‘A procession of the damned. By damned I mean excluded’
Charles Fort, The Book of the Damned, 1919
‘Those at the top don’t have to conspire because they all think alike’
‘A bullet’s exit wound is always much larger than its entrance wound…even if you’re the President of the United States’
Charles Crenshaw M.D., Attending Trauma Surgeon, Parkland Hospital, Dallas, Texas, November 22, 1963
‘The world-wide conspiracy against Kevin has been called off due to overwhelming lack of interest.’
I only write because I love doing so…since whatever comes to me is free, there’s never any writer’s block…and here’s the beauty part; it’s free to you the reader. Freer than Abbey Hoffman’s ‘Steal This Book’; freer than Frank Zappa’s album ‘Absolutely Free’ which, if memory serves, was about $5.79 in stereo at the time of its 1967 release. I started this article in November of 2018. It was intended to be a review of the Met Breuer’s exhibition, ‘Everything’s Connected: Artists & Conspiracy’. This was for the most part a great show, which I hope you were lucky enough to see. Since November much has happened. I won’t go into my personal life with its attendant challenges…anyone who’s lived as long as I have, has those. The bigger picture includes:
*Caroline Kennedy revealing tape recorded interviews between her mother Jacqueline and Arthur Schlesinger shortly after JFK’s assassination, where Jackie lays the blame for her husband’s death at the feet of LBJ.
*Ex-President, oil baron and CIA Chief, George H. W. Bush dying last November.
*‘Everything’s Connected’ closing on January 6th.
*Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and the family of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., hitting Facebook and Twitter on January 18th, calling for a reopening of investigations on the assassinations of their respective fathers in 1968.
*Uber-conspiracy theorist Lyndon LaRouche dies on February 12th.
On George H.W. Bush: while I deeply respect his heroism as a naval aviator in WWII, pretty much everything he did after that has about one degree of separation from the worst parts of the last sixty years of history…American as well as world. Non-combatant deaths in the Middle East and Afghanistan caused by him and his son, the 43rd President of the US, are well over a half million civilians. These souls are called ‘collateral damage’…usually by the perps. Bush Sr. was an early business asset of the CIA, an organization that worked more or less as a police force for global energy concerns while undermining labor unions worldwide. The ships used for The Bay of Pigs were on loan from his company Zapata Oil…one was named Barbara. He was later asked by J. Edgar Hoover to canvass Cubans in Miami days after JFK was killed. He died three months ago and the all the flags are still at half-staff…who needs The Matrix?
My all-time favourite conspiracy comes to us via Scott Morgan, the front-man for Ann Arbor, Michigan’s most beloved garage band, The Rationals, who said: ‘We figured that The Beatles were an arm of British Intel’s MI5, because there was no way two guys could write that much good material in such short order…’ Not such a stretch, given the release date of ‘With The Beatles’ on November 22, 1963, and that of The Beatles’ ‘White Album’ exactly five years to the day later, on the fifth anniversary of JFK’s assassination.…The Beatles were after all the most pleasant socio-political distraction of the second half of the 20th Century. LOL.
British historians are fond of saying that The 60’s actually started in March, 1963 with the Profumo Affair, which involved simultaneous sexual encounters between Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice Davies, John Profumo, the U.K.’s Secretary of State for War and the Soviet Union’s Naval Attaché, Yevgeny Ivanov. This created the mother of all security risks…until recently of course.
I disagree with this theory.
The 60’s started on November 22, 1963, when in the space of twelve hours, The Beatles released ‘With The Beatles’ in the U.K., Aldous Huxley died while being injected with LSD by his wife Laura Archera-Huxley in Los Angeles, author C.S. Lewis died in Oxford of renal failure, and US President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas during an ill-conceived parade through that city’s urban canyon.
