Author Archive

A Window on the Carrageenan – Recap

“All the world’s a stage and most of us are desperately unrehearsed.”—Sean O’Casey

View the injunction.

In “A Window on the Carrageenan” I attempted to recreate the chaos of commercial theater by crafting an epic disaster. In a way, I was paying tribute to Arthur Bicknell’s “Moose Murders” trending Marx Brothers. The producer has neglected to get rights clearance, the actors leave the production before the curtain even rises, the set disappears appropriated by a Holiday on Ice show, a tripartite injunction is served against performance, the stage lights fail, the director has a breakdown and the producer is eventually arrested by the FBI. New actors are recruited from the environs of the theater: a prostitute, a paraplegic, an itinerant street singer, a gormless lass walking by. The translator who has translated the play from Gaelic into Hungarian into English is pressed into service playing a seven year old girl.

The producer buys time with the audience by delivering a lecture on thatched cottages and the street singer finds inspiration in the play’s subject of Nazis of the Reich attending college in Ireland during World War II. His song “Nazis Don’t Get Swing” becomes a huge hit. The play’s original title “A Window on the Carragee” is modified to food additive friendly “A Window on the Carrageenan” to technically thwart the injunction.

In order to orchestrate chaos, Post-Cap playwright Spencer Christiano writing as Maeve Gamorra, actually wrote a two act play modeled after Sean O’Casey’s oeuvre. Two Nazis, one bad, one good, are billeted as detainees in neutral Ireland early in World War II. Based on true historical detail, they are permitted to attend university where one of them falls in love with an Irish girl. The ensuing clash of cultures and politics resembles nothing so much as an Irish/Nazi version of “West Side Story.” The play has production merits of its own and can be performed as a separate vehicle, but as I found out in this production, when you give actors perfect freedom, the play is seldom the thing. In the eighty minutes of this production, only one full page of the original play was performed.

Instead, as the improvising actors discovered, they spent almost all of their time keeping their interpersonal relationships afloat. The prostitute tries to make a buck by attempting to score with members of the audience; she finally succeeds, loudly, with the director in the balcony. The gormless girl who has never been on a stage before works very hard at understanding the relationship between the actor and the audience. The street musician is only interested in the promotion of his music and the paraplegic is only interested in the stability of his wheelchair on a stage full of running, jumping narcissists. The producer is worried about not being able to pay his Blackberry bill thereby losing his contact list and the director finds that his reputation is no longer at risk—it has been vaporized. Of course, the playwright-within-a play, Maeve Gomorra, shows up to experience the joy of her first produced effort. The show’s end is announced by a real pizza delivery boy announcing his delivery on stage.

No one, but no one cared about presenting the play in this improvised performance. Not even Christiano who played the director and wrote the damned thing.

This was perhaps the most entertaining of all the Post-Cap presentations. No audience members left and it is important to note that the audience included theatergoers who believed they were there to see a real Irish play. It was the antithesis of a Neil Simon play. There was no roadmap. Everything was placed on the backs of the actors who had no idea what crisis they would have to avert next at any given time. Yet the laughs were what I would call warm laughs. People liked the characters on stage even though these characters were being invented as they were being presented.

My thanks to the generous talents and wonderful good humor of not only Spencer Christiano, but of Michael Arve, Cassandra Kelly, Kimberly Niles, Declan Ryan, and Patrick Stefano. It takes a lot of Irish moxie to push on while the arts collapse around you.

See the official show page here.

My Life in Cocktails

(Written July 2006)

When I was a child, there were no such things as cocktails in my world. There was NeHi soda for children in alarming atomic colors and whiskey and beer for adults.

Some times the whiskey and the beer were combined in a boilermaker. Boilermakers were great drinks for my relatives who drove fork lifts, ran collision shops and hung out at the VFW.


Pour a shot of scotch into a mug of beer

My parents had aspirations. They left Utica, New York and their families. My father wanted to be a white collar worker; he didn’t want to work in a steel mill any more; he didn’t want my mother to work. They went out to restaurants where a boilermaker would be frowned on. They started to drink highballs and their brothers and sisters in Utica started to mimic the trendy young couple.


A highball is any beverage served with carbonated water over ice.

Basic highball

1 ounce whiskey

Cold ginger ale

Twist of lemon peel

My father got a job as an executive. He traveled to New York. Sometimes we went with him. We shopped at B. Altman’s for Mom, Barney’s (the old Barneys on 17th) for Dad and F.A.O. Schwartz for me. They ate in fancy restaurants. My father would still drink highballs or whiskey on the rocks. But my mother started to drink crème drinks like stingers, alexanders and , of course, the grasshopper.


1 ounce green crème de menthe

1 ounce crème de cacao

1 ounce heavy cream

These are the first drinks I ever thought about. They were like parfaits made in martini glasses. I’d watch my mother drink them in swank New York restaurants like La Fonda del Sol and The Forum of the Twelve Caesars. Sometimes I’d get a sip. I never tasted liquor, only sweetness and sophistication.

When I turned 18 I could drink. I had no interest in drinking before that and now only drank when I went to a restaurant. I was particularly enamored of exotic drinks. My parents and I once went to Trader Vic’s in the basement of the Plaza Hotel. I had a sip of a Mai Tai. Once I could drink on my own, I decided that I would order Mai Tai’s. And I did, mostly in questionable Chinese restaurants with goldfish ponds, footbridges to nowhere and waitresses dressed in binding brocade. The restaurants had South Sea names like The Aloha. My friends Amy Presberg and Terry Benedict and I would frequently pay extra to have the drinks delivered in a Kon-Tiki glass which was more like a mug: brown, opaque and shaped into a fierce-looking stone face. If we were in a festive mood, we would order from a seemingly endless variety of rum drinks served in narrow Collins glasses with paper umbrellas protecting the general concoction

Mai Tai

2 ounces aged rum

1 ounce Cointreau

½ ounce Grenadine

1 teaspoon almond syrup

1 ounce fresh lime juice

Tropical fruit such as pineapple or kiwi

I later found out that Mai Tais are surprisingly complicated even though they look and sound like lowest common denominator cocktails. Bartenders will order them in other bars because this is a drink that helps them assess other bartenders’ skills.

I went away to college. Some of my friends took drugs. I doubt that there was ever an opiate as agreeable as a Mai Tai. However, I did need a more sophisticated drink. Something current and Ivy League. My parents gave me a lot of money for discretionary stuff in college even though they did not have a lot. I had as much money as some of the rich kids whose older brothers had gone to college and abused expense accounts. These younger brothers were put on budgets. Their budgets were comparable to the money my parents gave me. We used to go to two places in New York for expensive dinners: L’Orangerie and The Russian Tea Room. At L’Orangerie I know I ate sweetbreads (grilled pancreas and thymus) but I don’t remember what I drank. It wasn’t wine. Wine wasn’t considered a real drink by us. But at the Russian Tea Room, I discovered the Black Russian. It was served in an “on the rocks” glass. I was 19 and pimply and drinking Black Russians in The Russian Tea Room. For dinner, we would order chicken Kiev and poke at it with forks to watch the butter gush out.

