [at Andover] addressing these same questions had these crimes been committed by Democrats. This is not a campaign event. It addresses the most serious crisis in our history—the claim that the president and his secret agents [throughout the administration] can get away with torture, kidnapping, and even manslaughter.”

Pyle is too kind. There are documented cases of outright murder in Jane Mayer’s The Dark Side (Doubleday) and other investigative books previously cited in these columns—notably, and with official autopsy documents, Jaffer and Singh’s Administration of Torture (Palgrave Macmillan).

At the core of “this most serious crisis in our history,” Pyle emphasized, is “a 50-year trend toward unaccountable, secret government, which can commit crimes with impunity. . . . Punishing the torture team is just the beginning. We also need to change the laws and the legal doctrines, like the state-secret privilege” (which has allowed the government to stop any trial, before the evidence is even heard, that might expose any of these war crimes).

And we have to find out which of these poisonous continuing legal doctrines Bush and his team hope to provide to future administrations, which would encourage future war crimes. After a recent one-on-one interview with Bush, columnist Charles Krauthammer approvingly reported that the president is proud of “bequeathing to his successor the kinds of powers and institutions the next President will need . . . to successfully prosecute the long war [against terrorists]”—which his vice president of darkness, Dick Cheney, says may never end.

Part of that legacy, Krauthammer reported, was a plan by Bush to leave to his successor “a revised FISA regime that grants broader and modernized wiretapping authority” (which the Democrats, including Barack Obama, helped to pass, putting the Fourth Amendment on life support).

Opening the Andover conference, Dean Lawrence Velvel of the Massachusetts School of Law said: “The goal will be to engage in action so that the conference will not have been . . . merely an exercise in self-expression.” (Remember, there is no statute of limitations on murder and many international crimes.)

Velvel listed some of the proposals for action that were raised during the conference. I’ll keep score on them and others in this column. Here are some:

• “Requesting state bar authorities to disbar the lawyers who were part of the executive cabal to authorize torture and other abuses that are crimes under international law, domestic law, or both.” I’ve suggested to Velvel that the American Bar Association—which has been consistently critical of the Bush regime’s parallel legal system outside the separation of powers—be consulted on this and other accountability measures.

• “Obtaining inspector general reports of what was done in given federal departments, like the Department of Justice, the Pentagon, the State Department, the CIA, etc.” This won’t work, however, unless there is insistent public pressure from such groups as the American Bar Association, the ACLU, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, the Electronic Privacy Foundation, and the Constitution Project, among others, insisting that inspector generals be appointed who are fearlessly independent—like the often-effective Glenn A. Fine of the Justice Department. And I strongly suggest that Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) be asked to validate their independence. He’s fought attempts to strip inspector generals of their independence in the past.

• “A march of many thousands of American lawyers on the Department of Justice—à la civil rights or Vietnam War marches or the Million Man March. The purpose of the march would be to highlight lawyers’ belief that crimes were committed and must be published.” American lawyers already have an honorable working model for such a march. Large numbers of Pakistani lawyers took to the streets to protest against then Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf when he removed all the country’s Supreme Court justices, and placed the chief justice under house arrest for having resisted Musharraf’s gutting of Pakistan’s Constitution and rule of law.

Also suggested by Velvel are “Teach-ins at universities on the question of war crimes” committed by the many potential defendants who served as Bush’s high-level accomplices: Dick Cheney, David Addington, Michael Mukasey, et al. Such teach-ins were very effective in creating informed resistance to the Vietnam War throughout the country.

Another important mission for those who remember the final days of President Bill Clinton: “Resisting pardons, particularly advance pardons by Bush or the next president, before there are convictions.”

Next week: How you and other American citizens can become involved in planning for a Nuremberg trial of administration officials by getting an invaluable, concise, and exceptionally clear account of much of the primary evidence—the Bill of Rights Defense Committee’s newly published The ‘War on Terror’ and the Constitution. It’s our new Declaration of Independence.

Categories
FOOD ARCHIVES Living NYC ARCHIVES VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES

The Frying Game

Our love affair with frying began in 1802, when Thomas Jefferson introduced the french fry to America. Potato chips were invented in upstate New York in 1853, after someone asked a cook at a resort hotel in Saratoga Springs to make her french fries thinner and crisper. At some point between those years, fried chicken caught on as the South’s favorite dish. That recipe came on slave ships, after West Africans learned it from the Portuguese mariners, who explored and plundered the west coast of Africa in the 16th century.