While neither conspiracies nor paranoia were invented in the 60’s, the Ian Alteveer and Douglas Eklund-curated ‘Everything’s Connected: Artists & Conspiracy’ spends a lot of time there. In the spirit of full disclosure: this was an exhibition that my own work was uniquely qualified to be part of. Unfortunately, by the time I received word of its impending opening, the check list was, according to Alteveer, ‘all but complete’…so let’s go with that. To his great credit, Alteveer bothered to answer my emails. While there was a temptation to address this from the corner of bitterness…is anyone working that angle? I mean since Rene Ricard got off at the Willoughby stop? My better angels pointed my gaze downward in the direction of my WWJD (‘What Would Jerry Do?’) wristband… ‘Let it go…let it go’ said the wristband…then: ‘Blow your own horn, just not too long, too loud or too close to anyone’s ear.’ So…
I painted my first pieces on the subject of covert American history in 1980. A series of four paintings on subjects ranging from the Bush family’s involvement with the CIA and The Bay of Pigs, to ITT and Big Copper’s overthrow of Allende in Chile…these were exhibited in the ‘Critical Perspectives’ show at P.S.1, curated by Marcia Tucker. A couple years later I painted ‘Motorcade Route with Pillbox Hat’, a humongous oil-on-paper map of JFK’s motorcade route around Dallas. It was shown in the Peter Frank-curated Inaugural Exhibition at the Fort Wayne Museum in 1984, alongside works by Bruce Nauman, David Smith and Vija Celmins, among others. I painted a second Motorcade Route on a window shade from Stuart Davis’ painting studio, given me by his son Earl. Later, after the fact, I read a great piece in Brian O’Doherty’s book ‘American Masters’, where Stuart Davis the elder is interviewed the day after JFK was shot, in which he quips: ‘I’m surprised that this sort of thing doesn’t happen more often.’
See, once you go down this road, very little passes for coincidence.
I’ve bothered to mention all of this seemingly self-serving information because no one I knew in my whole time living in New York (1976-1992) was doing this kind of work, except for Cady Noland, with her 1991 Whitney Biennial installation…and I knew a lot of folks. Not only was political / historical artwork not being done; most people questioned why I was doing it, so far away from ‘art about art’ as it was. The political in art at that time began and ended with AIDS and Feminism. Not that these were unimportant issues, just that concern for The Republic was deemed archaic, tied as it was to the academy’s embrace of late capitalism and the glories of our socialist future. Over the next fifteen years, these themes dominated my painting to the extent that it drove many of my friends to distraction, worrying they’d lost me down the rabbit hole of fringe historical theories. This was all before things like ‘The X-Files’, and TV commercials featuring UFOs selling everything from cornflakes to Buicks started popping up. There was no internet…you had to call guys. In my case I’d read books like Dr. David Scheim’s ‘Contract On America’: Dr. Scheim was a Systems Analyst at M.I.T. There was also ‘High Treason’ by Robert Groden, ‘Crossfire’ by Jim Marrs, ‘Best Evidence’ by David Lifton, a Physics grad from the Cornell School of Engineering, and a slew of autographed softcovers by U.S. Senate Investigator and curmudgeon Harold Weisberg.
Then I’d get on the phone. I made dozens of taped interviews, all with their knowing consent. Of all these authors, I was closest to Jim Marrs. A couple of times he was my loft-guest at Franklin and Broadway. Jim had worked at The Fort Worth Star-Telegram during the time of the J.F.K. Assassination and occasionally visited Jack Ruby’s Carousel Club. We used a photo taken by Ruby’s club photographer of Jim doing the Twist on stage with exotic dancer Kathy Kay for a show I curated called: ‘JFK: Myth & Denial’, using works by artists Leon Golub, Larry Clark, Sue Williams, Kiki Smith, Stephen Kroninger and others on the theme of the assassination. We had a panel discussion with John Davis, author of ‘Mafia Kingfish: Carlos Marcello and the Assassination of John F. Kennedy’. Davis was Jackie Kennedy Onassis’ first cousin.
With help from Marrs, I built an installation called ‘Sitting On Go’, detailing the suspicious deaths of witnesses between the time of their being subpoenaed and their scheduled testimony. It was around this time that Marrs was contacted by Oliver Stone. Stone wanted to meet with Jim and use his book ‘Crossfire’ as a reference for his forthcoming film ‘JFK’. The director ended up using Jim’s book, as well as ‘On The Trail of the Assassins’ by Jim Garrison, the District Attorney of New Orleans at the time of the shooting.
Less than a year later, Jim came to New York with LBJ’s longtime mistress Madeleine Brown. They were going to do a television interview and wanted to know if I could meet them for dinner the night before. While dining at Spring Street Natural, Madeleine solved at least one mystery about the appearance of two coffins at Bethesda Naval Hospital on the night of November 22nd , stating that LBJ had said: ‘I don’t want that dead sumbitch on MY airplane !’ So JFK’s body was flown back to Washington D.C. on a B-58 Hustler fighter-bomber. The fighter bomber arrived in Washington D.C. before Air Force One, so the coffin that Jackie accompanied to Bethesda Naval Hospital was empty.
