When Ludwig Met Chelsea: Austrian Economics Hits Manhattan's Art Scene. (Culture and Reviews)

By Doherty, Brian | Reason, January 2003 | Go to article overview
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When Ludwig Met Chelsea: Austrian Economics Hits Manhattan's Art Scene. (Culture and Reviews)


Doherty, Brian, Reason


A HALF-CENTURY AGO, one of the leading lights of the increasingly influential "Austrian school" of economics, Ludwig von Mises, found it impossible to nab a tenure-track gig at a respectable American college or university. In an age when mathematics and macro variables were overtaking the discipline, Mises saw economics as a logical and deductive science based on individual human choice. Worse, Mises was a champion of radical laissez faire at the high-water mark for Keynesian planning.

As Mises' student Richard Cornuelle, author of an influential book on volunteerism, Reclaiming the American Dream, once told me, "It's hard at this distance to realize, but it was more than contempt [that intellectuals] felt for Mises....They thought he was pushing a vicious, inhuman position that appealed to capitalists but didn't deserve any encouragement. It was an outcast position."

If being embraced by the academy was unthinkable, who could have ever imagined that the Manhattan art scene would someday cozy up to the author of Human Action and Socialism? Yet in September the Chelsea gallery D'Amelio Terras staged "Drawings for the Austrian School," a solo show by up-and-coming artist John Morris that won praise from The New York Times. "Though the drawings look fragile," the reviewer wrote, "they seem to be wired into one another in a way that lends cumulative strength. Altogether, they generate a lot of juice."

Morris' drawings are made with wax crayon, acrylic, ink, graphite, and watercolor. They are, as the Times put it, "intricately layered sheets in which dots, spots, traceries, patterns, webs, grids, and other markings of utmost delicacy are made...some tightly controlled, some robotically repetitive in their imagery, they evoke manmade and natural phenomena...electronic circuitry, virus colonies, active spermatozoa, musical notation." They include "A Drawing for F.A. Hayek #I" and "A Drawing for Ludwig von Mises #I" (see right).

The 38-year-old Morris had his first professional solo show in 1998. His interest in the world of business and economics arises, he tells me, from his interest in making and saving money.

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