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!