Instead of a Revolution
Post #1857 • February 3, 2020, 6:07 PM • 1 Comment
In December, the New York Times ran an article titled “A ‘Great Wealth Transfer’ Is Coming. What Will It Mean for Art?”
The Wealth-X report estimates that America’s wealthiest will pass on $8.8 trillion of assets over the next decade. Most of those are baby boomers currently in their mid-60s and older who over the years have benefited from financial deregulation, globalization, and rising real estate and stock prices. They will hand down assets to members of Generation X, in their 40s and 50s, and, to a lesser extent, to millennials now in their mid-20s and 30s, the report says.
Some of this wealth will be denominated in art objects. But... but...
But will today’s wealthy 30-somethings and 40-somethings develop a passion for buying art that will maintain its price? Digitally minded millennials’ widely observed preference for experiences rather than possessions might suggest otherwise.... “At the moment, people aged about 60 are at the peak of the earning capacity,” said Marc Porter, the chairman of Christie’s America, “and they are buying postwar art that was collected by their parents’ generation. The cycle will change.”
Drew Watson, an art services specialist at Bank of America Private Bank, said there was a cultural difference between pre-boomer collectors, motivated by “connoisseurship and aesthetic appreciation,” and subsequent generations, who had “more of an awareness of the financial component of art.”
So note, first of all, the movement from aesthetic appreciation of the Silent Generation to the financial appreciation of the Boomers.
Changes in taste could also be a ticking bomb for the Andy Warhol market.... A Warhol “Marilyn” silkscreen painting valued at $50 million is expected to be included in next year’s eagerly awaited auction of the $700 million collection of the New York divorcees Harry and Linda Macklowe. That painting may well fetch a spectacular price. But in the long-term, will there be a global depth of demand to support the prices of the many canvases accumulated by boomer collectors?
Will 30-something tech magnates connect to Elvis Presley and Elizabeth Taylor?
“You have to be an artist and an activist who fits into a social justice or environmental narrative,” [Art Fiduciary Advisors managing partner Doug] Woodham said, characterizing the kind of art that today’s younger collectors want to buy.
Where that will leave the market for dead white male avant-garde artists is anyone’s guess.
Then note, secondly, the movement from the aesthetic to the political appreciation of the Millennials. It would be hilarious if the Warhol market finally tanked because his work isn’t woke enough.
I’m going to throw out a thesis here that might merit a book: we did not adequately fix down a comprehensible basis for aesthetic quality at the time when we really needed one, in the first half of the 20th century, when Cubism and related projects started blowing everything apart. Ideally this basis would have gotten hammered out in the first couple of decades in Paris, or during the ’40s in New York. But each of those milieus were more or less continuing the sort of analysis that had gone for much of the 19th century. Thus they took the continuity between modern art and older art, and the continuity between modern taste and older taste, for granted. Modern art is continuous with older art in the ways that matter, but not in the obvious way that the Baroque is continuous with the High Renaissance or Impressionism with the Barbizon School.
In a perfect scenario, a philosopher in 1945 would have situated art quality in the objective world, defined expansively but in a way that accommodates Kant (instead of rejecting him as object-oriented ontology does). It would have anticipated someone like Sidney Janis coming along and recognizing Dadaism (which, by 1945, hardly anyone had thought about for thirty years) as the ultimate commercial venture, and started a critique along those lines in advance. She—let’s make her a she—would have done this with such force that her contribution was seen to do for aesthetic philosophy what Pollock had done for painting.
But this would have been too much to ask for. Clement Greenberg said that questions of taste and judgment
are unanswerable. You know sometimes you can enjoy unanswerable questions. And there’s nothing mystic about it, either, or mystical.... And if you’re interested enough, read Kant’s Critique of Judgement and then read Croce. If you’re interested enough, read Croce’s Aesthetics. You’ll see far better minds than mine wrestle with these questions and come up with no good answers.
Instead we had Heidegger, who endorsed a form of de-aestheticized historicism that we’ll be seeing later. It’s unfortunate, because Heidegger’s rejection of subject-object dualism could have introduced a fresh angle on the problem. But Nazis gonna Nazi. I know, we’re expected to be forgiving about Heidegger’s trash politics. But personally, I find it impossible to read his analysis of Van Gogh’s shoes in The Origin of the Work of Art, a veritable enconium to earth and essences, and not see connections all over the place to Blut und Boden.
