HHHappy New Year

I tried but this version of the Emblem of Tibet in exile does not help date this holiday card from HH The Dalai Lama. image: juliensauctions

There are literally like a hundred Christmas cards from various configurations of the British royal family in this ex-countess’s estate sale—here’s one of several with skeevy Prince Andrew—but there is only one holiday card from His Holiness The Dalai Lama, and it rocks.

Austrian refugee and concert pianist Maria Donata Nanetta Paulina Gustava Erwina Wilhelmine Stein married to George Lascelles, 7th Earl of Harewood and first cousin to the Queen, in 1949, and after her divorce in 1967, Countess Harewood kept in touch with her friend the Queen. Which accounts for staying on the Windsors’ mailing list, but not the Dalai Lama’s. Her later marriage to a politician Jeremy Thorpe doesn’t help either.

So it probably involves her son David Lascelles, now the 8th Earl, who produced Tibet: A Buddhist Trilogy, a four-hour, meditative, verité documentary on Tibetan monastic life in exile in 1979. Lascelles also commissioned Bhutanese monks to build a stupa at Harewood in 2004 as part of a spiritual reparation, a way to account for his family’s legacy of enslavement and exploitation without necessarily impacting its actual fortune or the 18th century country house it funded.

Which is all well and good, and enslavers need all the karmic help they can get. But the point here is, the coolest Christmas card around was sent by the exiled human incarnation of the Buddha to an Ashkenazi Jewish refugee-turned-ex-countess months away from either of their actual new year’s days. [update: at least TWICE.]

27 June 2024, Lot 105: Dalai Lama | Signed Holiday Card, est. $300-500 [juliensauctions, s/o opulent tipster rachel tashjian-wise for the first auction, and idroolinmysleep for the second]

Moby Dick is My Moby Dick

A rebacked 1st edition of Moby Dick, 1851, NY, selling at Christie’s NY in June 2024 [update: sold for $32,760]

I want a first edition of Moby Dick, but I think the psychic price of actually ever buying one will be too high.

While surfing around to see how the copy for sale at Christie’s rn stacks up, I fall into a briar patch of rarity, condition reports, restoration and repair, inscription and annotation, and cutthroat antiquarian connoisseurship.

Continue reading “Moby Dick is My Moby Dick”

Pole Flags

I really did just think I could post two pics of sweet-looking flags and be done, but nooo.

Because as a not country, Antarctica doesn’t have an official flag. There are eight territorial claims made by seven sovereign states, and some of those have their own flags. There’s a flag-shaped “emblem of the Antarctic Treaty System,” negotiated beginning in 1958 and enacted in 1961, which supersedes those sovereign claims, which is a map of the continent divided up into twelve longitudinal slices. A similar continent-shaped flag, minus the slicing, on a lighter blue, was inspired by the UN flag. It was designed by Graham Bartram in 1996 for a CD-ROM atlas, using new satellite imagery.

In 2002, Edward Kaye took two dozen of Bartram’s flags on an expedition cruise to Antarctica, where he flew and distributed them at five nations’ bases [Brazil, Chile, Argentina, UK, and Ukraine]. His account of the trip was published in the proceedings of the 20th International Congress of Vexillology, held in Stockholm in 2003. Since 2015 Bartram’s design has been used for the Antarctica Flag emoji: 🇦🇶.

Kaye’s brief history of Antarctic flags included a mockup [above, left] of a possible Antarctic flag flown by Ernest Shackleton on his 1907-09 Nimrod expedition. He was citing Flags of The World [fotw.net, now defunct], where flag nerds of the world posted their latest information about the world’s flags. An archived version of the Antarctic Flags page reveals that in 1999 someone saw a hand-colored edition of Shackleton’s account of the Nimrod expedition on Antiques Roadshow which included a five-band blue & white flag. Kaye’s diagram was based on the gif [above, right] António Martins made in 2000 for fatw.net using a different blue.

But this flag did not exist, or at least, it was not published in Shackleton’s book. The Google Books scan of p. 52 [above] shows three black flags of the type Shackleton mentions throughout the account, which were used to mark supply depots.

