Madame Mao, Hillary Clinton: Political Power Grows Out of a Horndog Hubby

by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

20111031-wikicommons JiangQingmovieshot 1934

“Every Communist must grasp the truth; Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”

So said Mao Zedong, dictator extraordinaire. According to some historians of totalitarianism, Mao did democide (murder by government) even better than his mentor, Joseph Stalin. Whatever. Both were masters of mass starvation. Mao’s visionary Great Leap Forward, an accelerated modernization program, produced the Great Chinese Famine of 1958 to ’61. The dead numbered between 20 and 43 million. Thereby proving Mao’s maxim that “revolution isn’t a dinner party”.

As well as a go-go dictator, Mao was a celebrated author. His Little Red Book (aka Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung) a  compendium of revolutionary nuggets informed by Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, was must reading for the masses. Though the Red Book’s reputation dwindled after Mao’s death in 1976, a revaluation is in the works. Literary critics laud Mao’s anticipation of the formal terseness of Twitter. Indeed, if Mao’s epigrams were accompanied by emoji they’d seem thoroughly modern.

Mao wasn’t all revolutionary work and no play. The Chairman was also a prodigious horndog. Plowing his way through four wives, myriad girlfriends, and countless quickies. Partners for the latter were delivered by minions upon demand. Those chosen were honored to Serve the Revolution.

Mao’s fourth and final wife was Jiang Qing, an actress (stage name Lan Ping) blessed with looks and the correct line. She and Mao met in the late 1930’s in Yan’an in Shannnxi Province, the center of the Chinese Communist revolution during the Japanese occupation. In order to marry the much younger Jiang Qing, Mao jettisoned his third wife, He Zizhen. Not a popular move…

He Zizhen, a skilled guerrilla fighter and crack shot, had been with Mao on the Long March to Yan’an during the Chinese Civil War and was highly respected. Plus, Mao’s Communist Party comrades at leadership level were suspicious of Jiang Qing’s ambitions. Perhaps Mao had a few suspicions of his own; the new Madame Mao was forced to sign an agreement banning her from positions of political power for several decades. However, Jiang Quing was allowed to serve as Mao’s personal secretary. And she kept her hand in showbiz by overseeing films for the Party’s Propaganda Department.

Meanwhile, Mao continued to nail as much tail as possible.

By the time Madame Mao’s time in power purgatory ended, she’d built up quite a head of steam. Mao owed her big time for  tolerating his infidelities– and he knew just what payoff would suit her.

In 1966, Mao made Madame Mao deputy director of the Cultural Revolution Group (CRG), the prime mover of the Chinese Cultural Revolution (1966–1976). Before you could say “purge”, Madame Mao was unleashing mobs of roving teenage Red Guards (SJWs on bath salts), rooting out implicit thought crime via reeducation sessions featuring public humiliation, torture, and slaughter, and oh yeah– settling scores with Mao’s myriad perceived enemies (particularly those who blamed him for the Great Famine) and pumping his Cult of Personality to ever more bloated proportions.

Here and Now

Half a century later, a woman whose political power also grew out of tolerating the infidelities of a horndog hubby may become President of the United States. But we can rest assured that if elected, Hillary Clinton will not be aping Madame Mao. Times have changed for women; despite all the power she finally wielded Madame Mao was still very much her husband’s bitch. She said as much when on trial in 1980. To those who wished to shield Mao’s image by painting Madame Mao as acting independently, she retorted “I bit whomever he asked me to bite.”

Hillary however, is her very own tool.

Under President Hillary, we won’t be seeing any massive statues of Bill being dragged through the streets at week long rallies devoted to his veneration. Any statues dragged, or rallies held, will venerate Hillary thank you very much. Crowds will be chanting “I’m With Her” not “Him”. Yeah, some rooting out of implicit thought crime from the populace will be required– but as for settling scores, Bill’s old enemies will have to take a back seat to Hillary’s new ones. (Here’s looking at you, Bernie!)

Far-fetched to think Hill might cherish Chairman Mao dreams?

Uh..have you checked those suits she’s been wearing lately?

Hillary in Yellow

Hillary in Blue

Hillary in Orange





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The Soul of Shozo Shimamoto: Gutai, Mail Art, Collaboration with Nature

by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

On January 25th, three days after his 85th birthday, legendary artist Shozo Shimamoto died of heart failure. A memorial event titled Shozo-ism was held  at Hotel Novotel Koshien, Osaka West in Japan on March 13th. Another memorial is ongoing. Quoting Shozo’s first son, Takashi Shimamoto “please visit Shozo’s soul, he would be so excited to see you.”

