Monday, November 30, 2015

The Catholic Indian Who Saved the Protestant Pilgrims from Starving - Note for a lecture, "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United"

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The story of Squanto, the Indian who saved the Pilgrims, is quite remarkable. But it is more remarkable than you know.

One day an Indian walked out of the woods of New England, befriended the Pilgrims, and taught them where to fish, how to plant corn, and otherwise saved them from perishing.
What is not well known is that Squanto was a Christian, though the kind of Christian the Pilgrims would have profoundly opposed, in fact, the kind of Christian far worse than the Anglicans from whom the Pilgrims first fled. Squanto was a baptized Catholic.
In 1614, Captain John Smith of Pocahontas fame captured a number of Indians with the intent of selling them into slavery. Tisquantum, also known as Squanto, was among them. A group of Franciscan Friars intervened. The Friars very well could have bought the Indians from Smith, but the record is unclear how the Friars rescued Squanto from what might have been a far more brutal life.
The Friars baptized Squanto and catechized him into the Catholic faith. And what is clear is Squanto became a freeman and he traveled to England where he worked in the shipyards, becoming fluent in English.
When he returned to New England, he discovered his tribe had been decimated by disease. He was a man alone who one day walked out of the woods and met the Pilgrims. They were shocked to meet an Indian who not only spoke perfect English but who had been in England even more recently than they had.
The Pilgrims had left England because they refused an order of the Anglican King James I to conform to the outwardly Catholic usages in the Church of England, including robes, candles, and bowing the head at the name of Christ. So, it is quite remarkable that the Indian who walked out of the woods that day in 1621 and taught the how to survive was worse than an Anglican, he was a baptized Catholic.
As to the myths of this being the first Thanksgiving; actually the first Thanksgiving was celebrated in what is now the oldest city in the United States, St. Augustine, Florida in 1565 when Spanish settlers and Indians feasted and the Catholic mass was celebrated.
The second Thanksgiving on American soil occurred thirty-three years later in Texas, when Spanish explorer Don Juan de Onate asked for a mass of Thanksgiving when he claimed the land north of the Rio Grande for the King of Spain.
Virginians also claim a Thanksgiving that predates the Pilgrims. Theirs took place on the Berkley Plantation on December 4, 1619
As for the Pilgrims who wrote the history and got the credit for Thanksgiving, they were a persnickety bunch. It is said they even hated Christmas, refused to celebrate it because it was too Catholic.

Four tough things universities should do to rein in costs

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Universities in the United States are the best in the world, but the cost of attending them is rising faster than the cost of almost anything else. Professors blame administrative bloat, administrators blame a decline in state funding, politicians blame unproductive faculties who’ve become too set in their ways.

