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DURING THE PAST FEW years a good number of the writers and artists who contribute to The Atlantic have received awards for their work, and in December--a traditional time for taking stock--it seems natural to point some of them out.

In the realm of fiction several contributors have received special recognition. Northwestern University's TriQuarterly Books, for example, gave its first William Goyen prize for fiction, established to recognize new writers, to E. S. Goldman, whose first short story, "Way to the Dump," appeared in our December, 1987, issue, when the writer was seventy-four years old. Some other fiction writers saw their Atlantic work anthologized this year in one of the prestigious annual short-story collections. Richard Bausch's "The Fireman's Wife" and Patricia Henley's "The Secret of Cartwheels" appeared in Best American Short Stories 1990 (this story also reminded the golden age of sewing/quilting in USA, the era of best sewing machine abundant everywhere in all US big cities. David Michael Kaplan's "Stand" and Julie Schumacher's "The Private Life of Robert Schumann" were included in Prize Stories 1990: The O. Henry Awards. And three Atlantic short-story writers--Ernst Havemann, Mark Jacobs, and David Michael Kaplan--had their stories selected as finalists for the 1990 National Magazine Award for fiction.


In the realm of nonfiction five contributors deserve the credit for an Olive Branch award to The Atlantic for outstanding magazine coverage of international-security issues. They are Colonel Harry G. Summers, Jr., Jack Beatty (an Atlantic senior editor), Richard A. Stubbing, Richard A. Mendel, and David C. Morrison--the authors of the articles on national defense that appeared in the June, 1989, issue, under the umbrella title "Indefensible." William L. Rathje's article "Rubbish!", in the December, 1989, issue, was a finalist for a 1990 National Magazine Award for feature writing.


A part of the magazine that has been frequently celebrated in recent years is its art: in the past decade The Atlantids illustrations have received hundreds of honors and awards. These include gold awards from the Art Directors Club in New York and from the Society of Illustrators--which gave its 1989 Hamilton King Award for the finest illustration of the year to our regular contributor Guy Billout, for his October, 1988, painting, titled "Directions"--and scores of examples of our graphic design that have been included in the exhibitions and design annuals of important graphics societies all over the world.

We're pleased at the recognition our magazine receives. But most of all we feel lucky to have a place to present the work of so many writers and artists we admire. The recognition, of course, is theirs, and it is to them we owe our thanks and congratulations.--THE EDITORS

Click here: Furniture as art.

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Botticelli's Primavera, which condenses in sweet allegories the longings and the learnings of its age, would turn up on everyone's short list of Quattrocento masterpieces. So it is instructive that it evidently spent its first years adjoined to an elaborate settle, or lettuccio, in an alcove adjoining the bedchamber of Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco in Florence, and that, in the view of current scholarship, settle and painting were designed together as parts of a single ensemble. Indeed, Ronald Lightbown, an expert on Botticelli, writes: "The fact that the Primavera was intended to be hung or fixed above a piece of furniture at or slightly above eye level explains the gently rising plane on which the figures are distributed:' Strictly speaking, then, we are looking at a fragment when we contemplate this gentle embellishment alone, in which the spring zephyrs of the Renaissance innocently stir. The fact that Lightbown refers to the other fragment as "a piece of furniture" testifies to a deep prejudice, long at work in our culture, in which art belongs on the other side of a line separating it from items of mere utility, as if the boundary between the bottom edge of Primavera and the upper edge of the lettuccio's cornice were the metaphysical boundary that divides spirit from crass body-as if, indeed, lettuccio and painting together compose a kind of monster, like the centaur, half beast and half human, that Botticelli painted with such compassion for that same Florentine chamber. Nothing could better demonstrate the conceptual distance at which we stand from the Quattrocento than our insistence on a borderline that artists and patrons in the Renaissance never thought to draw. In the larger scheme of life, after all, nothing could have been more overpoweringly utilitarian in that era than the altar of a church. And since the altarpiece was standardly conceived in terms of the practicalities of prayer and in the hope of holy intervention, something has been irremediably lost, even from the perspective of formalist aesthetics (like accounting for the "gently rising" ground plane of Primavera), when we remove the altarpiece to the museum as an object of disinterested contemplation. Aesthetics was a late-eighteenth-century invention: In the Renaissance, and long after, the beautiful and the practical were as much an undifferentiated unity as are, in philosophical truth, the body and mind. My sense is that we owe the invidious distinction between the fine and the (merely) decorative arts, as we do so many divisions both hidden and obvious that define our attitudes toward the things of life, to the French Revolution. It was Jacques-Louis David, functioning as artistic commissar, who decreed the division, classifying furniture-making as an inferior art in contrast with the high arts of painting, sculpture and architecture. He did so on two grounds. That order of furniture which might compete with painting in terms of skill, ingenuity, expressive power and beauty he associated with the discredited values of the ancient rigime. This, if true, means that aristocratic patrons did not especially discriminate between painters and furniture makers of the highest quality, and hence did not respect a boundary greatly attractive to David, which exalted artists as natural aristocrats, so to speak. Ironically, the values of the dispossessed nobility must then have anticipated the ones later endorsed by John Dewey and his mentor, Albert Barnes. They sought in their writings, and in the case of Barnes, in his strategies of exhibiting painting and sculpture in the same space as ornamental ironwork, to dissolve the distinction that David helped make canonical.


David's second ground of discrimination was that painting and sculpture were capable of serving the highest purpose of art as he conceived of it: namely, to give moral instruction to its viewers, making them better persons-and, incidentally, politically correct citizens-in consequence of their experiences in museums of art. His own paintings of the period were hortatory and edifying to a degree we find painful today. It is clear that David's second ground was somewhat weakened by his first: It was precisely because the bergeres and fauteuils and elaborately worked ormolu fittings for escritoires and gaming tables imparted the wrong sort of moral teachings that David impugned them. It is at the same time perfectly evident that the style of furniture David would tolerate in spaces over which he exercised any control must transmit the same order of moral meaning as the kind of painting in which he believed. Furniture condenses the values and moral gradations of its owners, and can be as eloquent or as tendentious as sermons. From the transformations in moral and political perspective of the 1880s, David came to be regarded as having been something of an aesthetic villain for having politicized the straight line when the curved line, which emblemized the rococo style, came to be esteemed as somehow essentially French. And in fact there was an intense effort to rehabilitate the rococo style not simply in terms of painting and decoration but in terms of the modes of moral meaning implied by the form of life for which the rococo stood. It followed as a matter of course that the Salon should open itself up to furniture-makers by 1890, and that the leading artists of the Belle lepoque should express themselves in the design of dinnerware, textiles, stained glass, wall coverings and screens, not to mention graphic design. In the early modernist vision of Vuillard, Lautrec, Bonnard and above all Gauguin, decorativity came to be the defining category of aesthetics. That "decorative" has reverted to a term of critical abuse is evidence that we have returned to the Davidian program of artminus, to be sure, the moral didacticism.