I had no idea.

Black Russian

1 ounce vodka

1 ounce Kahlua

In the summer I would spend as much time with Amy and Terry as possible at Terry’s family’s cottage on Silver Lake. Terry’s family drank variations on club soda or ginger ale mixed with gin or vodka. The drinks were served in plastic cups with a lemon or lime wedge in each. I would sit in a wicker chair on the porch and read Dickens. Their Dalmatian invariably came bounding in through a hole in the screen and tried to get me to stop reading. It seldom worked.

I became a Sixties intellectual. I opened the bookstore and met Jackie. Jackie had just returned from Nice. Jackie was not a highball kind of girl. One Thanksgiving she made a chestnut stuffed turkey for my parents and aunt and uncle. My uncle spit the stuffing out and demanded a hamburger. I started to drink wine. For special occasions, we started to drink champagne. Until I met Jackie, I only drank Andre’s Cold Duck which was $3 a bottle. Jackie liked to mix a dry white wine with cassis. I learned that this is called a kir.


1 tablespoon crème de cassis

6 ounces dry white wine

Twist of lemon peel

Jackie was dedicated to drinking wines rather than cocktails. We drank good, inexpensive wines mostly from France, then from Italy and finally from America. Jackie seldom drank anything else. She did discover fruit beers in Belgium called lambics. She is still particularly fond of a framboise lambic. Framboise translates as raspberry. It is delicious, but a bit too festive for a beer.

About ten years ago, I started to drink martinis. To me, the martini was always associated with the James Bond era. I didn’t really like them but they were cool. It was by now the 80’s, just on the cusp of martini bars. At Jackie’s sister’s funeral, I drank martinis at the bar of the hotel we stayed in. They had a separate martini menu that I stole and have some place in the house.


3 ounces gin

Dry vermouth to taste

Green olive or twist of lemon peel

James Bond Martini ( from the book Casino Royale)

3 ounces Gordon’s gin

1 ounce vodka

½ ounce Kina Lillet (vermouth)

Green olive or twist of lemon peel

I somehow found out that a martini could be made with vodka. I drank vodka martinis for a while, but they were just a little less tiresome. Then someone suggested I have a vodka gimlet. It’s really just vodka with a lot of lime juice but it sounds very tony. “I’ll have a vodka gimlet” said in a bored voice, is guaranteed to raise an eyebrow in a bar. You must always make sure you have it with lime schmutz. Just have the bartender scoop out some lime fibers and mix it with the drink. The viscosity and the fruit threading through it with the syrupy lime juice floating around like a lava lamp make it the most beautiful drink I know. It should be served in a BIG martini glass for full effect. Jackie makes a good vodka gimlet. Sara, Jackie and I like to drink them.

Vodka Gimlet

2 ounces vodka

¼ ounce Rose’s Lime Juice

Wedge of lime

And then the Mojito came into our lives. I think I had the first Mojito when I visited my friend Richard in L.A. His upscale fabric printing business had collapsed; his significant other had died and healthcare costs destroyed his finances I had not seen him for a while. He always has a Rolls Royce. He even had a Rolls Royce in college. He used to drive stockbrokers back and forth from Wall Street for a fee. Even though he was now broke, he still had a black and tan Rolls Royce.

Richard and I went to lunch at an upscale Cuban restaurant in Pasadena. He insisted I have a mojito. It’s THE drink, he said. I thought it was rather dull but I did like the large mint leaves that were stuck in the drink. They looked like they just fell out of the Amazon rainforest into the glass.

Richard opened a restaurant in Pasadena. It served ABC cusine (American, Belgian and Cuban. Talk about fusion! ) But the restaurant failed. On the last night of the restaurant, Jackie and I were in L.A. We drove up to Pasadena and he cooked for us all night. The restaurant was padlocked the next day. Jackie had a mojito. I decided that it was like a mint julep only global. Joe, our bartender, makes them with peach or watermelon essences.

We first met Joe Ellis at a restaurant called Karma in downtown Rochester. We were talking about the Jell-O birthday party I gave Jackie. We were with Richard and Lucinda. Joe was the bartender there and listened intently (especially the part where I searched for packages of Jell-O in institutional sizes) before chiming in that he supported himself in college making Jell-O shots and had he known Jell-O was available in institutional sizes he could have whipped up more and made more money. Joe was clearly not your average bartender.

Joe moved to Tastings, the restaurant owned by the Wegman’s supermarket chain. We started visiting Joe every few months for a drink for a special occasion. Sara and Phil have joined us there. I don’t remember what Sara had, maybe a mojito, but Phil had a Tequila Sunrise.

Tequila Sunrise

1 ½ ounces white tequila iced

4 ounces cold fresh orange juice

Dash of grenadine

Slice of orange

Joe is my chemist. I tell him a drink I want to try and he makes it. He’ll tell me practical tips, what kind of person drinks it and suggestions like substituting bourbon for rye which hardly exists in bars now anyway. Most drinks in the 20’s and 30’s were made with rye. Now they’re made with bourbon or blended whiskies.

I asked Joe once what drink suited me. He said a Sidecar. It was created by a bartender at Harry’s Bar in Paris around the end of World War I who made it for an officer who had a cold and arrived in a motorcycle sidecar asking for a drink to that would clear his head. It does the exact opposite. It is calmly hallucinogenic and imparts an enormous feeling of quiet and well-being. It is a good drink to have before an operation. I had a sidecar at Le Cirque in Manhattan. Theirs was not nearly as good as Joe’s. I told this to Danny Wegman at the bar at Tastings.


1 ounce brandy

¾ ounce Cointreau

¾ ounce fresh lemon juice

I felt that before surgery I needed a special drink that I had never had before. I discovered The Monkey Gland. It was a drink that enjoyed a special vogue in the 1930’s. In fact it is featured in a song in the musical “Wonderful Town” by Comden and Green and Bernstein called” Conga” where it is rhymed with “hot dog stand”.

Monkey Gland

2 ounces gin

1 ½ ounces fresh orange juice

2 dashes Benedictine

2 dashes grenadine

Twist of orange peel

Pernod or Anisette can be used instead of Benedictine. I thought the Benedictine was just fine, though. It is indeed a rejuvenating drink. It looks like lovely, shirred organic material and could possibly be thought to have a touch of minced gland in it.

I’m looking forward to recovering from surgery so that I can drink more cocktails. Joe and I have several waiting in the wings: The Hi Ho, The Gibson, the Douglas Fairbanks and the Negroni. I plan to be drinking cocktails for a long, long time.

