Friday, October 31, 2014

Contemporary Art New York: Jonathan Viner`s "Cold Snap" & More @ Gallery Site 109, New York

(Drivebycuriosity) - Contemporary art is fun. I like to go to art galleries because there are so many surprises and things to discover. Living in New York City gives me a lot of opportunities.

The gallery site 109 in New York`s Lower East Side (109 Norfolk Street) has now 2 exhibitions (through November 2, 2014) which show a nice variety of styles and ideas (site109).

                                                             Scandinavian Thrillers


My favorites are the - kind of - photo realistic paintings by Jonathan Viner (vinerstudio). This show, called "Cold Snap", fills the lower level of the gallery. I like the cool sexy style of Viner`s work.

The arrangement on the top of this post could be from a movie scene, maybe from one of these now popular dark Scandinavian thrillers. The summerly ladies display a striking contrast to the frosted background. Do they spot something shocking? Viner´s painting "Northern Sport" seems to be a part of this scene as the similar pinky ice covered trees suggest. Does he try to protect the women? The reading girl in the painting "Cult Classic" could be part of this story. It looks like that she tries to hide behind the book.

                                                              Victims of Witch Hunts

I also enjoyed Marion Peck`s painting "Four Witches", which is part of the exhibition "Black Moon New York" on the first floor. The other women above this paragraph could also be witches - or are they healers? Peck´s work seems to be a critique of the monopolistic roman catholic church and their sadist priests. Over centuries they villainized many women as evil beings. In the hightimes of the christian churches often healers, midewives and other good doers became victims of witch hunts.

The 2 flamboyant paintings above this paragraph by Camille Rose Garcia may also show witches - ore are they demons? Whatever - they fit perfectly into the Halloween season.

The funny cat pictures (finally this blog has "funny cat pictures"!) by  Jessicka Addams deliver a contrast to the darkly themes of the other works @ site 109. But there is also some mystery in them.


Movies: Birdman

(Drivebycuriosity) - Do you enjoy stage plays? Are you interested in actors? Then you might like the movie  "Birdman" which is now running in selected US cinema theaters (imdb). 

An aging actor, who has been the star of a superhero movie trilogy, the "Birdman", tries a comeback with a reputable stage play on Broadway (this is a spoiler free blog. You can find a synopsis here wikipedia). While he has to deal with professional and private challenges he also gets spooked by his rich imagination and his memories of having been a cinematic super-hero. The kind of quirky movie touches many issues like aging, jealousy, ambition, professional rivalry and more.

I think Michael Keaton is the perfect cast as "Birdman". The actor, who became himself famous as "Batman", delivered a powerful and intense performance. Edward Norton, as an over self-confident and cocky colleague, and the enticing Emma Stone, as Birdman´s somewhat troubled daughter, fit perfect into this scenario.

But the most fun came from the cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki, who had already won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography for his work on "Gravity" (driveby). The master of light delivered again cinema magic. I indulged in his awesome very long camera drives. The camera followed the actors almost wherever they went and sometimes circled around them, sucking the audience into the plot, almost intoxicating the viewers.

"Birdman" is a proof that Hollywood didn`t lose interest in making entertaining but respectable movies.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Economy: China - From Tiger To Snail?

(Drivebycuriosity) - The world economy depends on China`s growth. In the recent years China´s high economic growth rates have been an engine for the global economy. But there is a lot of pessimism now. Many pundits claim that the Asian country will grow much slower in the coming years  (latest number + 7.2%). Recently 2 prestigious Harvard economists published an especially pessimistic  study: Lant Pritchett and Lawrence H. Summers claim that China´s high growth will come soon to an end (nytimes).

Havard´s China pessimists focus on a simple argument: History shows that countries grow on the long run just with an average rate of 2%. High growth rates are just temporary aberrations and are not sustainable, they say. Therefore China´s growth rate will shrink in the coming years to the average rate of 2%.

I believe they are wrong. I will argue with a simple thesis as well: Countries have exceptional high growth rates when they are catching-up to countries which much higher incomes. Today incomes in China are much lower than in the Western world. Therefore the Chinese are working hard and are investing to narrow the gap the wealthy "West". I suppose that this catch-up process will continue and will foster high growth rates in the coming years.

China is following the example of Germany. After World War II the country was poor and incomes were much lower than in the US. The catching-up process lead to high income growth, the so-called "Wirtschaftswunder" (economic miracle), in the 1950s. Other countries like Italy and Japan had similar catch-up processes.

