Big Dose Of History

Sol Lewitt Wall Drawing going up at Memorial Art Gallery
Sol Lewitt Wall Drawing going up at Memorial Art Gallery

Sol Lewitt’s art is more than the final piece. It is the plans, the installation and the temporary display on a wall. One of Sol LeWitt’s iconic “Wall Drawings,” has been generously gifted to MAG and it is being rendered directly on a wall in the Vanden Brul Pavilion by a representative of the LeWitt Estate and an artist from the Rochester community. The installation of “Wall Drawing #957: Form Derived from a Cube” can be seen after the holiday, starting November 26, when the gallery resumes its regular hours.

The new exhibition at MAG, “Striking Power: Iconoclasm in Ancient Egypt,” starts with the definition of “iconoclasm” which literally means “image breaking.” With statues and sculptures from ancient Egypt, all with body parts deliberately broken for religious or political reasons, it made for pretty interesting shows as it packed in a big dose of history.

The Memorial Art Gallery’s buildings sit on ground that formerly belonged to the Haudenosaunee tribe, part of the Seneca Nation. The three-channel video installation in the MAG’s video gallery, “Here you are before the trees” (2020) features his grandmother, Dolli Big John, and focuses on the Indigenous histories of upstate New York and the devastating consequences of the US colonization of Indigenous peoples. Beautiful, sad and powerful, it is an especially moving 12 minutes.

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L’art Pour L’art

"Massacre of the Innocents" by Marcantonio Raimondi at Memorial Art Gallery show "Renaissance Impressions"
“Massacre of the Innocents” by Marcantonio Raimondi at Memorial Art Gallery show “Renaissance Impressions”

A show of Renaissance Prints. may not sound all that exciting but just imagine being alive in the early 1500s when images of the ancient myths and religious miracles were mostly in your imagination. The Judgement of Paris, The Massacre of the Innocents, and The Martyrdom of Saint Lawrence , where Larry asks his tormentors to “Turn me over, I’m done on this side,” are just some of the fantastic stories depicted in the Memorial Art Gallery’s current exhibit of Renaissance Prints. The show is mind blowing.

MAG Curatorial Assistant Lauren Tagliaferro did a Zoom talk for MAG members the day the show opened and it is now up on YouTube. Peggi and I just watched it a second time. Lauren is a dynamo and she brings art history to life. How we created a beautiful Christ, even eroticized him and the saints to sell the concept, suffering in peace for eternal salvation. How we depict the old as ugly because we are afraid of dying. Tagliaferro is drawn to ugliness as much beauty and she admits a lot of her ideas come from “On Ugliness” by Umberto Eco. She is an adjunct professor at RIT. They should give her tenure now.

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Autumn weeds in the marsh on Hoffman Road
Autumn weeds in the marsh on Hoffman Road

We’re so proud of our friend and neighbor. Just her second competition and she brings home a medal from the USA Power Lifting Championship in Florida. Go Sierra!

Still haven’t got over to the MAG to see the Bill Viola piece in the Media Art room but we were thrilled to hear the Memorial Art Gallery plans to commission three works by international artists inspired by the City of Rochester, New York. “Reflections on Place” will feature Javier Téllez (Venezuela, b. 1969), Isaac Julien (U.K., b. 1960) and Dara Birnbaum, (U.S., b. 1946). We’ll have to wait til April 2018 for the first of those exhibitions.

Tonight marks Phil Marshall’s fourth performance as a Margaret Explosion member. We are thrilled to have him in the band working his magic. Before he joined he sat in with us on many occasions. Here he is on live track from the Little Theatre Café in 2009.