Going to the Movies in South Delhi

(Written June 2007)

Looking backwards, I’ve been to a lot of movies in a lot of different places. I saw countless movies in grindhouses on 42nd Street; I saw Red River in a working class theater in Rome during which various factions in the audience had fistfights, presumably over Joanne Dru’s virtue; I saw Cousin Cousine in a movie theater in the 6th arrondisment which had the men’s urinal directly behind the screen; I saw Born Free at a drive-in in Dar-es-Salaam where the locals walked in with plastic chairs on their heads and where the lions in the periphery off the parking lot answered the lions on screen with all too frequent regularity.

And then I saw Honeymoon Travels, Ltd. at the Prya Theater in South Delhi.

The Priya is a chain of theaters in India comparable to General Cinema. The one in the cow-rich plaza behind our hotel was, in fact, the first and flagship Priya, famous throughout India as the first modern Indian screen. It shows two movies that each show at alternating times during the day on one screen. That screen is larger than any in Rochester and probably than any in New York except maybe the Astor Plaza and the Ziegfeld. It is the Cinemascope screen of my youth where robust lips are 20 feet long and flirting eyes are a story and a half.

The night we went, Jackie and I had to decide between Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore in Words and Music, subtitled in Hindi; or, Honeymoon Travels, Ltd. about five newlywed couples on a sexy and riotous bus honeymoon from Bombay to Goa that was only in Hindi.

We chose B.

Buying tickets in India is more openly navigable than the caste system. There are five second class categories and one premier category that has its own separate window. The prices vary from $.80 to $3.00 depending on time and lcoation. Of course, not knowing the distinctions, we took no chances and selected the one premier category. We felt that we could downgrade to lower accomodations at some later date.

Each theater has an airport-quality system of metal detectors since theaters are frequently targeted by Hindi ultraconservatives (and probably other groups) for bombing. I went thorugh the men only line and Jackie went through the woman only line. We were both searched quite thoroughly by the military after walking through the detectors. I think we may have fallen into the “what in the hell are they doing at this movie” category arousing a certain understandable suspicion.

The first surpirse. The most desirable seats are in the balcony. The lower prices are all in the orchestra.

We walked upstairs and I swiped a Honeymoon Travels, Ltd. promo mobile and only after I quickly tucked it under my shirt did it occur to me that I was probably on a surveillance camera.

We entered the balcony lobby. There were two refreshment stands. We walked past the first one where there were two touts who cried out “EYCECREEM! KONFEKZHUNS!” in a sincerely desperate attempt to get us to stop. Across the way was the popcorn stand. More about that later.

The theater seemed to seat a bit under a thousand, perhaps 350 in the balcony. We were in the middle of the first week’s run. There were about 70 moviegoers in the balcony. I peered down into the orchestra and there were only a few more than that downstairs. Everyone was under 30.

The movie began. It was co-produced by India’s major bus manufacturer. Please remember that this is a film about a bus ride.

Five happy, newly minted couples begin their honeymoon on the bus. One couple is a conservative Hindi accountant in an arranged marriage to the village closet feminist; one is a Soprano-type-goon with a crying bride who is waiting to be rescued by her true love; one is a pair of well-matched ballroom dancers; one is an American of Indian descent who speaks no Hindi and his Hindi bride. Interestingly, the American speaks in English and there are no subtitles for his dialog; the final couple is a fifty-something widow and widower. Then there is the ubiquitous bus MC who calls out bingo from the back of the bus (yes, the honeymooners play bingo throughout the film).

The Indian sex comedy form seems a lot looser than its Western counterpart. For instance, when illustrating how the widower became that way, there is flashback to a scene in which he and his five-year-old daughter discover his then wife hanging from a ceiling fan. We immediately jump to the present and a rhumba contest with no one the worse for wear.

The audience roared quite out of proportion to its size. There were catcalls, whistling, cell phone ringing and a baby crying. After five minutes, the mother and baby left, but not because the audience cared. I think she went to change the baby’s diaper.

I decided I wanted to check out the popcorn stand. I left Jackie and wandered back into the premier lobby. The popcorn stand had the usual bill of fare: popcorn, Coca Cola and cheese nachos. It also had something that I really never imagined existed: sealed, microwaveable containers of shredded mixed chicken and goat. Just in case you left the house in a hurry.

The popcorn came in two sizes. I bought a small (55 ruppees, about $1.20) and a small fountain drink (40 rupees) and went back to my seat. No sooner had Jackie filled me in on the travails of the conserative Hindi bride who lost her sari during a windsurfing gig than “INTERMISSION” flashed across the screen. The film had been on for 45 minutes. It was the first intermission I experienced at a comedy since It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1962, at 192 minutes) and the first ever for a movie under 90 minutes. A twin record! Score!

We decided not to stay because we still had to pack and were leaving the next morning. On the way out, Jackie noticed I had purchased a fountain drink. As I was taking a final sip, she said, “Don’t you remember that at the health briefing they told us never, under any circumstance, to drink fountain drinks.” Two days later….

Dueling Conceptual Art Manifestos: Borek vs. LeWitt

(Written June 2007)

Sol LeWitt, conceptual artist extraordinaire, listed 35 points in defining conceptual art. After reading them, I felt a conceptual urge to create my own manifesto in response to his. You may want to have a cup of strong coffee at the ready to keep you awake.

John’s list

If it’s conceptual, it needn’t be described
If it’s conceptual, there is no need for theorizing.
If it’s conceptual, it has an appeal beyond words
If it’s conceptual, it’s not about the Great Artist
If it’s conceptual, it should be able to exist independent from the Arts Establishment.
If it’s conceptual, it should have resonance with those who are not artists.
If it’s conceptual, it should be conceived by the artist and borne to the viewer.
If it’s conceptual, it should not be reproduced
If it’s conceptual, it should be remembered.
If it’s conceptual, it should be contained in 10 bullet points, not 35.

