Monday, March 30, 2015

Movies: Serena

(Drivebycuriosity) - I like operas. Their plots are usually ridiculous, but often the majestic music makes up for this. The movie "Serena" is like an opera, just without the great music. The script delivered a wild story, too wild and too unbelievable for my taste. "Serena" reminded me of some Austrian "Bergbauern Romane (German: "novels about mountain peasants") where the characters are doing bad things and get punished for that (this is a spoiler free blog). The movie is set in the Depression-era in the mountains of North Carolina, where an ambitious entreprenuer and his young wife are trying to build a timber empire which causes a chain of dramatic reactions.

I got some comfort from the exquisite cinematography, especially from the awsome pictures of the mountain landscape. And the gorgeous as usual Jennifer Lawrence almost saved the weak film. Watching her as a strong independent woman was a pleasure but even her role  got finally ruined by the ridiculous script. Even Bradley Cooper`s solid performance couldn`t help it. Other fine actors, like Toby Jones, as sherif and fighter for preserved nature, also wasted their talents.

"Serena" could be passable for fans of Jennifer Lawrence & Bradley Cooper, but connoisseurs of intelligent cinema would be dissapointed.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Contemporary Art: 2015 Triennial @New Museum, New York

(Drivebycuriosity) - I enjoy cutting edge art and I am interested in new and provocative developments in the world of art. One of these places where I can see new developments is the New Museum on New York´s trendy Bowery  (newmuseum).

Last week I visited their 2015 Triennial, called "Surround Audience" (through May 25th, 2015  (triennial). The exhibiton, which spreads over 4 floors, aims to explore "the future of culture through the art of today", whatever that means. Anyway, I enjoyed most of the displayed paintings, drawings, sculptures, videos and installations (here 2 links to more professional articles about some of the highlights artnews  douglas). Here are my favorites:

Above you can see a portrait of the transgender artist and performer Juliana Huxtable, called: Juliana Huxtable Untitled in the Rage (Nibiru Cataclysm) from the “UNIVERSAL CROP TOPS FOR ALL THE SELF CANONIZED SAINTS OF BECOMING” series, 2015 Inkjet print.

I am quite fascinated by Frank Benson`s sculpture "Juliana" (2015), which I show above and below in total and details. The figure is another portrait of Juliana Huxtable (observer)

                                                                   The New Psychology

 I can not identify the origin of the painting which seems to be an advertisement for Samsung, but I like it anyway. It is followed by "And We Begin to Let Go" by Njideka Akunyili Crosby. (2013Acrylic, pastel, charcoal, collage, and xerox transfers on paper 84 x 105 in (213.4 x 266.7 cm))

Above you can see Njideka Akunyili Crosby,`s collage "Thread" (2012) and a detail of this work.

I also enjoy the blue unidentifiable blue drawing above, followed Avery Singer`s work "Untitled" ( 2015) and a detail of that.

Above "Rusty Mirage (The City Skyline, 2013) by Kilunaji Kia Henda .

I believe the man with the red head belongs to  José León Cerrillo's installation"The New Psychology" series (2015). Below that you can see Eva Kotátková’s installation “Not How People Move But What Moves Them” (2013).

Above Guan Xiao`s work "The Documentary: Geocentric Puncture" (2012) followed by a sculpture which might be African.

Abvoe some impressions from Josh Kline`s instalation "Freedom" (2015.)

                                                      Important Part Of The Show

As usual I add some pics from the visitors who are an important part of the show in my opinion.


Saturday, March 28, 2015

Street Art New York: What`s Going On In Lower Manhattan - March 2015 Edition

(Drivebycuriosity) - Street art never sleeps; and it doesn`t know seasons - at least in downtown Manhattan. Since my latest street art report from February 2015 (driveby) I spotted more new works @ Lower East Side, East Village and Soho.

On top of this post you can see a new mural at the wall of Epstein´s Bar, a popular hangout for college kids and young "bridge-and-tunnel people" on Allen & Stanton Street. This place commissions frequently interesting art work. Does their clientel notice these gems when they party there?

The second mural I found on East Houston across the Bower Whole Foods Market, the third is on 7th Avenue I believe.

New York`s Centre-Fuge Public Art Project, a collective of street artists who are frequently showing there their own works and murals by invited participants (centre), commissioned new murals. You can find these images along the perma-construction side @ East Houston Street where they are beautifying some construction infrastructure.

The sticker community didn`t rest either.

To be continued.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Economy: Will Inflation Come Back Soon?

(Drivebycuriosity) - Today we are enjoying price stability. But will inflation (price level rises annualy 3% and more) come back soon?

I don´t think so. There are at least 4 reasons why the price level should stay stabile in the coming years:

1. Prices of manufactured goods are falling thanks to the technological progress. We are experiencing a new technological revolution that is raising productivity  significantly ( driveby). 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. Therefore the production costs are sinking and the competition forces the producers to assgin the cost reductions to the consumers.

2. Automatization - and the growing importance of the Internet -  are also curbing the rise of salaries. Therefore the risk of a wage inflation (soaring prices because of higher salaries) is very low.