She also spoke of the now famous party at Clint Murcheson’s house in Dallas, the night prior to the assassination. She claimed that she had attended it with LBJ, J. Edgar Hoover and Richard Nixon. This claim has been disputed by other researchers; but for my part I found Ms. Brown to be highly credible with no obvious agenda. She bore a child, Steven Mark Brown, by Lyndon Johnson. Steven, like his mother, had the misfortune of dying before Lady Bird. Sometimes you have to win to write history, other times you must merely survive.
I and many other researchers believe that Madeleine Duncan Brown was slandered posthumously in The New Yorker by Adam Gopnik in 2013. The reason for his disbelief in her saga was- get this- she merited no mention in Robert Caro’s humongous four (soon to be five) volume biography of LBJ…yes, the same Robert Caro who enjoys unlimited access to all private family documents and everything in the LBJ Library in Austin…with the family’s blessing no doubt. Brown was on the Johnson family’s payroll via LBJ’s lawyer, Jerome Ragsdale, until that fact was discovered by LBJ’s widow shortly before Brown’s death. Madeleine Brown said that on New Year’s Eve, 1963, after she questioned him on his possible involvement in JFK’s killing, ‘LBJ hit the ceiling’ and responded angrily: ‘It wasn’t me, it was The CIA and some oilmen and if you breathe a word of this, you’re as good as dead…they’re already killing people for talking!’ Texas Oilmen with CIA ties?…you do the math.
Marrs and I remained phone pals, punctuated by the odd visit from 1990 until his death in 2017. At one point in 2000 he asked me to introduce him to Budd Hopkins, an abstract painter, UFO researcher and author of ‘Missing Time’ and ‘Intruders’, who was at that time conducting hypnotic regressions with Harvard psychologist John Mack, involving people claiming to have experienced U.F.O. abduction. We visited Budd in an apartment he shared with his wife at the time, art critic April Kingsley; it was all very collegial. Jim was gathering information for his forthcoming book ‘Alien Agenda’ and Budd was happy to speak about all things of mutual interest.
Public Servants Vs. Corporate Servants: The Late Capitalism That’s Driving Late Earth
It’s pretty clear by now, big business is cutting out the middleman by finding the intelligence community highly inconvenient. In 2003 I found myself and other concerned citizens sticking up for The Agency when Richard Armitage and Scooter Libby outed Valerie Plame, an active CIA agent. Libby had his sentence commuted by Bush Jr., and was pardoned by Donald Trump. When any of the ‘alphabet agencies’ need me or folks of my ilk to sing their praises, something is terribly wrong. We saw what happened when a president (JFK) said: “I will splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter it into the wind” and fails. Now we know what happens when the energy czars want to do the same thing and succeed. But I digress…
Without a doubt, the biggest conspiracy that’s ever existed is the one claiming every political-historical event is born of coincidence, without the power of human intervention or control. More money, time and energy have been spent on casting reality in this light at the expense of real populism and in favor of greed than all other conspiracies combined. Or as Dick Cheney said, ‘We don’t react to events, we create them.’
Ever seen someone who by conventional standards might not be considered attractive or is even slightly grotesque, yet exudes a magnetic physicality? Well, like every other feeling under the sun, the French have a couple of interchangeable phrases for it: ‘jolie laide’ and ‘belle laide’…’beautiful ugly’. That’s how I’d describe ‘Everything’s Connected’ at the Met Breuer. At a time in ART when it seems nothing can be too beautiful or decorative, this show ain’t that good lookin’. Yet, the timely nature of its subject matter makes it utterly compelling and raises the bar on what the cognoscenti are willing to entertain; in a phrase, ‘its ass hangs out.’ It breaks one of the cardinal rules not found on Jerry Saltz’s recent ‘33 Rules for Being an Artist’ list, namely: ‘Never create something that might offend someone wealthy enough to buy it.’ Diego Rivera’s 1932 ‘Man at The Crossroads’ mural being destroyed by the Rockefellers, two years after completion, springs to mind. And by ‘offend’ I’m not talking nudity or painterly porn here, as they are currently coins of the realm. It’s about the distribution of wealth and only about that. In our capitalist culture, justice follows wealth, full stop. Rising to the bait of any other ‘social justice’ issues is why the Democrats can win the popular vote by three million and still lose the White House. That’s the last I’ll say about this. Back to the show that’s about anything but ‘art about art’.
