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Genuine Wonders From the Flea Circus: Photos by Arbus

Posted By Administration, Thursday, November 22, 2007
Updated: Tuesday, January 21, 2014

"We had our awe and our shame in one gulp," Diane Arbus wrote of watching the assorted freaks and sideshow performers who populated Hubert's Dime Museum and Flea Circus, a celebrated basement phantasmagoria on 42nd Street in Manhattan where she began shooting in the late 1950s as she was beginning to hone her stark signature style.

In a poignant 1966 obituary about the museum, which had mostly closed the previous year, Arbus added, "What if we couldn't always tell a trick from a miracle?"

Decades later a Philadelphia book dealer and collector of African-Americana named Bob Langmuir found himself agonizing over a similar question.

In 2003 he bought a pile of papers from a collector in Brooklyn who had come across them years earlier at an auction of possessions unclaimed from a storage warehouse in the Bronx.

The dusty, yellowed documents and pictures appear to have belonged to a onetime sideshow performer named Charlie Lucas, a black man who worked as the manager of Hubert's in its last years. Mr. Langmuir was interested mainly because he saw the artifacts as a kind of underground record of the life of an African-American businessman and entertainer.

But when sorting through the pile, Mr. Langmuir found a note in a dog-eared datebook kept by Lucas that stopped him: "Diane Arbus, 131 ½ Charles St. WA 4 — 4608." Then, he says, he looked again at some of the heavily flashed photographs of performers like Estelline Pike, a sword swallower, and DeWise Purdon, a man with no hands, and wondered: Could these possibly be early Arbus works? Or am I just dreaming?

In the world of collecting it turned out that Mr. Langmuir had come across a miracle, not a trick. Over the next several months, along a tortuous trail that led him to curators at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art, to Sotheby's and to the Arbus estate — a journey that was nearly ended by a nervous breakdown and a nasty divorce — Mr. Langmuir discovered that at least 21 photographs from the Lucas papers were rare, authentic Arbus prints.

In April, Phillips de Pury & Company plans to auction them and the other Hubert's artifacts, making it likely that Mr. Langmuir will collect hundreds of thousands of dollars. He will also be the subject of "Hubert's Freaks," a book by Gregory Gibson about the unlikely discovery, about Arbus and about her formative time spent with the denizens of the museum. The book's release is being sped up by its publisher, Harcourt, to coincide with the auction.

The discovery provides an unexpected new look at Arbus's earliest days as an artist, not long after she stopped working with her husband, Allan, in fashion photography and began to gravitate toward the unconventional subjects and approaches that would define her best-known work.

The outlandish subjects of her Hubert's years — giant cowboys, tattooed men, snake dancers and people like William Durks, a performer with a deformed face whom she called "the man from World War Zero" — directly prefigure those of her later works like nudist camp residents, transvestites, aging beauty queens and Eddie Carmel, the "Jewish Giant," an 8-foot-9-inch man whom she shot with his normal-size parents in 1970 in one of her most famous pictures.

The Arbus prints also open a subterranean window onto the profound oddity of Hubert's, a largely forgotten piece of New York history that was a kind of high-low meeting place from the 1930s until it crumbled along with Times Square. In its heyday on 42nd Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues, it was a haunt for the louche and the lurid, and also for raconteurs of the offbeat like A. J. Liebling, Tom Wolfe, Bob Dylan, Andy Kaufman and Lenny Bruce, who developed a routine about Albert Alberta, a half-man, half-woman act.

In a 1940 article in The New Yorker about Lady Olga, a renowned bearded woman, Joseph Mitchell recounted how Cole Porter sought her out in her dressing room at Hubert's to invite her to a party given at the Ritz-Carlton by Monty Woolley. (To complement her 13 ½-inch beard, she wore a rhinestone-studded gown and commented later to Mitchell: "I guess I was a curiosity to them. Some of them sure were a curiosity to me.")

Steve Turner, an art dealer in Los Angeles who is working with Mr. Langmuir and Phillips to mount an exhibition of the photographs and the other memorabilia at his gallery in February, said that Hubert's was important not only because of its location in the heart of the mostly respectable theater district but also because of its sheer tenacity. It soldiered on for years even after its minuscule chief attraction, Professor LeRoy Heckler's trained fleas, moved on when Heckler retired in 1960.

"The fact that it made it into the 1960s, when most of that kind of world had evaporated, is amazing," Mr. Turner said. He suggested that the photographs were important in the context of Arbus's career because they showed how she courted and befriended her subjects and often saw them as a kind of accidental family. (She apparently gave the prints to Mr. Lucas, who died in 1991, and may have given some to other performers as gifts in return for their willingness to pose for her.)

In many ways Mr. Langmuir, 57, is a fitting recipient for such an eccentric slice of American history. A rare-books and memorabilia dealer with a deep knowledge of old blues and folk recordings, he spent his youth rambling through Europe and Russia, serving as a merchant mariner and working briefly as a roadie for Muddy Waters. In his youth, Mr. Gibson's book says, he was also given to wearing velour capes around Philadelphia, a result of a fascination with the Pre-Raphaelites.

Mr. Turner, who has known Mr. Langmuir for many years, describes him as the kind of reclusive dealer who likes to collect things but then usually cannot bear to part with them. "He's really brilliantly instinctual, but he doesn't have the constitution for a certain kind of commerce," he said.

In a brief telephone interview about his discovery, Mr. Langmuir said he had decided to sell the Hubert's archive only reluctantly. The money is hard to pass up, of course, but he said he also felt that the history of the museum and Arbus's time there deserved to be better known.

"If it goes back into Bob's box," he said, referring to his voluminous collections. "Then the story is me repeating the same old anecdotes to myself."

