"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Monthly Archives: September 2016

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Morning Art


Painting by Alex Russell Flint (via This Isn’t Happiness).

In a Pinch


C.C. Sabathia pitched into the 7th last night, didn’t allow a run, and the Yanks hit three solo home runs late (two by pinch-hitters—Ellsbury, Didi—and the other one, of course, by Sanchez), good for a tidy, 3-0 win against the Dodgers.

Later this afternoon—4:oo p.m. start—they’ll face Clayton Kershaw as they look to take the series.

Never mind the chill:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Picture by Bags

Okay—Take Two


C’mon Fellas, how about givin’ ‘em a hard time tonight, whadda ya say, hah?

Never mind the gorgeous autumnal chill:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Picture by Bags

Cooling Off?


Aaron Judge hit a long home run for the Yanks last night into the left field bleachers, a true bomb, and that was about the only thing worth savoring for the home team. The Dodgers—with plenty of their partisans cheering in the stands—rolled over the Yanks, 8-2 (how you like that short porch in right field, fellas?). Nothing to see here, carry on.

Picture by Bags

Hello, Old Chums


The L.A. Dodgers are in town for three games against the upstart Yanks.

This should be fun. And if the Yanks lose, our pal Jon Weisman will be happy and I can never argue with that.

Never mind the yearbooks:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Picture by Bags

Encore Une Fois?


Yanks win again. Hell, no use steering now.

Never mind the breeze:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Picture by Bags

Let it Rain


A little wet in the Bronx has pushed the start back some.

They’ll get this one in—after another big win last night (despite the 3 rain delays).

Never mind that nasty kid, Archer:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Picture by Bags

Hot Hand


Yanks are surging as the bonus fun continues.

Never mind the heat (oy, is it hot):

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Picture by Bags

Towel Off

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at New York Yankees

The Yanks and Rays hit a lot of solo home runs last night in a soporific affair at the Stadium. In the 8th inning, Michael Kay complained about the deadly pace of the game. I listened to the 9th on the radio where John and Suzyn had similar complaints—and they weren’t wrong.

This one ended on a positive note, when Tyler Austin’s solo shot in the bottom of the 9th won it for the Yanks. Final Score: 5-4.

Another win. More fun. Boring or not, we will take it.

[Photo Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports]

Now What?


Dare we ask for more? (Dare, dare). You know how the Rays give the Yanks problems.

Never mind the Indian Summer:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Picture by Bags

Serve You Up like Stove Top Stuffin’


So last night was the game the Yanks should have lost, right? Because they don’t sweep series when they matter in 2016, right? Uh, maybe not. They beat the Jays 2-0 last night thanks to marvelous work by Bryan Mitchell and Luis Severino, and the Bombers sit just a couple of games outside of the second playoff spot.

Stranger things have happened.

Indeed they have.

Fun in the Sun


Hilarious win for the Yanks last night. Kick-in-the-nuts loss for the Jays. Oh, man, was it ever sweet, with Brett Gardner’s lucky-ass, snow-cone catch as the topper.

Dare we ask for more? (Dare, dare.)

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Bottom’s Up

Buy Yarn Bags

It’s not hot, not cool. Little humid, breezy, and overcast here in the Bronx. More funski to be had against those damn Jays tonight.

Here’s hoping our boys give ‘em more trouble.

Never mind the ruck-us:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Dime-Store Alchemy: The Art of Joseph Cornell


Joseph Cornell is one of my favorite artists and Charles Simic is one of my favorite writers so you can imagine how thrilled I am to present a few excerpts from Simic’s charming—and irresistible—volume, Dime-Store Alchemy: The Art of Joseph Cornell (NY Review of Books). Reprinted with the author’s permission, and illustrated with photographs by fellow Manhattan-wanderer, Bags, along with a few of my own pictures and collages. Enjoy—Alex Belth]

From Dime-Store Alchemy: The Art of Joseph Cornell

By Charles Simic


I have a dream in which Joseph Cornell and I pass each other on the street. This is not beyond the realm of possibility. I walked the same New York neighborhoods that he did between 1958 and 1970. I was either working at lowly office jobs, or I was out of work spending my days in the Public Library on Forty-second Street which Cornell frequented himself. I don’t remember when it was that I first saw his shadow boxes. When I was young, I was interested in surrealism, so it’s likely that I came across his name and the reproduction of his art that way. Cornell made me feel that I should do something like that myself as a poet, but for a long time I continued to admire him without knowing much about him. Only after his death did he become an obsession with me. Of course, much had already been written about him, and most of it was excellent. Cornell’s originality and modesty disarm the critics and make them sympathetic and unusually perceptive. When it comes to his art, our eyes and imagination are the best guides. In writing the pieces for this book, I hoped to emulate his way of working and come to understand him that way. It is worth pointing out that Cornell worked in the absence of any aesthetic theory and previous notion of beauty. He shuffled a few inconsequential found objects inside his boxes until together they composed an image that pleased him with no clue as to what that image will turn out to be in the end. I had hoped to do the same.

