Thursday, December 19, 2013


Some things are best said in my native French.

Gustave Flaubert, to whom I owe my entire artistic existence put it this way:

"Soyez réglé dans votre vie et ordinaire comme un bourgeois, afin d'être violent et original dans vos œuvres."

Alas, this ideal of living like a bourgeois has eluded me my whole life and yet I like to think that in spite of my shortcomings I have been able to evoke some sort of wicked originality in my work.

My good friend David Schoffman does not suffer the same defect. He is fully invested in the world of hidebound, conservative conventionality.

But pace Gustave, his poor work lacks all sense of passionate duress. Comfortably situated in a small home on a quiet street he putters away in his studio making little innocuous baubles that flatter his collector's collective sense of unearned refinement. 

His putative subject matter is some vague exegesis on the commodification of eroticism but what he's really after is a tasteful, illustrative, aphoristic rendering of sex at its most sentimental. People love it the way they love magazines, as a gloss of mild glamour under the cover Art. They are drawn to his work the way one is drawn to a puppy or to a tow-headed child with a gap tooth. 

Living in Los Angeles has a way of soothing the artistic appetite. The urban tensions are spread so far apart and one is even denied the requisite cosmopolitan drama of weather.

So poor David lives like a bourgeois, draws like a bourgeois, paints like a bourgeois and even smells like a bourgeois.

At least he has a nice car.  

Saturday, December 14, 2013


Somebody should have told my good friend David Schoffman that it wasn't for the Arts section. His first portentous statement in the interview was a curt dismissal of an entire generation - the very generation that skips the Opinion page and goes straight to Styles.

"It is impossible for a young artist to do any work of significance,' he began, "because there is one and only one subject in Art and that is the subject of Death."

 "Words like mortality are meaningless to this brood of optimists just barely out of adolescence. To them the void and the abyss might be names of nightclubs and tapas bars not critical ideas and ultimate paradoxes." (Maybe the Styles section was in fact an inspired choice).

How my dear colleague David found his way into the paper of record is a story in and of itself. It seems that fashion's final frontier is the long neglected vestiary habits of bald middle-aged artists. Well past the prime of pink hair and nipple rings this crucial demographic (The Times readership skews radically toward the 55 and over crowd) is known to combine comfort with the casually mismatched. Add a few paint stains on a pant cuff and voilà , a look

It seems that the Italian designer Ettore Macchia has already come out with a line of pre-washed smudged distressed linen trousers and over-sized plaid hoodies he calls stracci artista. A typical pair of slacks sell for about 300 euro.

Here in France, a place notorious for its sartorial intolerance, there's been a gradual softening toward the disheveled. It is no longer unusual to see grizzled retirees waiting in line at the boucherie wearing brightly colored Converse high tops with a pair of black baggy cords.

I'm not entirely convinced, however, if our personnes du troisième âge are quite ready for hats.


Thursday, December 12, 2013


When artists sell their work to other artists the transaction is always fraught with unanticipated consequences. While it could be read as the supreme compliment, especially if the work in question is rare and costly, it also could be rendered as an act of subterfuge or even of outright aggression.

It's to the later condition that the sale of my good friend David Schoffman's large 2002 oil on linen Rattling Traffic No. 5 belongs. The profligate buyer (the painting at the time was valued at around $10,000) was none other than the Los Angeles artist Dahlia Danton.

Dahlia Danton in front of Rattling Traffic No. 5  (date unknown)
The Rattling Traffic Suite was last exhibited in it's full completed sequence in 2007 at Delia Cabral's legendary Santa Monica Gallery. I remember it well for I too was included in the exhibition together with the late Cuban maestro Micah Carpentier.

Art dealer Delia Cabral

Not included in the exhibition, a fact that was duly noted in the press at the time, was the comely Ms. Danton.

Bitter murmurings about some alleged 'boys club' rippled through the various sancta sanctorum of Los Angeles' feminist art community and there was even talk of a boycott, though it never really got off the ground.