Here’s Rain Dance by Margaret Explosion featuring Phil Marshall on guitar.
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Minimalism Is In The Air

Daily Mirror headline for Tate purchase of Carl Andre piece from Minimal Mostly lecture slideshow at Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, New York
Daily Mirror headline for Tate purchase of Carl Andre piece from Minimal Mostly lecture slideshow at Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, New York

Cathleen Chaffee, Senior Curator at Albright Knox Art Gallery, gave a lecture at the Memorial Art Gallery on Sunday afternoon on the topic of minimal art. Although the minimal aesthetic is easily applied to most art-making she concentrated on 1960 to the present, artists like Robert Ryman, Sol Lewitt, Agnes Martin and Dan Flavin. But she started back in the 1800s with a French woman who did illustrations of an all white painting, an all green painting and an all black painting. That joke about a blank canvas being a painting of a polar bear in a snowstorm has been around awhile.

1914 was to be a pivotal year with Marcel DuChamp the master, Kazimir Malevich making some of their strongest work. Ad Reinhardt and Rauschenberg did solid color paintings in the fifties as they fought their way out of Ab Ex. And John Cage’s silent “4:33” piece was a response to that. Art does not exist in a vacuum.

This lecture was in conjunction with Deborah Ronnen’s sensational “Minimal Mostly” show at R1 Studios on University Avenue. Her show features some of these same artists along with Ellsworth Kelly, Annie and Josef Albert, Carmen Herrera and Frank Stella. The pop-up show is up til the end of June so do yourself a favor and find some time to visit it.

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Mas Pax

Light Spill, an installation by Sandra Gibson and Luis Recoder at the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, New York
Light Spill, an installation by Sandra Gibson and Luis Recoder at the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, New York

Saturday night’s opening for Meleko Mokgosi’s installation of large paintings from his Pax Kaffraria series was a happening affair. His knockout paintings tell the complicated story of Colonial Africa. I’m hoping his artist’s talk at 7 p.m. on Thursday February 23 will tie the pieces together and I’m looking forward to revisiting the show without the people.

The bands for the opening were great – the young Julian Garvue trio in the Atrium and the professional funk band Shine in the auditorium.

There are always plenty of reasons to visit the MAG but this is an especially good time. Robert Rauschenberg’s silkscreen prints from his “Making History” series are on display in the Lockhart Gallery. Sandra Gibson and Luis Recoder’s installation/sculpture/mechanical performance piece, “Light Spill,” is on view in the Media Arts gallery. It is in its active state for 60 seconds every 30 minutes on the 1/2 hour. And the Brown Hound Bistro is serving the best green salad we’ve had in a long time.

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Ouch To The Condo

Beauford Delaney's "Charlie Parker" 1968 at the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, New York
Beauford Delaney’s “Charlie Parker” 1968 at the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, New York

My mother was always rearranging the furniture in our house, sometimes even swapping the functions of the rooms. I remember her taking the dining room table out of the dining room. She has a great eye and her rearrangements often invigorated our home. Sometimes they just didn’t work but they still managed to liven up the place.

The MAG, under the direction of its new steward, Jonathan Binstock, has rearranged its collection while calling attention to some great new acquisitions. I especially like the Beaufort Delaney “Charlie Parker” portrait shown above. And the new Mickalene Thomas portrait, “Qusuquzah” almost steals the show in the new portrait gallery (just beyond the admission desk). Her spacial, almost cubist play with the figure’s head is sensational. Walt Kuhn’s “Clown” is still more compelling. Robert Lee MacCameron “New Orleans Man” looks great and it is nice to see the Pieter Jansz Pourbus’ “Portraits of a Husband and Wife” out again. They were missing in action for a few years

The cluster of portraits doesn’t really work for me though. I’d rather engage with them one on one. They would be better in that long hallway on the side of the auditorium where that flowery mural over the fake fireplace is. It’s a good thing they don’t let me loose in that place. The 1935 Calder “Standing Mobile” looks great. Can’t imagine where that has been hiding. And they have a little trove of Gaston LaChaise statuettes. I wish they had one of his more expressive pieces. “Ouch” to the Condo and the polka dot lady!

Jacob Lawrence’s “The Legend of John Brown” portfolio of silkscreen prints looks fantastic in the newly painted Lockhart Gallery. And they have removed the center island in that room so can really take in the graphic intensity. You have to get over there to see that.

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Fragment of a Head

"Fragment of a Head" from Chiapas, Mexico Eighth Century
“Fragment of a Head” from Chiapas, Mexico Eighth Century

The Memorial Art Gallery has a really interesting show to celebrate their Centennial. The staff picked local artists and invited them to reinterpret works from their collection. The new work in “Art Reflected” is for sale and it is scattered throughout the gallery, positioned next to or in front of the work of inspiration. This arrangement encourages you to wander into rooms you normally whizz by. Like an Easter egg hunt the show is full of surprises. It reinvigorates the collection.

My brother, John, has a really nice piece here but as a celebration the show is a bit stuffy. One hundred artists for the one hundred years would have added to the merriment. If they had asked I would have given my reflection of this beautiful Mayan, stucco “Fragment of a Head” from the eighth century.


Gift Shop

Charles Burchfield "Telegraph", currently on view at the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, New York
Charles Burchfield “Telegraph”, currently on view at the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, New York

Funny how we have not yet outdone mid-century modern. You’d think we’d be pushing it as far as it can go instead leaving it behind as retro. “Crafting Modernism: Midcentury American Art and Design” at the Memorial Art Gallery touches on the art in design of that period and has quite a few pieces that I wouldn’t mind bringing home. If they had just mass produced the work in the show and turned the main gallery space into the gift shop it would have all made sense.

“Modern Icon : The Machine as Subject in American Art’, next door in the smaller Lockhart Gallery is where the art is. Robert Frank’s “Trolley Car, New Orleans” from his Americans series, a beautiful John Marin etching called “Downtown New York”, A Thomas Hart Benton ink and watercolor drawing and this wonder from Buffalo artist and visionary, Charles Burchfield. You can almost hear the telegraph.

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Sifting The April Sunlight For Clues

Alex Katz print from "Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror" at Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, NY
Alex Katz print from “Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror” at Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, NY

It was still April when we saw this painting in the Lockhart Gallery at the Memorial Art Galley in Rochester. We were there for the opening of the Fiber Arts show but found the sideshow in the Lockhart Gallery more interesting. In connection with Writer’s & Books’ thirtieth anniversary they have mounted a show of the pages of “Self Portrait In A Convex Mirror”, a limited edition (175 copies) of an artist’s book centered around, literally, the pages are round John Ashbery’s poem which was based on Girolamo Francesco Maria Mazzola’s 1524 painting with the same title. The book included an lp of Ashbery reading the poem, letterpress printed pages of the poem and artist’s prints form Larry Rivers, Elaine and William William DeKoning, Jim Dine, R.J. Kitaj and Alex Katz.

I have liked Alex Katz’s work since Charlie Coco took me to Times Square in the seventies to see his giant murals of people’s heads. And then a few years later we were looking at the Whitney Biennial and there was some sort of installation of drum set behind a curtain in the gallery and it appeared they were inviting people to play the set so I sat down and knocked out something. I put the sticks down and came out from behind the curtain and found myself face to face with Alex Katz. He was wearing brown bucks.

John Ashbery speaks at the Gallery about his his life, the New York School and his work on June 2nd.

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Beam In On Me Baby

Matt Whitmeyer self portrait at the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, New York
Matt Whitmeyer self portrait at the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, New York

Most portraits are really self portraits or at least the goods ones are. And collectively the outdoor show of local self portraits, submitted as jpegs to the D&C and printed on durable plastic and tie-wrapped to the fence surrounding the Memorial Art Gallery’s grounds, work as a portrait of the city. I generally lean toward the most expressive painting in a show like this but my favorite was Matt Whitmeyer‘s photographic self portrait. I love the dead pan generic quality, the grey environment and minimal color. I love the calm but deliberate delivery, the cool but intense stare. He appears to be looking right at you but when I looked back at him I found he he wasn’t really looking at anything and then after five minutes or so our eyes connected and I moved on. I looked down at the ground and found this bag of stones, a construction worker’s self portrait.


