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In 1920, nine years before the opening of the Museum of Modern Art, a New York artist named Katherine S. Dreier teamed up with Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray to mount an exhibition of avant-garde art in a Manhattan brownstone. Man Ray designed the lighting, and Duchamp was responsible for the installation, including the Dadaist idea of framing the paintings with paper lace trim. Featuring works by Joseph Stella, Vincent van Gogh, Francis Picabia, and others, the show was only the first eye-opening salvo from Dreier’s group, which called itself the Societe Anonyme, Inc. (Man Ray is thought to have come up with the name, a play on a French business idiom. It translates, more or less, as “Incorporated, Inc.”)
Sixteen works from that show, complete with lace trim, constitute the opening room of “The Societe Anonyme: Modernism for America,” an exhibition organized by the Yale University Art Gallery but debuting at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles April 23-August 20. The new exhibition features 240 works—most of them from Yale’s Societe Anonyme Collection, but a few on loan from other museums—that document the history of the influential group. The exhibition will travel for the next two years, with stops at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. (October 14, 2006-January 21, 2007), the Dallas Museum of Art (June 10-September 16, 2007), and the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville (October 26, 2007-February 3, 2008). It will be presented in the Art Gallery in the fall of 2010.
Under Dreier’s leadership, the Societe Anonyme organized exhibitions, concerts, dance performances, and publications to introduce Americans to the avant-garde. The Societe gave Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, and Fernand Leger their first one-artist shows in America. Later, Dreier and Duchamp concentrated on building a collection of works that they eventually gave to Yale.
Exhibition organizer Jennifer Gross, the curator of modern and contemporary art at the gallery, says that the collection is notable for its range. Some of the works are by artists who are largely unknown today, and some of them—including representational works by artists such as Suzanne Phocas—show that the Societe had an interest in work that is rarely considered “modern” today. “Dreier and Duchamp were very catholic in their tastes,” says Gross. “She was committed to the entire spirit of modernism.”
In 1950, circus impresario Henry Ringling North '33 gave the Peabody Museum of Natural History the skeleton of Gargantua the Great, an animal that had been one of his most famous performers. In life, the nearly 600-pound lowland gorilla had captivated more than a million circus goers from 1937 to 1949. The bones are currently on display in a glass case at the Peabody.
The exhibit is anatomically accurate: Gargantua is shown walking on his knuckles, head turned over his shoulder as if looking for danger. But his mouth is open as if he were baring his massive incisors in threat. The effect is to perpetuate the myth of the aggressive monster ape.
In his prime, Gargantua was formidable. When he reared up in his “jungle-conditioned” cage, he beat his chest and seemed to sneer defiantly through the bars—as if coached to live up to his billing as “the largest and fiercest gorilla ever brought before the eyes of civilized man.” But since the 1930s we’ve learned a great deal about these intelligent and sensitive primates, which are highly endangered. The slogan on the circus posters—“the world’s most terrifying creature”—was only lurid Barnum hype. In fact, gorillas are perhaps the gentlest of the great apes, and their chest-beating is mere bluster to intimidate competing males. Researchers have shown that a silverback male like Gargantua spends much of his day with his offspring. From time to time, he might tickle their noses with flowers.
Gargantua, orphaned as an infant, had been brought to the United States by a sea captain who bought him from missionaries. En route from Africa a disgruntled sailor threw acid in the gorilla’s face, nearly killing him. On arrival in New York City, the captain sold him to Gertrude Davies Lintz, who dubbed him “Buddy” and nursed him back to health; her husband, a plastic surgeon, did what he could to repair the acid scars. But the gorilla was left with a permanent snarl. When he grew too big for them to handle, the Lintzs sold him to North for display in the circus.
Gargantua died of double pneumonia in 1949 at the relatively young age of 20. (Gorillas in captivity often live to be 40 or more.) An autopsy revealed the cause of death, as well as a contributing factor: the ape had badly infected teeth, probably the result of a diet richer in sugar than the wild celery he would have eaten in Africa.
Perhaps, to remind us of the true nature of these animals, the exhibit should include a preserved flower like those of the lowland forests from which Gargantua was kidnapped so many years ago.
The Yenta and the Internet
Jonathan Rosen '85—editor, author, critic… yenta.
No, Rosen doesn’t arrange nuptials. But he does arrange novel, meant-to-be matches for a living, matches that span the centuries.