"And this is a story that, the more you look into it, just keeps getting stranger and stranger," he said.

By Randy Kennedy

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Betting on China's Contemporary Art World

Posted By Administration, Monday, November 12, 2007
Updated: Tuesday, January 21, 2014

If there was any fear that municipal authorities here might bulldoze the art district known as 798 for one more batch of bland condominiums -- a distinct possibility until just a few years ago -- this month's opening of the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art suggests that the area is eminently safe.

Guy and Myriam Ullens, the Belgian benefactors behind the project, won't say how much they have invested in it. But the amount was clearly in the millions. And it seems a safe bet that they wouldn't have laid that out without pretty ironclad assurances that 798 is here to stay.

This mirrors a shift in the wind, driven no doubt by the huge sums of money contemporary art is commanding at auctions, as the Beijing government finally starts to realize that there may be something to the strange stuff it generally doesn't understand and at times considers mildly subversive.

In a city ever eager to put itself on the map leading up to next summer's Olympics, officials are also becoming aware that the contemporary art community centered at 798 -- named after the East German-inspired military electronics factory that used to occupy the factory buildings -- has the potential to one day give this city the sort of buzz other global capitals would die for.

The Ullens, who made their money in sweeteners, have placed a significant bet on the Chinese contemporary art world. In the process, they've given credibility to the emerging Chinese movement, upped the ante for young artists and put themselves on the ground floor at a key juncture in this emerging nation's modern art history.

"UCCA will be the cornerstone of the Chinese contemporary art scene," a press release proclaims breathlessly.

"We have dreams," a more modest Guy Ullens, 72, said the other day. "But I'd love to talk to you again in six months. I don't want to sound too pretentious, and we still have a lot of things to work out."


White walls, clean lines

The results so far are eye-catching. The center, which opened Nov. 5, is housed in an enormous (85,000-square-foot) former factory space with 31-foot ceilings -- a scale that stands out amid the network of small galleries and modest studios that until now defined the 798 district.

French architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte, a specialist in museum renovations, took a different approach with the interior than most neighboring galleries with his use of modern white walls, clean lines and a computer-controlled mix of natural and artificial lighting that adjusts with the sun and obviates the need for spotlights.

"The other buildings around, they try to keep things a little destroyed, with bricks showing and the old Chinese [characters] on the walls," Wilmotte said. "We decided on all white to capture as much light as possible and to better showcase the art."

Once you pass through the grubby industrial exterior, the only obvious reminder that you are standing in the corpse of a factory that once braced for war with the Soviet Union is a 164-foot-tall brick chimney jutting through the ceiling of the entry hall, reminiscent of a giant oak tree with a house built around it.

The center has three exhibition areas, including a 30,000-square-foot main gallery with white arched steel supports somewhat evocative of a Washington, D.C., Metro subway station. At ground level, a series of partitions can be reconfigured depending on the size and scope of an exhibition.

Some in the art world here say that the center, because it is not out to make a profit and has more time to put exhibitions together, will showcase better-quality work than is on display at neighboring galleries, thus forcing them to up their game.

Others say they don't welcome the changes, increased commercialism and growing respectability of 798, a trend seen in the Ullens opening.

"It's a dangerous sign," said artist Huang Rui, a founder of the annual Dashanzi International Art Festival known for his political themes, who lost his lease in 798 this year in a dispute with the landlord. "The center comes with huge amounts of money and buys up everything in sight. . . . I'm not sure they're helping real artists."

Ullens said the center still faced several challenges. It will have to find sponsors to guarantee its longer-term financial viability, solidify its relations with the government and the art establishment and ensure that Chinese viewers arrive in sufficient numbers. The admission price is $4 for adults and $1.35 for students.

"I think the price is reasonable, at least for us," said Qiu Hanxun, 18, a first-year design student with a sketchbook under her arm. "The place is very avant-garde, and I'd tell some of my friends to come, although maybe not the more conventional ones."

The inaugural exhibition, titled " '85 New Wave," showcases 30 artists from the key mid-1980s period when Chinese art was just emerging from decades of socialist realism. Among its featured artists are Wang Guangyi, Xu Bing, Geng Jianyi and Huang Yongping.

Some of the works are pretty obvious copies of Picasso, Edvard Munch and Dadaism befitting a community just opening to the West, but others are original and introspective and comment pointedly on life in a Communist state.

"What's important with the exhibit is this is the first time you've put Chinese art history in front of a Chinese audience -- a testament to how far China has come in only 22 years," said Karen Smith, author of "Nine Lives: The Birth of Avant-Garde Art in New China." "Everyone has seen everything that's come since without knowing where it comes from."

The mid-'80s, generally recognized as the birth period of Chinese contemporary art, is a fitting theme to mark the birth of the center, said chief curator Colin Chinnery. It is also when the Ullens came to China and started collecting.

"The exhibit also explores ideas of past and future," said Chinnery, speaking in rapid-fire clips. "Artists all over the world find inspiration from history, and this is part of the debate."

Contemporary art, however, has been the object of periodic crackdowns in this country as censors have condemned portrayals of nudity, depictions of Chinese leaders or imagery related to the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown.

Gao Qiang, a principal in the Gao Brothers gallery down the street from the new museum who does plastic sculptures of Mao-like figures with breasts, was not allowed to send his works to a show in Italy after officials told him his work made Chinese leaders look ugly.

"I responded, how could these be our leaders?" Gao said. "Our leaders don't have breasts and long noses."

Since then, Gao said, he's been told by the 798 management company that it doesn't want to renew his lease and would prefer to rent to someone who won't bring trouble. Last year, 20 works of contemporary art were ordered removed from several galleries in 798 on government orders shortly before a major art festival.