In 2018, Antarctic contractor Evan Townsend proposed the flag I thought I’d write my quick & easy blog post about, the True South Flag. Townsend’s proposal focused on drawing attention to Antarctic conservation and the people who work toward it: “The future of this continent depends on humans, which is why we need a flag not just for a landmass, but for a people and a community.” Compared to Bartram’s design, which has been propagated via technological flanking maneuvers, the True South flag seeks to build credibility through use and support on the ice.

It draws attention to both the historical territorial claims on Antarctica by other sovereign states, and the treaty that precludes such claims and guarantees the continent’ exceptional status as a peaceful, collaborative, non-state. But it does that, ironically, by rallying what had long been missing from the equation: a permanent, not to say indigenous, population.

Which is partly why True South’s resemblance to the flag of Greenland, the other polar flag I’d thought to post about, stuck in my mind. With the advent of home rule in 1978, Greenlanders sought a distinct identity apart from the legacy of Danish colonialism. The design [above] that was eventually ratified in 1985 was by Thue Christiansen. [It was immediately discovered to be identical to the logo of a Danish rowing club, but they said they didn’t mind.]

We Are All Christies-Now

It is sort of mind-blowing to realize the digital shitstorm that has engulfed Christie’s the week before some of the year’s biggest auctions. I mean, I certainly didn’t need to hear from Todd Levin to know that the website had gone offline.

But it was only by clicking through the email sent from CEO Guillaume Cerutti that the scope of their predicament began to sink in. That email was, at least sent from the Christie’s email server.

Continue reading “We Are All Christies-Now”


This one’s clearly on me. If I was going to write anything about the John Galliano documentary, I should have known to read more Rachel Tashjian-Wise than just Opulent Tips.

She reported on the documentary almost two months ago, and Macdonald told her the same fascinating-to-me thing he told Josh Slater-Williams, that Galliano’s Fall 2022 show was about being the subject of a documentary. Which, if you look at that show, is all kinds of problematic. But.

She also adds so much more context: that it was Anna Wintour who dangled a Galliano documentary on the hook for several years until a director—Macdonald—bit. And crucially, as I read it, that the whole thing pivoted on documentary’s backers at Dior—and LVMH.

The reputation being laundered by the documentary is not Galliano’s—or not just Galliano’s—but Galliano’s collections for Dior. So cooperating effusively was, Macdonald suggested, “a great way for them to say, ‘Okay, we’ve laid that to rest.’ And I think, so, for Dior and for John, I think that was their agenda.”

Galliano near the Met Gala but not at it, fitting Kim Kardashian into a Margiela dress, screenshot via Mikelle Street’s social media

“It is also, of course,” wrote Tashjian-Wise, “an agenda that allows them to make more money off Galliano-designed products.” And so it seems unsurprising that weeks after the documentary dropped, Galliano was declared “the real winner of the Met Gala.” Tashjian-Wise notes that Galliano dressed six celebrities for the Met Gala, including Kim Kardashian, and Zendaya—twice. The actress skipped the co-chairs receiving line at the top of the Met’s stairs to take a second lap outside, wearing a vintage Galliano-era Givenchy.

Both Tashjian-Wise and Chantal Fernandez at The Cut reported rumors that Galliano had been Anna Wintour’s and curator Andrew Bolton’s intended subject this year’s Costume Institute exhibition. After someone at the Met nixed the plan last year, Bolton had to throw together a collection exhibition about spring florals based on a dystopian Philip K. Dick story.

A Wintour-orchestrated, LVMH-sanctioned documentary. A triumphant LVMH-sponsored museum retrospective, and reported “suggestions” that Galliano would return to LVMH. The plan really was going to be, put the antisemitic outrage outrage to rest, and use the Met Gala to launch a rebooted Galliano. The world—and some museum trustees, apparently—have intervened, but it does cast a stark light on the Met Gala as a wholly instrumentalized tool of the luxury industry.

Fernandez’ article on Andrew Bolton gets into the Costume Institute’s weird governance and curatorial shenanigans, but we’ve never gotten a breakdown of the Met Gala’s actual value proposition as the the world’s most extravagant sponcon. It’s a Condé Nast-branded, pay-to-play fashion show, combined with a party giving Vogue advertisers both content opportunities and facetime with celebrities, and the venue gets a cut of the door. And we’re all either too starstruck or too grateful for the fundraising to acknowledge how, beneath the museum’s sheer veil of cultural credibility, the Met Gala is naked.

