Claes Oldenburg – “the pop patriarch” – now at MoMa

I have to head up to New York soon to check out two exhibits opening today at MoMa, the Museum of Modern Art, with work by Claes Oldenburg, the”pop patriarch,” and a “pop master,” according to two recent articles in the New York Times.

Oldenburg, now 84 years old, has made New York his home since 1956, but he was born in Stockholm, Sweden and grew up in Chicago. Today, he is one of the most prominent living Swedish-Americans, and I love his work.

The two exhibits, ”The Street and the Store” and ”Mouse Museum/Ray Gun Wing,” are described under the headline, ”Window Shopping With a Pop Patriarch” and in an interview with the artist under the headline “Dark Roots of a Pop Master’s Sunshine,” Oldenburg says:

“It all sort of coalesced as the ’60s came. It was magical, when you think about it, because everything seemed to start all of a sudden.” With the election of John F. Kennedy “there was a feeling that the country was going to come to life.”

As to Oldenburg’s art and longevity, the paper writes:

“He’s not seeing America’s popular culture through the eyes of someone born deep inside it, the way Andy Warhol did as a poor kid from Pittsburgh. Rather, Mr. Oldenburg came at that culture as a bit of an outsider, with a European’s eyes, and always saw it as bigger than it was and more full of magic than such ordinary subjects had a right to be.”

Outcome uncertain as battle over new gun laws continues

This weekend a group of art lovers and gun control activists gathered in the First Congregational United Church of Christ in the middle of Washington, DC for an exhibition called:

“The Newtown Project: ART TARGETS GUNS”.Art & Guns
The exhibition with 33 artists has been assembled by veteran journalist Charles Krause Reporting Fine Arts Gallery in memory of the murdered 26 students and six teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in December last year.
Outside the church, the Canadian artist Viktor Mitic’s school bus stood, full of bullet holes. The bus, called the “Incident,” was created by Mitic before the tragedy in Newtown in memory of gang violence in his hometown Toronto, but the bus has become a sad symbol of what has happened and could happen again in America’s schools.
Congress returns this week to Washington to continue negotiations on new gun laws that President Obama has demanded and for which he has energetically pleaded in speeches  around the country. And he seems to have support among the American public: 90 per cent support background on people who want to buy guns; 59 percent want ban on military-style automatic weapons (assault weapons) and a majority support other laws on guns and ammunition.
Yet… a victory in Congress is far from certain. The lobby group the National Rifle Association (NRA) has, at least so far, succeeded in preventing any new gun laws.
A depressing article in this weekend’s Washington Post described NRA’s hitherto successful lobbying, both in Congress in Washington and in the state legislatures. It is now clear that there will be no nationwide ban on assault weapons — the votes are just not there. But also other, less controversial proposals, have so far been stopped by NRA and its supporters, who all argue that such laws would violate Americans’ individual freedoms and right to bear arms according to the Second Amendment in the Constitution.
But, the struggle after Newtown has not been entirely without success for Obama and those who urge stricter gun laws. The success has mainly come in states where the Democrats are in control, like in New York State, where Governor Andrew Cuomo, but, especially, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, have pushed hard for stricter gun control. Also here in Maryland, where I live, Governor Martin O’Malley has been successful pushing through a number of new gun laws.
Said O’Malley:
          “There is a sickness in this country and that sickness is gun violence.”…”These tragedies must end, and to end them we must change.”
And in Connecticut, new gun laws passed last week, but the final victory did not come easily,  according to the New York Times, in spite of Newtown and in spite of a Democratic governor and Democratic majorities in the state Senate and House of Representatives. NRA’s resistance was fierce.
But perhaps NRA’s biggest defeat, and its opponents’ biggest victory, came recently in Colorado, where one in three households own guns but where also tragedies such as in Aurora and Columbine have taken place. In the end, Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper pushed through several new laws.
          “If you can do it here (in Colorado), you can do it any place,” was one of the comments afterwards.

A morning in lower Manhattan always remembered

Today, as 9/11 and its nearly three thousand victims are remembered, lower Manhattan has changed but much also remains the same. Where the twin towers used to stand is still a huge construction site and will continue to be for years.  But the view out over the water with the Statue of Liberty in the distance is as stunning as always. The marina over in Battery Park City is full of sailing boats, kids are playing, and people are enjoying the sun set. The dark and narrow streets around Wall Street are full of people as lower Manhattan today has many new residents.

That morning, ten years ago, our world at 80 John Street, where we then lived three blocks from what would become known as Ground Zero, came crashing down.

The morning had begun so brilliantly beautiful as my wife, our daughter and I were preparing us for an ordinary day in New York. Suddenly there was a big explosion, much larger than the usual noise on lower Manhattan. I rushed down and out on the street where people had gathered and stood and looked up at the sky up to the north twin tower that stood in the fire. A plane had run straight into the North Tower. How could it happen?

Chaos, confusion. Then another big explosion when the south tower was hit. This was no accident. Then, the unthinkable – the gigantic south tower simply fell, like a deck of cards, straight from the top down in a roar. A huge, dark mass of debris and smoke and dust rushed towards me like a dark wall on our narrow street. It got pitch-black . Coughing and shocked people filled our foyer. We couldn’t see and we could hardly breathe.

It did brighten somewhat before the north tower – again in an incredibly, almost simple way. We were swept back into the dust and smoke and complete darkness. Out on the street more and more people appeared. They came out of the smoke and dust and darkness from Ground Zero as from another world. Employees from the shops and residents provided protective masks and water bottles. Many had no idea where they were and how they could get away. Go north, north, we said and pointed.

By now, we had no electricity, no telephone. We started to pack the essentials and headed out on the street, covered with many inches dust and debris, away from Ground Zero and walked north. Soon we were out in the sun and the clear blue sky, but behind us, where the twin towers once stood, there was now emptiness.

It took over a week before we could return home. Life on John Street in lower Manhattan had changed. Several months after September 11, we walked around nervously, watching intently aircraft that flew over the town a little too low, flinching with any loud noise. A foul odor from the smoldering hole at Ground Zero followed us constantly.

In June, we moved up to the West Side of Manhattan, near the greenery of Central Park. It was no easy decision, but we needed to get away from the daily reminders of Ground Zero and a neighborhood that was going to be a gigantic construction site for years to come.

It’s been said that after 9/11, life will never be the same again. For us, that is certainly true.