Chinnery said the government had been supportive so far and that the center had faced no problems related to artistic content. It is required to give authorities a list of all proposed inclusions by Chinese and foreign artists before any exhibition, he added.

Ullens said the Chinese government's attitude was changing as it increasingly recognized that China needs to export more than just manufactured goods.

"We were a little scared, but we've been accepted in a delightful way," he said. "It's still sensitive, but political correctness exists in Western countries as well."

The center plans on holding many exhibitions of foreign contemporary art to help educate Chinese artists and the public about trends abroad. Those shows will include a display of several video works by New York-based conceptual artist Lawrence Weiner that will go up next month. The Ullens boasts state-of-the-art air-conditioning, security systems and lighting, Wilmotte said -- an important draw for persuading overseas museums to lend their art for exhibitions.

In an indication of its ambitions, the center also features video and multimedia installations; a library; a restaurant; a bookstore; an auditorium for classes, seminars, films and discussion groups; space for corporate soirees; and VIP rooms for special events with as-yet-unidentified arts patrons.

One art historian said the center had assembled an impressive team of international experts. But it may run into trouble if it doesn't amass enough local clout, given the unique way China operates. Center officials have said they wanted all activities to be transparent and aboveboard.

Ideally, center officials say, they would eventually like to provide low-cost housing and gallery space for young artists who find themselves increasingly priced out of the 798 district.

"And we want to pamper artists with food and good wine," Ullens added with a laugh. "You can't live without that."

Family's links to China

Ullens, a baron, spent 40 years building up the family business based on sweeteners, including a stake in Weight Watchers, before retiring in 2000 to concentrate on philanthropy and social activities.

The family has strong links to China. His father was a Belgian diplomat here before Ullens was born, and his uncle was Belgium's ambassador.

When he started collecting Chinese art, Ullens initially focused on classical pieces and later sought out more contemporary works while visiting China on business. He and his wife now own 2,000 Chinese pieces in various media.

This year, they sold 14 Turner watercolors at auction for $15.8 million to fund the China project.

Ullens said the Turner sale was driven by several considerations. His bank wouldn't accept the Turner paintings as collateral, many of the paintings were delicate and risked being damaged at his chalet in Switzerland, and he wanted to set his affairs in order given his advancing age.

Chinese contemporary art, much like property and stocks, is in something of a bubble as contemporary works go for millions of dollars apiece at auction. Ullens said that most of the world's attention was focused on a few well-known artists, however, and that the center's goal was to showcase lesser-known creators.

Chinnery added that the current period of rampant speculation hurt young artists, who are lured away by the money before they have time to develop. Through its education activities and nonprofit focus, the center hopes to give them more time, he said.

"Galleries go straight to the art schools and snap up anyone they can find who's minimally competent," he said. "That's lethal for young artists."

By Mark Magnier

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French Auction House Joins China Gold Rush: Artcurial holds its first sale in January

Posted By Administration, Monday, November 12, 2007
Updated: Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The third biggest French auction house, Artcurial, which is backed by the arms and aeronautics group Dassault, is opening a saleroom in Shanghai.

Artcurial China is a joint initiative between the French firm and media entrepreneur Bruno Wu, who forms one of China's leading "power couples" with his wife Yang Lan, an influential TV personality.The Shanghai firm will follow the Paris model, with a bookshop and lecture programme as well as sales. Its first sale in China will be held in January 2008 and will include Chen Yifei's Artist with Beauties, 1999, (est E1.5m-E2m, $2.1m-$2.8m).

Artcurial had a stand at the September ShContemporary fair in Shanghai, where it also displayed works coming up for sale in its Parisian saleroom. "Mainland China could become the fourth biggest market for art in a few years' time, after New York, London and Paris. And beyond China itself, the whole of the surrounding region might start meeting in Shanghai twice a year," Nicolas Orlowski, chairman of the firm, told The Art Newspaper. Last year Artcurial reported a 29% increase in sales to E100.5m ($130.7m); it groups a number of French auctioneers.

A recent recruit is François Tajan, but the popular Rémi Le Fur left Artcurial earlier this year. Mr Le Fur is thought to be destined for Christie's but no announcement has yet been made.

By Georgina Adam

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Spare Times: For Children

Posted By Administration, Friday, November 9, 2007
Updated: Tuesday, January 21, 2014

'Beyond the Wall: Kids With Cameras — Jerusalem' In Israel, Jewish and Muslim children rarely see the world through one another's eyes. But not long ago, some did — with the help of a camera's lens.

The results are at the JCC in Manhattan, where "Beyond the Wall" illustrates the efforts of Jason Eskenazi, a New York photojournalist, to teach photography to children who were neighbors but seemed hopelessly divided by religion and politics. Mr. Eskenazi, with a grant from the nonprofit group Kids With Cameras, traveled to Jerusalem in 2004 with 24 point-and-shoot cameras. By distributing leaflets in the Muslim quarter, he recruited a dozen Muslims, all 8 to 12; a Jewish center helped find an equal number of Jews the same ages. Mr. Eskenazi met with each group separately. "The goal was to make a portrait of Jerusalem," he said. But he also had a more difficult, and at first hidden, objective: someday to show each group the other's work.

The first opportunity came by accident, when a 10-year-old Muslim student saw him teaching his other class on a rooftop. "She couldn't understand why 'Mr. Jason' was talking to the Jewish kids," Mr. Eskenazi said. Forced to reveal the scope of his project, he began showing each group the other's albums. Initial responses were hostile, "but after a few minutes they'd be looking to see how the others lived," he said. And while the exhibition's 30 photos reveal contrasts — a girl reading the Koran, Jews praying at the Western Wall — many show the universal exuberance of childhood.