Rosen, the editorial director of a literary venture called Nextbook, recently fixed up medical writer Sherwin Nuland, for instance, with one Moses Maimonides. It was a challenging and inventive shidduch. Nuland lives in Hamden, Connecticut. Maimonides' most recent hometown was Fostat, Egypt; he died in 1204.
The two were meant for each other, Rosen noticed: both doctors. Both writers. Both consumed with how ethics matches up with science. Nuland is a clinical professor of surgery at the School of Medicine and a best-selling author (Lost in America, How We Die, Doctors). Maimonides, a physician Rosen calls “the patron saint of Jewish doctors,” produced classic texts that remain Judaic top sellers to this day.
So Rosen introduced Nuland to the idea of writing a book on the religious surgeon-scholar. The result: Maimonides, published through a unique joint venture fusing the venerable traditions of book publishing with the new pathways of the Internet.
Rosen made this literary marriage as editor of Jewish Encounters, a series published by Random House’s Shocken Books division and Nextbook, a New York-based experiment in Jewish arts and letters. Nextbook has a website on Jewish culture; an arm that runs public cultural events in Chicago, Seattle, and Washington, D.C.; and the Jewish Encounters book series.
Rosen hatches ideas for books by modern authors about Jewish culture. He edits them; Shocken prints and sells them. Meanwhile, the website features information on the books: summaries, author interviews, excerpts. Then Nextbook, a not-for-profit organization funded by Keren Keshet/The Rainbow Foundation, holds events about the books in its public programs series.
So far his venture has published three books, with seventeen more in the works. Besides Nuland’s Maimonides, Nextbook and Shocken have released a biography of Jewish boxer Barney Ross by Douglas Century and a life of King David by Robert Pinsky. “I thought,” Rosen says, “that somehow the former poet laureate would be excited about writing about the poet king.” He was.
Some people worry that the Internet will draw people away from books, away from each other. Rosen and his Nextbook colleagues (including several Yale alumni) are trying to do just the opposite—to create readers and build community. Rosen views the Internet as a tool to build bridges among people across space or time, a concept he explored in his 2000 book The Talmud and the Internet. “This is a chance to create a context for books,” he says. “For me that’s why there’s a feeling of wholeness about what Nextbook is doing. We’re trying to make books and readers simultaneously.”
Nextbook is certainly making online readers. In December, its website drew 100,000 site visits, about double the number from the same month a year earlier, according to editor Blake Eskin '92. Eskin acknowledges that people do read differently on the web from the way they read books or magazines. He keeps stories on his site pithy: daily digest items about arts and culture run a single paragraph. Feature essays and interviews run no longer than 1,500 words.
“People don’t read long on the web,” Eskin says. “But the web can inspire them to read long elsewhere.”
The Man Who Saved the Freak Show
Dick D. Zigun '78MFA once wrote plays for such prestigious venues as the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, which staged his modernized Alice in Wonderland in 1981. Now he crafts spiels for sideshow barkers in a Wonderland of his own.
Zigun, a graduate of the School of Drama’s playwriting program, is the founder of Coney Island USA, dedicated to “defending the honor of American popular art forms” such as fire-eating and sword-swallowing. From the corner of West 12th and Surf Avenue in Brooklyn, Zigun presides over a 200-seat theater, a museum, weekly burlesque extravaganzas, and, every June, a raucous Mermaid Parade.
Zigun’s faith in the survival of the sideshow is sustained by a patron saint. “At nine years old, I was a P. T. Barnum scholar,” he says. “The Shakespeare of Advertising had been the mayor of my hometown, Bridgeport, Connecticut. Bridgeport was still very proud of him. I grew up thinking elephants and midgets were patriotic.” With Barnum as his role model, Zigun set out after Yale to revive the American art of displaying oddities ten for a dollar.
He found a suitable space in Coney Island, directly behind the elevated train tracks, where riders on the trains could look into the sideshow’s windows. Not everyone was happy to see a latter-day Barnum arrive, though. This part of Brooklyn, neglected and ignored, made a convenient haven for drug deals and gangs. In the Coney Island of the late 1970s, a freak show meant gentrification. A fire of mysterious origin broke out before Zigun could open to the public.
After the fire, Zigun regrouped at West 12th Street and the Boardwalk, where Coney Island USA resided for 11 years. Zigun sought out and befriended living history: Melvin Burkhart the Human Blockhead, who hammered nails into his head; Lilly Santangelo, the Wax Musee doyenne; armless Otis Jordan, the Human Cigarette Factory, who rolled cigarettes with his lips and tongue. Zigun gave these legends, most of whom had been without a steady venue for years, a place to perform in and, most significantly, to pass on their skills to new generations.
