Thursday, July 31, 2008


A few Sundays ago I treated my friend Howard to a day at the Guggenheim Museum to see the Louise Bourgeois retrospective. I of course did not plop down $40.00 for tickets, but simply presented my artist in the collection life time pass and we were in. The Gu Mu as I call it, acquired two sculptures of mine as gifts from a collector back in the early 80‘s. I have never seen them on display and for all I know they are languishing in some dark hole beneath all those spirally ramps. The retrospective was an intriguing and sometimes satisfying experience for me, but I can’t say that I love Ms. Bourgeois work. I find too much of it way too organic, ugly and physically clumsy. I am not one for oozing and breast like shapes nor forms made of latex or phallic sculptures. Nor do I care for cheap surrealism. Latex is an ugly medium to work with, and as far as I‘m concerned the only artist who used this stuff well was the late and great sculptor Eva Hesse. The ugliest piece in the show and also what might be one of the ugliest pieces of sculpture of the 20th century is her “The Destruction Of The Father” from 1974. (Dig the subtle title) which was a diorama of latex and plaster breast like shapes that is set into a wall and lit from within by a red light. It reminded me of one of those ghastly and ghostly dioramas that I use to love in the old spook rides at Coney Island. Bourgeois as many people know is 96 and has been making art forever or maybe it just seems that way. In the early 1970’s she could be seen everywhere, at gallery openings, at art world parties in the streets and galleries of Soho, and nobody gave a shit about her or her work, not critics, other artists or dealers. Embraced by the feminists and their critics but ignored by everyone else she plugged away. Her invisibility changed when the Museum of Modern Art gave her a retrospective in 1982, which came as a great surprise to some, and suddenly she was a hot art world commodity. Go figure, but good for her anyway. I’m all for the recognition of neglected artists, especially since I might be one of them myself. My favorite pieces of hers were the early wood totem sculptures she calls personages and some of the other wood works done by her in the late 1940’s and early 50’s. The latest works called cells are large enclosed room like spaces surrounded by doors and filled with various objects, small sculptures and mementos that we view from openings in and between the doors, and seem to have great meaning for the artist, but left me cold and bored. They look like displays you might see in the windows of Barney’s or strange period rooms that mimic the ones you can see at The Brooklyn Museum. In the early 70’s I was at a small dinner party given by two art world friends and Louise was one of the guests. Also at the dinner was Alice Neel who was the complete opposite of Louise. I don’t recall Louise saying much at dinner that night. She was quiet and small, demure and somewhat shy I thought, but next to Neel, anyone would seem quiet and demure. Alice started yakking the minute she wobbled in and didn’t stop talking, mainly about herself the whole night. At one point she turned to me and asked who I was. When I told her that I was an artist, she turned away from me, and went on talking about herself. Louise of course knew my work as I was showing my art and myself quite a lot in the early and mid 70’s. I liked Louise and wish that I had gotten to know her better when I had the chance. I couldn’t stand Alice Neel even though I’ve always liked her paintings and found her life story very colorful and interesting. I just couldn’t stand to be around her and I was not alone in my dislike of her. Once at an opening of some show or other at the Whitney she baited and taunted a well known realist painting for no apparent reason that I could see, and the painter bit back telling her off. “ Now that you’re rich and famous you should be kinder and more generous” Alice told the painter. No doubt she meant that he should be kinder and more generous to her. Many years ago, an artist acquaintance of mine was walking around the Lower Eastside when it was still low, and saw an old Puerto Rican man pushing a supermarket cart full of stuff towards him. He suddenly stopped short when he noticed that attached to the front of the wagon was one of Alice Neel’s paintings. The artist knew it was a Neel because he was a friend of hers and his daughter had posed for her. “How much do you want for the painting” he asked? “Give me $10.00 the man replied and so the artist gave him the money and took the Neel home with him to his apartment on Ave A. He called me on the phone to tell me about this unbelievable stroke of fortune and said that he would return the painting to Alice and that maybe she would give him a reward, as she was starting to sell her work for a lot of money and after a life time of poverty she was rolling in the dough. “You should keep it I told him and wait until she kicks the bucket, which should be anytime now and then sell it.” He knew how much I disliked Alice and chuckled but he had made up his mind and was going to call her and return the painting to her. “You’re nuts” I told him, but sure enough he called her and the next day he wrapped up the painting and took it on the subway to her apartment. Just as I expected she offered him nothing except the $10.00 that he had bought the painting back for. As Me and Howard made our way down the ramps of the Guggenheim, he read out loud to me from the museum guide “Listen to this Ira Joel “Louise Bourgeois is of one of the most important artists of our time.” “Well maybe of their time, but certainly not of my time” I replied. “Let’s go eat.” “Yes indeed, yes indeed he said” as we walked by one of her hideous large spider sculptures in the rotunda and out into the fine early summer New York afternoon.

Pictures are of Louise Bourgeois and a self portrait of Alice Neel

Monday, July 28, 2008

Dark Sky

Dark Sky literary magazine has just posted four of my drawings that I did in 1967-1968. I was 19 just about to turn 20 I guess. Recently I added to 3 of them by using photoshop including the one I posted here. They're only up for 1 week and you can view all of them at this link.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Day In And Day Out

In 1952 when I was 5 years old and not yet ready for public school my mother thought it was important that I learn to read and write. She always was buying me toys that I could play with by myself. “I don’t want you to be dependent on anyone to play with” She would tell me this all the time, so board games were out of the question and as as long as it was “creative and educational” as she liked to say, she would buy it for me. There were paint sets, modeling clay, puppet making kits, big white sketchpads and the best crayons. Rarely would she buy me coloring books. There were Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse movie projectors, my own little record player with records that came with cut out figures for me to put together as I listened to the records. There was the wonderful View Master set, which I still have, toy supermarkets, and play schools, toy cameras and sun picture kits, and there were books lots of books. So in 1952 when I was 5 years old a friend of my mother’s suggested that she send away for a book titled “Day In And Day Out The Alice And Jerry Books which would help me with my writing and reading. My mother did, and I soon was learning how to read and write. My teacher was our small black and white Philco TV, we were the first family in our building to have one, and during the afternoons I would watch the TV. and fill the my Alice and Jerry book with words that I saw flash across the small screen. These words were product names and on the table of contents pages I wrote the names of soap suds like Duz and Lux along with my name and some odd words like Pugo (was that some kind of a product). And I drew. I filled the blank end sheets and pastedowns with drawings. So in the fall of 1952 it was time for my mother to enroll me in kindergarten at P.S. 131 and I was excited of course because I would be able to play with all those wonderful bright and shiny toys all day. But for some reason, maybe it was the pre-school tests that I had to take or something else, but the people in charge decided that I would go directly into the first grade and skip kindergarten. I don’t recall if I was happy or not about this, but this is what happened.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Worse Than A Teenager