The show nearly sold out and David's work was dispersed among a few well-known collectors and, if I remember correctly, a small, regional museum of contemporary art in the Mexican State of Sinaloa.

Now, as Schoffman's mid-career retrospective is in preparation, the highly anticipated reassembling of the complete Rattling Traffic will be a terrific opportunity for scholars, students and critics to accurately trace the unusual arc of David's development.

Unfortunately, Danton refuses to let go of number 5.
Citing issues of safety, conservation, liability and even the threat of terrorism, Danton adamantly declines to cooperate. She won't even allow the publishers of the catalog to visit the picture in order to document it.   

Shifting Ship #2, oil on canvas, Dahlia Danton 2013
What is she hoping to prove! Why would she deprive us of the comprehensive overview of Schoffman's work that the public so ardently craves and desperately deserves?

Is she fearful that her own work will dim by comparison? Is she alarmed at the prospect of being seen as hopelessly derivative, a mere callow disciple pathetically laboring under the awful shadow of genuine genius.

Or are the terrible rumors actually true and she took the painting to Burning Man, stripped down to her underwear and while her boyfriend stood on six foot stilts juggling billiard balls she incinerated it in a huge bonfire together with an effigy of Francis Picabia and 150 back issues of Art in America ?   

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


When generations to come look back on the early 21st century they will have documentary filmmaker Herb Small to thank for leaving behind such an important cultural monument. 
Filmmaker Herb Small, 2013
Beginning in the fall of 2002 Small on a tiny budget supplied in part by his father-in-law's Atlanta based upholstery business, took it upon himself to document some of the most important artists of the day. I was one of the first such artists and the very first European painter to be included. Now, over ten years later he has gotten around to interviewing my good friend David Schoffman.
Small has an uncanny knack for capturing his subjects at their most natural and unguarded moments. He is truly amazing in the way he so effortlessly elicits confessions, recollections and poignant aperçus in people not generally known for their candor and honesty.
Schoffman was, by all accounts, a tough customer. It apparently took Small about half-a-dozen visits and nearly twenty hours of filming to come up with this admittedly unsatisfying vignette.
That said, it is certainly better than nothing. 

Monday, December 09, 2013


To the one-hundred and fifty million Americans who suffer from insomnia:

I have a solution for you!

Anyone who has ever had the great misfortune to sit through one of David Schoffman's powerfully tedious lectures can tell you that there is no better remedy for addressing a sleep disorder.

Like Samuel Johnson's description of Paradise Lost "none ever wished it longer than it is."

Often, while traveling through the States, my good friend David invites me to attend one of his talks. With all his faults, Schoffman remains a practical man and to supplement his income, avails himself of the podium whenever the opportunity presents itself. My general formula is that for every five demurrals I'm obliged to say yes once.

The problem lies, I believe, in David's squeaky insistence on the viability of painting to communicate meaning. He pretends that the formal language with which he was educated remains coherent despite all the evidence to the contrary. He speaks of "space" and "mass" as if these terms had an objective, unambiguous definition. He refers to Cézanne as if the arcane logic of pictorial geometry was accessible to an audience of graduate students. He honestly believes that the term "figure/ground" means anything at all to an audience of upper middle class museum members.

Luckily for David his tenuous status as a minor art star remains bankable enough and he can rely on several speaking engagements a month. In effect, it doesn't really matter what he talks about, his audiences remain faithful having gained the right to report that they bore witness to 'intelligence.' In fact, the more technically incomprehensible his lectures are the more rarified they appear and in turn render his audiences (in their own eyes, at least) into smug self-assertive cultural cognoscenti. David picks up a few bucks and like a night at the opera, his public gets to brag how smart they are.

As they say in America, it's a win-win.