Ultimately Mr. Eskenazi arranged a meeting between the oldest and most accomplished students: Raneen, a Muslim, and Zvi, a Jew. Though tense and wary, they complimented each other's work. "I think they both spoke in English — 'good photo,'" Mr. Eskenazi recalled. He still hopes to have an exhibition in Jerusalem, but in the meantime "Beyond the Wall" will tour the United States. "Photography can change kids' lives, I think," he said. "It's a way for them to express themselves, regardless of language." (Through Nov. 18, Laurie M. Tisch Gallery, 334 Amsterdam Avenue, at 76th Street, 646-505-5708, Free.)


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Leonard Vernon, 89; Built an Extensive Photo Collection

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Updated: Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The wealthy industrial developer, builder and contractor was an influential figure, along with his wife, for more than three decades. They amassed an archive that now stands at 4,000 images.

Leonard Vernon, who with his wife, Marjorie, amassed one of the country's finest private collections of photography, died Friday in his sleep at his Bel-Air home. He was 89 and had been in failing health with Parkinson's disease, his daughter, Carol, said.

Vernon, a wealthy industrial developer, builder and contractor, was an influential figure, along with his wife, for more than three decades in the Southern California photography community. The couple, who friends said were equal partners in the success of the collection, started buying photographs in 1976 after a chance encounter in Carmel. They built an archive that now stands at 4,000 images.

"Their collection goes from the earliest photographs in the 1840s to current pictures and covers over 700 photographers," Carol Vernon said.

Her father's interest in the subject never waned.

"The day before he died, he was looking at catalogs for the upcoming auctions in New York," she said.

Images from the Vernon collection have been lent to the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Getty Center and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in Southern California, as well as the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and other major institutions such as the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the Art Institute of Chicago.

"It is one of the great modernist collections," said Tim Wride, a former curator of photography at LACMA who is now the executive director of the No Strings Foundation, a philanthropy that funds photographers. "Any historical show that's been done over the last 10 years usually includes pieces from the Vernon collection."

Stephen White, a photography dealer who owned one of the first important photography galleries in Los Angeles, knew the Vernons -- and their collection -- well.

"It is probably one of the few major private collections left from the beginning days of collecting in the 1970s," White told The Times. He described the collection as heavy in Western photography with images by Ansel Adams and Edward Weston and noted that many photographs on display at the Getty in an exhibition of Weston's work are from the Vernon collection.

Their collection reflected their humanistic life view.

"I don't know how to describe it or explain it," Vernon said in a 1999 interview with The Times. "But from Day One, absolutely, we didn't have to talk to each other. We would drive the dealers crazy. They would show us 24 prints or so, and I would know, and Marjorie would know, right away which one we were going to get serious about.

"Almost everything appealed to us," Vernon said. "Except that we were not interested in the work of a photographer who could see nothing beautiful in the world."

Vernon's world began in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Aug. 3, 1918. As a teenager, he served as a sitter for Marjorie, also a Brooklyn native, and her brother, but she did not play a major part in his life until years later.

He graduated from City College of New York with a degree in engineering and was a weatherman in the Army Air Forces during World War II.

While on a business trip to Los Angeles in 1955, Vernon was urged by mutual friends to look up Marjorie, who was widowed and living in Southern California. They married after a six-month courtship and decided to make Los Angeles their home.

According to the 1999 Times story, they were visiting friends in Carmel on New Year's Eve in 1976 when Vernon, out on a stroll, happened into the Weston Gallery owned by Margaret Weston, who was Edward Weston's daughter-in-law. Vernon saw a photograph he liked and gave her his card, and within a few weeks she traveled to Los Angeles with a selection of photographs for the Vernons to examine.

They snapped up 17 of them, and a lifelong passion started. The Vernons developed friendships with such giants of photography as Weston and Adams and scores of other photographers.

Over the years they held fast to their philosophy of collecting.

"We were interested in the image and what the image said to us," Leonard said. "For example, a dealer would come and say, 'You just have to have this in your collection.' And while I was pleasant, I would tell them, 'I don't have to have that picture at all.' "

"They had a great set of eyes between them," Carol Vernon told The Times.

Within the Los Angeles photography community, the Vernons were considered as influential as the legendary Medici family of Italy. The couple helped countless photographers, many of them not well-known, by purchasing their work or in some cases lending money to get a project completed.

They were generous in opening their home to school groups and others who wanted to tour their collection. Visitors were often "gape-mouthed at the Imogen Cunningham and Paul Strand prints hanging next to the bathroom door," the 1999 Times story reported.

Marjorie Vernon died of cancer at 76 in 1998.

In 1999, 150 photographs from their collection were displayed at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art in the exhibition "An Eclectic Focus: Photographs From the Vernon Collection." It was later shown at the Friends of Photography in San Francisco.

Vernon's philanthropic activities included support for the international aid group Operation USA. He also was a lifelong member of B'nai B'rith and past president of the United Nations Assn.

In addition to his daughter, Vernon is survived by sons Barry Vernon of Salt Lake City and Robert Vernon of Denver, a granddaughter and a great-grandson.

By John Thurber

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Mayor to Ease Permit Rules for Capturing City's Image

Posted By Administration, Sunday, October 28, 2007
Updated: Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Amateur photographers and independent filmmakers looking to chronicle bird life, take snapshots in Times Square or capture the distinctive thrum of New York's streets will not need to obtain permits or insurance under new rules being proposed by the Bloomberg administration.