Sol’s list

1) Conceptual Artists are mystics rather than rationalists. They leap to conclusions that logic cannot reach.
2) Rational judgments repeat rational judgments.
3) Illogical judgments lead to new experience.
4) Formal art is essentially rational.
5) Irrational thoughts should be followed absolutely > and logically.
6) If the artist changes his mind midway through the execution of the piece he compromises the result and repeats past results.
7) The artist¢s will is secondary to the process he initiates from idea to completion. His willfulness may only be ego.
8) When words such as painting and sculpture are used, they connote a whole tradition and imply a consequent acceptance of this tradition, thus placing limitations on the artist who would be reluctant to make art that goes beyond the limitations.
9) The concept and idea are different. The former implies a general direction while the latter is the component. Ideas implement the concept.
10) Ideas alone can be works of art; they are in a chain of development that may eventually find some form. All ideas need not be made physical.
11) Ideas do not necessarily proceed in logical order. They may set one off in unexpected directions but an idea must necessarily be completed in the mind before the next one is formed.
12) For each work of art that becomes physical there are many variations that do not.
13) A work of art may be understood as a conductor from the artis¢’s mind to the viewers. But it may never reach the viewer, or it may never leave the artists¢ mind.
14) The words of one artist to another may induce a chain of ideas, if they share the same concept.
15) Since no form is intrinsically superior to another, > the > artist may use any form, from an expression of words (written or spoken) to physical reality, equally.
16) If words are used, and they proceed from ideas about art, then they are art and not literature, numbers are not mathematics.
17) All ideas are art if they are concerned with art and fall within the conventions of art.
18) One usually understands the art of the past by > applying > the conventions of the present thus misunderstanding the art of the past.
19) The conventions of art are altered by works of art.
20) Successful art changes our understanding of the conventions by altering our perceptions.
21) Perception of ideas leads to new ideas.
22) The artist cannot imagine
his art, and cannot perceive it until it is complete.
23) One artist may misperceive (understand it differently from the artist) a work of art but still be set off in his own chain of thought by that misconstruing.
24) Perception is subjective.
25) The artist may not necessarily understand his own art. His perception is neither better nor worse than that of others.
26) An artist may perceive the art of others better than his own.
27) The concept of a work of art may involve the matter of the piece or the process in which it is made.
28) Once the idea of the piece is established in the artist¢s mind and the final form is decided, the process is carried out blindly. There are many side effects that the artist cannot imagine. These may be used as ideas for new works.
29) The process is mechanical and should not be > tampered with. It should run its course.
30) There are many elements involved in a work of art. The most important are the most obvious.
31) If an artist uses the same form in a group of works and changes the material, one would assume the artist¢s concept involved the material.
32) Banal ideas cannot be rescued by beautiful > execution.
33) It is difficult to bungle a good idea.
34) When an artist learns his craft too well he makes slick art.
35) These sentences comment on art, but are not art.

Soldier of Fortune, My First Conceptual Project


© 1995 John Borek

Every year thousands of people come to Manhattan to seek their fortunes. I was no different. Well, maybe a little different. Instead of looking to the want ads, the universities, the boardrooms of this great city, I was determined to find my future in Manhattan’s palmists, tarot readers and crystal ball diviners. I would know my destiny first and then I would prepare to meet it.

I needed a few ground rules. First, I would choose a limited period of time. I didn’t want the stars to dance too much. Two days seemed right, a Sunday and a Monday. A Sunday because it was a day of rest during which my fortune could assemble slowly and awake to brunch. A Monday because the usual frenetic weekday activity of the city would energize my aura. Second, I would wear a uniform of sorts both days: a short-sleeved Polo shirt, khakis, my wedding ring, tortoise shell glasses, a Swatch artist edition watch and loafers. Third, I would ask for the least expensive psychic experience no matter what that might be. No sense in paying for a Cadillac when you can get there in a Ford. And, finally, for pragmatic reasons, if I were asked to make a wish, I would wish for a happy life. And if I were asked to extend a hand, I would always give my right one.

And so, thus steeled, I walked into fortune’s arms.

Fortunetelling and an immigrant outsider community are first cousins. Questions are more desperate; hope is more important; change cannot be self-willed. When you’re playing the lottery of the streets, seeing into the future becomes a necessity. Such were my thoughts when I introduced myself to Pat of READINGS BY PAT (73 Second Avenue between 4th and 5th Streets). If Pat was a seer, she was cleverly disguised as a very downtrodden domestic oracle. Her window exhibited two stylish plaster Deco figurines that perhaps betrayed Pat’s hope that eventually Fred and Ginger would find their way downtown. If they ventured this far, they’d better bring along washcloths and some gentleman’s hankies to sit on. Pat I’m afraid is truly farsighted. She sees the future and misses the dust.

Pat in her housedress welcomed me. I took my place on the dirty lawnchair in her stifling office which was really the first four feet of her ground floor storefront apartment while a little girl finished sweeping the walk outside. There, various curious street people assembled while I asked for the $3 palm reading. With the well-rehearsed good humor of a planetary comedienne, she asked for a hand. I gave her my right. She asked me to make a wish. And then her reading began. “You will live a long life. You will die of old age, not sickness. 9 and 10 are your lucky numbers and Sunday and Wednesday are your lucky days. You will get good news in a month and 1996 will be your best year. “ Her expression changed. She peered more deeply into the crevices of my hand for detail work. “You have been unhappy for the last three months and not using your potential. Thank you.” Ninety seconds after entering her domain, I was on the street. Pro-rated, Pat cost about as much as an uptown psychiatrist. But a shrink would never promise me a long life. and give me a tip for the racetrack. I walked away; the little girl was summoned and all memories of me were swept off of 2nd into the gutter.

JACY (343 W. 14th Street, 691-3630) advertises as a psychic, horoscope and tarot card reader. She can take away suffering, sickness and bad luck from your home and body with results in 3 to 9 days. Her work is guaranteed. She has a little handbill that states she gives a charm with each reading. Very customer oriented, I thought.
Jacy was holding court in a lawn chair on the sidewalk. A woman in her late thirties, she had a seriousness of purpose. Surrounded by two children and several neighbors, she stood up and escorted me into the usual storefront/partitioned dining room. I sat down and almost immediately was subjected to a clever assault similar to a shell game. There was the two palm reading for $15 which today was $10. Then there was the $35 tarot reading during which I could ask two questions which today was reduced to $25. There was a tarot reading with no questions asked for $25, today $10. We spiraled down and sprang up in price over and over again. I held out for the cheapest reading–the $5 reading advertised on her sign. This was finally, after implorings, threats, and cajolings, accepted. I opened my right hand. She clucked over the amount of confusion she saw. If it were her choice, I should have a two palm reading. She didn’t know what she could do with such a disturbed single palm. As I looked into my own hand and tried to determine where she found the storm fronts, I lowered my eyes and said, “I’m sorry. I’m on a tight budget.”

She asked me to make a wish. The reading began. She saw a pyramid. I would have a long life and not die of illness or accident. “Make a wish, but don’t wish for a long life.” Why would I waste a wish on the question she had just answered? “You are stubborn and demanding.” She was undoubtedly basing that on my negotiating skills. And then, she played her trump card: “ You’re the kind of person who helps other people, no questions asked. But when it comes time for you, there’s no one there.” She looked up triumphantly. There was a long pause during which I sensed I was being expected to agree. Poor me. I nodded my head. Once I nodded in agreement, the reading was over. I had verified what she saw in my hand. I was a schlimazel. Jacy wanted to rejoin her family and friends on the sidewalk. I was three blocks away before I realized that SHE HADN’T TOLD ME IF MY WISH WOULD COME TRUE. She also hadn’t given me my free charm.


As twilight enveloped the city, I grabbed a taxi up to MRS. LEONA’S. Mrs. Leona (28 West 48th Street, 921-2178) is smack dab across from the southernmost limit of Rockefeller Center. She can foretell the usual human concerns: marriage, love, what the year will bring. She also advertises, as a special concession to the neighborhood, “If you will gain your lawsuit.” I had a vision of dark suited denizens of midtown pouring out of their offices and lining up on the stairs to Mrs. Leona’s second floor aerie. Tell me, Mrs. Leona, will I be successful in my action against Amalgamated Enterprises? Will my case drag on for years? Will it be televised? Perhaps she even does legal referrals, I thought; perhaps she herself wears a business suit: I was sure that with all these legal questions, she had to present herself as less of a gypsy and more of a spiritual accountant…a trusted professional.

