Daily Postings
literature : first proof

Rombaud

by Álvaro Enrigue

An excerpt from Sudden Death

Jean Rombaud had the worst of all possible tasks on the morning of May 19, 1536: severing with a single blow the head of Anne Boleyn, Marquess of Pembroke and Queen of England, a young woman so beautiful she had turned the Strait of Dover into a veritable Atlantic. The notorious Thomas Cromwell, chief minister to Henry VIII, had brought Rombaud over from France for this express purpose. In a curt missive, Cromwell asked that he bring his sword—a piece of miraculously fine craftsmanship, forged of Toledo steel—because he would be performing a delicate execution.

Rombaud was neither beloved nor indispensable. Beautiful and immoral, he drifted coldly in the tight circle of very specialized workers who thrived in the Renaissance courts under the blind eye of ambassadors, ministers, and secretaries. His reserve, striking looks, and lack of scruples made him a natural for certain kinds of tasks known to all and spoken of by none, the dark operations that have always been unavoidable in the conduct of politics. He dressed with surprising good taste for someone with the job of killer angel: he wore expensive rings, breeches lavishly trimmed with brocade, and royal-blue velvet shirts unsuited to a bastard, which he was in every sense of the word. Cheap gemstones were braided with gypsy panache into his gold-streaked chestnut hair, the gems filched from mistresses conquered with the various weapons over which God had granted him mastery. There was no knowing whether he was silent because he was clever or because he was a fool: his deep blue eyes, which turned down a little at the corners, never expressed compassion, but they never expressed any kind of animosity either. Also, Rombaud was French: for him, killing a queen of England was less sin than duty. Cromwell had called him to London because he believed this last quality made him a particularly hygienic choice for the job.

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film : interview

Brian Oakes

by Anya Jaremko-Greenwold

“If you can’t go to church, and the only way you can pray, or connect to your god, is through another process, then that becomes the thing you do.”

The image of journalist James Foley, the first American to be murdered by ISIS in 2014, is now infamous. Wearing an orange jumpsuit, he was crudely executed in a video made public by the militant religious group. With the documentary Jim: The James Foley Story, Foley’s childhood friend Brian Oakes makes his feature directorial debut. The result is an intimate portrait of the man behind the sensationalized image. Oakes takes the political and renders it personal. The doc tracks Foley’s life through stirring footage shot in Syria and Libya (much of it taken by Foley himself) and interviews with his family, friends, and colleagues. Most harrowing are the director’s conversations with Foley’s fellow hostages—the men who were imprisoned with him in Syria before his death. These reporters reveal details of their joint captivity that are both frightening and beautiful. Their connections with Jim are strong and lasting.  

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music : interview

Josephine Foster

by Gary Canino

“It’s not a very academic approach, it’s just a part of what I like to do.”

Beyond the simple pleasure of an acoustic guitar, a voice, and the mingling spirit of the two, listening to Josephine Foster really gets at something specific. To these ears, the era her music recalls the most is that of post-war Europe in the mid-twentieth century: delicate folk music created just before the decade of lounge singers and the popularization of the electric guitar. The ambience of this album might also conjure up Angelica Huston slowly descending the staircase as “The Lass of Aughrim” solemnly plays in The Dead, the 1987 film adaptation of a story by James Joyce. But all reverie aside, Foster’s voice is sonorous, and—after just a single listen—I’m grateful this record exists.

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art : interview

Barnaby Furnas

by John Reed

“Our world is totally dominated by rectangles.”

In 2004, when I was walking around the Barnaby Furnas show Works on Paper, taking notes for the short review I would write for TimeOut, I had the vague notion that I should really be talking to the artist. Since then, the world has been remade in pixels—Wikipedia knows all, and we are creatures of the clouds—and Furnas's epic imagery has zoomed out, micro to macro, from the scale of the human, blood and guts, to the scale of the planetary, oceans and mountains. Marianne Boesky Gallery, too, has taken on grander proportions, still in Chelsea but now in a ground-floor space, so I built up my courage to upsize my own operation, requesting an installation walk-thru of First Morning with the artist. With drills whining, hammers slapping, and big paintings going on the wall, we sauntered through his sixth solo show.

