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Posts by Laurie Fendrich


January 21, 2009, 10:27 PM ET

Update on the Bulgarian Toilet

So, are there any Brainstorm readers anxiously wondering what happened with the Czech artist David Cerny’s controversial artwork, which I blogged on last week? No? Well, just in case you’re shy, and don’t want to admit you are interested in such silly stuff, recall that Cerny was commissioned by the Czech government to hire several artists, representing the 27 countries that make up the EU, to collaborate in making a work of art that would celebrate the unity of Europe. Cerny was then going to put these individual works together and make a single work of art to hang in the EU headquarters in Brussels. Instead, Cerny and a few friends secretly made the entire work by themselves, merrily replacing what were to have been honorific works of art symbolizing each country with naughty works of art making fun of each country. The work was “unveiled” a few weeks ago, and when people realized how...

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January 17, 2009, 10:55 AM ET

Ray Yoshida (1930-2009)

When I heard that the artist Ray Yoshida had passed away, I was brought up short. In my mind, he was eternal—like a Platonic form. He was 78, and nature has its plan. Yet I can’t help wishing nature had a different plan—one that would allow men like Ray Yoshida to live forever. He was a terrific artist—you’d have to see his paintings and his small, edgy-sweet collages of cut-up comic images to know why I say this. He was also a terrific teacher.

Like many graduate students of my era at the Art Institute of Chicago—the late 70s—I had Ray as one of several teachers, each there to offer his or her own take on students’ work. When I think about my paintings as a whole, I realize Ray was one of the most crucial of my teachers in helping me develop as an artist—but not in the way one might think. Certainly I never...

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January 15, 2009, 12:41 PM ET

Unveiling An Insult

(AFP photo at bbc.com)

Man, you have to give the Czech artist David Cerny credit. It’s one thing to romp around in the sandbox of the contemporary art world, dumping buckets of ironic art into trendoid galleries that then sell the stuff to super-rich collectors. It’s another to embarrass your own government — the one that paid good money for you to make an honorific work of art — and, while you’re at it, to insult all of Europe. Wow.

Cerny is known for being a prankster artist, but that didn’t stop the Czech government, which is just starting its six-month presidency of the European Union, from hiring him to make a work of art to honor a unified Europe. Cerny’s 172-square-foot mosaic, entitled, “Entropa” (say, didn’t anyone think about what this title might mean?) was installed in the European...

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January 11, 2009, 02:11 PM ET

Movies and Beauty

Tonight the Golden Globe Awards will be on TV, drawing millions of fawning movie fans. The Reader, which I saw with my daughter a few weeks ago, is up for best motion picture in the drama category. This movie demonstrates yet again how supremely easy it is for movies to make audiences weep — even for questionable characters who do very bad things.

The film is based on the German writer Bernhard Schlink’s eponymous 1995 novel about a lawyer, Michael Berg (played as a young man by David Kross and then later, as an adult, by Ralph Fiennes) who, while a teenager living in Germany after the war, has a love affair with Hanna Schmitz, a much older woman (played by Kate Winslet). During the War, when Michael was no more than a toddler, Hanna was a concentration camp guard. After the affair has ended, and several years have passed, Hanna ends up tried for war crimes, convicted, and...

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January 7, 2009, 08:43 PM ET

Maryland Wins K-12

In a report just released by Education Week, the trade publication for K-12 education, Maryland was pronounced to have the best schools of any state in the country. For those who insist money isn’t everything when it comes to K-12 education, guess what? Money helps. A lot.

According to the Washington Post, Maryland put $3.3-billion into its schools over the past six years, increasing state spending on education 80.4 percent since 2002. County governments spent an additional $1.3-billion over the same period, a 34.3 percent increase. The results — judged by such measures as standardized tests (even Margaret Spellings would have to approve) and high school graduation rates — were in the pudding: For every additional $1,000 spent per elementary school student, proficiency rates...

