Gotham Diary:
Art in the Age of Installation
30 July 2012

Forget mechanical reproduction. What about art in the age of installation? Put that in your Benjamin and smoke it.


The determination to keep early hours while my nighthawk of a wife junketed in Maine added a certain novelty to her absence over the weekend that, for me, began on Wednesday. I would awake very early in the morning, only to find that I had no idea what to do with myself (making Kathleen’s tea and toast is the familiar beginning of my day); and in the evening I would scramble at an unaccustomed hour to get dinner out of the way, so that I wouldn’t have to go to bed the very minute the dishes were washed. This was all so unusual that it was almost like going off to a new boarding school, where the sheer drill of keeping to a schedule numbs one to the shock of having been dropped into a jungle. And I did get a lot done. I more than made up for the lethargic beginning of the week.

But the novelty wore off yesterday afternoon, when, all of a sudden, I felt very lonely. I felt very lonely for Kathleen. Knowing that she was having lots of fun with her old friends in Maine was a considerable consolation, but it did not completely lift the tedium of knocking about an otherwise-unpopulated apartment. So instead of making the interesting dinner that I had planned, I went to the Seahorse Tavern, just to be in a room with other people, and that made me feel much better.

So did reading The Anonymous Venetian, an early Donna Leon than I’ve never got round to. Waiting for my dinner, I wondered how the title would be translated into Italian — if the author permitted translations into Italian, which she quite sensibly does not. (The entire country would mass itself into a forty-part chorus to tell her how wrong she was about every detail, especially the ones that she nailed.) I wondered, because the mystery begins with the sighting of a red pump in the muck outside an abattoir in Mestre. Pretty soon, though, it’s clear that the title would emply the masculine gender.

I keep meaning to write to Donna Leon to tell her something that I read in the London Review of Books on the flight back from London in May. Diarmaid MacCullouch, in a very nice piece about the history of the Book of Common Prayer, mentioned that Sir Henry Wotton, the English ambassador at Venice in the reign of James I, proposed to the Doge and his counselors the conversion to the Church of England of la Serenissima. Balance of power, what. It sounds totally crazy, but from an English standpoint it made marvelous sense. Such fun! From a Venetian standpoint as well, as I should like to hear Guido Brunetti’s aristocratic wife, Paola, argue at the dinner table. I content myself with the hope that Leon is more likely to have read the MacCulloch piece than this blog; it saves the agony of taxing her with a reply and not getting one.


Ross Douthat issued a challenge in yesterday’s Times that I am only too happy to gratify.

If you want to fine Catholic hospitals for following Catholic teaching, or prevent Jewish parents from circumcising their sons, or ban Chick-fil-A in Boston, then don’t tell religious people that you respect our freedoms. Say what you really think: that the exercise of our religion threatens all that’s good and decent, and that you’re going to use the levers of power to bend us to your will.

Please allow me! I do not respect such freedoms! Scriptural natterings about human sexuality (Jesus’ preaching about the love and respect that we owe one another aside) are no less noxious to the society of human beings today than the rites of animal sacrifice outlined so eloquently in the first chapter of Leviticus. Good and decent such exercise may have been in the Iron Age — a time so remote that only the most childish faith in unchanging human nature can consider its outlook readily imaginable to us — but good and decent it is no more. Although not Jewish — all the more for not being so, perhaps — I should happily join a lawsuit against the successors and assigns of whatever entity or entities consigned my helpless infant body to such mutilation in 1948!

What felt better was someone’s finally asking.