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Perhaps as you are reading this, Filip Noterdaeme is sitting at his table in Brooklyn, gazing over a dish of perfectly cooked asparagus, into the eyes of his lover and artistic co-conspirator Daniel J. Isengart. No matter what else may be happening, they are having a wonderful meal. Daniel is a wonderful cook and a wonderful singer. Filip is a wonderful artist and a wonderful eater, and no matter what else might be wrong, they are never going to have a bad meal or ever not be in love. This is what makes Filip Noterdaeme and Daniel J. Isengart different from you and me.

In the early years of the 20th century, there was another household, in Paris, where food and art, too, were very important. This was the home of Gertrude Stein and her lover and artistic co-conspirator Alice B. Toklas. They were very serious about art, very serious about ideas, and they were very, very serious about food. No matter what else was going on, they would always have wonderful meals, even when they were poor during the war, and no matter what, they would always be in love.

The Autobiography of
Daniel J. Isengart

by Filip Noterdaeme
351 pages
$16.00 paperback ISBN 9781937402488
$9.99 ebook ISBN 9781937402518

In 1933, Stein was very obscure in the greater world but a huge presence among the Paris avant-garde. She wrote The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas as an account of their life there between the two World Wars. Written by Stein from Toklas's point of view, Stein could go into great detail about her own work under the guise of someone who knew, loved and understood her work. She wrote this book to make money, and it was her only commercially successful book. It made her famous in the real world. It worked.

The Autobiography of Daniel J. Isengart is a story of what life was like in NYC in the 1990's and 2000's for kids who came to NY, wanting to be artists. It is not a queer Just Kids although you could read it like that and some people will because that is the world we live in now, mediated always by something that is either derived from or based on something we have seen before. So let's say that in a way The Autobiography of Daniel J. Isengart is like Patti Smith's book, that is, if you are queer, European, a dandy, educationally and socially privileged, obsessed with art and the history of art, long to find your place in that lineage and only eat delicious, well-prepared food even when you are poor and just scraping by.

Filip Noterdaeme and Daniel J. Isengart came to New York respectively at the end of the 1980's and beginning of the 1990's, a bleak time for artists who were seekers, but of course they did not know that. They were romantics and fierce about art. They were willing to gamble everything on their artistic development at a time when the idea of artistic development still existed - pre-internet, pre-art school stars, pre-American Idol, in the midst of the AIDS epidemic, before people believed that the AIDS epidemic was over or that it was just an illness you needed a prescription for. The word queer was still lower case and not yet co-opted as a marketing and lifestyle strategy. Filip and Daniel were privileged in many ways and poor in most of the ways that counted at the end of the 20th century, meaning they had to work to pay their rent yet were still focused on securing their place in the history of art. Just a few short years before their arrival in New York, seven out of ten in the downtown art scene had died or were dying of AIDS or just dying, and those who hadn't died were very sad, very angry and very traumatized. If they had arrived a decade earlier, they would have met Jack Smith and Jackie Curtis and Margot Howard-Howard and Peter Hujar and Paul Thek and Keith Haring and Robert Mapplethorpe and Brian Damage and John Sex and Hannah Wilke and Cookie Mueller, and, well, the list of those who died just goes on and on. Instead, they arrived at the same time as a new generation of perfectly nice middleclass kids who wanted to be dark, edgy and dangerous artists. It was the beginning of expectation, the beginning of the professionalization of the arts, which deeply affected the artistic community.

Originally, at least in my lifetime, artistic community was a place where you got together to talk about art and life, about making art and living life, and talk about the ideas around art and life. What replaced it is a simulacrum of artistic community where people talk about how to get grants and where to get grants. Once, at a dinner party at my house, a couple of years ago, Filip Noterdaeme met my neighbor, the octegenarian painter KC Rowling, who had just lost his lover of 60 years, the painter and sculptor Malcolm Anderson. Filip was very moved listening to KC's story of love and loss, of a world before gay identity, a world where artists stopped showing their work publicly because of their artistic integrity, a world where young artists worked as night guards at The Metropolitan Museum in order to draw from the masters, a world where very young artists became very old artists. It inspired him to write his own story.

What you are about to read here is much more than a personal history. It is a courageous critique of the politics of art, something that Filip Noterdaeme has committed himself to ever since he hit Manhattan at age 22. By naming names and saying what he thinks, he exposes an art world where not only the Emperor is not wearing any clothes but neither is anyone in his court. It is a funny, lovely, delicate and sturdy little book that captures an ephemeral, tragic and undiscovered history just before the world changed forever. I was the first person to read it and I was very amused and very excited by the fact that Filip Noterdaeme, like Stein, could write in great detail about the ideas behind his work.

Filip Noterdaeme is a conceptualist. You know he is a good conceptualist because he was thrown out of his Master of Fine Arts program at City University of New York because of an idea. No one has ever gotten thrown out of art school for being mediocre. Filip got thrown out of art school because he was exhibiting the same brilliant, sly articulation that makes him a powerful artist today, and a threat to the art establishment.

The book is also about Filip Noterdaeme's antidote to the self-serving cesspool of the contemporary art world: individuality, integrity and respect. Real, deep-down respect for everyone he comes in contact with during those long days he spends at the desk of his Homeless Museum of Art. Here, the museum director is always in, always ready to listen and speak to the public. Always ready to embrace the space between art and life. His is a metaphysical act, and his public critique of the corrupt and phony art world is eloquent, lucid, witty and to be reckoned with. He speaks truth to power, like the prince who exchanged his royal robes for a pauper's rags, and that takes real guts. There will always be artists who live for the high bitter romance of Art. They are seekers, and they have lived in all eras. They are romantic and visionary, uncompromising and brave. Filip Noterdaeme has seized the bull of his personal history by the horns, pulled his lover Daniel J. Isengart up behind him and they are riding away into the sunset. No doubt they will soon have a delicious meal.

Meanwhile, I am wondering who will play me in the movie. You see, I am very 20th Century.

- Penny Arcade
London, December 7, 2012

The Autobiography of Daniel J. Isengart
by Filip Noterdaeme
351 pages
$16.00 paperback ISBN 9781937402488
$9.99 ebook ISBN 9781937402518

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