When the Boardwalk lease ran out, the freaks moved up West 12th Street to their current home. It’s a destination for seekers of certain skills. “At the School of Freakology,” Zigun boasts, “we train the new generation of circus idiots for the 21st century.”
In June, Zigun leads off Coney Island USA’s Mermaid Parade, wearing a turn-of-the-century wool bathing suit and a top hat. He beats a drum, and behind him follow participants so faithful to their roles that they’re banned from Coney Island’s new squeaky-clean baseball stadium. “They’re mermaids,” says Zigun. “Of course, some of them would be topless. That’s traditional for mermaids.”
Recently, a real estate boom has hit Coney Island. Over half the property in the commercial district has changed hands in the last few months, much of it bought by a mall developer. Ominously, the Coney Island USA building is for sale. Will the freaks have to move? Disperse?
Coney Island USA’s endurance has earned it friends in high places. Alerted to the danger of Brooklyn losing its resident sword swallowers to a mall, the city government has helped put together a financing package so that Coney Island USA can make an offer on the building. “Now, we’re waiting to see if our offer is accepted,” says Zigun.
Next season’s headliners are ready for any venue. 19-year-old Heather Holiday, the world’s youngest female sword swallower, has learned Melvin’s old Blockhead act. Another performer, Insectivora, has given up eating bugs and switched to eating fire. Coney Island USA is a movable feast.
MacArthur in the Mideast?
Driving north to Vermont, to the old farmhouse they had just bought, Jerry Bremer '63 carefully broke the news to his wife, Francie, that President George Bush '68 had a job for him. After a long pause, Francie said, “OK, if anybody can do it, you can.”
That was exactly my thought when I heard that Jerry Bremer had been selected to head the Coalition Provisional Authority, the government of occupation in Iraq. Bremer’s role, the media noted, would resemble that of Gen. Douglas MacArthur in post-World War II Japan. Those who had worked with Bremer in the past, as I had, would not consider the comparison farfetched. Within Foreign Service ranks, Bremer had been famous and formidable as chief of staff of the State Department, an American ambassador, and a leading contributor to counterterrorism policy. Later he became president of Kissinger Associates and CEO of a major corporation’s crisis-management division.
Television coverage of Bremer’s arrival in Iraq depicted a dashing and youthful-looking figure, impeccably tailored, wearing his signature combat boots. Bremer was the very model of the sole superpower’s proconsul.
Having followed the Iraq operation very closely, I feel that the public (and even Yale alumni; I have spoken regularly on the war to alumni gatherings) is not familiar with the events that took place during Bremer’s tenure—other than the media’s focus on the mistakes and horrors of the occupation. The real story was how to create a democratic polity out of nothing. That was Bremer’s main job.
It soon became clear to those of us observing from the sidelines that Iraq was a far more dysfunctional and dangerous place than Washington imagined. After decades of Saddam Hussein’s tyranny, the Iraqi people—the Shias, Sunnis, Kurds, and others—were consumed by fear and animosity toward each other. The Iraqi infrastructure, from the electricity grid to the sanitation, oil field equipment, and transportation systems, was near collapse.
However, the United States had planned for a different set of problems: mass refugee flight, oil fields set ablaze, the use of chemical and biological weapons against U.S. forces. Most Pentagon and State Department planners seemed to believe that the United States could hand over authority to a selected group of new Iraqi leaders and depart fairly soon. Instead, Coalition personnel were engulfed by looting, score-settling, and general anarchy, much of it created by hardened criminals just released by Saddam.
Bremer had an almost impossible task on his hands. My Year in Iraq, while flat and factual, could almost be played as black comedy, were it not for the stakes involved. In a passage reminiscent of a Woody Allen film, Bremer reports a meeting with a ruling sheikh:
“Hakim,” he said (using the Arab term for “governor,” for this is how the tribes saw me), “I want to assure you of the everlasting loyalty of the Shammar tribe to you and to the governments that have freed us.” Murmurs of agreement from the others. … “Our loyalty is constant and unshakeable. … We have always shown our loyalty and we will be faithful to this ancient tribal tradition.” More sounds of agreement.
“If,” he concluded, “we should ever decide to betray you, I pledge my word that we will give you a month’s notice.”
But Bremer’s account is perhaps best compared to the college student’s nightmare about trying to get to the final examination, only to be thwarted at every turn. The best-publicized revelation in the book recounts how, less than ten days into the job, Bremer read a draft RAND Corporation report estimating the troop levels that would be needed to stabilize postwar Iraq. The report recommended 20 occupying troops to every 1,000 people; Iraq’s population of 25 million would have required 500,000 soldiers, more than three times the number of foreign troops in Iraq.