3. I reckon that oil and other commodity prices will be constrained in the coming years because  high prices in the reent five years (from 2009 till last year) encouraged production and curbed demand. We have therefore plenty of oil and other commodities which will be squeezing prices for a while. The ongoing technological progress also will continue to foster production of oil, metals and agricultural goods and reduce costs of oil exploration and planting crops. In other words: Producing   oil, wheat, aluminium, wheat, corn and other commodities will get cheaper thanks to advanced machines and other technologies.

4. The Federal Reserve already signaled interest hikes and will fight any sign of inflation in the coming years.

I believe we will enjoy some years with solid growth and just moderate rising prices.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Economy: The Irrationality Of The Oil Market

(Drivebycuriosity) - The oil price is rising again. Today Brent Crude, the international traded type of oil, jumped 5%, extending the gains of the last days. Yesterday`s report that the already record high US inventories climbed another 8.17 million barrels (the US oil stocks are now 38% higher than they normally are at this time of year bespoke), were ignored as were news about the ongoing cooling of the Chinese economy, a major oil consumer. Indstead the market focused on reports about fighting in Yemen, even that this country is an unimportant oil producer and does not influence the global supply/demand balance (reuters   businessi). According to Reuters and other media the recent oil price hike is driven by speculation that the Jemen conflict could expand and possibly recduce oil poduction in the region.

This week`s oil price gains are another sign how irrational the oil market can be. Again the price of oil doesn't´ reflect the fundamentals, ignoring the growing oversupply and the expanding oil glut. Again the oil price is driven by speculation on geopolitcal situations.

This phenomen is not new. From spring 2007 through sumer 2008 the price of oil jumped from $60 to $147 - even that the US recession had already started. The oil price gain of around 130% price didn´t have anything to do with the fundamentals, instead the sharp oil rally was driven by speculation that there could be a war against Iran which could disrupt the global oil supply. From 2010 until last summer the oil price hovered above $100 - even that there was already an oil glut accumulating, thanks to the climbing US oil production. Again fundamentals were ignored and the market focused on speculation on imagine geopolitical events  (driveby). A chain of troubles like a civil war in Syria, setbacks in Iraq, attacks of Isis - even massive demonstrations in Istanbul, where is no oil -,  and the ongoing tensions with Iran stimulated hedge funds and other speculators to bet on rising oil prices.

                                               Preparing Another Collapse

Influential oil speculators - including banks and hedge fund managers - used every unrest in the near east region as a pretense to predict massive supply disruptions and higher oil prices. Those rumors were compliantly spreaded and aggrevated by Bloomberg and other media. For years speculative purchases kept the oil price way over the price which would have been justified by production costs and demand. The oil market worked like a hot air baloon which is kept flying by a continuous stream of hot air.

None of the alleged supply disruptions occured. The irrational high prices which existed from 2010 till last summer encouraged oil production and suppressed oil demand which lead to an oil glut and caused the collapse in the second half of 2014. I suppose that oil has to get cheaper to correct the imbalance of the recent years. The current wave of speculation  is again inspiring production  (Iran, Russia and other countries) and curbing demand. A new oil price collapse could be in the making.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Stock Market: Germany - The DAX Rally Explained

(Drivebycuriosity) - Germany`s stock market is on a tear. The DAX, the gauge for the German stock market, gained over 40% in the past five months (ritholtz).

The German rally looks surprising in the face of all the negative reports about Europe´s economy. But it looks like that Germany`s economy is the winner of the Euro crisis. I think there are at least 4 reasons for the German stock market gains:

1. Because of the crisis the Euro dropped more than 20% since last Summer. This is a huge advantage for the German industry which is traditional very focused on exports. Now companies like Volkswagen, BMW, Adidas, BASF (chemicals), ThyssenKrupp (infrastructure & steel) & Siemens (infrastructure, energy plants) can sell their products much cheaper on the global markets.

2. The European Central Bank is flooding the markets with liquidity (QE) and squeezed interest rates to zero. The DAX-companies can easily refinance themselve for almost no costs.

3. Salaries in Germany didn´t rise much in the reent years which gives German companies another cost advantage.

4. The drop of oil and other commodity prices also reduced the costs considerably. Cheaper energy and food also enables European consumers to spend more money for other goods & services which is now rekindling the retail sales in Germany, meaning more demand for Adidas, Volkswagen & Co.

5. The austerity policy (public spending cuts) of the recent years led to less government influence and less bureaucracy. The German economy is now leaner and more efficient than before. Private enterprise gained more scope which animates more private investments. Money is used more efficiently leading to higher returns.

Monetary stimulus, the low Euro and cheap oil should create strong tailwinds for the Germany economy and should keep the rally alive in the coming months.


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Media: The Golden Age Of TV Is Doomed! Really?

(Drivebycuriosity) - "TV's new Golden Age is doomed", claims Bloomberg View (bloomberg). Justin Fox, the author of this claim, believes that the current boom of high quality TV series is "unsustainable".