Artists from all over the world have been meeting Shozo’s soul for decades. Some two hundred mail artists from thirty countries are currently communing with Shozo at the San Francisco Art Institute exhibition Gutai: Experimental Exhibition of Modern Art to Challenge the Mid-Winter Burning Sun.The show runs until March 30th, and includes a room filled with works by mail artists honoring Shozo Shimamoto.

The exhibition at SFAI was curated by artist John Held, Jr. and Andrew McClintock, co-founder and publisher of the San Francisco Arts Quarterly, and was arranged well before Shozo Shimamoto’s death. John Held, Jr. has been meeting Shozo’s soul since the early 1980’s in various projects. Some in real time, others in mail art land. The latter is where I met Shozo, also in the early 80’s. At the time I had no idea he was a co-founder of one of the most significant avant-garde art movements in postwar Japan. That movement was/is Gutai.

Gutai is often translated as “concrete”. An alternate is “embodiment”. A group of young artists from the Kansai (Osaka-Kobe) region formed the Gutai group in 1954 under the guidance of older established artist Jiro Yoshihara. Yoshihiro was simultaneously CEO of Yoshihara Oil, a successful company which manufactured edible oils from soybeans and cottonseed.

Jiro Yoshihara was a self-taught artist. Pre WWII he painted in styles associated with modernism, including surrealism. During Japan’s descent into militarism, modernism was suppressed. Unlike some prominent artists working in the modernist vein Yoshihara didn’t switch to producing state-approved propaganda. He withdrew to a rural agricultural community where his work became private and inward.

Postwar, when much of the Japanese art world still considered European painting the vanguard, Yoshihara realized the importance of American abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock. Pollock’s highly kinetic techniques made painting a gestural performance– a concept also present in traditional Japanese art forms such as calligraphy.

Jiro Yoshihara encouraged young artists to directly engage their bodies with their materials. He also told them to “challenge, not imitate”* and “not to fake, or not to follow any others”**.

Like many avant-gardists of the period, Yoshihara was attempting to forge a new and independent artistic identity in the shadow of Japan’s recent totalitarian past and the ensuing occupation by the U.S.

Shozo Shimamoto joined Yoshihara’s studio in 1947 at the age of nineteen. When the idea arose to create an art movement inspired by Yoshihara’s concepts, Shozo suggested the name “Gutai”. When the Gutai group published its first journal in 1955, it was printed at Shozo’s house. The official Gutai manifesto was written by Jiro Yoshihiro in 1956. Among other things, it contained these lines:

Gutai art does not change the material but brings it to life. Gutai art does not falsify the material. In Gutai art the human spirit and the material reach out their hands to each other.

One of the earliest Gutai exhibitions was held in the Ashiya pine wood in Osaka. At the First Open Air Exhibition of Modern Art: to Challenge the Mid-Summer Sun, the sculptures and paintings of the Gutai group were displayed in the open air, subject to weather. Shozo Shimamoto exhibited a perforated metal sheet painted white on one side, blue on the other. In the evening a lamp was lit behind the sheet; the effect echoing the starry sky above. The work was called Ana— the Kanji character for “hole”.

Shozo Shimamoto began working on his series Ana in the late 1940’s; an early piece apparently won him his place in Yoshihara’s studio. The Ana works employed various methods of surface erosion, a technique which began with an accident (an unintended tear) then blossomed into conscious exploration.

As well as producing works on canvas, paper, and less traditional surfaces Gutai artists utilized music, film and recorded sound. They also threw their bodies into their work, staging eye-popping art events such as Kazua Shirago’s Challenging Mud; in which the stripped-down Shirago dove into several tons of a wet mix of plaster and cement, twisting and flourishing his body like a paint brush.

Walk This Way

At a Gutai exhibition at the Ohara Kaikan in Tokyo, Shozo Shimamoto presented Please Walk on Here, a twisting path of wooden boards on a system of springs. It was very difficult to walk on. At the same space in October, 1956, he staged Bottle Crash Experiment. A canvas was placed on the floor with a rock in the middle. Bottles of pigment were flung at the rock, shattering color every which way.

Then there was Cannon. In which plastic bags of color were loaded into a five-meter cannon and shot onto a huge canvas…

The artists of Gutai, along with artists working in avant-garde groups and collectives in postwar Tokyo, expanded upon and in some cases anticipated such now-familiar art memes as conceptual art, action painting, installations, earthworks, happenings, and performance art.

Gutai, as well as Tokyo’s avant-garde movements, attracted international attention and strongly influenced experimental artists in the west. The influence flowed both ways in a snap, crackle, Pop of creative electricity.