Does John Galliano deserve your forgiveness? [washingtonpost]
The real winner of the Met Gala was John Galliano [wapo]
Oh, beef: Balenciaga won the 2024 Met Gala [townandcountrymag]
The Met Gala’s Costume Drama [thecut]
Previously, related: On making a Galliano documentary
Great Artists Steal, Gala Artists Recycle

Seeing < – > Making Dropping

1 The “How” of Knowledge
2 Inventory-ing
3 Field of Action – Space for Play

Seeing <-> Making: Room for Thought is a “picture book of philosophy” that aims to “make theory visible” by “reorient[ing] the space of the book” to make theory in our “image-based information age” visible in service of “collective imagination and social action.”

Is that an Angelus Novus I see before me?

I have to use so many quotes because I have been pondering the extraordinary Benjaminian arcade-shaped announcement/object for a couple of months already, and I can barely wrap my head around it what this will actually be. But I am now clear on the existence of a book launch at Triple Canopy in a couple of weeks.

Essays by leading visual culture scholar Susan Buck-Morss are configured into a network for expanded thought by leading t-shirt-as-discourse god Kevin McCaughey (Boot Boyz Biz) and leading who-else-would-put-together-a-book-like-this designer and publisher Adam Michaels (Inventory Press).

4 Visual Studies & Global Imagination
5 The Task
6 Critical Distance

7 The Gift of the Past
8 Class Quilt
9 Seeing Global

These numbered lists are, I believe, the twelve analogic spaces of the book, around which readers will be invited to expand their theoretical fields. I transcribed them from the arcade model.

“Benjamin as Method / PSC” is one of Buck-Morss’ graduate polisci courses at CUNY

10 News From Flowers
11 Aesthetics & Anesthetics
12 Picture-History Laboratory

Other elements of the project, visuals and text appeared in the last Boot Boyz Biz drop, which took place while I was driving, and thus I missed every single thing. It is rare to get a second bite at the BBB cherry, but between a trade book and a launch event with a merch table, I’m making room for thoughtful swag.

Kankonshi 還魂紙

Usuzumi no Rinji/Reclaimed Paper Imperial Decree, 1333 CE, coll. Toji Hyakugo Monjo, Kyoto Pref.

From Jonathan A. Hill bookseller’s latest catalogue, this entry caught my eye:

An extremely rare example of a Kamakura-era sutra printed in Japan on recycled grayish paper; this is the first specimen we have encountered. For an excellent discussion on the subject of recycled paper used in early Japanese printing, we have turned to the most interesting contribution of SOAS Prof. Lucia Dolce (“A Sutra as a Notebook? Printing and Repurposing Scriptures in Medieval Japan,” Ars Orientalis, Vol. 52, No. 3, 2023):

because of the reclaimed paper, called sukigaeshigami 漉返紙 in the period, and shukushi 宿紙 in contemporary archives, but frankly, this sentence is mostly to not have nested blockquotes. Prof. Dolce:

The term sukigaeshigami 漉返紙 (reclaimed paper) appears often in literary works of the time, indicating paper made by soaking scrap paper and other fibers and then spreading them thinly. This method erased the previous text almost completely. Small traces of ink and even traces of characters remained, for ink dissolves and adheres to paper and it is difficult to remove it completely. This gave paper a light gray, “thin-inked” color (usuzumikami 薄墨紙). Sutra printed on such paper were called shukugamikyō 宿紙経, literally “sutras on reclaimed paper.” Since this type of paper was darker and of lower quality than new paper, it was mixed with a higher-quality paper, such as the silky textured ganpi that lends a glossy appearance, and became luxury paper. A second impression of the Kōei edition of the Lotus Sutra was printed on recycled paper of unknown provenance, which had been mixed with mica.

This next paragraph is part of the quote, too, and the entire reason for posting this, but I couldn’t get it to be bold AND italic:

The understanding that writing is imbued with the spirit of a person underpinned such practices, and it is suggestive that literary works use the term kankonshi 還魂紙 (lit., “paper in which the spirit of a deceased comes back” for sutra paper recycled from someone’s writings. These examples suggest that the preservation of a deceased person’s writing functioned as a primary aim for reusing written paper, for once printed with a sutra, that writing would enjoy long life with no danger of being destroyed (except by accident).

