Friday, February 26, 2016

POST #116: KEEPING THE DOG ON THE PORCH or Sex in the Suburbs

There’s an old Southern expression that was used to describe Bill Clinton when he was Governor of Arkansas: “He’s a hard dog to keep on the porch” meaning of course his well-known tendency to philander. It’s a great way to describe a serial wanderer, but it doesn’t explain why the dog can’t stay “on the porch.” Is it constitutional, part of his genetic makeup? or is it that the porch is boring? Not enough going on to keep him there.

It got me thinking about all the couples I knew during my fifty years of marriage, some of whom wandered off the porch; most of who did not. The odd part was that it was usually the women who strayed. Most of my women friends were artists of one form or another, creative types, while their spouses were often engineers, accountants, doctors; steady and reliable, but boring as all hell. My sweet husband used to say (with a sad shake of his head), “No man is ever completely safe, but I’m about a close as they get.”  He was also quite large and unpredictable and no one ever dared come near me.  There was of course, one exception but I take no particular pride in that conquest because he tried to seduce all his wife’s friends. Since he was very attractive and macho, (a former Israeli commando), he had no difficulty enticing them until his wife (still my friend) decided she had enough and threw him out. The irony was, that since I never succumbed, he became a friend and treated me forever and ever with the utmost respect.

The women I knew, however, were an adventurous lot. Most were monogamous like their husbands, but there were several who loved to have scandalous affairs; in fact, the scandals were probably more interesting than the liasons themselves. Two close friends had well-publicized dalliances with prominent local officials. They made sure to tell everybody in town their “secret’; after all, what was the point of having an affair if the world didn’t know about it? (I’m surprised they didn’t take out ads in the Advocate). I never heard their husbands complain, so, for all I know, they were proud that their wives were so desirable - and that was what held their marriages together. It certainly gave all their friends lots to talk about. One of them had a lover who died (at home, with his wife, in his own bed) just hours after spending the afternoon with her. While she was wailing about her loss, I tried to explain how lucky she had been; if his heart had given out just a few hours earlier, we would have had our local version of the death of Nelson Rockefeller.

Although if took me years to catch on, my best friend, a glamorous European sculptress was always having love affairs. She never said a word about any of them and I only realized what was going on when I started to question all those phone calls she had to take “out of the room.” She was very wise about men, how to find them and keep them around. She gave me an insight I still find useful: “Women think men are after them for sex, but what they really want is a “warm bed.” She knew that what kept a man in your life was affection and caring: feeding (she was a great cook), loving and listening to him; what she wisely called ‘a ‘warm bed.’

…..And maybe that’s the way to keep the dog on the porch….although in Bill Clinton’s case, I don’t think anything would have worked.

Friday, February 12, 2016


Over a year ago, back in Post #31, I wrote about how I discovered the former Yale & Towne factory site in the South End of Stamford and how the loft colony there developed.  I recently “reconnected” with one of the artists, the photographer Bob Baldridge. He lived (illegally, of course) in a dream loft on the top floor of one of the buildings along Henry Street, next door to Jamie Burt, a potter/sculptor who occupied most of the 6th floor. There were even more interesting, older structures along Pacific Street but they were uninhabitable and torn down in the 1980s soon after I arrived. The photos now being exhibited at Curley’s Diner on West Park Place date back to the late 1970s and show the way the site looked when the artists first moved in, before extensive demolition took place.

In those early days, only men lived in the complex; the neighborhood was just too dangerous for a woman and even the men kept their doors locked and rarely ventured out after dark. Drug dealing and robberies were not uncommon. The women who had studios there  were careful about coming and going, often keeping a dog for protection. I had an office for my preservation organization on the second floor, with huge, industrial-sized windows that looked out over a row of Victorian cottages on Henry Street. We even had room for a twelve-foot sideboard we had salvaged from a demolished house that once belonged to Lowell Weicker’s grandparents. One of the things I came up with while I was there was a yearly Open Studios weekend where literally thousands of people came to gape at SOHO in Stamford.

