Saturday, December 15, 2012

Semitic Philoxenia


Knowing that he was a native New Yorker, when he arrived at the Selahattin Doha Resort and Spa his Qatar hosts had a royal breakfast of bagels and lox awaiting him at his hotel suite.


David was stunned by the warmth of his reception. He had heard about the Middle Eastern culture of hospitality but nothing prepared him for the warmth and generosity that he experienced from the moment he landed at Doha International. One of the many photojournalists who were on hand at his arrival captured a shell shocked Schoffman standing beside a larger than life bust of the "founder of the modern Qatari State" the one-eared Daoud ibn Asad.


He was there as a visiting fellow at the Institute of Western Asian Arts and was expected to deliver the closing lecture at the annual  Doha Conference on Color and Colonialism. That he felt like a pawn in a political kabuki goes without saying. David knew from bitter experience that whenever the word "colonialism" is used in a public or academic context, the best course is to swiftly make for the (uncontested and unoccupied) hills.

His talk included references to Gerome's trip to Jerusalem, Delecroix's sojourn in Morroco and Renoir's obsession with Algeria. He discussed Matisse and Ingres and analyzed in depth their depiction of regional stereotypes. 

Solomon Wall, Jean Leon Gerome, 1863

The Sultan of Morocco and His Entourage, Delacroix, 1854
Odalisque, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1870



Matters became a bit thornier when Schoffman devoted the latter part of his talk to the complicated issue of  Judicum Giacomo Ghazi. Lesser known than his contemporary Phillipe Ahmar but by no means less colorful, Ghazi's story, though undeniably loaded, was nonetheless extremely germane.

Portrait of Judicum Giacomo Ghazi, Faun Roberts, 1931
Born just outside the city of Jubail in eastern Saudi Arabia in 1873, little is known about his early life other than his date of birth. He came from a family of gulf fishermen and spice merchants. Some scholars claim that he was a descendant of Nestorian Christians, basing their claim on some dubious, possibly forged documents. Others insist that he was the great-grandson of the mufti of Ha'il. What everyone agrees upon is his notorious apostasy.

Around the turn of the 20th century Ghazi was sent by the Emir of Buraydah on a vague diplomatic mission to Estonia and Lithuania. What was supposed to be a four week excursion turned into four years. When he finally returned to the Arabian Peninsula he had two small children and was married to the niece of the chief rabbi of Ostrog.

It didn't take long for him to figure out that western Europe might be a more hospitable environment and in around 1904, penniless and disgraced, he moved with his family to Paris. He quickly fell in with le bande de Picasso, enjoying a life of artistic bonhomie, promiscuity and antic subversion. 

from left to right, Cocteau, Jacob, Kisling, Gros, Picasso and in the back with the moustache, Judicum Giacomo Ghazi
 The audience at the Color and Colonialism conference were not particularly impressed with David's scholarship. When he reached his conclusion (some vague point about the reciprocal lure that the West had on the artists and intellectuals of the Arab world) he was greeted with a muted tremor of polite applause.

The next morning for breakfast he was served pancakes and fruit .

 


Friday, December 07, 2012

HE DIDN'T BUILD THIS


Most people don't realize and fewer seem to care that my ingenious colleague David Schoffman holds the United States patent on the Hackle-T:150. (The EU patent is held by an ertswhile mutual friend who shall remain nameless pending the outcome of some numbingly complex litigation - [but let's face it, how much fly fishing do they do in Luxembourg?])

Hackle-T:150 working drawing, David Schoffman, 2004

According to the fly fishing periodical of record, Buzz Tembault's Reel View, the Hackle-T:150 is used as a primary hook by 48% of regular and semi-regular casters. Impressive numbers but what is even more impressive is that this tiny little invention provides a handsome nest egg for David and his family. 

Now I'm not counting his money but between his thriving stature within the cozy, unregulated art market and his yearly residuals from the Brown Trout set, David needn't worry about the high cost of cadmiums.

And yet, my generous friend still devotes a significant portion of his time to what the Americans call, "giving back." (Interestingly, in France we do not have an equivalent expression, the closest I've come up with is "étant une ventouse"). 

I am speaking of course of David Schoffman the teacher.
Schoffman conducting a drawing workshop, Los Angeles, 2012

On any given day, one might find David lecturing an avid auditorium of graduate students on the fine points of late Renaissance Venetian printmaking or conducting a marathon life drawing workshop for a grubby mass of heavily pierced teenagers or demonstrating the delicate finesse of watercolor painting to an eager claque of retired senior citizens.