It is worthy of note, though, that reclaiming paper was primarily not an emotional strategy, but a regular operation in premodern Japan. Until the fourteenth century paper recycling was run by a governmental institution, the Kamiya 紙屋, and recycled paper was routinely used by the court for bureaucratic matters, such as imperial messages.

I am transfixed by this idea of text being imbued with the spirit of its writer—a concept which resonates more with calligraphy or handwriting—and of a paper that brings that spirit back. And then to get made into a sutra, never to be recycled again! Yay? Oh no? How does the deceased feel about this? Is it a goal or a trap?

Prof. Dolce notes that reclaiming paper was not emotional, but routine, but was also prestigious. Besides the 14th century CE imperial decree on shukushi Prof. Dolce references in the National Archives in Tokyo, the description of this decree in the Toji Hyakugo Monjo in Kyoto explains that the shukushi used by the emperors was darkened even further to enhance its sacred and majestic character. I don’t know if it mattered what paper or whose writing was reclaimed for this, but this spiritual/ephemeral continuity and embodiment as a material expression of its own is fascinating.

There Is Life after Being Re-Pulped [jonathanahill]
Dolce, L., (2023) “A Sutra as a Notebook? Printing and Repurposing Scriptures in Medieval Japan” [journals.publishing.umich.edu]

Ring Light Vanity Mirror

“Sold with a digital certificate of authentication from Tom Langevin, former director of Karl Springer, Ltd.” Lot 230: Karl Springer illuminated vanity mirror, c. 1970s, coll. Blackman Cruz via LA Modern

Ring lights are the cursed icon of our age. In the excavations in the future, ring lights on wispy black metal skeletal bases, flattened against a layer of disintegrated grey woodgrain laminate flooring, will be used to pinpoint this moment in history.

All the digital content they were used to create—that wasn’t already deleted from the servers when the monetization ran out—will have been wiped from the servers by EMPs, and archaeologists will hypothesize what they were for, and why every 21st century room had one. Was that just the shape of lamps at that point? The moon was popular, I guess? Were they altars to the Oprah goddess?

Then one day a dig in the Cahuenga Archipelago will turn up this, a ring light WITH A MIRROR IN THE CENTER, and yet it dates from generations earlier. And they’ll conclude that ringlights were once used for an ancient habit of staring at oneself. And at some point in the intervening 50 years, probably because they were processing the looming climate crisis, people became so unconcerned with how they looked that ring lights lost the mirror, but kept the shape, purely as an aesthetic. Maybe they even became symbols of a new humility, a communitarian absence of self-obsession. What an enlightened and advanced society the Ring Light Culture must have been. Why they died out was a mystery.

Beauty & Mischief: Selections from Blackman Cruz, 20 March 2024, Lot 230: Karl Springer Illuminated Vanity Mirror, c. 1970s, est. $1,000-1,500, sold for $1,764 [lamodern]

Tangier Snailmobiles

A snail soup wagon of Halazon Tanger, photographed for World of Interiors by Roland Beaufre

OK maybe Hamish Bowles is not going to ruin World of Interiors yet/after all. Marie-France Boyer waxes poetic about the absolutely dripping Mercedes snailmobiles of Tangier, beautifully captured in Roland Beaufre’s photos. Mr. Mohamed Ayoub dreamed for years of such swag worthy of the snail soup he serves at night along the beachfront. Then he got his team together, and now there are three.

So while we’re all now plotting our trips to Tangier, Hamish is in a Condé boardroom getting grilled by Anna about how many Acrylic snail objets by Jonathan Adler he moved last month.

“If you purchase something, we may earn a commission.”

Helical Vehicles [worldofinteriors]

Plates Of The Society of The Cincinnati

Feb. 7, 2024, Lot 608, Society of the Cincinnati set of 12 plates, selling at the Potomack Company

Never imagined I’d be running a conceptual art and dishware blog, but here we are.