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literature : interview

Margo Jefferson

by Tobi Haslett

“Crude action is required here. Take off that limb, see what’s left.”

Margo Jefferson was born into a world of exquisite, punishing distinctions. A daughter of the Negro elite—or the colored aristocracy, or the blue vein society, or the “big families”—she was raised among a fearfully dignified milieu, a people desperate to prove themselves. To prove their intelligence, refinement, moral scruples, and impeccable taste. “Clever of me to become a critic,” she writes in her recent memoir, Negroland. “We critics scrutinize and show off to a higher end.”In 1995, she was rewarded, yet again, for all of that scrutiny—with a Pulitzer Prize.

In Negroland, Jefferson’s discriminating judgements are pitched at her own upbringing, full of strenuous dignity and strident achievement. For the women of Negroland, of course, the stakes were impossibly high: Jefferson recalls the brutally enforced social hierarchies and the cruel inspection of physical beauty. Her girlhood was a minefield dotted with malicious little differences—in hair texture, skin color, the flare of the nostril, and the thickness of the lips. By the 1970s, she was a radical feminist.

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literature : interview

Matt Gallagher

by J. T. Price

“War isn’t a destination, nor is it a topic to be mined for scribes with nothing else to say.”

Youngblood, Matt Gallagher’s debut novel, is a story of the American occupation set in an isolated Iraqi town where violence has flared, settled, and may be poised to flare again. Lest that sound too macro an account, it’s really a narrative about people—those encountered on a daily basis by Lt. Jack Porter as he seeks to abide by orders, take care of his men, and do all that he possibly can to maintain a fragile peace in the region. Predictably, those objectives do not always align so well, with fealty to one sometimes pulling him afoul of another. The novel is unique among modern war literature I’ve read for delivering a more pointillist, day-to-day vision of what it’s like to be an occupier of another country, even when you are well aware of the absurdities that go with that less-than-desirable role. Among Youngblood’s wide-ranging cast of characters, Porter must negotiate his way through a gung-ho sergeant, an unreasonable chain-of-command, a Suzanne Somers-enthralled sheik, a cool-as-a-cucumber interpreter, a local boy incensed by the loss of his pet goat, and a bereaved Iraqi mother who longs for life in the Western world. It’s a messy journey that is less one of escalating drama than of steady attrition, and if the narrative edges don’t quite meet in places, Gallagher (as Porter) warns us of as much in the novel’s preface: “I’ll answer crooked, and I’ll answer long. And when they get confused or angry, I’ll smile. Finally, I’ll think. Someone who understands.”

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art : portfolio
literature : from the editor

Spring Books Preview

Recent and forthcoming highlights selected by Justin Taylor, John Keene, Albert Mobilio, Dawn Lundy Martin, Alan Gilbert, Ken Chen, Ander Monson, Chelsea Hodson, and Lawrence Giffin.

There will be 300,000 books published in the US this year. We asked a few writers which ones are worth looking out for.

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music : interview

Tortoise

by Jason LaFerrera

“Trying to describe it to somebody, like the concept, succinctly, is difficult… and always has been.”

Tortoise, a powerhouse of multi-instrumentalists celebrating their twenty-fifth year as a band, have just released a new full-length studio album—their first in nearly seven years. The Catastrophist is a blend of all the styles they have toyed with over their career, collaborations, and side projects: there’s post-rock, jazz, electronica, dub, and minimalism. Here, their maturity really shows through; sonic wanderings are tightened into songs, and all while that same core of experimental rock permeates everything, even as the synths blurt and percussion overtakes melody, melting into a wall of texture and sound. This new sort of cohesion suits Tortoise well, and the comparative brevity of the songs on this album might broaden their appeal beyond any one experimental niche.

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theater : interview

Sharon Fogarty

by Zachary Small

“They said, ‘You’ll be in charge of the children and the dogs.’ And I said, ‘Okay! But what does that even mean?’”