Thursday, November 28, 2013


Each morning upon waking my good friend David Schoffman sadly (but with great nobility) resists the overwhelming temptation to go back to sleep. He struggles daily with what he calls "the blinding ineffectuality of effort."

He stays in bed as long as possible and it is only the grating sound of his grey Brazilian shorthair Minou that spurs him into something resembling action. 

He lives on a nondescript street on the outskirts of Los Angeles where the highlight of each week is the collection of the neighborhood's recycling. 

People wonder why the cosmopolitan Schoffman chooses to live in an area that has about as much charm as a Parisian parking lot. Why, people wonder, does the militant aesthete whose strident manifesto The Senses: A Polemic, an essay that single-handedly sparked both the slow food and the dilatory foreplay movements, voluntarily reside in an area so void of charm?

Schoffman has a curious, some might say superstitious approach to his work.  He likes to quote T. S. Eliot's famous prescription that "art is an escape from emotion" and he prides himself on his ability to peel away even the faintest joy from his life. Like the bride who guards the jewel of her womanhood for her betrothed David suppresses his rage for beauty, ransoming his instincts for the benefit of his work. He feels that in order to reach the highest level of artistic refinement he must surround himself with what he calls 'the barren vacancy of the monotonous.' 

And so to Schoffman, every day is long and each morning a renewed struggle against the scourge of pessimism and lassitude.

I think he needs a vacation.

Sunday, November 24, 2013


"As the earth's temperature rises my faith in young people diminishes to the point of bitter cynicism."

Such was the terse pearl offered up by my good friend Currado Malaspina on his first tweet. To say that my colleague doesn't take too enthusiastically to the new technology is sort of like saying that the Pope isn't terribly keen on family planning. It isn't just one opinion among many, a passing and harmless prejudice that simply places him neatly among the baby-boom codgers of '68 - no - it is nothing less than the sin qua non of his artistic and intellectual identity.
So it was quite striking that he has developed such an unlikely alliance with Brooklyn's hip high priest of social media Spark Boon. On a recent trip to Paris to report on the Lefebvre art forgery scandal for Dolphy Cane's new art journal Vernissage, Boon met up with Malaspina for a pastis at Cafe Tonton in the 8th. Though dense with the din of tourist babel, it is one of Currado's guilty pleasures to frequent déclassé bistros that are loud and overpriced.

It was actually I who midwifed the meeting, hoping to rouse the aging Currado out of his creative somnolence. Boon it should be noted is the creator of viral genre-bending art videos that have force fed French Structuralism down the philistine throats of countless Instgrammers world wide.

In other words, it is a perfect match.

So in addition to his solitary tweet, Currado has doubled his stable of Facebook associates,  opened Entourage and Spotify accounts, started regularly posting on the French version of iFunny (JeRegole) and purchased a bright green I-Phone.

He's now working with some brainy North-African developers on a app that enables one to make prank Skype calls.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent

Though my command of the English language is not perfect I am fluent enough to understand the wrath of my good friend David Schoffman.

His latest grievance is the impact of "posting" and texting on what he calls "the slightly educated class." He sees the developing American vernacular as a grim whirligig of empty idioms, arbitrary diminutives and indiscriminate military-type abbreviations. 

As he bloviated to me the other day in an email, oblivious to the ironies implicit in this method of transmission: "The argot of the Internet is an effeminate linguistic afterthought that would have Shakespeare, or for that matter Walter Winchell, hermetically arc-welding their own crypts shut."


Cranky reactionary that he is, David has come up with a suitable, personal antidote to this fretful cultural decline.

Every few months Schoffman rearranges his considerable library and lugs a stack of randomly selected books clear across town planting them in his studio in small precarious ziggurats. He then proceeds, as per Nabakov, to reread these often dog-eared dust heaps and mildewed spider traps. The brittle piss-yellow pages of second-hand paperbacks practically crumble to the touch. And yet, on any given day, David might revisit The Birth of Tragedy, Huis Clos or Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism.