Urban Realists

Detail of a Rembrandt self portrait etching at the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, NY
Detail of a Rembrandt self portrait etching at the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, NY

Peggi dropped me off at Culver and Clifford right in front of the church my parents were married in. She was headed out to her mom’s and I took off on my bike to meet Scott Regan at the Memorial Art Gallery. Scott suggested we walk through the Memorial Art Gallery together after we had a an engaging discussion at the the Little Theater one night. I casually mentioned that I liked the little abstracts on the wall and he pushed me to explain why. I told him I don’t usually try to explain why I like something. I just respond in a flash. Of course some things are acquired tastes but Scott is more reasoned. Abstract art is usually not reasoned although Kirk Varnedoe made a pretty good argument in his brilliant “Pictures of Nothing” book that it is.

Scott had just come from a photo session for an upcoming profile in “Lake Affect” Magazine and he had to be somewhere else in an hour and half so we got right down to business. We started in the gallery store looking at Janet Williams’ posters from her Primordial Flea Market Series. The posters bother me because someone has added type to reproductions of her absolutely beautiful paintings. Absolute doesn’t need any more. I asked if they still had any of the paintings and they did in the back room. We were allowed to go back there for a few precious minutes.

Down the hall where the gallery staff sometimes display their new acquisitions we stopped at a beautiful abstract wood cut print by a Japanese fellow. Can’t remember who it was by. I’m slow with names. Scott again asked me, “Why do you respond so favorably to this”? I felt like I was explaining the obvious but of course it is not that simple. Did I really say, “I find it delightful”? On down the hall past the hideous fireplace mural recreation to the Lockhart Gallery for the Rembrandt etching show. We both agreed he is our favorite artist, hands down. Whether he’s sketching the country side or a constructing devilish self portrait he is masterful.

Scott suggest we go upstairs and we spent some time analyzing paintings from the 1800’s before studying the “Urban Realists” from the early part of this last century. Someone came over and asked us to keep at least six inches away from the paintings. He said the people behind the camera were going crazy as we gestured. He pointed up to the ceiling. I wondered why we didn’t see any guards hanging around.

We only saved a few minutes for the modern collection which is where I usually spend most of my time. Peggi and I had just watched a beutiful Alfred Stieglitz documentary and it was fun to see paintings from his stable of artists lined up there. Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley and Georgia OKeefe. On the way out the door we stopped in the “This Is A Series” show in the gallery of the Creative Workshop. I have three paintings down there, one of which I am still uncertain about and Scott helped me sort that out.


Artist Statement

We sent our next Margaret Explosion cd off for duplication and I submitted the new tunes to CDDB through iTunes. I had to pick a category for the type of music it is before it would allow me to submit so I chose “Jazz” from the short list. In the iTunes application however you have a much longer list and you can even make up your own categories. I don’t usually think about describing our music until I’m in situations like this. I found a category in there called “Psychedelic Jazz” and pretty much works. I didn’t know there was such a thing.

There is a student show up over at the Creative Workshop and the director asked us to write a short blurb about what it is that inspired us to paint whatever it is we painted. Most art types balk at describing their work because the work is supposed to do the talking. Some people, though, love “Artist’s Statements” and long descriptions or histories of the artists. At many shows these days the placards next to the painting severely detract from the work.

That being said, I did spend some time thinking about why I paint what I do. And I came up with a succinct, two word statement of my inspiration. “Human Nature”. I am interested in exploring why I am drawn to the subject matter of my choice. I am interested in creating a dialog about this subject through the work and then I’m interested in how people around me react to what I put down.

They didn’t use my artist statement and that’s fine.

Here’s Pete LaBonne’s track “Artist Statement” from his Earring Records cd entitled “Glob”.


Head On

Philip Guston "Web" 1975 on view at the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, NY in "Paint Made Flesh" show.
Philip Guston “Web” 1975 on view at the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, NY in “Paint Made Flesh” show.