Old Man Strut Bags

man in coat bags


He looked the way I imagine Melvilles Bartleby to have looked the day he gave up his work to stare at the blank wall outside the office window.

There are always such men in cities. Solitary wanderers in long-outmoded overcoats, they sit in modest restaurants and side-street cafeterias eating a soft piece of cake. They are deadly pale, have tired eyes, and their lapels are covered with crumbs. Once they were something else, now they work as office messengers. With a large yellow envelope under one arm, they climb the stairs to the tenth floor when the elevator is out of order. They keep their hands in their pockets even in summertime. Any one of them could be Cornell.

He was a descendant of an old New York Dutch family that had grown impoverished after his father’s early death. He lived with his mother and invalid brother in a small frame house on Utopia Parkway in Queens and roamed the streets of Manhattan in seeming idleness. A devout Christian Scientist, he was a recluse and an eccentric who admired the writings of French Romantic and Symbolist poets. His great hero was Gérard de Nerval, famous for promenading the streets of Paris with a live lobster on a leash.



Poe has a story called “The Man of the Crowdin which a recently discharged hospital patient sits in a coffee shop in London, enjoying his freedom, and watching the evening crowd, when he notices a decrepit old man of unusual appearance and behavior whom he decides to follow. The man at first appears to be hurrying with a purpose. He crosses and recrosses the city until the aimlessness of his walking eventually becomes obvious to his pursuer. He walks all night through the nowdeserted streets, and is still walking as the day breaks. His pursuer follows him all of the next day and abandons him only as the shades of the second evening come on. Before he does, he confronts the stranger, looks him steadfastly in the eye, but the stranger does not acknowledge him and resumes his walk.

Poe’s is one of the great odes to the mystery of the city. Who among us was not once that pursuer or that stranger? Cornell followed shop girls, waitresses, young students “who had a look of innocence.” I myself remember a tall man of uncommon handsomeness who walked on Madison Avenue with eyes tightly closed as if he were listening to music. He bumped into people, but since he was well dressed, they didn’t seem to mind.

“How wild a history,” says Poes narrator, is written within that bosom.” On a busy street one quickly becomes a voyeur. An air of danger, eroticism, and crushing solitude play hide-and-seek in the crowd. The indeterminate, the unforeseeable, the ethereal, and the fleeting rule there. The city is the place where the most unlikely opposites come together, the place where our separate intuitions momentarily link up. The myth of Theseus, the Minotaur, Ariadne, and her thread continue here. The city is a labyrinth of analogies, the Symbolist forest of correspondences.

Like a comic-book Spider-Man, the solitary voyeur rides the web of occult forces.

Bags Vinyl


Somewhere in the city of New York there are four or five still-unknown objects that belong together. Once together they’ll make a work of art. That’s Cornell’s premise, his metaphysics, and his religion, which I wish to understand.

He sets out from his home on Utopia Parkway without knowing what he is looking for or what he will find. Today it could be something as ordinary and interesting as an old thimble. Years may pass before it has company. In the meantime, Cornell walks and looks. The city has an infinite number of interesting objects in an infinite number of unlikely places.



What Cornell sought in his walks in the city, the fortune-tellers already practiced in their parlors. Faces bent over cards, coffee dregs, crystals; divination by contemplation of surfaces which stimulate inner visions and poetic faculties.

De Chirico says: “One can deduce and conclude that every object has two aspects: one current one, which we see nearly always and which is seen by men in general; and the other, which is spectral and metaphysical and seen only by rare individuals in moments of clairvoyance

He’s right. Here comes the bruja, dressed in black, her lips and fingernails painted blood-red. She saw into the murderer’s lovesick heart, and now it’s your turn, mister.

bags laundry


Around the boxes I can still hear Cornell mumble to himself. In the basement of the quiet house on Utopia Parkway he’s passing the hours by changing the positions of a few items, setting them in new positions relative to one another in a box. At times the move is no more than a tenth of an inch. At other times, he picks the object, as one would a chess figure, and remains long motionless, lost in complicated deliberation.

Many of the boxes make me think of those chess problems in which no more than six to seven figures are left on the board. The caption says: White mates in two moves,” but the solution escapes the closest scrutiny. As anyone who attempts to solve these problems knows, the first move is the key, and it’s bound to be an unlikely appearing move.