The idea is to suffocate any possibility of low-brow philological philandering.  

So for example if he finds himself listening to National Public Radio for any significant length of time he'll need to gargle, so to speak, with To The Lighthouse or
Swann's Way. If a telephone solicitor succeeds in penetrating his gauntlet of filters and screens and catches him unawares he'll feel the desperate need to cold shower under a reproachful downpour of Dickinson and Pound. And if, on the odd chance he happens upon the lapidary platitudes of the Huffington Post, nothing short of Wittgenstein's Tractatus will chase the bitter aftertaste of that oily AOL .

And of course, one never needs an excuse to revisit good old Walter Benjamin...

Sunday, November 03, 2013

La recherche du temps enterré

There is something rather chilling about being the subject of a book. The implication is that you have somehow crept from the present tense into the terminal past. At first I thought my good friend David Schoffman was acting like a spoiled ungrateful child but now I understand why his decision to allow the distinguished scholar Loretta Pansesna into his life has become a source of great regret.

Loretta at Work, David Schoffman '13
Pansesna. the author of two critically acclaimed biographies (The Crease is in the Middle: Godfrey Schwartzbard the Duke of Savile Row and The Unlicked Cub: Tiebé Shirat, Picasso's Forgotten Mistress) has embarked on the first, full-scale authorized biography of Schoffman and it is exciting David's already overly hypochondriac imagination.

He sees this enterprise not as a mid-career assesment but rather as a valedictory summation, a sort of closing argument, though he's not entirely sure if it is from the standpoint of the prosecution or the defense. Whatever it is, Schoffman has never felt the cold damp sigh of mortality as vividly as he does now. He sees Max von Sydow everywhere. The devil's scythe is constantly licking the scruff of his grey tufted neck while relieving him of one pawn after the next. He can't sleep nor can he paint. After all, why bother? It is all already written. It is all for naught.

To make matters worse,  Pansesna and her research staff of three annoying graduate students are dredging up an almanac of long forgotten sins. David sees absolutely no value in ventilating such a tawdry trivial concordance of not-so-youthful indiscretion. The buried past should remain safely heaped in a mulch of palliative denial where it can neatly decay with grace and without rebuttal. Now, what little future he has left will probably be consumed with matters of paternity, libal, larceny and even murder. That Schoffman will now have to answer for the slurring allegations surrounding the long forgotten Affaire de l'étouffement sur brioche will be, at the very least, a lacerating embarrassment. 

Pansensa argues that the "accidental" death in 1979 of Adèle, the nineteen year-old daughter of Almont-sur-Gironde's chef adjoint de la Cour supérieure was a tragedy that likely holds the key to the entire Schoffman oeuvre . To ignore it would be an excerise in scholarly dereliction. Maybe this biography is precisely what David needs to finally heal this open wound.

However, I think David's chief concern is that his kids will find out that while still in graduate school their dad briefly worked as a stripper in an Austin, Texas fetish bar under the pseudonym The Rope. 


Tuesday, October 15, 2013


My dear friend David Schoffman is considered by some to be an artist of only collateral significance. He is generally perceived to be a man capable of dazzling facility only to be hopelessly encumbered by the damp bog of third-rate, secondhand, stillborn ideas.

This assessment may be corrosive but it is well-deserved. His ecumenical approach to art and culture is simply unhygienic.

 He seems determined to alienate his peers and further anger his enemies. He is the anti-networker, the lonely gadfly, the elevator flatulator and the clamorous self-rightious contrarian. Unsurprisingly, his recently published Syllabus of Errors will earn him few new friends.  

A manifesto containing no less than 80 artistic offenses, this odd document appears to be rather catholic in its condemnations.

Take for example Error no. 56: 

Any reference, allusion, quotation or tangential association with popular culture damns a work to the purgatory of the fugitive, the temporal and the temporary. It is therefore unsustainable for serious works of art to engage in any dialectic which relies on faddish extra-artistic references. 

