Monday, January 26, 2015


Seahawks vs. Patriots? Who cares? But the inflated media coverage of shrinking balls is hysterical. I have heard steroid use can cause that also. Could there be better fodder for late night TV and stand-up routines? "Man walked into a bar and ordered a stiff drink. The bartender brought him a pint of Hop Viagra with hint of citrus." Ba-boom. Must have been happy hour! Anybody can write these jokes. I charge 25 bucks a pop. It goes to PAYPAL.

The Oscars and the Super Bowl? Money, ego and hyperbole. I am getting confused as we speak. PSI of footballs is possibly a great example of shrinking weight of news coverage or do I mean the twenty-four-seven tide of meaningless content. Some of it connects to facts on the ground but it is up to the distracted consumer/viewer to garner importance of each tid-bit. Are they up to it? My personal strategy is to use news boycott. That is what Netflix is for. So let us retire the overused moron-gatedness. Sloppy slang is for losers.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Lost Chalice?

I've recently read The Stolen Chalice by Kitty Pilgrim. former CNN correspondent. She is no Dan Brown! I was looking forward to a standard page turner, full of rugged archaeologists, Templars and Masons. There is a another book called The Lost Chalice, by Vernon Silver which is one of those books. Perhaps, I should review that instead? I have decided to make a short study of the fake science of these books versus the study of actual art history. They are easily dismissed but there is an interesting overlap. It is intriguing to see half-truth delivered in TV shows like Myth Hunters, Myth Busters and Secrets of the Dead on PBS. The difference between real fact and fiction hang on small pieces of spoken text or unfortunate edits leaving huge questions. Usually like: where is the source of the research? Having asked this question, I still enjoy disentangling partial-truths because our culture seems to be largely based on them. These historical books and programs usually stop just shy of aliens and neo-x-files. And they use any excuse to stick in Nazis. This may be why Pilgrim's tale (full of identical, shapely women and dull, broad shouldered guys) is popular and such a drag.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

One Hundred Days to the Day!

I've spent most of 2014 thinking about and studying 1914 and I believe my approach to 2015 will be much the same. There is no end to the "firsts" that occurred one hundred years ago, day after day. First bombing of a city by airship! Wow. It makes 2014 look lame. All the inflated discussion of social media, drones and phones. It it all so self-oriented. That said, I believe that my study in a convenient one hundred old year framework is illuminating and sheds light on where we are now. Does it sometimes appear to be nowhere at all? Paradigm-less you could say. The year ended with a perfect example as a communist nation felt threatened by a Hollywood movie. True, The Interview had some negative propaganda for North Korea, but it was not a threat! Those movies are more threat to our intelligence than anything else. Cuba would never react so if Castro or his brother were depicted as weirdos. He would probably chuckle or choke on his cigar. God bless him.

Thursday, December 4, 2014


 It is hard to imagine no comments to my last piece picturing Barbara Kruger's appropriation of a picture of Adolf Hitler. Not even a criticism? That really hurts. It is as if Post Modernism never occured. Most people may call it the Culture Wars to simplify the era and avoid the topic.

You may wonder what an illustration of the Bismark has to do with this. I have included this picture because it is a representation of the Bismark from a movie from 1960. As opposed to an actual picture of the notorious ship itself. I always loved the way oceans were depicted with ship models in movies. It was not easy to do then, pre-CG.

When I posted this same pic on Facebook, there were very few comments. Is the Bismark not interesting? What's wrong with people? They are so boring.