Meanwhile, the Analytic schools didn’t do any better. Paul Crowther:
In terms of clarifying the centrality of art and the aesthetic, the Analytic tradition is now more or less useless. It has recently tried to re-brand itself as ‘Anglo-American’ but is better described as White Aesthetics. Instead of regarding the Duchampian tradition of ready-mades as secondary and parasitic upon traditions of sensuously embodied art-making – as (in other words) something whose artistic status has to be justified, Analytic philosophers have now made this tradition, dogmatically, into the very focus of artistic meaning. In this way, over thirty thousand years of artistic practices in different parts of the world and different historical periods, are made subservient to the marginal idiosyncracies of a white Euromerican avant-garde elite. I regard this as a tacit form of racism.
The narrowness of White Aesthetics is shown by the fact that it appears to be of no significance to anyone except its own practitioners.
Continental school aesthetics simply were not worked out well enough to provide an alternative. Crowther continues:
[Heidegger, Adorno and Merleau-Ponty] all have important insights but are somewhat one-sided in the way they frame general problems in aesthetics from their particular philosophical positions. Elliptical strategies bring their own internal problematics in accordance with the particular philosophical method involved.
(Let’s pause to appreciate the likelihood that Greenberg became the great critic he was because of his not getting roped into aesthetic philosophy, not in spite of it. He wrestled as seriously with Kant’s aesthetics as any professional philosopher. This apparently left him with the sense that the whole philosphical enterprise was not equipped to deal properly with aesthetics. In 2009 Joachim Pissarro wrote an interesting essay about the ways in which Greenberg’s thought tracks with Kant’s, and doesn’t. He passes some judgments, responsible ones, against Greenberg in Kant’s favor. I find that I can read many of them the other way. “For Kant, aesthetics is about communicating one’s views to others. The central position of communication in Kant’s system was something Greenberg completely ignored, had no need for, and could not deal with.” I’m pretty sure that’s because it was wrong.)
That gap of understanding produced an anxious situation that explains what happened in the second half of the 20th century, in which democratically and socialistically inclined thinkers attempted to reunify the split by situating taste on firmer ground: self-evident relations of power. Hence the dissolution of aesthetics into politics, with financialization moving into the gap of evaluation where aesthetics used to be. Its justifications are historicist (“Continental”) or propositional (“Analytic”) or both or neither as needed to sound credible. If those justifications sound to you like claptrap that doesn’t bear a mote of examination, then you’re not the intended audience. Or rather, the message to you is implicit. It says, “You can’t stop us.”
That brings us to a present art world dominated by money and politicized in the extreme. Paradoxically, this produces an art even harder for the uninitiated to recognize as such, even as such art becomes ever easier to interpret, as it either hails from the aforementioned social justice or environmental narrative, or puts forth false or cynical indicators that it might mean something but is in fact a blank screen for interpretive projections (i.e., the Cattelan banana).
But on the contrary, relations of power are not firmer ground, at all. We’re just not willing to take what was done to the appreciation of beauty and do it to the appreciation of fairness. To recap, taste was found to be an artifact of socialization. Pierre Bourdieu, from the introduction from Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste (1979):
...the encounter with a work of art is not ‘love at first sight’ as is generally supposed, and the act of empathy, Einfühlung, which is the art-lover’s pleasure, presupposes an act of cognition, a decoding operation, which implies the implementation of a cognitive acquirement, a cultural code. This typically intellectualist theory of artistic perception directly contradicts the experience of the art-lovers closest to the legitimate definition; acquisition of legitimate culture by insensible familiarization within the family circle tends to favour an enchanted experience of culture which implies forgetting the acquisition. The ‘eye’ is a product of history reproduced by education. This is true of the mode of artistic perception now accepted as legitimate, that is, the aesthetic disposition, the capacity to consider in and for themselves, as form rather than function, not only the works designated for such apprehension, i.e., legitimate works of art, but everything in the world, including cultural objects which are not yet consecrated—such as, at one time, primitive arts, or, nowadays, popular photography or kitsch—and natural objects. The ‘pure’ gaze is a historical invention linked to the emergence of an autonomous field of artistic production, that is, a field capable of imposing its own norms on both the production and the consumption of its products....