  If I'm reading this correctly this puts the full kabosh on the likes of artists like Giotto whose frescoes at the Scrovegni Chapel were essentially the Tin Tin of the Trecento.

To be perfectly candid I've had it with Schoffman's bookish, brainy, highbrow hijinks. If he succeeds in alienating me he'll have nobody left and that would be error number 81. 

Tuesday, October 08, 2013


Artists are a sectarian bunch. They defend their fictions with an unguarded vehemence. They cling to the conceit of their own election. Their alleged agency is like a prized heirloom of conveniently forgotten provenance. Oh, how they gasp at their imagined stature among the Titans!

That they do so is only evidence of an existential terror for as Leopardi famously noted, "Man is stupefied to see in his own case that the general rule is shown to be true."

In the case of my dear deluded and paranoid friend David Schoffman the general rule is that artists, or for that matter people in general, can and do learn to draw adequately well. Somehow, he has convinced himself that he alone is the last honest draftsman, the lonely standard bearer of line, the Cronus of color, the Cerberus of form.

Seeing the World at a Slant, watercolor and ink.

His sketches can indeed be interesting, but just that and no more. They bare his stamp the way bedsheets carry the imprint of a sleeper - unique, yes, but not terribly so. Swift quirky scrawls, a few quick splashes of muted color, a clever arrangement of solids and voids and voilà a Schoffman! 

Unfortunately he feeds on the fermented honey of highly inflated critical acclaim. The recent Figura y Forma exhibition at El Palacio de los Tres Encantos in the newly renovated downtown of Logroño featured no less than fifteen of David's inkwash hors d'oeuvres. One critic gushed about the "damp, lacerating reservoir of feverish lubricity in every stroke of the pen" ("húmedo, lacerante depósito de lubricante con fiebre en cada trazo de la pluma"). Another described the drawings as "curt, clever cadenzas of chiaroscuro and a pageant of plangent depictions of hot flesh" ("cadencias inteligentes rápidos de claroscuros y un desfile de representaciones plañidera de carne caliente ").

Danton and Schoffman in Los Angeles, 2013

Schoffman has now persuaded himself that the jewel of genius is his and his alone. The delusion is so complete that he has accused his fellow Los Angeles artist, Dahlia Danton of the larcenous lifting of his linear ideas. He thinks he owns these shallow contraptions whose only virtues lie in their playful competence and quaint conventionality.  

Danton, to her credit, does not bother to attach any blathering hyperbole to her copious cache of sketches. When asked about the work by Vernissage editor Dolphy Cane, she confessed to "dashing them off at bus stops, in taxis and whenever I have a few idle moments where I need to pass the time."

Brueghel's Meat-Mill, pen and ink, 8 x 6 inches, Dahlia Danton, 2013

Bus stops and taxi!?

In Los Angeles???  

Tuesday, October 01, 2013


For some the ravelled sleeve of care fades like a dying animal as soon as the heads hits the pillow. Others toss in spasms of discomfort until the balm of black night lulls their consciousness into bewildered oblivion. For my good friend David Schoffman there is no tepid torpor that dims his active mind. For David sleep is just another form of work.

The clouds don't open nor do exquisite visions appear before him like necessary angels. He hears neither voices nor is he visited by the dead. What happens to David while he sleeps is the product of a disciplined meditation, a specific diet (beets and lentils in olive oil consumed slowly no less than three hours before retiring) and tight pajamas, especially around the armpits and groin. 

What he hopes to induce with this unusual regimen are dreams frozen in pictorial frames that he can adapt in the studio upon awakening. This admittedly eccentric practice is one derived from the Hualapai Indians of northern Arizona where elders typically rely on sleep and peyote buttons the way we might depend on psychoanalysis to tap the chords of buried motivation. (Beets and lentils may not be as effective as peyote but David finds them safer and easier to digest).

