Day In Boston

Man I needed it. When was the last time I was in a major city? DC, almost two months ago.

I don't know how to drive. Partially, this is because of my parents having had a car whose brakes would have provided excellent source material for the music of Neubauten when it was time for me to learn, part of it some idealistic youthful sympathy towards the environment and good urban design practice, and partially because I never expected to ever live anywhere where I would need one. The last year and three quarters is, outside of my stint at college, the only time I have bothered to even consider vaguely deciding to entertain the notion of even trying to imagine recriminating myself for it.

I didn't need one Tuesday.

Walked to the train, got one, and… well, you get it.

I've never loved Boston. I can't explain why. As various members of my extended family have lived and continue to live there, it should occupy a larger space in my heart. I've certainly been there enough. Some random thoughts. It's really American, somehow. White, complacent, educated but not always intellectual, and the intellectuals that are there seem somehow more self-satisfied and aloof. There's a lot of designer clothing stores (and I like nice clothing - I just never spend any money on it) yet, if I had the money, and lived there, I wouldn't shop at any of them. Because why bother? It's Boston. And I say that living in an even more casually-dressed city.

As in many American cities, there is a lot of culture, but it feels imported, learned secondhand, studied instead of felt. A mark of distinction, oriented around the consumer instead of the creator. It's worn like an ill-fitting suit, impressive initially but deeply inauthentic upon closer examination. Aspirational but empty of a desire that exists outside the gaze of others.

(OK I am being really harsh here, though this next part is true)

Also all of the black people I have ever been friends with seem to like it least of the major cities they have spent time in.

And yet, it'll do for now. Meaning it's cheaper and quicker than NYC and maybe I will buy a nice pair of jeans there some day and save them for wearing somewhere else.

I started my day with a bit of wandering, then went to the Institute for Contemporary Art.

It was only my second time there, and my dislike of the building has only increased since my first visit in 2008. To the uninitiated, it is a post-Modern modern building, I guess, in the sense that Modernism is an aesthetic, signified but the use of certain materials, etc., not a praxis of rigor (does that make sense?). Like a lot of buildings trying to look contemporary, it has aged badly.

The first time I went, I resented the building because it faced away from the street and towards the water. A pedestrian trying to reach it must traverse a large parking lot, all the while staring at the "ass" of the building, which has no doors. Nothing was different today, except that the building was dustier, like a glass cube left in the middle of a room where drywall is being installed. But it's really the orientation that bugs me the most. Remember what I said about Boston above. Typical that the building looks it's best to whomever lives across the water and can stare at it, not the people, you know, actually going inside.

On to the art, though. Or Art, oops. Or?

The first exhibit was entitled "Expanding the Field of Painting" and, even though I have not been a regular museum goer for years, I feel like I have seen this before. Not hard to picture. The blurb on the wall always says something like "people keep thinking painting is dead but it's not". And all the artwork used to bolster this argument is empty formalism. Today was no exception, sadly. Nothing sucked, nothing made me care, either. To all the artists worried that painting is losing or has lost both its pre-eminence within the world of art and also within culture and society at large, the solution is not to glue last night's leftovers on to the canvas (if only I had seen something like that today [DIBS]). The solution: instead of painting paintings, try painting something else.

The second exhibit was of photos (and some videos) by LaToya Ruby Frazier, all depicting the wreckage of the formerly relatively prosperous town outside of Pittsburgh in which she was raised, now decimated by the disappearance of steel industry jobs, and also the effects of that industry on the women in her family, including herself. Some of the photos were formally excellent and moving. The one frustration that I had: the artist herself states that she was influenced by Dorothea Lange's work, and perhaps that is why she chose to shoot in black and white. It could also be because black and white photography still seems to possess a certain authenticity and gravitas that meshes well with the subject matter. However, in this context, I found it frustrating.

For instance, some of the pictures were of a hospital that served the town until it was demolished for financial reasons. The pictures were technically excellent, if a little boring in terms of composition. But here's the thing. The hospital was demolished in 2010. On the one hand, yes, the past, but, on the other hand, not. "Not" because the photographer was not only concerned with the literal destruction of the hospital, not merely trying to depict an event, but is also concerned with the larger social, cultural and economic issues that lead to the demolishing, and the ramifications of that action. These issues are not specific to that town, they are emblematic of late capitalism. At least for me, using black and white made everything too specific, too resigned, somehow; the more expansive commentary was somehow foreclosed upon.

After Frazier, a show dedicated to Amy Sillman. I can't say anything negative or positive. I just didn't connect, and I think it is my fault.

After the art of others, I picked up a tool to further mine. Got a massive discount purchasing it secondhand. 

The place where I picked up the pedal happened to be across the street from a record store, so… guess what? I threw a hard drive filled with MP3s through their window.

Of course not. Digging, of course.

Though I'm actually getting sick of it. Not records, digging. Back before eBay and Discogs changed the market completely, I used to love digging. There were always gems, and they were always cheap. Especially since, well, most shops were run by old rock dudes who didn't care about anything after 197x. Now, deals and lucky finds are much, much more infrequent. The prospect of looking through 500 unsorted 12" singles becomes more daunting when the rewards have already been picked out and placed on the wall for inflated prices. At a certain point, I start to feel like an employee, paying for the privilege of sorting through the shop's records, or worse yet, not even paying, not even finding anything after all that work

And yet, I did find three great records for two dollars apiece. Two classic post-disco jams by Kano and Loose Ends, and a classic house record from the early 1990s.

Once I gave in to lust, I went all the way.

Next was Barnes and Noble. Forgive me or don't. Barnes and Noble seems like mecca at this point to me. I wanted specific things, they had them, though I ended up buying something I hadn't known about when I walked in, Ben Davis' 9.5 Theses On Art And Class. Yes. Do it.

For those who remember my reading list from August, well, I don't know what it is, but I can't seem to read anything but criticism. I've already made more progress in a few days on my new book than all the other things (history, fiction) that I have been trying to read. What does that mean? I don't know.

Then, then, then, then. Linear narratives are boring.

Then I bought more records (DNA On DNA, the repress of Kraftwerk's Computer World that has been, for some reason, much harder to track down than all of the other albums that were repressed at the same time).

Then I wandered. Surprised? You? Nah.

Then I ate at Wendy's because it was all I can find (Boston, you are so cosmopolitan with all of your kitchens closing at 10pn),

Then, a beer at a hotel bar, which is my favorite kind of bar, where nobody knows my name.

Then train then home. Blah blah blah. I guess if I wanted to be a real writer, I would have stuck to the Art, would have used more formal language, and would have tried to offer some real insight. Has the phrase "then I ate at Wendy's" ever appeared in Frieze?


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