The other week I was in Barnes and Noble near Union Sq. browsing through all those beautiful books that I can’t afford when I heard my name called out. It was Clara, the ex wife of my old friend Freddy coming towards me. At first I didn’t recognize her, as she had lost a ton of weight, and was looking svelte and fabulous. Although I had had some problems with her in the past I was delighted to see her, and we exchanged hugs and kissy poos. “My Clara but you are looking well and swell,” I said. “Thanks Ira Joel lets take our bodies up to the café and sit and chat for a bit, if you have the time? “I do, I do indeed have some time for a cup of java, dear Clara,” so we took the escalator up to the 3rd floor café. I grabbed a table, pushing some tourists out of the way, and Clara went up to the counter to get us some of their overpriced coffee. “I’ll take a blueberry muffin, Clara if they got one.” Moments later she arrived back at our table and we settled in for a chat and some brew. “So Clara tell me what has been going on in your life since you dumped Freddy.” Well I’m trying to be very productive and as you can tell I’ve dropped lots of pounds, one must get in shape if one is back in the dating game” “Well you look really good.” I guess Ira Joel you heard that Freddy took off for a new life in Utah.” “Yes I did.” “What the hell ever possessed him to do that? I just don’t get it, I hope to hell he’s not going to convert now to Mormonism, I mean his converting to goyism was bad enough if you know what I mean. Has he lost his mind or what? “Well Clara I wouldn’t worry about him becoming a Mormon, but hey you never know with Freddy I mean one moment he’s living the good life in Brooklyn and then the next thing you know he’s packing his car and driving across country to live in Utah”. “You know Ira Joel when we were briefly married, and even before we tied the knot and were just living together he wouldn’t stop bugging me to leave everything I know and love and move to Salt Lake City with him”. “Imagine that, I mean I have my business, family, friends and my house here, why the hell would I ever want to leave Queens and move to the desert?” “And he wouldn’t stop.” “Day in and day out over and over, he would drive me crazy with this Salt Lake thing” Clara’s voice was getting louder, and people at the other tables were starting to stare. “The problem with Freddy, Ira Joel was that he had too much free time on his hands”. “His retiring from teaching was the worse thing to happen to our relationship”. “I would come home from my office all tired and worn out, just ready to collapse on the couch and watch a few of my shows on the tube, have dinner and then turn in, and he would start in.” “How so Clara?” ” Well besides the Salt Lake thing he would want to go out and see a movie, or take in a play or go to some lecture by some person I never heard of on some subject that I had no interest in. I would tell him no Freddy I’m tired leave me alone.” “Why would I want to go hear a lecture about puppet making in 17th century China, I mean for Christ’s sake give me a break”. “And it would be worse on the weekends”. “Let’s go here, lets go there I swear he was worse than a teenager, he couldn’t be still for a minute.” I would just like to relax on the weekend, maybe go shopping for groceries watch a few TV shows, do some knitting, but he just could not sit at home, always on the go”. “Yes I know, but didn’t you realize that when you married him?” “He changed Ira Joel he got more manic, more lets do this and that and I finally could not stand it anymore”. “And then there was the problem with his retirement”. “How so Clara?” “Well you know he was forced to leave teaching.” “Yes and I must say that I was rather upset that you didn’t support him during that crisis, and the false charges that the student brought against him.” “Is that what he told you? “Yes and I believe him.” “Well let me tell you the story straight my friend.” “This was not the first charge that a student brought against him.” I brought the cup of coffee from my lips to the table, a bit taken aback by this statement that Clara just made. “What do you mean, are you saying that there were other charges?” “Ira Joel that was the third charge of sexual harassment brought against him.” “I supported him as much as I could, but I really had to think of myself, and the scandal that he was bringing down on our heads.” “There were 3 different girls who said that he made unwanted sexual advances towards them.” “He didn’t tell you that I bet not.” “Finally the school board made a deal with him either he takes early retirement or they would bring charges against him” “I would be ruined. It would be in the papers, the radio, television, You Tube. I just sat there and stared at her. “Why are you lying Clara?” “I’m not lying. “You asked for the truth and there it is.” This was the most ridiculous thing I had ever heard. Of my 2 close boyhood friends, Freddy was the least likely to try anything like that, I mean if you just mentioned the word sex to him, he would turn as red as a vine-ripened tomato and flee from the room. Now my other old childhood friend Howie was a horse of a different color altogether. A pussy hound from the word go, he would love nothing more than regal me and Freddy with sexual jokes, stories and tales about his many conquests with the opposite sex. And this was when we were just 15. Howie would love to see Freddy turn red and get embarrassed at his off color stories and he would laugh and laugh at poor Freddy’s discomfort. When we were teens and would go to a movie that had a mild sexual scene, I could feel Freddy in the seat next to me squirming. When I finally realized that I was gay, Howie would pump me for information about my sexual adventures. “So was he big” He would ask. “What did you two guys do in bed, maybe I can learn a few new tricks from you gay guys.” Freddy on the other hand, stayed far and away from any kind of sexual talk, and the idea that Freddy would hit on some young female students was just too far fetched for me to buy and I said this to Clara. “Fine with me Ira Joel you believe what you want.” “Clara I screamed, he’s a Catholic and everyone knows Catholics don’t lie.” And with that I stormed out of the café, out of the bookstore. into the street and down the subway at Union Sq. back to Brooklyn.

Sunday, July 06, 2008


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