Install Theme

Seth Price’s fashion presentation in collaboration with Tim Hamilton for dOCUMENTA (13). In addition to the presentation, the collection was sold at the Sinn Leffers department store in Kassel.

Fred (Mister) Rogers defends public broadcasting to the US Senate. 1969.

Florence Henri

 Still Life (Tin Can and Shell), 1932

Untitled, 1932

Still life with pineapple and cactus, 1931

Florence Henri (1893-1982) was a photographer and artist.


The first professional photographs taken of the cave paintings at Lascaux. Ralph and Ruth Morse for LIFE Magazine, 1947.

Bioscleave House

Bioscleave House, East Hampton NY. Designed by Madeline Gins + Arakawa

"The fundamental subject of Bioscleave House is staying alive/coming alive to/staying alive to. Thanks to the architectural procedures this house has in play, whoever moves about within it wishing to live forever may do so."

Photographic fabrics from 1947

Early examples of photo-printed fabrics from LIFE Magazine, 1947.


A pop-up installation by I’m Revolting
at Creatures of Comfort 
WHEN: Oct. 20 - Nov. 10 (opens Oct. 20, 5-8 p.m.)WHERE: Creatures of Comfort LA, 7971 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles, CAWHO: Curated by Su Wu of I’m RevoltingFeaturing objects by:

Jack Craig 
Jonathan Cross 
Ilana Kohn 
Kirsten Perry 
Julie Hung 
David Neale 
Haruhi Okubo 
Doug Johnston 
Mimi Jung 
Morie Nishimura
Joanna Williams 
Brent Paul Pearson 
Elyse Graham 


A pop-up installation by I’m Revolting

at Creatures of Comfort 

WHEN: Oct. 20 - Nov. 10 (opens Oct. 20, 5-8 p.m.)

WHERE: Creatures of Comfort LA, 7971 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles, CA

WHO: Curated by Su Wu of I’m Revolting

Featuring objects by:

Ten minutes of silence for John Lennon. Central Park, 1980. Raymond Depardon.

George Sowden drawings

interior, 1983

Drawing for a clock, 1981

interior design, 1983

interior design, 1983

Drawing for a table, 1981

Elaine Scarry

Does beauty really equal truth?

Philosopher Elaine Scarry defends beauty from p.c. critics and wins over one cynical writer.



TUESDAY, NOV 9, 1999

Elaine Scarry, the Walter M. Cabot professor of aesthetics and the general theory of value at Harvard University, has just published a rather wonderful, slim little book, “On Beauty and Being Just.” Its twin premises may seem curious. First, she defends beauty against charges that it is politically incorrect. She then argues that (as the book’s flap copy puts it) beauty can “press us toward a greater concern for justice.

I wasn’t quite convinced that I fully understood the above tenets. So I phoned up professor Scarry at her office in Cambridge, Mass. I must confess that after our conversation I found her beautiful. Not her appearance. I don’t know what she looks like since her photograph does not appear anywhere on her book. It was her conversation. Her discourse. Her very lucidity. My tongue is a lumpy potato compared to hers. I treasure having talked with the woman.

I asked your publicist if I could speak to you because I’m sort of an amateur interested in beauty —

We’re all amateurs, by the way.

Can it be true that “beauty” is not p.c.?

Beauty has been a taboo subject.

What’s the argument against beauty?

There are two separate political arguments. One is the claim that beautiful things distract us from injustice, and therefore sabotage our ability to dedicate our energies to increasing the overall well-being of the world. The other is that when we look at a beautiful object, whether a person or a flower, we actually damage the object by turning it into a mere object that we feel superior to.

Not only are both of these arguments wrong, but they even contradict one another. In the first one, we’re assuming that human acts of looking are very good things, and therefore we want human attention to be directed to something such as an injustice so that an act of repair will come about. The second argument just assumes that we are incapable of generous and capacious acts of looking, and that we will actually damage anything that we’re staring at.

Beauty prevents one from standing up for injustice?

