Saturday, February 18, 2012


For one Georgian lari you can send a first class letter from Ipkhi to Tbilisi. Since it declared its independence shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Georgia has been issuing its own unique postage stamps. After an unlikely series of coincidences, my newly minted philatelist friend David Schoffman found himself working for the Gori post office.

There's a drinking game, extremely popular around the port cities and fishing villages on the Black Sea. Called Bhkhnic - after the fennel soup traditionally served at Luzhkanic baptisms and weddings - the game can get pretty rowdy and even violent. It starts by people tossing old utility bills into an over-sized milking bucket. Players then reach in, grab an envelope and try to identify the figure depicted on the stamp. For example, the 4 lari express stamp has an engraving of the writer Shio Aragvispireli, the 10 lari air mail stamp depicts the opera singer Golikova Osetrina and the 50 GEL next-day-express stamp has a glowing, embossed dreamy rendering of Vakhtang Gorgasali, the sixth century king of Iberia and founder of Tbilisi.

As part of a movement directed at the reformation of the Georgian character, the Ministry of Culture has decided to discontinue all commemorative stamps, hoping to curb public drunkenness. Boris Azasatryan, under-secretary of rural agriculture and a collector of contemporary art is related by marriage to my lucky friend David.

David and Boris Azasatryan in Sukhumi, 2009
It was Boris who "arranged" for the commissioning of the Schoffman 1 lari stamp. For every stamp purchased, Boris, in a 70 - 30 split, shares 30% of the proceeds with David.

They call it a "Black Sea Back Room Bargain."

Sunday, February 12, 2012


Nara Era ritual head. Hand-carved kaya wood 

Like Peter Paul Rubens, in addition to being and accomplished painter, my good friend David Schoffman is an avid collector as well. Whereas Rubens had a weakness for antiquities, cameos and coins, David leans toward the mysterious cult objects of Asia and Africa.

Much of his collection was gathered while traveling. Instead of purchasing his objets d'art from conventional sources he typically finds some disreputable black marketeer and smuggles his trophies past unsuspecting customs agents and easily compromised border guards.

Lacquered Sengoku Head, Japan, 1674

He has an ungovernable passion for fine-cut Natabori single block sculptures of grotesque heads with priapic noses. Five years ago on an ill-fated trip to Japan with the obstreperous orientalist Sir Galwain Thomlinson and his wife, Dahlia Danton, Schoffman brought back no less than five-hundred such heads. Their uneven quality, dubious provenances and questionable authenticities has not deterred Collective 54 from including David in their prominent and highly regarded exhibition series, "Artists Collect."

I've previewed the show (it opens on March 1st) and the installation is truly stunning. The United States Department of the Treasury is currently investigating the collection piece by painstaking piece. If it is determined that any of the works were acquired illicitly or have entered the country improperly, Schoffman may very well be indicted.

All this makes great publicity for Collective 54, (membership has doubled just within the past two weeks), but bodes poorly for my reckless friend David. 

Quelle honte.

Sunday, February 05, 2012


I hate traveling with David Schoffman.

If repose and tranquility are the purpose of a trip, David will only contribute a taut imbalance, a restive agitation and an ornery, fractious element of unpredictability.

The problem is that at this point in his contemptible career he can't go anywhere without being recognized.

Occluded Corridors Installation 2009, London

Ever since his 2009 Occluded Corridors exhibition at Froomie/Mooktza's London gallery - the show that Vivianne Sürtük of The Mail famously described as"a weightless, visionary leap into the unforeseeable gone awry" - David has become, after languishing anonymously as an august, artistic éminence grise, a ridiculously acclaimed public figure.

Everywhere he goes he is flocked, fringed, beleaguered and beset by a crush of adoring admirers. This pestering rabble with their odd sense of entitlement aren't the least bit inhibited in their asphyxiating expressions of untoward intimacy. Perfect strangers think nothing of talking to him, joking with him, touching him, pinching him, caressing him and kissing him as if he were an old friend.

He claims to hate it - and on some level I suppose he does - but I've seen David play the crowd like a panpipe. Enjoy it David, while it lasts! Your great good fortune is as chimerical as a warm winter wind on rue Malebranche.

David with an adoring fan in Parc de la Villette, 2011