Monday, March 24, 2014

La belle et la bête

Dogs lead a charmed life here in Paris. Notre chiens are among our most exalted citoyens. They are treated with greater respect and trusted far more than our politicians and our priests. We welcome them into our restaurants, our taxi cabs,all our parks and even some of our museums. They are not appendages to our lives but an integral part of our national identity.

Not so with my good friend David Schoffman and his Boston Terrier in Los Angeles. In California it's children who are treated like pets. They raise them like poodles preparing them for the ultimate dog show which they call the SAT's (pronounced ess-ay-Tees. Unlike our Baccalaureate, these SAT's are a gâteau wrapped in a ribbon with a fresh appetizing truffle on top.

That is to say they are extremely easy and reflect nothing of a child's intelligence other than their talent in taking a silly test.

Dogs on the other hand are treated like adorable lepers, restricted from intimate contact with humans and all other life forms. Leash laws are strictly enforced and if you don't pick up your dog's caca within 3 seconds of its descent you will enjoy the severe approbation of your neighbors and perhaps a visitation from the local constabulary.

Such is life in the laid-back anything goes West Coast of Les États-Unis. 
There are other anomalies within this alleged shangra-la. I'm told that among the artists in Los Angeles the most valued (and potentially monetizable) quality is silent obedience. A top down critical structure is in place where collectors curate shows and build museums and the creative community ignores whatever conflict of interest that relationship may imply.

This doesn't seem to bother my well-heeled colleague David. Ever since he began to wager consistently at le piste de course he has managed to remain independent of the creative/industrial complex. He's a capable gambler, neither charmed nor cursed but he has developed a reliable system by which he can be assured a steady and substantial income.

Compared to Paris, the L.A. art scene is a place where the tail wags the dog. The inevitable question therefore arises:

If Schoffman can stand aloof as he tracks to the track to earn his daily tonic, why does his work still look so damn predictable?

Monday, March 17, 2014


When my good friend David Schoffman started wearing Guayabera shirts and appointing his studio studio with fresh cut peonies I knew he was losing his edge. Middle age has taken its toll on this former pugilist of paint. Known never to shy away from a fight, David has abandoned his quarrelsome ways and now contents himself in a catholic tolerance for what he calls 'diversity.'

In French the word diversité means something entirely different. It is void of any social and political connotations. It simply suggests the idea of variety and one can easily maintain the ability to be violently opposed to whatever form that variety may take. It is about choice rather than about coercive kindness, a uniquely American social fiction that seems rather impossible to enforce.

This is especially true in the artistic and intellectual worlds. I have no problem confessing to the fact that I cannot abide the revisionist realism school of painting that has acquired great currency of late. I find politically tendentious video and installation art both childish and boring. Gender issues are only slightly more interesting than transgender issues and third generation minimalism is as inviting as gum disease. 

The way of the Buddha doesn't come naturally to my contentious friend. It must take an unbendable will to hold one's tongue while the heathens and barbarians inundate our cultural institutions with the silty refuse of third-rate ideas. While here in Paris the intellectual gauntlet is thrown at the least provocation, in California where anything goes, convictions are as durable and as defensible as a Malibu mudslide.

And so my good friend sits, bathed beneath the Five Pure Lights with his Lung ta Wind Horse flags decorating his studio as if for a child's birthday party. He has willingly exchanged the cerebral for Sādhanā, bellicosity for an ego-defeating bliss and anxiety for the wretched stillness of Abhyasa.

To tell you the truth, I'm rather relieved by this recent turn of events.

Now I can check one more competitor off my list of rival geniuses!


Wednesday, March 05, 2014


Vivre en bourgeois et penser en demi-dieu.
No less of an authority than Gustave Flaubert licensed us, the artists, to live a life of predictable and rational stability. So long as in our minds and in our work we remain the savage demigods we are exempt from the onerous demands of bohemianism. 

My dear friend David Schoffman has taken the first half of Flaubert's injunction to the absolute extreme. Under the lush splendor of southern Californian skies David suffers daily the grievous monotony of great weather. Like most of his colleagues he has adopted the climate as something of a birthright and spends as much time as he can sitting outdoors drinking coffee.

In Paris by contrast, the harsh, grey winters turn us inward, forcing upon us a kind of domestic exile and in turn producing the optimum conditions for thought and creativity. 

Los Angeles is more of an unfortunate paradise where great minds wither under the incandescent urges toward pleasure and repose.

The formally ferocious Schoffman is no exception. In the past twenty years I have seen him evolve from the feral insurrectionist to a genteel handicrafter, content in dabbling in his garden with his watercolor and brush.

It's a sad spectacle seeing this former gladiator of the avant-garde relaxing under a canopy, sipping a beer and admiring nature. 

Perhaps my dear Flaubert was right when he wrote "Nous danson non pas sur un volcan, mais sur la planche d'une latrine qui m'a l'air passablement pourrie." David reeks from the fetid fragrance of contentment. He has returned unharmed from the wilderness and remembers nothing but the trees.