You can see Mrs. Leona’s space from the street. It’s quite impressive. A second floor in a townhouse in midtown. My only moment of trepidation was when I rang the bell and realized that I was staring into an erotic XXX. Mrs. Leona’s professionalism was struck a blow. A porn shop had opened next door.

I was buzzed in and began my ascent up a long, whitewashed hallway. I was greeted with the VH-1 of fortunetelling. Mrs. Leona was a cosmic duality. Two gorgeously dreamy exotic young women, one in a slit red gown and one in a slit black gown. Experienced Doublemint twins for my palm peering pleasure. My head swam.
The space was loft-like, carpeted in white with metal and leather furniture and a super sized TV monitor in a throe of commercials. There was a table at the window, so close to Rockefeller Center you could feel the power. But when I asked the Mrs.’s Leona’s where I would have my fortune read, they pointed to a small table in the center of the room, not visible from the outside, too intimate for three. I thought of the triple X’s downstairs; I glanced fearfully at the metal and leather furniture. Where was the plastic lawn stuff? The plaster figurines; the room divider that separated the kitchen? I told myself , rightly or wrongly, that I was in trouble. I asked how much a reading was and Mrs. Leona red gown told me $25 or $30. I happily told them about my pitiable financial condition and fell over my feet running down the stairs. Once on the street I wondered, would it have been worth it?


Now completely in the dark I made my way to MRS. MARIE M., Spiritual Reader, on Christopher Street (113 Christopher Street between Bleecker and Bedford, 989-8831, nestled between The Leatherman and The Hangar ) . Just before I entered the Divine Miss M.’s, I broke rule number two and varied my appearance. I removed my wedding ring. After all, it WAS Christopher Street.

Mrs. M’s turned out to be the eclectic , Villagey sort of place you would expect. The window, which is directly on the street, sports sculptures of a cobra, Confucius and an apple with a worm in it. Behind that window, the whole street could clearly see a man and a woman on a sofa in the midst of a warm, engaged conversation. Ah, a satisfied repeat customer I thought, my face pressed against the glass. I walked up to the buzzer, and pushed it to gain entry into this friendly spiritual circle. Neither the man nor the woman moved or gave the slightest response to my buzzing. They must be deep in to a reading, I concluded as I stood there. And stood there. I became acutely aware of my psychic isolation. People were passing behind me and watching my attempts to get in. Did I look like a spiritual voyeur, staring enviously at a couple who had found soulful communion? I was in Psychic High, suspended in my embarrassment. I almost walked away, but I rang the buzzer again. At this, the true Mrs. M, emerged–petite, young and sharp. She let me in and it was only at that moment that I noticed the spirit world had to share its space with an absolutely gigantic gas barbecue grill.

Mrs. M. offered a budget reading–one half palm for two dollars. She also did the usual full palm and two palm but also could do two palms and a face. I took the low road–one half palm.

“Which hand do you write with,” she barked.

I gave her my right palm. She looked at it for a moment, shook her head and said, No, give me the other one.” She took a deep breath to prepare for her journey and then her phone rang and her answering machine clicked on. She turned down the volume so I could not hear the caller and waited for the message to end. We resumed. Suddenly, there was a tapping at the window, three inches from my cheek. It was Mrs. Marie M.’s great friend. “Can you excuse me so I can go talk to my friend?” she asked as she left me in the window on Christopher Street between the Leatherman and The Hangar.

When she returned, she never looked at my palm again. “Your chakras are not together. The devil has been in your love life for five years. When you think it’s going well, it’s not. Don’t trust anyone financially. I see a financial setback, legal problems, but it will be resolved.”

She started to ask me questions.

“What’s your biggest problem?”


“Where are you from?”

“New York.”

“Have you ever been to a psychic.”



My mind went blank from psychic duplicity. I couldn’t possibly say forty minutes ago. “I can’t remember, “ I fudged.

“Did you ever go back to that psychic? “ she demanded in professional fury.


She paid me back in spades. “You have a dark aura. I’m getting bad vibes. You’ve lived many past lives and are paying for something you did to a loved one in a past life. We’re going to put you back together. You need healing.”

“How much is healing. I’m on a tight budget. It’s been a tough year.”

I work for tips. Come back when you have money. Your lucky day is Friday. Are you satisfied?”

And out I went.
Monday morning began with a cup of coffee and The Yellow Pages. Let the fingers attached to my palm do the walking. First, a call to India’s Gifted Psychic ANNA, ESP tested with 86% accuracy and a spiritual ordained minister. I dialed 879-1452 waiting for my life questions to be answered.

“I’m out right now. Please leave a message. If you are a new caller, I’m not making no new appointments til December.” Beep.

My hopes shattered, I retreated to MORRIS FONTE TELESPYCHIC “as seen on nat’l and cable TV” (685-0477). Morris Fonte Telepsychic has one of the most bewilderingly complicated personal answering machines I have ever encountered. After being chided by a recorded female voice for not leaving an audible message, I made my way to selection number four for urgent messages. Was this urgent? No children were missing; no jewels were misplaced. Fearing the word urgent, I hung up.

ADIVINADORA SORINA, psychic reader (684-0250) did have grudging time for me though. That day, if I came in a half hour. Otherwise, who knows when. A psychic tarot card reading was $65. I pleaded my usual insolvency but could not get a lower room rate.

I closed the phone book and headed for the mean streets.

St. Mark’s Place. VERONICA KASLOW, psychic reader, is a nice woman. Her space is above St. Mark’s Deli next to Smash CD’s and Rocket Rags (31 St. Mark’s Place, 228-9042), and it’s air conditioned. There’s a diploma on the wall and books. Veronica greeted me and did not try to up the ante when I asked for the featured $3 reading. She also offers Angel readings (presumably interpreting messages from the angel standing next to you) for $1 a minute. Probably more expensive than a certified U.N. translator, but, hey. Veronica took both my hands as
I looked into her round, motherly face. ‘I’m not going to say nothing to embarrass you.” I was thrilled because this I felt was the psychic equivalent of not wearing dirty underwear in an accident. So reassured, I heard, “You have a rainbow in your hands and that means a long life. You have intelligence, happiness and financial security and you have done very well.” This is too good to be true, I thought, and at that very moment Veronica took a long pause and the recidivism began. “You always feel you’re on the outside looking in. You’re waiting to start your life. You can’t make a commitment. You are confused. Be careful with a business associate. Go with the flow.” And the pauses! As if she were furiously editing to keep her nigh unto impossible promise of not embarrassing me. Despite the depressing summary that followed that gangbuster beginning, I still liked Ms. Kaslow. She had a lot of moles on her face and no vanity. Her wind up pitch was “You must leave the past to be successful.” And then she offered to help me through specially prepared healing and meditation oils that she could whip up in a jiffy on her stovetop alchemy lab.