 One might reasonably ask 'why does he do it'?. Can one man be so benevolent and selfless?  Is this measureless bounty of munificence legitimately heartfelt?

There are several theories floating around the art world addressing this enigma. One suggests that Schoffman's charity is an endless act of expiation, a perpetual atonement for some mysterious malfeasance of his misspent youth. Another posits the theory that David's Molochian appetite for adoration and attention is scarcely satisfied by his accomplishments and therefore his ego demands constant and renewable nourishment. Still others insist that the chump change he earns from his teaching gigs is squirreled away, supporting a series of serragli of coast to coast mistresses.

Having known the guy for nearly 40 years, I believe it is simply a matter of attention deficit. Schoffman is constitutionally incapable of spending long, lonely hours in his studio. Now that his career is firmly established and the demand for his work seems endless he is able to consign most of the hard labor of putting paint on canvas to a small battalion of underpaid assistants. Since he himself does not fish - as far as I know, David is ambivalent to lakes, rivers and anything else that falls loosely under the catagory of Nature - he has to do something with his time.

The Body is his Book #99: One-Hundred Paintings. David Schoffman (and his workshop) 2012



Monday, December 03, 2012

Le Cri des Gloires

The Garland's Struggle Sketchbook, date unknown. David Schoffman. very (private collection)

After the fire, so little of his work survived, what remained among the rubble was quickly collected, cleaned and stashed away in a secure Adler and Co. vault in Zurich. Oddly, a full inventory was never officially recorded. An uncomfortable mystery still surrounds both the circumstances of the fire and the immediate aftermath. What is clear is that since September of 2010 a small trickle of heretofore unknown works by my good friend David Schoffman have appeared on the market and have been sold at ridiculously high prices.


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

TOO MUCH SUN

Portrait of Oisan T. DeBurca, mixed media on napkin, David Schoffman. 2012

"It's hard to keep the assassins away."

That's how my dear colleague David Schoffman greeted me when we met poolside at the Standard Hotel in Hollywood. I was in Los Angeles for a few days last week conferring with a cabal of untrustworthy curators and decided to dedicate a few leisurely hours to catching up with my friend.

"Ça va pas, non?" was all I could say, dumbstruck by yet another of David's fantasies of professional persecution. For years, despite his enormous and unwarranted success, my poor comrade nurses one grievance after the next.

"Even paranoids have enemies," quoting, once again, the inexorably quotable Delmore Schwartz.

I know I shouldn't have asked but my better judgement was impaired by the sparingly clad pair of ingenues sitting to our left.  "Who is it this time," I absentmindedly asked as I stole a subtle gander at what I took to be evidence of the existence of God.

David, whose skills of draftsmanship have been the envy of us all dating back to our student days, grabbed a cocktail napkin and within seconds drew the unmistakable profile of the Irish art critic, Oisan T. DeBurca.

I kept the drawing.

I needed something to quickly jot down a phone number.

I truly love L. A.

Friday, November 09, 2012

IN FLAGRANTE DELICTO

David Schoffman and Dahlia Danton, Cancun, 2012


The meteoric success of David Schoffman's artistic enterprise is due in no small measure to his wife of twenty-seven years,  Genviève Belleseins-Chatte. Acting as his publicist, business manager, ghost writer, amanuensis and mother confessor, Belleseins-Chatte  tirelessly devoted herself to her husband's career. It was Belleseins-Chatte who planted phantom bidders at countless auction houses, who surreptitiously hired "critics" to write glowing magazine and newspaper reviews and who single-handedly negotiated the now legendary mid-career retrospective at the Hebonshirre in London.

Genviève Belleseins-Chatte is also a remarkable and capable woman in her own right. For years, an associate professor of semiotics at Rutgers, she is the author of some two dozen books including the classic, genre-bending literary whodunit "Dismantled Cars and Buttoned Cloth." I always thought she was too good for my friend David.

Now we learn that Schoffman  is just another spineless Lothario. It is now clear that this philandering  skirt chaser has been exceeding even the French in his penchant for extra-curricular romance. His follies have left his intimates aghast. Now he stands an exquisite ruin, a royal remnant of his unearned renown.

And for whom does his avid heart beat? What feathery frolic authored his demise? Which ravishing strumpet indiscreetly bared her bonnet to the public causing the scandal that threatens to end Schoffman's supremacy?