Oh, sure. Lots of Marxists worry about this. [Bertolt] Brecht has a poem: “I will sing no more of rooftops by the seaside, of apples ripening in attics.” I’m not quoting the poem exactly, but the point is, “I will no more be caught up by the beautiful surfaces of the world when there’s pain and injury going on.”

This is kind of sideways, but I just saw a great Takeshi Kitano gangster film called “Fireworks” where he plays the part of this jaded cop. Kitano can’t really act, so he just has a perpetually stoic expression and wears these John Lennon sunglasses and becomes this beautiful, iconic face who just observes injustice: people getting shot, beaten up, double-crossed.

Your implicit question is, I take it, the problem that comes from the fact that we can imagine an act of looking that is amoral or even willfully immoral because it may be licensing the injuries coming about. And certainly there are instances where something beautiful gets enlisted into a cruel act.

I would say, by the way, as a kind of primary response, that I think that one of the reasons that violence has in our own era been so easily anesthetized is precisely because we’ve gotten unanchored from beauty. If we were more conversant with beauty, we would not so easily let something that involves an injury to someone ever get associated with the aesthetic. But just going on from that to the deeper question: What does it mean that something that is cruel can actually appear beautiful? What I would say to that is: All good things can be enlisted into acts of injury. That’s really sad but it’s true. For example, a cruel person could have somehow used some incredible act of higher mathematics in that act of cruelty, yet we would never get confused and think, “Gee, that must mean that higher mathematics is inherently suspect.”

Yeah, that’s like the cliché image of guys who run concentration camps coming home and listening to Mozart.

It certainly doesn’t make Mozart evil. It’s strange that anything about the Nazis could ever get confused with beauty.

To move sideways again, in your book you talk about “mistakes of beauty” — when you suddenly realized that a palm tree was beautiful. You could say that everything is beautiful. We’re only limited because of culture and education.

I think that may well be the case. Certainly many people have argued that way back starting with Plato — that when you see one beautiful thing, if it’s truly beautiful and if you’re truly vulnerable to its beauty, it will lead you to eventually see the beauty of everything.

I do a lot of cultural criticism, and I find just as often the opposite is the case. For example, someone who loves opera isn’t even going to consider that there is beauty in Japanese noise guitar.

What’s really peculiar about that argument is that only once I like opera do you begin to expect me to begin to be capable of liking the Japanese … noise guitar?

Noise guitar.

And that I refer to in the book as the problem of lateral disregard. That is, what I argue is that a beautiful object seizes our attention often without our volition. But then either on our own or because a neighbor taps us on the shoulder and says, “You know, here’s something over here that deserves just that kind of attention from you” … Beauty makes us eligible not only to look at the things that seize our attention, but makes us eligible to go on and be caring about other objects as well, and the same thing can be said of persons.

Consider that African tribe where they extend the women’s necks with metal rings. If you belonged, those women with their giraffe necks would be beautiful, whereas people outside the tribe are likely to see them as grotesque. How much of the appreciation of beauty is natural, and how much cultural?

To everyone’s surprise, there’s been a lot of work in the 1990s by scientists that seems to suggest that norms about beauty are much more widely shared culturally than we’ve been saying. But let’s assume that people really did have their own taste in beauty, that cultures have their own taste in beauty, and see where it would lead us. Is that an argument against beauty? In a way, it’s an extreme example of the fact that each person everywhere always gets to choose for himself or herself what’s beautiful. The most stark place in which that’s true is in the choice of a spouse or a mate. And the individual always is the arbiter of what’s beautiful. That is long in advance of the notion of individualism and pluralism in the realm of justice. It took cultures a long, long time before they understood that one person, one vote was the best rule. But in beauty it’s always been one person, one vote.

Can too much beauty dilute the concept? If you went to a party where absolutely everybody was beautiful — the people, the art on the wall, the food — would you eventually numb out? Doesn’t beauty need an opposite?

Kant said our desire for beauty is inexhaustible, that any other pleasure we can get exhausted by — too much food, too much this, too much that — and yet the one thing we can’t get tired of is beauty.

Is cynicism a formal philosophic school?

You’re a cynic?