Yet while students are paying more, they are getting less, at least as measured by learning outcomes, intellectual engagement, time with professors and graduation rates. And although students are working more hours at outside jobs and receiving more tuition assistance, student debt now exceeds credit card debt and has become something of a national obsession.
So you would expect universities to have embarked on the fundamental restructuring that nearly every other sector has done to reduce costs and improve quality. They haven’t. Oh, yes, pay and hiring have been frozen, travel budgets cut, secretaries eliminated and class sizes increased, even as cheaper graduate students and adjunct professors have been hired to teach more. Everything has been done that can be done — except changing the traditions, rhythms and prerogatives of academic life.  
“There is a cultural aversion to thinking about cost,” explains Carol Twigg, president of the National Center for Academic Transformation, who for more than 15 years has run successful pilot projects in course redesign that have significantly cut instructional costs while improving student outcomes at scores of universities.
Among faculty members, there remains a deeply held view that equates spending with quality, considers “accountability” an assault on academic freedom and sees “productivity” as merely code for charlatan anti-intellectualism. For their part, administrators cling to hopes of boosting enrollment and fundraising while waiting for the current budget cycle to pass.
“The American university is a grand political accommodation,” says Richard Vedder, an Ohio University economist and founder of the Center for College Productivity and Affordability. College presidents, he argues, appease faculty members by giving them control over what and how they teach. They appease students and parents with high grades and good facilities. They appease alumni with expensive sports teams. They appease politicians with shiny new research centers. “The idea is to buy off any group that might upset the political equilibrium,” Vedder said.
Nothing I have observed during four years as a professor at George Mason University, seen in the data or heard from higher-education experts is fundamentally at odds with Vedder’s assessment. Even when states have set out to bend the higher-education cost curve, universities have found ways to avoid fundamental change.
What would that change look like? Here are four ideas that seem obvious and reasonable. If a college or university is not moving to embrace them, that’s a pretty good indication that cost-cutting is not a priority.
Cap administrative costs
The best data on college costs comes from the Delta Cost Project, a nonprofit that analyzes data reported to the government. It shows that in the decade prior to 2011, the biggest increase in cost per student at large research universities — the ones that set the competitive norms and that are the focus of this essay — was not in instruction but in administration: student services, institutional support, research and academic support.
While faculty critics have made sport of pointing out the proliferation of assistant provosts or the soaring salaries of college presidents, these don’t represent most new spending. What does is the growth in the number and pay of non-teaching professionals in areas such as academic and psychological counseling, security, information technology, fundraising, accreditation and government compliance.
Administrators cite government regulations, along with increasingly demanding students and parents, as the causes; no doubt those pressures are real. But judging from the amount of time these professionals spend meeting with each other, I’d wager there is plenty of savings to be had by setting priorities and streamlining structure and decision-making. As management consultants from Bain and Co. wrote in a recent report, “In no other industry would overhead costs be allowed to grow at this rate — executives would lose their jobs.”
Here’s a simple rule of thumb: A university should spend more on instruction than it spends on anything else, besides research. 
Operate year-round, five days a week
What are the three best things about being a college professor? June, July and August. It’s a tired old joke, but it’s true.
In 2002, George Washington University President Stephen Trachtenberg noticed that the school owned roughly $1 billion worth of facilities that sat idle for at least a third of the year. If he could reconfigure the academic calendar for year-round operation, he reasoned, he could enroll thousands more students without having to build new classrooms, labs, dorms or athletic facilities.
Doing so, however, would have required some professors to periodically teach during the summer, which didn’t sit well with the Faculty Senate. Its report on the matter reads like a parody of self-interested whining by coddled academics dressed up as concern for the pedagogical and psychological well-being of their students. The report never acknowledged any potential financial benefit; indeed, it declared such calculations illegitimate when the “academic environment” was at stake. The report also noted the severe hardship that a summer term would impose on professors with school-age children, oblivious to the fact that working parents in every other sector face that challenge.
It’s not just in summers, however, that facilities sit idle. Friday has become the new Saturday on college campuses as many students shun classes, and professors have been all too willing to accommodate them. At Mason, utilization of classroom space during prime daytime hours on Thursdays is 68 percent; on Fridays, it is 38 percent. That’s a bit above the national average, according to estimates from Sightlines, a facilities consulting firm.
A few universities have taken a shot at running on a 12-month calendar or returning Friday to the workweek, but nationally such ideas have gained little traction. Trachtenberg isn’t surprised: “Presidents who spend time fighting with faculty over things like this don’t last long.” 
More teaching, less (mediocre) research
Few students or parents realize that tuition doesn’t just pay for faculty members to teach. It also pays for their research. 
I’m not talking about research supported by grants. I’m referring to the research by tenure-track faculty members that is made possible because they teach only two courses per semester, rather than the three or more that was once the norm.
Teaching loads at research universities have declined almost 50 percent in the past 30 years, according to data compiled for the American Council of Trustees and Alumni. This doesn’t necessarily mean professors aren’t working as hard — surveys show they’re working harder and under more pressure than ever. Rather, says former Mason provost Peter Stearns, it reflects a deliberate shift in focus as universities compete for big-name professors by promising lighter teaching loads and more time for research. In the egalitarian culture of higher education, once some professors won the right to teach less, their colleagues demanded the same. Before long, “two-and-two” teaching loads — two classes in each of two semesters — became the norm.
Today, research is the dominant criterion by which faculty members are evaluated. In deciding which professors get tenure, assessment of teaching tends to be perfunctory (few members of tenure committees ever bother to visit a classroom), and all that is required is competence. It is nearly impossible, however, for a professor to win tenure without publishing at least one book and three or four articles in top academic journals.
Unfortunately, much of that work has little intellectual or social impact.
“The vast majority of the so-called research turned out in the modern university is essentially worthless,” wrote Page Smith, a longtime professor of history at the University of California and an award-winning historian. “It does not result in any measurable benefit to anything or anybody. . . . It is busywork on a vast, almost incomprehensible scale.”
The number of journal articles published has climbed from 13,000 50 years ago to 72,000 today, even as overall readership has declined. In his new book “Higher Education in America,” former Harvard president Derek Bok notes that 98 percent of articles published in the arts and humanities are never cited by another researcher. In social sciences, it is 75 percent. Even in the hard sciences, where 25 percent of articles are never cited, the average number of citations is between one and two. 
“For someone just to write a paper that nobody is going to read — we can’t afford that anymore,” says Brit Kirwan, a former chancellor of the University of Maryland.
To accommodate all this research, universities have shifted much more of the teaching load to graduate students with little training or experience in teaching, or to part-time adjuncts who — at $3,000 per course — have become the academic equivalent of day laborers. These strategies have degraded the undergraduate experience and given cost-cutting a bad name.
A better approach would be to offer comparable pay and status to professors who spend most of their time teaching, reserving reduced teaching loads for professors whose research continues to have significance and impact. Some departments at some schools have embraced “differentiated teaching loads,” but most tenured faculty members resist and resent the idea that they need to continually defend the value of their research. And administrators are wary of doing anything that might diminish their universities’ research reputation. 
Cheaper, better general education
Roughly a third of the courses undergraduates take fulfill general-education requirements meant to ensure that all students receive a well-rounded education. Universities have gotten more serious about requiring a minimum proficiency in writing and quantitative reasoning, but the rest of general education tends to be an intellectual cop-out. Students are presented with dozens of courses in four or five broad categories and are told to choose two or three from each. Many are large introductory lecture courses (Everything 101) that were designed primarily to provide foundational knowledge for students majoring in that subject, rather than an intellectually stimulating exploration of a discipline. Most of the rest reflect the specific research interests of professors.
This approach to general education, Bok writes, “is more noteworthy for the interests it serves than for the academic purposes it achieves.” According to Hunter Rawlings, the president of the Association of American Universities, it also reflects reluctance on the part of professors to risk offending colleagues by standing up at a faculty meeting and declaring what they think is, and is not, vital for an educated person to know.
A university concerned about cost and quality would restructure general education around a limited number of courses designed specifically for that purpose — classes that tackle big, interesting questions from a variety of disciplines. Harvard, with its Humanities 10 seminars, and the University of Maryland, with its I-Series, have recently taken steps in that direction. But this approach will achieve significant savings only if the courses are designed to use new technology that allows large numbers of students to take them at the same time.
I’m not talking about simply videotaping lectures. I’m talking about combining great talks by one or more professors and outside experts with video clips, animation, quizzes, games and interactive exercises — then supplementing that online material with weekly in-person sessions for discussions, problem solving or other forms of “active learning.” And having “labs” open day and night that use tutors and interactive software to provide individualized instruction in math and writing until the desired competency is achieved.
There is plenty of evidence that using technology in this way boosts course completion rates, improves learning retention and increases student engagement, while reducing per-student costs by an average of 30 to 40 percent, according to Carol Twigg, who has helped design many such pilot courses. Yet despite these successes, Twigg said that almost none of these models have been rolled out campus-wide. At this point, more than three-quarters of students at four-year colleges and universities have never taken an online or hybrid course, the government reports.
Not all college courses are suitable for technologically driven redesign. But to pay for labor-intensive seminars and tutorials, other courses must be made cheaper. The obvious place to start is with general education and foundational classes that offer the best possibility of realizing significant economies of scale.
So why aren’t such cost-cutting ideas on the agenda?
“Institutional isomorphism,” explained Mason President Ángel Cabrera, a former business school dean. That refers to the tendency of any enterprise to affirm its legitimacy by adopting the same structure and culture and output as its peers, even when there may be a competitive advantage to doing things differently.
Jane Wellman, who for many years headed the Delta Cost Project, thinks it’s a governance problem. University presidents and trustees, she said, think about cost in terms of one- or two-year operating budgets, and through that lens, there really isn’t any way to do more with less. Big structural change makes sense only when it’s considered in terms of investment and long-term payoff.
Maryland’s Brit Kirwan thinks the answer may be simpler than that: “Until the public demands it, it won’t happen.” And right now, the public seems to be of two minds about college costs. Parents and students say tuition and student debt are unaffordable. But when push comes to shove, so many are still willing to pay that university trustees and administrators have no incentive to upset the political equilibrium to do something about it.


Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and a regular contributor to PostEverything.
As an ongoing observer of the bipartisan War on College, I read a recent column on cost containment in higher education by The Washington Post’s Steven Pearlstein with great interest. Pearlstein is a smart guy, and he stresses four “tough things” that universities must do to contain costs. Some of the recommendations he makes based on what he “observed during four years as a professor at George Mason University” are worth considering.
On the other hand — and you knew there was an other hand — his op-ed was also mildly infuriating, because it’s conceptually muddy and relies on outdated notions. In fact, as I was reading it, I realized that there are four tough tasks a columnist should acknowledge before writing this kind of essay. Which are:
1) Define what you mean by “universities.” Pearlstein opens up by talking about “universities in the United States” and citing all kinds of stuff involving poor graduation rates and rising student debt. But almost the entire rest of the essay implicitly talks about research universities, such as George Mason or Tufts.
This distinction matters great deal, because many of higher education’s negative financial externalities have nothing to do with research universities. Exploding levels of student debt and default, for example, have a lot to do with for-profit colleges. As Adam Looney and Constantine Yannelis argued in a September 2015 Brookings paper:
Most of the increase in default is associated with the rise in the number of borrowers at for-profit schools and, to a lesser extent, 2-year institutions and certain other non-selective institutions, whose students historically composed only a small share of borrowers. These non-traditional borrowers were drawn from lower income families, attended institutions with relatively weak educational outcomes, and experienced poor labor market outcomes after leaving school. In contrast, default rates among borrowers attending most 4-year public and non-profit private institutions and graduate borrowers—borrowers who represent the vast majority of the federal loan portfolio—have remained low, despite the severe recession and their relatively high loan balances.
The amount of debt owed by those attending for-profit colleges has grown from $39 billion in 2000 to $229 billion in 2014 — which is more attributable to increases in the rate of borrowing at those schools than to increases in enrollment.
Similarly, low levels of graduation have a lot to do with for-profit schools and two-year colleges and not much at all to do with four-year research universities, as Pearlstein’s link demonstrates. Indeed, the National Center for Education Statistics’ data on graduation rates at four-year colleges shows that those rates have increased across the board between 1996 and 2007.
If Pearlstein wants to talk about what ails for-profit schools and community colleges, that’s fine. But the entire rest of his op-ed suggests that he’s not talking about those schools. And if you look at four-year universities, the situation is not nearly as grave as Pearlstein suggests.
2) Don’t exaggerate the problems that actually exist. Railing against administrative bloat and the explosion of student services in higher ed, Pearlstein clucks that “a university should spend more on instruction than it spends on anything else, besides research.”
Fair enough. Helpfully, he links to a Bain study on higher education that puts the problem in perspective:
So, based on that chart, are administrative costs and student services increasing as a percentage of total expenditures? Yes, absolutely. But after 15 years, they haven’t increased by that much, particularly at state schools. Instruction is still responsible for more than half of all spending at research universities.
Is administrative bloat a problem? Yeahprobably, but I’d make two cautionary notes. First, I’ve heard enough rants about how to eliminate the federal budget deficit through cutting administrative fat to be leery of the validity of these claims no matter what. Second, Pearlstein lists “academic and psychological counseling, security, information technology, fundraising, accreditation and government compliance” as problem areas. I’d suggest that given recent events, maybe counseling and security might not be areas worth trimming right now.
3) Don’t rely on outdated data. Pearlstein recommends year-round teaching to exploit underutilized facilities, which makes me wonder if he has been to a college campus during the summer. A significant money-maker for colleges is the leasing out of facilities in the summer to executive education programs, summer camps and other enterprises. Pearlstein also urges a greater use of online or hybrid courses, apparently unaware that this bubble popped, like, three years ago.
More significantly, Pearlstein recommends scaling back on research because no one reads it:
“The vast majority of the so-called research turned out in the modern university is essentially worthless,” wrote Page Smith, a longtime professor of history at the University of California and an award-winning historian. “It does not result in any measurable benefit to anything or anybody. . . . It is busywork on a vast, almost incomprehensible scale.”
The number of journal articles published has climbed from 13,000 50 years ago to 72,000 today, even as overall readership has declined. In his new book, “Higher Education in America,”former Harvard president Derek Bok notes that 98 percent of articles published in the arts and humanities are never cited by another researcher. In social sciences, it is 75 percent. Even in the hard sciences, where 25 percent of articles are never cited, the average number of citations is between one and two.
These paragraphs got quite a bit of attention on social media. They’re also badly outdated, relying on a study that first appeared in 1990 and compares apples and orangesThe Atlantic’s Yoni Appelbaum dissected the numbers — you can read his tweetstorm for more.
4) Be honest that you’re using higher ed reform as an implicit industrial policy. An implicit theme of Pearlstein’s essay is that too much money is being thrown at the humanities and not enough at the STEM fields. This theme is hardly unique to him. President Obama has scorned art history majors in the past and GOP presidential candidates have been bashing philosophers in the present. 
The obvious implication of all these insults is that the United States needs to produce more college graduates with real-world skills that add value to the economy. Which is indeed a fine idea. But can we just note that it’s a little hypocritical for politicians to praise the virtues of the free market as a source of U.S. economic dynamism and then act all-knowing in arguing for STEM majors over the liberal arts?
Virginia Postrel has been poking at this intellectually barren pinata for years now, and as she notes, the majors that politicians love to bash are hardly lacking in generating useful skills:
[A]rt history isn’t a major naive kids fall into because they’ve heard a college degree — any college degree — will get you a good job. It’s an intellectually demanding major, requiring the memorization and mastery of a large body of visual material, a facility for foreign languages, and the ability to write clearly and persuasively.
When politicians and pundits argue in favor of reallocating resources from one college major to another, they’re trying to say that they can pick disciplinary winners and losers better than universities, foundations, or the students themselves. There are big risks in making that assumption, especially if you base these selections on “facts” such as welders outearning philosophers that turn out not to be true. And usually such suggestions ignore the simple fact that U.S. research universities outperform every other country in the world. Or as that Bain report acknowledged at the outset:
Few industries in the United States have achieved unquestioned global leadership as consistently and effectively as our higher education system. U.S. colleges and universities are the cornerstone of our economic prosperity and the key to realizing the American dream. Thirty years of growth have confirmed the sector’s leadership and vibrancy — the result of demographic and economic factors combining to lift higher education even higher.
I get that higher education is a ripe target in an election year. And I get that blasting the “higher ed bubble” is popular even if it is not necessarily true. But for once, I’d like critics to concede that this is a far more complex topic than just “costs are out of control.”
It shouldn’t be that tough a thing to admit.

