Journalist and author.

The Santa Claus Man

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#1 Amazon Best Seller
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Posted on November 30, 2015

Come on out to the Los Angeles reading and signing of The Santa Claus Man tonight, at:

Book Soup
8818 Sunset Boulevard
West Hollywood, CA
7 p.m.
Reading, signing, followed by drinks at State Social House

Pretty much just wanted to create a post so I could share Book Soup's amazing graphic for the event.

Posted on November 27, 2015

My Black Friday got off to a great start with this inclusion of The Santa Claus Man in the New York Times. I had a fun and lively chat with the Times' Antiques columnist, Eve Kahn, about Santa letters, the story of John Gluck and his Santa Claus Association, and the rise of modern charity (and charity fraud) directly after the Great War. It was a really enjoyable conversation and I'm happy to see how it turned out. Appropriately (for both Black Friday and a Santa-themed tale), it appeared in the Gift Guide section of ArtsBeat. I'm sure John Gluck would have been thrilled to know that 100 years later, he's still getting covered in the Times.

The story also discussed a pair of terrific anthologies of Santa letters that I also recommend. Dear Santa is an entertaining collection of letters going back to the 1870s (when kids started sending letters through the post office, not just leaving them on the chimney or in their stockings), while Letters to Santa provides tons of quirky and colorful letters collected from Santa Claus, IN (yes, that's a real city). I had a wonderful conversation with Emily Weisner Thompson, editor of the latter book, for a piece about the history of Santa letters I'm doing for Smithsonian, and learned how tough it was for she and her team to select which letters to include. While the book includes some 250 letters going back to the 1930s, their post office received 15,000 letters just last year. Deciding which made the cut was not easy.

Anyway, enjoy the Times piece, and be sure to check out all the terrific Santa-letter volumes available this season!

Posted on November 16, 2015

Many sculptors use clay, plaster or metal. Leo Villareal prefers LED bulbs.

The New York City-based artist has pioneered a particular type of “light sculpting,” using tens of thousands of individual LED bulbs and a customized computer program to illuminate them.

It’s all a bit futuristic, which makes his latest work particularly intriguing: a site-specific light sculpture created for the reopening of the 156-year-old Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and featured as part of the new “Wonder” exhibition, showcasing the works of eight other contemporary artists.

“Above the doors of the Renwick, it says ‘Dedicated to Art,’ which is pretty wonderful and as I understand it, James Renwick was inspired by the Louvre,” says Villareal, of the self-taught 19th-century architect who designed and built the museum.

Inspiring something new from something old is appropriate to his own approach to art. “I start with what’s there, what’s given, and try to figure out how I can augment—not use the building as a pedestal or add a bunch of things that don’t feel appropriate,” says Villareal, whose work has been shown in MoMA, PS1 and LACMA. But he says the Renwick stands out as a historic location.

Villareal’s piece, titled Volume (Renwick), holds pride of place installed above the museum’s historic grand stairway. It uses LEDS embedded in 320 mirrored stainless steel rods. He describes the reflective metal as a kind of “camouflage” that takes in the surrounding environments and almost becomes invisible.

Read the rest at Smithsonian.

Posted on November 12, 2015

For the grand reopening of Washington, D.C.’s Renwick Gallery, artist John Grade set out to do something grand.

He wanted to bring a 40-foot tree into the gallery. He had just the tree in mind—a 150-year-old hemlock located in the Cascade Mountains (east of the artist’s Seattle home). About the same age as the Renwick itself, and a size that would just fit into the gallery space if hung parallel to the floor, the grand old hemlock was ideal for the site-specific project Grade had in mind.

But as a lover of nature whose works play on the ideas of natural degradation and man’s impact on the environment, Grade was not about to chop the hemlock down. As an artist who prizes handcrafted detail, he also was not interested in using any digital tools to copy the tree’s dimensions. He had a much more elegant—if far more complicated—plan.

He hired arborists to work with his team; who roped up the tree, setting up a pulley system to haul up buckets of water, so that a handcrafted plaster cast of the tree could be rendered—all while ensuring that the magnificent tree was carefully protected throughout the process.

Read the rest at Smithsonian.

Posted on November 05, 2015

Douglas Adams began a novel with the line “It can hardly be a coincidence that no language on Earth has ever produced the expression ‘As pretty as an airport.’ Airports are ugly.” But Smithsonian photographer Carolyn Russo is out to prove him wrong.