Mail Art and Beyond

In 1972, Gutai founder Jiro Yoshihara died. During his final years he produced a series of paintings focused on circles, which have been described as “reminiscent of satori, the enlightenment of Zen”.

After Yoshihara’s death the Gutai group, which had become less active and prone to factionalism, broke up. Many of Japan’s postwar avant-garde groups came and went in the blink of an eye. The Gutai group lived far longer than most.

Shozo Shimamoto continued to be tremendously productive, his works and performances reaching audiences in many countries. The spirit of Gutai continued to inspire him, including its ethos of artists putting their bodies on the line. Example: Shozo invited other artists to draw, write, or place objects on his shaved head. Films were projected on it as well. The collaborations were photographed. Shozo also turned his dome project into mail art. Sending photo copy pictures of his head to mail artists, with invitations to decorate. He laughed when copies of his copies reached him with the same invitation.

A few words re mail art. Definitions are legion, as are mail artists. This is from a piece I wrote in 2002:

Mail art started simply, roughly five decades ago. A handful of artists, when sending each other mail, began making their envelopes and post cards an extension of their work. Not only did they trade art by mail but they played with the very process, adding fantasy postage stamps, sending serial image postcards and building elaborate visual jokes. Some projects were like chain letters, travelling from artist to artist– collaborations that crossed thousands of miles and took years to complete. Over time more and more artists joined in. By the early 80’s, mail artists numbered in the hundreds of thousands…

Mail art was a travelling show, visible to all along the way. It leaped out of the gallery and into everyday life. Though mail art sometimes appeared on gallery walls and enhanced artists’ careers, careerism was never its main point. Love moved mail art. It was fun. It was free. Motivations increasingly inexplicable in the culture at large.”

By the mid 1970’s, Shozo Shimamoto was secretary general of the Artists’ Union (AU) in Osaka. He was a chief representative for mail art, which he felt embodied the spirit of Gutai. He wrote the following about Gutai and mail art in a book of his work titled AH, published in 1981 by the Japan Art Press Center:

…I was determined to refuse or defy the expression of authority as seen in works of art not only in Europe but also elsewhere in the world. What inspired me and encourage me most in this effort was “GUTAI” (pronounced “gootie”), whose spirit is embodied in the activities of “mail art”, a form of expression campaigned for by the Artists Union today.

As said, I met Shozo via mail art in the early ’80’s. At that time almost anything could make it through the mail. No War on Terror raged; fear of odd objects had not yet infected the post office. I received many wonderful– and sometimes outrageous– things from mail artists around the world. And surprise surprise, most delicate non-enveloped pieces arrived in fine condition. Including a piece by Shozo Shimamoto from his series focused on the Japanese character for “A”.

While corresponding with Shozo, I was working on a series of copy-art portraits of Mao Tse-tung (Mao Zedong). The portraits, retrospectively titled My Own Private Mao, were collaged from vintage propaganda from the Peoples Republic of China, plus various pop culture sources– including porn from American and Japanese mens’ magazines. I was struck by the similarities between propaganda and pornography, such as the use of rote images to stoke/stroke desire for a state of perfect satisfaction. Some of my pieces countered Warhol’s comment-free celebrity portraits of Mao (though China has recently detected some comment ), others riffed on abstraction by recombining Mao’s features (wart and all) ad infinitum. The latter involved extensive recombinations of photo copies. Think copies of copies of copies. A technique inspired by being broke; I wanted to use every copy I made, even the test ones.

In the mid 1980’s, Shozo Shimamoto arranged a show of my Mao series at the AU gallery. Afterwards he sent me a photo of the show with a letter commenting on its popularity and requesting that the works remain in the gallery’s archive. It was tremendously exciting to see the Maos displayed in a country so far away.

Over several years, Shozo Shimamoto sent me a number of things. Including AH, the book containing his thoughts on Gutai and mail art. In those days it was hard to find much information about Gutai in English.*** But Shozo’s work, as displayed in the book, conveyed much about its spirit. Though somewhat mysterious due to cultural differences, the book still spoke volumes. Often about beauty detected in, and added to, common and  damaged sources.

The gestural “hand” of Shozo, as displayed in reproductions of pieces he’d painted, or applied color to in some other fashion, was bold and generous. The colors themselves were dazzling. Pictured works included examples from his “A” series, and from a shorter series called Uzamaki (Whirlpool), which he made by pouring colors onto canvas and letting the colors separate according to their individual density.

Eventually I drifted out of mail art (though I still do an occasional piece) and concentrated on individual pieces and later, on writing about the gold dust twins of political corruption and real estate fraud. But I have a collection of works by the mail artists with whom I corresponded. Shozo Shimamoto’s book is a particularly treasured item. For the last 10 years I’ve kept my collection in archival boxes in a climate controlled storage unit. Safe as houses.