I don´t expect that China will reach the US standard, or come close to it, soon. Neither did Germany, nor Italy and Japan. As the late Prof. Gary Backer described,  all the catch-up processes ebbed away when the income gap got tighter (becker). Indeed Germany reached just 85% of the US income per capita (GDP per capita = gross domestic product divided by midyear population) and Italy`s income per capita ($34,000) is only around 60% of the American level.

According to the World Bank China´s income per capita is around $7,000 (worldbank). In Germany the income per capita is $45,000, and in the USA around $53,000. If China would continue the latest growth rate of around 7% annually their income per capita could reach $27,000 in 20 years (I used the compound interest calculator calculator). If the USA would grow annually 2% over this period - as the Harvard study says - they would attain $78,000. In this case China would have reached just 34% of the US level. The Asian country would still be much poorer than the "West".

If both growth rates (7% and 2%) would run over 30 years, China could reach $53,000 and the US income would grow to $96,000. In this case China would have 60% of the US income, the same percentage as Italy has today (income around $34,000).

But if China would develop as the Harvard study says and would grow just 2% annualy over the next 30 years they would just reach $12,000, which would be only 13% of the US level. If we believe the Harvard pessimists, China will never catch up.

I think this is highly implausible. I see no reason why China should not be able to follow at least the Italian role model and reduce the income gap to 60% of the US level over three decades - which would need an average annual growth rate of 7%. The Asian country is transforming rapidly from an agricultural state into a modern economy, with the help of the Internet and other technologies, and Beijing is implementing reforms to liberalize the economy (driveby).

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Contemporary Art New York: New Gallery Shows On Lower East Side, October 2014

(Drivebycuriosity) - New York`s Lower East Side has a very active gallery scene. It seems that the art brokers in downtown Manhattan are catching up to the prestigious galleries in the Chelsea area. Almost every day there is an opening reception that starts an exhibition of contemporary art - and on some days there are more opening parties at the same time. Here is my harvest from the recent days:

Envoy Enterprises (87 Rivington St. envoy) has a show with works by Micki Pellerano called "Monoliths" (through November 23rd 2014). The graphite drawings  (graphite on paper) remind me a bit to early science fiction movies from the defunct soviet union.

A stark contrast offers an exhibition @ Dacia Gallery (53 Stanton St. ). They have a group show called "Protinus" (through November 7th, 2014  dacia). Above this paragraph you can see a work by Alonsa Guevara. I find the technique - the painting is based on a collage - interesting. It looks a bit like a movie projected on a wall with pictures.

Nikolina Kovalenko`s painting, inspired by Sandro Botticelli`s "The Birth of Venus", also caught my eyes.

The paintings by Thomas Legaspi and Tom Hoffman are eye catchers too.

If you like it more abstract, the neighbour frosch&portmann (53 Stanton Street ) shows works by Magnolia Laurie (through November 23rd, 2014 froschportmann). Above this paragraph are some examples for this artist´s work.

                                                         Deconstructed Revisionism


@ Lu Magnus (55 Hester St) you can see an exhibition called "Deconstructed Revisionism" (through November 23rd 2014  lumagnus). This is a collection of works by Caitlin Masley.

The Lodge Gallery (131 Chrystie Street ) offers an exhibition with the title Madness by different artists (through November 2nd, 2014  thelodge). The show seemed a bit tame to me, but anyway I found some interesting pictures there as you can see above.


Saturday, October 25, 2014

Stock Market: Return To Sanity

(Drivebycuriosity) - Last week the US stock market (represented by the S&P 500) rallied 4.1%, the best week since 2013, reports Bloomberg  (bloomberg). It looks like that the panic of the previous weeks is forgotten. I call this the return to sanity.

In the previous weeks the stock market had suffered some panic attacks. Some traders dumped anything which seemed risky, causing others to sell too, which lead to a snowball effect of more and more selling. The result were downward spiraling stock prices and culminated in steep declines from October 9th through October 15th. And there was the smell of a coming crash in the air.

The flight out of stocks was caused by speculation on a deteriorating global economy in spite of news of climbing Chinese exports, shrinking US jobless claims, cheaper energy and still extremely low interet rates. In my comment from last Saturday I wrote "panic attacks, as seen last Wednesday, in such a solid economic environment don´t make sense. Are the markets irrational?" (driveby).

Last wek we got the answer. The manufacturing indices in China & Europe rose, signaling that both regions are growing again and that the global economy is sounder than the worry warts want us to believe, and energy prices continued their healthy fall. 

The return to sanity also was encouraged by the positive start of the earnings season Q3 2014. According to Thomson Reuters "data through Friday morning, of 205 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported earnings, 69.8% have topped analysts' expectations, above the 63% rate since 1994" (reuters).