Paint Made Flesh” originated at the Frist Center in Nashville and then stopped at the Philips Collection in DC before arriving at the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester. It features an all star lineup of top-shelf, painter’s work from 1952 to 2006. I was asked to make some short comments on the painting of my choice. The MAG sent me the tiniest jpegs of the collection and I spotted Philip Guston’s “Web” painting in there so I claimed it. I had seen this painting at the Modern when they had their sensational Guston retrospective a few years back. I was given a brief opportunity to preview this show at the MAG (It opens this Saturday) and it will be an overwhelming treat for painters.

I used my smoothest delivery to record these comments for their audio tour. It can be accessed at the show with your cell phone.

I’m Paul Dodd and I’m happy to say a few words about Philip Guston’s painting entitled “Web”.

After a very successful run as a painter of gorgeous abstracts, Philip Guston decided that he wanted to “tell stories” and he returned to the figure. These late paintings are blunt, humorous and dark. Here he depicts himself face down on the ground, his monstrous, bloodshot eye has looked too much or seen too much yet he is still looking, eye wide open. He poured his entire life into painting and and he confronted it head on. He recognized the absurdity of it all and had the graphic skills to express it, often painting about the act of painting itself.

You have to move back a bit to take in the scope of this landscape, the dramatic advance of the spiders capitalizing on the artist’s inertia and the blood pool that stops abruptly and floats in transparent space while his wife, Musa, his life-affirming source, pops up at his side.

I find Guston’s late work to be heroic in its openness and thrilling in its directness. I hope you enjoy it.

Now if I had a cell phone I could hear it back.


A Very Important Privilege

"Sum ll Series", Gloria Ortiz-Hernandez drawing at MAG "Leaded" show
“Sum ll Series”, Gloria Ortiz-Hernandez drawing at MAG “Leaded” show

Peggi’s mom gave us a subscription to Smithsonion Magazine and January’s issue had a great article on the Metropolitan’s Van Gogh “Night Vision show. The author tells how Van Gogh, the best drawer ever, was kicked out of an early drawing class and he quotes Van Gogh telling a friend, “I aim to paint with such expressive force that people will say, I have no technique.”

Turning from abstraction to storytelling, the work Philip Guston created in the last ten years of his life was roundly criticized as being clumsy, crude, artless, cartoony, affected and klutzy”. Guston is quoted as saying, “I got sick and tired of all the purity.”

Musa Mayer, writing in her memoir of her father, recaps a talk Philip gave to a group of students at the University of Minnesota in 1978. He ended his talk with the following remark. “Isaac Babel gave a lovely ironic speech to the Soviet Writer’s Union and ended his talk with the following remark, ‘The party and the government have given us everything, but they have deprived us of one privilage. A very important privilege, comrades, has been taken away from you. That of writing badly’.”


Museum Quality Trees

Margaret Explosion at the Memorial  Art Gallery opening for"Leaded"
Margaret Explosion at the Memorial Art Gallery opening for”Leaded”

Ken and Peggi spent the longest time discussing whether the tree that was positioned between them was real or fake.

I took this shot with the timer while we were setting up in “The Pavillion” of the Memorial Art Gallery for the opening of “Leaded”, a drawing show featuring ten artists. I was expecting a lot more drawing but the work was all executed with lead.

The contract called for Margaret Explosion  to pay five, fifty minute, sets starting at 5, 6, 8, 9, and 10, the first two hours where for the patrons. We made up songs most of the night only covering three or four of our own in the last set. The band sounded really good in here and we are really happy the MAG invited us to their party.


For Alice

Philip Guston painting entitled "Reverse" at the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, NY
Philip Guston painting entitled “Reverse” at the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, NY

I’m reading a book by Musa Meyer, Philip Guston’s daughter, called “Night Studio”. Wow. There’s a good chunk of therapy in there. It is impossible to be a great artist and a good father. Philip Guston is no saint unless you redefine “saint”. And I do. Saints, to me, are heroes. They are not all good and that makes them more godlike. Philip Guston is the patron saint of existentialists.

His late paintings are his best. They blow me away. What more could you ask for in a painting? They are meaty as hell, ugly and beautiful at the same time. And heroic. The MAG in Rochester has one of the late paintings called “Reverse”. It’s a painting of the back of a stretched canvas leaning against a wall. There is an incredible sense of form like R. Crumb. Probably a white wall but not in Guston’s hands. This is a whole environment. There’s a bare bulb from his closet childhood and a chain swinging like the light has just been turned on. The confrontation has begun.