It is none other than the silken-haired, white-throated third-rate painter Dahlia Danton!

Portrait of Philip, Oil on canvas, Dahlia Danton 2012 (courtesy of MacNeice/Fuller Gallery, NY)


Thursday, October 25, 2012

CHESHVAN IS THE CRUELLEST MONTH


The Squared Letters of Yaweh is a series of intricate oil paintings by the young Israeli artist Alpha Adon-Yakob. A former classmate of the up and coming Brooklyn based curator and critic Spark Boon, Alpha is well acquainted with the byzantine political intricacies of the New York scene.

The Squared Letters of Yaweh: Yod, Alpha Adon-Yakob, 2012

Despite his Zionist pedigree (his grandfather Shabtai Mintz, a sniper in the pre-state Stern Gang was hanged by the British on the gallows of Acre), Adon-Yakob is more drawn to the harps of Babylon than to the olive orchards of Gethsemane. 

Boon included him in the now infamous Exiled/HardCore exhibition at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and the ensuing succès de scandale catapulted the young expatriate into artworld stardom.

My good friend David Schoffman took a keen interest in the young Israeli artist (Schoffman speaks a mellifluously fluent albeit biblically inflected Hebrew) and introduced him to scores of New York artworld hotshots and power brokers. Many saw in their  relationship a faint, tender echo of the Warhol/Basquiat pairing of the 1980's. It's a testament to Schoffman's legendary generosity that he granted the younger artist an uncircumcised grace and never begrudged his meteoric art market inflation. 

The Squared Letters of Yaweh: Vav, Alpha Adon-Yakob, 2012  
 Until now.

When asked in an interview published in the current November issue of Arte de Nuestro Tiempo to name his most profound influences, Adon-Yakob  rattled off a laundry list of minor Middle Eastern performance artists, a couple of third-rate poets and Kafka. When pushed to name whom he thought were today's most overrated personalities he replied, "Lady Gaga, Hassan Nasrallah and David Schoffman."

Ouch! 

 

Friday, October 05, 2012

Bruised But Not Yet Beaten


 Academic and artistic salons throughout Europe are currently awash in a torrent of senseless controversy. Believe it or not, the issue at hand involves the age-old agon of "expertise versus ingenuity." Though reasonable minds could have expected this issue to have been settled by Micah Carpentier and the Parisian School of Pestilence, our flawed and fractured times carry with it a faint patina of collective amnesia.

The specific case in point revolves around the Venezuelan painter Hector-Tony Retto and his unwieldy influence on contemporary painting.

 
Hector-Tony Retto,  Bajándome los Pantalones, egg tempera on enamel,  1981
His mesmeric, mandalic egg tempera panels are rich disquisitions on the aesthetic of repetition. His widely exhibited works influenced an entire generation of young artists whose historical compass was previously frozen in the broad-brushed frenzy of the fifties. Painters as disparate as Michaela Incrote, Balu Mengisti and Bob Stein all fell under Retto's spell producing pared down, patterned emblems of rational, flat pictorial space. 

My good friend David Schoffman has also been implicated in what has come to be known as "Retto's derivative dossier" (here we call it "le dossier dérivé de Retto") - a list of well-known contemporary artists whose originality have recently come into question.

Though Schoffman's work ethic has been ridiculed in the past his connection to Retto is something altogether new. Though I admit to seeing some superficial similarities, in all the years that I've known him, I have only heard Schoffman mention the prolific Venezuelan but once.


David Schoffman, The Body is His Book #63, oil on panel, 2009
A much more compelling case can be made for Schoffman's shameless appropriation of the fabric drawings of Velimir Shtern, the Soviet painter who was murdered by Stalin shortly after the infamous Doctor's Plot show trials of 1952-53.

Velimir Shtern, untitled work on paper, 1949
But this, alas, we will save for another time.

Monday, September 17, 2012

READING MATTERS


North American art magazines aren't what they used to be. When I was an art student at the École des Beaux-Arts in the early seventies, in addition to reading Art-das Kunstmagazin, Domus, Cahiers d'Art and Flash I was an assiduous devotée of Arts Magazine, Artforum and Art in America.
Arts no longer exists, Art in America is essentially an infomercial and Artforum is like Andy Warhol's Interview but with bigger words.
A few ambitious critics and intellectuals have been rushing of late to fill the void. One relatively new journal called bvcx  is published in Brooklyn New York by Malmoth Ltd and is edited by Sami Sukah and Françoise Kipur.

