Sunday, November 30, 2014

New York City: WD 50 R.I.P.

(Drivebycuriosity) - Today we lose WD 50. The restaurant, named after Wylie Dufresne, chef and owner of the place, was one of the highlights of New York´s Lower East Side. Their rental contract ended because soon their landlord will tear down the one story building on 50 Clinton Street to replace it with a fancy multi-story residental building.

I remember one winter night we spent there. The meal was a lifetime experience. We had one of the tasty menues WD 50 is famous for.

Here some excerpts from the 12 course menue - (in brackets the accompanying wines):

Striped bass, gingerbread, plum, pickled ramp
(Prosecco Superiore "Valdobbiadene" Althe`s NV (Veneto, Italy))

Foie gras, passionfruit, Chinese celery
(Vermouth de Chambéry "Blanc" Dolin NV (Savoy, France))

Scrambled egg ravioli, charred avocado, kindai kampachi
(Arneis "Honea Vineyard" Palmina 2009 (Santa Ynez Valley, California)

White beer ice cream, quince, caramel, caraway

Grapefruit curd, campari, hibiscus, sorrel
(Torrontés "Tardio" Santa Julia 2008 (Mendoza Argentina))

                                   Mecca For Food Enthusiasts

All courses were quite delicious, but it wasn´t just the taste. The variety, the uniqueness and the anticipation before each next step increased the pleasure considerably. The restaurant had a reputation for molecular gastronomy - the use of science to investigate and influence the physical and chemical transformations of ingredients that occur in cooking (wikipedia) - even though Dufresne responded in his interviews sceptically to this term.  And I am not sure if all the space age laboratory devices which are necessary to change the molecular structure of food  - like centrifuges and vaccuum chambers (illumin) - were really at work in the kitchen.

Anyway, Dufresne - "one of the most famous chefs of the world" - (time) is celebrated for the "new techniques and tricks" he uses to generate his creations. Time Magazine calls him "the mad scientist of New York’s kitchens" and praises the "brain-teasing dishes". Reuters marked WD 50 as a "New York mecca for food enthusiasts to taste cutting-edge dishes" (reuters). And the restaurant was a really fun place to go, reported Bloomberg (bloomberg).

Thank you so much Wylie Dufresne and your staff for serving us. We will miss you.

Contemporary Art: Diptychs by Brad Jones @ Gallery Sargent`s Daugthers, New York

(Drivebycuriosity) - Contemporary art is often a play with shapes and colors. The gallery Sargent´s Daughters in New York´s trendy Lower East Side  (179 East Broadway, New York sargents) has an interesting example for that.

The place is showing an exhibition called "Brad Jones: Diptychs (through December 21, 2014). Brad Jones is an ongoing collaboration between artists Brandi Twilley and Jennifer Rubell (artnet). The artist`s cooperation began in April 2013. Since then the pair meet three times each week for two hours at a time to engage in live portrait painting sessions in which Twilley paints and a nude Rubell poses.


As you can see the painter played with the shape of his model. The paintings are all "oil on canvas".

The paintings show different stages of alteration, a kind of metamorphosis.

 Let the pictures speak for themselves. Enjoy.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Books: The Year's Best Science Fiction: 31rd Annual Collection, edited by Gardner Dozois

(Drivebycuriosity) - Do you want to risk your live on the hunt for a mystical alien technology? How wold you feel if your brain suddenly works like a super computer?  

These and more questions are the topics of "The Year's Best Science Fiction: 31rd Annual Collection", edited by Gardner Dozois  (published in July 2014 amazon).  The collection shows the state of art in science fiction and offers a kaleidoscope of plots, ideas and styles and caters to a lot of different tastes. There are other best of the year collections but Dozois` compilation has been the market leader for 3 decades.

This anthology harvests the science fiction year 2013 and offers 32 short stories from prominent authors and newcomers. I managed to finish reading 17 of them.

My favorites are:

"Transitional Forms" by Paul J. McAuley: An adventure story playing with issues of evolution, technological progress and genetics. Pure hard science fiction.

"Zero For Conduct" by Greg Egan: A kind of feminist thriller about science and quantum physics set in a hostile cultural and political environment. A perfect mixture of science and suspense.

"The Other Gun" by Neil Asher: Another one of his typically militaristc and bizarr stories set in a violent universe controlled by hive minds. As usual the authors blends a lot of strange ideas with dry humor.