On any given night, a few faded recollections lodge themselves like flinty bayonets into the stream of Schoffman's thoughts forcing him out of the bed to make a few quick sketches.  

Dream Drawing #1877, watercolor and ink on paper, David Schoffman 1998

"I haven't slept a full night in thirty years," he told me the other day, concentric rings the color of bathroom mildew girdle his eyes as evidence. 

I'm not sure if all this is worth the effort, after all, David isn't the first artist hoping to open the doors of perception in unconventional ways.

I suggested, years ago, that he dispense with his silly rituals and enjoy a couple of pieces of candy before going to bed. Both Orwell and Sainte-Beuve did this and they swore it helped their writing. 

Another approach might be a nightly snifter of brandy and a couple of valium.

Saturday, September 21, 2013


There's more than a touch of madness in the character and in the work of my dear friend David Schoffman. That he labors for many many years on the same small paintings is evidence enough of a slight imbalance. That these very same paintings show absolutely no sign of progress despite his slow, methodical tinkering only strengthens my impression. 

 Traditionally, we think of our great artists as slightly unhinged though in fairness, Schoffman's debility is neither slight nor is his artistic vision particularly great. He is essentially of average competence, of limited ingenuity and is rather mannered and predictable in his eccentricities. 

What he does have is a fancy German magnifying glass. This contraption is so powerful you can see the dandruff fly off the scalp of a tick. He also has an army of small kolinsky horse-hair brushes. They're fashioned with only a handful of bristles but when their tips come to a point you can use them to hijack a plane.

Untitled unfinished oil on canvas, David Schoffman 2006 - present
But what my friend has most of all, the one reliable quality that he leans on like a bus shelter is what we call in French la contrainte d'un assassin or the patient constancy of a killer. David shrewdly lies in wait and with calculated perseverance and a lenient sense of his own mortality he hovers over tiny details, luring his pictures into a state of menial, minute, fetishistic obsession.

What a miserable, futile and embarrassing waste of time!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


For some reason, my good friend David Schoffman operates under the convenient illusion that if he trots out his undeniably impressive credentials the art-loving public will overlook the flimsiness of his work. The fact that his paintings are included within the collections of countless august institutions is only a sad reflection on the credulity of the curatorial class. He thinks that the splendid tally of fellowships and grants, long enough to fill a Qumran scroll, obscures the shamelessly derivative approach he takes to picture making.

For a glaring example, let's take Schoffman's portentously titled oil on canvas  The Plague Full Swift.

The Plague Full Swift, oil on canvas, David Schoffman, 2009 (Courtesy of the Musée de la Calomnie, Dunkerque)

This harmless little bauble, gaudily pigmented with lapidary azure blues, tropical greens and sanguinary reds lustily rusted to a dissonant crisp is nothing but an over-worked refry of the 1964 grisaille masterpiece of Micah Carpentier.

Cuánta Sombra en mi Alma, oil on plywood, Micah Carpentier, 1964 (courtesy of the Micah Carpentier Foundation, Madrid)

That Schoffman shows no remorse in his piracy, no anguish in his flagrantly unattributed looting of the great Cuban master's imagery and legacy is but one more signal of the utter demise of artistic decency and virtue. 

Hiding behind the tattered veil of post-modernism, Schoffman's poverty of imagination, tethered as it is to his professional success, is justified and even lauded by the critics as a conceptual triumph.  

May my dear friend be inscribed in the Book of Grifters & Frauds, Charlatans & Double-Dealers .... Amen

Thursday, September 05, 2013

2.025: IT IS FORM AND CONTENT (L.W. Like!)

By now it's a tired cliché to talk about the waning of our collective attention span. To state that electronic gadgets and devices have infantilized us into driveling philistines is not a particularly original observation. 