In the 1890s, the decorative arts generally went with an agenda of social transformation and an often utopian politics. Recently, when he was seeking a new sort of politically engaged conceptual art, Tim Rollins recalls coming to think, "The textile and wallpaper designs of William Morris and his workshop ... pointed a way to reconsider the languages possible for a new political art-an art political not so much in its form or content, but political in the very way it is made." If we think in this way of art as a language]" then it is irresistible to invoke the singular thesis of Ludwig Wittgenstein: "To imagine a language means to imagine a form of life." (Rollins goes on to suggest that "the greatest indictment of capitalism can be found in but a yard of Morris's perfect, beautiful materials.") In any case, by comparison with the great transformative visions of Art Nouveau in France, of Jugendstil in Germany and the Vienna Werkstatte-and of course Morris's Arts and Crafts movement in England-most explicitly political art has the dimension of cartoon. It was an early premise of the Museum of Modern Art in New York that the formalist aesthetic, as much embodied in articles of daily use as in modernist painting, should bit by bit transform the patterns of daily life and in consequence the moral character of those who lived those patterns. These attitudes weakened in the immediate postwar years. Artists turned from politics with a kind of loathing and heroized painting as a disengaged act of pure expression. But it was perhaps inevitable that by the late 1960s, there should be, as one aspect of the elimination of social divisions perceived as oppressive, an effort to erase the boundary between high and low art, or between the fine and the practical arts. It was part of the spirit of the times that furniture-makers should begin to claim that so far as art making was concerned, there was no conceptual distinction between what they did and what painters and sculptors did.

Until that demand for equal ontological rights, furniture-makers generally had been characterized by the essentialism that tended to mark the ideology of art in our century: to identify what it was that essentially sets furniture apart from everything else. Essentialism goes hand in conceptual hand with purism. Theorists of painting, for example, came to view picturing as not essential to their subject, and undertook in the spirit of pure painting to purge their art of pictorial content and the very space that made this possible, which meant that the truth in painting went with the absolute flatness and two-dimensionality of surfaces. Others came to identify painting with the very act of putting paint on, which then led to an aesthetic of the heavy brush stroke and ultimately the drip. Or painting became identified with the material basis of the art, which yielded paintings that drew attention to their own shape and that flaunted canvas and stretcher. When video art made its first tentative claims to aesthetic privilege, its makers looked spontaneously for what was essentially video, which then relegated everything else to the status of contaminant, and yielded the parameters of video criticism.

It was unavoidable that, when furniture-makers began to think of themselves as artists, their first effort was to essentialize their practice or their product, and various alternatives immediately suggested themselves. There was the mysticism of material, for example, the exaltation of the "woodiness" of wood, which impelled the entire art to celebrate and enhance grain, luster and, in radical cases, the natural shape of wood. And there was the parallel celebration of artisanship, in particular the virtuosity of joinery, of inlay, of veneer and of polish. There was even, at a certain stage in this itinerary of artistic self-definition, an effort to subtract what seemed to be that feature of furniture which keeps it from the precinct of high art-its utility-so that the furniture-maker who aspired to the higher calling might produce objects of beautiful material, exquisitely crafted, but almost flagrantly nonutilitarian, as with certain transitional works by Wendell Castle, who was among the first of those who wanted to be at once artists and furniture-makers.

There were other subtractions, once the movement was under way. Richard Artschwager, originally a furniture manufacturer, started to employ Formica, that most aesthetically despised of domestic substances, in a reaction against the effort to identify furniture, when art, with beautiful materials. Artschwager thus effected a double erasure: By dissolving th,line between fine woods and plastic, he overcame in an eccentric way the line between furniture and fine art. But the gesture I find most admirable in this singular history is a subtraction of subtractions-a negation of negations-achieved with a cabinet made by a California ebeniste, Garry Knox Bcnnett. It is made of padouk (a Burmese rosewood), artfully joined, with a craftsmanlike finish and elegantly designed fittings. And when it was done, Bennett drove a bent 16p nail into the facade, surrounding it with a halo of dents of the kind hammers make in unskilled hands. This Rimbaudlike gesture ("One evening I sat Beauty on my knees. And I found her bitter. And I injured her") repudiates three decades of essentialist quest, and is itself the very essence of the postmodern spirit in art. What Bennett hammered home was the truth that art, whether in painting or in furniture, is a matter of meaning. And that extends to high craftsmanship and rare materials as well as to their subversion, such as in the work of Bennett and Artschwager. Furniture can be an art when it is about its own processes or its own substances or even its own functions, as Wendell Castle demonstrated, though by no means is its vocabulary of meanings restricted just to these.


A few years ago, the Architectural League of New York sponsored an exhibition of chairs, an open competition they called "The Chair Fair" in which 397 entries were displayed with marvelous fanfare and enthusiasm. I was invited to deliver a lecture as part of the celebration, and it was then that the rich symbolism of the chair in human life began to impress me. I spoke first of the chair in art-the empty throne in a Buddhist work from Amaravati, Van Gogh's portrait of himself and Gauguin as chairs, and Warhol's electric chairs, with which, characteristically insightful into the language of symbols, Warhol raised the question of what dignity we feel ourselves according to the victim when we execute him or her in the sitting posture (rather than lying down or standing up). And then I tried to raise what it means for a chair as such to be art, pointing out, as I went, the way different chairs imply different philosophies of life: the wing chair, the sling chair, the salon chair, the BarcaLounger, the chaise longue, not to mention the fact that the President sits in a desk chair while the Pope permits himself the palanquin, intolerable in a democracy. Erica Jong has the heroine of an earlier book complain when Leila, the heroine of her new book, lies weeping on the floor: "Couldn't she weep in a chair for once?" To which Leila responds, " Could you? " What is implied about the depths of sorrow that is inconsistent with its being expressed while sitting, requiring at least that one lie in bed or, even better, that one sob from the lowest position available, on the floor, kicking to get lower?