"Finders" by Melissa Scott: A compact thriller abound scavenging a superior alien technology. Hard-boiled - a kind of futuristic hig-tech Raymond Chandler story.

I also enjoyed:

"Grey Wings", by Karl Bunker:  An exotic and a bit feminist story about a new kind of sports set in a near-future Africa.

"Martian Blood" by Alan M. Steele: Old-style adventure story in the style of Edgar Rice Burroughs

"One" by Nancy Kress. She is one of my favorite science fiction writers because she usally blends a lot of cuttting edge science with interesting plots. This one doesn`t belong to her bests but has stll an over average quality. Hre the author tells how a super-sensitive brain changes behavior fundamentally.

"Murder On The Aldrin Express" by Martin L. Shoemaker tells an old fashioned "Whodunit" dedective story" on a spaceship. A kind of modern Sherlock Holmes.

"Technarion" by Sean McMullen: Alternative history set in a 19th century London how a man transformed into a serial killer

The harvest is not quite as strong as Dozois`30th annual collection but  still fun to read (driveby). As usual the editor wrote for each story an introduction where he outlines the background and most important works of the presented author. At the beginning there is a lengthy summation of important events, trends and publications in the world of science of fiction in 2013.

This and the nice selection of stories make the book a must for fans and collectors of science fiction.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Economy: Deflation? What Deflation?

(Drivebycuriosity) - There is a lot talk about a coming deflation (bloomberg). Pessimists claim that low and shrinking inflation rates and falling prices for many goods will lead to a decrease in the general price level which would cause a new recession.

I disagree. I believe that the deflation fears are overblown and just part of the usual doom & gloom in the media. I bet that your dentist doesn`t get cheaper, neither your hairdresser -  and did you hear about falling restaurant prices recently? And prices for stocks, real estate, fashion and contemporary art are climbing swiftly (driveby).

"Stuff cheap, people expensive", says John Cochrane, who is an economist and Prof. at the University of Chicago (johnhcochrane). Here you can see a graph by the New York Times which shows a dichotomy: Services are getting more expensive and goods are getting cheaper ( I have no idea why in this graph television prices are falling more than 100%. This is a secret of the New York Times which is often at odds with economics and logic).

                                                  New Industrial Revolution

Prices for many industrial products have been falling for a long time thanks to the technological progress. Since the first industrial revolution in the late 18th century advances in manufacturing (automation) have been lifting efficiency of the producers which lead to shrinking costs. Today especially computers and other electronics cost just a fraction of what you had to pay some years ago.

I believe that we are experiencing a new technological revolution that is raising productivity  significantly (economy ). The advance of robotics, 3D-printing and other incarnations of automation  is reducing prices of manufactured goods considerably. The Internet, which gives access to a huge amount of data and reduces the costs of computing them, also lowers the cost of producing things. Thanks to reduced expenses for mass market goods consumers can spend more money for services, real estate, fashion, art and other expensive things.

The prices of many commodities are dropping too, which also is very positive. Since last June the price of oil collapsed almost 40% and some agriculture goods also got cheaper. This has nothing to do with deflation, a decrease of the general price level. Oil got cheaper because a bubble, that had been blown of in the recent years,  finally popped. I have been writing for years that oil is overpriced and that the bubble has to burst somedays (oil     mother-of-all-bubbles): High energy prices stimulated oil production (especially via fracking in USA) and suppressed demand (less driving, fuel efficient cars and other machines). But oil is still expensive. Oil - and gasoline at the pump -  cost still almost twice of what you had to pay before 2004 (econbrowser). I believe that the price of oil will be constrained in the coming years thanks to the technological progress which will encourage more oil exploration and will keep the energy demand at bay (climbing fuel efficiency).

Contrary to manufactured products most services are getting more expensive, at least those which are supplied by humans (services by machines like Internet search are already free). Prices for expensive watches, furniture, fashion, art and other handmade things also are climbing. Human skills are scarce and you have to pay more for the expertise of the doctors, designers, chefs and other produces of scarce products & services because the demand is growing thanks to rising incomes.

Low inflation rates - and falling prices for mass market goods - are good news because the money in your wallet is more worth.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Stock Market Shanghai: Did The China Pessimism Bubble Finally Pop?

(Drivebycuriosity) - China´s stock market is on a tear. The Shanghai Composite Index gained 5% since last Thursday and climbed 23% year-to-date. It looks like the China pessimism bubble is finally popping.