The rules, to be released on Tuesday for public comment, would generally allow people using hand-held equipment, including tripods, to shoot for any length of time on sidewalks and in parks as long as they leave sufficient room for pedestrians.

The proposal, drafted as part of a settlement in a lawsuit, was revised after a passionate outcry over the summer from fine-art photographers, independent filmmakers and civil libertarians concerned that the original rules would have restricted unobtrusive video recording. Under the first proposal, any group of two or more people using a camera in a public location for more than half an hour, and any group of five or more people using a tripod for more than 10 minutes, would have needed permits and at least $1 million in insurance.

The new rules, which officials said reflect longstanding practice by the Mayor's Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting, are meant to distinguish between photographers and filmmakers who generally do not create congestion or unsafe conditions and those from major television, film and print productions that generally do. But instead of basing permit requirements on the number of people and the length of time involved in the shoot, the new proposal focuses on the level of sidewalk obstruction.

"I think that we've removed some of the restrictions that were the most worrisome to filmmakers," said Katherine Oliver, the commissioner of the film office. "We have defined exactly what equipment is, and we've taken away the time constraints, and we think we've come up with something that is quite workable right now."

The proposal would allow photographers and filmmakers who are not using vehicles or equipment like dolly tracks, lights and cables to proceed without permits on public property as long as they stay out of traffic and their activities do not prevent public use. The rules would also allow photographers and filmmakers to commandeer a portion of a public walkway without a permit, as long as they leave open at least half of its width, or eight feet, whichever is greater.

"The original proposed rules would have senselessly inserted film officials and police officers into everyday filming and photography," said Christopher Dunn, the associate legal director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, which brought the original lawsuit. "Happily, city officials learned from the public outcry, and these new rules assure that virtually all photographers and filmmakers will be free from permit and insurance requirements."

The film office originally agreed to write the rules as part of a settlement in April of a lawsuit brought on behalf of Rakesh Sharma, a documentary filmmaker who was detained by the police in 2005 after using a hand-held video camera in Midtown. Told that he was required to have a permit to film on city property, Mr. Sharma later pursued a permit and discovered that there were no written guidelines on how they were granted, according to the lawsuit.

When the original draft of regulations was released for comment in May, film officials defended it. But as criticism mounted, in the form of a passionate Internet campaign, letters and a satiric rap video, they agreed to rethink the rules, Ms. Oliver said.

"We never wanted to be hurtful, we always want to be helpful," she said, adding that the film industry is important to the city, responsible for more than 100,000 jobs and $5 billion a year in economic activity. "We want people to have access to the streets and parks and buildings in New York City and to be creative here."

Indeed, even critics of the first set of rules said that they were pleased with the response of the film office.

"I was really, really pleasantly surprised that a lot of the concerns about the specificity of rules about the tripods and number of people, all of that went away, and they really heard that these were obstacles," said Michelle Byrd, executive director of Independent Future Project, which advocates for independent filmmakers and arranged meetings between filmmakers and the film office.

Adding that the office has worked to accommodate smaller productions as well as large studio movies, she said, "I think that the mayor's office really prides itself on having free permits and lots of different concierge types of services, so this is a little bit of a black eye that they quickly sought to address."

A similar outcry resulted in 2004 when the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, concerned about the threat of terrorism, proposed banning unauthorized photography and filming in the subways. The authority, which is independent of the city government, eventually dropped the idea.

Under the new proposal for city streets, the use of obtrusive equipment is what "triggers a permit," said Mr. Dunn of the civil liberties union. Productions that block traffic or leave less than eight feet of open walkway would require permits and a minimum of $1 million in insurance, as would those using vehicles and equipment that is not hand-held. Officials can waive the insurance requirement if an applicant can show that it would create a financial hardship.

Filmmakers and photographers who want the comfort of proof that they are entitled to shoot in a public location would be able to get an optional permit, which does not require insurance. Film officials said they were surprised to learn how frequently independent and casual filmmakers and photographers were drawn into confrontations with building owners and the police over their rights to record.

Once they formally adopt the rules, film officials said, they plan to educate the public and government offices about the requirements. The rules are to appear in the journal City Record, as well as on the film office Web site,



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From the East, Contemporary Works for the West

Posted By Administration, Sunday, October 28, 2007
Updated: Tuesday, January 21, 2014

It has been some years since a group show of Japanese artists made its way to the New York metropolitan region. Japanese artists have shown at museums and galleries in that time, obviously, but there has not been a concentrated look at the work of the generation born in the 1960s and '70s.

Youth dominates "Out of the Ordinary/Extraordinary," a powerful touring survey of Japanese photographers at the New Jersey City University Galleries in Jersey City. Of the dozen artists in the show, most are in their 30s and 40s. Some have shown in the United States previously, but others are being seen here for the first time.

I usually don't care much for national shows, which bunch artists of dissimilar temperaments under the rubric of identity; just because artists come from the same place doesn't necessarily mean that their work has anything in common. But "Out of the Ordinary/Extraordinary" is an exception, for what binds the artists here is less their national identity than their choice of medium.

The coincidence of this exhibition with a survey of Indian photography and video at the Newark Museum right now reminds us of something that has been apparent in the art world for a while: the most interesting contemporary art is being made in the so-called new media. Computers are responsible, for they have opened up a limitless word of digital image making and manipulation.

There is much digitally manipulated imagery in this show. Hiroko Okada's photographs, to pick one example, are of pregnant men, their bellies swollen and stretched. The men laugh and smile for the camera, like happy, expectant mothers. But they look weird and deformed.