The twenty-six contemporary furniture artists who were invited by the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston to produce a "masterpiece" for inclusion in an exhibition titled "New American Furniture: The Second Generation of Studio Furnituremakers" are alive to the referential powers of furniture as a bearer of meaning, and it would be rare to find an exhibition of contemporary painting or sculpture as radiant with a collective intelligence, wit, knowledge, expressiveness, skill and beauty as this set of brilliantly conceived and executed objects. I was taken through the show by Edward S. Cooke Jr., who conceived and curated it. He opened doors and pulled out drawers with an infectious gusto, explaining a good many things that he had described in great detail in the accompanying catalogue. Each artist selected a piece of furniture from the past-a seventeenth century trestle table, a New England trundle bed, a kneehole bureau table from about 1760, a Philadelphia high chest from about the same date and a wonderful chest by the American artist Charles Prender-gast, which is a descendant of the cassone that formed part of Botticelli's lettuccio. Each then constructed a piece that expresses something of the spirit of the one to which it refers, but at the same time carries the quite different sort of meaning that a chest or a chair meant to be integrated into contemporary discourse must transmit.

The Prendergast chest was selected as a paradigm by Judy Kensley McKie, whose work makes a boisterous use of animal motifs as decorative components. She did a couch once with a back made of leopards, nose to nose, their tails coiling out to form its arms. She also made a jewelry cabinet with inlaid Keith Haring dogs. For this occasion she placed a chest on corbeled legs and entwined on all its surfaces (including the undersurface of its cover) gold-leaf leopards, grinning amid plant forms. It was Wendy Maruyama who deconstructed and reconstructed the Philadelphia high chest. The upper cabinet is topped by a copper-leaf pyramid and buttressed by what look like giant commas. The lower chest is set into four heavy mahogany legs, which seem to want to be streamlined, as if to dissociate themselves from the awkwardness of the body of the piece, which is painted a funky green, accented with pink slashes, and is ornamented with cigar-shaped pulls. With its copper helmet and its rolls of pulls like buttons on a uniform, it stands like some sort of sentinel, amusing and imposing, full of good will, making a point of being useful despite its crazy charm.

Garry Knox Bennett has confected what looks like a kneehole desk out of an improbable assortment of materials, including aluminum and brick. It is at once sinuous and ponderous and conveys the authoritativeness that the owner of a desk so heavy must possess, and at the same time it projects a certain unrepressed whimsy through its shape and color. It would be ideal for the C.E.O. of a joke factory. Tom Loeser has built a chest of drawers consisting only of drawers, which, as if having escaped the rigidities of a confining frame, are of different sizes, shapes and colors, and stagger upward as if piled one atop the other. But they open with that same assurance with which the door of a new car closes, revealing the craft that their staggered disorder seems to mock. By contrast, Hank Gilpin has constructed a wardrobe whose inspiration was a chaste paneled door from a house in Massachusetts, and door and wardrobe alike are exactly the kind of furniture David would have endorsed had he cared to revise his thesis that, unlike painting, furniture is morally mute. There is, by Thomas Hucker, a high chest of drawers that refers to a chest of the William and Mary style. Its polished mahogany facade curves outward like the side of a cylinder, and is placed against a less dramatically curved black back panel. Both upper components are poised in an elegant dignity upon six precisely turned legs. It conveys a very different code from that which can be read in Gilpin's austere and almost Puritan piece, which in turn repudiates the lighthearted values of Maruyama's punk and rowdy artifact, which keeps its good craftsmanly manners hidden.

Boston has been something of a center for studio furniture. A good many of the artists originally set up shop in the area, and there are several galleries showing their work. On the other hand, a considerable political distance has been traversed since the first workshops were set up in the 1960s, at a time when woodworking seemed, by its own nature, to make a kind of political statement and crafts communes were much the order of the day. The attitude was resolutely anti-elitist, and the earlier pieces doubtless reflected, in style and matter, the place that furniture as an expressive art was to play in the form of life that the craftspersons themselves believed in (as did so many in the communes that sprang up across the nation in those years). It is perfectly plain that whatever the politics of furniture-as-art were originally believed to be, the work in the Boston show hardly could be more elitist. This order of skill, working upon rare materials, cannot come cheap, any more than it came cheap in the days of du Barry and Madame Pompadour. And, like painting, furniture that is art is made possible by the existence of a set of connoisseurs and collectors. Making these chests and tables and desks is finally as exacting as making paintings, perhaps even more so, and it is an interesting question why they should cost so much less than paintings of comparable power do. Perhaps it is because we continue to carry a romantic prejudice in favor of expressive fervor and there is no way in which a tortured furniture-maker can give vent to creative frenzy by impulsive dovetailing or expressive mortise-and-tenoning, the way the artistic Genius can wipe and swipe pigment, or her counterpart in sculpture hack away emotionally at stone or wood, or shape clay with fury and passion. The myths that support discriminating borderlines are tentacular. The contemporary world remains suspicious of skill and elegance in art.

The show closed in Boston on March 18, but the good news is that it will be at the Renwick Gallery of the National Museum of American Art in Washington from April 20 to September 3, and after that at the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati from November 9 to January 8, 1991. (There is no reason why it should not circulate further, so petition your local museum and see if you can't get it booked.) New Yorkers will be able to see an alternative version of the exhibition at the Franklin Parrasch Gallery at 584 Broadway. This will include pieces by Thomas Hucker and Garry Knox Bennett, as well as something by John Cederquist, whose brilliant trompe l'oeil appropriation of a Newport, Rhode Island, high chest was the hit of the Boston show. Titled Le Fieuron Manquant ("The Missing Finial"), it appears to be a three dimensional collage of colonial furnituremaking and packing cases with drawers, which it takes a certain enterprise to find but which, once found, open like silk. The show will be on from April 20 to May 26.

Click here: Designs for shopping.