I reckon that the rally will continue and that the US stock market will finish the year with a significant gain.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Books: The Best American Mystery Stories 2013, Edited By Lisa Scottoline & Otto Penzler

(Drivebycuriosity) - I like mystery novels. But often I get tired before I reach the end and I lose my interest. Just a minority of authors is capable to keep the tension over hundreds of pages. The solution are short stories.

I finished just reading "The Best American Mystery Stories 2013", edited By Lisa Scottoline & Otto Penzler (amazon). The anthology collects 20 stories with an average length of about 20 pages. The editors Otto Penzler, who selected a short list of 50 stories,  and Lisa Scottoline, who choose the finalists, did a great job. I liked 12 of them, 2 were ok for me and there were just 6 stories which I could have done without. Stories by David Edgerey Gates, Bill Pronzini, Hannah Tinti and Clark Howard are especially strong and "Crossing" by Andre Kocsis and"Quarry" by Micah Nathan are my favorites.

I enjoyed the broad mixture of topics and the variety of styles which cater many tastes. Most of the stories are crisp and sharp, as short stories should be. Some of the tales are set in the 19th century with a fine literal patina reminding of Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes), others are fast pace contemporary thrillers and deal with today`s issues like terrorism, drugs and more. 

In the moment of writing offers the Kindle version for just $8.52. The collection is highly recommended for connoisseurs of mystery stories and for those who want to get a taste of contemporary thrillers.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Economy: Interest rates have been sinking for 30 years - Causes And Consequences

(Drivebycuriosity) - Interest rates are falling. This is not just a recent phenomena. Interest rates have been sinking for 30 years. The chart above shows the interest rates for 10 year government bonds, the benchmark of the bond market.

What could we learn from the 30 years trend of falling interest rates?

1. In the recent years inflation has disappeared. In the early 1980s the US inflation rate fluctuated between 10% and 14%. The real interest rate (minus inflation) fluctuated around 2%. Creditors demanded a plus of about 10%-points to compensate for inflation, the inflation premium. And the Fed hiked her interest rates massively and kept money tight to break the inflation trend and to destroy inflation expectations.

In the following years inflation rates sank and the interest rates followed because the inflation premium has been shrinking and the Fed could loosen her monetary policy. Today prices rise less than 2% and many are talking already about deflation.

2. The majority is pessimistic. Many expect just an anemic economic growth for the coming years (secular stagnation). The skeptics avoid stocks, which are sensitive to the economic development and risky. Instead they hold their money in government bonds which are considered as safe haven. This trend has driven bond prices upwards and interest rates downwards.

3. Stocks are getting more attractive. Investors can decide whether the buy stocks, which returns are uncertain (especially in the short run) or buy bonds which are much safer. When the interest rate for secure investments like government bonds is say 10%, then it is hard to decide for stocks. Now investors can chose between bonds with an interest rate of around 2% and stocks, which had over the last 100 years an average annual return (including dividends) of around  8%.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Economy: Why Liberals Don´t Understand

(Drivebycuriosity) - seems to be the scapegoat of the liberal media. Liberal magazines and newspapers like "The New Yorker" and the "New York Times" have been bashing the e-commerce company for a while (driveby). Now the leftish "The New Republic" demands that has to be stopped (newrepublic). They claim that Amazon has already become a monopoly and will soon abuse her power to exploit the consumers.

This is quite nonsense. is far from being a monopoly and will never become one. The competition is already fierce and is getting stronger. has to compete against companies which are even bigger and more powerful than the online pioneer. Google for instance uses her muscles to become a huge online seller. is starting same-day delivery of goods in some places - and Google does the same and delivers products from Costco, Target, Walgreens, and other brick-and-mortar stores on the same day of the order. Apple sells a lot books, music and video via iTunes and people can choose whether they read e-books on Amazon`s Kindle or on Apple`s iPad.

And there are many more competitors. The retail behemoth Walmart, who`s revenues are around 5-times of Amazon´s - is powering into e-commerce and so do a lot of other companies. The competition is getting more and more international. There are already many fast growing Amazon copies in Japan, Russia, Brazil, Korea, India and other countries. The Chinese Internet goliath Alibaba, which had recently his IPO on the New York Stock Exchange, made a $202 million investment for a 39% stake in 2-day shipping service Shoprunner, an US company. This membership-based shipping plan is a rival to Amazon Prime that works with dozens of U.S. retailers. Alibaba already dominates e-commerce in her home country (around 70% market share) and is the largest and most valuable e-commerce company in the world, according to Forbes (forbes). Amazon is just a dwarf in China with a market share of below 10%.

The competition is a big gain for consumers who can expect cheap goods comfortably delivered. If Amazon would raise prices, reduce service quality and selection as "The New Republic" alleges, this would strengthen her competitors and would attract more companies to enter the e-commerce business.