Another artist who plays around with digital manipulation is Tomoko Sawada. Born in 1977 in Kobe, she is the youngest artist in the show. Her imagery is also the most recognizably Japanese, for she makes work about being a young woman in Japan. In one series here she dressed up as 30 different women and had her photograph taken in the style of the "omiai" portrait, which is taken before an arranged marriage to send to a prospective groom.

For another series of photographs, "Cover" (2002), Ms. Sawada dressed up in fashions favored by Japanese teenage girls in cities. She spliced the shots together to create a row of women pouting and posing for the camera, as if for a magazine cover shoot. Cindy Sherman comes to mind, but also the photographs and videos of Ms. Sawada's compatriot Mariko Mori.

Japan has a recognized tradition of informal street photography, little of which is known or shown outside the country. Working in that vein is Keizo Motoda, a young artist from Osaka who captures images of chaotic modern city life in Japan. His pictures have dynamism and a charge that is often lacking from work of this kind. He also has an eye for quirky scenes, like a lone old street musician on a street corner, or a man prostrate on a sidewalk.

Shizuka Yokomizo also engages in street photography, though of her own kind. She sends letters to people whom she has never met asking them to stand in a room of their house at a particular date and time, curtains open, facing the street, where she is ready and waiting to snap their photograph. If they do not agree, they do not appear in the room at the designated time and the artist walks away.

The photographs themselves are perhaps not as interesting as the project, for not surprisingly they show people standing, sitting or talking on the telephone in a dimly lighted room. Ms. Yokomizo has only 10 minutes to take her pictures under the rules of the game, and later she mails the subjects a copy of one of her prints. Other than this she has no contact with them.

The exhibition is split between two places, the gallery in the art school and another gallery in the university administration building, about half a mile away. It is not an ideal arrangement, dividing up what is essentially a solid, coherent body of work. It also precludes the sort of comparisons and contrasts that make group surveys like this interesting and inviting. But if the setting is less than ideal, at least the show is here, with plenty to enjoy.



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Out From Behind a Camera at a Khmer Torture House Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide

Posted By Administration, Thursday, October 25, 2007
Updated: Tuesday, January 21, 2014

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — He had a job to do, and he did it supremely well, under threat of death, within earshot of screams of torture: methodically photographing Khmer Rouge prisoners and producing a haunting collection of mug shots that has become the visual symbol of Cambodia's mass killings.

Before killing the prisoners, the Khmer Rouge photographed, tortured and extracted written confessions from their victims.

Inmate at the notorious Tuol Sleng prison, where at least 14,000 people were tortured to death or sent to killing fields.

"I'm just a photographer; I don't know anything," he said he told the newly arrived prisoners as he removed their blindfolds and adjusted the angles of their heads. But he knew, as they did not, that every one of them would be killed.

"I had my job, and I had to take care of my job," he said in a recent interview. "Each of us had our own responsibilities. I wasn't allowed to speak with prisoners."

That was three decades ago, when the photographer, Nhem En, now 47, was on the staff of Tuol Sleng prison, the most notorious torture house of the Khmer Rouge regime, which caused the deaths of 1.7 million people from 1975 to 1979.

This week he was called to be a witness at a coming trial of Khmer Rouge leaders, including his commandant at the prison, Kaing Geuk Eav, known as Duch, who has been arrested and charged with crimes against humanity.

The trial is still months away, but prosecutors are interviewing witnesses, reviewing tens of thousands of pages of documents and making arrests.

As a lower-ranking cadre at the time, Mr. Nhem En is not in jeopardy of arrest. But he is in a position to offer some of the most personal testimony at the trial about the man he worked under for three years.

In the interview, Mr. Nhem En spoke with pride of living up to the exacting standards of a boss who was a master of negative reinforcement.

"It was really hard, my job," he said. "I had to clean, develop and dry the pictures on my own and take them to Duch by my own hand. I couldn't make a mistake. If one of the pictures was lost I would be killed."

But he said: "Duch liked me because I'm clean and I'm organized. He gave me a Rolex watch."

Fleeing with other Khmer Rouge cadres when the government was ousted by a Vietnamese invasion in 1979, Mr. Nhem En said he traded that watch for 20 tins of milled rice.

Since then he has adapted and prospered and is now a deputy mayor of the former Khmer Rouge stronghold Anlong Veng. He has switched from an opposition party to the party of Prime Minister Hun Sen, and today he wears a wristwatch that bears twin portraits of the prime minister and his wife, Bun Rany.

Last month an international tribunal arrested and charged a second Khmer Rouge figure, who is now being held with Duch in a detention center. He is Nuon Chea, 82, the movement's chief ideologue and a right-hand man to the Khmer Rouge leader, Pol Pot, who died in 1998.

Three more leaders were expected to be arrested in the coming weeks: the urbane former Khmer Rouge head of state, Khieu Samphan, along with the former foreign minister, Ieng Sary, and his wife and fellow central committee member, Ieng Thirith.

All will benefit from the caprice of Mr. Nuon Chea, who complained that the squat toilet in his cell was hurting his ailing knees and was given a sit-down toilet.

Similar toilets are being installed in the other cells, said a tribunal spokesman, Reach Sambath, "So they will all enjoy high-standard toilets when they come."

It is not clear whether any of the cases will be combined. But even if the defendants do not see one another, their testimony, harmonious or discordant, will put on display the relationships of some of the people who once ran the country's killing machine.

In a 1999 interview, Duch implicated his fellow prisoner, Mr. Nuon Chea, in the killings, citing among other things a directive that said, "Kill them all."

Mr. Nhem En's career in the Khmer Rouge began in 1970 at age 9 when he was recruited as a village boy to be a drummer in a touring revolutionary band. When he was 16, he said, he was sent to China for a seven-month course in photography.