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January 5, 2009, 11:09 AM ET

This Believing City

(Photo by Doug Hilson)

After a day of teaching, my colleague and friend Doug Hilson, a painter who lives and works in Brooklyn, frequently gives me a ride to the subway stop in front of the Brooklyn Museum. There I pick up the express into Lower Manhattan, where I live. This past fall, he began pointing out to me all the tiny storefront churches — independent, nondenominational forms of Protestantantism, most of them Hispanic or black — lining Eastern Parkway as it cuts through the East New York/Crown Heights border area of Brooklyn. A couple of times, Doug detoured down side streets to show me clusters where four or five of them — none bigger than a two-car garage — sit right next door to one another.

The churches can appear desolate — at least on weekday afternoons, when Doug and I would pass by. Trash sits casually on their front sidewalks, and iron grates cover the windows. ...

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January 1, 2009, 11:43 AM ET

Well, Yes, but ...

The apple never falls very far from the tree. Not when the tree’s on a hill.

Opposites attract. Not if you’re at a faculty meeting.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Not if the face you’re looking at has a hairy wart on the tip of its nose.

A penny saved is a penny earned. Not when it’s in your 401K.

Education is the key. Not if you’re majoring in semiotics and writing your senior thesis on Judith Butler.

Never give up on your dream. Not if you’re out of time, money, energy, food, water, shelter, friends, …

Where there’s a will there’s a way. Not if you’re Lehman Brothers.

Criticizing is easy, art is difficult. Not if you make installations.

Spare the rod, spoil the child. Not if you want your kid to write a best-selling memoir.

No good deed goes unpunished. This one, alas, happens to be true.

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December 31, 2008, 05:01 PM ET

Fool Me Once

Oh dear, another fake memoir. This one comes from the imagination of Herman Rosenblat, a Nazi concentration camp survivor who heartily embellished his story. (Surviving a concentration camp apparently isn’t enough of a hook.) He’s been caught adding a foolish love tale about his future wife — a kid at the time, as he was — tossing him an apple over the barbed-wire fence. The duped publisher and TV book promoter Oprah Winfrey (again!) are in full apology mode.

I went straight to Google and typed in “Fake Memoirs.” Like a mushroom that sprouted up overnight, a stub on Herman Rosenblat had popped up at the top of Wikipedia’s list of notorious authors of fake memoirs and journals. (Of course, I wondered vaguely about the accuracy of an entry — especially a new entry —...

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December 30, 2008, 03:36 PM ET

The Milgram Experiment

Would you pull the lever?

In a famous 1963 psychology experiment conducted by Stanley Milgram, a professor of psychology at Yale, a man posing in a white lab coat asked a group of subjects to administer painful and sometimes dangerous electric shocks to innocent people. The shocks were feigned, but the subjects thought they were real, and the “victims” pretended to feel pain.

Almost all the subjects in the experiment readily complied with the instructions given by the man in the lab coat to administer stronger and stronger “shocks” to their victims, even when the victims cried out in pain. These were ordinary Americans, not notoriously evil people, willingly inflicting more and more pain on innocent people because someone in authority told them it was the right thing to do. The subjects in the experiment were Americans, but it’s noteworthy that the experiment was conducted in the ...

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December 27, 2008, 01:49 PM ET

Football Fashion

I watched a minor college football bowl game last night — the Motor City Bowl in poor, depressed Detroit, between Florida Atlantic University and Central Michigan University — and I noticed something that prompted this post. There are basically two types of college football uniforms — call them “traditional” and “designer” — and we’re in a visually awkward transition between the two. (FAU exemplified the former, CMU the latter.) An aficionado of athletic garb who went into a profound funk when the The Village Voice discontinued its sports section a few years ago, and with it, the crucial feature “Uni Watch,” I’m of two minds about recent developments.

But first, let me explain what I mean by “traditional” and “designer” uniforms.

Traditional uniforms have jerseys and pants of a single color each, with only their numerals and stripes (over the shoulder, around the sleeve, or...

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