The Society of the Cincinnati is a hereditary organization founded in 1783 by Henry Knox so the officers of the American Revolution—and their descendants—could keep in touch. Around 5,500 men in the US and France were deemed eligible to join, and 2,150 joined within the first year. There are 13 affiliated societies in the US, plus one in France. George Washington was invited to be the first president.

Washington disapproved of the hereditary and primogeniture aspect of the Society, and so that section was stricken from the group’s founding articles. It was put back in after Washington’s death in 1799. [Alexander Hamilton was the second president.] Each eligible officer may be represented by one male living descendant at a time.

The Society of the Cincinnati has a giant palazzo on Massachusetts Avenue in Dupont Circle in DC. In 1960, this set of plates handpainted with the crest of the Society was produced by Delano Studios of Setauket, LI, a small porcelain painter which also made such dishes as the commemorative plate for Eisenhower’s 1953 Inauguration, and the Sayville Yacht Club’s 1967 Nationals.

They are now for sale, from the estate of Mrs Mary Lee Bowman of McLean, who passed away in late 2022. Bowman was a renowned hostess and supporter of the Virginia steeplechase, and a seven-time golf champion at the Chevy Chase Club, which inaugurated an annual women’s tournament, the Bowman Cup, in her honor.

In 1960 she married A. Smith Bowman, and moved to his family’s 7,240-acre farm, Sunset Hills, where his family operated what was long Virginia’s only legal whiskey distillery. The farm is now the city of Reston. Bowman was a descendant of Col. Abraham Bowman, who fought in the American Revolution. So maybe the plates were not Society of the Cincinnati swag, but were made as a wedding gift from/to a Society member. Mrs. Bowman is survived by several loving relatives, including her nephew Robert E. Lee, V.

Lot 608: Set of 12 Society of the Cincinnati Porcelain Plates, est. $150-250 (sold for $750) [potomackcompany.com]
previously, related: George Washington’s Lace
Thank You For Your Silver Service, Donald Judd X Puiforcat
Danh Vo: Shop the Look

Art Carny, Part 2: Birch, Please

When we last saw Luna Luna, the 1987 art amusement park recently reopened in Los Angeles after spending the last 37 years in a bunch of shipping containers in fields in Vienna and Texas, one thing seemed clear: Drake did not spend $100 million to buy it from its previous owners, the Stephen and Mary Birch Foundation.

But the $100 million price is sort of unfair, a cheat, a third-round shorthand that was meant to get repeated in the same breath as Luna Luna and Drake. When the NYT first half-reported on Live Nation’s project, introduced to them by the Mugrabis, of bringing Luna Luna to Drake, the figure was floated as the “overall investment” that was “approaching $100 million.” What if it was the Mugrabis who tracked down Luna Luna at the Birch Foundation’s ranchette, made a deal for it, and flipped it, Yves Bouvier-to-Ryobolovlev-style, for a nice profit?

The Birch Foundation’s 990 filings with the IRS show that they sold the Luna Luna assets in 2022 for $15 million, $1.8 million below the “market value” carried on their balance sheet. So they actually lost money on their collection of Basquiats, Harings, and their Hockney, Dali, and Lichtenstein pavilions, at least on paper. Not-for-profit indeed. But they did still get $15 million in cash, right? Where’d that go?

While trying to figure out the details of Luna Luna’s history between its hype launch in 1987 by André Heller, and it’s re-emergence with Live Nation & Drake, two sidebar stories kept jumping into view: the first is Heller’s near miss with forgery charges. Heller tried to turn a minor Basquiat drawing into a major “Basquiat Artwork” by collaging the artist’s little sketches for his Luna Luna monkey butt ferris wheel onto a crude Africanist frame. He sold the work, then scrambled to buy it back when the heat was on, and then tried to blow off the whole thing as a “prank.”

The second, is the giant WTF that is the Stephen and Mary Birch Foundation, and how did they end up with an agreement in 1990 to buy Luna Luna from Heller in the first place? We could ask André Heller, but I think the answer to the first question is also the answer to the second: the Birch Foundation is a giant pile of money and vast tracts of land under the complete and unaccountable control of one or two people who use it for what they want.

Continue reading “Art Carny, Part 2: Birch, Please”

Happy Public Domain Day To All Who Celebrate

Maybe it’ll take more than a few hours for Mickey Mouse to make a meaningful mark on the public domain. In the mean time, the Center for the Study of the Public Domain at Duke University Law School has an extensive list of texts, art, films, music, and recordings that entered the public domain today.