 My beloved France is currently awash in mindless high tech applications promoting greater efficiency and wiser time management. The fact that they produce the exact opposite result has escaped no one. But if France is crazy about technology then the U.S. is a raving psychopath at a dopamine festival.  I'm no de Tocqueville but on my last trip to the U.S. I found the change in the American character quite breathtaking, especially among its many gifted visual artists.

Which brings me to my distracted colleague David Schoffman. He is a profoundly changed man. 

This former serious and high-minded artist has become an indentured servant to the tiny screens and chirping ear buds that have come to dominate our imaginative landscape.

It's not his over-saturated Instagram close-ups of hummingbirds and azaleas that bother me so much nor is it his obsessive consultation of the Twitter feed of someone who goes by the name "shelonglegs." I know plenty of well-meaning, reasonable and intelligent people who do the same sort of thing. Even his unflappable devotion to Facebook with all its panegyric flatteries and trivial encomiums doesn't bother me all that much.  

I suppose what I find most galling and exasperating is the slow gradual dissolution of the vital character of David's once formidable intellect. 

Right before I left Los Angeles I caught my dear friend giddy and transfixed as he watched a short video of zoo lions masturbating to Mozart.

I suppose anything is better than adorable kittens.


Sunday, September 01, 2013


It would foolish to pretend that a life spent staring at unfinished canvases coldly confronting one's glaring inadequacies on a daily basis would be a life void of anxiety or stress. 

For well over a decade my dear friend David Schoffman has been laboring like a serf on a series of works whose ultimate resolution has been as elusive as a sperm whale. Every attempt, every botched opportunity, every missed metaphor has etched a line deep into David's dented temple. Every failure of form, every misdirected shape has sewn another wrinkle around my good friend's milky blue eyes.

He is not broken but he is aged, his hair, white as laundry soap, has thinned into fine meek meadows of downy dander.

Schoffman in front of the still unfinished painting The Covenant of Otto (left: 1999, right: 2013)
Some say he has gone slightly mad. As evidence they cite his forgetfulness, his sudden flights of dreamy inattention and his sloppy, frivolous and amateurish drawings.

Gone is his stridency, his vinegary wit and his eloquent, dinner party disquisitions delivered extempore under the spell of excessive spirits. David is now diminished, even dull, slowed by the solvent vapors of his studio, a toxic cocktail of turpentine, cadmium and lead. His former effulgence has been replaced by a mild composure and a disinterested complacency.

And so The Body Is His Book: One-Hundred Paintings remains unfinished and David's draining energy is absorbed more and more by crossword puzzles, the dog park and his silly little watercolors.

The competitive side of me rejoices in David's inactivity. Of all my contemporaries it has always been Schoffman who represented the only palpable threat to my dominance. Together with me and a couple of other hardened art world veterans we have occupied the thin, brittle peak of critical preeminence reducing our colleagues to virtual insignificance. And now that Schoffman has been laid low by fatigue and infirmity I'd be lying if I claimed to be sorry.

But David Schoffman is a cunning little bastard.

 Could all this be nothing but a diabolical ploy?  

Tuesday, August 20, 2013


Under the veil  that buries my dear friend David Schoffman within his weighty, dyspeptic gloom, there is, if one examines closely enough, a faint glimmer of guarded hope or maybe even a blur of qualified joy.

There just might be some muted merriment or even maybe a bit of foolish optimism burrowed beneath his mystic disquiet. His cautious tranquility comes and goes and one must be patient and loving in order to sense exactly when his hard crust will soften enough to allow some light into his wounded heart.

For this reason, his recent collaboration with the poet Nassif Değirmenci is an event worth watching.

Nassif Değirmenci with his favorite chair,  2013
Highly esteemed for his beautiful Turkish translations of traditional Laz poetry,  Değirmenci is less well-known for his original work in Shivrani (Daghestani) Arabic. Working principally in the Kesideh or 'purpose-poem' motif, Değirmenci's work covers large narrative themes with sweeping digressions and lush, descriptive imagery. In the Muweshih of the Virgin, probably his most ambitious work, the story of Nweh and her seven year betrothal to the vizier Tamim goes on for nearly 900 pages.

