Saturday, March 24, 2012


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.

Monday, March 12, 2012


Few remember Donna Deliquasse. Those who do, widely differ in their reckoning of this odd and mysterious woman. Some saw her as a vulnerable eccentric. Others claimed she was the Joan of Arc of the East Village, a tragic hipster who sacrificed her sanity and ultimately her life for the sake of her art.

I remember her as David Schoffman's kleptomaniacal roommate when he lived in a one bedroom fifth floor walk-up at 454 Avenue A.

Donna Deliquasse in Schoffman's downtown New York apartment in 1979
Donna was from the Midwest, though no one seems to recall from exactly where. Her accent was vaguely Canadian with long rounded vowels and clipped S's and T's. Without her coke bottle glasses she was legally blind and with her glasses she was just dangerously near-sighted. 

I remember a New Year's Eve party on Long Island somewhere - I think it was Syosset or Jericho but I can't be entirely sure - where Donna was the only sober person left standing. She insisted on driving us back to the city. We all piled into the car - David, me and my girlfriend at the time, Bebé Rongley (who had just been crowned "Miss Astoria Queens", a dubious distinction of which, as a foreigner, I recall being mightily impressed).  I swear, a raging drunk could have better navigated David's 1965 Chevrolet Bel air. I vividly remember promising the Virgin Mary that if we survived the trip in one piece (we did) I would give up alcohol (I didn't) and Ecstasy (I did) for the rest of my life.

But for all her strangeness, Donna was undeniably a promising young artist. She worked as a waitress at Max's Kansas City and it was there while quietly observing the likes of Donald Judd, Robert Smithson,  Jennifer Wazzerstein and William Burroughs that Donna developed her unique artistic sensibility. Pieces like "Four-Square Under-Over" and "Pleasure and Relief" are directly related to the Minimalist/Earthwork stream of consciousness aesthetic that simmered at the time on the east coast of the United States.

Pleasure and ReliefInstallation, Per Por Gallery, New York. 1979. Donna Deliquasse
Despite his vehement denials most of us who were around at the time saw an intimate connection between Donna's early installations and David's first published manifestos. The stridency was his but the vision was clearly Donna's. Few doubt as well, despite his assertions to the contrary, that he is the biological father of Donna's daughter, the Italian choreographer, Cathi Deliquasse-Carter.

Donna Deliquasse may have been the shoplifter but David Schoffman remains the shape-shifting swindler, peddler of embezzled ideas and dissembler of the first order .

Wednesday, March 07, 2012


By a boundless, unbridgeable margin, the most aberrantly unusual artwork I have ever seen is a recent performance piece called "Tanning" by my strange friend David Schoffman.  Staged at the Mastdarmkunst ArtFair in Blumenthal, the work drew a constant crush of collectors, spectators, curators and critics all trying in their own way to make sense of this genre-defying piece.

Tanning, day 2, David Schoffman, Mastdarmkunst ArtFair, Blumenthal, Austria, 2012. (photo courtesy of Blecker Strauss)

The work was accompanied by a book length series of essays which only slightly helped in decoding Schoffman's intricate labyrinth of references and allusions. Molecular biologist Gunther Drava wrote a marvelous piece about epithelial cell patterning in relation to Wittgenstein's enigmatic Remarks on Colour. Columbia's Sheila Stephanie Martin-Roth contributed an equally compelling chapter that traces the three-thousand year history of auto-mutilation. Beginning with the common practice of tongue splicing in 9th century BC Bithynia and ending with a colorful portrait of a Sing Sing tattoo artist, Martin-Roth places Schoffman squarely within the "body-as-book" tradition.

The basic structure of David's piece is fairly straightforward. For eighteen days, nine hours a day, he sat and stood in the outdoor courtyard of Blumenthal's 300 year old Institut für WarmesBier. Exposing himself to direct sunlight for nearly three weeks, Schoffman's bald head slowly became a parched, rust-colored dome while his unprotected eyes became frozen in a ludicrously shuddersome squint.

Videotaped by renowned fashion photographer Dominique Schlaghhosen, an edited version of the event will have an extended screening next Fall at the Ballybride Museum of Contemporary Art.

David's blisters are all nearly healed and his ability to see is improving daily. When I asked him if he felt the whole ordeal was worth the pain, not the mention the risk he shrugged and said that he felt he really had no choice. "The art world is a competitive place," he confided, "one has to stay relevant, sexy and controversial."

I suppose two out of three isn't bad.