Her series of photos, which make up a new book and exhibit titled Art of the Airport Tower, turns airports’ loftiest structures into objects of odd, futuristic beauty. Opening November 11 at Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum, the exhibit’s concept first came to the photographer as she took off from LaGuardia Airport in New York City. The tower’s porthole windows “looked like Swiss cheese to me.” She found herself drawn to the architecture, and set out to capture how these structures strike a balance between function and form.

Russo began shooting in 2007, selecting towers through online sleuthing and speaking with aviation experts who suggested subjects with unusual traits or historic significance (such as the Harbor Control Tower near Pearl Harbor). Squeezing in photo sessions during other trips for the Smithsonian, she eventually shot more than 100 structures (the exhibit includes 50 of them, and the book has 85).

Russo took different angles for each: from a distance, close up, or focusing on characteristics that “defined the tower” or gave it anthropomorphic qualities (JFK’s looks like a swan, she says, while London Heathrow “resembles a top hat”).

Beyond the surprising artistry of airport towers, the show captures how these structures have evolved over time. In the era of Douglas DC-3 planes of the 1930s and 1940s, terminals were one level and towers needed only to be high enough to see to the end of the runway.

“They were really utilitarian—there was nothing special about them and no real relation to the terminal,” says Ronald Steinert, an architectural consultant for airports who has worked in the field for almost 50 years, spending 25 of those at Gensler, heading the firm’s aviation practice.

Read the story at Rhapsody.

Posted on November 04, 2015

The process is similar to a wine competition. Each distinguished judge, dressed in their black-tie best, raises a glass and observes the liquid’s appearance, smelling it, taking a taste, and scoring the flavor, mouthfeel, and aftertaste. But unlike wine, the top scorers in this competition have no color, no odor, and little, if any, flavor.

It’s the Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting, which for 25 years has gathered together city officials, bottlers, researchers, and other H20 enthusiasts to spend a weekend celebrating and sampling hydration. What began as a publicity stunt to draw attention to the mineral water spas of Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, has evolved into a respected and heavily attended gathering. Forty-six states and 50 countries have submitted entrants over the years; this year’s competition, held in February, saw entrants from as far away as Greece, South Korea, and New Zealand.

Restaurant consultant and former broadcaster Arthur von Wiesenberger helps give the event legitimacy. He began as a connoisseur of champagne and caviar before turning his attention to a healthier product, writing the books A Pocket Guide to Bottled Water and The Taste of Water.

“Tap water varies from state to state, town to town and even tap to tap,” says von Wiesenberger, explaining what attracted him to the substance. “Not all water is created equally.”

Read the rest at Mental Floss.

Posted on October 29, 2015

While many indie authors have mastered online sales, even strong-selling writers tend to see distribution to libraries and bricks-and-mortar stores as difficult to impossible. However, they should consider giving it another go. Industry experts and indie authors who have tried to get wider distribution have recently found surprising success—both in expanded availability and greater awareness of their work.

“If a library truly commits to your title and plans to not only make it available to patrons but also include it in library marketing materials, then authors can expect a nice discoverability boost,” says Jane Friedman, the former publisher of Writer's Digest and an expert on self-publishing. “Library collections are highly curated, and so the discoverability is better than if you’re available through your average online outlet where millions of titles are stocked.”

Getting this sort of support from both libraries and bookstores is not the impossible task that many self-published authors imagine. But it does take a careful approach, speaking to the right people in the right way, and working to build relationships over the long term, rather than just making a few quick sales.

Read the rest at Publishers Weekly.

Posted on October 13, 2015

Santa Claus ManAnyone in the New York City area should come out to the book launch for The Santa Claus Man. Come celebrate Christmas in October at Madame X bar in the West Village. I’ll read a (brief) bit from the book and host some Santa trivia, with prizes and special Christmas cocktails. Books will be for sale and if you buy one—or bring your own copy to get signed—I’ll throw in some SUPER COOL SANTA STICKERS.

WHEN: Tuesday, October 20, 6–9 p.m.

WHERE: Madame X ("The Sexiest Bar in New York")
94 W Houston St
Btw Thompson St. & LaGuardia Pl.
New York, NY 10012 (Map)
tel: (212) 539-0808

WHO: You, your friends, and anyone else you like.

WHAT: More info here.