Schoffman first became interested in Değirmenci's work after seeing the TED Talk of Mosul-based film critic, Eugene Alfaq. The twenty minute lecture was ostensibly about "that which gets lost in cross-cultural translation" but ironically what it touched on more poignantly was the stuff that actually survives. He used Değirmenci's as a case study, citing him as someone who is comfortable writing in several semitic languages and who uses them all with great discretionary skill.  

The following examples should be emblematic:

Değirmenci's 1997 sonnet Nartik was deliberately written in Hebrew in order to more freely express his ideas about lust and longing. Chavib, by contrast, was originally composed in Sayhadic precisely for the opposite reason. And to avail himself of its rhyme-rich vocabulary, History Lesson 2 was written in classical Akkadian (and translated by the author into Italian terza rima).

The list goes on and on. 

But what ultimately drew Schoffman toward Değirmenci was their mutual and abiding passion for American jazz.  They decided to work together on a series of classic improvisations, coupling David's colorful, geometric paintings with Nassif's discursively baroque verse.

David and Nassif in Değirmenci's Beirut apartment, June 2013

The results so far are rather stunning. The painting below was a spontaneous response to one of Nassif's first attempts at writing poetry in English - a sestina entitled Grapeskin.

Playing the Dozens, oil on canvas, David Schoffman 2013
And so the effluvium of despair has temporarily lifted from the tortured shoulders of my dear friend David. Now if he could only find a durable remedy for his chronic hemorrhoids.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


David Schoffman and Dahlia Danton
My good friend David Schoffman is an easy going chap who typically keeps his strident opinions to himself. His very public row with the glamorous Los Angeles artist Dahlia Danton has been a conspicuous and undignified exception.

They recently appeared on a panel together at the voguish Galerie des Choses discussing the legacy of Tamara Trentpole, the reclusive New Mexican  artist who died last December. Known for her imaginary landscapes, Trentpole worked in complete obscurity until the Brooklyn-based curator, Spark Boon, chanced upon her paintings at a rummage sale while visiting his parents at their retirement community in Tucumcari. 

Fake Lake, Tamara Trentpole, oil on board, 1953

 A hastily assembled exhibition traveled the country and was greeted by a wide range of critical responses. Trentpole's inoffensive paintings somehow became a litmus test for one's relationship to modernism, feminism, capitalism and the role of social media in determining taste. 

Dahlia Danton delivering her paper "Trentpolarization" at the Scranton Center for Contemporary Art, July 2013

 According to Schoffman, Danton's presentation was an "encyclopedic laundry list of politically correct platitudes woven into a fictional narrative, marinated in a toxic cocktail, laced with childish fantasy and wishful thinking."

Danton counters that Schoffman's obduracy is symptomatic of "the entrenched interests of tenured academia and east coast elitists who still  designate Cézanne as the original (male) Modernist at the expense of other, equally important female and transgender figures." Danton cites the pioneering research of Orestia Shestov and her tireless attempts at the rehabilitation of American expatriate artist, Faun Roberts.

(from left to right) Oh Jardin!, Faun Roberts, 1919 and Still Life with Bottle, Cézanne, 1895

To Schoffman, this is merely a futile attempt at revising the canon of art history for the puposes of naked self-promotion. David believes that by disengenuously comparing apples to melons Danton is turning her special pleading into a political crusade.

Seeing this as a golden opportunity, the ever entrepreneurial Boon has organized a series of Danton/Schoffman debates, culminating this fall in a two-person show at New York's Spinzter and Reyes' uptown gallery.

It seems that the art world finally has it's own Ali/Frazier extravaganza. Painterly pugilists going toe to toe should be an entertaining highlight of the upcoming art season!