Wednesday, February 26, 2014


As he tells it, when my good friend David Schoffman was a small child, his father would reward him with a silver dollar each time he completed reading a book forever creating the defective connection between intellectual achievement and financial well-being.

This would prove to be a critical misunderstanding later in life when he sought a tenured position at one of the many highly bureaucratized universities that dot the American pedagogical landscape. 

An exhibition record as long as a whale's back was of little use as were two highly acclaimed University Press studies on Hölderlin's influence on the Abstract Expressionists. Equally ineffectual was David's short stint at the State Department as cultural liaison with Islamabad in the late 1980's. Ironically, even his fluency in French and Hebrew was held against him as it was seen as skills associated with privilege and class. 

So after nearly ten years as an adjunct and associate professor David was summarily let go into the academic wilderness as an unemployed and unemployable over-educated elitist. 

But there is a happy ending.

At the urging of some of his tech savvy former students Schoffman has embarked on a new and potentially more stable career as a podcaster, a profession, he wryly points out, that is omitted from the official American Association of University Career Counselors Internship and Jobs Handbook. 

He currently has a following of over 600,000 regular listeners and a Twitter account equally bloated with devoted fans.  

Though he has yet to fully monetize this incredible turn of events, for the time being he is fully enjoying his new found fame. As he said in a recent podcast, "to think I used to feel gratified when my graduate seminar Structuralism, Surrealism and the Hollywood Blockbuster was fully enrolled."

Sunday, February 16, 2014


The Bar-Yishai Codex, leaf XXVI (courtesy of the Fleishmann Institute, Vienna)

The Bar-Yishai Codex discovered in 1922 in the Great Geniza of Fez is a mystifying document. The incoherent text encased within a chaotic mise en page and jacketed in a rugged lambskin binding has puzzled specialists on four continents. Theories abound but no conclusive thesis has yet to receive a consensus.

Even the date of its composition is a matter of fierce debate.

Some are convinced that it's a late 17th century Central European work containing a hybrid of alchemical recipes and Lurianic invocations of messianic longing. Others believe that it's just the meandering musings of a devout North African mystic lunatic that found its way to the geniza by the meager virtue of its sacramental orthography. There is even some speculation that it's actually a Christian document from southern Spain and it refers to the odd ascetic practices of the 14th century Augustinian cult of Sacellum Rebellem.

What we do know for certain is that my good friend David Schoffman, after many tired years of dabbling, groping and hopeless magical thinking, believes he has finally stumbled upon his "large and meaningful" grand subject matter.

To David the Bar-Yishai Codex with its obscure mesmeric ornamentation and uncertain provenance provide the perfect appeal to an uncritical public addicted to riddles and mysteries. It gives his work a new imprimatur of sphinx-like seriousness and wishful erudition. 

Bar-Yishai Codex no. 4, oil on linen, David Schoffman, 2014
Absent the flimsy underpinnings, David's new paintings would hardly stand on their own. Their conventional formatting and almost careless execution would be inexcusable without the stanchion of so-called scholarly speculation.

And yet the critics were conned and bullied into believing that here at last are the grave and resolute works befitting our times.

Bar-Yishai Codex no. 6, oil on linen, David Schoffman, 2014
David is quick to remind his unskeptical public that years have gone into his research and that he has digested volumes of learned texts in order to bring to light these allegedly important works.

His timing, of course, is impeccable.

The current backlash against technology and social media has resulted in a romantic craving for the old and the hand-made. Here at last is an artist who uses neither irony nor kitsch to get his points across. That it is insufficient for an artist to be defined merely by what he is not is a point that for the moment remains rather elusive.

Put simply, David's getting a free pass because nobody want to risk seeming stupid. That most critics and curators fear the perception of appearing anti-semitic doesn't hurt either. 

The very tangible possibility that the Codex is a forgery seems only to have occurred to me.

So far ...


Thursday, February 06, 2014


The fruitless folly of sustained effort and unrequited longing .

That was how my good friend David Schoffman summed up his early attempts at attracting the attention of art dealers, curators and critics. "The knaves would have nothing of it. They gnawed at my heels with contempt. They toyed with my desperate insecurities and maliciously heaped an acrid stench of stern rebuke with the corrupt impunity of tyrants. Like dogs they nibbled on my soul, their blunted fangs burrowing deep into the marrow of hurt and rejection. They took me for a fool until of course they couldn't any longer, but I refuse to forget and I will never forgive."

Gunther Broadstreet
He reserved his harshest comments for Gunther Broadstreet, the former editor and chief of Art Abandon who dined regularly on David's liver during those long, lean years. He was the last to finally champion Schoffman's work but in a shameless amnestic way. In a naked attempt to expiate his former disregard, Broadstreet has become the loudest and most hyperbolic of David's admirers.

"That blustering old goat gives windbags a bad name," is David's take on the matter, "I'd make him eat cadmium before I'd give him the time of day."

And he was only getting started
What has occasioned this retrospective summery of snubs, slights and discourtesies is the filming of a new documentary about contemporary artists by the prize winning filmmaker Abrahamine Artaud. Self-consciously fashioned in the manner of the 1973 classic Painters Painting the movie features interviews of all the usual suspects revealing few surprises and fewer insights. Unlike its more candid predecessor, this current project, tentatively titled Equivocating Artists, is nothing but a fanfare of sophistry, politesse and unprincipled self-promotion. 

Still from Equivocating Artists, 2014. (Courtesy of Tainted Pictures and Abrahamine Artaud)

 The notable exception being the seven minute forty-two second verbal hemorrhage by my angry friend Schoffman.

Gunther Broadstreet
 Broadstreet, who refused to be photographed, was courtly, insincere and conspicuously contrite.