He became the chief of six photographers at Tuol Sleng, where at least 14,000 people were tortured to death or sent to killing fields. Only a half dozen inmates were known to have survived.

He was a craftsman, and some of his portraits, carefully posed and lighted, have found their way into art galleries in the United States.

Hundreds of them hang in rows on the walls of Tuol Sleng, which is now a museum, their fixed stares tempting a visitor to search for meaning here on the cusp of death. In fact, they are staring at Mr. Nhem En.

The job was a daily grind, he said: up at 6:30 a.m., a quick communal meal of bread or rice and something sweet, and at his post by 7 a.m. to wait for prisoners to arrive. His telephone would ring to announce them: sometimes one, sometimes a group, sometimes truckloads of them, he said.

"They came in blindfolded, and I had to untie the cloth," he said.

"I was alone in the room, so I am the one they saw. They would say, 'Why was I brought here? What am I accused of? What did I do wrong?'"

But Mr. Nhem En ignored them.

"'Look straight ahead. Don't lean your head to the left or the right.' That's all I said," he recalled. "I had to say that so the picture would turn out well. Then they were taken to the interrogation center. The duty of the photographer was just to take the picture."



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Ernest Withers, 85, Civil Rights Photographer

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Updated: Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Ernest C. Withers, a photographer whose voluminous catalog of arresting black-and-white images illustrates a history of life in the segregated South in the 1950s and '60s, from the civil rights movement to the Beale Street music scene, died on Monday in Memphis. He was 85.

The cause was complications of a stroke, said his son Joshua, of Los Angeles.

Mr. Withers worked as a freelance photographer at a time when events of the day were not just newsworthy but historic occasions. He photographed the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. resting at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis after the March Against Fear in 1966, and riding one of the first desegregated buses in Montgomery, Ala., in 1956, along with the Rev. Ralph David Abernathy.

He photographed a mass of men all holding placards reading ''I Am a Man'' at the Memphis sanitation workers' strike, the last march led by Dr. King before his assassination in April 1968. He also covered Dr. King's funeral.

Mr. Withers was the only photographer who covered the entire trial of those charged with killing Emmett Till, a black teenager who was said to have whistled at a white woman. He also photographed the funeral of Medgar Evers, the civil rights activist who was killed in 1963, and the nine black students who integrated Central High School in Little Rock, Ark., in 1957.

Mr. Withers had the largest catalog of any individual photographer covering the civil rights movement in the South, said Tony Decaneas, the owner of the Panopitcon Gallery in Boston. The galley is the exclusive agent for Mr. Withers.

''Not only did he document civil rights history,'' Mr. Decaneas said, ''he was the epitome of a fine-art working journalist.''

Mr. Withers documented Memphis's bustling Beale Street blues scene, making both studio portraits of up-and-coming musicians and going inside the clubs for shots of live shows and their audiences. He photographed B. B. King, Aretha Franklin, Ike and Tina Turner, Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding, and Al Green, among others. In 1956 he photographed a young Mr. Presley arm in arm with Dr. King at a Memphis club.

Ernest C. Withers was born on Aug. 7, 1922, in Memphis. He worked as a photographer in the Army in World War II and started a studio when he returned.

He also worked for about three years as one of the first nine African-American police officers in Memphis.

Besides his son Joshua, also known as Billy, Mr. Withers is survived by his wife, Dorothy; two other sons, Andrew Jerome and Perry, both of Memphis; a daughter, Rosalind, of West Palm Beach, Fla.; 15 grandchildren; and 8 great-grandchildren.

Besides documenting music and civil rights, Mr. Withers also turned his lens on the last great years of Negro League baseball. His work appeared in publications like Time, Newsweek and The New York Times and has been collected in four books: ''Let Us March On,'' ''Pictures Tell the Story,'' ''The Memphis Blues Again'' and ''Negro League Baseball.''

In a 2002 interview in The Times, he said: ''I was trained as a high school student in history. But I didn't know that I would be recording the high multitude of imagery and history that I did record.''

Correction: October 18, 2007, Thursday Because of an editing error, an obituary yesterday about the photographer Ernest C. Withers, who documented life in the segregated South in the 1950s and '60s, from the civil rights movement to the Memphis blues scene, misidentified the person he photographed arm in arm with Elvis Presley at a Memphis club in 1956. It was B. B. King, not the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


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Nonsmoking Capricorn Museum Seeks Networking, Dating, Serious Relationships, Friends

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Updated: Tuesday, January 21, 2014

At the Walker's opening for "Picasso and American Art" last June, visitors posed for digital photos that were manipulated with a "cubism effect" and posted on Flickr within minutes.

In the spring of 2006, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis scheduled a concert by Sunn O))), an experimental noise band with an art-world following. The center listed the upcoming performance on its Web site's calendar and blog pages and, for the first time, on the MySpace page the museum had launched just a few months earlier. With no other promotion, the show sold out within days. It was an unusually direct example of the marketing power of MySpace, says Robin Dowden, director of the Walker's new-media initiatives. "Social networking sites present an opportunity to build a larger presence online and find audiences."

Like many struggling musicians and artists, institutions have come to realize that a Web site alone is not enough to attract attention online. As more people log onto MySpace, Facebook, and Flickr to look up their friends, seek out others with similar interests, and make evening plans, museums are jumping onto social networking sites to extend their cyberpresence. The sites are the latest answer in a long-running institutional debate over how best to exploit the potential of the Internet for marketing, community building, and staging art projects.

People meeting people is still the basic principle that drives networking, online or off. Social networking sites merely offer a new means of encountering like-minded souls. They allow members to post personal profiles and link to the profiles of other users who acknowledge them as friends, thereby creating webs of connections.