Going into this exhibition, I wondered whether it was going to be MC5’s ‘Motor City is Burning’ or Culture Club’s ‘Kissing To Be Clever’? The Spice Girls’ ‘Wannabe’ or Gang of Four’s ‘He’d Send In the Army’? I’m pleased to report there’s some revolution here…for my money, the standouts for various reasons include: Jim Shaw, Cady Noland, Trevor Paglen, Mark Lombardi, Emory Douglas, Hans Haacke, Sarah Ann Johnson & Raymond Pettibon. Noland and Johnson actually have skin in the game.
In my first piece for InstantLoveland, ‘Cherries in The Snow’, I mentioned Cady Noland’s father Kenneth and his relationship with Mary Pinchot Meyer. Kenneth Noland, one of the best known Color Field painters, was a colleague of Mary Meyer before and during her affair with then POTUS, JFK. Both Kennedy and Meyer came to untimely demises at the hands of rogue elements of the so-called ‘National Security State’. If you’d like to argue this claim, please do it with someone who is way less familiar with the mountain of circumstantial evidence than myself…Gerald Posner, Adam Gopnik or George Lardner Jr. would be good places for any self-satisfied Luddite to start. Their wilful ignorance is breathtaking. They, like other careerists before them, have figured out that if you want a place at the table, you’d better be willing to help prop up the mystery meat. That opportunity abounds for those willing to assist with crowd control at the expense of the truth and helps explain why you’ve probably heard of Brian Williams but not David Talbot or James W. Douglas.
Cady Noland is represented by ‘Untitled’ of 1992, which uses aircraft aluminum plating with a photo of Vince Foster’s coffin being carried out of St. Patricks Catholic Cathedral in Little Rock, Arkansas. The piece is installed with the images upside down. In flag language this means distress or danger. Foster, it was reported, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in Fort Marcy Park, Virginia. The photo and caption are from The Wall Street Journal. A note torn into twenty-seven pieces was found in his briefcase. In it, he blamed, among others, ‘The Wall Street Journal, who lie without consequence.’ Foster, who was clinically depressed, was a high-ranking lawyer for the Clinton White House and his death was a touchstone for right -wing conspiracy theorists from Rush Limbaugh and Alex Jones on down. Still…
Mark Lombardi was one of the grittiest artists of my generation. I’m sad never to have met him. By the time I became acquainted with his work he’d already died. We were both using conspiracy flowcharts but mine, done between 1987 and 1993, were practically incidental next to his meticulous and obsessively detailed drawings of 1996-2000. He nailed it. His Rolodex, containing tens of thousands of contacts and connections, is legendary. It is said that the FBI used to come and photograph his exhibitions. It’s not clear whether they were using his research for their own investigations, or if they were building a case for quieting a person who’d figured out not only where the bodies were buried but who’d buried them. The nature of his demise is cloudy, some saying that he was depressed, others, that he fell victim to foul play.
Sculptor Jennie Jieun Lee lived in Lombardi’s building in Williamsburg, Brooklyn at the time of his death. It was her unfortunate task to wait up until 2am for the Coroner after the police left. It’s her belief that Lombardi took his own life as his door was locked from the inside. On the other hand, Lombardi’s death was very similar to those of Danny Casolaro, Lt. Commander Wm. Bruce Pitzer, Gregory Freeman Stone, James Forrestal and Dorothy Kilgallen, to name but a very few. If you’re not familiar with those names, look em’ up.
Sarah Ann Johnson’s sculpture ‘House On Fire’ of 2008 is a Barbie-scale dollhouse of horrors depicting the scene of her grandmother’s fall into deepening mental illness after being treated at Allan Memorial Institute of Psychiatry at McGill University in Montreal. Her maternal grandmother, Vema Orlikow, was a test subject of Dr.D. Ewen Cameron and the CIA’s ‘MK-Ultra’ mind control program. Their tests included being injected with massive doses of LSD, electro-shock therapy, sleep deprivation, experimental psycho-chemicals and radiation. Johnson’s grandmother was the wife of David Orlikow, longtime member of the Canadian House of Commons. He would eventually sue the CIA for damages to his wife. In the late 90’s he encouraged other MP’s of his NDP party to seek government compensation for Allan Institute’s other victims.