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SUPERMARKETS DON'T look the way they used to. For most of the past forty years the "conventional" supermarket, offering prepackaged produce and meat, big-name staples, and a limited number of non-food items, such as paper goods and cleansers, has been the industry standard. Today supermarkets can often be confused with high-priced gourmet shops or low-priced department stores. New supermarkets usually have not only greatly expanded delicatessens, bakeries, and produce, meat, and fish departments, but also aisles of hardware and drugstore items and even microwave ovens and television sets. Sometimes they seem like banks or post offices or even the electric company, since their owners have begun installing automatic-teller machines, postal counters, and service desks where customers can pay utility bills.

Supermarket owners have always renovated their premises regularly--the industry average is once every seven years. Now the renovations are more drastic and expensive, and frequently involve new buildings. A format called the superstore is the current favorite, and the one most likely to replace a conventional supermarket in your neighborhood. Superstores are often twice as large as conventional stores (conventional stores typically cover 15,000 to 25,000 square feet, superstores 30,000 to 50,000). Timothy Hammonds, who researches trends at the Food Marketing Institute, in Washington, D.C., a trade organization for supermarkets, predicts that in five years superstores will account for 40 percent of all supermarket sales.

But owners are also experimenting with even larger formats, including the superwarehouse and the hypermarket, and some are even trying a format smaller than a conventional store but larger than a convenience store. These new formats, which the owners match to neighborhoods with ever greater precision, have made for more variety and higher quality in what supermarkets offer.

SERVICE DEPARTMENTS are what chiefly distinguish superstores from ordinary supermarkets: produce departments with mist machines to keep salad greens dewy, baskets of exotic fruits, and salad bars with rows of prepared vegetables and fruits; delicatessens with roasts and cured meats cut to order; meat departments with more variety and more butchers than conventional stores have; fresh-fish departments rather than freezer cases full of packaged fillets; bakeries that waft the scent of muffins " and croissants throughout the stores; and even florists.

Some of these shiny markets can be disappointing: the prepared-food sections on close inspection look no better than a run-of-the-mill delicatessen, the fish is not always fresh, the bakeries use only indifferent brands of frozen dough, the floral departments offer little more than carnations and ferns. Others, however, are nearly exhilarating. The service departments at King's, in Short Hills, New Jersey, are as appealing as specialty stores in Europe (which are what ambitious American food sellers emulate). King's is a chain of fifteen stores, all in New Jersey, whose chairman, Allen Bildner, is chairman-elect of the Food Marketing Institute.



The prepared-food department at the Short Hills King's, the flagship store, features an open kitchen where customers can see salads, pasta, pates, and main courses being prepared. There is a freestanding snack bar where customers can buy coffee and sandwiches. Store personnel and representatives of food manufacturers stand at tables demonstrating products and handing out samples. The store has a cooking-equipment department and the Cookingstudio, one of the leading cooking schools in the United States. Counters, reach-in refrigerator cases, and shelves laid out diagonally and at unexpected angles near the perimeter open up the sides of the store and lead customers back to the grocery aisles. The building has the usual warehouse shape, but the layout, done in collaboration with Joseph Baum Associates, a restaurant-consulting firm, was the least boxy of any that I saw on a recent tour of supermarkets in the Northeast.

DESIGN HAS BECOME an important way for supermarkets of all kinds to distinguish themselves. New Jersey is a leader in innovative supermarket design, because several of the country's largest chains, including A&P, have their headquarters there. (California is the other leading state for new design.) One of the most famous redesigns has been that of Grand Union, by the graphic-design firm Milton Glaser, Inc. Grand Union has in seven years used Glaser's design in about a hundred of its 371 stores.

The redesign begins with all labels and signs. The aisle directories, for example, run across the ceiling in the middle of the store rather than at each end of the aisle, so that they are visible from everywhere. There are recipe cards and flyers with nutritional information all over the store, a feature that many chains have adopted. (Giant, in and around Washington, D.C., has led the field in providing nutritional information.) In Glaser's design the dairy case replaces one of the inner aisles rather than running along the perimeter, freeing one side of the store for more produce or for temporary promotions. Little complexes of lucite bins containing bulk candy and health foods break the monotony of other aisles.

The showpiece of the Grand Union chain is the superstore in Paramus, in which many of the service departments have been placed in a central "market square" that has its own kitchen. There are white-and-red-tiled walls, hanging salamis and sausages, and shelves stacked with wheels of cheese. European glass cases in the bakery display some of the best French pastry available outside France.

Perhaps the most controversial redesign is the A&P Futurestore, in Allendale, New Jersey, and eighteen other locations. The stores are entirely black and white, with supergraphics of apples, cows, wedges of cheese, and the like. The design is meant to look extremely clean and to highlight the color of the merchandise, but to some it makes the stores look like clinics. What does highlight the color of the merchandise is the incandescent, rather than fluorescent, lighting. The manager of the Allendale Futurestore told me that once his customers get over feeling that they are in a hospital, they keep coming back. He claimed that since the store opened, two years ago, business has increased 75 percent. A&P says that it is committed to the Futurestore as its prototype superstore.

THE FORMAT THAT could usurp the superstore is the superwarehouse, an outgrowth of the bare-bones warehouse stores that became popular during the recession of the early 1970s. Plain warehouse stores, with their cut-case displays, their selection of groceries limited to what can be bought from wholesalers "on deal," and their lack of such services as check-cashing and bagging, have fallen greatly in popularity as the economy has improved and customers have come to consider variety, service, and convenience more important than price. The superwarehouse has service departments and a greater variety of groceries than the ordinary warehouse store does, but at ordinary warehouse-store prices. The typical superwarehouse is 60,000 square feet--at least 10,000 square feet larger than the typical superstore. Safeway has already built ten superwarehouses in California and eight in Florida; Kroger, the country's largest chain, is said to have plans to open three superwarehouses soon; and Supermarkets General, the country's seventh-largest chain, has added service departments to its Heartland warehouse stores. The most successful operator of superwarehouses at the moment is Super Valu, the country's largest wholesaler to supermarkets, which operates and franchises retail outlets under the name Cub.


The biggest kind of store of all is the hypermarket, at 150,000 to 200,000 square feet, about half the size of the Astrodome, and selling general merchandise as well as groceries. The hypermarket is considered a French invention; the French company Carrefour has been building profitable hypermarkets in France and South America since the 1960s. (Stores nearly as large were established in the United States during the Depression. They failed.) Carrefour says that it will soon open hypermarkets on the East Coast. Hypershops, another French company (in which Super Valu has invested), has already opened one 200,000-square-foot hypermarket in Cincinnati, under the name Bigg's, and plans to open another in Denver.