Institutions start to look like individuals when posting profiles on MySpace. The Walker identifies itself as an 80-year-old woman interested in "community engagement and enrichment"; New York's Printed Matter bookstore appears as a 31-year-old woman whose heroes are artist Sol LeWitt and critic Lucy Lippard, the store's founders; and Pittsburgh's Andy Warhol Museum is a 79-year-old man who is interested in "superstars." And they have friends, lots of them.

This summer the number of people linking to the Warhol Museum's MySpace page passed 10,000. The profile was first posted in November 2004 by visitor services manager Glenn Wonsettler, who himself had recently joined MySpace. "I thought this would help us beyond press materials," he says. "I try to make it a bridge to the museum and Web site."

Wonsettler filled out MySpace's basic online form and soon was receiving up to 40 requests a day to approve other users as friends. Now any visitor to the Warhol Museum's MySpace page can click on the links to its many friends and check out their profiles. Equally important, Wonsettler can regularly send the friends bulletins about upcoming events or news of discounts at the online store. Last year he sent out a group mailing asking for photo-booth portraits, and within three days 200 people had e-mailed their pictures. Those are now posted in the photos section on the museum's page.

One of the Warhol Museum's friends is Elizabeth Starkey, a 25-year-old video and mixed-media artist in Atlanta. She has been to the museum only once, when she was 12, but she says that visit made her decide to go to art school. She added the museum as a friend on MySpace, she says, "to see what it considers noteworthy in the art world." Befriending a museum online is also good marketing for artists, who expand their network to Web surfers who can click from the museum's page onto the artists' personal pages to see videos or images posted there.

For Wonsettler the Warhol Museum's MySpace page is essentially a low-maintenance marketing tool, but for Shelley Bernstein, the Brooklyn Museum's manager of information systems, the social networking sites help forge a virtual community just as vital as those off-line. "I started looking at what community means on the Internet, and to me, it was very obvious that it meant going onto these sites," she says. Maintaining multiple pages on the different networking sites is, in effect, conducting community outreach; drawing some of the museum's thousands of online friends to the building to raise admissions is not her goal. "The day that that becomes important is the day we are not acting as part of that Web community and we fail." Bernstein set up a MySpace profile for the museum last year and has since joined Facebook and Flickr.

MySpace is the largest social networking site, with approximately 66 million users, according to a recent Newsweek article. When Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation bought the site in 2005, its cachet slipped somewhat. Facebook started as a networking site for college students and opened its portals to everyone earlier this year. Still independently owned, it has overtaken MySpace as the "in" gathering place for the mostly young users of the social networking sites. Flickr, by contrast, is principally a photo storage and sharing site that allows members to create groups in which other members can post images.

MySpace lets users send automatic bulletins about upcoming events to all of their friends, whereas Facebook only notifies friends that a profile has been updated; users themselves must check for news. Bernstein notes that it is important to understand how this difference affects the tone in each community. "On MySpace you've got a lot of self-promotion going on," she says. "On Facebook it's practically the opposite. They like to keep it a small group."

A MySpace bulletin will result in a rise in traffic, according to Bernstein, who can tell which outside site, or referrer, has led each visitor to the museum's Web site. She can also tell how much traffic is drawn to different parts of its MySpace page. The most visited, or clicked on, section posts photographs from events at the museum, such as its First Saturday parties. But Flickr, where the museum displays a more extensive selection of event photos, has become one of the top referrers, surpassing MySpace and nearly matching Google. Both the Web and the museum world are "very visual cultures," observes Bernstein. Of all the social networking sites, Flickr, with its straightforward emphasis on photographs, tends to feed that hunger for images best, she says.

Joining the networking sites costs nothing, but maintaining the pages takes staff time. So why make the investment? "Mostly for the referral traffic, plus, to be on the edge of things," says Jennifer Rossi, the webmaster at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. "The first month we put up our MySpace page, we had more referrals from there than from the Smithsonian, our host Web site." Belonging to a social networking site also helps boost the museum's presence in the minds of the desirable 18-to-35 age demographic.

Rossi delegates maintenance of the MySpace page to museum interns, and each changes its focus slightly. Lately, the MySpace page has been used to promote the Hirshhorn's After Hours parties. The most recent gathering drew 2,000 people, up from 1,400 earlier in the year.

While one draw of these sites is the chance to make contact with the vast pool of users, the next generation of networking may be about connecting with smaller groups of people with more specific interests. When the Walker created a place for staff to write about the institution and the art world on its blogs, the museum also launched a networking site for Minnesota artists and the local arts community. The blogs have since become the most visited part of the Walker's Web site, and is an active hive of information about events and grants, as well as a place to share work. (The Walker was one of the first museums to recognize that viable art existed online; in 1998 it acquired the ada'Web site, an archive of early Net art.)

Commercial entitites are taking notice of the possibly lucrative art niche as well. In 2005, while waiting to move into a new space, the Saatchi Gallery launched a Web site to promote its art and allow artists and galleries to set up shop on individual pages. Lacking user-to-user links, the site is not technically a networking site, but its message boards allow open discussions of work, and the site draws millions of hits daily. And as this article went to press, Steven Henry Madoff, a former ARTnews executive editor and Time Inc. consultant, had just launched, a social networking site directed at artists, curators, collectors, and museums. It allows users to create portfolios, view new and popular works, search services and job listings, and keep a date book of events.

Whether using targeted sites like artCloud or one of the most visited sites in the world such as MySpace, museums are seeking to bring in as many people as possible. It's just that these visitors may not be walking in the front door anymore.
by Carly Berwick

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