Also in the 16th century, Portuguese Jesuit missionaries brought frying to Asia, where the Japanese adopted their name for it—tempura, from the Latin quattuor tempora, referring to the four feast days per year when Portuguese Catholics ate deep-fried shrimp instead of meat. The same dish became popular in New York City during the late 1960s, when midtown was flooded with Japanese businesspeople and restaurants catering to them became common.

With tempura, the Japanese took frying to new heights, inventing a kind of bread crumb called panko that cooked up light and crisp without losing its pale color. But tempura remained only a footnote to Japanese menus in New York, as we became obsessed first by sushi, then by noodles. Now Josh DeChellis, the chef at Sumile, has decided to restore tempura to its proper place in the Japanese food pantheon. Located in the West Village, his BarFry replaces the lackluster 50 Carmine, and you won’t recognize the space. A severe black banquette extends along one wall, running opposite a bar that dominates the room. The restaurant’s interior is tiled in eye-searing white. That antiseptic lack of color, and a menu dominated entirely by tempura, might tempt you to think you’ve wandered into an insane asylum—but one in which you’ll happily be committed.

The tempura list comprises 17 items, most $3 to $6. A single order usually includes three or four morsels, but the quantity varies wildly–the heaps of string beans and squid were so profuse one evening we couldn’t finish them. If you’re a fan of bar-food calamari, you’ll find that DeChellis takes the cephalopod to new heights of airiness and crunchiness. The downside, I suppose, is that it doesn’t fill you up quite as much. The tempura is delivered in handsome wooden boxes of various sizes. The boxes have metal screens on the bottom, perhaps to prove that the tempura is so ungreasy it won’t stain your pants if you set it down on your leg. (It will.) The boxes come accompanied by four dipping sauces. My faves are the jalapeño-laced soy sauce and the Creole remoulade, a sort of jazzed-up tartar sauce.

The shrimp tempura is right on the money, a shade better than the product at most Japanese restaurants. But invariably, you’ll find yourself gravitating to the less pedestrian selections. “Mini-peppers” are slick green shishito chiles; their flavor is pleasingly botanical, but I wish the peppers were hotter. The creamy Japanese pumpkin is definitely worth ordering, and so are the overstuffed pork dumplings, which turn out to be more like Dominican pasteles, with a thick bready coating and coarse-textured pork that slides out the end when you bite into them. Good, too, are the beef beignets, meat doughnuts that demonstrate a New Orleans influence that’s a leitmotif of DeChellis’s menu. Only the onion-ring tempura disappointed: It was made with Vidalia onions, whose mild flavor was obliterated by deep-frying. Use skanky cheap onions, dude!

For those who hesitate to make an entire meal of tempura, DeChellis provides New Orleans po’ boys, the stuffings of which fall in the Japanese tonkatsu canon. He strays across the Texas border for the chicken-fried steak po’ boy ($14), a prodigious tuck-in that oozes its ginger-spiced mayo out the edges of a crusty French roll. Incredibly, the cutlet is fried in such a way that the inside remains rare. The greasiness of the sandwich is mitigated by pickled onions and arugula.

It’s easy to OD on fried things at BarFry. Accordingly, there are a series of dishes devoid of grease. Standard half-sour pickles are sent soaring with wasabi ($4), and the organic spinach side ($7) is a more elaborate take on the compressed spinach puck found in every Japanese restaurant. Keep an eye on the specials menu, too. On one occasion, there was a wonderful pickled-watermelon salad festooned with bitter greens. It tasted like summer’s last dying gasp.

Categories
Bars Datebook FOOD ARCHIVES Listings NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Freedom Booze

We’ve never thought about our founding fathers’ hooch of choice, until an invite from the Boston Beer Company, maker of Sam Adams, landed in our box. In honor of the new Samuel Adams Brewer Patriot Collection—four beers allegedly inspired by our founding fathers—the company was hosting an evening of “colonial-inspired” food to drink with the beers at fancy-schmancy West Village restaurant One if by Land, Two if by Sea.

“Colonial-inspired” in this case meant everything from bacon-wrapped scallops to berry soup, but we were expecting something a little more rugged. Wasn’t there supposed to be some moose head to chomp on? Fresh roasted deer from the Appalachian backwoods? And for that matter, why wasn’t Boston Beer honcho Jim Koch in knickers and a goofy hat? The brewing world’s beloved beer gnome—Papa Beer, we like to call him—delivered a speech wearing the classic Bill “loaded, who me?” Gates get-up of a chambray button down and khakis.