In a 1996 BOMB interview, Lee Breuer—the founder of Mabou Mines—proclaimed that the avant-garde theater company’s days were numbered. “We don’t have any money to keep the studio rent paid, or to keep the phones hooked up, or to pay the taxes.” But Mabou Mines, founded in 1970, has certainly flourished for much longer than most radical ensembles. For nearly five decades, the collective has taught American theater artists how to engage with the conditions of postmodern flux through the embrace of medium multiplicity and other visual arts methodologies. The group represents the forefront of innovation both across and between the arts.

In early 2016, Mabou Mines will move into a newly renovated space at PS 122, replete with a theater, rehearsal space, and new artist residency. The organization’s ongoing survival is due in large part to Sharon Fogarty, who became an artistic director in 1999 and helped guide the company’s way toward financial stability.

My first encounter with Fogarty was in 2014, as an actor playing Mephistopheles in Faust 2.0—her techno-feminist adaptation of Goethe. I can say that Fogarty’s work brazenly engages with the beautiful and impossible aspects of theater, pulling at the ruptures of the modernist aesthetic, but forever indulging in the humor and conceit of the theatrical form. During our callback, for example, she directed the actors in an impromptu choral work, converting an academic article’s description of the erotic into music.

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art : portfolio
art : oral history

Gerald Jackson

by Stanley Whitney

I’m very pleased to present this introduction into the world of Gerald Jackson. I think you will find him a very rare and extremely creative human being. I have known Gerald now for over thirty years and continue to find our conversations inspiring, funny, and poignant. As an artist, his work goes from video to painting, sculpture to fashion, and music to performance.

Stanley Whitney So Gerald, I’d like to start with your early life. You’re from Chicago. Can you give us a little background about when you were born, your parents, your history?

Gerald Jackson I was born in Chicago. My father and his brothers ran a numbers racket. So my earliest memory was: I woke up, and I was in a suit. Men were walking around, guys in their suits. There was a big wheel that they would spin and get their numbers. And we were all dressed up.

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art : interview

Camille Henrot

by Michael Barron

“We also looked into hysterical and mythological bad dads. And so we twisted all this material into questions like ‘Has your father eaten your siblings?‘”

At the recent opening of Camille Henrot’s solo show at Metro Pictures, I stood in a line, waiting to use a telephone. There were eight of them, all occupied by people with receivers cupped to their ears. But one in particular, stylized and colored like a Nickelodeon TV show prop, had caught my attention. Its occupant, a young woman whose bunned hair threatened to topple from her head, widened her eyes and furled her brow as she listened to the voice on the other end. Finally, she hung up and shot me a nonplussed look. “So weird…” she said. Then, as if proffering advice, she suggested, “I just pressed ‘0’ for every question. Maybe you can keep hitting ‘1’ then come find me to compare answers.” I picked up and heard a male voice who, friendly enough and definitely assertive, had me run a gamut of bizarre questions, such as, “If your dad has fathered more than nine children, press ‘0‘ / If your father has eaten any of his children, press ‘1‘.” For a non-native English speaker like Henrot, who expatriated from Paris to New York in 2011, hotlines are a demonstration of how easily language can bewilder and command.

Being misunderstood has given Henrot an appreciation for the exotic. In her first work completed in New York, Is It Possible to Be a Revolutionary and Still Like Flowers (2012), Henrot created a series of installations inspired by Ikebana—the Japanese art of floral arrangement notorious for its opaque techniques—to explore a grand metaphor for translation and the limits of cultural understanding. Henrot’s most famous work to date, Grosse Fatigue, is a thirteen-minute multimedia narration of Google images, Youtube videos, and a spoken word voice-over that explores the diversity of creation myths and underlines one of humanity’s greatest gifts: its ability to tell stories.

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music : interview

John Corbett

by Andrew Lampert

“The records I don’t listen to are as important as the ones I do.”