I have been writing for years that the Chinese stock market is trapped in a pessimism bubble (2014/07/) (2013/08) (2012/11)  For around 4 years the Shanghai Composite index, the gauge for China`s stock market,  has been glued to the 2,000 mark, way below its peak of around 3,400 points in summer 2009.

Investors have been obsessed with the negative aspects in China and ignored the ongoing strength of the broad economy. For years China bears like New York Times correspondent Paul Krugman, perma-pessimist Nouriel Roubini and Jim Chanos, a hedge fund manager and short seller, have been banging the "China crash drum"  (driveby). The notorious China crash callers claim that China is suffering from huge structural problems like too high debts and too huge investments into real estate which would cause a "hard landing" of the Chinese economy.

What has changed?

1. The predicted China crash didn´t happen so far. Instead China´s economy is experiencing an orderly retreat. The growth rate slowed to 7.2% in the 3rd. quarter, after 7.5% and 7.4% in the second and first quarter. This slowdown was intended by the authorities to curb inflation and speculative investments in real estate.

2. Last week China´s central bank cut her interest rates - the first reduction in 2 years (!) - and signaled further reductions. I believe they are responding to the slower growth, sinking inflation rates and dropping oil prices, which reduce inflation risks further.

3. Last year the Chinese government already started reforms to encourage economic growth and stimulate consumer spending (less-mao). Recently Beijing announced more reforms, including a liberation of stock trading between Hong Kong and mainland China, and anounced more investments into airports, railways and other infrastructure (reuters).

I am generally optimistic for China (china). I believe that the growth story stays intact, thanks to the secular catching-up process which is fueled by the still extreme income & wealth differences to the US and other Western nation values. The huge country is rapidly transforming into a consumer economy like  the U.S. and other modern countries. Many peasants are moving to the huge metropolitan centers which are spread all over the huge country to lift their standard of living. This creates a fast rising affluent middle class, giving consumer spending a boost as the strong retail sales (growth rates around 12%) demonstrate. China´s growth should be boosted by the technological progress and advances of Internet, automatization of industrial production and 3D-printing. These developments raise efficiency and  productivity of China´s economy as success stories like Alibaba and Baidu demonstrate.

I believe that the China pessimism bubble will lose more air in the coming months which should foster more gains on China´s stock market.

PS For illustration I used the painting "Landscape" by Mark Tansey

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Contemporary Art: Variety Of Styles And Ideas - November 2014

(Drivebycuriosity) - Do you like contemporary art? Maybe with a free glass of wine in your hand? Then you might enjoy opening receptions at art galleries as I frequently do.


On Friday night I attended 5 receptions, which all happened in my neighborhood, New York´s trendy Lower East Side (LES). As usual I spotted a great variety of styles and ideas and there was so much to discover.


                                           Orbit Around An Alien World

Muriel Guépin Gallery on 83 Orchard Street celebrated the opening of a group exhibtion, called "Bright Matter" (through January 11, 2015 muriel ). They display works by" emerging artists who utilize innovative art practices and materials": LAb[au], Numen / For Use, Joanie Lemercier, Nonotak and François Wunschel.

I am especially fascinated by a sculpture called Numen / For Use, Light Membrane (Spy mirror (glass), CCF-lamps, inverters / harmonica, transmission wheels and belts, ply-wood, tubes 31.5" x 15.8" x 17"). (thecreatorsproject).

On the first glance I saw just a cube, but when I looked into it I got the impression to look into a very - almost infinite - deep funnel, maybe into a cosmic wormhole.

The other displayed works impressed me too. Above you also can see some works by Joanie Lemercier ( joanielemercier). According to the gallyery "a rice paper pattern is fixed to a monitor and rear-illuminated. As LCD light traces the triangle mesh, the mosaic comes alive and develops depth and motion. Soon the valleys and peaks of a rugged landscape emerge and, as if viewed through monochromatic, low- resolution camera eyes, we get to orbit an alien world".

Some steps south of this place the gallery McKenzie Fine Art (55 Orchard Street mckenziefineart) opened a show with drawings by James Nelson (through December 21, 2014). Here you can see 2 untitled works, both are charcoal, graphite, white conte crayon and nu-pastel on handmade Japanese paper (nelson2014).

                                                              Explosions Of Color

Not far away the Gasser Grunert Gallery (33 Orchard Street Gasser) celebrated the begin of the exhibition "Territorial Marking" by Andres Carranza (through December 21, 2014). I enjoyed the explosions of color on the different sized canvases.

