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347- The Many Deaths of a Painting

2019-03-26 | 🔗

When Barnett Newman’s painting Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue III was placed in the Stedelijk museum it was meant to be provocative, but one reaction that it received was so intense, so violent, it set off a chain of events that shook the art world to its core.

The Many Deaths of a Painting

This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
This is ninety nine percent, invisible. I am roman Mars. Barbara Vizir was nine years old, the first time she saw she was school field trip to this deadlock, art museum in the Centre of Amsterdam. I guess it's about. Ninety six five one could say: it's the hay day of the museum, They were really at the forefront of modern and contemporary art the stable. It was to impress there was a huge stairway, leading up to the light in a way a bit biblical stairway not to Heaven, but almost to have him to the whole of honours The whole of honour is displayed some of the museums, finest paintings, but one in particular, dominated the room. The tour guide led bar and her class over and this painting it struck me like lightning and not now
positive way, which he saw was a massive canvas, nearly eighteen feet wide and eight feet tall on the left side, a small strip, a blue on the right side, a strip of yellow but the rest of the surface was painted entirely read this majestic fire truck red and it gain of annoyed me. I really I didn't know what to look at where two were stare, what to do with it the only thing that the guides shared with us was the title, and the title is a question whose afraid of red, yellow and blue and I got very angry. I read. Museum. I sat on the steps and was detained. And not to go in again, though,
the title of the painting Barbara saw that day is who is afraid of red yellow in Blue three by the american postwar artist. Aren't Newman producer. John Vasil brings us this tale from the galleries of Amsterdam usual. You walk into a museum, see a painting you think about it for a moment, maybe feel something and walk away. Not this one This was a painting that would produce such strong reactions and people that they did more than just think about it in the end? our broke out of easy shields? struggle with the painting her entire life and made a feature linked document every about it. It's called the The fear and inspired this story- and this story it is about a reaction the painting received that was so intense, so violent. It set off a chain of events that shook the art world to its core. It wasn't easy arts to say the least.
But first why this painting a problem o the soldier became very clear to me as well sure thing: Newman was a late bloomer, a substitute art teacher turn. Art critic turned artist, he didn't he his first solo show until he was almost forty five. He was this portly jewish guy. With a big friendly mustache. She wore a lot about ties and went by the nickname, Barney, and he quickly became the de facto spokesman for new art movement called out dragged Expressionism choreographer space create Dance of elements of abstract, except tourism came out of New York after World WAR to the movement priest, painters like Jackson, Pollock, Margo, I've, CO and Helen Frank in power, artists, known for big, came
full of wild colors shapes and splashes of paints. Like many abstract, expressionist artists Newman struggled with what to paint in the aftermath of the war. I thought the issue in those years Buzz What can we do? After all? What could you paint after? Holocaust Hiroshima for Newman answering this question required ignoring all of art, history and starting from scratch. You began making large paintings big. Even by abstract. Expressionist standards, often filling the entire wall of a gallery, size doesn't count. It scale. Pounds is human scale accounts. These paintings were physically big and they fell even bigger featured very few colors- usually one solid, Hugh, broken up by a few vertical stripes. But what do we
calm stripes. I didn't want to say to myself I'm dying to strangers, Newman preferred to call them I feel that my does not divide my painting, I feel it does. The exact opposite and united the thing it creates, I in ninety sixty seven Newman finished. What would prove to be one of his largest paintings, whose afresh I've read yellow in Blue three, it was the in a series title was a reference to whose afraid of Virginia Wolf a landmark play later a movie stirring- Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton about early shit, full of miscommunication be careful review to pieces accused or you are not a few happened. Thing gets and bitter your total total
since this big red painting with US lenders, if a blue on the left and slender zip of yellow on the right was Newman's way of saying this, is what a painting can do, but What was the painting doing exactly Barbara Visser says that when the State Elect Museum, acquired who's, afraid of red, yellow and blue three and one thousand nine hundred and sixty nine, a lot of I did not like it. Actually, let's go despise people despised it at the time people would rights really long, an elaborate letters to say how much they hated this painting, the painting evoked a common complaint about Abstract are, which is the very your hands up and say. Why is this art I paid to see our dammit, not red, paint on a canvas? Anybody can do that
as one woman who expressed that they really nauseated her and that really literally major shake. She felt its it better, be hung out of sight somewhere in the coach, co chick in nineteen. Eighty six, the painting was the centrepiece of an exhibit called the grand parade on the parity is perceived if this is the purpose of which was to raise exactly this question of what a painting is or isn't. My first thought from hot bent, and that's when the negative opinions of whose afraid of red, yellow a blue three were taken. To a whole new level at the time Barbara was an art school some How in the corridors of the school people whisper,
Did you hear it? Something happened that stated museum. You couldn't really verify it shuffle my on my way to the him for meeting Patrick Carter, an artist an educator walked into the state like that afternoon. Once ere. She headed to the gallery, where, whose afraid of red, yellow and blue three was hanging, and then I came upon the room, and there I saw this says bathing was just a start: an attendant stood in the corner to petrol. I to move, the painting had just been attacked and the man who did this set on them. That's all Oh brown, haired man, sitting quietly on the bench, had stab the painting with a box gutter Tracy. A series of long slashes to the very centre of the Canvas gut dollars vesicles long along said, horizontal. The canvas
had lost its tension and sagged turning cuts in the lopsided smiles and exposing the white Wall behind Petra took it all in. I saw that the blink And then I ran away, she went to find the museums, curator and ice screeched. The bathing is destroyed. Its murder. I remember I got a cold and I think it was in a weekend, and I was at home ice Brown Human is an art conservation expert in the Netherlands and even though he didn't Look at the state, a lick was called in that day, along with the police. The director there, and a lot of people were around. At least twenty people were around and there was a lot of tension, The painting was laid out in the middle of the gallery. They had it on the ground already face down
you see the slashes yet form the backside? Of course? Yes, the flashes, when added up together, measured nearly fifty feet, long Petra an ice brand. Didn't quite believe it that's all I rule. Member of the day it was so awful the attackers name was here. Young one bladder- and Why did he do it? I did ask him He was thirty one. Lloyd living with his parents. Any a painter himself, other not very successful. Barbara looked into his past I haven't seen his. Is let's go early work before he affected painting. But I know that his action was regarded by him ass. An artistic
gesture VON Bludward and came from a school of thought that valued things like landscapes and figures, he hated abstract art and saw the painting is a kind of cultural provocation and one of the main arguments, it is a lawyer made in his defence- was that the provocation that the work inevitably is called for an action and got one. Even as one bladder and was being sentenced to five months in prison he stood by actions as the defence of artistic values and me people in the Netherlands agreed they sent letters to the state like this, so called vandals he made the director of modern museums, red one. He did what hundreds of thousands of us would have liked to do. Read another. Do you think?
at this painting was designed to upset people. That's an interesting question. I think The provocation was not the first intention of the work, but I do think that a title like that because it's a question demands an answer. The painting, was meant to challenge you, although by all accounts, men who died and nineteen seventy would have been horrified by what happened while VON bladder and sat in prison, the canvas of whose afraid of red, yellow and blue three remain in tatters. Iceberg and other experts wondered if it could be restored there. She'll prognosis was grim all painting damage. Paintings can be treated, but you don't what the result will be, and in this case of course, I realise that this week,
be an enormous job or maybe enable job these things. Like anybody could do it. That's not. The case is not clear, one coups, even gharra from the Whitney Museum is one of the leading experts in the field of art conservation, determined Algae in America is conservation, not restoration. Ok, good dunno Carol has pioneered tech x for restoring work by modern and contemporary artists. She's worked on several paintings by Barnett. Newman I've been in this business a long time. Forty years golly, she says that there are set rules that conservators must follow when repairing a painting This is a cardinal rule of conservation. We make every effort, not use any material that cannot be removed or reversed in the future. For example, if conservators add PETE
canvas they want to make sure that paint can be dissolved and removed. Later they do this in case the artwork needs to be retouched again in the future conservators also try to preserve as much of the original material as possible, touching the areas that need treatment and they really daddy the artists and look at their past work. In order to get a sense of what the artists was trying to achieve with these rules in mind. The state, a lick, phoned up practically every conservator in Europe, as they tried to fix, how to repair who's, afraid of red, yellow Blue three and its fifty feet worth of slashes. They held conferences with the best people in the business and they couldn't really agree on what was done. The best way to do it. The This challenge, perhaps counter intuitively, was the very simplicity of the painting. The busy texture in detail about Picasso. Rembrandt often