I signed on as a John Corbett admirer for life around twenty years ago after burning through his crucial compendium of essays titled Extended Play: Sounding Off from John Cage to Dr. Funkenstein. At the time—and even now, albeit to a lesser degree—there were so few books dealing with free, improvised, and experimental music that this collection became an instant classic for its deep insight and astute analysis of some of the most supposedly difficult music around. An invaluable critic, long-time teacher at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and co-proprietor of art gallery/publisher/record label Corbett vs. Dempsey, the man definitely knows how to keep busy. Our conversation occurred shortly after the late 2015 release of his essential new anthology Microgoove: Forays Into Other Music (Duke University Press). This new book is a must for fans of out music. For those who don’t know how or where to start, his forthcoming volume A Listener’s Guide to Free Improvisation (available this February) will be a perfect point of departure.

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literature : interview

Robin Coste Lewis

by Matthew Sharpe

"I don't accept the idea of my history as tragic."

I met Robin Coste Lewis in the summer of 2002 in the MFA program at Bard College, where she was a student and I was on faculty. She was then working on a nonfiction narrative about the history of her family in Louisiana. She had received a graduate degree in Sanskrit literature from Harvard Divinity School, and had been a professor at Hampshire College. Shortly before I met her, she’d suffered a traumatic brain injury, was no longer able to teach at Hampshire, and was, in a profound sense, starting over. I did not realize at the time the extent to which this was the case, given her lively presence and the speed and agility of her mind both in conversation and on the page. Not long after that summer, she put aside that family history project, at least in the prose form it then occupied, and took up poetry. She reported some years later that she had told a fellow poet that “brain damage has turned me into a poet,” to which the other poet replied, “Oh thanks a lot, Robin.”

Trauma—historical trauma—is central to Voyage of the Sable Venus, Robin’s debut book of poetry, indeed her first book of any kind, which won the National Book Award last year. The title poem, some seventy pages long, is, as Robin writes in her prologue, “a narrative poem comprised solely and entirely of the titles, catalogue entries, or exhibit descriptions of Western art objects in which a black female figure is present, dating from 38,000 BCE to the present.” So “Voyage” depicts 40,000 years of systemic violence, objectification, and distortive caricature residing in what Western civilization has often construed as the domain of the beautiful. The paradox, as Robin told me, is that many of the artworks she invokes are indeed beautiful. So, emphatically, is the poem. We spoke at length about this paradox, and about her feeling both angered and liberated in the process of the writing, feelings that a reader is also likely to experience in a prodigious poem which, to paraphrase Audre Lorde, uses the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house.

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theater : interview

Annie Dorsen

by Nick Hallett

“I always nuance the algorithm.”

Theater creator and director Annie Dorsen recently completed a trilogy of stage works in which customized, algorithm-driven computer software controls the transformation of dramatic content in real-time. The results—different each night—are surprisingly human. This past autumn, I joined the cast of her latest, Yesterday Tomorrow, for a run of shows in France (picking up the role originated by the excellent Jeff Gavett). The piece is a one-liner par excellence—or perhaps the most experimental jukebox musical ever conceived. Three vocalists are surrounded by a projected score of the Lennon-McCartney classic, “Yesterday.” As they sight-read their way through each new iteration of the song, more and more of the melodic and lyrical material from Charles Strouse’s tween anthem, “Tomorrow,” enters the picture. By the end of the night, “Yesterday” is gone and we are left with the finale from Annie. I wanted to work with Annie (Dorsen, not the orphan) and experience what it would feel like to exist as an artist inside the machinery of her imagination. Would it be cold and mimetic, or might it indulge the performative mind and a sense of embodied expression? I ended up feeling like both were true—but productively so at each extreme. Furthermore, I became increasingly intrigued by the idea of a theater that engages so directly with the tools and structures of what is generally thought of as rigorous or difficult music—and what it means when its results are put in front of an audience—and, more to the point, which audience? I came away with a sense of the Dorsen universe—wonderfully rational yet magical at the same time. I wanted to unpack the experience with her and to learn more about what generates her impulse to render theater in this way.