Can’t you tell? I cynically look at beauty. I appreciate it, but know everything beautiful usually ends up dying or disappearing. So, I always take that into account.

I think that cynicism is a very knowledgeable position, but it can be a somewhat self-protective position. I guess you might counter me and say, “Well, optimism can also be very self-protective because you don’t want to see how quickly things can be deflated.” But in a way, I guess I believe that wishing for good things to be the case is always the prelude to good things being the case. It’s not likely to be the case that good political situations can come about if there aren’t people wishing that good situations come about. And if what cynicism does is sabotage — there’s a Latin statement that Beckett loved that says: “Where you are worth nothing, there you desire nothing.”

Not to go into my psychology, but I became a cynic after I was run down by a truck 10 years ago. I now know that a truck can always come at any time. Even worse, just ’cause you get struck once doesn’t mean a truck can’t run you down again. Cynicism is self-protection.

That’s certainly true. It’s funny because what’s a little startling is that our starting places are kind of the same. I’ve had the good fortune not to be hit by a truck –

You’re not missing anything!

I know — believe me, I can immediately feel that. I did work on physical pain for a long time [“The Body in Pain”]. And in part I worked on it because I certainly wanted to attend to it before the world sent a truck and harmed me directly. One of the things the book starts out by simply saying is that beauty is not guilty of the political injustices it’s been accused of.

And it’s not just that beauty is neutral with respect to justice. Beauty is, actually, very much leading us to justice. So by this account, it would be my vision of things that we are able to create a world in which caring about beauty also leads to a diminution of injury.

And the word injury and the word injustice are the same word. And I try to put forth a number of arguments to show that Plato was right, and many other classical philosophers were right when they said that beauty is a call on us to create something better. And surely what that better thing would be is a world where people don’t get injured by trucks.

But don’t you think that justice is a human conceit?

Well, I certainly think that justice is a human construct. (That’s probably what you mean.) It isn’t going to take place unless we willfully make a set of arrangements that bring it about.

So as a cynic I would say that more often than not the unjust rules.

That’s certainly true. A tremendous labor seems to be involved in having the just rule. But, couldn’t you be said to be guilty of laziness?

In what way?

The fact that the odds are against you doesn’t really relieve you of the responsibility of trying to make the world better. The fact that you perceive that the unjust often rules only makes you a cynic if you give up. Whereas if you’re a cultural critic, it means you haven’t given up, doesn’t it?

I think I believe in karma more than I believe in justice and injustice. And it never dawns on me that I should make the world a better place. Maybe it’s just because I live in Manhattan.

[Bowman laughs. Scarry doesn’t.]

I just don’t know if you’re being completely straight. It seems to me that someone in your position can’t hold a view that things will happen of their own will.

[Embarrassed] Well, I didn’t mean to reveal too much. Beauty does that to you.

It’s true. It’s absolutely true.

So you teach this — beauty?

I teach a graduate seminar.

What is the general age of your students?

Well, because they’re graduate students many of them are very young. Maybe 22 to 27. What’s the import of that question?

I’m 41. I was more optimistic when I was in my 20s. I probably would have looked at beauty differently then.

OK, here’s a plan. I think if you take more time to look at beauty, you’ll recover all your strength.


Beauty restores your trust in the world. During this past 13 years I’ve been working on a big project about nuclear weapons and the fact that the current military arrangements we have are not compatible with democracy. The more I work on that, the more it happens that I need to read poems. And work my garden. Beauty restores your trust in the world.

That strikes a chord. I review a lot of records and there’s a tendency to get caught up in just being a cog in the publicity machine. Then suddenly you hear a record that comes out of nowhere, and it’s beautiful. [Pause.] I can imagine there’s some guy who scouts out beautiful women for a modeling agency who’s jaded about beauty. Then suddenly, a beautiful woman comes out of nowhere and walks down the street and he falls to his knees.

I like your description. What you say is true. You are sort of front-and-center working with beautiful objects. And so it does have that liability that it can desensitize you. But you don’t sound that way. I bet we’ll go away from this interview thinking opposite thoughts of each other. You’ll think that I’m a cynic and I’ll think you’re actually quite touched with the beautiful.