The science of taste and of cultural consumption begins with a transgression that is in no way aesthetic: it has to abolish the sacred frontier which makes legitimate culture a separate universe, in order to discover the intelligible relations which unite apparently incommensurable ‘choices’, such as preferences in music and food, painting and sport, literature and hairstyle. This barbarous reintegration of aesthetic consumption into the world of ordinary consumption abolishes the opposition, which has been the basis of high aesthetics since Kant, between the ‘taste of sense’ and the ‘taste of reflection’, and between facile pleasure, pleasure reduced to a pleasure of the senses, and pure pleasure, pleasure purified of pleasure, which is predisposed to become a symbol of moral excellence and a measure of the capacity for sublimation which defines the truly human man. The culture which results from this magical division is sacred. Cultural consecration does indeed confer on the objects, persons and situations it touches, a sort of ontological promotion akin to a transubstantiation.
Money creates taste, as Jenny Holzer summed it up in one of her “Truisms” from the ’90s. Bourdieu admits that the above is barbarity, however necessary to his exercise. But the barbarity need not stop there.
Empathy itself seems to be on the chopping block in Bourdieu’s formulation. (Einfühlung, empathy, is literally “one-contact,” with fühlen meaning “to feel.” German doesn’t always work that way etymologically but the connections are evocative.) In fact, there are a lot of human processes at least as basic as taste. It’s not clear how one could say that taste is the product of an act of cognition in turn based on the prevailing social template, but none of the other processes are. How could it be so for the ability to detect quality, but not the ability to detect fairness?
And if fairness is as much of a social construct as taste is supposed to be, then the felt sense of fairness is likewise just a reflection of the social order, and just as much a by-product of power. If fairness, like Bourdieu’s taste, is just another way that class hierarchies perpetuate themselves, or some similar artifact of the ambient social template, then that gut sense of rightness or justice that you think is your bottom line when it comes to fairness is no more substantive than your seemingly innate sense of beauty.
It follows from there that the political critique of taste is a non-starter. The dismissal of an act of taste as a side effect of capitalism, white supremacy, male desire, or what have you is itself commensurately dismissable. Such phenomena marginalize people who already don’t have enough power? So what? That sense of fairness is an artifact of an arbitrary social arrangement. The allocation of power is just there, like the art object before it is reified as such via social power by displaying it in the proverbial white cube. All art is political? I have bad news for you—your political convictions have no more significance than your favorite color.
But in fact it’s worse than that. We are at that point living in Max Stirner’s world: rights don’t exist, morality is a ghost, property is whatever you can take and defend from further theft, and the ideal society is one in which individuals use each other for personal pleasure. That’s not an entirely hypothetical scenario. The zeitgeist that produced Bourdieu also produced an intellectual circle typified to some degree by Gabriel Matzneff, author of a mid-1970s novel celebrating the teen loves he enjoyed whilst in his thirties. He is the subject of a new memoir by a woman who was fourteen when the fifty-year-old Matzneff initiated a relationship with her. He is also the subject of a newly opened police investigation, as the French age of consent is fifteen. How is visceral disgust at the notion of a fifty-year-old man relieving his loins into a fourteen-year-old girl defensible on a template where such reactions are the product of an act of cognition, one that in theory could be arranged any old way, and in practice exists to propagate oppression? What justifies that earlier barbarity but not this one?
“The fall of peoples and mankind will invite me to my rise,” proclaimed Stirner. (I am cursed in this life to worry about things that hardly anyone is thinking about. One of them is that we are in fact living in Max Stirner’s world, and we cope with this by lying to ourselves on a grandiose scale.)
1. You discount the ability to detect aesthetic quality as an artifact of the social power structure, and thus lose any standing to critique that particular arrangement of power because the ability to detect fairness is vulnerable to the same discounting.
2. You accept the ability to detect aesthetic quality as an activity of the material universe. This wins you back a standing for your sense of justice, but you lose aesthetics as a way of critiquing the social power structure because the former is an autonomous process and may indicate nothing in particular about the latter.
It seems reasonable to suggest that a given act of cognition needs a brain, attached to a body, in which to occur. We start with a material substrate, sensory and cognitive processes take place upon it, cues come in from the social world as well as the natural world that inform those processes, and systems of consciousness—detections of visual quality and fairness—emerge from the interaction of all of these elements, causing each of them to alter over time. Taste is neither wholly social nor wholly biological and does not support any particular political agenda. It can be cultivated and informed but not revolutionized as many would like. The same goes for the sense of fairness. In general that isn’t a problem. But more often than we’d like it’s going to produce bad cases at the margins, like Matzneff’s, which are neither tolerable nor amenable to remedy, and any rules we come up with to judge them are doomed to arbitrariness.