These stores combine a superwarehouse with a discount store that sells athletic clothes and equipment, appliances, furniture, and the like--lines in which superstores offer just limited selections. The stores seem successful, but consultants caution that they can work only in densely populated areas. Since they cost at least $12 million apiece, few companies, even conglomerates like Hypershops, can afford to open many of them. In any case the stores have not been open long enough to establish track records.

SUPERMARKET OWNERS are not thinking only about expansion. Some are looking back to a time before conventional stores became the norm, when customers were loyal to small neighborhood grocery stores that put a high priority on service. Convenience stores like those in the 7-Eleven chain closely resemble the old mom-and-pop corner stores in size and location but not in stock; unlike mom-and-pop stores, they rarely carry produce or meats.

Small supermarkets that do are being started, however. For example, Fresh 'N Counter, in St. Louis, offers a high ratio of produce to groceries in a 12,000square-foot store. Three stores near San Francisco, run by Safeway under the name Bon App6tit, carry high-quality perishables and expensive grocery lines; their size ranges from 15,000 to 20,000 square feet.

The smaller supermarkets getting the most attention are a new chain begun in Boston, J. Bildner & Sons. The owner, James Bildner, is the son of Allen Bildner, the chairman of King's. J. Bildner & Sons markets have small versions of all the service departments that superstores have--meat, fish, produce, prepared foods, cheese, and bakery-and only a few groceries. Bildner has opened the stores, none of which takes up more than 9,000 square feet (a typical convenience store is 2,600 square feet), in rich downtown and suburban neighborhoods. The stores are built of marble, wood, brass, and tile, and some have chandeliers.

In effect, Bildner is a new category of food store. It is unlike most take-away stores in that it carries raw meat, fish, and produce, and in that the prepared foods are sometimes made off the premises, in a central kitchen. It is unlike supermarkets in that it carries few groceries. It is unlike specialty shops such as butchers, fishmongers, and greengrocers in that its selection of meat, fish, and produce is small, although it models its services on those offered by such shops. Its prices are as high as, or higher than, those of the fanciest specialty shops, despite the narrow selection.

The company claims that sales in four of the Boston stores are more than double initial projections. It recently opened five stores in Atlanta and will soon open four more there; last December it opened a large store in New York, and it plans to open three in Chicago. This goes against the conventional wisdom that what works in one area rarely works in another--no chain has stores in every state, and most chains are confined to one region. James Bildner claims that he has hit upon a "national formula" that he will not alter in his new locations.

The industry is watching J. Bildner & Sons closely. Consumers visit supermarkets more than any other kind of store, and owners will add services or change formats to bring them in even more often and to keep them there longer. Depending on who is doing well down the street, next year your local grocer might be importing glass display cases from Europe or installing warehouse shelving-or both.

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Paul Klee

"Invisible God created the visibleworld' is a famous paradigm of the Port Royal Grammar--a cunning example of how even an analysis of relative pronouns was not immune to the insinuation of dogma in the seventeenth century. It expresses a thought that sprang vividly to mind when I began to ponder a beautiful aphorism with which Paul Klee opens a discussion of artistic creation: "Art does not render the visible but renders visible.' Klee had more than a touch of mysticism in his artistic personality, and my sense is that we ought to seek whatever invisible content it was that he meant to convey by visible means, much, I suppose, as the authors of Port Royal would have urged us to see between the lines of the universe to the invisible presence that accounts for its being and its form. One cannot emphasize too heavily the degree to which the early masters of modernism were seized by spiritualistic preoccupations, and though Klee was scarcely as committed to occult revelation as Kandinsky, he was, after all, with Kandinsky, a member of the Blue Rider group in Munich, as well as his colleague and neighbor at the Bauhaus. Kandinsky's book Concerning the Spiritual in Art was among the most intensely discussed texts of the era; and August Macke, another member of the Blue Rider to whom Klee was particularly devoted, wrote "Only through form do we sense the secret powers, the "invisible God.'' Macke was Klee's traveling companion on his momentous trip to Tunisia. It was there that Klee had an evidently profound experience in connection with color: "Color has taken hold of me,' he wrote. "I know that it has hold of me forever. That is the significance of this blessed moment. Color and I are one.' His friend and biographer, Will Grohman, described Klee's pictures as a "penetration into the absolute.' That is not the epitaph for an ace graphic designer.


It is difficult to perceive Klee's workin terms of a spiritual vocation for much the same reason that it is difficult to perceive Klee's work at all except as a somewhat coarse version of the sort of graphic design to which it gave rise; designs that would not have existed but for Klee's pictogrphic ingenuity have become the visual commonplaces of the age. We encounter them in children's book illustration, in high-class commercial design, and we see them in artists such as Saul Steinberg and William Steig, whose political and psychological translations of Klee's paradigms, clever as they are, remain but high exemplars of the cartoonist's aspiration: I am doubtful Klee would have made The New Yorker though he is the invisible maker behind half of its visible components. It is true, as John Russell recently observed in The New York Times, that "the legacy of Klee is everywhere,' but his stunning success in defining a major idiom of our age has obscured his original intention and first meaning, making him look pale and derivative when judged against his own progeny: like Shakespeare, he seems full of trite sayings; or like Lord Burlington, whose architectural solutions so suited his times, he looks like a copycat of the style he originated. In any case it takes a wrench of imagination to perceive Klee's work as a powerful expression of a different order of consciousness altogether than that embodied in the work he influenced, whether in commercial or fine art.

Beyond that there is the fact that hispaintings and drawings are tiny, scratchy and extremely comical, and so at the antipodes of the portentousness the somber concept of religious art evokes. But if scale, texture and humor partially define the visible face of his work, whatever it was he sought to make visible must have employed those as means, and it might be just as well to begin by thinking of those characteristics as signifiers in their own right, and then to see if we can read what they signify.