Monday, November 3, 2014

No Man is a Curatorial Island

There’s been a lot of confounding diatribes in the news these days and I wouldn’t touch them for fear of being labeled an Islamophobe by Hollywood persons. A safer controversy is to do with a new book on how real art curators have been neutered by our curatorial culture. What occurs to me (within my limited purview in discussing our culture, national and world) is that this may be an illusion blown out of proportion. What gives me this privilege? I have an MFA. So there! If artist, Barbara Kruger can go on intelligent, BBC talk shows and discuss art –– I can too. Well, she didn’t really talk about art so much as where the art world is now as opposed to her heyday in the Eighties and Nineties. She did mention her favorite typeface, Futura Condensed Italic. Her encapsulization of the new-money enriched art world, she didn’t want to talk about. Don’t bite the hand that feeds? Isn’t that one of her text pieces? What felt odd about her performance (aside avoiding a gritty discussion of her work) was that she admitted casually that all art is now outside consideration by anyone but elites. How can this be? I thought she was of the school that skewered the “genius” and “patriarchal” myths. She admitted that her cultural surveys are mostly pop cultural. So why are her comments any better than mine or yours? Is it because we are trained in deconstruction and (though we aren’t allowed to admit it) we see the world more clearly than CNN and butch guys in baseball caps driving Dodge Rams.
We should treasure the outdated focus of art and criticism (where oranges are in another basket than lemons) because without the scrutiny every ninny with a smart phone is a so-called encyclopedia and curator. That isn’t much of a claim I know, but still any overview about art (with a big-A) is important, especially at dinner parties. Perhaps, there is a sleight of hand in the way our technology gives us the belief that we are all current, up to date and full of progressive ideas and understanding. Of course, I disagree. We are college educated, middle class people who have no status anymore – I can hear the echoes of Islamophobism heading my way – and this troubles me. This distinguishes us from others who work for a living instead of scribbling flippant, on-line essays! Yet, artists aren’t the only ones who imagine being “un-plugged” or “off the grid.” There are loads of philosophical crazies planning to survive after the balloon goes up, whatever that balloon may be. There are lots of TV shows about it. It makes people nervous but I am not bothered. No one can track me down except the NSA and they couldn’t care less.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Eulogy for Henry Frank Rosenthal (1923-2014)

I have dreaded this day my entire life and thought it would never come. That was of course wishful thinking. Our dad was a generous spirit. Anyone who knew him, knew that. Most people thought him a demure, kind man, certainly a punster and a straight arrow, quite fastidious. This would make him the butt of jokes that he would weather with good humor. He could dish out but with a kind wit, never malicious. If you went as far as to hurt his feelings, he would say in a vulnerable voice, “You’ll miss me when I’m gone.” He was so right about that. Oh, he could be fussy. His sense of order and decorum we had to respect if nothing else. Hank was slow to anger but he would yell if annoyed, “No trash in the living room,” and the classic, “Turn that damn noise down!” We’d learned to remember to turn the stove off and then neurotically return five times to check again. The seed never falls far from the tree.
As he grew older, I thought about his youth a lot. Not just the war stories that were common and genuinely remarkable, but the fact that he was a great athlete, could ice skate like a demon (I saw this a few times), played lacrosse and was an expert marksman. He followed his alma mater Hobart College his entire life and was annoyed for years afterwards when the New York Times dropped publishing the scores. It is easy to say he was a lousy golfer and a worse driver. The latter he would never admit to. It is amazing we survived long holiday trips up the East Coast from Atlanta as kids. I will always remember the day he drove a motorcyclist off the road on route 46 in New Jersey. The poor schlub managed to survive on the hilly verge by the seat of his pants, finally made in back onto the road and overtook our Pontiac sedan. He cursed out the whole family. You didn’t have to read lips. He flipped us the bird and took off. What a great memory.
Dad had one minor dilemma the most of his married life and I’m here to settle the argument. To be or not to be Episcopalian. I suppose the fact that we are here at St. Peter’s might make the matter seem irrelevant and you might think it’s enough to warrant honorary Christian-hood for my dad. But that isn’t the point. He was a hybrid character, like many of us, sitting on a cultural fence. He could never fully explain this but I have recently read his wish list in which he tries in 1993. I will quote here: “I never went to a Jewish social occasion or… but I seem to attend most of those on Episcopal side...” He missed the point. It is easy to do.  
