Blog Archive

Blog on 12/12/12


Blog on 12/12/12


All day I’ve been reminded--and not just by the Madison Square Garden super-celebrity concert for Storm Sandy relief--that today is the only day we will ever experience for which the date can be written all in twelves. So I use this as a convenient heading for what will be another blog made up of miscellaneous jottings, and especially several that correct wrong statements I’ve read recently in the popular media. .

First: all my blogs seem to contain something that has to do with my old friend the forger Zhang Daqian; so let me get that over with first.


Another Extravagant--and Wrong--Claim About Another Artist. This one was brought to my attention by one of my Facebook friends, who sent me off to an article published in Vanity Fair last month. The website is:

And when you go there you find this headline:

The Greatest Fake-Art Scam in History?

It’s about a 56-year-old German “hippie artist” named Wolfgang Beltracchi, who has made a lot of money forging the works of recent painters, especially German painters, and selling them for big prices; doing this has permitted him to live the life of a rich man. But the writer who makes such claims about him obviously didn’t know--too few do--about Zhang Daqian, whose long career of producing forgeries along with thousands of genuinely-signed works of his own outdoes any of the other contenders for the honor (or dishonor) of being “the greatest fake-art artist in history.” But I’ve written enough about him already. So on to other matters.

- Second: Still About An Artist, and Inward Chants. I watch the BBC news often, and there is one of their announcers whom I really dislike, for no definable reason--her face, her voice, her whole manner. Her name is Kattie Kay, and when she is on camera (I leave her on so as to see and hear the news) I am chanting silently, inwardly: “Go away/ Kattie Kay/ Don’t come back another day!” (I like other women announcers on BBC news, so it isn’t that she’s female.) Now I have begun to chant inwardly, when another of my Facebook friends posts still another thing about Ai Weiwei and his big exhibition, “Go away/ Ai Weiwei/ Don’t come back another day!” But then the inner voice corrects me: you can’t do that, “away” and “Weiwei” aren’t a proper rhyme, but an identical ending... ANYWAY, I don’t want to be made to look over and over at the same dumb things, the Han pot he drops and shatters, the pile of ceramic sunflower seeds, and the rest, nothing much worth looking at among them. As I’ve written before, I respect him as a political dissident but not as an artist: he rose to prominence, like lots of others in China, by having a famous father (a writer)---and there are many    really good artists in China, people who make real works of art on their own, without hiring helpers to do it, and who deserve better the accolades Ai Weiwei is receiving. OK, enough of that.

Third: Another in a series that I could title: “Very Old Person Corrects the Media.  What has your Old Fusser found to fuss about today? Not the Fiscal Cliff, since all right-minded people already know what the solution to that is: higher taxes on the rich. No, today I’m fussing about a review of a new book in the NYTimes Book Review section for Sunday Nov. 24th (p. 18). The book reviewed is about the cartoonist Saul Steinberg, and it begins: “Saul Steinberg, the preeminent cartoonist of the 20th century. . .” NO NO NO! He’s a clever cartoonist, a great self-promoter, who did MOMA-style drawings (that looked, that is, like prestigious works of modern art), so successfully that he indeed ended up with his drawings exhibited at MOMA. But the preeminent cartoonist of the 20th century, who could out-draw any of the others and had a sense of humor worthy of Groucho Marx, was: GEORGE PRICE (1901-1998). I have made him the chief subject in one of my still-unreleased video lectures, titled “Old American Funnies,” in which he follows Gellett Burgess and Clarence Day (not Day’s “Life With Father,” but his “Scenes From the Mesozoic”) as one of three American humorists who should be celebrated more than they are for their contributions to our culture. George Price was best known as a longtime New Yorker cartoonist, contributing some 1,200 cartoons to that publication during the seven-decades span of his career. His humor was graphic, not verbal: he reportedly had other people think up some of his captions for him. His specialty were detailed, structurally strong drawings of interiors with figures, especially run-down urban apartments and their denizens: a favorite of mine (Fig. 1) portrays one of these with a worker entering the door carrying his lunchbox and saying to his slatternly wife, who is washing dishes at the sink: “I heard a bit of good news today. We shall pass this way but once.” But look at the three-dimensional acuity of his drawing, which constructs the ordinary objects and the spaces they occupy as a setting for the people with a precision worthy of a master--Goya would have admired it.

My lecture on him will culminate with a long section on what I take to be his masterwork, “George Price’s Ice Cold War,” published in 1951. In it, using captions from Shakespeare below his drawings, he takes on the notable politically-far-right figures of his day: Joseph McCarthy, William Randolph Hearst and his sons, Gary Cooper, Hedda Hopper, a racist orator named Homer Loomis (Fig. 2), the American Legion (Fig. 3), the Daughters of the American Revolution--with a mordant pen that raises him, in my view (expressed in my lecture), to be “the Daumier of our time.” The arty Saul Steinberg couldn’t touch him. I end my lecture with a series of photos of some recent rightists: Trump, Gingrich, Rohrer, McConnell, Romney--and asking rhetorically: Where is George Price now, when we need him? Look in your library, or in a second-hand bookstore, for a copy of one of George Price’s cartoon collections, and take it home or buy it. And wait for my lecture, along with others, to appear on this website. (They will have to be in a third series, to be titled “Pages From My Notebooks: Issues, Arguments, and Memories,” made up of video-lectures that don’t fit into either of the first two series, including some that are semi-autobiographical, and others on subjects that don’t belong within the “Later Chinese and Japanese Painting” scope set by the sub-title of the GIP second series.)