The only reason that it caught my eye is because my dear friend David Schoffman sent me a copy.
Ever since we were young, David has always made it a point to passively yet aggressively keep score with me. Every time he had an exhibition, no matter how trivial and insignificant, he would rush to send me an announcement. If he were mentioned in the press or featured on television, I would be promptly notified. (It would be useful to point out that whenever David receives one of his not infrequent, highly critical, negative reviews I am conspicuously left out of the loop).
And such is the case with bvcx. The current issue has a lengthy (and largely incoherent) article about Schoffman and his relationship to the flamboyant and beautiful Los Angeles artist cum diva Dahlia Danton.


I'm not sure if David actually read the article or was merely flattered by the attention. He comes off as vain, grasping and competitive. Anton Mier-Bahn, who wrote the article, is an old friend of mine and is not one who settles for scoring petty rhetorical points. Though the prose is dense with a lot of academic jargon the gist is unmistakable.
The rest of the magazine was rather interesting, especially the article about André Derain's relationship with the Nazis. The layout is very striking as well, though I'm afraid it may diminish from its seriousness.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Table Scraps


Drawing, like prayer, is an implement of hope. My good friend David Schoffman wavers between supplication and dreams as he soldiers hopefully through an abyss of unsubstantiated surmise. He draws constantly with a romantic's infinite longing for completion.

Completion? Does he really expect to complete his one-hundred paneled polyptych in this lifetime?

The Body Is His Book: 100 Paintings Installation, charcoal and colored pencil on paper, 2005

Though he rarely allows anyone to see the actual work in progress in his studio, the working drawings for his monumental The Body Is His Book: One-Hundred Paintings have been widely disseminated. A small group of studies were recently reproduced in the Italian periodical Verme Vecchio. In a seven-thousand word essay by Professor Enzo Giovanemoglie of Università di Bologna, the drawings were described as "arterial spokes of secular prophecy," ("raggi arteriosi del secolare profezia").  Giovanemoglie goes on to argue that "the glaze of death" ("lo smalto di morte") is never absent from the "processional, melismatic valves of complicated patternings ... [that are the] ... architectural underpinnings of practically all of Schoffman's graphic renderings."

Perhaps



I just think that David has a very nice team of competent assistants.

The Body Is His Book #62, (Unfinished), Oil on panel, 2003 - 2012

Saturday, August 18, 2012

BALTIC BABES


When my perennially ambitious friend David Schoffman announced that he planned to paint the portraits of the entire Estonian Men's Olympic Swim Team, I have to admit I thought that he had lost his already truant mind. Now that the results are in (Gallerie Ziodorno T, San Francisco, Aug. 14 - Sept 19), I am certain that all his considerable critical faculties have taken hasty flight.

Portrait of Mats Lepik, Oil on canvas, David Schoffman 2012

In the Bay Area, the obvious appeal of sprightly tinted images of strapping, square-jawed young men is a given. Equally predictable was the eviscerating critical response.

That Schoffman seems utterly indifferent to the judgement of his peers betrays an acute late career decadence as expressed by the likes of Picasso, Derain, DeKooning and Daudet. With his reputation secure and his market value equally robust, David seems to be making a mockery of the entire enterprise of art-making.

Is this the same David Schoffman responsible for the genre defying tour-de-force "The Body Is His Book?"

Monday, August 13, 2012

PLEIN AIR POLITICS


The Neo-Dada Los Angeles artist collective Ars Magna Sciendi is an eccentric offshoot of the much larger and much better known European group Pinakothek. The Los Angeles 'organization' (I use that word reservedly and with no small degree of irony) was founded in 2009 by René Besmorg, Ospizio Priuli and my good friend David Schoffman. Together they have published and produced a wide variety of projects, pamphlets, direct actions, exhibitions, demonstrations, provocations, short films, short manifestos, short-lived offshoots and several actual very real living breathing babies.

Their latest exploit is a curious blend of civics, summer and the enduring appeal of French Impressionism. Together with a small group of (unpaid) interns, Schoffman & co. set out to follow the presidential race. From California to New Hampshire the Ars Magna Sciendi group have been shadowing the candidates and their armies of volunteers. 