helps mask the repair work, but new his canvas was mostly just one big swath of uniform color any sign of repair, however minor, would be sure to stand down. So most conservators were too scared to try. No Do want to turn their hands on it, as we say, but somewhat, finally came to the rescue Daniel goal drier was conservator based in New York who had worked with new men. While he was still alive, they approached him, then he called friar and asked whether he was fit to do it. He was very optimistic. He said he could mend its width. Ninety eight percent success. This The eight percent restoring I'm dead, call dryer goldwire promise that when he done, the slashes would be virtually invisible. The officials at the stately breathe a sigh of relief and in nine
Eighty seven, who is afraid of radio and Blue three was rolled up put in a narrow coffin like Box and CARE it solemnly down the steps of the museum. Then it was shipped off to go, prior studio in New York from but time on this day, Lick didn't hear much about it. Gold writer said this is not a small job, so please please let me leave me to do the job a year passed men to them through Eventually, the museum is like. What's up with our painting, he said we're doing fine we're doing fine. Now I will keep you posted another year, passed they asked again finally four and a half years later, goldwire. The painting, when the museum director again then beer and came neurons, Act. His work there no sign of the slashes. The day
mention had been erased afraid of red, yellow and blue. Three was headed back to Amsterdam. Shortly after its exhibited again, the press is invited, may be speaks of the return of lost some, they try to make it a very festive festive moment, but on that first day, back visitors the museum began to notice something to keep people from getting to you close the painting, the museum, had installed a low fence, one guy there a conservator who didn't work for the museum did the habit. He really wants to smell smell the work. You know not not just look at it from a distance. And he looked at it and he said now, seeing once I saw before This is this is something else. I sprang
Was there that day too immediately recognized it also? It was like a wall politics paint dull no tension. Yes, the slashes had been repaired and yes, the surface was still read, but before there had been depth to the red, a shimmering clotting that was all gone. How did you feel incredible, disappointed and well set very set. Very sad yeah did you feel like the painting have been ruined, gives yet ruined kiss. At first, the museum tried to deny it. The director was, like Are you talking about? It looks good as new, but everybody else was like dude come on. The City Council of Amsterdam, which, on the museum and technically own, the painting, sent it to us
from the lab to figure out what goldwire had done in the lab. They made cross sections of the layers of paint because usually a painting specially oil painting. It's it's not one layer, its many different layers like layers in the ground. You know like archaeologist, uses layers in the ground. You see all they paint layers and then a microscope they took. His tiny samples from the red part of the painting and compare them to earlier samples that ice brand and the others had pulled off the gallery floor. The day the painting was slashed, and then it was very very, very clear that there were four layers of paint on top of the original. Once in the four layers of new flat dull paint didn't just cover the areas that have been slashed goldwire. Painted over the entire red part of the canvas, so basically the whole painted
and goldwire hadn't use oil paint, which is what Newman had used. He'd used a type of acrylic paint known as Al Qaeda. What you use for House paint house paid this dries. This house paint and very hard in ten years of it becomes very hard and very impossible actually to take off. And that's not all there were also splattered of red paint on the blue and yellow zips at either side of the canvas which indicated that gold writer had used a paint roller Gold writer had rolled over The entire canvas of a twentieth, entry, masterpiece with House paint whose afraid of red hello and Blue three had been murdered. Again theories abound as what went wrong in that long. Island studio maybe go
prior bluffed his way into the job realize it was a nearly impossible task and panicked, not everyone felt he'd ruin the painting, Newman's widow, for instance, thought he did a good job, although she hadn't seen it in good lighting, publicly goldwire insisted he hadn't painted over the canvas. He said he had pin Indeed, the damaged area, with two million tiny dots. He said I did not by this painting that was really alive lie because we could prove it, even though they just proven all this. The state, a lick was an abyss. And because the museums director had signed off on the restoration gold writer sued for defamation and the museum settled: the whole affair com, over a million bucks, and to this day there stuck with the damage painting and they, you're really talk about the damage that was part of the settlement, but for
for us Carol, men, cozy girl from the Whitney can talk about it. Why look at a work of art is primarily a flat color. When you look at that work of art cold, you can, say what are you talking about issues, one flat color? You know anybody can do that. Just repainted, you know. What's that data that might have been what goldwire was thinking, the fact: Barnett Newman did sometimes use paint rollers in his work, but He didn't use a roller for this painting again, these things might look like anybody can make them but Newman's process was complex, he worked is The first is so well that you're never aware of brush strokes, you're. Never aware of a roller pattern. He worked of surface. So the only thing that you saw- and the only thing you remember- is the color in a way a gold writers, restoration of the painting. This second murder was even worse than what the slasher had done, because