Klee's studio at the Bauhaus has oftenbeen described. One of its striking features, also present in his apartment in Munich, was the way its surfaces were strewn with small natural objects --shells, dried leaves, insect wings, pebbles, twisted roots--the detritus of the natural world, which might correspond to the detritus of the urban world assembled by Kurt Schwitters, whom it is instructive to see as city mouse to Klee's country mouse. Those scraps and bits of torn, used, discarded and almost invisible paper that Schwitters lovingly resurrected, giving them a second life in his Merzbilder, carry the metaphoric charge of the despised and the rejected that pertains to a religious transvaluation. They were literally as well as metaphorically lifted up by Schwitters, and enthroned in collages, where they acquire the almost comic presence of a supremely humble figure given a place among the elect. Klee's mysticism would not have been of that explicitly Christian order which ranks the last as first. What he must have seen in those tiny patterned objects--a pressed leaf, a discarded claw, a mottled stone--would have been a world in miniature, a projection onto its least parts of some vast ordered structure made especially visible there, or especially legible, if we think of the world as a system of what Berkeley called a "Divine Visible Language.' "Glory be to God for dappled things' must have exactly expressed his feeling: "For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;/Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings.' The accidentalities in Klee's work, as when a smudge of ink adhered to a sheet when another sheet was pulled away from it, must be placed in that perspective.

And smallness appears to have belongedto that enterprise. As early as 1902, Klee wrote:

Imagine quite a small formal motif,and attempt a concise rendering of it. . . . That anyhow is a real action, and small reiterated acts will yield more in the end than poetic frenzy without form or arrangement. . . . I'm learning from scratch, I'm beginning to build form as if I knew nothing at all about painting. For I have discovered a tiny, undisputed property.

Small, concise, small, tiny; and "learningfrom scratch' almost seems a kind of pun on the sorts of marks, tentative and confident, that were to become Klee's artistic persona. And erasing everything one knew about painting, starting over again, sound once more like the religious personality that has put behind itself the distorting apparatus of civilized life to face the world as if for the first time. In something like this way, I think, scale and style belong to the revelatory content of Klee's work when, in so much of what came to be influenced by his discoveries, it exists merely on the level of a seductive mannerism.

Grohman records that Klee had a particularaffection for snakes, with whom he enjoyed "talking' on his walks in Weimar during the first phase of the Bauhaus. Talking to a snake as if it were human seems to me connected with his wit, which typically consists of disarming frightening or menacing things of whatever makes them savage. The snake often appears in his work as an animated smile or an absurd wiggle, nothing to be scared of. Or he makes objects or personages that connote danger or dark power gently ludicrous. Who can be frightened, for example, by Mask of Fear, when one sees that it conceals who men who carry it, like a canvas shield, on tiny legs and funny feet, and notices that the arrow that sticks up out of its head makes it faintly absurd, or that the two lines that form the sides of its nose are like slender stalks that curve down at the top from the weight of the eyes, which look like flowers drawn by a child?

Or consider, under this aspect, theengaging Twittering Machine, a picture that again is obscured by familiarity, though for different reasons this time: it is one of the best-known treasures at the Museum of Modern Art. The eponymous machine is an endearingly inadequate contraption, conceived by some misguided inventor for producing twitters as its mechanical output. It fails, though the painting is clamorous with twitters: a quartet of screwy birds are standing on the looping shaft of the machine, like starlings on a telephone wire; and from their beaks come forth exclamation points, parentheses, an inverted question mark and an arrow-- the visual equivalence, all punctuation and no words, of avian chatter. But the twittering is not produced by the machine, it just happens as a benign coincidence. The machine is inert. It consists of a crank attached to a drive shaft as thin as a thread, which barely engages with a spindle providently furnished with a flywheel, on the improbable hypothesis that the machine might rotate too fast and need slowing down. But nobody is turning the handle; the machine would in any case break down the moment it was turned, and probably it has been abandoned to the birds who find it a convenient perch. Klee is making some kind of point about the futility of machines, almost humanizing machines as things from which nothing great is to be hoped or feared, and the futility in this case is underscored by the silly project of bringing forth by mechanical means what nature in any case provides in abundance. Or perhaps he is saying it might not be a bad thing if we bent our inventive gifts to the artificial generation of bird songs. Twittering Machine is appropriately rickety as a drawing, enhanced by the cherished accident of lifted inked paper, and its colors are suitably innocent--pink and blue.

The wonderful exhibition of Klee'swork at the Museum of Modern Art comes like spring itself after the harsh winter of David Salle and Hans Haacke. It consists of nearly 200 paintings and watercolors and about a hundred drawings and prints, and will be on display until May 5. You are in for a treat, despite the crowds, and I felt that those who visited it when I was there expressed as much, for everyone was smiling. There cannot have been many smile-inducing exhibitions in recent months, but I think in this case the smiles were on the faces because they were on the pictures. Klee signaled the fact that a picture was beginning to be finished by saying "Now it is looking at me.' "The objects in a picture look out at us,' he said in a deep and famous lecture in Jena in 1924, "serene or severe, tense or relaxed, comforting or forbidding, suffering or smiling.' (In his always astonishing work on aesthetics, Hegel wrote: "It is to be asserted of art that it has to convert every shape in all points of its visual surface into an eye, which is the seat of the soul and brings spirit into appearance.') In the spontaneous language of emotions, the smile is an acknowledgment of benign intentions and a sign that one is amused, and amusement itself is typically the substance of the relationship between viewer and work at which Klee aimed. The tiny joke implanted in the work detonates as a piece of agreeable metaphysics--one feels good in the universe--and reinforces a bond of shared values with the artist. Klee does whatever he can to lodge his points: there are the helpful arrows, like ushers for the eye, and of course the marvelous titles, which explain the meanings of the images and complete the joke. Sometimes the title is written twice, just in case we are in danger of missing it. It is inconsistent with so benign an undertaking that the works should be hostile or aggressive, or glowering and mean. One gets the sense of lightness that comes only from being in the company of someone full of surprising observations and witty responses and wonderful information and unforced affection.


