Three years ago, when I went to Bushwick for the first time to visit my friends Thomas and Mo who had just rented a painting studio there, I was astonished by the beauty of the big warehouses, the abandoned factories, and trucks parked in the empty streets. If you spotted any bearded hipsters with skinny legs and elaborate tattoos, it was just for one or two at Los Hermanos, the taco place, not the constant flow as it is today. There were some abstract graffiti here and there, with wild plants and grass growing out of the sidewalk cracks, and everything seemed interesting and genuine.
Best of all were all the small repair garages and tire shops. Among the second-rate car service Town Cars were always some wrecked, rusted cars with hoods missing parked in front, waiting to be pimped out, and along the hollow sidewalks floated the distinct smell of spray paint.
In the last six months many of these low rent workshops closed down to make room for more profitable artist studios, and as if in fear that it wouldn’t attract enough post-graduate painters and musicians, the old landlords (who for decades had felt punished by God to rent their cathedrals of bricks as storages for nothing), suddenly possessed by the frenzy of the market, offered their walls to the street painters.
Where you had beautiful bare brick walls, you now most likely to see a giant squid with bulging eyes falling from the roof.
Even the corner poultry store requested a pimped out façade from a street artist.
I passed by one Sunday afternoon, at the peak of a heat wave, and saw two bemused poultry employees in their black rubber aprons contemplating the artist sweating under the mask supposed to protect him from inhaling the contents of his spray cans, which strong smell was largely overwhelmed by the one emanating from the living stock.
Most disappointing was to discover that my favorite building, a former ladder factory with an odd metal chimney that looks like a Max Ernst sculpture, was already half covered with murals.
A tiny girl was busy working on a monster creature a hundred times her size. Her cans were neatlyly aligned by the wall, and a security perimeter had been delineated with orange cones. She was in fact so charming and earnest, and happy to have all this surface to work on, although she had to share it with two others artists, that you could no longer complain about the disappearance of the industrial architecture. And it’s not like the Bechers haven’t already documented it well, in case you had some.
It had been very hard, she explained, winter is not a good season for street art, especially in NY. Her hands would freeze on the cans in the windy desolated spots available for murals.
And how was Singapore, I asked?
Singapore was not good for murals either: the scene was boring there.
On the other side of the street, a repair garage had been recently closed, cleaned up and entirely covered with bright murals.
When I asked if I could take her picture, she hesitated. She finally pulled out big shades.
– Of course, as a street artist, you don’t want to be recognized?
– Well, yes…
Here is a recorded excerpt of the conversation I had with with an anonymous monk :
– In 1999, when the news was announced that the minimalist architect John Pawson had designed a Cistercian monastery, I was fascinated
– Do you mean fascinated by the monastic life, or by the minimalist architecture?
– It is such the perfect match! the architect serves an elevated purpose, and the simple lifestyle of his clients validate the architecture in return.
– Isn’t it always like that? Don’t you think it works just the same when an architect designed a lavish house for a celebrity ?
– I’m amazed that being monks you had the idea to choose John Pawson.
– One of us had wandered into the Calvin Klein store in New York, which had been designed by John. It was so pure, nothing distracted from the product, it was shopping taken to a religious level. Wouldn’t it make a wonderful monastery, we thought, if we replaced Fashion with God?
– You must have been a dream client…
– In fact, unlike Calvin, we had a restricted budget, but this didn’t stop us from having discussions with John.
– Minimalism is a luxury : it’s much sought after by those who have everything.
– Just like us : we have nothing, but we have everything.
– Did you think of having a fashion designer designing the robes?
– It wouldn’t be as futile as it seems. Although I’m not sure it would give the same credibility to the designer as it gave to the architect.
– What about tableware ? Did you have someone designing the plates and bowls ?
– Are you thinking we are a boutique hotel ?
– As a matter of fact, you must be constantly disturbed by architecture fanatics and style hunters?
– We do have people coming in search of a spirituality, which is not always easy to find in all those flagship stores by prominent architects. Some are just looking for ideas to built their own minimalist house. I don’t blame them, although they should just look inside themselves.