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art : interview

Ethan Greenbaum

by Andrianna Campbell

“It’s nice when you can make connections in hindsight. Your life feels like chaos, then you realize there are patterns.”

It was after 6PM on a warm night in my Brooklyn apartment, where Ethan Greenbaum and I spent a few hours before he had to meet his wife, the artist Sun You, for dinner. He chastised me for not being as serious as when I interviewed other artists. In the early days of my writing, he had been an especially harsh critic, at least for a friend. So, my writing developed very much in conversation with him as an artist. Once, I read him a short story in his kitchen, which was a fictional retelling of a story he had told me. It was sort of a portrait of the artist as a young man. I thought it hilarious; he said it was boring.

Ethan is always moving, making, thinking, listening to philosophy podcasts, reading New Yorker short fiction, and he’s always able to—on the spot—produce a witty interpretation of something as if he’d been thinking about it for years. That his art has been the opposite for so long—so layered, nuanced, and slow to reveal itself—has always been a bit of a mystery to me. This new Pop-inflected work co-mingles with that earlier, almost obsessive need of his to create an aura with materials that seem not to deserve it: plastic, Formica, and now plaster and plastic wrapping. As we sat down at my desk, we drank beers but wanted whiskey. The moment seemed like it had been a long time coming, so I turned on the mic and got serious(ish).

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film : interview

Ross Partridge

by Gary M. Kramer

“She’ll be like an apple tree among all the ash-colored buildings of that granite city.”

Ross Partridge wrote, directed, and stars in Lamb, an adaptation of Bonnie Nadzam’s celebrated first novel of the same name. The film chronicles an abnormal relationship that develops between David (Partridge), a forty-seven-year-old man, and Tommie (Oona Laurence), an eleven-year-old girl. An ostensible love story, Lamb describes a peculiar platonic bond. Both David—whose father has recently passed away, and Tommie, whose parents may as well have—are depicted as lost, lonely souls, looking for any sort of human connection possible. They find it, of course, in each other. When David takes Tommie to his family’s cabin in Wyoming, the trip reveals psycho-emotional volumes. Their seemingly inappropriate pairing generates a strange power—one cast over the film’s audience.

Partridge, a character actor best known for his collaborations with the Duplass Brothers (Baghead, Do-Deca-Pentathlon) and in the underseen comedy, Treatment, takes a sincere yet distanced approach to this material. He never exploits or sensationalizes.

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literature : interview

Toni Sala

by Hal Hlavinka

“What distinguishes the writer from the reader is that the writer goes first.”

Toni Sala has been quite busy, but you wouldn’t know it. The author of more than a dozen novels—and the winner of the Catalan government’s 2005 National Literature Prize—Sala is but the latest in a series of Catalan authors to make a recent, mid-career debut in the United States. His newest novel, The Boys, appeared this past November from Two Lines Press in a stunning translation by Mara Faye Lethem, bringing Sala’s sharp wit and ominous vision to a US audience for the first time. Translation-savvy readers might hear a little Rodoreda and Monzó in Sala’s prose, but the most significant comparison could be to Bolaño’s more Iberian-inflected work—light-footed, death-haunted sentences that tumble along at the shuddering speed of a car crash. The Boys takes as its centerpiece the tragic deaths of two brothers, explored through several overlapping perspectives that shift and shuffle the drama so to get nearer to the tragedy’s still-beating heart.

Our conversation was bookended by the November 13 Paris attacks and the December 2 San Bernardino attack, events that have and will continue to change both of our worlds. Toni shared something in our initial pleasantries that I found exemplary of his approach to story: “A few hours after the Paris attacks, a burned car was located in Vidreres, the little town where The Boys is set. Vidreres is seventy kilometers from the border, and the vehicle contained false plates and unactivated phones, which set off the alarm in Catalonia. In the end, it was likely something to do with the drug trade. But the center of the world can be everywhere.”

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art : review

Marina Abramović’s Goldberg

by David Brody

“In the coy manner of Yoko Ono, we were instructed: ‘Listen.’ (No duh.)”