“The analysis was stunning,” Bremer writes. He agreed with defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s plans to make U.S. armed forces as a whole lighter and faster. “But did the situation on the ground in Iraq support the conclusion that we would need only a third of the occupation forces suggested by the RAND study?” That afternoon he sent a summary of the report to Rumsfeld. “‘I think you should consider this,’ I said in my covering memo. I never heard back from him about the report.”
Although Bremer requested more troops, American commanders apparently did not. It was evident early on that Washington was not going to provide anything close to the traditionally accepted ratio of occupier-to-occupied. Equally problematic was the country’s internal situation. Bremer says that he had intended to disband Saddam’s Iraqi army and rapidly reenlist its personnel in works programs, but by the time he came on the scene, the army had “self-demobilized” by simply going home.
The American media is ever-present in the book, more as a participant in shaping events than reporting on them. Guided by the usual “good news is no news” maxim, the Western press overlooked progress made in schools, hospitals, irrigation canals, a new currency, and focused instead on looting, power outages, long gasoline lines, and depicting American soldiers as victims, not heroes. Even worse, the Arab satellite television broadcasts of Al-Jazeera endlessly re-ran the bloodiest footage available, calculated to inflame Arab minds across the Middle East. Bremer accepts the media as a fact of life, but he worries about its consequences. When Congressman John Murtha says his district is solidly behind the war effort, Bremer wonders, “How long will that last if all they can see and hear in the media is so bleak?”
Bremer also accepts that tension between Washington and those in the field is a feature of war. His team called this pressure “the 8,000-mile screwdriver.” “Hamster” bureaucrats believed it was their function to disapprove or slow down requests from the field. When Bremer testified in Congress, senators blasted him for having no plan; they denied receiving his 57-page strategy, hand-delivered to every Capitol Hill office two months earlier.
The attempt to build a democracy provides the plot for Bremer’s year. To create a new Iraq polity would require a careful sequencing of steps. First, an Iraqi Governing Council would come into being and begin to govern as Bremer devolved power to it. Then elections would be held in accordance with a constitution.
But Bremer soon concluded that the Governing Council “couldn’t organize a parade, let alone the country.” As for elections, there were no voter rolls and no electoral laws. Further, the paramount Shia leader, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, demanded that the drafters of the constitution themselves be elected. All these factors threatened to prevent Bremer from handing over sovereignty.
Bremer devised a brilliant but fragile phased program of action. The Governing Council would write an interim constitution that would be the basis for elections to a transitional assembly. The transitional assembly would select an interim government to which the United States would hand over sovereignty. After voters approved the final draft of the constitution, free elections could be held.
The latter chapters of My Year in Iraq describe in agonizing detail how Washington, the Ayatollah, the Saddamists, the Islamists, and the United Nations each worked to delay or derail the process of democratization. The attempted coup d'etat of Muqtada al-Sadr and the explosion of Fallujah threatened to cause the entire political process to collapse. Bremer nevertheless handed over sovereignty to the new Iraqi interim government on June 28, 2004. Since then, the constitution has been approved by a nationwide referendum, and elections have been held as the basis for a legitimate new Iraqi state.
It is fairly obvious that, in recounting these events, Bremer made a decision not to get into strategic matters, such as the transformation of the Middle East, because that was not his story. Yet for all the mistakes and mismanagement of the occupation of Iraq, for all the continuing horrors of suicide bombers and beheadings and the exaltation of Islamist and Saddamist terrorists, something of world-historical significance may have been set in motion in Iraq during Jerry Bremer’s time there. Signs of democratization, however chaotic and even frightening, can be seen in many parts of the region. The price America and the people of the Middle East have paid and will continue to pay is high, but the alternative—an entire region moving inexorably into violent opposition to the rest of the world—would be far worse.
Also worthy of note has been the series of UN resolutions coming after the fall of Saddam, resolutions that have put the world organization and its member states officially behind the U.S. occupation and the transitional process—all for the goal of returning Iraq to legitimate international standing, and backing democratization not only for Iraq, but across the region.
None of these larger and longer-range considerations are described in Bremer’s book; he only strays close to the strategic level by speaking of the importance of liberating the Iraqi people from Saddam’s tyranny. That’s for the best. Jerry Bremer simply tells what he did during his year in Iraq. He sticks to the facts as he experienced them. His report is an indispensable account of a turning point that could bring “a future of hope” for the whole Middle East.