“I’m on a tight budget,” I intoned yet again. And then she asked me for five dollars for the reading that was supposed to be three.

MRS. RAE (682 Lexington at 57th Street, next door to the Laredo Grill, 980-2040) is part of the phenomenon I call The Spirits Go Shopping . There are lots of psychics around and above Bloomingdale’s. Mrs. Paulina is at 796 Lexington; Vandala, Psychic Advisor, plies her cards at 972 ; Lisa Psychic Astrology is at 1016 and finally the upper reaches of the Shopping Spirits culminates in India’s Gifted Psychic Anna (remember, no appointments until December) at 1219 Lexington.
But Mrs. Rae has a one inch ad in the phone book and has been established for 30 years, so it’s off to Mrs. Rae I go. Mrs. Rae, who if she’s been established that long, started out in utero. is a truly beautiful, delightful, energetic woman . She greets me at the entrance to her apartment. I walk in and nod toward her family who is watching television. “ Not there, “ she says protectively, separating family from palmistry, and then herds me into a pantry that is so hot that I wonder if sweaty palms can obscure life lines. In this little hot box are more representations of Christendom than in a cathedral: a statue of Christ, holy water, the works. I am clearly in the presence of a believer — the St. Theresa of the Shopping Spirits.
We quickly negotiate a ten dollar fee. Mrs. Rae reaches over and really touches my hands. This is the first time I am conscious of having my hands examined as living organs and not just as abstractions. She spreads both of them out as if she’s reading the Sunday funnies and begins, “I am going to tell you whatever I see good or bad.” I gulp. “You are going to live to be 91 years old, but life is what you make of it. You are going to have three children. I see confusion, change and a strong character, You were meant to be a boss. Trust no one. GET READY FOR THE REFRAIN: You help others but others are not quick to help you. Your lucky numbers are 5, 9, and 7 and your lucky days are Friday and Saturday . There is a pause and when we are through I again see her extraordinary beauty. effectively presented by a jeans dress with a slit up the side. Amidst the Christianity and the heat I start to reel, but not before I am stood up, ushered out and told to “Have a nice day.” I am back on the street.

Twenty years ago, my wife and I went to the GYPSY TEA KETTLE when it was in one of the most beautiful spaces in all of New York–on the second floor in the building kitty corner from the New York Public Library. It is one of the rare psychic experiences of my past life. We were just married and my wife went to have her tea leaves read. Her reader Vi, a matron in her fifties with a blonde beehive and enough powder blue eye shadow to prevent sunburn at the equator, sat down my young, perfectly complected, completely un made-up bride and told her fortune. “You have been recently married, “ Vi intoned with the wisdom of the Sybils. And Honey, take my advice, fix yourself up, do something with your hair, wear a little make up and you’ll have a long and happy marriage.”


Exhausted by fortune, I decided to look up Vi and see if she was still at the Tea Kettle. The Tea Kettle has moved to a cramped space on the second floor of 56th Street ( 137 East 56th Street at Lexington, 752-5890). There is a cashier who looks like a bus conductor, and assigns the customers to a reader. There is no reader named Vi; however, I am informed for a fee of $11, I can have my tarot read. I am assigned to a pleasantly intense woman in her late thirties named Jeannie who is one of two gypsies at The Tea Kettle that day. Jeannie asks me my name, my day and month of birth. I choose seven cards from the tarot deck and we are off on a wild ride through fortune’s warehouse. “You are a Gemini man. You’re life is on hold; there will be tremendous changes from September through April. You have creative artistic expression–once you know where your next 27,000 meals are coming from.” I choose seven more cards. “ You do not have children. You could, but you would need medical intervention. Don’t tell your wife. It will upset her. Your mother is having a tough time and will have to make a change.” Seven more cards. “Your life is divided into 23 year cycles. You are starting your third. Your second cycle was dominated by something you built with two others. You will need to go back to the classroom to fulfill your talent if even for one class. Geminis thrive on change. You will write something very visual –a screenplay or a drama. You have learned in the last 23 years what you are not. And by the way, you have a long and happy marriage. Congratulations.”

I was silent. Next to Jeannie there was a small tip tray with a sign on it that said “Your tips are my salary” and a $5 bill nested on it. How impressed was I by Jeannie’s reading.? Well, I broke rule number three and left five dollars. She thanked me. I asked her when people came back for more. “Three or four months, if you want,” she said without trying to get a contract signed. She was clearly enthusiastic that she had gleaned so much. How right was she? Well, I walked out onto Lexington Avenue and did a little dance that the planets were sure to see. The Gypsy Tea Kettle never disappoints.

On Failure

Of the original five “Pictures” artists, only four are acknowledged. No work by Mr. Smith is on view; his name is mentioned only once in the catalog. His portrait has effectively been removed from the hall of fame.

In this the Met has followed Mr. Crimp’s lead. In the October magazine version of his exhibition essay, he dropped the discussion of Mr. Smith and focused instead on Cindy Sherman, an artist who hadn’t been in the show. Such revisionism is, perhaps, a curator’s privilege but not a historian’s. In the interest of accuracy Mr. Smith should have been included in the Met show. As it is, his absence turns historical record into invention and suggests how exclusionary a “generational” history can be.
-Holland Cotter, The New York Times, May 29, 2009

Yesterday a remarkable and seasoned performer asked me to collaborate with him on a project about his own sense of failure. I was taken aback even though I am quite used to artists sharing their stories of truncated careers, critical neglect and adversarial colleagues. This was the first time I had been approached about documenting failure rather than creating or re-creating it. Of course, I agreed. We will start filming a sitcom about his path between failure and success this Fall . A sitcom seemed to be the appropriate format since its snarky simplistic 22 minute minimalism is packaged for an audience that deems itself superior even though it really is inert.

My conversation with one artist reminded me of the tribulations of another.

I have been painfully aware of the Philip Smith story since the “Pictures” exhibit appeared last year at the Met. Philip Smith, one of five artists in a landmark 1983 show at Artists Space in New York was virtually eliminated from a retrospective of the show, its artists and the era when a generational retrospective was held at the Met. How a museum could have allowed a curator, Douglas Crimp, to erase an artist from an art movement he very clearly was a part of speaks to the integrity of major museums as much as antiquity poaching does. Mr. Crimp does not appear to like Philip Smith’s work, so he has simply Stalinized his place in art history. In doing so, Mr. Crimp has made Philip Smith far more interesting and controversial than those artists– Troy Brauntuch, Jack Goldstein, Sherrie Levine, Robert Longo and Cindy Sherman—whom he has mummified at the Met.