Around the corner on 245 Broome Street, Munch Gallery (munch) shows "Revelations", a collection of photographies by Foster Mickley (through December 21, 2014).

I also visited a  reception in the basement below a real flower shop (Essex Flowers 365 Grand Street essex). They are showing "Stamps" by Matt Connolly (through January 4, 2015 connolly). I don´t remember the exhibited art work but there also was a cool crowd which seemed to have fun.

To be continued.

Movies: Interstellar

(Drivebycuriosity) - Traveling through the universe is an old human dream. But interstellar travel makes not much sense because even the nearest sun systems are light years away. Some scientists believe that there could be a solution: "Wormholes" might exist, meaning shortcuts, which would allow to jump immediately into another part of the vast universe.

The movie "Interstellar" plays with this idea and other theories (imdb). The film is a blend of science fiction and fantasy. Director Christopher Nolan and his brother Jonathan, who wrote the script together, used science like relativity theory, gravitational waves, quantum physics, black holes and more and mixed the physics with self made fairy tales (this is a spoiler free blog. You can find a synopsis here wikipedia). The plot isn´t logical and plausible, but entertaining. The Nolan brothers certainly targeted the mass market and an audience who doesn`t care much about science and science fiction.

I enjoyed "Interstellar" anyway, because of its gorgeous cinematography. I had the luck to watch the film on a huge IMAX screen. There the spectacle could fully deploy its beauty. Director Nolan, Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema and the special effects team created awesome pictures of space, the earth and other planets, and fabricated fascinating space ships, extraterrestrial worlds, wormholes and more. The film shows clearly how much space movies have evolved since Kubrick´s "2001: A Space Odyssey" (filmed 1968).

Matthew McConaughey`s rich talents weren`t challenged in the leading role as a farmer and astronaut (!). Similar underemployed was the rest of the impressive cast including Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, Matt Damon, John Lithgow & Casey Affleck. But a sci-fi spectacle isn´t a Shakespeare play.

"Interstellar" is a cutting-edge space movie and delivers entertaining 2 1/2 hours pop corn cinema.

PS: For illustration I used a painting by the Italian artist Giorgio Tardonato (tardonato).

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Economy: Lessons From New York´s Art Auctions

(Drivebycuriosity) - "The art market just had the biggest two weeks in its history", reports the Wall Street Journal (wsj ). "In two weeks, 23 works fetched more than $20 million apiece", the paper adds.  "Collectors buy $2.3 billion of art in two weeks in N.Y. ", writes Bloomberg (bloomberg). Both refer to last week`s November sales of impressionist, modern, postwar and contemporary art at Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips, New York`s largest auction houses. According to Bloomberg, the tally surpassed the $2.2 billion at New York’s auctions in May, which was 22% higher than last November, when $1.8 billion of art was sold.

Being an economist I am impressed by the reported numbers. I think the results are a sign of the strength of the contemporary economy. People continue to invest in expensive subjects, ignoring the  doom and gloom in the media. The art investors show still faith into the future. The rising prices for a lot of art works also refute the chattter about a looming deflation. The rise in art sales and prices accompanies the rally on the stock market (S&P 500) and the climbing prices or real estate.

I think that the money flow into art is a good thing, it is an investment into culture. Evolution of humans and the rise of cuture has always been escorted by art work, from the early cave paintings, over the "Venus of Willendorf" (a female figure estimated to have been made between about 28,000 and 25,000 BCE wikipedia ) to the sculptures of Jeff Koons. Art has always inspired imagination and so encouraged inventions, innovations and progress.

Critics complain that art works got too expensive so that just the infamous 1% can enjoy it  (driveby). I disagree. There are so many newcomers and no-name artists who produce nice art for affordable prices. 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 a flood of new and upcoming artists who are eager to sell their works. I often visit 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 paintings which are often priced way below $100.000. I believe that the sucess of the recent auctions may help the whole profession to gain more attention and to continue their work.

Culture: Deafheaven Redux - The Converse "Rubber Tracks" Concert @ Music Hall Of Williamsburg, New York

(Drivebycuriosity) - "The best things in live are free", say some people. Maybe so. At least on Internet you can find and do many things for free. Recently my wife and I got 2 free tickets for a Deafheaven concert in Brooklyn, New York City on Wednesday, November 19, 2014. The group had announced on their Facebook site that "Converse", a producer of sneakers, would offer free tickets for a series of US concerts, including a gig @ Music Hall Of Williamsburg, New York. 