Top on my list, at least, is Virginia Woolf’s Orlando. And it’s interesting that both W.E.B. DuBois’ uplifting international romance Dark Princess and Claude McKay’s gritty street novel Home to Harlem are listed together; DuBois hated McKay’s book.

Carl Theodor Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc is probably the most significant non-rodent-related film to be freed this year. And for music composition, it’s probably Mack the Knife, originally published as part of Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera (which is also now public domain.)

There are many, many more works in various copyright registries, most unknown, or underknown, and ready for rediscovery. Life starts at 95.

January 1, 2024 is Public Domain Day: Works from 1928 are open to all, as are sound recordings from 1923! [law.duke.edu]
Previously, related: The Greg Gatsby, 2021

The Musician Yohji Yamamoto

Last week I answered Marco Braunschweiler’s question about Yohji Yamamoto’s car, which is a Nissan Cedric from the mid-1980s. It features in this extremely content-free short film made in 2014 for Nowness by Matthew Donaldson. Other hype-related media outlets explain that Yamamoto acquired the car around 2013. The most notable thing about the whole thing is the music.

the cover of Yohji Yamamoto’s 1997 album, Handful Empty Mood, via discogs

It turns out to be from Yohji Yamamoto’s first second solo album, HEM Handful Empty Mood, released in 1997. The designer wrote and performed vocals on all eleven tracks with a one-and-done group called Scum Riders, which consists of several members of the boomer Japanese rock band Moonriders—including Keiichi Suzuki, also credited as HEM’s producer—and Yukihiro Takahashi, the drummer for Yellow Magic Orchestra [Ryuuichi Sakamoto RIP].

The album was released on Consipio, Takahashi’s label, which also released the music from Yohji’s fashion shows in the 1990s, both mixes selected by the designer, and commissioned works [Here is one of Michael Nyman’s tracks from the 1993 show. Here is Bridge, a 35-minute piano recording by Ryuuichi Sakamoto for Yohji’s 1995 collection.]

But Handful Empty Mood was not Yamamoto’s first foray into musicmaking. He produced and did vocals on one track of a 1994 concept album?—is it spoken word over guitar? I can’t tell—titled, Your Pain Shall Be Your Music, which also featured tracks by Wim Wenders and John Cale [above, the only track I’ve found so far online].

Yamamoto’s first known musical project, La Pensée, was a collab with Takahashi for the 1987 Collections. The designer is credited with “theme & concept,” while Takahashi did all the music and arrangements. It starts out with pensive piano, and proceeds to a kind of synth & percussion pomo oompah band. I bought my first Yohji piece in 1987, and honestly, I don’t get what they were thinking here.

Cover of Yohji Yamamoto Band, c. 1990, photo/text tabloid, via Tenderbooks

In 1991, Takahashi produced Well, I Gotta Go, (Saa, Ikanakya), where Yamamoto played guitar and sang twangy Japanese country-style music. It’s the closest thing I can find so far to the designer’s lost tapes project: Yohji Yamamoto Band. Yohji Yamamoto Band was an ensemble led—and dressed—by Yamamoto that performed Japanese “conceptual folk-rock” in the early 1990s. The only documentation is a promotional tabloid/pamphlet, a copy of which is at UK rare book dealer Tenderbooks.

Consipio went offline in 2009. The most recent music I can find from Yamamoto is this 37-second clip from a 2012 visit to Y-3 in New York. And I guess the thing I come away with is that sometimes noodling around on the guitar, or jam banding with your buds, or just driving around in your car, can be a vital part of your creative process, even if it is sort of pointless in itself.

More André Leon Talley LL Bean Bags

I’m committed to the bit and will blog about every André Leon Talley Bean Bag that comes to auction. Including these six [!] which look like they were the ones he actually used. I may have to buy them and then flip five because honestly [update: honestly, i am not bidding on these]

21 Sept 2023 | Lot 429, Group of Six LL Bean Canvas Totes With Monogram, est. $400-600, sold for $1400+buyer’s premium [stairgalleries.com]
Previously: They Had Matching Bean Bags