Between the ambiance, the light and the camaraderie, it was the closest thing to artist’s heaven I expect to achieve in my lifetime. It ended for me when the landlord, upon hearing that I wanted to have the complex listed on the National Register of Historic Places, refused to renew my lease. The irony was that the next owner was eager to have the complex listed so that he could use the Investment Tax Credits the government gave for rehabilitating historic buildings.

Baldridge and I were recently reminiscing about a party we gave at his loft. He had a girlfriend at the time who was considering becoming a chef and opening a restaurant. Bob offered her a chance to see what it was like to cook for a crowd and we arranged a spaghetti dinner to be held in his loft. He had a small, but functional kitchen and a couple of big pots. I drew up an invitation; we borrowed chairs and tables and Bob put out the word:  Loft Supper, $5.  - all the spaghetti you could eat and all the (cheap) wine you could drink. The party was a huge success; in fact, it was too huge a success. Close to seventy people showed up and we were overwhelmed. (We should have taken reservations!) They were lined up in the halls. The water for the spaghetti wouldn’t boil and dinner didn’t get served until well after midnight. However, with unlimited wine, everybody seemed happy to wait while Bob’s friend worked frantically in the kitchen. People still talk about it today, but it was not a success we wanted to repeat. 

Friday, February 5, 2016


I was recently invited to an all-day seminar on Concretism (and Post Concretism) at the City University of New York. I confess the term escaped me and at first I thought it meant sculpture made out of concrete. Picasso did some great work with it and my friend Cici has filled her garden with little cement men attached to rocks. Of course, I googled it and it turns out Concretism (and Post Concretism) were popular movements in South America in the late 1950s and early ‘60s. No wonder I had never heard of it: I was busy changing diapers at the time with three children under the age of five. I was lucky I remembered my own name, let alone the avant-garde movements of the art world.

I Googled the topic (how did we live before Google?) and discovered it was a bona fide movement that had nothing to do with cement but was a form of non-objective art, contemporary with Minimalism, hard-edge, color field, etc;, all those movements which did away with anything figurative  in favor of complete abstraction. It was an art of shapes, lines and colors that grew out of earlier 20th century experiments in “pure” painting by Kandinsky, the Russian Constructivists and Suprematists and the de Stijl movement in Holland, new art for a new world order. The abstraction that appeared in the ‘50s came from a totally different place, one of political avoidance and safety; no message was the right message in an era when McCarthy terrorized the country, what could be safer than a grid of lines? It’s Brazilian counterpart, Concrete Art (according to Google) was able to flourish “because it held no political messages or incendiary material” (as opposed to the “propaganda”  murals of Orozco or Diego Rivera.)

Meanwhile, in researching Concretism (and Post Concretism, an offshoot) I got the usual unintelligible artspeak. It has probably suffered in translation but what the hell does this statement outlining the difference between the two movements mean?

While Concretism built its art upon the basis of logic and objective knowledge with color, space, and form conveying universalism and objectivity, the Neo-Concrete artists saw colors, space and form as “not belonging to this or that artistic language, but to the living and indeterminate experience of man.” Monica Amor, 1959

It reminds me of an experience I had many years ago when the Whitney Museum had a branch in the Champion Paper building in Stamford. I went to hear a lecture by a prominent art historian. I forget what generally unintelligible topic it was, but one phrase stuck out as totally unfamiliar. He referred to something as  “anarchic formalism,” an oxymoron I had never heard before.  I waited until the clutch of sychophantic ladies finished telling him how wonderful he was (they hadn’t understood a word of his talk) and quietly went over and asked him what it meant. At least he had the decency to blush when he confessed that he had made it up because it “sounded good.” He figured no one in that audience of suburban boobs would know the difference.

And so Dear Reader, beware of art babble. If you don’t understand something, chances are the writer doesn’t understand it either. When I taught Art History, I used to begin my semester by asking the class to read a passage from their text. “What does it mean??” I would ask. No hands would go up. “Guess what?” I would say, “I don’t understand it either. The writer is just filling up the page.”