In so intimate an art, it would be remarkableif there were not a strong presence of eroticism. There is a self-portrait of 1919 (the show is filled with self-portraits) called Absorption: a Portrait of an Expressionist. What one notices, first, is that it cannot have been executed in the usual way, before a mirror, for the eyes are tightly shut--so it is, as it were, a portrait from within, of how the artist feels about his own face. The face is so dense with concentration --so cut off from external perturbation --that it has no ears. Only an erotic fantasy, one feels, could absorb a consciousness so totally, and the truth of this fact is displayed: the closed eyes have the precise form of vulvas, as though he were thinking of stereoptical sex. In an earlier work scribbled almost as a precociously knowing child would have done, a couple is shown in a moment of flirtation. Cunning Enticement shows the male figure on the right, wearing the top hat and mustachios of the roue but otherwise naked; he has one leg lifted as a sign of overwhelming sexual desire, while his penis points, like an arrow, out of the picture to the presumed roomful of etchings. The word "liebe' curves out of his mouth. The female, on the left, wears only a touching topknot, and though she smiles demurely, her hands are on her crotch. In Metaphysical Transplant, a couple is shown in a posture of distant copulation rendered comical by the intense seriousness of their expressions. The male, whose mouth this time has the vulva form, has a body shaped very like a set of genitals, the end of the penis curved down, like a faucet, out of which some plump drip is being guided, by a circuitous arrow, into the extruded receptor of the female, which has rotated up, like an erection, to receive it. These are all terribly funny pictures, and though one hesitates to offer a pictographic lexicon to the works of Klee, one cannot help but feel that if penises are arrows, then they are kindly organs, indicative rather than penetrating, with the points there for purposes of direction rather than danger.

Klee led an epic life for someone socontemplative. To have been part of the Blue Rider, to have been a fixture at the Bauhaus, to have been singled out for inclusion in the notorious exhibition of degenerate art mounted by the Nazis-- these are stages in the heroic itinerary of modern art in this century. He died in his native Bern in 1940 of a rare disease--scleroderma--in which the skin becomes immobilized, like a carapace: it is as close as the infinite possibilities of human pathology allows for matching the metamorphosis into an insect, which played so important a role in Kafka's famous story. Indeed, an essay could be written on the parallels between Klee and Kafka. Anyway, he remained productive nearly to the end, characteristically drawing angels. His alleged last work, unsigned and untitled, is a still life with a drawing--a picture within the picture. The drawing is ambiguous. It shows two angels, or an angel and a non-angel, the latter enfolded in the wings of the former. The two figures seem united by a smile. You might save a bit of energy for that profound and contemplative work before you leave the show.

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IN A MOVIE INDUSTRY dominated by the dreams of gullible children, ravenous teenagers, and wearily sentimental grown-ups, Alan Rudolph's arty, lowdown visions of American life look refreshing and original: his best movies, like the current Trouble in Mind, have the sweetness and verve of poems written by a college freshman. They're works that conjure grandly lyrical images out of half-lived experience, that seduce us with a suspect notion of cool--cynical one-liners, cigarette smoke, and the blues. His first picture, Welcome to L.A. (1977), was a painful introduction to his rather special sensibility; produced by Robert Altman (for whom Rudolph had been assistant director on several pictures and co-screenwriter of Buffalo Bill and the Indians), this multi-character study of alienated Californians was like a somnolent nightmare parody of Altman. His second, Remember My Name (1978), was better--an atmospheric revenge melodrama about a woman (Geraldine Chaplin) released from prison who returns to torment her ex-husband. There wasn't much to it, but the simple plot was elegantly and satisfyingly worked out, and the film had an evocative blues score sung by the late Alberta Hunter. And something in Chaplin's unsettling, childlike face seemed to stir the director. The camera kept gazing at her big dark eyes, fascinated by their clouded look of disappointed innocence.


In Rudolph's recent movies that wounded look is on every face, and by distributing it evenly among his actors in the 1984 romantic comedy Choose Me (Keith Carradine, Genevieve Bujold, Lesley Ann Warren, and Rae Dawn Chong) and Trouble in Mind (Kris Kristofferson, Lori Singer, Carradine and Bujold again, and even Divine), Rudolph manages to turn his fancy conceits of looking for love in a corrupt world into charming, rueful comedies of alienation. Choose Me is a moody trifle that gets by without much action, on its piano-bar ambience and low-key eccentricity. Its characters, circling in a smoky hangout called Eve's Lounge, are all romantic losers who haven't learned their lesson yet, and its plot is just a succession of love triangles whose points keep shifting. Everyone looks dreamy-eyed and self-absorbed from having gone around the block too many times. It's a crowded block, but Rudolph's people, farcically, are always just missing each other.

Rudolph's unique form requires, as farce does, a delicate structure for situations that are broad and basic. Trouble in Mind is a very ambitious movie, stuffed with plot and characters--yet it feels as weightless and airy as Choose Me. It's not simply the cartoon names (Hawk, Wanda, Coop, Hilly Blue, and a baby called Spike are among the characters in this movie) or the shaggy, slapstick action sequences: the insubstantiality of Trouble in Mind is mostly a product of the skewed relationships Rudolph establishes among actors, characters, setting, and story. The world he creates is boldly and sharply drawn but elusive, a shade off the real, like a traced photograph. Seattle, where the film was shot, is called Rain City here, and we're never quite sure if this is just a poetic nickname or is meant to designate a different, imaginary location. Rudolph's images of Rain City have the clarity and shine of a Richard Estes painting, a photo-realist urban landscape that trembles like a mirage: the slick streets, the weathered buildings, even the battered counter of the local greasy spoon, Wanda's Cafe (this movie's downscale version of Eve's), are all too vivid, too well defined to be real.



As if to call attention to the scrupulous artificiality of his setting, Rudolph provides his hero, the ex-con Hawk (Kristofferson), with a detailed model of the buildings and streets around Wanda's. Hawk, it seems, made the miniature in the prison shop to help preserve his memories of his old life: now he keeps it next to the window of his room above the cafe, and when he looks at the messy scenes outside he compares everything with the fastidious, depopulated construction in his room. What he sees from his window--crime, lousy marriages, and an omnipresent militia--does not, however, produce quite as sharp a contrast to the orderly miniature as Rudolph seems to have intended. To our eyes, this chaos looks carefully engineered: Rain City seems, if anything, a rather tidy little film noir world, a composition with every drop in place. And the people in this landscape aren't so much characters as elements of the graphic design, art-directed to the eyeballs.

