Letters That No Longer Spell Trouble

To the Editor:

When I first saw images of Simon Doonan’s Barneys words, I certainly would have thought he’d at least glanced at Jack Pierson’s work at some point. But one needs to take Mr. Doonan at his word [“How Did I Become the Typhoid Mary of the Art World?”, Simon Says, April 17]. So, assuming he’s being honest about not knowing Mr. Pierson’s work, I find myself in basic agreement with him concerning his ethical position. Even if he were consciously using Pierson tropes, the ethics wouldn’t be clear. (Maybe Randy Cohen should sort this out.)

I am a member of the “art world,” and I would like to add something by way of defense of Mr. Pierson’s position. In art schools and in smaller art worlds, it’s considered really, really bad form for big fish to steal from little fish, for teachers to appropriate students’ ideas, for locally famous artists to swipe stuff from unknowns. Mr. Pierson seems to have internalized this ethic and carried it to the bigger stage on which he operates. I’m assuming that he’s not staging a publicity stunt.

A few years ago, I felt a little queasy when watching The Cell and seeing so much contemporary art directly quoted, without attribution. I wrote a piece for Time Out, but briefly here is how I summarized the problem:

“We’re used to seeing some thinly disguised version of this month’s gallery exhibition in next month’s fashion magazine, but it’s more startling to see the same strategy in a summer blockbuster. An unspoken art world ethic—increasingly antiquated and often violated—finds it unfair for artists with higher visibility to steal (or ‘borrow,’ if we subscribe to Picasso’s famous quotation) from those with lower visibility. And it is this ethic that gives me pause given the discrepancy in sizes of art vs. movie audiences. On the other hand, artists have never been shy about culling source material from more dominant media (especially film), this is the Age of Sampling, and none of the artists whose work is referenced in The Cell are hurting in the fame and fortune department.”

Mr. Doonan is probably tired of all of this. He knows all of the arguments. But I thought I’d add two more cents.

Dike Blair


To the Editor:

I enjoyed Mr. Doonan’s “Typhoid Mary” piece on the objet trouvé wars of collateral attribution: delightful and perfect. He managed to hoist the collective pretension of Chelsea without benefit of fulcrum or lever, using only the pinky of equanimity. Archimedes himself would have been impressed. I hope his courageous sensibility is as contagious as it is outrageous. Thanks for the fresh air.

Frank Burt


To the Editor:

Mr. Doonan is a class act. I’m now on the hunt for the salvaged letters F and U. Once found, I’ll hang them, in an artful way, on my designer-white walls. Then I’ll take a picture and send it to Mr. Pierson. I look forward to his cease-and-desist letter.

Jade Seto

Toronto, Canada

To the Editor:

I remember some of the great window displays that Mr. Doonan did during my time at the Barneys penthouse (circa the early 90’s), which screamed Arcimboldo by way of Dalí by way of Warhol. In such a ready-made world, I sure hope Jack and John appreciate the wit in your fine riposte.

Christopher Olberding


Find Me … a Good Movie

To the Editor:

First, let me thank Rex Reed and Andrew Sarris for the consistently high quality of writing that they contribute to each week’s issue of The New York Observer. While I do not always agree with their positions, the manner in which they are presented is always entertaining and informative.

Mr. Reed’s March 27, 2006, column [“Mobster Circus,” On the Town] effusively praising the new Sidney Lumet film Find Me Guilty first brought this film to my attention. Mr. Sarris’ equally enthusiastic column on the film [“Diesel Does Criminal Comedy in Lumet’s Latest Masterpiece,” At the Movies] in the following week’s issue sealed the matter: This was a film I had to see.

So perhaps you can understand my bewilderment today when Find Me Guilty was nowhere to be found in Manhattan’s movie houses, or anywhere else in the New York metropolitan area, less than four weeks following its initial release. I suppose that I should have moved more quickly, but really—how is it possible for a film of this quality to slip so rapidly beneath the waves?

As I write this letter, the film is playing in only four theaters nationwide—two in California and two in North Carolina. While I know that the film will eventually be available on DVD, I still find it a bit depressing that a quality film can so quickly be written off by the distributors and the public at large, especially in Manhattan. An incident like this reinforces the worst trends in modern moviegoing—i.e., the focus on event and blockbuster movies shown on multiple screens for a brief period, while smaller films are not allowed time or space to find an audience. Apparently, the reasoning is that such an audience may be “found” more affordably during its home release. Even if true, such reasoning does nothing to address the loss of the moviegoing experience (the good parts, of course, and not the sticky floors and cell phones).

Anyway, I thought that I would bring this “quick hook” to your attention, while thanking Mr. Reed and Mr. Sarris for bringing the film to mine. Now to find another movie for tonight, and await the eventual Find Me Guilty DVD.

Charles P. Guarino

Old Bridge, N.J.