Empire, Erudition and Entertainment

In Edward Gibbon’s ‘History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,’ the real subject is good sense and decency in a losing battle with pride, greed and vice.

Ruins of the Basilica of Maxentius as depicted in one of the celebrated series of engravings of Rome by Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1728). ENLARGE
Ruins of the Basilica of Maxentius as depicted in one of the celebrated series of engravings of Rome by Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1728). PHOTO: HERBERT ORTH/THE LIFE IMAGES COLLECTION/GETTY IMAGES
In the closet of Abdalrahman, eighth-century caliph of Spain, this note was discovered after his death: “I have now reigned above fifty years in victory or peace; beloved by my subjects, dreaded by my enemies, and respected by my allies. Riches and honours, power and pleasure, have waited on my call.…In this situation, I have diligently numbered the days of pure and genuine happiness which have fallen to my lot: they amount to fourteen: O Man! place not thy confidence in this present world.”
In a footnote to this item, in the fifth volume of “The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” Edward Gibbon writes: “If I may speak of myself (the only person of whom I can speak with certainty), my happy hours have far exceeded, and far exceed, the scanty number of the caliph of Spain; and I shall not scruple to add, that many of them are due to the pleasing labour of the present composition.”
Begun when Gibbon was 33 in 1770, and published in six volumes between 1776 and 1788, Gibbon’s history combines astonishing erudition with endless entertainment. His readers, too, easily surpass the caliph’s budget of happiness in the time they spend reading this great work, which runs to more than 3,000 pages and covers some 1,600 years of history—from the rise of Augustus in Rome through the fall of Constantinople at the hands of the Ottoman Turks in 1453 and, following that, the endless partitioning of the empire by petty princes and disputatious popes. Gibbon tells a story of relentless struggles for power, sometimes won by authentically great, sometimes by heedlessly cruel, most often by rapacious and foolish men. 
Gibbon’s true subject is good sense and decency in a largely losing battle with pride, greed, vice and religious fervor. A philosophical tone prevails. In his final volume, Gibbon writes that “of human life, the most glorious or humble prospects are alike, and soon bounded by the sepulchre.”
“If a man were called to fix the period in the history of the world during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous,” Gibbon writes, “he would, without hesitation, name that which elapsed from the death of Domitian [96 AD] to the accession of Commodus [180 AD].” In that span, “the various modes of worship which [then] prevailed in the Roman world were all considered by the people as equally true; by the philosophers as equally false; and by the magistrate as equally useful. And thus toleration produced not only mutual indulgence, but even religious concord.” 
A man of the Enlightenment, Gibbon finds religion as little more than superstition organized, and it is an unending target for his withering irony. The humor quotient in “The Decline and Fall” is even higher where religion isn’t entailed. Of the Emperor Gordian II, he writes: “Twenty-two acknowledged concubines and a library of sixty-two thousand volumes, attested the variety of his inclinations, and from the productions which he left behind him, it appears that the former as well as the latter were designed for use rather than ostentation.” Footnotes number in the thousands, and in them we learn that Voltaire casts “a keen and lively eye over the surface of history,” and that “an act of fraud is always credible when it is told of the Greeks.”
The hundreds of “characters,” as Gibbon refers to them, are not the least of the work’s marvels. The Emperor Elagabalus (203-222), is “a rational voluptuary”—also, we learn, a transvestite. The Emperor Honorius (384-423) “was without passions, and consequently without talents; and his feeble and languid disposition was alike incapable of discharging the duties of his rank or enjoying the pleasures of the age.”
Gibbon’s descriptions of battles are quick and precise. He keeps a sharp eye out for methods of torture used by tyrants. Constantius V had a “reign of long butchery of whatever was noble or holy, or innocent in his empire…and a plate of noses was accepted as a grateful offering.” When a matron of a noble family provoked the Emperor Theodore Laskaris II, he ordered “her body, as high as the neck…enclosed in a sack with several cats, who were pricked with pins to irritate their fury against their unfortunate fellow captive.”
As this parade of power and avarice, punctuated all too briefly by honorable rule, passes, Gibbon provides telling apothegms. He cites the Roman maxim that holds “every adulteress is capable of poisoning her husband.” “Fraud is the resource of weakness and cunning,” he notes. “In the field of controversy,” he adds, “I always pity the moderate party, who stand on the open middle ground exposed to the fire of both sides.”
A masterpiece that has held up as a work of scholarship for more than two centuries, “The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” also happens to be, in the words of the historian John Clive, a work of “indisputable genius.” All that is needed to scope out its inexhaustible riches is time, patience and an attentive mind.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Remembering names: A way to eternal youth?

image from

Forget physical exercise to maintain eternal youth.