This is my favorite painting in the Memorial Art Gallery’s collection and it manages to get better each time I see it. The MAG has put it in the best spot in the whole place. Its almost has its own room. And there is even a bench across from it, not some dumb piece of art but a bench you can sit on. Look for this painting.

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Deep Feelings

There was a new guy in our painting class last night doing these abstract, big bang sort of paintings. He is also a fly fisherman so he and our painting teacher, Fred Lipp, spent a good deal of time talking abut locations and lures. I was thinking they ought to come over and catch a few of the flys in our house. We had the doors open round here while we gave them two coats of fresh paint and collected a few. I had one wake me up by insisting on landing on my nose.

Fred was relentless last night as well he should be. “What is this?”, he exclaims as he reaches for his grey paper to cover the offending “neck” in my case. “It looks like a tree stump”. My father, who is set up right next to me, gets as merciless an assault. In his case Fred covered half the painting and told him, “There’s your painting”. He was left with a beautiful Maine lighthouse. My father said, “Hey. I pay for this class”. You get what you pay for and we have it no other way.

Fred has a beautiful watercolor on display in the faculty show at the workshop right now. It’s called “Moving On Out…” Why wasn’t he chosen for the upstate biennial that’s currently on display in the MAG? There is no good answer.

We finished a new sheet music cover today for Tony Stortini. This piece is called “Deep Feelings”. Jack Handy comes imediately to mind. How many design firms are still doing sheet music covers these days? Tony is on a creative roll. We already did art for “Hearts of Gold” which he wrote for his daughter and “Tippy Tap Joe” which was dedicatedf to his brother, Nunzio. Peggi stuck Nunzio’s head on tap dancer that she found online.

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My Kid Could Paint That

Michael Kimmelman at MAG in Rochester, NY 2005
Michael Kimmelman at MAG in Rochester, NY 2005

By coincidence we saw the Shawn Penn film, “Into The Wild” and Hans Petter Moland’s “Zero Kelvin” on back to back nights. Both films have young men ( a top student, an aspiring poet) heading into the wilderness (Alaska, Greenland) for adventure. I won’t spoil it but it is rough out there.

“Into the Wild” opened with with a graduation ceremony at Emory University in Atlanta. We will be there in seven weeks for our nephew’s graduation and the lead character in this movie reminded us of our nephew’s brother who is currently hanging out in Guatemala. Peggi read the book and pictured our nephew in the part and sure enough Emile Hirsch looks just like him. I know my nephews are listening to better music than the Eddie Vedder soundtrack from this film because they plug their laptops into our stereo when they’re here. I don’t get Eddie Vedder. I didn’t like Pearl Jam and that record they made backing Neil Young was a dog.

“Zero Kelvin” had the edge on “Into The Wild” because it had a much better soundtrack. Terje Rydal’s music was the perfect choice for this dark and beautiful adventure.

Last night, on Angel Corpus Christi’s recommendation, we watched something completely different, “My Kid Could Paint That”, about a really young girl from Binghamton who painted with encouragement from her parents. A creepy art gallery owner started selling the paintings for big bucks and the story got a lot of media attention. There was nothing extra special about the paintings. Art from most kids that age is special because they have not been taught or broken. It happens fast. One day they are extraordinarily expressive and the next day the sun is smiling.

Michael Kimmelman from the New York Times is interviewed throughout and offers insights into both sides of the old argument over whether or not modern art is a hoax. The creepy art gallery owner provides the meatiest art talk when he tries to make an absurd argument about the quality of the art being proportional to the time it takes to produce it. He makes his point by explaining how long it takes him to do his tedious exercises. They show him about three inches away from his painting with some sort of a magnifying class in one eye while he works on a huge painting by starting at the top and working his way down.

People buy what they like and sometimes they like the story more than the art.

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