Mark Danner

Look at the art, forgo the speeches 

E6 | Monday, October 27, 2014 



Look at the art, forgo the speeches 


This portended a good art event: A few minutes after I started peering at the photographs in the Contemporary Jewish Museum’s new show, “Arnold Newman: Masterclass,” everyone was beckoned to the museum atrium to listen to speeches. But the museum’s executive director. Lori Starr, said she wouldn’t be insulted if I missed the speeches. “The closer you stick to the art,” she said, “the better off you are.” 

(That said, thanks are due: The exhibition’s patron supporters were Robert W. Baird & Co., financial advisers, and CJM board member Joyce Linker, who works for the Baird Firm.)

Newman was, very famously, a portrait photographer, and his subjects – mostly famous people in the arts – gaze down, up, sideways, and straight at you from the walls of the gallery. Walking around and looking at the portraits, or more exactly, starting at them, is like having the privilege of ogling famous party guests, among them Jackson Pollock, James Rosenquist, Marcel Duchamp, Marc Chagall, Stuart Davis, Frank Lloyd Wright, David Rockefeller, Martha Graham, Agnes de Mille, Twyla Tharp, Larry Rivers, Joan Miro, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Truman Capote, Edward Hopper, and more. They can’t see you, so in this case, it’s not rude to stare. 

Almost very subject is identified simply by name and field. So I was puzzled when I cam upon Sen. Walter F. George nestled next to Ansel Adams and Georgia O’Keeffe, Who was this, the man siting in an office under a large ceiling fan, the only guy I noticed in the whole 200-picture show who had a title affixed to his name? Googling revealed him to be a Democrat who served in the Senate for more than 30 years, during which time his office became a gathering place for Southern Legislators plotting against the Supreme Court’s anti-segregation decisions. 

Wikipedia also informs me he was known for his oratory. It couldn’t possibly be as good as Lori Starr’s. 


UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism Dean Ed Wasserman welcomed a crowd at Berkeley Rep last week to watch Jon Stewart’s new movie “Rosewater,” and to listen to journalist-professor-foreign affairs expert Mark Danner discuss the movie with screenwriter-director-producer Stewart and Canadian Iranian journalist Maziar Bahari, who is played by Gael Garcia Bernal in the film. 

Bahari’s story, as first told in his memoir, “Then They Came for Me,” is of being dispatched by Newsweek in 2009 to cover political unrest in Iran, and subsequently being arrested as a spy, imprisoned for 4 months and interrogated daily to coerce a televised confession. Interrogation clips of earlier Bahari “Daily Show: appearances in which he jokingly amidst to evil deeds – as “evidence” he was a spy, which partly explains Stewart’s commitment to telling the true story. 

“There is some dispute about whether Stewart is a journalist,” said Wasserman from the stage. But Stewart “delivers the news four nights a week…confronts public figures and takes them to task,” and puts it all together “into a package that people find riveting…This person I’m glad to welcome aboard as a journalist.” 

Danner, emcee of the evening, then introduced Stewart, who in turn introduced Bahari; together they introduced the film. Afterward, Danner started the conversation for several of the film’s references to New Jersey (a state closely identified with the filmmaker). Bahari explained that diplomats can’t reside more than 20 miles from the United Nations, and that in fact, many Iranian diplomats live there. Stewart joked about why he made the film (“I very much wanted to join the Directors Guild…their health plan, dental plan, prescription drugs…”); and the similarities between Persians and Jews (‘We both like a nice area rug.”)

At the serious heart of the conversation (and the movie) were decidedly more serious subjects: political repression, prison, the modern concept that the worst torture is solitary confinement, and – as in every discussion on everything these days – the role of technology in all this. While common wisdom has it that Twitter fostered the spread of the Arab Spring, tech tools are in the hands of totalitarian regimes as well as the victims of totalitarian regimes. 

The Iranian government viewed social media with suspicion, as if “Facebook was created to make velvet revolution in Iran,” said Bahari, but also as a tool. The first things his captors demanded were his passwords for his Facebook, e-mail, and Twitter accounts. Thus, his captors were able to identify every one of his contacts, and friend them all, Danner joked.