Going door to door with satchels of art materials, these crazy Dadaists are literally canvasing prospective voters. Their procedure is simple: In exchange for the supplies (six tubes of acrylic paint, an 18 x 24 inch pre-stretched cotton duck canvas and two #12 synthetic hair brushes) participants are asked to paint a landscape in the style of their favorite impressionist imagined as either a Democrat or a Republican



Emma James, Driggs, Idaho. Fifth Street Park through the eyes of Gustave Caillebotte as a Tea Party Republican, 2012


The results are rather astonishing. Schoffman and his collaborators will be continuing the project until the November election. The paintings will be exhibited in the spring of 2013 at the Museé de l'Art Brut in Neuchatel, Switzerland.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

CALL FOR ARTISTS


These days, everybody is an "independent curator." Dubious qualifications, suspicious sources of motivation and conflicts of interest seem to be the only unifying quality possessed by this cadre of cultural hangers-on. Even my ordinarily sober minded friend David Schoffman has contracted the curatorial virus.

Eius Rationatione is a recent exhibition at Gallerie Guanxi on Rue Denis Poisson in the 17eme arrondissement and it has created quite a sensation. Though the work is unremarkable David has been tireless in its promotion. Throughout the entire month of June you couldn't pick up a French art magazine without reading some prattling puff piece planted by Schoffman and his mindless minions.

Vers eudaimonia, Lucien Magnotta, distemper and glass on enamel, 2011

The putative theme was the "deliberate dissembling of tradition-based craftsmanship," (dissimulation délibéré de l'artisanat basé sur la tradition) though not all the critics were so easily persuaded. I've included an image from Lucien Magnotta and one from Annette Accro just to give you an idea of the kind of work he included.

Défection de gamins, Annette Accro, collage, 2012
And yet, for some inexplicable reason, David has received at least four new invitations to curate shows. He is going to Berlin in August to supervise the installation of ätherisch Objektat at the Weißaugenmöwen Kunsthalle. Then he returns to Los Angeles to work on something he refuses to talk about. (I can't be sure but I suspect it has something to do with an opportunity that suddenly presented itself- a consequence of the small insurrection at their Museum of Contemporary Art.) Then he comes back here to put together a survey of recent French/Algerian works-on-paper.

I don't begrudge his success I just wish he would include me from time to time.
Il m'a planté!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Soft Power


The Tuda Mengu Mosque in Ulan Bator is a modest affair. Though Mongolia's Muslim population has dwindled to just under 150,000, the capitol still maintains a few remnants of a more illustrious past. The local imam, Migjid Abdulmajid carries on valiantly while his community steadily emigrates to places like Dubai, Kuwait, Toronto and Teaneck, New Jersey. My well connected friend David Schoffman has recently visited the region as part of a State Department delegation seeking closer cultural ties to the international Islamic world and returned with a curious and rather beautiful souvenir.

Postcard of the Tuda Mengu Mosque, Ulan Bator, Mongolia
 As is well known, during the late 18th century certain draconian measures were introduced throughout the Bayan Olgii countryside in order to test the obedience of the rural population. Among the severe and arbitrary prohibitions were smoking, singing, chess playing, archery and usury. To circumvent these laws a group of insurgent peasants called the Minyins invented an intricate and visually stunning game called Khatya. The game shares a few common themes with the 6th century Indian game of Parcheesi but is vastly more complicated. The precise rules are the subject of bitter controversy, - the last proficient player died in 1963 - but people continue to own and cherish their Khatya sets.

18th century Khatya board, Bayantooroi, Mongolia
As a gift giving culture, the Mongolian Muslims practice a wonderfully creative form of generosity. David returned to Los Angeles with yak skin slippers, dried gojiberries, a Mongolian violin called a khuurchir and a gorgeous, hand-painted, birch Khatya board.


I think David gave his hosts official United States State Department tennis balls and blocks of surplus cheese.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Guarda com'entri e di cui tu ti fide"


It is well known that my highly principled and ethically misguided friend David Schoffman rarely welcomes visitors to his studio. He guards his privacy with meticulous brutality. Even Lord Myron Noccimick, the esteemed éminence grise of the British Royal Collection was shunned by Schoffman a few years back.  David claimed at the time that he had a debilitating toothache,  a perverse tribute since he never deems it necessary to offer any pretexts for his antisocial behavior.


The rare guest must be vetted, groomed, briefed and forewarned before setting foot anywhere near Schoffman's works-in-progress.
 
So it was with no small measure of bewilderment that I learned that David recently hosted Silicon Valley entrepreneur Stanley Sansal and his partner Ulrich Powell.

