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.