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This summer, I've joined the hordes of glassy eyed addicts restlessly going from yard sale to yard sale seeking the ultimate whatsis. Which, in "Kiss Me Deadly", turned out to be a box full of glowing doom. At the average yard sale, boxes are full of plastic dishes that have seen better days, old baby clothes still faintly redolent of diaper and tangles of broken toys. Naked Barbies are regulars. Last week I came across two of them, who some sick puppy (Phil Giordano?) had twisted into lewd poses. The 25 cent price tag stuck to their bare breasts added to the sordidness of their condition. I adjusted their limbs to a less akimbo position and bought them. I'll probably turn them into queens of outer space. Other poppets are less lovesome. Like the Hummel, those simpering figurines passionately collected by many. Though chipped Hummels can only be unloaded at yard sales, their sellers still believe them to be "collectable". And price them accordingly. Mint condition Hummels crowd the shelves of Ye Olde Shoppes - those stores that specialize in twisted wreaths of desiccated (and probably poisonous) vegetable matter. When there aren't enough lost hikers to disembowel, the Blair Witch must spend time "crafting". But back to Hummels.

Hummels, and their various cutesy poo spin-offs, evoke European folk types: gnomes, dwarfs, dirndl skirted shepherdesses and lederhosen clad lads. In folk tales, jealous dwarves kidnap children, greedy gnomes hoard gold and shepherdesses are vain minxes who sometimes end up like Yard Sale Barbie. Lads must perform super human feats of machismo, before they can even hope for respect. The Hummelesque versions of these archetypes are coy munchkins with plump tinted cheeks and rosebud lips. Their expressions are vulnerable, yet oddly knowing. Dwarf/gnome/shepherdess/lad-- all look pretty much alike, though dwarves and gnomes sometimes have neat little beards. Hummel tints are also ho hum: even when the colors are primary, the dominant tone is a muddy, camel dung brown. No lime green hot pants or shocking pink party numbers for these babies. On that score, Barbie definitely tops out. She's lost better clothes than Hummels ever wear.

Rene, in Albany, swears there's a black market of x-rated Hummel knock-offs which are traded on the Internet. I pray that's a cyber myth. And yet, as mentioned, there is a certain curdled quality to the Hummel's saccharine expression. Speaking of curdled, I recently attended the opening of a new art gallery in a small city in upstate New York. One of those river towns whose factories once clothed the nation, but which now sit essentially jobless. Upon arriving I was surprised to see a slew of cops out front. Ever the optimist, I thought perhaps the work was so avant garde that the local law had bristled at the challenge to the status quo. Au contraire mon ami. That's French: the language of beret wearing art purists holed up in garrets. In love with art, declaiming the same and having a hell of a time before keeling over in poverty. Their art living after them. In short, the corny artist archetype of yesteryear. Alas. The gendarmes were only present because a local political big-wig was in attendance, lending support to what was hopefully the first quiver of a real estate revitalization. Over the last decade, real estate, political boosterism and art have become good buddies. The idea of government designated and supported "artist districts" springs from that relationship.

Considering just the creative aspect, the "artist district" model for art communities is highly artificial. Art created within such constructed bohemias tends toward sterility. Not all art has to break established forms or shatter expectations, but true art does have to be organic and ready to go where the mental action is. Bohemias originally blossomed naturally, from people enamored of particular ideas. Difficult to imagine Jackson Pollack or Jack Kerouac, or for that matter Andy Warhol sitting on a panel and deciding who qualified for a subsidized loft. The commercial world, at certain Kismet times, also has periods of magical confluence. But government doesn't. It's behind the curve of human creativity. By nature, it responds after the fact and is often inaccurate when assessing the new. With both art and technology, government typically beats dead horses, then leaves the corpse in the road blocking traffic. And the conformist shadow that politics throws across art isn't good for artists. Politicians inevitably want art to kiss their ring: art too often succumbs to temptation and goes smack smack.

In Jersey City, New Jersey in the mid 90's, local artists staged a group show at city hall. The mayor at the time was Republican Bret Schundler, who had the rep of being "artist friendly" and who was holding out the carrot of an artists' district as part of waterfront development. When the show opened, the artist curators had included, in a breath taking suck-up gesture, the "works" of Bret Schundler. Which consisted of his tourist photos of his trip to India. They weren't atrocious (he didn't stand in front of the Taj Mahal) but it was still the kind of stuff ordinary folks have to pull out after dinner, when guests are nailed to the couch by polite obligation.

The relationship of art, real estate and boosterism finds perfect expression in the ubiquitous "studio tour". Artists wait in their cribs, wares on display. Clumps of potential buyers come by, shepherded by a realtor, who points out the artist's charms. An occasional piece is sold. But the real sales object is the neighborhood. If successful, artists (along with other, non-artist residents) get priced out of the area. Which means the need for a government funded artist's district. If the pitch flops, creating an artist's district still means access to federal revitalization dollars. In both cases, artists will demand that unesthetic smelly factories, or anything else that provides something other than service jobs at McBistro, be barred from the district. The ultimate result is "Artist Land". Bohemia, by Disney. Throughout the chain of events, the artist is coy about his or her role in low income displacement. Their attitude vulnerable, yet oddly knowing. They favor camel dung khakis. All look pretty much alike, though some have neat little beards. It's enough to make you wonder, could they possibly be...


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Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff On The QT/Deep QT/PEEP!

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Copyright (c) 2002 by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff. This material may be freely distributed subject to the terms and conditions set forth in the Open Publication License. This license relieves the author of any liability or implication of warranty, grants others permission to use the Content in whole or in part, and insures that the original author will be properly credited when Content is used. It also grants others permission to modify and redistribute the Content if they clearly mark what changes have been made, when they were made, and who made them. Finally, the license insures that if someone else bases a work on this Content, that the resultant work will be made available under the Open Publication License as well.

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