Daphna Ahf-Zahav, Ulrich Powell, Stanley Sansal and Schoffman, Culver City, 2012

Credit Daphna Ahf-Zahav, associate curator for contemporary art at Dubai's Kunsthalle Sachererahp for facilitating this rare event. I'm told that the typically laconic David was unusually forthcoming. He expressed great interest in Sansal's latest venture, MetiTechtm, a start-up devoted to identifying common, cross-continental genetic blueprints in order to scientifically challenge the orthodoxies of race.


Both Powell and Sansal were reciprocally conversant as well in the intricacies of the international avant-garde (they are both sitting members on the Sachererahp board) and were particularly knowledgeable regarding Schoffman's entire oeuvre.




Things got a bit frothy when Daphna innocently asked about the Guillermoprêtre affair. (I'm of course referring to the unsolved 1999 murder of former Schoffman studio assistant and heiress to the Algerian caliphite, Angélique Guillermoprêtre). It's one of about two dozen subjects that one best avoid around David - I'm surprised Ahf-Zahav was unaware of that. Attempts to diffuse the discomfort were of no avail and in the end Powell and Sansal were not permitted to purchase the fifteen paintings they had set their hearts on.  

It's just as well. Sansal is going to need that extra $250,000. His company is now embroiled in a nasty bit of litigation. It seems that MetiTechtm software has established a strong genetic link between Nicolae Ceauşescu and Buddy Hackett. The heirs of both clans are none too pleased.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

DESTINO


Calle Empedrada was a sad, sorry place for a romantic misadventure. Despite its charming name, this narrow decrepit artery running east to west along the Canal de Cadáveres Flotantes is a veritable slum. The famed colonial cobblestones from which it derives its name have long since been paved over, leaving only a few scattered remnants beneath its ubiquitous potholes.

Calle Empedrada, Quito. David Schoffman 1982

In 1982 my good friend David Schoffman and I were involved in an unmanageable ménage à trois with benzedrine and aguardiente. We asked to be consumed in the heat and fog of aimless dissipation and we were. We were young and we were immortal. We were Kerouac and Cassidy or as the locals referred to us, Auxilio and Epifiano, the legendary inebriates from Ulises José Malatesta's novel Hacia Abajo.

If it were not for the sudden appearance of Javiera Popova I'm afraid this story would have had a much different ending.

Javiera Popova
 Popova was the granddaughter of Ratmir Makarichev,  Abakan's former chief of police under Nicholas II. Makarichev was known as a particularly sadistic official who took great pleasure in personally participating in even the most trivial interrogations. Many wondered openly how such a cruel beast could have grandfathered such a glamorous beauty.

In any event, Popova was a twenty-year old art student when the cross-eyed besotted Schoffman asked her in his broken Berlitz Spanish to dance. It was Samba night at Democraticus, one of two bars on Calle Empedrada that had live music. The way Javiera remembers it, David hobbled over, handed her a canelazo on ice and tentatively mumbled something like "agustaría profundizar conmigo"? which doesn't exactly mean "would you like to dance" but was close enough.

She took him home that night and did not leave his side until he was completely straight and sober. They stayed together, on and off, for the next year and a half, Javiera even moved to New York but that ended badly. Popova went on to become one of South America's most popular actresses appearing regularly in El Corazón Roto, Venezuela's longest running soap opera.

As you know, my good friend and compagnon d'ivresse went on to become David Schoffman.



Wednesday, June 20, 2012

POSITIVELY 4TH STREET


It's almost laughable. 

Despite the mercurial whims of callow critics whose compass needle is presently fixed on southern California and in the face of fickle but friendly collectors whose over-eager appetites clamor for product of Pacific provenance, my good friend David Schoffman continues to withhold his paintings from view. Precisely at the moment when the Art Fair class is smoldering in a delirium of feral desire and the demand for Schoffman's work is at it's most formidable, David chooses to disappear.  

Cloistered like a leper, he remains quarantined in his studio absorbed in his work. Prompted by an absurd and antiquated ethic, he insists on refining and reworking pictures that, to put it crassly, are good enough.


I think there is anger behind this posture of nobility. Treating his work with such high seriousness is a musty relic of Romanticism. Behaving as if the last thirty years of contemporary art never happened betrays an arrogance that has rightly alienated Schoffman from his peers. Stoically laboring over minute brushstrokes and meticulously mixing paints - (oil, of course) - on expansive and orderly palettes are abject, self-indulgent vices masquerading as polished virtues.