According to him "today’s quality programming is being financed from the past (broadcast and basic-cable advertising revenue, DVD sales), the present (cable subscriber fees, iTunes), and the future (streaming subscription fees and ad revenue)" (bloomberg). He sees the "present" "under threat". His explanation: "Cable’s lucrative mix of ad revenue and user fees is being attacked by streaming services that are already stealing away viewers and new “skinny bundles” from Dish Network, Apple and soon others that could soon be stealing away lucrative subscribers." compares TV with "Recorded-music and newspaper revenue collapsed under digital assault"

I don´t agree. I expect quite the opposite. Thanks to Amazon & Netflix I can watch now "Game of Thrones" and other HBO gems which I couldn`t afford before. Thanks to Amazon & Co. I am binge watching "Rectify", a brilliant series produced by the ambitious Sundance Channel. Just the rich can afford to subscript to the bunch of expensive elite TV producers like HBO, Sundance, FX, SYFY, AMC and others. But thanks to Amazon & Netflix I am capable to enjoy "The Americans" and other high quality TV series for a reasonable price.

Newcomers like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Apple, Yahoo and others create new platforms and new channels to sell the content of elite producers like HBO. And the newcomers also produce their own ambitious series like Netflix´s "House of Cards" or Amazon`s "Transparent". They are assisted by devices like Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV and Chromecasts which make it easy to stream online content to the TV.

The possibility to downstream TV programs on a growing number of devices - TV-receivers, computers, tablets, smartphones, games consoles and other platforms - creates new markets and expands the number of potential viewers enormously. This encourages the producers to spend more money for script writers, actors, directors, cinematography and post production including special effects.

                                                    Technological Advances

The technological progress also helps producers to realize their ideas because they can alter scenes in the (digital) post-production and make the results looking better. And technological advances are reducing costs of production. For instance a scene which needs many actors can now be faked in post-production by digitally multiplying the photographed persons.

I also believe that the ongoing globalization contributes to the rise of TV quality.  Producers can sell their series in many countries (to local TV-channels or directly as downloads to the consumers) which again justifies costlier productions. I also expect that the number of foreign productions we can see will sharply rise in the coming years which will strengthen the competition. British TV-series like "Sherlock" and "Downton Abbey" are already popular in the US. Why not some fresh TV from Scandinavia, China or Latin America.?

We are experiencing a win-win situation: HBO & Co. find many more customers, TV-newcomers like Amazon earn additional incomes and the TV watchers get more quality for cheap.


Monday, March 23, 2015

Culture: Industrial Symphonies - Swans @ Music Hall Of Williamsburg, New York - A Photo Report

(Drivebycuriosity) - "Swans are majestic, beautiful looking creatures. With really ugly temperaments" said once Michael Gira (wikipedia). The rock musician formed in 1982 the band "Swans", one of those independent rock music groups, who go their own ways beyond the mainstream.


                                                    Violent, Majestic & Bautiful

Yesterday I my wife and I enjoyed their gig @ Music Hall Of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York. It was our second Swans concert after their show @ Bowery Ballroom in February (driveby). Again, the band came up to their name. The concert was "majestic &  beautiful" and spiced with very violent parts - far away from today´s mediocrity.

                                                    Colossal Machines

The performance, which lasted more than 2 hours, was was quite something and will stay in my memory for years. There were six musicians on the stage: Three guitars, drums/percussion, keyboards and a sixth performer who acted as a kind of "Libero" (a term used in soccer). The "number six" was the "free man" and played alternatively different instruments. Sometimes he beat an additional drum, then he changed to violin, brass, xylophone and other instruments. Often the keyboard contributed a digital carillon which gave the songs an elated structure.

The band exploited the potentialities of noises - created with the use of guitars, percussions and a lot of other devices - and transformed them into long symphonic pieces. Melodic and ballad-like parts alternated with massive industrial segments, sounding like colossal machines.

Frontman Michael Gira´s  melodic voice gave the songs an additional framework. Sometimes he used his voice as the seventh instrument, setting dramatical accents like a performer on a theater stage. A commentator on Facebook calls Gira a "shaman" (facebook). He wrote: " It is louder than you can possibly imagine and your body trembles as it internalizes the shaking world. The cumulative energy fields of the music gain momentum slowly over time, and build into incredible powerhouses of direction. It is quite literally the aural equivalent of a freight train, full of incredible diesel and focus, and resistant to slowing once it’s full steam ahead" and finishes his comment "Then, suddenly and unexpectedly, the chord drops down to a new one. The river becomes a waterfall. And that’s when you see god" (facebook).

I illustrate this post with some of the pictures I took Yesterday.


PS 1: Yesterday´s performer were (facebook): Michael Gira / gtr / voice / mendicant friar act (original swans); Norman Westberg – Guitar (original swans) Christophj Hahn – Guitar (mid period swans and most angels); Phil Puleo – Drums, percussion, dulcimer etc etc (final swans tour and most angels); Chris Pravdica – Bass and gadgets (flux information sciences / services/ gunga din); Thor Harris - Drums, percussion, vibes, dulcimer, curios, etc etc... (angels, now also with shearwater).