But as we all know post-housing bubble, houses aren’t safe…

A few years ago a storm caused a partial roof collapse at the storage facility. My unit wasn’t severely damaged but did get some flooding. Among the damaged items, Shozo Shimamoto’s book AH.

At first I thought it was a goner. But as I turned the book’s damp, water-stained pages I determined to save it. It was still a thing of beauty. Many of the pages were stuck together by rain water; I slid sheets of wax paper between ones that weren’t and waited till the book was totally dry. Even then some pages were still melded together and despite being handled delicately, tore when separated. Water damage was visible throughout. Yet the more I looked at the book the more the damages started seeming like additions, not ruination. As if a collaboration had taken place between nature and Shozo Shimamoto.

After the storm Shozo’s book lived on my desk. I often found myself looking at it.

Last Autumn I learned that an upcoming show in San Francisco would be honoring Shozo Shimamoto and Gutai. Curators John Held, Jr. and Andrew McClintock were inviting mail artists all over the world to contribute. This was good news; I was glad to get a chance to honor Shozo. Not only because he’d been so generous to me, but because he influenced me deeply in the past and thanks to his collaboration with nature, was doing so again. My contribution to the show included copies of the “damaged” pages from AH.

A few weeks after I sent my contribution off to San Francisco, I received a letter from John Held, Jr. telling me Shozo Shimamoto had died.

When researching this piece I learned that over his lifetime Shozo Shimamoto produced a huge body of work. Of which I’ve only referenced a tiny amount, mainly pre 1990. I also came across some of his writings, thankfully in English translation. Such as Art is Astonishment and Potatoes with Worms are Ticklish. Then there’s this exchange from an interview posted at the Associazione Shozo Shimamoto in Italy:

Interviewer: While reconstructing the Gutai years, you said that the driving force was the idea that art is supposed to be completely free. What meaning exactly does the word free hold in your concept of art?

Shozo: During the war, freedom did not exist for us. After the war we were given our freedom back and were initially taken aback by it, but we later learned, more than anything else, the extraordinary nature of freedom. Life is full of problems, but freedom is the key to happiness. It was a tremendous pleasure to express freedom through art.

In the same interview Shozo talks about his commitment to pacifism, which he expressed through many major art projects. In 1996 he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by artist and publisher Bern Porter, who was also a committed pacifist. Before WWII, Porter worked as a physicist on cathrode ray tube technology. During the war he did uranium separation work on the Manhattan Project. He quit after Hiroshima was bombed.

As well as translations of Shozo’s writings, I came across excerpts from the Gutai manifesto written by Jiro Yoshihiro. Including these words about the beauty found in damaged things:

Yet what is interesting in this respect is the novel beauty to be found in works of art and architecture of the past which have changed their appearance due to the damage of time or destruction by disasters in the course of the centuries. This is described as the beauty of decay, but is it not perhaps that beauty which material assumes when it is freed from artificial make-up and reveals its original characteristics? The fact that the ruins receive us warmly and kindly after all, and that they attract us with their cracks and flaking surfaces, could this not really be a sign of the material taking revenge, having recaptured its original life?

I’m very grateful to have met Shozo Shimamoto in the land of mail art and to have encountered him again through the pages of his collaboration with nature. I’ll continue to visit his soul. Which mingles with the spirit of Gutai forever and ever.


*Asia Art Archive Chair Jane DeBeoise in conversation with art historian Reiko Tomii, on the occasion of a historical investigation of Shiraga Kazuo’s work, Challenging Mud.

**Whitestone Gallery, Jiro Yoshihara  

***These days it’s much easier, thanks to burgeoning interest in Gutai and other avant-garde movements active in postwar Japan. Along with Gutai: Experimental Exhibition of Modern Art to Challenge the Mid-Winter Burning Sun at the San Francisco Art Institute, the Museum of Modern Art in NYC just wrapped Tokyo 1955-1970: A New Avant-Garde, and the Guggenheim Museum is currently presenting Gutai: Splendid Playground.




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Like Mao Said, Real Estate isn’t a Dinner Party

by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

Mao as realtor

Ho ho ho! On December 21st, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) will gift the nation with the true number of existing home sales between 2007 and 2010. The NAR’s inflated numbers were flagged earlier this year by CoreLogic, a California based data firm. When confronted, the NAR grumped they’d look into it. Sounding more like dwarfs caught mining fool’s gold than housing helpful elves. Several seasons have passed. Now, a few days before Christmas, when most people pay scant attention to news, the NAR will be giving us a wee bit of truth. How holiday special is that? Scrooge’s transformation pales by comparison.