The continuous Amazon bashing by the liberal media is not a  coincidence. Liberals don`t understand economy and they mistrust markets. They underestimate  - or bluntly ignore - the power of competition. They believe that markets have to get regulated by the government otherwise they would be destroyed by monopolies.

But monopolies are rare. Every time when someone - or a company - has a successful business others will try to copy him and to get a huge share of the pie. There are 2 exemptions: 
- Artificial Monopolies which are created by government regulations. Book publishers are monopolies because by law (copyrights) nobody else is allowed to print the same book without their permission.
- Natural monopoly: It doesn`t make sense to run say 10 railroads between say New York and Bostn because this would multiply the costs by 10 and each railway company would make huge losses. (In the 19th century there had been competition among US railway companies. Most of them went soon bust).

Selling goods online is not a natural monopoly, every body can do that.

Disclosure: I am an investor in, user of a Kindle and subscriber of Amazon Prime.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Contemporary Art : Why David Byrne Is Wrong

(Drivebycuriosity) - "I don`t care about contemporary art anymore", writes David Byrne (davidbyrne). The founding member of the band "Talking Heads" is still famous and finds a lot of attention for his political and cultural comments. I found the link to his article about contemporary art @ one of my favorite blogs (marginal).

Byrne claims that "the art world caters to the 1%. It’s obvious that the outrageous prices for contemporary art mean that—although anyone can look—only the very wealthy can afford it".


1. I often visit contemporary art galleries in New York´s Chelsea area and in the Lower East Side. The art brokers offer a huge variety of works and demand a broad spectrum of prices depending on the reputation of the artist. I see there a lot contemporary paintings which is often priced way below $100.000. Recently I visited the Fitzroy Gallery in in the Lower East Side (fitzroy). Currently they are showing the works of 4 artists. The price list covers a range of $3,000 to $14,000. Below this paragraph you can see a quartet of paintings by Cassandra MacLeod, all priced for $5,000. There follows another work by the same artist, which I like more, which is offered for $12,000.

The more prestigious galleries in New York´s Chelsea area also offer often works for prices below $20,000. For instance the gallery  RH Contemporary Art sells a lot of paintings for $15,000 and less (rhcontemporary). If you go to London and attend the classy Frieze Art Fair, which is running now, you can get paintings in the range of $18,000 to $40,000 (artnews).

You also can buy affordable art online of course. London`s renowned Saatchy Gallery offers contemporary paintings below $1,000 (saatchi). The online company organizes an auction where the prices start in the range of $10,000 to $25.000 (artnet) and you can purchase contemporary art @ (here a link to their art section: amazon). These works might not hit the exquisite taste bud of Mr. Byrne, but they are certainly not just for the 1%.

2. There is deluge of fresh contemporary art. Usually every day in New York City there are 2 or more gallery receptions for a new exhibition of contemporary art. It seems there is  flood of new and upcoming artists who are eager to sell their produces. And there are a lot of art fairs in the US and in Europe which create markets for new and upcoming artists. The ubiquity of events and artists leads to a strong competition between painters, sculptors and other artists, who are tryingf to sell their works for a reasonable price (even if Mr. Byrne doesn´t care anyore).

3. Just the works of some top stars like Jeff Koons, Gerhard Richter, Sigmar Polke, Anselm Kiefer and Damien Hirst are traded for $1,000,000 and more. It seems just 1% of the artists world caters the 1%. The mass of unknown artists has to struggle to survive.

4. And: Even if the "rich" buy contemporary art, the paintings and sculptures do not necessarily disappear. Recently I visited the amazing Dia:Beacon museum in upstate New York (diaart). They have an impressive collection of gorgeous sculptures including Richard Serra´s massive steel installations. I was told that the museum had already auctioned all displayed works. But the sculptures are still there even that they belong now to some investors (maybe part of the 1%). These investors don´t bother to take the acquired art works with home. Why should they? The museum takes care of the precious works (including security). Btw: There is hall with 4 huge holes in the ground (Michael Heizer: "North, East, West, South"). Who wants to take holes with him?

5. Museums like Tate Modern, MomMa, Guggenheim and others often show works loaned by external owners, who might be part of the 1%. The museum shows raise the value of their investments. Therefore I can enjoy contemporary art even when it belongs to the "rich".

6. I still enjoy going to museums, galleries & art fairs. There is always something new to see and to discover. Many art works might disappear because the "rich" will buy them. But there is a continuous stream of new things to see. Spotting contemporary art is like attending a rock festival. I don´t need to buy the groups and to take them home with me.