No longer age 12-22, but still going through puberty in my late 60s, I find one way to keep my memory active is to try to remember names of friends/colleagues from the past (high school, college, early employment).

When I (something of an insomniac) try to fall asleep by not by counting sheep, I seek to remember the name of persons I knew decades ago.

In the morning I (or my genes) succeed in identifying the right person(s), unfortunately not most of the time.

The "Eureka" moment of remembering the name of someone you knew decades ago can be quite exhilirating/rejuvenating (names forgotten but "miraculously" remembered, even if some of the persons in question disliked you no end)

I would judge this mental exercise healthful. But of course I leave it up to the "mental health" experts (or, to use the more au courant word, the mental health "community.")

Jeffrey Deitch on Why Figurative Art Rules the Zeitgeist, and His New Calling as a Pop-Up Impresario

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Body of ArtJeffrey Deitch on Why Figurative Art Rules the Zeitgeist, and His New Calling as a Pop-Up Impresario
Jeffrey Deitch (photo by William Pym via ArtAsiaPacific)
Ever since Jeffrey Deitch returned early last year from his controversial stint as director of MOCA in Los Angeles, the art world has been wondering about his next chapter. There have been signs of an attempt to re-create the vital infusion of art, design, fashion, nightlife, and street culture that was Deitch Projects in its earlier incarnation, with a tribute show to the 1980s nightclub Area (held at his protégé Kathy Grayson's Hole Gallery) and an exhibition of street art in Coney Island, but also reports of a lucrative consulting practice and a renewed focus on his time-honored trade in the secondary market. 
As 2015 draws to a close, however, a clearer strategy is starting to gel—one that makes use of both Deitch’s private-dealing acumen and his status as an impresario of pop-up shows and special events. For Art Basel Miami Beach, for instance, he has teamed up with none other than Larry Gagosian on an exhibition, “Unrealism,” that will fill the atrium of the Moore Building with figurative painting and sculpture from the 1980s (Julian SchnabelFrancesco Clemente) to the right-this-minute (Jamian Juliano-VillaniSascha Braunig).
This clearly sales-oriented, object-centric exhibition may sound a bit staid for a Deitch event in Miami—this is, after all, the man who invited Miley Cyrus to peform at the Raleigh last year. But it also capitalizes on a new wave of figuration by younger artists who have tired of neo-formalist abstraction (a topic we have been covering in our conversation series surrounding Phaidon's new book Body of Art). And in characteristic Deitch fashion, it will incorporate a festive performance: an exuberant, costumed parade through the Design District by the voguing video artistRashaad Newsome.
Meanwhile, Deitch is also working on “Overpop,” a touring international group show scheduled to debut in Shanghai in 2017 that explores Pop influences in Post-Internet art. And closer to home—much closer, in fact—he has big plans for the year ahead. Deitch sat down with Artspace’s Karen Rosenberg at his Grand Street space to talk about the resurgence of figurative art, the evolving downtown art scene, and what’s next for him and his gallery.
What inspired you to do a show of figurative painting and sculpture? At first glance, this exhibition looks a lot more conservative than your usual programming.
This has been an interest of mine going way, way back. In 1984, I organized a big exhibition at P.S.1 called “The New Portrait” that took up the entire second floor. It was a portrait salon, and Andy Warhol helped me organize it. We had one room that was Pictures Generation artists like Robert Longo, a Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring room, photography rooms. In the center, we had a fantastic display of Warhol’s portraits of artists. So I’ve been interested in this from the beginning. Figurative art is like the novel—it’s reinvented by every generation, and gives us insights into how artists are perceiving life today.
I had planned, at MOCA, a show on new figurative painting. If you’ve gone to the Museum of Modern Art over the past 15 years, or most other American museums, you’ve hardly seen any figurative painting on view. That’s really what most artists do, and what the general public generally expects out of painting. They relate to it. I’m as steeped in conceptual art as anyone—I worked at the John Weber gallery in the ‘70s—but it’s something I was thinking about when I went to a museum. There’s hardly been an ambitious exhibition of new figurative painting in any American museum in a long time.
Can you tell me more about that unrealized MOCA show? How close is “Unrealism” to your original vision?
At MOCA I was planning on doing it with Alison Gingeras as a guest curator. I loved the show that she did at the Pompidou, more than 10 years ago, called “Dear Painter”—the title is taken from Martin Kippenberger. Alison is quite interested in a kind of counter-history of figurative painting, and she notoriously included Bernard Buffet in that show. The theme that Alison was interested in was “wrongness” in figuration. It started with Giorgio de Chirico, Francis Picabia, other figures like that, and went into the present.
We never were able to do that show. But I still had this desire to do a really strong show on new figurative painting, and I just adapted it to this commercial situation—a show that’s supported by making sales, which we do in this sector. My original title for the MOCA show was “Unrealism,” because I love titles like this that have some ambiguity. Alison preferred “Wrong Figures,” so that was our title there, but here I went back to “Unrealism, and it’s a much more compact history, because for a one-week show we can’t be borrowing de Chiricos.
SchnabelJulian Schnabel, The Unknown Painter and the Muse Will Never Meet, 2010. Inkjet print, oil on polyester, 114 x 136 in. Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian Gallery
Were you also thinking about the ideas from your 1993 touring show in Europe, “Post Human”? That exhibition, which focused on the reshaping of the body through futuristic technologies, seems so prescient now in our age of Post-Internetart.
“Post Human” is the inspiration for another show I’m working on, “Overpop.” It’s great that it’s had this second life. I’ve done so much, and most of it unfortunately just disappears into the ether. You hope that cumulatively, it made some statement.
There are number of artists, like Maurizio CattelanVanessa Beecroft, and theChapman Brothers, whose work comes right out of “Post Human,” and they actually acknowledge that. And, subsequently, Urs Fischer was very influenced by the show, even though his work is not really in this vein.
What’s very gratifying for me is that when I first met Josh Kline, I said, “By any chance did you hear of a show I did called ‘Post Human’? And he said, “Of course!” He even has the book. It’s a real reference for Josh and a number of other artists, who somehow got hold of the book at a used bookstore.
I want to hear more about “Overpop.” But first, who are the artists in “Unrealism”?
This show was also inspired by a group of very exciting young figurative painters I’ve discovered over the past few years. In New York there’s Ella Kruglyanskya, Jamian Juliano-Villani, and Emily Mae Smith, and, in L.A., Tala Madani. In Germany, there’s Jana Euler. In Maine, Sascha Braunig. There’s Jonathan Gardner, who’s just moved to New York from Chicago. I think some of these artists are exceptional talents, and a perfect example of reinventing figuration to connect with contemporary experience.
These artists are very knowledgeable about historical precedents. They’ve studied traditional technique, but it’s very, very fresh. Ella, Tala, and Sascha all studied for their MFAs at Yale, and they intersected with Kurt Kauper, who’s an artist I used to show and a great teacher. Others like Jamian, who went to Rutgers and is much more self-taught, are looking at unexpected sources—monster magazines, oldPlayboys, things like that.
I’m very excited about these artists, and if I could get enough material I would do a show just with them. But they’re so in-demand, and just to get what we got was a real achievement. I thought it would be interesting to put them in a context with several other generations of contemporary figurative painters, who are continuing to do vital work and are changing with the times.
Juliano-VillaniJamian Juliano-Villani, The Entertainer, 2015. Courtesy of the Artist, JTT, New York and Tanya Leighton, Berlin
Who are some of those other painters?
We start with the ‘80s generation—Francesco Clemente, George Condo, Julian Schnabel, Richard Prince. Then, from the ‘90s generation, John CurrinRachel FeinsteinElizabeth PeytonKaren KilimnikCecily Brown, and others. We have others who go beyond the New York group, like Henry Taylor from Los Angeles. space lends itself to sculpture as well—the entrance will be an Urs Fischer candle portrait of Michael Chow, which will burn during the show, and we’ll have two great Duane Hansons.
What about the many artists who combine figuration and abstraction? How strict were your parameters?
It’s such an open, big topic, but we wanted to keep it as coherent as we could. I’m not one to make restrictions on media, but rather than having all kinds of media—photography, video, immersive installations—I decided to keep it a tighter show. It’s painting, and a small amount of sculpture, and most of the painting is figurative. There’s one painting that is not—it’s a Dan Colen interior. It’s always good to have one thing that throws it off.
Will there be performance?
Yes. The opening will have a procession and performance by Rashaad Newsome. I got the idea from a video of a procession he did in New Orleans, called King of Arms, which I thought was incredible. He’s very involved in the new vogueing scene, and we’re bringing voguers down from New York. We’re going to have a marching band from Miami. We’re doing a procession that will start at the de la Cruz space and go through the Design District. It’s a big challenge, because there are going to be a lot of cars coming in and we have to figure out the whole traffic pattern. But it’s going to be worth it, because it’s going to be very exuberant. I’d like to do more, but it’s a short show. If I were to do the show in New York, there would be more of a performance component.
ClementeFrancesco Clemente, For Morton Feldman. Mixed media on canvas, 78 x 93 in. Courtesy of the artist.
Do you see performance in general, particularly some of the performances you’ve done at your gallery—for example, Colen and Dash Snow’s “The Nest”—as part of the figurative tradition?
Oh, absolutely. Part of the revival of figuration, in the early ‘80s, came out of performance. When I was the American editor of Flash Art years ago, we did a whole issue of performance into painting. It was a big topic then—the mainstream galleries were conceptual/Minimal, and there were a few galleries showingphotorealism, but you weren’t even allowed to talk about going there. There wasn’t much of a place to go for the younger generation.
My whole group would go to performances at the Kitchen and CBGB when that started up, and a lot of the people who became painters at that stage were in bands, doing performance art, making vanguard film. Somehow it all converged into a more iconic image, into painting. Performance is so crucial to that shift—the dialogue between Cindy Sherman and other artists in her circle like Longo or David Salle, who went to CalArts with all the dance and performance art and turned it into paintings. That’s very, very important. Today, for many painters the references are film, TV, the videos that people send around on social networking—that’s very much part of the vocabulary.
In a recent interview with the New York Times you spoke about the appeal of humanism at this moment, when artists have been preoccupied with "inside-art issues." Can you elaborate on that?
Even though I have a whole history of exploring figuration, I’m equally interested in abstraction. The most important show that I did at MOCA, for me, was “The Painting Factory,” a survey of new abstraction. So it’s not that I think this is better—what happens is that a chapter gets completed; it plays out. There’s a lot of achievement, when you look at Julie MehretuMark Bradford, Wade Guyton,Tauba Auerbach. But now you see that the field is diluted by second-tier abstractionists—I don’t want to mention any names—who are using printing techniques and kind of a conceptual story, and it’s just not as good.
It reminds me of Post-Minimalism when I came into the scene in the ‘70s, after Robert Ryman and Robert Mangold and Brice Marden—there were dozens of artists doing Minimalist-type painting, and most of it’s completely disappeared. I just see that something similar is happening with the abstract dialogue—it’s played-out. Younger artists recognize that, and ambitious people are going in a fresh direction. There are cycles. After the ‘80s, people had had it with fabricated, market-ready sculpture, and then there was more of the ethereal—Felix Gonzalez-Torres installations, things like that.
You can see the next cycle starting in the current “Greater New York” survey at MoMA P.S.1 and in last spring’s New Museum Triennial.
That’s right. The interest in the figurative never goes away, and I love that it reappears in a fresh way that reflects contemporary experience.
KrugyanskayaElla Kruglyanskaya, Profile in Hat With Cut Papers, 2015. Oil and oil stick on linen, 84 x 64 in. Collection of Craig Robins, courtesy of the artist and Gavin Brown, NY
How exactly are these younger artists you’re championing in “Unrealism” making the figure new again?
They’re all different. Ella is probably the most traditional—she’s looking very carefully at Picasso and Matisse, and even that is somehow fresh because that has not been so much of a reference for vanguard painters. But there’s also something that connects with fashion illustration and the expanding art platform and the confusion of what’s art and what’s fashion and what’s popular culture. She’s involved with that. I see references to Picasso, but I also see references to fashion illustrators like Antonio Lopez.
Jamian is interested in Surrealism—in her work you see Yves Tanguy, and also Mexican women Surrealists like Remedios Varo. She’s looking at that more Feminist art history. But she’s also into weird non-art stuff, like H. R. Giger science fiction illustration. She’s brilliant at finding all these obscure sources, including some artists who were neglected but are coming back, like Christina Ramberg—she has every book on Ramberg. She addresses something very contemporary, which is increasing confusion between fine art and popular culture. It’s all colliding. Her studio is this crazy mezzanine in somebody’s silkscreen shop. If the building department ever came, people would get arrested! You know how artists have to work in New York, even successful ones.
How you think the conditions for making and showing art in New York have changed in recent years? Did anything surprise you when you came back from California?
In five years, the studios have gotten more and more miserable. In the ‘70s, people in my circle had entire floors in SoHo and Tribeca that were really cheap—young people that had just arrived. Then the ones who still had their leases divided them up into warrens. Then people had really nice places in Williamsburg, but that fell apart for artists pretty quickly. Then it was nice places in Bushwick. And now it’s like you’re in some institution, where some real-estate sharpie has rented a floor and divided it into 30 cubicles. It’s like you’re in some state hospital. Everyone has a cubicle, but they keep the doors all shut.
It’s much tougher to be an artist here, and I really admire people for being here and pushing it. It’s not as pleasant as it was for my generation. People say, “Let’s all move to L.A,” but it’s still so dynamic in New York. With this group of artists I’m looking at with the new figurative painting, there’s more talent in New York than L.A. It’s the dialogue, the social networking of people seeing each other in person and talking and hanging out. And the standards that are here—you can’t have a half-baked exhibition and keep your position. It’s changing in L.A., but until recently people had half-baked exhibitions, and it was sort of still ok.
BraunigSascha Braunig, Marker, 2015. Oil on linen over panel, 25 x 19 in. Private collection, courtesy of Foxy Production, NY
Did working within that institutional structure of MOCA change anything about the way you organize exhibitions?
It’s so ironic, but when I did the shows here I never had to think of commercial considerations. We always had something going that would help to pay for it. My business philosophy was, if you do something inspiring, someone is going to want to buy something. And it worked.
In a museum, there’s more compromise. There are certain things you can’t include because a sponsor might find it offensive. Then, say there’s an important patron of the museum who collects an artist.... All the museums say, “Oh, we don’t do this,” but if your big trustee is a big collector of this artist, well, you basically have to put that artist in. You don’t really advertise it, but that’s the reality.
But the thing that really astonished me is that if you’re a museum director and, increasingly, a museum curator, the majority of your time is spent fundraising. I was quoted someplace saying that when I had Deitch Projects it was 90 percent art and 10 percent business, which is pretty accurate. At the museum, it was 90 percent business and 10 percent art. It was just constant, relentless fundraising. A certain kind of museum show simply won’t find a sponsor, but another kind is more appealing to the public and a bank will sign up. I’m used to working without compromise, and it was interesting going to a museum where there’s much more compromise.
“Unrealism” is a collaboration between you and Larry Gagosian—how did that take shape?
I’ve known Larry since 1979. I met him when he and Anina Nosei had a gallery in a loft on West Broadway across from the building with Castelli and Sonnabend, and they showed Salle who was a friend of mine. In the early ‘80s, I used to go out to L.A. frequently to attend the openings of shows of friends of mine, like Basquiat and Kenny Scharf. I got to know him in a casual way, not just a business colleague way. We were both protégés of Leo Castelli—we had that in common. And we’ve worked with many of the same artists over the years: Basquiat, Jeff Koons, Cecily Brown.
People say, “Isn’t he your competitor?” But I never thought that way. This is a very big platform. If some artist decides to leave me and go to Gagosian, it’s not the end of the world. It opens up the opportunity to develop someone else. It goes both ways—there are artists like Salle or Clemente who used to be with Gagosian and then they worked with me. There are never any recriminations or lawsuits. I’m relaxed about this—I’m very confident in what I can do. I never thought of this field as a zero-sum game.
You two do have very different business strategies, however—he has a global franchise model, whereas you have focused on New York and just a couple of spaces.
For me, it’s not business first. I’m much more about using the business structure to support my curatorial projects. I’ve found that the market system is a great system to support radical art and artistic innovation.
What do you make of the business challenges of running a smaller or mid-sized gallery today, especially in New York? There are the staggering expenses of participating in art fairs, on top of rising rents.
Just like the artists keep coming, the ground-level galleries keep coming. Artistic entrepreneurship is thriving here. Some of the most exciting places to encounter art in New York are the basement of Ramiken Crucible, the little storefront of JTT, and Real Fine Arts in Brooklyn underneath the highway. The artists who show at these places, and the people who want to buy their work, don’t need a gigantic, slick, super-expensive gallery. I’m more stimulated by the experience of going into this alley behind the liquor store to get to Ramiken Crucible. The serious people love it—there’s a sense of discovery and authenticity, and a number of artists also appreciate that.