The Los Angeles artist Jim Shaw was born in Michigan. He, Mike Kelly and Corey Loren were part of Destroy All Monsters, a band and coterie of artists in and around Ann Arbor from 1973-1985. In 1976, Shaw and Kelly left Michigan for Cal Arts, leaving D.A.M. to Ron Asheton and Michael Davis, former members of Detroit bands The Stooges and MC5 respectively. Shaw’s installation, ‘The Miracle of Compound Interest’ is like a Kabuki drop from the underworld, or maybe, more appropriately, ‘The thin veil of civilization’ as former N.S.A. Director, General Michael Hayden, is fond of saying. Easily the most poetic installation of the exhibition, it features a large painted scrim of what appears to be an antiquated rural filling station. It’s the everyday world, albeit so web-tangled that Stephen King’s ‘The Mist’ would be envious. The installation’s implications are as opaque as the details, but the finger of intuition is steady on the pulse of the obvious. It connects the degenerating world of fossil fuels (some might say world-degenerating fossil fuels) to the hidden elements of Western Civ. The inner sanctum is a ‘members only’ environment, where Masonic lawn dwarves gather in ritual around what appears to be a manger containing a Baby Jesus comprised of Kryptonite or Strontium 90. Apparently the gnomes are mining for diamonds. Not much chance of Shaw’s piece ‘disappearing into definition’. The end effect of ‘The Miracle of Compound Interest’ is that of underscoring the vibe of the whole exhibition…as well as that of my entire generation.
Emory Douglas was Minister of Culture for the Black Panther Party from 1967 until the 80’s. His graphic artwork adorned the cover of their eponymous newspaper, founded by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale. The collection of BPP front pages exhibited are as uncompromising, if violent, a vision as one is likely to see in mass-produced media. The message, like that of the Ur-Rap group The Last Poets, was less anti-white than it was about self-determination and the unity of a people that are as non-valuable to the powers that be as they are valuable to American culture at large.
I want to give a shout-out to a few artists whose work wasn’t in this show but would have been a welcome addition:
Adam Stennett, who’s been doing paintings and sculpture on the themes of everything from ‘MK-Ultra’ and homemade potato bazookas to Millbrook’s LSD commune for over a decade.
The Ant Farm, whose 1975 film ‘The Eternal Frame’ portrays JFK’s assassination as a media event for a public too busy ‘watching’ to actually take part in its own history.
The Canadian minister and artist, A.E. Booth, the uncontested champion of the flow-chart. Booth’s work from between 1880 and 1945 maps out the circuitous path to Christian salvation.
Terry Allen of Lubbock, Los Angeles and Santa Fe, whose bubblegum-encrusted Buddha sculpture with prison guard tower from his ‘Youth in Asia’ series would have added some spice.
Works by the aforementioned Budd Hopkins, whose series of ‘Guardian’ paintings dealt directly with the possibility of alien-human interaction.
‘Tribulation 99: Alien Anomalies Under America’. This wildly humorous film by Craig Baldwin is a pastiche, using 50’s industrial, health & safety and Sci-Fi clips to illustrate America’s covert state of affairs since World War II.
BBC archivist Adam Curtis’ films ‘Hyper-Normalisation’, ‘Century of The Self’ and ‘The Power of Nightmares’ connect absolutely everything at the speed of a train wreck.
Robert Lazar’s ‘S-4 and The Government Bible’ is a 1989 video detailing his claim that he was hired to reverse-engineer alien technology at Groom Lake under the auspices of the Office of Naval Intelligence. You tell me…
My favorite street artist of all time is the much-maligned and hated hospital worker, William H. Depperman. Between 1975 and 1985, Depperman, a self-described representative of the ‘Assassination Information Committee’, wallpapered huge official-looking newspaper front pages to every available surface in Manhattan: Wall Street buildings, subway platforms…EVERYWHERE. His headlines included:
‘JOHN LENNON’S MURDER WAS A POLITICAL ASSASSINATION!’; ‘AIDS IS GERM WARFARE BY THE U.S. GOV’T. AGAINST GAYS AND BLACKS!’; and ‘CAPITALISM OFFERS NO FUTURE FOR YOU OR YOUR CHILDREN!’
I don’t miss the 80’s; but I really miss Depperman’s singular form of vandalism. I feel that way, even if not a single word of his printed screeds is true…and who knows? Which is the real message of this exhibition.
Bravo to Alteveer and Eklund. ‘Everything’s Connected: Artists and Conspiracy’ is an edgy labor of love, truly. I for one feel that it should be the standard for Art World statement-making rather than the exception. I can’t wait for Part II…anyone?