The affair might not have been very authentic, but the beer was. Koch described how several of our founding fathers—George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Sam Adams—were dedicated home brewers. Thomas Jefferson had a brewery at Monticello; James Madison learned about brewing from Jefferson and at one time considered starting a “national brewery” in D.C.; George Washington believed in buying only American-made brew. Released in time for July 4th, the new Brewer Patriot Collection honors each of them with his own beer. “As brewers,” says Koch, “they were very improvisational. They couldn’t go to Whole Foods—they made beer from what they had.” Washington used blackstrap molasses in his beer because of its availability. The George Washington Porter (porter was apparently Washington’s favorite type of beer) had a deep, chocolate-y brown color and a rich, molasses flavor. By far the easiest sipping beer, the James Madison Dark Wheat Ale, includes malt barley hand-smoked with oak from land Madison himself once owned. Apparently Thomas Jefferson and his wife regularly brewed gallons of ginger beer with honey and lemons to drink daily; in Jefferson’s honor, the Traditional Ginger Honey Ale is a pleasant summertime refresher fashioned after old ginger-brew recipes from the 1700s. Reminding the rest of us that root beer was a beer first, the 1790 Root Beer Brew is made from ingredients that Sam Adams would have been used back in the day: blackstrap molasses, sassafras root bark, dried wintergreen, and licorice. Because of its thick sweetness—a small shot glass of this would be fine, a whole pint, a challenge—we thought of this more as a novelty beer than an everyday drink. “They weren’t brewed to be palate pleasing,” Koch says of his beers, “they were brewed to be authentic.”

Categories
Equality NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES Washington, D.C.

Would ‘Honest Abe’ Lincoln Have Accomplished More on Zoloft?

Turns out that the familiar bearded figure responsible for the spine-tingling eloquence of the Second Inaugural Address wrote these chilling-in-a-different-way verses years earlier: “Yes! I’ve resolved the deed to do,/And this the place to do it:/This heart I’ll rush a dagger through/Though I in hell should rue it.” Abraham Lincoln coped with depression, major and chronic, his entire life, contends scholar Joshua Wolf Shenk in his new Lincoln’s Melancholy (Houghton Mifflin), and Lincoln’s struggles with that disease prepared him, the son of an illiterate frontiersman, to lead the nation through its darkest days. The purported link between mental illness and genius puzzled experts long before the advent of psychopharmacology and the birth of Freud, and it remains a potent talking point: Would Lincoln have accomplished more on Zoloft? At the same time, the public’s curiosity about the personal lives of civics class greats has reached muckraking proportions: John Adams was a deadbeat husband; Thomas Jefferson fathered children with his slaves; Lincoln may have been homosexual. Former first lady and mental health advocate Rosalynn Carter appears with Shenk in this discussion of how the 16th president’s melancholy may have kept the union together even as the man was falling apart.

Categories
ART ARCHIVES CULTURE ARCHIVES Living NYC ARCHIVES

Revolutionary

By 1955, the triumph of American painting seemed complete—Europe’s luminous haystacks, melting watches, and fractured faces had been eclipsed by Gotham’s abstract expressions. Yet that same year, after slathering onto canvas a few rhombuses of dripping paint in homage to his elders (Pollock would be dead inside a year), Robert Rauschenberg snatched the torch and highlighted comic strips, newspapers, and campaign broadsides in his pivotal painting Rebus. Collage was nothing new, but Rauschenberg avoided Picasso’s faux chair-caning and Ernst’s fever dreams while pushing past the gray newsprint transfers de Kooning had introduced into abstraction. Juxtaposing colorful Sunday comics and a denatured print of Boticelli’s Venus, Rauschenberg pitted popular trash against high culture as if staging a prizefight; he replaced the classic horizon line with a belt of paint samples that run the chromatic gamut while supporting photos of a pair of sprinters, one black and one white, racing from right to left, arriving at a fragment of a political poster reading “THAT REPRE.

Reresents who? What? A rebus is a puzzle, and this 11-foot-wide enigma—still powerful even if yellowed with age like an old parchment—represents what Thomas Jefferson recommended for the nation: ongoing revolution.