Fourth: the death of the sitar player Ravi Shankar at the age of 92 has brought forth obituaries hailing him as “the man who introduced Indian music to the Western world.” He was a great performer, but this last is not true: it was his older brother, the dancer Uday Shankar, who introduced Indian music to the Western world. I saw and heard him and his troupe of musicians several times when I was young, and had--still have somewhere?--an album of old Victor red-seal 78 RPM records of Indian music played by them. You can hear them on a 1937 recording at


You can also, if you are adept enough at cyberspace-hunting, watch and listen to his 1948 film “Kalpana,” meaning “imagination” or “creativity”--not for god’s sake the 2012 horror film of that title, but the film that Uday Shankar made late in his life--a somewhat amateurish but impressive and moving film that presents an eccentric old man trying to persuade a film producer to take on the making of the movie he envisions, about an ideal project that will present classical Indian dance and other culture to the outside world through an imagined Shangri-la-like enclave in the Himalayas--well, my memory of it isn’t  clear enough for me to write more. But find it, watch it.


What I remember about Uday Shankar as a dancer is the way he would strike a pose and stand center stage looking sideward, smiling slightly, see Fig. 4, while his musicians continued playing behind and around him, and without moving his feet or body or head, he would send ripples through the muscles of his outstretched arms. And he could make his eyes vibrate--I know this because I learned to do it myself. I don’t recommend trying it--I was told by an oculist that it could be damaging to the eye muscles. But I could do it, by a certain relaxation of muscles, and see the world vibrate before me. (I just tried it, and now the text I’m writing blurs on the computer screen.)


So, in the midst of all of the well-earned adulation for his younger brother, join one very old enthusiast in acknowledging that the person who introduced Indian music to Western audiences was not Ravi, but Uday, Shankar.


A few final notes. I’ve been informed, more about this later, that our video-lecture series “A Pure and Remote View” will be posted in China, for free viewing by everybody there, I would hope, by a very large number of people, since my books in Chinese translation have been best-sellers in China, and my lectures might well appeal to the same people.

The second of our video-lecture series, “Gazing Into the Past: Scenes From Later Chinese and Japanese Painting,” should be up and accessible on this website quite soon. But I’ve been writing that for a long time, and a succession of obstacles, human and technical, have kept it from being posted. Keep watching this website, the space below the PRV symbol at right, for another to appear--and within that, when you click on it, the first half-dozen or so of the GIP lectures.


So, that’s all for today, or rather tonight: I end this just three minutes before the date will be: 12, 13, 12, spoiling forever the one-two-one-two pattern.


Your old blogger, James Cahill 

Later: Tonight Turner Classic Movies, which I watch regularly, is showing several movies of “Les Miserables.” The 1935 Hollywood one with Frederick March and Charles Laughton I don’t want to see again, but the 1934 French one I definitely will watch, partly because the great actor Harry Baur is Jean Valjean. (See, if you have a chance, his 1941 “Volpone,” in which Louis Jouvet is his henchman Mosca.) But also because the young man Marius in this French “Les Mis” is played by Jean Servais! So who, you young people will ask, is Jean Servais? Well--back in those days when we went to art-film houses to see movies from France, one that I especially liked, along with the great Pagnol trilogy (with Raimu and others, the films that the name Chez Panisse came from--those were days when you could use such a name and expect cultivated people to know who Panisse was)-- was another Pagnol film made in 1934 titled “Angele.” In it, Orane Demazis is a young woman named Angele who is imprisoned by her father in the basement of their house (as I remember) for misbehaving, going off to the city with a Bad Guy; the comic actor Fernandel is sympathetic but unable to help her; and she is rescued by a handsome young hero played by Jean Servais. Twenty-one years pass, and in 1955 Jules Dassin makes what I have always taken to be the best of all heist (elaborate robbery) films, titled “Rififi.” And the anti-hero, just out of prison and enticed into joining in one last job--which he will not survive--is none other than Jean Servais. If you haven’t seen this one, get it and watch it. See how they devise a way of silencing the alarms; see how they come into the jewelry shop through the ceiling; see how Jules Dassin pays for a casual theft with his life. And watch Jean Servais--with tears in your eyes, if you are like me--drive through Paris, while dying of his wounds, to deliver a little boy he has rescued to his mother. No, I haven’t spoiled anything by revealing these bits of the plot; the movie goes far beyond story-telling. Rent it, buy it, see it.

Much later, early morning: Watched the 1934 French “Les Mis” with Harry Baur as Jean Valjean--one of the great performances on film, director is Raymond Bernard, unknown to me. Three-part, epic length (like “Children of Paradise”), music by Honnegger! I’ve ordered a DVD to watch again. (Have I related how, back in the early 1940s, Gordon Cyr and I and several others formed the Honnegger Society of America to attend performances of his works and cheer loudly? We actually corresponded with him--he believed we were a large, recognized organization instead of a few high school boys.)

Latest Work

  • Conclusion Conclusion
    VI Conclusion It is time to draw back and look, if not at the whole Hyakusen, at as much of him as we have managed to illuminate in this study. Dark areas remain, and doubtless many distortions, but...

Latest Blog Posts

  • Bedridden Blog
    Bedridden Blog   I am now pretty much confined to bed, and have to recognize this as my future.  It is difficult even to get me out of bed, as happened this morning when they needed to...