What is it about Philip Smith’s art that invited exclusion? And what must it be like to be Philip Smith? He has a rightful place in art history and is being denied that opportunity. His market value must be affected; his reputation and work is now subject to an additional critical gauntlet even as the other artists are celebrated. And where are the other artists? Where is their outrage and sense of camaraderie? Where was their unified outrage and boycott of the show? Where is their courage? Aren’t artists supposed to be lions? Has one come forward to protect and defend Philip Smith or are they all ensconced in The Hamptons as little, rich, benign Pollacks.

Or perhaps Cindy Sherman can photograph herself disguised as Philip Smith.

Thanks to Holland Cotter for his courage in examining this disgrace. His full article can be found here.

To John: From Antonioni to Zuniga

In the Fall of 1994, I decided I wanted to be a recognized artist. First I needed a body of work.

How would I create the desire to create? I had been a board member of a grassroots arts organization, The Pyramid Arts Center, which provided a late coming-of-age for me in an arts community. It was also full of intrigue and deficits. Screaming matches, resignations and covert telephone taping were all part of the passion we brought to the arts in Rochester, New York.

In this environment, I became an artist. I knew I needed help, so I went to the local Arts Council and asked to look through their roster of employable artists. I was determined to hire an art trainer. An art trainer would serve a similar function to a personal trainer. As I was leafing through photos of artists filled with the hope of making a living as artists, I looked up and greeted Michelle French.

We had to cut staff at Pyramid. The uptick in arts funding in the Eighties had ceased by the mid-Nineties. There was some acrimony, some disappointment directed against Board members for not finding a way to salvage a full arts organization. One of the people we made redundant was Michelle who was a very talented artist. I think Michelle was disappointed and annoyed with most of us at Pyramid. We had not pulled a rabbit out of the hat. We had no real patrons at Pyramid, just a bunch of store owners, working stiffs and enthusiasts. Those few with deep pockets always managed to push their money further down these pockets while using Pyramid to their social benefit. The rest of us bore whatever financial burden we could.

I asked Michelle if she wanted to be my art trainer. She seemed reasonably confused as to responsibilities and not quite sure whether or not to trust me after the Pyramid debacle. I told her my vision. She would call me every day to make sure I had produced some work of art. And then, after a while, she would start writing monographs about my work. After a sufficient amount of work had been produced, we would have intramural auctions that would establish record prices for my work. Of course, we would never collect the amounts bid at auction.

For a few months, Michelle and I met weekly. I was a bit slow off the mark. She would come to the house of a Sunday morning. Jackie and Michelle and I would have pancakes. We would talk about world events, Rochester events, art world events. And then I would go off and not do anything.

This went on for several months at which point Michelle wished me well.

Faced with the loss of my art trainer, I realized that I had lost valuable time. I was galvanized. I needed to speed up the process. How could I get the recognition I didn’t deserve immediately? Even a monograph and an auction could take years.

The To John project was born.

If famous people thought I was an artist, then I had a good shot at being an artist. I would invite “names” to participate in an art project that would glorify and secure my goal of becoming a national treasure. And I could have to do it in a way that would appeal to them with their materials at hand. And so I reasoned, what do all well-known people have? They have publicity photos.

I decided to assemble an exhibit of their publicity photos inscribed to me, John. I would reach them by sending them postcards announcing the project.

I printed up four thousand postcards on garish yellow paper. The postcard read, breezily enough:

I thought about the celebrity transaction a lot. I used a reproduced printed signature rather than a real one in order to rebalance celebrity in my direction. I would have their signatures but they wouldn’t have mine. I also knew that they would have to spend more on postage to send me a glossy in an envelope than I would spend on their postcard. Expensive. But I was offering them immortality. And now, fifteen years later, I make good on my promise of an exhibit. I present you and all those celebrities who had the wit or the kindness or the ambition or the staff to participate:

Click here to view all 472 images.

Why Are Commercial Theater Performances More Than One Night?

Admittedly, I have asked a moronic question. Because it takes a lot of time to arrange the details for a live performance, so why waste that effort? It costs a lot of money to mount a live performance, so why waste that cash; it takes a lot of talent and specially trained people to present a live performance so why waste their time. If more people want to see the performance than the theater can hold, then you are accommodating your audience by having more than one viewing. Also, in the realm of theater critics, critics see little reason to review one-offs because they will be gone before they can be seen.

But what if a show can be assembled, rehearsed and performed in a day, costs peanuts and begs for a limited audience? What if no one cares about critics since critics exist to attract audiences after the first night? What if one wants a performance to be unique, so that, good or bad, it lingers in a specific place at a specific time and is immune from the reduction of repetition and multiplication?

What if one wants to create a legend?

When I was on the island of Delos this summer, I visited the amphitheater there. The tour guide gave a brief lecture on Greek theater and said that theater was supposed to be part of a citizen’s moral education and in fact, average citizens were paid to attend. The play was commissioned by the polis, and performed only once in competition. Of course, the guide, reassured us, if playwrights were famous (read Athenian) or if plays were unusually popular then the plays entered the canon and were performed more often.

I find a lot of authority in the idea of performing a play only once. There is an extra incentive for paying attention and an extra incentive for a focused performance. There is an extra tension to the event. This may diminish art financially since repetition and reproduction are the bases of art’s commercial worth, but this makes it a unique aesthetic experience. In a way. Greek theater sought the temporal, not the eternal. And it sought to provide an unreproducible experience for its patrons.

In a similar way, I find it useful to have people carry my work away as a special experience that becomes less about the consumption of art than about the landmarking of art. The only way the artist can protect his work is to encode it so that only he knows how it is to be enjoyed. By having only one performance of each work, I have encrypted my art.

Julie Taymor and the Concept of Failure

What Should Julie Taymor do next?

What does a genius do when faced with a catastrophic miscalculation? Do you give your MacArthur fellowship back? Do you flee your field? Do you look to realize an even grander and more impossible vision (even though this would not seem possible for someone who had an empyrean sum to work with). Or do you retreat, do smaller projects, do imaginary projects, go back to root reasons for your genius and visit the home of your earliest and psychologically most enduring successes – in this case Indonesia and puppet theater? Or do you wallpaper your house, tend to your garden and re-arrange the furniture.

We can read the retreat of Julie Taymor from Spiderman as the defeat of the independent visionary by the corporate artist. From one side Ms. Taymor is being forced offstage by Philip William McKinley, an impressive name that would worry anyone concerned about critical assassination. “Best known for guiding (Hugh) Jackman to a Tony Award for his portrayal of Peter Allen in The Boy from Oz, McKinley also had the pleasure of directing Betty Buckley in A Little Night Music, Phyllis Diller in The Wizard of Oz, Tony winner B.D. Wong and Emmy winner David Ogden Stiers in Peter Pan, and a whopping 342 theatrical talents in 1994′s eighth-annual Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS Easter Bonnet Competition fundraiser, which Backstage magazine described as ‘one of the most exciting shows seen on Broadway this season. ‘ ” (

Ur, umm. Julie Taymor. Philip William McKinley. Julie Taymor. Philip William McKinley.