Like Scrooge, the NAR (rhymes with guar, which when partially hydrolyzed is fully fermentable in the large bowel) had to be coerced into transformation. With CoreLogic its Ghost of Christmas Past.

Speaking of the past, though the Washington/Wall Street nexus (On Fannie, on Freddie, on Banksters and Brokers!) financially powered the housing bubble that led to the economic crash, Realtors were the relentless boots on the ground. Threatening folks that if they didn’t buy now they’d be forever priced out of the housing market. Evoking an eternity of rental serfdom under Landlord Potter. As opposed to an eternity of low or no equity mortgage serfdom under Banker Potter.

Then there were NAR TV ads. Such as the 2007 gem claiming “when you have a family it’s always a good time to buy“. Underwater families are yukking over that one. Or how about the 2008 tout for Uncle Sam’s $8,000 first-time homebuyer tax credit? The break that suckered the last clueless buyers into paying still-inflated housing prices, jacked mortgage fraudsters posing as first-time buyers, and according to many Realtors (now) prolonged the housing crash. And the ads keep coming…

During 2011, reforms limiting government backed housing programs that leave taxpayers holding the bag for mortgage failures and related bailouts have been kicking around Washington. At the same time, the NAR has been blitzing the airwaves with a fear monger pitch featuring a Norman Rockwell grandpa fretting about “the dream of home ownership being threatened“.  Then there’s their “Public Awareness” campaign which champions the housing industry as job creator. What pol with elections looming could resist that?

Not that many pols ever resist the NAR. Its lobbying clout makes pols go all wobbly in the large bowel. For years, the NAR has beat back wave after wave of legislative reforms that threatened to reduce taxpayer exposure to housing-related risk.

Still, NAR concern re job creation is admirable. Many of the jobs that flow from housing are in the unionized construction trades, the last bastions of middle class wages for America’s blue collar workers. The worker-friendly NAR recently made Bill Malkasian, former head of the Wisconsin Realtors Association (WRA), their Vice President of Political Strategic Planning. When head of the WRA, Malkasian threw the group’s full weight behind union-busting Governor Scott Walker. The Koch brothers gave big to Walker, but the Wisconsin Realtors Association gave more. In his new position Bill Malkasian will be in the NAR field, leading political strategic efforts at state and local levels all over the nation.

By the buy, Bill’s new job is part of the NAR’s atta-boy response to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that corporations and other entities have the same political speech rights as individuals and can spend as much campaign cash as they wish.

The NAR has other reasons to be cheerful. As 2012 draws nigh, its leaders are making their annual Happy Days Are Almost Here Again predictions. Plus, the NAR is based in the USA not the Peoples Republic of China.

In China, underwater homeowners are doing more than seeking interest write downs or living rent free while awaiting foreclosure. The “fang nu” (housing slaves) of China’s housing bubble are storming the gates of real estate heaven.

The Los Angeles Times, in its December 13th article China’s housing bubble is losing air, describes a revolt of the fang nu in Shanghai. Condo buyers who’d been told by salespeople that “prices wouldn’t go down” became enraged when the project’s developer (China Vanke Co.) slashed purchase prices by 25% for later buyers. The condo cadre trashed the sales office and tussled with employees. It took the police three days to quell the protest. Cities including Shanghai and Beijing have had at least seven similar uprisings in three months, in which mobs “destroyed real estate offices and demanded refunds of up to 40%”.

According to the New York Times (Village Revolts Over Inequities of Chinese Life, 12/15/11) as many as 180,000 “mass incidents” have taken place in China over the last year. There are numerous reasons for the uprisings. But a prime cause is another twist on the real estate game–

“…the seizure of land by well-connected private developers or government officials, which invariably involves forced evictions for meager compensation….these seizures are supported by local governments that have come to rely on proceeds of land sales and development to pay for day-to-day operations.”

A familiar scenario to anyone who followed the rise of eminent domain abuse during the U.S. housing bubble daze. When moderate and low income property owners discovered their neighborhoods had become land-grab goldmines for pols, planners, and developers. Justification? Revitalization by any means necessary.

Like Mao once said, “Real estate is not a dinner party”.

OK. Mao Zedong aka Mao Tse-tung aka the Great Helmsman of the Peoples Republic of China till 1976, didn’t really say that. He said this:

“A revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery; it cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous.”*

If you substitute “real estate” for “revolution” Mao’s words could come from a sales motivational speech. One which would wrap with the threat that coffee (or tea) is only for closers.

*From Report on an Investigation of the Peasant Movement in Hunan


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