I have often cut a chess problem from a newspaper and taped it to the wall by my bed so that I may think about it first thing in the morning and before turning off the lights at night. I have especially been attracted to problems with minimum numbers of figures, the ones that resemble the ending of some long, complicated, and evenly fought game. It’s the subtlety of two minds scheming that one aims to recover.

At times, it may take months to reach the solution, and in a few instances I was never able to solve the problem. The board and its figures remained as mysterious as ever. Unless there was an error in instructions or position, or a misprint, there was no way in hell the white could mate in two moves. And yet…

At some point my need for a solution was replaced by the poetry of my continuous failure. The white queen remained where it was on the black square, and so did the other figures in the original places, eternally, whenever I closed my eyes.



If you love watching movies from the middle on, Cornell is your director. Its those first moments of some already-started, unknown movie with its totally mysterious images and snatches of dialogue before the setting and even the vaguest hint of a plot became apparent that he captures.

Cornell spliced images and sections from preexisting Hollywood films he found in junk stores. He made cinema collages guided only by the poetry of images. Everything in them has to do with ellipses. Actors speak but we don’t know to whom. Scenes are interrupted. What one remembers are images.

He also made a movie from the point of view of a bust of Mozart in a store window. Here, too, chance is employed. People pass on the street and some of them stop to look in the window. Marcel Duchamp and John Cage use chance operation to get rid of the subjectivity of the artist. For Cornell its the opposite. To submit to chance is to reveal the self and its obsessions. In that sense Cornell is not a dadaist or a surrealist. He believes in charms and good luck.



People who look for symbolic meaning fail to grasp the inherent poetry and mystery of the images,” writes René Magritte, and I could not agree more. Nevertheless, this requires some clarification. There are really three kinds of images. First, there are those seen with eyes open in the manner of realists in both art and literature. Then there are images we see with eyes closed. Romantic poets, surrealists, expressionists, and everyday dreamers know them. The images Cornell has in his boxes are, however, of the third kind. They partake of both dream and reality, and of something else that doesnt have a name. They tempt the viewer in two opposite directions. One is to look and admire the elegance and other visual properties of the composition, and the other is to make up stories about what one sees. In Cornell’s art, the eye and the tongue are at cross purposes. Neither one by itself is sufficient. It’s that mingling of the two that makes up the third image.



It’s raining on Utopia Parkway. The invalid brother is playing with his toy trains. Cornell is reading the sermons of John Donne, and the box of the Hôtel Beau-Séjour is baking in the oven like one of his mother’s pies.

In order to make them appear aged, Cornell would give his boxes eighteen to twenty coats of paint, varnish them, polish them, and leave them in the sun and rain. He also baked them to make them crack and look old.

Forgers of antiquities, lovers of times past, employ the same method.

Bags Shadow


It ought to be clear that Cornell is a religious artist. Vision is his subject. He makes holy icons. He proves that one needs to believe in angels and demons even in a modern world in order to make sense of it.

The disorder of the city is sacred. All things are interrelated. As above, so below. We are fragments of an unutterable whole. Meaning is always in search of itself. Unsuspected revelations await us around the next corner.

The blind preacher and his old dog are crossing the street against the oncoming traffic of honking cabs and trucks. He carries his guitar in a beat-up case taped with white tape so it looks like it’s bandaged.

Making art in America is about saving one’s soul.



Standing in the Shadows


Yanks look to irritate the contenders and made good on that promise yesterday beating the Jays, 5-3. That Masahiro Tanaka sure has been a solid professional, huh?

Float On


The Yanks host the Jays for a matinee in the Bronx after a nice win yesterday in Baltimore. All is quiet early this afternoon in the Bronx—these precious last moments of relative peace, the end of summer before everyone comes back and school starts and everything is cooking again, makes Labor Day my favorite weekend of the year in NYC.

The sun is peaking out by mostly it’s overcast. An autumn chill has been welcome the past few days and it will be more than comfortable at the Stadium this afternoon. Maybe our boys can give the Jays a hard time.

Never mind the standings:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!




Yanks have dropped the first two in Baltimore this weekend.

Here’s hoping they avoided getting swept.

Never mind those Boids:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

The Next Stop Is… Camden Yards

Yanks arrive in Baltimore for a three game set and 2-1/2 games behind for the second wild-card spot. While that speaks volumes  about their resilience throughout this largely mediocre season (and a little about how watered-down the playoff format has become of late), I am more impressed by how the Baby Bombers (Sanchez, Judge, et al) have made such impacts the moment they were entrusted with reasonable playing time. And now that it’s largely because of this impact that the Yankee September call ups has been more about strategy than development; the most intriguing of the Six Pack arriving being Jonathan Holder, who since being drafted two years ago has cruised through the minors with a 1.63 ERA and forced Cashman’s hand as they try to make their way once again into the playoffs.

Looks like reinforcements are on the way…

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver