Paving over the sixth

Not that one, which is already mostly paved over. Except for the lovely jardin envisioned by Madame de’Medici way back when.

Just as she played her role in helping construct a civilization, are we playing ours in paving over an extinction? That it would be the sixth creates a misnomer, as if in reference to a series and not to an end. We aren’t able to recognize ends all that well, though we are frightened of them and the concept has meaning that we connect to negative consequences. And still the paving continues – not building cities but destroying them to build roads. I know:

That doesn’t matter to Maryland governor Larry Hogan, who proudly touts himself as a good Republican (and is being talked up as a primary challenger to Trump next year), even though he can be as squirrelly as the rest of them. His plan to widen this road would cost between $9 billion and $11 billion and, according to one presentation, would improve commute times by an estimated three minutes. That’s $9 billion plus in funds and umpteen years of construction. For three minutes.

‘This road’ is D.C.’s notorious Beltway, but several major highways into poorly planned cities can be substituted for it. Expanding highways with so-called private toll lanes (hint: not private – only expensive and paid for by the public) that do not ease congestion but do cost several fortunes, as nonsensical as it is, represents one of the only forms of acceptable infrastructure expenditure.

Roads. Look at those dollar amounts again and tell me there’s anything more gaudy than that. And they work, though of course, not as intended.

Public, private or purple, more roads do not lessen traffic. More lanes and wider roads invite more traffic. And more traffic happily accepts!

But there is a thing that lessens traffic, and it even throws a [tiny] wrench into sprawling suburbs, that is, of course, until those plucky little suburbs fight back.

Try driving around North Atlanta between noon and midnight (or, if you like, between the hours of midnight and noon) and you’ll see why they were having none of this train stuff. It. Just. Doesn’t… Actually, I don’t know what it doesn’t do but the lovely residents of the area should hope that Tesla fella is full of it because his auto-autos, were they to ever exist, would be sitting right there with them, not moving, on those same roads.

So the bizarre-o metaphors roll on. The apply named Toll Roads. Pay both ways! 3 hours, round-trip. Personal freedom and individual liberty to sit, and stew, burn and rage. It cannot have a logical end, because there is no logic to it. But surely an end shall it have. Closed Road Now Open. Merge. Expected Arrival Time: Mm Hmm.

Art into Business

I know a lot of people, sure don’t we all. And I know many of them think this ‘slide’ is a horse that departed the barn, found the violin factory and played no small part in a performance of the Brandenburg concerto in 1971. Okay, fine.

But still. I’m going to interview the critic Jed Perl for my show in a month or so. He had a recent piece out about the Met director and Davos and well, horse… barn… Brandenburg D minor 7th:

“We need to make our case with metrics, framed in a language that businessmen understand.” That’s what Thomas Campbell, the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, had to say the other day, while attending the World Economic Forum in Davos. My heart sank when I read these words. They may be the saddest words ever spoken by the director of a major museum. Campbell had begun by complaining that at Davos culture was “an add-on,” “the entertainment”—and I can sympathize with his frustration on that score. But Campbell’s problem—and more than five years into his tenure it’s beginning to look like Campbell’s tragedy—is that at the first sign of frustration he’s ready to turn art into a business.

I’ve been told by people close to Campbell that I misunderstand him. I’ve been told that deep down he’s still the scrupulous scholar who as a curator at the Metropolitan produced what are probably the two greatest tapestry shows ever mounted in a museum. But the gifts that make a great curator (visual refinement, historical imagination) are not necessarily the gifts required to be a great museum director, who must make the case for art’s elusive, transcendent powers in the face of a world dominated by the rapacity of metrics, big data, and businessmen who live and die by such measures. I don’t think Campbell meant any harm to the arts when he argued at Davos that what he called “the culture industry” had to connect with the rest of the world “at a deeper socioeconomic level.” The effect of Campbell’s words, however, was to deny art the unique, stand-alone power it must have in a modern society.

The trouble with Campbell is that he imagines the only way to speak truth to power is in a language you’re absolutely sure the powerbrokers understand. But the great cultural arbiters have always taken an altogether different approach. They have taken it upon themselves to reimagine the nature of power. They have set out to convince the people with the fat bank accounts and the political clout that transcendent values are urgently important, an essential aspect of a healthy democratic society. What the great cultural arbiters have always done is insist on the power of art in the face of other kinds of power—the power of bottom lines, flow charts, metrics, big data.

As they say in the old country, read the whole thing.