– Would you recommend to those saturated by materialism to do a retreat at Novy Dvur ?
– Maybe not. They could become obsessed by architecture.
This unreal conversation, translated in Italian, has been published in GCasa, March issue 2012
Give me a plain.
Make it a medium plain.
No, I don’t want anything in it.
You don’t have any medium ?
Only large, extra large,
But don’t fill it up all the way
Glenn is the only poet who understands the relationship of Fashion and the commercial world. Once I heard he read « Beatnik Executives », one of my favorites, inside the Barneys store.
I saw the best minds of my generation
Depressed by lawsuits, dieting, sober, all dressed up,
Angelheaded hipsters renegotiating the social contract,
Trying to renegotiate the lease on life
And cool this microwaved world.
Excerpt from « Beatnick Executives », in Soapbox, Imschoot Uitgevers
Besides having been photographed in his pants by Andy Warhol for the cover sleeve of Sticky Fingers, he is the only poet who has been writing on the subject of « How to Be a Man », a philosopher’s take on sartorial subjects that extend unto questions like « the correct insult » or « what to do after death and how to deal with eternity. »
Most poets try to bring you down to make a living, but Glenn provides workable solutions for life:
When I get confused or dismayed or bored I always think : but what if this was an art movie.
In « Toward a More Bohemian Lifestyle », Soapbox, Imschoot Uitgevers
A color pencil interpretation of “The Happening”, an oil painting by Jean-Philippe Delhomme echoing Glenn’s reading.
It was night at JFK, and the boarding of the giant A380 seemed to never end, when recognizing the silhouette of Grace Coddington seating front row reminded me that Paris Fashion Week was about to start.
For all who saw the The September Issue, and fell under her charm, Grace seems to possess the disillusionment of a true philosopher, while being more of an artist than most photographers, more of an artist in fact than most artists who’d rather have their new summer house featured in Vogue than their last show reviewed in Art Forum (although, of course, both are necessary).
I was lost in my reflections on Grace, assuming that under these conditions, a First class solitude must be complimentary, when I was suddenly brought back to shared reality by a “Can I see your invitation ? ”. I was then urged with the herd to the standing row, by a flight attendant who had the fierce insensitivity of a PR assistant.
I went on a Sunday night, before the definitive closing of the exhibition at 11pm.
Most thrilling was to walk across the lobby of this luxurious and somehow discreet Upper East Side hotel to tell the receptionist: I’m here to see the installation… for it seemed highly unlikely that an installation was taking place there. Without rising an eyebrow, he indicated the elevator, 3rd floor, Suite 30.
Very few viewers, essentially women, were moving silently inside the room, bending to carefully read the narratives accompanying the objects that the artist had displayed everywhere. In fact, the room was filled with Sophie Calle’s works, from the bathroom to inside the safe to the walk-in closet.
In the lounge, the TV was on with the news. The news on that banal sunday night was so odd, looking so much like the News in all its tragic excess or dumbness, that I thought it was another piece of Calle’s work.
The artist and her iconic wedding cake.
A tiny woman with big eyeglass frames (more angular than those of Duras) and a short skirt was sitting on the couch, checking emails while sipping Chardonnay.
She looked so much like the artist, that I couldn’t help inquiring :
– Is it you? I mean, are you the artist ?
– Well, yes, I am.
– How incredible to see you sitting in your own installation! But… is this the real news?
– This? (She looked at the TV.) Yes, it’s the TV. Why ?
– Oh, I thought it was a work of yours, some video you could have also done…
She narrowed her eyes.
– Hmm… that would be an idea…
After that, we had nothing else to say. I kept on watching the news, and her too, while taking another sip of white wine.
A stuffed cat.
– Do you also sleep in your installation? I asked.
– As a matter of fact, I did. Just last night.
It reminded me of the first time I had seen her work, No Sex Last Night, at a Whitney Biennal, in the early 90’s. I stood for a long time in front of the video screen to admit that it was true, night after night, in spite of a wedding in a Las Vegas chapel, there was no sex, and they kept on driving on and on with the top down.
A red wedding dress on a half burnt bed.
A man who was also seated on the couch was introduced as her boyfriend.
– Are you part of the installation?
It’s not very kind, said Calle of my innocent joke, and I apologized.
– So how did you sleep? Did you sleep on the Red Wedding Dress, or did you set it aside?
She looked at me, surprised.
– There are 2 beds, I slept on the other one.
– I see.
Once again, we had nothing more to say.
– And you, who are you? she asked.
– I am the Unknown Hipster.
I indicated my url and she checked this very blog you are reading right now.
She didn’t seemed facinated beyond measure. She landed on the post about Carine’s karaoke, Anna Dello Russo’s legs and Valentino singing My Way.
– Who are these people?
I tried to explain that they were giants in the fashion world, but she seemed dubious.
At that moment, a tall blonde woman, with whom I had earlier admired the installation inside the kitchen fridge at the beginning of my visit, was now walking toward the artist to hug her.
She was a dear friend, and they completely forgot about me.
Just before I made my exit, I interrupted to ask Sophie Calle if I could take a picture with my iPhone .
– Are you going to do a portrait of me?
– I don’t know, I said. Maybe.
As I have mentioned before, once in a while I model for French GQ. This commercial commitment allows me to write difficult poetry and compose experimental music for tambourine in my free time without having to take into account what the public may want.
You might think that modeling is easy, but in fact it’s much tougher than it appears. Especially when — in my case for instance — it’s more of a acting job. To be clear: modeling is for sissies and the Actor’s Studio is for tough guys. Needless to say, you always throw in a sensitive note now and then to add heart-breaking depth to the most physical performances.
I’ve made this selection of 7 shots that give, I think, a good idea of the breadth and richness of my interpretations.
#1- No matter how laid back you are, you can’t pretend to be an actor (or even model) unless you’re a true athlete. See how the other dude in this shot, three-time winner of the Jokari World Championship, is paralysed by my technique.
#2- Here I’m demonstrating my disregard to pander as a DJ by playing an entire Joanna Newsom track admidst a hostile crowd. Note that the RPM was slowed by 40 percent for total chill-out effect.
#3- Part of the job is that you have to work with a wide variety of folks. I don’t remember exactly what was the point of this shot. It was right after lunch break. May be I went back in the wrong studio.
#4- A tricky one : « How to attract the attention of a French waiter ? »
For this, they re-enacted on my own experience of long hours spent in cafés, which was not really to my benefit: how do you quantify such an expertise, gained at the expense of your own pocket money ? You always end up being paid less than what you deserved !
Of course, the guy in a white jacket is not a real waiter, as he would have never turned his head in my direction.
#5- The job has its highs and lows of dignity. Here I was asked to show how to light up a match before leaving the bathroom as a courtesy to the next user. I had never heard of this, but according to French GQ, it’s customary to do so. (Beware of doing it in a plane though). The explosion that ensued shaked the whole building and broke the rear window of the stylist’s Fiat 500 parked round the corner.
#6- Another odd one : I was directed to demonstrate how to drink from a shoe, with impeccable style and manner. If one has to pour Champagne in a shoe, it seemed obvious to me that my waterproof old Red Wings were the most apropriate container.
#7- When to use or not use a cellphone is a heady question. When I asked a young assistant her opinion, she explained that what’s impolite is to not multitask while being with someone: it gives your companion the awkward sense of being somebody of less importance.
The shoot took hours. To have the girls right all at once was the most difficult, Paul, the art director, had to stand on a chair and yell in a microphone, waving a red flag to get their attention.
And in the over-heated studio, the girls had to get their make-up redone every 15 minutes, even though the image was to be retouched by the famous Pascal Dangin. Just for my beard, Pascal had to work 5 hours to get rid of bread crumbs left by a bruschetta from the delicious Italian catering.
They were huddling in an assembly, and to debate, used their now iconic human microphone, which consists in the speaker processing short bits repeated by the crowd.
And I think
A useful invention
A USEFUL INVENTION
Which gives any sentence
WICH GIVES ANY SENTENCE
Of an Art form
AN ART FORM
Into the oddest
INTO THE ODDEST
And gives gravity
And exceptionnal weight
AND EXCEPTIONNAL WEIGHT
To unnoticed words
To excessive solemnity
I thought the Dadaïst poets would have like it, or the early Situationnists, in particular the Lettrists.