The Reluctant Parting: How the New Testament’s Jewish Writers Created a Christian Book
The authors of the New Testament were devout Jews, but the scripture they produced “must be ranked as one of the strangest Jewish books ever written,” argues Galambush. The former Baptist minister shows how reluctant the followers of Jesus were to part ways with their religion.
Money, A Memoir: Women, Emotions, and Cash
When the author was nine years old, her grandmother folded a $20 bill into a small purse and handed it to her. “This is the beginning of your knipple, “ said the grandmother. “It’s a woman’s private stash. Every woman needs one.” Perle’s memoir provides an insightful look at the “convoluted relationship” that she and many other women have with cash.
War of Nerves: Chemical Warfare from World War I to al-Qaeda
In the Middle Ages, poisoned weapons were considered “unworthy of a man of heart.” But in the modern era chemical weapons proliferated, beginning in 1915 when the Germans unleashed a murderous chlorine fog at Ypres. In this grimly fascinating account, Tucker traces the spread of chemical weapons and attempts to control them.
The Race for Timbuktu: In Search of Africa’s City of Gold
“In the first two decades of the nineteenth century, no place burned more brightly in the imagination of European geographers—and fortune hunters—than the lost city of Timbuktu,” writes the author. In 1825, two competing explorers began a race across Africa to reach the continent’s version of El Dorado. Kryza tells their harrowing story.
More Books by Yale Authors
Ian Baucom 1995PhD
Barton Biggs 1955
W. Martin Bloomer 1982, 1987PhD, Editor
Richard Boothby 1977
Susan Boynton 1988, 1990MA
David Brakke 1992PhD
Miyoko Chu 1992
James Coon 1973, Editor
Carrie Yang Costello 1986
John L. Culliney 1964
David Park Curry 1981PhD
Curtis Fields 1943
Carla Freccero 1977
John Lewis Gaddis, Robert A. Lovett Professor of Military and Naval History
John C. Gordon, Pinchot Professor of Forestry and Environmental Studies Emeritus, and Joyce K. Berry 2000DFES
Frank Kogan 1977
Elizabeth Letts 1983, 1995MSN
Benjamin Lieberman 1984
Dayton Loomis 1959
Robert H. R. Loughborough 1949, 1952BD
Clare Lyons 1996PhD
Michael Mandelbaum 1968
Leonard S. Marcus 1972, Editor
Stephen Miller 1964MA
Hugh Rawson 1956 and Margaret Miner, Editors
Vicki Mistacco 1972PhD, Editor
Stephen Hunter Morris 1970
Glenn W. Most 1980PhD, Translator and Editor
Kristine Olson 1972JD
Lionel Rene Saporta 1973
Michael Schoenbaum 1988, Doug Suisman 1976, Glenn E. Robinson, Steven N. Simon, and C. Ross Anthony
Robert Scholes 1950
Jefferson A. Singer 1987PhD
Lenore Skenazy 1981 and Carol Boswell
John S. Whitehead 1967, 1971PhD
David Yamaguchi 1979BS, Tsuji Yoshinobu, Musumi-Rokkaku Satoko, Satake Kenji, Ueda Kazue, and Brian F. Atwater
Barry L. Zaret, MD, Robert W. Berliner Professor of Medicine, and Genell Subak-Sharpe
Private Faces of Public People: 1750–1900
Portrait miniatures served as reminders of loved ones who had left their families to serve their country or earn a living. This display features 29 portraits of leaders in politics and the arts, including George and Martha Washington.
Through Spring 2006
Prairie Skyscraper: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Price Tower
An installation designed by eminent architect Zaha Hadid marks the 50th anniversary of the completion of Frank Lloyd Wright’s only skyscraper.
Dance of the Holy Ghosts: A Play on Memory
Playwright Marcus Gardley '04MFA returns to Yale for the world premiere of his play, which portrays the struggles of an estranged family coming to terms with its past. Staged in the New Theater.
The Biodiversity of Crete
The island of Crete enjoys a widely diverse environment, from the high mountains in its central and western part to its sunny and dry eastern end. This display highlights the island’s ecosystems, plants, and animals, as well as its geologic and fossil history.
J. S. Bach: St. John Passion
The Schola Cantorum, a 24-voice chamber choir, performs the 1725 version of Bach’s St. John Passion at St. Mary Church on Hillhouse Avenue in New Haven. A repeat performance takes place on April 3 at St. Michael Church (99th Street) in New York City.
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