Meanwhile his paintings pile up like clover mites. If he's not careful, his loyal cadre of incredulous collectors will discard him like last week's losing lottery ticket. 

On top of all this he doesn't return my calls.  He sends cryptic messages by way of his over-worked (and under-paid) studio assistants. He is beginning to cultivate a reputation for being "a perfectionist," read: "difficult." He is aloof.


This is all to say that David Schoffman is an antique, a remnant, a wasted rind of an irrelevant past. He's a reactionary who still thinks that painting "matters." His sincerity makes the rest of us look bad. 


I hope his mildewed canvases rot. I hope his reputation twists in the fetid winds of score settling innuendo. I hope his stock nosedives into a cesspool of inconsequence. I hope his beautiful paintings are rendered incoherent by the erudite misreadings of influential academics. I hope he runs out of ideas.



Monday, May 21, 2012

Open Sesame


Many important Jewish traditions have permeated the fabric of American culture, or so claims a controversial new book on the subject by my dear old friend David Schoffman. From the Ten Commandments to the love of Zion, Jewish law and lore have penetrated the American mainstream. But Schoffman goes further claiming that "no Jewish tradition has impacted the country more indelibly than the 'thirteenth bagel'." The book is called Between Knish and Nosh: How a small minority retaught us how to spell (Amphigouri Press 2012) and it has caused a minor literary tempest among specialists and academics.

For those of you unfamiliar with this allegedly ubiquitous tradition, next time you buy a dozen bagels count the contents of your bag.

When I recently pointed out to David that what is referred to as a "baker's dozen" dates back to Victorian England he became  agitated and defensive. I stressed that whatever skills he lacked as an historian he more than made up for in his genius as a painter.

from The Body is His Book: 100 Paintings, David Schoffman

"Who cares about painting?" he replied indignantly. 

I suppose he's right ...

Sunday, May 06, 2012

INFLATION


When the Colorado tenth circuit court converted Valmont EEB2 from an individual Chapter 11 petition to a Chapter 7 the California art world experienced an unexpected ripple. The forced liquidation of business assets was a routine affair until a weathered Strathmore sketchbook was discovered under a mountain of black accounting binders.

Dated September 1969 and signed on the front in an adolescent cursive, the product of rote training in what used to be called penmanship, was the name David Schoffman.

Untitled drawing, David Schoffman, conté crayon, 1969

This remarkable discovery of Schoffman juvenilia - by my calculation David was 13 when this drawing was made - has forced the critical community into a radical reassessment of an entire oeuvre. Previously, the conventional wisdom has been that the early stirrings of Schoffman's imagination were deeply rooted in his complete and total lack of academic training. His early work, which was seen as a combination of rabid appropriation of affichiste pastiche and Franco-Belgian bandes-dessinées could very well have been a more organic outgrowth of Bargue's systematized canon of classicized forms.

I find this reappraisal rather fascinating for it sheds some light on this important period in my dear friend's development. Though it is not the precocity of the drawing above that amazes me - my own drawings from childhood are quite frankly much more accomplished - it is that a court appointed "specialist" appraised the entire 20 sheet sketchbook at $115,000!

Now there is a mad treasure hunt for more of these trifles.


Nom de Dieu!!!

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

BABYLONIA


My good friend David Schoffman is well known for his incorruptible indifference. He has a coarse quarrelsome nature and knows its best for him to avoid the necessary kinships and vital alliances of the art world. Upright in the portentous glare of his reputation, David never misses an opportunity to sabotage his considerable achievements.

It actually soothes his heart to alienate people of influence.


Every generation has its artistic Edens and David insists on banishment from each and every one. Back in the day he bickered with Greenberg, groused against Gogosian and tussled with Castelli. He clashed bitterly with Schjeldahl, fussed endlessly with Danto and had a knock down barroom dust-up with Peter Pyrenean, the former editor in chief of ArtNotes.

I even heard from a reliable witness that while David was still a student he picked a fight with Pierre Matisse just to see if he could carry on a credible altercation in fluent idiomatic French.

Much has changed in the intervening years. After a particularly ugly incident involving an art handler, a Scandinavian collector and a broken window, Schoffman left Manhattan and settled in  Gualala, California. He sees practically no one and has neither cell phone nor computer. To reach him one must send a letter to the post office on Highway 1 and hope it somehow finds him. 