Posted on October 02, 2015

Robert Mapplethorpe Cincinnati Perfect MomentTwenty-five years ago, art was put on trial in a highly publicized and political showdown. The Mapplethorpe obscenity trial—the first time a museum was taken to court on criminal charges related to works on display—became one of the most heated battlefronts in the era’s culture wars. Taking place over two weeks in the fall of 1990, the resulting attention challenged perceptions of art, public funding, and what constituted “obscenity.” A quarter century on, the trial’s impact can still be felt, and is being recognized in Cincinnati, the city where it all took place, with a series of events and exhibits.

“It sort of never goes away,” says Dennis Barrie, who served as the director of the Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center (CAC) from 1983–1992, and found himself and his institution in the center of a national controversy. “Something will pop up on quite a regular basis about what happened.”

At issue was The Perfect Moment, a retrospective exhibition of photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. He had risen to national prominence through his black-and-white depictions of 1970s New York, including celebrities (Andy Warhol, Philip Glass, Deborah Harry), nudes, and graphic depictions of sadomasochism. “Robert sought to elevate aspects of male experience, to imbue homosexuality with mysticism,” as his longtime roommate and occasional collaborator Patti Smith said of his work in her memoir of their relationship, Just Kids. The show’s approximately 175 images captured the range of Mapplethorpe’s subjects over his 25-year career, grouping them into three “portfolios:” nude portraits of African-American men (the “Z” portfolio), flower still lifes (“Y”) and homosexual S&M (“X”).

“The ‘X’ portfolio was tough material for some,” says Raphaela Platow, the museum’s current director.

The show was not for everyone, but Barrie and the CAC board felt its artistic importance could hardly be questioned. The show was especially timely considering Mapplethorpe had died of complications from AIDS just a few months earlier, raising interest in the artist and his portfolio.

The exhibit originally showed at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in Philadelphia, where it generated some local concerns about a few of the images—particularly some of the more sexually graphic ones, as well as a pair featuring nude children—though generally the show received enthusiastic reviews. But as the survey made its way to Ohio, touring through Chicago and Washington, D.C., controversy began to build.

As Barrie was attending a conference of museum directors several months before The Perfect Moment was scheduled to open in his museum, word arrived that D.C.’s Corcoran Gallery had withdrawn its plan to exhibit Mapplethorpe’s work. The American Family Association, a conservative watchdog group, had been urging politicians to demand that the Corcoran’s National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) funding be eliminated if it went through with the retrospective; its director backed down in the face of pressure.

“That announcement really swept through the room like wildfire,” says Barrie. “All of us who were directors of museums recognized that a door had opened up for hostile censorship against our organizations.”

It was a warning shot for Barrie, and though it might be expected that a museum in Cincinnati would be less likely to draw the kind of attention of one in the nation’s capital, he and the CAC board decided to take precautions. The city was by most measures more conservative than average, prohibiting peep shows, adult bookstores, and strip clubs.

The CAC played offense by lobbying community members for public support for the show, reaching out to politicians and media outlets. They also prepared their defense by securing the services of public relations professionals who had dealt with arts-related controversies in the past, as well as first-amendment lawyer H. Louis Sirkin.

“We really thought at one point that we had won over the city,” says Barrie.

But he underestimated the forces amassing against envelope-pushing works of art.

Read the full story at Smithsonian.

Posted on October 01, 2015

Gaugin When Will You MarryThis month, the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. unveils a showcase of two Swiss collectors of impressionist, post-impressionist, and modernist works: Rudolf Staechelin and Karl Im Obersteg. Their collections, gathered throughout the first half of the 20th century, are usually housed at the Kunstmuseum in Basel, Switzerland, making this the first time many of the works—which include paintings by Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, and Marc Chagall—have been shown in the U.S.

But it may also be the last time for visitors to see Paul Gauguin’s Nafea faa ipoipo? (When Will You Marry?) The 1892 oil painting of a pair of Tahitian women is a major piece in the Staechelin collection. But when this showing ends on January 10, 2016, it enters the hands of a private collector who reportedly purchased the painting for almost $300 million—making it the most expensive work of art, ever.

Though the buyer has remained anonymous, chances are that once it enters the private collection, public exhibit of the work will decrease, if not cease altogether. Such a fate would hardly be unique in the art world.

“We forget that not all famous artworks are on display in museums or other public places,” says Susan Dixon, chair of the department of art and art history at La Salle University in Philadelphia. “There are many famous art works which are in the hands of private owners.”

Read the full story at Rhapsody.

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