Today, I have the official duty to amend his statement for the record. He did attend my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah later, possibly looking a little uncomfortable in Synagogue. I’m not sure why. Up in Pittsfield, Mass., little bits of German slash Yiddish peppered the elder Rosenthal conversation. I was called Hymie by Aunt Anne for years. Dad was Heiny, short for Heinrich. “Oy Vey” was heard as well. It was amusing but I believe this is why I found myself completely comfortable in a temple setting. My name alone got me through the door and my sense of humor clinched the deal. Same with dad though he wasn’t aware of it. As for myself I believe I have been doubly blessed to feel the love from both sides of the Judeo-Christian divide. Henry, inadvertently, paved the way. He goes on the say in his statement: “I try to live by the moral code of the Commandments acceptable in both of the above.” So it is moot whether he considered himself Jewish or not. Secular or “cultural” Jews are Jewish even if they drink martinis, play golf and dress up for church for the odd wedding or funeral. Let’s face it; that is what makes America great. One high point was the concert at St. Thomas’s in New York where Grandson Hank slayed the crowd on piano with the First Movement of Beethoven’s Sonata Pathetique. A standing ovation followed including a proud grandfather or two. If you can make it there.  For what its worth, he faced down a Panzer division in December, 1944 while wearing dog tags that bore a Star of David. Nuff said.
The point I’d really like to make today is that the traditions of both sides honor those who have passed and pass that responsibility on to the next generation. Hence all the candle lighting in Jewish tradition which we will try to abide by in Philadelphia. This is why brother, William’s work on is so valuable. He has filled in gaps in both family trees that could never have been made without complex, interwoven algorithms. For a while we thought there was a direct blood link with Pope Gregory the Ninth. (laughs) Here, I must make special thanks to William, Emily and Max for taking the brunt of these difficult last few weeks that was nothing short of surreal. They have shared a lot of Martinis in the last few years.
Dad was the rare bird who could tie a bow tie in an emergency. He could cook a perfect poached egg. Hank pursued any activities, devoted husband and father, gin, golf and backing into parking spaces, driven by his own personality and timed to the minute. I will not mention his single-handed campaign against squirrels bordering on instability. One day he was nearly arrested by a Park Ranger for spray-painting the little rodents. I once found a one dead in the rain barrel at Skyline. Not a pretty sight. This mania has been passed down to his sons who are still devising humane ways to kill these damn creatures. I dispatched a squirrel myself by forgetting I’d caught one in a trap when the temperature outside was 10 degrees.
Our golden years may have been on Skyline Drive in this very town of Morris. Collective hours were spent with Grandpa McEwen (a real Englishman) and Julie watching Masterpiece Theatre and Fawlty Towers. Those really were the days. Strangers to the household were often in awe of the Skyline Drive rituals, tea and toast, followed by drinky-poos. Later life became a pop cultural mash-up of Seinfeldom, Simpsonasia, antics of seven beloved grandchildren and Will’s funny and never ending Bill Clinton impression. Mom and Dad watched each episode of Seinfeld about twenty times.
Dad married an English Major, Barbara McEwen. She still beats me at scrabble! This union was unassailable and affected everyone. Under Mom’s guidance, Dad continued a keen deconstructor of language and we’d all compete for a final Malaprop. His humor will be remembered. It made life more lively and live-able. He’d never fail to goof on waitresses. Once at a restaurant in Philly, he pretended he was Dr. Rosenthal with a straight face. It’s a good trick. Though puns will continue to be thought of as the lowest form of humor by stuffy librarians and schoolmarms, they get the wrong end of the shtick.
Never mind, for tomorrow we rise at dawn to battle the French at Agincourt. Or, in our case, set the snooze button for 7:30, maybe 8-ish. We’ll have toast with strawberry jam and listen to classical music on WQXR. Our cook will brew the finest ground coffee from the A & P (purchased with saved coupons) in an ancient stovetop percolator.  The women folk will have a pot of tea.
I’d like to end with a nod to the bard, oft mis-quoted in the Rosenthal household. We’d try to brush up our Shakespeare and start quoting him now, appropriately from Henry the V:

Tuesday, September 23, 2014


In 1968, J. G. Ballard wrote a novel called The Drowned World. It is a science fiction where London is underwater and all the famous landmarks peek out above the famed city. Londoners have always feared the Thames. This sort of dystopian future may have been with us since Noah and the Flood. The Dutch have lived with rising tides and floodplains forever. In 1953, the dykes failed. Holland was inundated by a massive storm surge. That is why they stay well ahead in planned protection of their “coastline.” New York City had no such mindset in 2012. Then along came Sandy, a hurricane that may have been (for many) the first indicator of significant climate change.
From my comfortable perch in the Independence Seaport Museum library (where I have been researching naval battles of the Great War) I watched artist, Mary Mattingly and friends’ six week Fringe project develop. Eventually, it dawned on me that the off-kilter shack growing on a small house-boat (circa 1971) was sculpture. What else could it be? Unless it was a project from the This Old House crew on acid.  The Do It Yourself ethic is definitely there. The use of salvaged and re-cycled material is there. Self-sufficiency is the watchword. In this case, the builders were living on site!
Admittedly, my activist beginnings are benign. As they say, if you lived through the Seventies you probably can’t remember most of it. As a member of the original Save The Planet crew, I do recall the first Earth Day. It was nearby. Future Shock was on my reading list as was Orwell’s 1984. Atom bombs were expected any minute aimed at the Empire State Building. Smog, acid rain and nuclear winter were terms used a lot. The Clean Air Act passed unanimously in 1970! No squabbling. How things change. Other things not so much. Many years onwards the problems are more pressing and contentious. History itself seems to have paused. Similarly, the end of civilization is now more ubiquitous. So commonplace are disaster scenarios that whole generations are formed by them. This spectacle encompasses several familiar tropes: zombies, viral plagues, radiation beasts (my favorite), demon hackers, transformed computer droids. Flying sharks now jump themselves.
But seriously, we are in deep shit. We just don’t know from what. Perhaps they will work it out today at the United Nations. Lighting the top of the Empire State Building with green light will undoubtedly help. Technically speaking, apocalyptic futures and climate change may not amount to the same thing at all. For some, petrol engines, coal use and greenhouse gases are the main culprits. For others running out of crude is the problem. I’m in the middle on this because I would like to drive my ‘73 Pontiac Lemans into the last hurrah (whether fiery comet or tidal wave) blasting Ozzy Osbourne on eight track. Is that old school or what? My main worry (beyond climate disaster) is the Singularity given character by writer, William Gibson in his cyber-punk phase; he gave it up when all his prophecies came true. Putting micro-chips in our heads and linking human kind with machine? Haven’t proponents of this future prospect seen Terminator? The acting isn’t much better in Gibson’s Johnny Neumonic!
In my favor, I compost and recycle. I don’t own a clothes’ dryer and I wear unlaundered, worn out jeans because it looks more Ramoney. Still, who am I to decry dedicated artists who live to educate the public about eco-systems and co-operative work. Some use homemade bread, brew and beards for style. I am envious because I wouldn’t last a day without my television. Still, I want to believe. The series of questions raised by WetLand as experimental sculpture, performance and sustainable living space are vital and the interaction with Penn’s Landing crucial. Each visitor will leave with a different message. Subsistence on this crowded lump spinning in space is key whatever the danger. This link between ‘Earth Art’ of the near past is re-assuring; Smithson’s obsessions derived from post-industrial wastelands of New Jersey in particular. We see echoes of that tradition in Mattingly’s work. She also stress’s the burgeoning local businesses going green together in a positive way.
Millennials do this efficiently armed with charts, graphs and wiki-facts. Mary Mattingly has done this before on the Hudson River aiming somewhere between Buckminster Fuller and Robert Smithson. Mattingly’s Waterpod  (2009) is much more retro-futuristic. Geodesic domes and such. Life on Earth as art? Why not? On the Delaware, the house boat’s mismatched wood (think Philadelphia’s Dumpster Divers) is downright charming. Inside the cabin, on loan from a dismantled vintage gym floor in Iowa, these panels have a lovely pentimento echoing thousands of Converse All Stars; a conservation of past events. Always way ahead, artists are natural re-cyclers. The solar panel on the roof updates the whole thing, while the chickens at the back keep a rooted barnyard feel. Did I mention the bees? Fresh honey from Hives in the City and eggs! Sounds like heaven. Dinner on board was delightful, made with local produce by visiting artist, Mollie McKinley. The yoga teacher brought the local shrimp and I brought a South American Pinot Noir. Fresh herbs filled the air. They came from the floating farm. The experience was not like a Viking River Cruise. Occasionally, the wake of a passing ship would rock the boat reminding us all we were on a river. The Delaware is not the cleanest of waterways so drinking/cooking water was carefully collected rain or carried on board. A hose was set up for the vegetable farming. On hot sweaty days, the crew resorted to showers on Admiral Dewey’s historic cruiser, Olympia docked nearby! Edwardian comfort on a coal-eating monster!
The project’s proximity to warships (USS New Jersey guarding Camden) and frivolous riverfront entertainment was intriguing. Initially, from my vantage point in the Seaport museum (in the shadow of the Hyatt) I couldn’t quite make out the shape of a sinking house, Mattingly’s fine metaphor for the state of the world both lyrically and in reality. The shape developed slowly into a distinct wedge reminding me of a chunk of organic gouda with a bay window.
Social awareness of both art and ecology is oddly similar. Broadly speaking, the ‘public’ doesn’t seem to have a clue about future or past and the crucial connection between them. Can you have one without the other? The WetLand, floating art installation stood out in the excellent 2014 Fringe Festival and presented the city with a great conversation piece about environmental issues. I am told the environment may find another home soon. Possibly at another hidden refuge, Bartram’s Gardens – John Bartram was America’s first Botanist – on the Schuykill River in South West Philly. That would give the autonomous living system a different sort of historical and popular resonance sorely needed these days. Failing that, the East River by the United Nations would be appropriate. WetLand will successfully address all that and give a distinct, personal touch to fundamental issues relating to World’s End or a new start.