View from Schoffman's studio window, Gualala, California

I heard from our mutual friend, Dahlia Danton that he is doing beautiful work and that he is still living off of residuals from a Korean sitcom he did in the early 80's. 

Friday, April 27, 2012

ART HISTORY


My dear friend David Schoffman has a problem. Unlike me and countless other artists our age, his paintings, (which are no more slight and insignificant than his peers') never really caught on commercially. After countless exhibitions in innumerable galleries he still hasn't found a reliable base of collectors.

Even our hapless mutual acquaintance, Dori Minquand makes a solid living selling his egg tempera portraits of house pets.

So David, to this day, by the sheer misfortune of having to earn a living, is reduced to the indignity of juggling day-jobs with snake-oil schemes in order to make ends meet.

But perhaps the end is near. The now infamous Art History: The Musical video which has been circulating on the internet for the past several years has gone viral! It remains to be seen how Schoffman can translate this into profit but for now, at least, he is a minor celebrity.



I hear he is even dating B-list starlets and anorexic runway models.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

A FORK IN THE ROAD


Here in Paris, we are always half a step behind the artworld of New York. I rely upon my good friend David Schoffman to keep me up to date. Usually what he thinks is important is merely some idle, petty gossip but occasionally he comes up with something interesting. The recent publication of "Draw it with your eyes closed: the art of the assignment" by Paper Monument is a case in point.

Maria-Theresien-Platz, Adolf Hitler, watercolor on paper, 1906-07 (private collection)
The premise of this great little book is that the messy enterprise of educating future artists is something much more than the mere transmission of technical skills and conventional rubrics of design and form. There is an ineffable quality, a manner of thinking and interpreting the world that is unique to artists and the best way to transmit this is elliptically.  The editors collected from a wide range of art professors their favorite assignments. Included, for example, are art school staples like: "With ink and a twig between your toes draw oxygen" and "You're a callus on the big toe of a pachyderm - draw the view".

As enchanting and entertaining as the book is, nothing in it comes close to the assignment Micah Carpentier gave to David and I when we were art students at Beaux-arts in the early 70's.

As best as I can remember, it went something like this:

"Adolf Hitler was a failed artist. By an unlikely twist of fate, in 1923, instead of plotting the Hitler-Ludendorff Beer Hall Putsch he decided to apply for an M.F.A. Design his portfolio."

Unfortunately, some members of the faculty found the assignment somewhat offensive and Carpentier was summarily fired as a result. He moved back to Havana and shortly thereafter was killed under extremely suspicious circumstances. 


Saturday, March 24, 2012

MISGUIDED


Rarely mentioned, seldom cited, the iconoclastic Dutch art historian Simon Stuyn holds a pivotal place in the development post-modernism. As a lecturer at the Universiteit Beeldende Kunsten in Maastricht, his centrality within the discourse is belied by the arbitrary fortunes of geography and language. What little he has published has yet to be translated into English, (his most important work, Weerzinwekkend Bewijsgrond has been adequately translated into French under the inexact title Pensées Inhabituelles), and as a militant opponent of capital punishment he refuses to travel to the United States. 

His influence on the work and intellectual development of my eclectic friend David Schoffman has been profound.

Portrait of Simon Stuyn, charcoal on paper, Orestia Shestov, 1998 (private collection)
His most accessible (though least plausible) theory is that all products of the imagination begin with what he calls "spraak tijken" or language tics. These 'tics' are unconsciously yet deliberately misunderstood and ultimately filtered into what he strangely calls "reverie artifacts" or "mijmering artefacten." Literature, according to Stuyn is a "groot tijk" or a "big tic" whereas the visual arts are "minderjarige tijken" or "minor tics." The principle condition of post-modernism is what Stuyn calls "de verschrikkelijke synthese van grote en kleine tijken," or "a maudlin medley of major and minor tics" (translation mine).

When David and I were students, new theories of European pedigree had tremendous currency among young artists eager to break from the conventions of formalism. Schoffman was taken by Stuyn, Grissold, Lacan, Jabotinsky and the entire Rotterdam School. His work has been a distillation (although a gross misunderstanding) of these ideas ever since.

I personally think that Stuyn is what the Dutch call a "heide hoofd" (loosely translated, a "bog brain') and that David's entire career has been a misguided attempt to render visual the incoherent blatherings of a third-rate theoretician.

Sadly, this explains a lot.