At the time of her 2010 MoMA retrospective, “The Artist is Present,” Marina Abramović spoke in an interview about the challenge of documenting and transmitting (that is, re-performing) her art. Perhaps, she mused, the best documentation would be a story about the event told by a performer or viewer. Both parties, of course, must be “present” for a work of performance art to exist; and in its imperative to shock viewers into such presence, she went on, performance art was superior to painting, sculpture, and all other forms—all except music, which she ranked highest among the arts.

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film : interview

Bob Mankoff

by Anya Jaremko-Greenwold

“Humor teaches us that you can be a good person but also have bad thoughts.”

Very Semi-Serious, a documentary by first-time director Leah Wolchok, follows a gaggle of cartoonists and one colorful editor who produce work for The New Yorker—a magazine that, perhaps, boasts the most intellectual cartoon consortium in the world. Bob Mankoff, the department’s grizzled and energetic editor, acts as this doc’s narrator. From his perspective, we peer behind the scenes of the iconic publication: he meets with editor-in-chief David Remnick to show him the latest laughs, reads hundreds of cartoon submissions, listens to pitches from young hopefuls and old hats, and draws his own funnies, always stippled with his signature tiny dots. Though Mankoff claims he can’t draw very well, he concedes that “the marks you make on paper outlast you—and they have the spontaneity that life has.”

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art : interview

Celia Paul

by Hilton Als

“Pictures unpainted make the heart sick.”

Women, and their spirits, permeate the work of painter Celia Paul and writer Hilton Als. Paul, for example, has often relied on her mother and four sisters as models for her exquisitely delicate, practically dissolving, portraiture. Her technical style with her chosen media—both oil and watercolor—feels both physically immediate yet completely mnemonic. If she doesn’t personally, deeply, know the person she paints then the image leads to nothing—to where it all began—a blank canvas. Hence: the significance of her beloved mother. This is where the story turns, as some might say, a wee bit weird: Her student paintings of her mother served as a point of introduction to the visiting tutor Lucian Freud—soon to be (temporary) mentor, lover, and father of her son, Frank. Paul, at the time, had been entranced by Freud’s paintings of his own mother.

The first chapter of Hilton Als’s debut book, The Women, begins with a mystery: “Until the end, my mother never discussed her way of being.” The writer’s mother—reminiscent of those of Paul’s and Freud’s—serves as a model for artistic exploration. I see Als, just like Paul, merging with (and often dissolving into) his subject matter. Or, better yet, trading places. My favorite example, at the moment, can be found in White Girls, his second book. It occurs in the chapter, “I Am the Happiness of This World.” In it, Als proclaims: “I am Louise Brooks.”

This interview, published on the occasion of the Celia Paul exhibition (curated by Als) at the Metropolitan Opera House’s Gallery Met, adds yet another woman to the equation. This time she’s even more of a phantom. Her name is Desdemona (apparently in opposition to Eudaimonia). The show—which includes a small (of course dissolving) portrait of Als—is pegged to the Met’s current production of Verdi’s Otello. Paul’s self-portraiture, the images of her family, and a few of her ocean wave paintings, feel, somehow, perfectly in place here. In keeping with the theme of the deliquescent, Als suggested that their interview appear without his questions. BOMB has dutifully granted that request.

—Chris Chang

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art : portfolio
film : interview

Jason Harvey & Josh Safdie

“I draw bad guys for a living.”

Thanks to the undercover work of Josh Safdie—one of our most trusted civilian independent filmmakers—and Jason Harvey—a stalwart of the NYPD’s Forensic Investigation Division—so-called criminal minds can seriously collide. Josh, with his brother Ben, co-directed the must-be-seen Heaven Knows What (2014), a deliriously existential vision of lost NYC youth. And Jason Harvey is, of course, a police officer. He’s also a visionary of a different stripe. His first solo gallery show, co-curated by Safdie and Adam Shopkorn, is up through January 10, 2016 at Fort Gansevoort. Shopkorn, as it happens, collaborated on the Safdie’s 2013 film, Lenny Cooke. So it’s either all in the family—or just circumstantial evidence.

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