Another such case is cultural appropriation. There are people out there who get spitting mad about it. But even to define the phenomenon is to wallow in absurd incoherence. It was recently enshrined on the walls of the Peabody Essex Museum, causing Matthew Stewart to observe:
America’s oldest continuously operating museum, PEM has long displayed exotic artifacts associated with the maritime trade—but patrons must now read a guilt-ridden disclaimer when visiting the museum’s exhibits. “Cultural appreciation and exchange are vital parts of any society, but appropriation is complicated and tied up with complex power dynamics and histories of oppression,” the message reads. “Cultural appropriation occurs when ‘appreciation’ becomes theft, when ‘exchange’ is one-sided, or when marginalized cultures are reduced to stereotypes.”
As with other definitions of cultural appropriation, the PEM statement does not offer any guidelines on how to know when “appreciation becomes theft” or when “exchange is one-sided.” The best it can offer is a statement from Jezebel founder Anna Holmes: “You can’t always prove appropriation. But you usually know it when you see it.”
Jezebel, those trusted arbiters of rectitude from whose judgments the work of the museum may proceed with the surest of ethical footing. I wonder if Holmes has any idea that she’s channeling Potter Stewart, who lived to regret putting it that way. Mind you, people’s careers are getting destroyed over this. That’s leaving aside all the online harassment and spectacular self-owns. By all means, let’s base it on phantoms. What’s the worst that could happen?
Since we must keep clawing reality back from terminology, I remind readers that “social justice” mentioned earlier is entirely the progressive conception thereof, and the “environmental narrative” is largely a proxy fight against capitalism. It’s my wont, I know, to lay blame at the feet of progressivism. But in the case of the above confusion I think the culprit is democracy or egalitarianism itself, which, as I’ve written before, may be inimical, over time, to artistic civilization. If that sounds like a knock against democracy, I make it with full knowledge that it has been the best item on the socio-political menu since at least the start of the 20th century. (Still better offerings are getting cooked up off-menu, but we’ll get to that later.) And what we’re dealing with now is not necessarily the effects of egalitarianism, but the dregs of egalitarian aspirations left over after the second half of the 20th century, during which time those who could milked the institutions dry, picked clean the low-hanging fruit in the economic system, and in some cases, screwed all the teenagers whom they could get alone for fifteen minutes. I know people who went to art school who could describe their teachers in exactly those terms.
Important analysis of this collapse is being conducted by Eric Weinstein, who has been hard at work on a series of podcasts for the last six months. They cover a wide area of topics, but over time he has been building up a thesis about a phenomenon he calls the DISC, which stands for the Distributed Idea Suppression Complex. I’m going to borrow the short explanation from Joseph Parrish, a Democratic Party aspirant who got rolled over by the DISC in the party’s North Carolina machinery.
It is an abstract entity that permeates our major institutions, primarily in academia, the mainstream media, and politics. Its function is to gatekeep ideas that may challenge or undermine a prevailing elite, even if such a challenge is not the intent. Critically, this is not a conspiracy theory. The crucial detail of Weinstein’s model here is that nothing is planned or orchestrated. It is more like an autoimmune response and nothing at all like the Illuminati. Our brains don’t have to command our white blood cells to attack foreign objects. They basically just do that on their own. This DISC functions in a similar manner. It is a decentralized system with very few conscious decisions. It is an unspoken agreement for most of those at the top of our social hierarchies.
Episode 19 of the podcast (I’m not sure how to link it because that will depend on your player, but here you go) features his little brother Bret, who recounts the harrowing tale of how his work was stolen by a more established academic. (Bret is also the biology genius who was chased out of The Evergreen State College by woke totalitarians, and was subsequently ignored and then maligned by the progressive media.) Episodes 18 and 19 were the first time I heard Eric talk about the DISC, and it tickled me because in 2016 I wrote about Dissociative Institutional Collapse.
At some point in the life cycle of an organization, milieu, or really any group activity executed on a scale large enough to be referred to in aggregate (e.g., blogging), the values that members profess and what the group actually does go wildly out of sync with one another. This isn’t simple hypocrisy. It’s kidding yourself, scaled up to hundreds, thousands, or millions of self-kidders, and which finally becomes an existential threat to the institution in question.