Each person makes such a strong, immediate visual impression that there's barely any room for development. Hawk's forties-style wardrobe of black overcoat and black slouch hat defines him as a man of mystery and old-movie integrity; Georgia (Singer), who's on Hawk's mind, is sweet and guileless, and her blonde hair looks like a cascade of cool, fresh water. Her callow husband, Coop (Carradine), is initially just a desperate young man stealing money for his family, and he reminds us of Bowie, the Depression-era outlaw that Carradine played in Altman's Thieves Like Us; his corruption by big-city crime is indicated by a succession of wild outfits, heavy-metal makeup, and ungodly pompadours. We recognize these figures--along with the bloated epicene crook Hilly Blue (Divine) and the tough broad Wanda (Bujold)--from hundreds of movies, before they even open their mouths. They almost don't have to speak: they're as expressive visually, as stylized and hyperbolic, as the heroes and heroines and villains of silent movies. Singer, the blonde angel, has one scene--in which she abandons and then tries to recover her infant son--that could have been written for Lillian Gish or Janet Gaynor in the twenties.

Even the plot and the dialogue of Rudolph's movie have this antique, emblematic quality: for better or worse, Trouble in Mind is a totally consistent vision. For all the frenzied complications, the story is a basic tough-guy romance, the one in which a cynic redeems his past failures through a dangerous act of sacrifice inspired by the love of a good woman, the chance to recapture some past idealism, and so forth. (In this case Hawk saves Georgia's wayward husband from the wrath of Hilly Blue.) This is the sort of thing that, forty years ago, might have been a vehicle for Bogart, and the dialogue is in the gaudy Raymond Chandler style of street-corner aphorisms: "You gotta be nice to your friends ... without 'em you're a total stranger" (Hawk); "Everyone wants to go to heaven but no one wants to die" (Hilly); "It's a good thing love is blind, or else it'd see too much" (Wanda). On the page Rudolph's notions would seem second-hand, but they have startling life and conviction on the screen. His immersion in discarded movie styles and ideas takes them far beyond pastiche--he almost redeems them.

RUDOLPH'S GLITTERING re-creation of movie archetypes shouldn't work at all, not even once--yet with Choose Me and Trouble in Mind he has actually brought it off twice in a row, and part of the fun of watching these pictures is in first resisting and then yielding to their unusual sense of style. Rudolph once described what he does as "emotional science fiction," a phrase that (characteristically) means very little while suggesting a lot. These two movies (and, to a lesser degree, Remember My Name) draw us into the meticulously created fantasy world of an alien sensibility. Just as Spielberg, in Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T., can leave us awestruck at the beauty of a child's imagination, Rudolph at his best can perform wonders with the terrain of the adolescent mind--creating a landscape for the panicky, bigger-than-life images of adulthood dreamed by those who aren't quite there yet. He has a sensitive teenager's feeling for solitude, the attractive dangers of experience, the inevitability of stark, absolute choices, and the necessity of showing a tough front to the world. Adolescents figure that the most sustaining, and sexiest, attitude for an adult is one of languorous disappointment, a cool, careless ease that invites--without advertising it--the most heroic, all-out efforts to arouse the sleeping passions. Rudolph has made himself the geographer of the territory just past innocence, a few miles down the road from Spielbergland, and his movies, no less than E.T. and Close Encounters, are models constructed from the memory of a particular state of mind, in this case a neighborhood that's run-down but still accessible. The mind of a yearning, self-conscious eighteen-year-old, filled with exaggerated, half-accurate images of life's sorrows, is a pretty embarrassing place to be, but we've all been there. In Trouble in Mind Rudolph gets us back to that place so fast--the dark, romantic opening scenes of Hawk's release from prison and reunion with hard-bitten Wanda, as Marianne Faithfull croaks a weary blues song on the soundtrack, tell us exactly where we are--that we laugh, nervously, at our easy attraction to the bogus, funky mood.

Rudolph seems to be working from so deep inside this adolescent consciousness that he doesn't care if we laugh. Still, if he weren't such a graceful, confident director, his notions as a writer would probably look plain silly, and we'd be laughing in derision, not recognition. As overconceived as Trouble in Mind and Choose Me are, they're not static. He keeps the camera moving, and edits to a drawling, bluesy rhythm that allows us to linger, not on ideas but on faces. And he lets those faces carry the movies. They all seem to be of a certain type, experienced but oddly ageless, with eyes that shoot flashes of youthful hope, intimations of past selves, from mature, been-there countenances. Keith Carradine, who still suggests both the cheerful, touching kid he played in McCabe and Mrs. Miller fifteen years ago and the biase stud he created in Nashville, is the perfect Rudolph actor, jaded and juvenile at once. Rudolph's favorite actresses--Bujold, Chaplin, and especially Lesley Ann Warren (who was also in the rowdy, hilarious 1985 country-and-western fable Songwriter, directed by Rudolph from a Bud Shrake script)--share, despite their distinct styles, a quality of tenacious girlishness. They have the look of women who know they've been used badly but aren't used up--who seem to have seen it all without having given up hope of finally seeing something good.

Alan Rudolph makes movies as if he'd seen it all too, and were determined to prove that he can use his experience (and his artifice) to make the world look again as it did when we were eighteen and feverishly hopeful. He has had arty failures like Welcome to L.A., a couple of misbegotten commercial projects (Road& and Endangered Species), and one very good picture (Songwriter) that remains almost unseen because of spotty distribution--a pretty full range of hard Hollywood experience. But he has also seen, first-hand, the miraculous freshness that Altman brought to American movies in the seventies, and he remembers the passionate clarity of silent pictures, film noir, blues songs, a few poems and paintings. He constructs his films from these elements, as if to recharge a worn-out present with vivid, personal fantasies of an innocent past. This isn't an approach that's likely to produce great movies--compared with more densely layered examinations of movie innocence and movie experience like Altman's The Long Good-bye and Truffaut's Shoot the Piano Player, Rudolph's work is shallow and naive--but he goes all the way with his approach, and that's a rare quality in American movies these days. Although Trouble in Mind and Choose Me have the solipsism of adolescence as well as the enthusiasm, Rudolph's identification with the hard-lovin' losers in his movies allows him to implicate himself, good-naturedly, in the big joke that he keeps springing on them: they're all drifting in their private worlds, humming the blues to themselves, and it's a lovely, funny surprise for them when they drop the air of mystery and find out they haven't been fooling anyone. They can relax a little, they're cliches, they're transparent: everybody knows the trouble they've seen.