And on the other side, the squeeze play is being enforced by Bono, that once- musician who now fronts a hedge fund and goes to Davos to pretend he’s a player on the world stage. Bono suffered no consequence for the fact that his music was one of the lazy outrages commented on by critics.

Bono. Cole Porter. Bono. Richard Rodgers. Bono. Frederick Lowe.

Bono. Philip William McKinley. Bono. Philip William McKinley.

We can read the retreat of Julie Taymor as a defeat of a woman genius by a camp-meister and a once cutting Edge artist. Two spent males have taken the place of a woman artist who chose to die on the field.

Spiderman’s troubles have largely been washed away by revolution, earthquakes, tsunamis and nucleons gone awry. Spiderman already belongs to a distant era where an injury on a Broadway stage could rival an entire nation’s death throes. The mystery is: How did Spiderman become not fun? The theater process is hard, but it’s not search and rescue business. Well, only if you’re Eugene O’Neill . And certainly not if you’re doing a musical about a superhero that is owned by a giant corporate entertainment conglomerate that can lose $70 million the way a dollar falls out of my pocket.

The way through Spiderman’s Vale of Tears was to embrace failure. Sure, it was not good–even an embarrassment– but it’s an entertainment. A decent show was always beside the point. It was about providing meat for the insatiable maw of merchandising. The Lion King opened the door for cartoonish adaptations and its billion dollar success opened an inner sanctum of unlimited financing. Money was beside the point. People went to see SPIDERMAN. A public with no particular aesthetic axis went to see SPIDERMAN; first time Broadway-goers went to see SPIDERMAN; children went to see SPIDERMAN; the few sophisticates in the audience went to see Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark, a theatrical disaster. Together America, kids and legit hyenas could have created the largest audience in the history of Broadway.

And they blew it a second time. Let’s make a work of art. Let’s save Spiderman. Let’s save our franchise. Let’s save Bono.

The producers of Spiderman were inadvertently already given a work of art, one that exploded in themes that were never anticipated. The life and death struggle of a superhero was played both inside and outside the theater. The decidedly non-superhero fragility of the actors was real, unstaged, unscripted courage. The critics were eternal offstage villains whom we could hiss with the relish of a 19th Century audience. Spiderman Down. Would Spidey survive critics, injuries, disastrous finances? Spiderman was the Tinkerbell of musicals, making us all hope against hope for a near impossible resurrection to take place. The audience would have shown up just to cheer Spidey through every painful performance. In perpetuity and in every country.

After reconstructive surgery, no one will care. The thrill is gone. The smell of impending doom has dissipated. Spiderman is a suit.

And Julie Taymor was the hero all along.

What is Post-Cap Art? (A Manifesto)

A while ago, my newspaper horoscope read: “Your lack of resources makes you unstoppable.” This, I decided, was the perfect distillation of the Post-Capitalist Art Movement.

In the last few decades, the idea of the lone, creative soul has succumbed to a new Nineteenth Century Academy—only this Academy is called the Corporation. Art has become synonymous with money, technology and spectacle and is further and further removed from what advances art—ideas. As art production becomes more specialized, the ideas it rests upon are often determined by the marketplace, technocrats or special interests, rather than the artist.

The Post-Capitalist or “Post-Cap” Art movement’s motto is “Less Money, More Imagination.” It emphasizes the social and intellectual act of creation over commercial and technical considerations. The movement reasserts the importance of the individual artist. Post-Cap posits that when art becomes business, it is diminished; the artist’s creative act is subordinated to commercial potential.

When art become business, its value is only a matter of success or failure. The creative process exists to please a hierarchy of interests rather than to take on important and controversial matters directly. And, perhaps most importantly, the artist repeats past successes rather than exploring new ideas because the lure of commercial success is so strong.

I founded the Post-Cap Movement in October, 2008 with Post-Cap muse Karen Winer in the midst of presenting a revival of Arthur Bicknell’s play “Moose Murders.” The production revisited the worst-reviewed play in Broadway history, a play that effectively put Mr. Bicknell on hiatus as an artist for a quarter century. Two years prior to the Broadway production of “Moose Murders,” Mr. Bicknell had presented a play, “My Great Dead Sister,” that was regarded as one of the best off-Broadway plays of 1981. His abrupt fall from grace and descent into no-artist’s land because of one failed play inspired Post-Cap’s examination of failure in the arts. Karen and I concluded that the demands of the marketplace and the expectations of returns on investment in the art world create a bottleneck for what is produced, and, consequently, what is accepted by audiences and critics.

This phenomenon of failure is replicated in all the arts. It is most notable in the theater because theater artists create in real time and in so doing, are the most vulnerable. Critical response to their artistry is immediate. Of all artists, theater people are most prone to panic when exposed to the toxin of failure. A bad review immediately affects the ability of the entire group to earn a living. Unlike film, there is no time to find new work before the old work is exposed; and unlike the world of art galleries, there is no gallery owner doing spin for a bad review. The theater artist lives and dies by the critic, and the money follows the critical response. Art is pressed into the service of pleasing critics, then backers, then the audience and, only lastly and forlornly, the artist.

We wondered what would happen if the capital threshold for creating art were lowered? What if, as in the case of the “Moose Murders” revival, we made a philosophy out of a do-it-yourself financing with absolutely no expectation of profit or advancing reputations? What if, amidst the debris of corporate financed art, the goal was to keep it simple and simply have fun? What if creating art in the Twenty-First Century happened on a playground rather than a minefield? What would the modern artist look like then?

Art can never be entirely divorced from money. Even Post-Cap artists have to earn a living. But if we financed our own projects and then made a conscious effort to use some profits from our ventures in order to finance and support other artists, could we change the commercial landscape of art? Could we underwrite ourselves as artists?

Thanks to two small arts organizations in Rochester, New York, we have been able to conduct our art experiment in a supportive and protected atmosphere. The Rochester Contemporary Art Center under the direction of Bleu Cease gave us our first chance. Going forward, the MuCCC Theater (Multi-Use Cultural Community Center) created by the extraordinary patron Doug Rice, has harbored us in our more ambitious theater works.

We have created visual, theatrical and musical works of art under the Post-Cap umbrella. In all cases, we have found remarkable people to work with. We have been astonished by the generosity of time and talent donated to these works and have been surprised by the joy that the collaborations revealed. Anxiety almost disappears. We don’t care at all about critics. To tell the truth, the audience itself can take us or leave us. They usually take us because the freed spirits that show up on stage are so attractive and energetic. In performance we redirect attention to the needs of the artist. And everyone loves a happy artist.

Don’t wait for the multiplex, or Broadway or a publishing house to entertain you. Go out and create great and meaningful art by yourself, with your friends and with your family. You can do it. I did. We did.

John Borek, Founder, Post-Cap Art