Serious kids with long hair, angelic faces, listened to bums and fools.
Where art thou, Isidore Isou ?
Peter Smith in a Paul Smith ad
It seems that autumn magazine ads these days are all about S&M widows, or models in fake artists studios (the painter’s palette reworked by the make-up artist), when they don’t simply mimic, at the photographer’s command, a violent orgasm produced by a new perfume or hand-bag.
That’s why I was stunned the other day to see my friend Peter Smith in a Paul Smith ad, staring out with reasonable and limited excitement at the viewer from the pages of Wallpaper magazine.
Peter lives in London, and with Andrew Hale does the music for the Paul Smith shows. In the ad Peter looks normal. You can trace on his face all the music he has been listening to, and he is not trying to have the crazy wild actor look of some young dudes in the same situation.
We share a common interest for sad songs, and sometimes for fun Peter would email me one, and I try to email him back a sadder one, but he always win. Of course, what is really sad is not to know the girl who stands modestly in the back of the ad. I believe her name is Valerija Kelava. She looks less futile and more thoughtful than most models, but may be it’s at Sir Paul Smith’s command.
London Women’s Show Music Listing (Music production by Peter Smith and Andrew Hale):
1. Nico – All Tomorrow’s Parties
2. Vitamin String Quartet – All Tomorrow’s Parties
3. Yawn – candle
4. The Kills – Heart is a Beating Drum
5. Lykke Li – Youth Knows No Pain
6. Little Dragon – Nightlight.
7. Yawn – Magician
Finale: Rolling stones – She’s a Rainbow
Out of boredom on a recent Saturday afternoon, I was trying out some pants at Supreme when when my friend Victoire called to ask if I wouldn’t mind accompanying her to the party being given by Barneys for Carine Roitfeld.
A few minutes latter, as I was walking with renewed energy on Lafayette Street, she called again : « they want to know what our favorite songs are, it’s karaoke ! »
Had I gone to Tokyo at least 15 times and always successfully avoided karaoke parties to finally get trapped into one in NY ? Is there a more depressing scene than drunks trying to read the upcoming lyrics on a TV screen to blaring 80s hits ?
But of course, as masterminded by Carine, it was going to be something else, and with high anticipation we made our approach to Westway, the former strip-club, where the party was happening.
Limousines were jammed on Clarkson street, and squads of it girls and models on high heels were carefully navigating the cobble stones, exposing their million dollars legs to the outdoors spotlights.
It turned out to be the most professional karaoke event one could witness. The Fashion people all hit the stage – which looks rather like a catwalk – with stunning confidence. Not only they never sang out of tune, but they could dance across the stage back and forth, and do all the things performers do like pointing at the crowd, and probably pole dancing as well.
A cross-disciplinary talent that you could hardly imagine among true rock stars who usually show a lack of expertise when it comes down to Fashion : shiny jackets with wide shoulders, leather pants, etc…
The flashes on iphones burnt out during Anna della Russo’s number
The Italians were especially good. Even the cynical fashion assistants have to change their minds when they realized their most feared celebrities were showing genuine warmth, good humor, and sincere emotions. Everybody sensed a historical moment when Valentino’s rendition of « My Way » almost one-upped Sinatra’s Vegas version.
As we left the party and walked along the West Side Highway with imagined scenes of endless rehearsals in burgundy bathrobes late at night in the privacy of the hotel’s palace suite, a small anonymous car overloaded with men suddenly pulled along the sidewalk. All the doors opened at once and the passengers bursted out like undercover policemen about to seize somebody.
A young lad in a torn tee-shirt ran out of the car to take refuge against a wall, where he theatrically faced his pursuers. Among the gang’s sinister faces we were relieved to recognize Terry Richardson’s, thanks to his plaid shirt and signature moustache, this time he didn’t had his thumbs up but was aiming his Powershot at the young actor.
Terry immediately started to fire flashes at his subject, who obligingly gave varied poses.
It seemed the complete New York Fashion scene had decided to unfold in just one night.