I was an “S” away from the same acronym, though I had the advantage of being able to make DIC jokes for the rest of the essay. Anyway, we’ve detected something similar. Eric Weinstein has more IQ in his eyelashes than I have in my whole head, and I don’t at all mean to imply that he derived anything from something I’d written. Rather, I think he’s right that history has saddled us Gen Xers with the dismaying awareness that the systems in place do not even slightly serve their ostensible functions, and it’s time to disrupt them, even from our places of relative disempowerment. Our mission, to borrow a phrase, is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, and the Boomers are too comfortable and the Millennials too afflicted to do it themselves. (This is a generalization. If you’re an exception, more power to you.) In Weinstein’s phrasing, it’s time to crash the plane into the control tower.
The moment in which one realizes this is fraught. Jon Baskin, "On the Hatred of Literature":
I can still remember when, at the end of one of the departmental survey classes—our teachers having delivered a lecture on New Historicism as the culminating achievement of twentieth-century literary criticism—a student stood up in the back of the room. Nearly giving way to what seemed to me at the time (but not now) an embarrassing overflow of emotion, she accused the professors of “hating” literature. We had become English majors in the first place, she went on, not because novels and poems told us interesting things about history or politics but because they made us feel less alone, captivated us with their beauty, helped us to better know ourselves and the world. The professors, as far as I can remember, responded politely: after all, the student was only a sophomore. She would learn....
What my classmate in the survey course had precociously recognized was that we were being introduced to a phenomenon both subtler and more sinister than the neglect or ignorance of literature. Our professors had a great deal invested in novels and poems; and it was probably even the case that, at some point, they had loved them. But they had convinced themselves that to justify the “study” of literature it was necessary to immunize themselves against this love, and within the profession the highest status went to those for whom admiration and attachment had most fully morphed into their opposites. Their hatred of literature manifested itself in their embrace of theories and methods that downgraded and instrumentalized literary experience, in their moralistic condemnation of the literary works they judged ideologically unsound, and in their attempt to pass on to their students their suspicion of literature’s most powerful imaginative effects.
All over the damn place, ostensible guardians of our highest aspirations are guarding nothing except their own entrenched positions. This is going on in literature, in the sciences, in art, everywhere.
So how do we take out the control tower? In a word: decentralization.
The control mechanisms of the DISC could be described in older terms. Alas, they’re Max Stirner’s. Stronger emphasis is mine.
Our societies and States are without our making them, are united without our uniting, are predestined and established, or have an independent standing of their own, are the indissolubly established against us egoists. The fight of the world today is, as it is said, directed against the “established.” Yet people are wont to misunderstand this as if it were only that what is now established was to be exchanged for another, a better, established system. But war might rather be declared against establishment itself, the State, not a particular State, not any such thing as the mere condition of the State at the time; it is not another State (e.g. a “people’s State”) that men aim at, but their union, uniting, this ever-fluid uniting of everything standing. A State exists even without my co-operation: I am born in it, brought up in it, under obligations to it, and must “do it homage.” It takes me up into its “favor,” and I live by its “grace.” Thus the independent establishment of the State founds my lack of independence; its condition as a “natural growth,” its organism, demands that my nature do not grow freely, but be cut to fit it.
Much of the insidious nature of the institutions is in their effectiveness as a repository, not only of knowledge, but credibility. The former deserves protection. The latter does not, and may even be an invitation to attack. Much of what goes on in the institutions—universities, governments, treasuries, museums, and more—could be transferred from centralized depositories to distributed networks, characterized by connected nodes with established protocols of association, duplication, movement, and exit. It’s tempting to smash the tower, but what we really want is to smash the control.
We need our own networks. Darby had it right:
There’s a whole underground of abstract painting that doesn’t get any publicity. With everyone going in so many different directions, it’s getting to the point that you can choose your own genre, and the genres will be able to split off into their own tribes. The enlargement of the art world means, I think, that the pie is getting bigger for everyone. The abstract painters ought to recognize that they have their own art world, and should have their own magazines and have their own critics and all that so they don’t have to reconcile what they’re doing with everyone else. If that could come about you could get a Renaissance of abstract painters competing against each other, not giving a damn about the other stuff, and you could start getting abstraction to take advantage of all the things that got cut off back in the early sixties when Pop Art and Minimalism took over the market. There are a lot of people not in the market who understand good painting and can recognize it. They’re all over the place and they just need their own family.... You need a tribe and a big family and art teachers and writers. Get smart people together who can create something worthwhile.