Yes! No! I mean, you’re not really a cynic, right?

Oh no. Not in a million years.

David Bowman is the author of the novel “Bunny Modern” and the nonfiction book “This Must Be the Place: The Adventures of the Talking Heads in the 20th Century.”

designer Zandra Rhodes’ London home.

Les Diners de Gala

A cookbook conceived and illustrated by Salvador Dalí in 1973. 

Animals Living In Cities, 1979 & 1980

Stencils by Anton Van Dalen for ABC No Rio’s Animals Living in Cities show, 1980. 


November 29, 1980

'Bluejays in Syracuse, Rats in NYC' 
by Jerry Tallmer

It’s not your usual art show. Maybe it’s the peaceable kingdom.

A hen struts across the floor, pecking for grain, then tries to flutter up into a storefront window occupied by three city pigeons and two fat white squabs. Over here are some mice; over there a rat. In yet another corner, Marvin the New Wave Hamster does his stuff. A bored black cat ignores hen, pigeons, squabs, mice, rat, and hamster to rub luxuriously against a human knee.

"I see we lost a cockroach during the night," says Christy Rupp, reaching into the cockroach exhibit to dispose of its corpse with a Kleenex. The rest of the show—Christy Rupp’s second annual "Animals Living in Cities" show—is on the walls and tables here at ABC No Rio on the Lower East Side.

There are paintings, drawings, sculptures, posters, advertisements, government texts. Contributors range from grown up artists and scientists and museum people to a half a hundred kids of School District 1 under the supervision of Filomena Bruno. The work ranges from some superb photographs by Martha Cooper, late of the New York Post, to a trunkful of pig footprints from Staten Island by Angela Freemont, to Paulette Neener’s collage of quotes from Ronald Reagan the environmentalist.

Christy Rupp is the 32-year-old sculptor who the summer before last plastered rat posters all around City Hall—just three weeks, as it happens, before the headlines were chattering about a woman attacked by a pack of rats one block from City Hall Park. Out of that came City Wildlife Projects—Christy Rupp, director—and out of that came last year’s first annual “Animals Living in Cities” show, up at Fashion Moda—a sort of “museum of art, science, technology, and fantasy”—in the South Bronx.

Now there’s this one, at ABC No Rio, 156 Rivington St., a premises given over by the city to several groups of downtown rebel artists. (“ABC No Rio” stands for “No Rio Dinero”—no river of money.)

Christy Rupp isn’t exactly a rebel. She’s an idealist.

"Though I don’t for a minute want people to think that this show is defending rats," she said, "rats should be seen not as filthy little things. Rats are a symptom. Garbage is the cause."

She plucked one of the fat white squabs out of the window of colored-paper silhouettes by artist Anton Von Dalen, and cradled the bird on her lap. Among her own works in the exhibit are a plaster seagull about to be done to death by a beercan, and some plaster rats.

"Rats are not terrorists, " she said. "Are not inherently evil. They’re animals like any other animals. They don’t come into the world meaning to harm man. I see them as part of the history of ecology, in the whole chain of things. It’s simply that they’re out of control in the cities."

She picked up a blue government booklet full of statistical tables from a 1978 Cornell University study titled Interests, Needs, and Attitudes of New York’s Metropolitan Public in Relation to Wildlife.

"It’s all about bluejays and chipmunks," she said. "Which is fine if you live in the thriving city of Syracuse and have a father who drives you out into the country every weekend." (Christy Rupp is originally from Buffalo.) "But it’s not much good if you live on the Lower East Side and don’t have a father."

She waved a hand at the Lower East Side, outside the storefront window. At that precise moment a Sanitation Department truck pulled away from the curb, leaving a huge pile of unbagged garbage on the sidewalk. “There,” said Christy Rupp. “See?”

She herself lives in the financial district. “Well, I have a cat right now, but in general I’m not a big pet person. I like animals, but it’s really more an interest in other people’s opinions of them.” 

Chrissie Hynde and the Pretenders interviewed by Donnie Sutherland, 1982