Some artists are waiting for that invitation from the mega-gallery. Other galleries want to do something with them, and they’re holding back. And some of the mega-galleries do a really good job. But is Oscar Murillo’s career going to be more interesting and dynamic and rewarding to him by being with David Zwirner than if he had stayed with Carlos/Ichikawa in London, where he’s hanging out with other artists of his generation? It’s an interesting question. I’m always more enthusiastic about the model where the gallerist is about the same age as the artist, and they grow up together and establish something together.
Cecily BrownCecily Brown, The Homecoming, 2015. Oil on linen, 77 x 97 in. Courtesy of the artist
One of the strategies that you’ve been working with is to have less of a gallery presence and to focus on pop-up exhibitions.
Yes. It’s a much bigger reward for me to create a thematic exhibition, instead of just running as fast as I can on a treadmill to create 30 shows a year, which we used to do. We did “Unrealism” pretty quickly, although it’s a major effort. With “Overpop,” I’m taking more time. This is more what I want to do now, to do projects that take some time and have a book attached and that make a bigger impact. Also, rather than just representing artists I like, I can work with all galleries. With “Unrealism,” we’re getting wonderful collaboration with everybody. That’s something I was able to take advantage of at the museum, and I wanted it to continue. The show is a great collaboration, not just with Gagosian but with Zwirner, with Hauser & Wirth, with Jack Shainman, with many other galleries.
What do you think is the future of SoHo as an art neighborhood? There are very few galleries left in the area, and some of the ones that remain are consolidating or closing. Meanwhile, the Lower East Side is booming.
SoHo has a new dynamism, because of the Lower East Side. You can just walk right down Grand Street—it’s a 10-minute walk. It’s a really central area for shopping, restaurants. There’s Chanel here, but also there’s H&M, Uniqlo. There’s something for everyone, no matter what your income level. I’m very populist, so I like that it’s very central, very accessible. Every subway goes here.
The other new development, besides the Lower East Side galleries, is Condé Nast and TIME and Fox going to the World Trade Center area. It’s one subway stop on the E train, and you’re here. You can easily come here at lunch hour if you’re working for Vogue.
So I’m very happy—I’m not going anywhere. In August, I’m going to take back the Wooster Street space back. I had given a special five-year lease to the Swiss Institute—I was planning to be away, but I had always planned to take the space back.
So you’ll operate it as a gallery again?
Yes, but again it’s not like we represent this or that artist—it would be thematic shows, or… I have plenty of ideas. Not for month-to-month shows, but maybe shows that would be on for a couple of months. And then we would use this space [at 76 Grand Street] more as an office and showroom.
Is Brooklyn, where you had been looking for gallery space last year, off the table at this point?
Yes, I’m focusing here. I tried to make a deal to bring in a partner who I was connected with to buy a half-interest in a big property in Red Hook, and out of that I would get an exhibition space. It wasn’t completed. Then I got this building back, and then I was invited to do this outdoor project in Coney Island. So I don’t really need it now.
Can you tell me more about “Overpop”?
The theme of “Unrealism” is very straightforward—the winds are shifting, and there’s some very fresh figurative painting, and we’re seeing this cycle just like we did in 1980 or ’82—a new interest in figuration. “Overpop” is much more complicated. In a way, it’s my sequel to “Post Human.”
When I see something that’s out there that hasn’t been fully articulated yet, that plenty of people are talking about, I want to rise to the challenge—can I define what is important in this moment? I’m very interested in tendencies in art that coincide with trends in society and science. With this “Overpop” moment, we see this convergence between artistic trends, social trends, technological trends. There’s something really interesting there that can help us to understand and define our moment by looking at art.
For me the title is even more important than the essay. It’s crazy how few people actually read your essays, but everybody knows the title. With this group of artists, there’s a lot of debt to the foundation of Pop art, to Warhol and other artists in the Pop arena. There’s also this confusion between art and popular culture. There are artists in “Overpop” who work directly in popular culture—like Miranda July, or Harmony KorineSpring Breakers is pop culture, but it has amazing artistic imagery and concepts.
Where exactly are you doing "Overpop"?
It’s going to open in Shanghai. We’re talking with an American museum—I hope it’s going to happen. Then it’s going to the Sandretto Re Rebaudengo Foundation in Turin—they’re very astute, they collect a lot of these artists. And we’re doing a book, with [Karma's] Brendan Dugan.
What else are you working on? I heard you were planning to do the “Disco” show you had wanted to do at MOCA.
That’s all conceived and ready to go. But what I decided is that the “Overpop” show is very timely—I have to do it now. The disco show, it doesn’t matter whether it’s done this year or three years from now—it’s more historical, and people will love it then. So I put that off to do “Overpop”— I can’t delay that show, because it’s of this moment.
How would you characterize this current moment in the art world, aside from the issues in "Overpop"? What else is on your mind?
From my perspective, this whole gigantic structure of art fairs and auctions has become excessive. There will probably be some sort of correction, because it’s just too extreme. But I’m also an idealist, and I love it that the art audience has become so much bigger. I do believe that art enhances people’s lives, that art at its best can create more open and tolerant attitudes and understanding between people of diverse backgrounds. So I think it’s good that the art world is much bigger.
I also don’t want to be a curmudgeon and say, “It’s ruined now,” or that the ‘80s was the golden age. In the ‘80s we had to listen to the people from the ‘50s, who thought that Leo Castelli had ruined the art world! The big message is, contemporary art used to be quite marginal in the general culture and the economy, and now art is much more in the center.