According to Deafheaven`s Facebook page the tickets for the Brooklyn show were "sold out" in just one hour and the host had "oversold" the concert, because "Converse" had calculated that some ticket holders wouldn´t show up. We arrived there shortly after opening time 8pm and had no problems getting it.

This was our 5th gig by Deafheaven (driveby   after Bowery Ballroom, Manhattan 2011; Bottom Lounge & Pitchfork Festival, Chicago July 2014 and Music Hall of Williamsburg this September).

                                                          Grace & Power

I believe that the Californian black metal band is one of the brightest shining suns in the contemporary rock universe. Yesterday I got the impression that their show had gotten even more intense. I especially enjoyed that the songs were more structured than before by slow atmospheric parts which raised the intensity of the whole show.

Frontman George Clarke is the great conductor of the rock scene. He enjoys to orchestrate the masses and almost creates a symbiotic relationship with his audience. Over the whole concert he was communicating with fluid gestures and in this way intensified the impression of his performance. Clarke`s voice is unique. His high pitched hissing screams are a defining element of the "Deafheaven experience".

As usual the band (lead guitarist and founding member Kerry McCoy, guitarist Shiv Mehra,  bassist Stephen Clark, drummer Daniel Tracy and a keyboarder  deafheaven) created tsunami waves of sound on which Clarke´s voice could surf. The delicately structured melodies, which sometimes reminded of baroque compositions by Händel ("Music for the Royal Fireworks") and Vivaldi ("The Four Seasons"), came with a furious power. Together they created massive walls of sound which lead to an unique melange of grace and sheer power.

I hope this sun won´t burn out any time soon.

Thanks a lot to Deafheaven, Converse and Facebook for this marvelous experience.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Movies: John Wick

(Drivebycuriosity) - Former friends can become fierce foes - and revenge makes it worse. This is the story of "John Wick" (imdb). The movie shows how of a former associate of New York`s Russian mafia begins fighting them after a severe insult.

"JW" is a fast paced action movie, bloody & violent. But what can you expect when you have to deal with the Russian mafia. The movie reminds me of the films by John Woo and Luc Besson ("Leon: The Professional"). There is not much plot behind it. You can see that director Chad Stahelski has a kick-boxing background. The Hollywood newcomer focused on well choreographed and sleek action scenes. There are many quotes from other films and I had the impression to watch a condensate of hundreds of action movies. Although many scenes are hilarious they are well done and furious. And it was really fun to watch how one lonely guy roughs up the Russian mafia. I also enjoyed the many cool shots from nightly Manhattan & Brooklyn.

Keanu Reeves shows that age has treated him well. He looked fit and tougher than I remembered him, I guess he had exercised a lot for this role. Michael Nyqvist, as the czar of New York`s Russian mafia, radiated the necessary evil serenity. It was fun to watch Adrianne Palicki as the "bad pussy" and William Dafoe, who looked more weathered than ever, is getting more and more cool over the time.

If you like contemporary action cinema you might get your kick from "John Wick".

PS The image above is "Chikatsusei Maunkinshi (Golden Wings Brushing the Clouds Incarnated from Earthly Wide Star)" by Shiraga Kazuo. I took the pic @ Art Institute Chicago  

Monday, November 17, 2014

Contemporary Art New York: Maya Bloch "Feels Like Home" @ Thierry Goldberg Gallery, New York

(Drivebycuriosity) - The big autumn auctions of contemporary art in New York are over. But life goes on - even for contemporary art. Yesterday I visited an opening reception @ Thierry Goldberg Gallery on 103 Norfolk Street in New York´s Lower East Side, where you can see works of less known and ascending artists (thierry).

They show paintings by Maya Bloch: "Feels like Home" (through December 21, 2014  bloch). The artist, who is born 1978, lives and works in Tel Aviv, Israel.

It was fun to be there. I enjoyed the sensitivity of Bloch´s works and her playful use of colors and shapes. Even the black and white works are elegant and stylish.

The painting above the 2nd paragraph is called "Big Flowers" (acylic on canvas); most of the other paintings are untitled and graphite, ink and color pencil on canvas.

                                                                            Sharp Contrast

Sunday evening I also was at another show: The gallery James Fuentes at 55 Delancey Street (also Lower East Side) had an opening reception for works by Noam Rappapor (through December 21, 2014 james).

Rappapor´s geometrical shapes deliver a sharp contrast to the works by Bloch. Visiting both shows created a nice blend of artistic impressions.