I edited that from a recorded interview. For the sake of clarity I elided Darby’s mentioning that really, you could get the figurative painters in on this too. The rallying point isn’t abstraction per se, though it could be. Rather it’s art that commands, not merely requests, a certain kind of aesthetic consideration. Credibility must be situated there, and the mechanisms for display, sale, critique, and scholarship flow forth from the people who can establish it, in the direction of others who can do likewise or see the activity for what it is. An art world based on such principles would look very different than the one we have now.
But how, precisely? That I can’t work out for you, but it’s important for everyone who feels dissatisfied about the status quo—that means you—to push out in commensurate directions, in whatever small way it occurs to you. Setting up the new system is an enormous task and each of the steps therein is minuscule. It might just mean checking on the well being of a fellow artist you haven’t communicated with in a while. That sort of thing makes family. And of course grander gestures are welcome but without the human connection they’re unlikely to go anywhere. I find what Smuggler (one of the chefs of the aforementioned off-menu socio-political dishes) had to say about this both humbling and inspiring:
[Communities] don’t just happen but have to be nurtured by people that invest in the community for the sake of the community. This is a lot of effort with questionable returns. One aspect there is that communities form around an initial seed of ideas, people, and means—cultural behavior -, and then copy and modify that initial model. If that model is weak, community will not form. The modeling by founding members of a community must be highly engaged, welcoming, and open to adaption. Founding members must also be active in helping new people to become engaged in a true and meaningful way, by giving them responsibility and power to influence and decide. There have also been things that genuinely surprised me. People have surprised me in good and bad ways. A particular bad way has been that I had to realize how many people are just mad, confused, or destructive. They use anonymous communities to vent their anger, frustration and lust for power. I never before realized that this issue is so wide spread with so many people, and it concerns me. But the reverse is also true. I have been surprised by people who genuinely try to grow, and how many people are just awesome—on a purely human, emphatic level....
People do feel pain, they feel oppressed and powerless in the face of the systems they live in and cannot adapt to. This leads to the wrong conclusion that the pain goes away when the system is brought down. But that is not the case. You have to have something in its place. That something, a new way of doing things, has to be built first, with all its tedious aspects. It requires building social, cultural and legal frameworks, none of which can be created by fiat but have to be discovered and constructed by a community of people, a society. Otherwise, after revolution, you end up with nothing at all, except for smoldering ruins.... A friend of mine (Paul Rosenberg) once asked me a question that I think applies here: “What do you envision you will do after the revolution?” That is a really good question, and I think one should really consider the answer. When that answer is found, then I think one has found what one should do instead of a revolution. If what keeps you from accomplishing your dreams needs to be overturned by revolutionary means, then the most radical thing you can do is to start living now, doing now, what you dream of.
Great power resides in that last line. We could do worse than act accordingly.
The enemy of the network is isolation. This is where it gets tricky for visual artists, because we’re natural isolators: introverts, solo operators, people for whom hanging out in a room all day with uncompleted art objects sounds like a good idea. I have friends whom I’ve been trying to get together with for years. Isolation, and not just theirs and mine, is exacerbated by political polarization that I suspect is almost completely the fault of Twitter and Facebook, in that order. I know, $_POLITICIAN is going to burn down the world and $_IDEA will save it if only the damned $_PARTY would get out of the way. Whatever. Stop posting on social media and start bringing people soup.
That sounds sentimental but I can’t emphasize it enough. A few weeks ago I attended a screening of Hyman Bloom: The Beauty of All Things at the Vilna Shul. A panel afterwards included Erica E. Hirschler, who curated the Bloom show at the MFA that I wrote about for The New Criterion, Angélica Allende Brisk, who wrote and directed the film, and Stella Bloom, Hyman’s widow. Stella extended an impromptu invitation to Nina Bohlen, Bloom’s first wife, who was sitting in the audience. Upon ascending to the front of the room it was obvious that Stella and Nina adored each other and were in regular contact.
Isolated from New York because Bloom didn’t care for what was going on in painting down there, all but snubbed by the Boston art scene (the MFA didn’t put on a show of his work between 1959 and 2019), and living in New Hampshire, Bloom somehow inspired a lively social circle around him that sustained him creatively and materially through his last days. As the conversation went on amongst the panelists, it became clear that the glue binding this improbable-sounding circle was Stella Bloom’s cooking. That cooking, of course, was attached to Stella’s hospitality, magnanimity, and dedication to Hyman, which continues unabated after his passing. But clearly, too, it was the food itself.
We need that hypothetical book from 1945, but we need our art family more.