he didn't even acknowledged the painting. If the four. And sick analysis is correct, then he just rolled over it like it was the site of a tool shed and then wide the slasher was at least responding to the painting. There was someone de there, which makes happen next so ironic and may be inevitable? Yeah in nineteen ninety seven eleven years after the slashing VON bladder in the slasher found out about the botched restoration of who afraid of red, yellow and blue. Three, apparently he, who believed that the painting had been robbed of its original power, even if he hated it, so he called the museum. He was
but through to the new director, a man named Rudy, Fuchs, Fuchs recorded the call the attacker tells folks that's what he did in nineteen eighty six. He would do that again too, restored painting of tonight. It should I cut it. Again the slasher asks. Obviously not fix replant ground, but it's been totally the slasher says. That's your opinion. Fuchs for a moment, it's quiet he's apparently thinking about about that Then he says: ok, ok, I know now what to do the greater and eighty books answers. Well, I
wouldn't do what you think you have to do and then the conversation ends after this phone call van bladder and returns to the museum he enters unrecognised, looks around four, who is afraid of red, yellow and blue three, but the day, it is not on display. At that moment, we came to the museum with very clear intentions and it must be hard for him not to find that work. So instead he goes and funds another painting by Border Newman, the large blue painting with a white zip down the middle called cathedral. That's another moment in my life I will never forget Rudy Food the museums director called Carol. Thank you soon, Goro right after it happened.
I was a phone call for merely Fuchs directors. Scared like that. It's a big deal, so I immediately went to my office to take the phone call and he told me that cathedral been slashed I swear the Heron my arms just stood up. I could not believe that had happened and it was the same person for the second time. Here are young VON bladder and at attacked a Barnett Newman painting with a knife when he was done. He threw a packet of pamphlets on the floor that contained rambling, incoherent, hitting the other sat aspect of it, was the slash marks where exactly the same, they were so similar to the earlier attack that it became is the artist signature. The flasher signature. At his second trial, Bladder was declared mentally unfit and sent to a psychiatric institution
one blood attacks may have been motivated by mental illness, but in the era of public art, part of a long, sad history of vandalism, because those guanaco was spray painted in the seventies acid and thrown at Rembrandt's too, Michelangelo sculptures have been attacked with hammers Newman's work in particular. Has vandalized, multiple times and bees weren't artistic gestures, Newman's, a jewish artist, who is afraid of radio and blue for the sequel to whose afraid of regular blue three was struck and spat upon in Germany, because The attackers said it bore a mocking resemblance to the german flag, a human. Culture at a museum in Houston was spray painted with swastikas in nineteen seventy, nine and just last year someone poured white paint into their acting poor surrounding the same sculpture and left behind white supremacist leaflets that are keeping track
that's for Barnett Newman works defaced a total of five times. Six, if you include Daniel GO dryers, botched restoration and those are just a once we know of the boy NET Newman Foundation, refused to speak to me for this story because- ever really legitimate fear of copycat vandalism. Sure I think that's right, and you know- maybe I shouldn't have agreed to talk to you. For that reason, I am concerned now. I hadn't thought about it myself Carol must meet a break for it. During our interview, I have to ask you a guest and yet how it fail. If, after reading this somebody went slashed, painting outfielder, However, I would add that would mean that will mean we failed. Because our paintings or so vulnerable it just now therein galleries
some here: Moma Museum of Modern ART in New York, Friday night really busy in here when I was at Moma recently, I saw this Barnett Newman Painting, titled, veer heroic. His sublime is The title of this painting translates to man heroic and sublime it was the size of a billboard. It looks a lot like who's, afraid of radio three red read this solid wall of red, color in his way color, but mostly red, Read this one solid wall of Red, the p Didn't provoke me can make me angry like it it's so many others in it looks simple either like something you can just role, over with a paint roller,
was towering impressive dance, get up close this thing you really last for a moment. I think I felt this feeling that I'd heard I sprang to talk about, something that Newman tried to achieve in his work. Tests do with the sublime sublime experience is when you are alone in the desert in the night, and you see this Do the enormous the sky and you feel very tiny. You feel overwhelmed by it, this a kind of feeling. Everybody knows, I think, really overwhelming. To be honest, a painting is more than just a painting it's more than the materials and the technique it's the feeling
the books and knew the viewer. When you damage or destroy a piece of art, That's what you lose! That's the crime! That's the real crime diminishing the paintings power. Yes, the experience of it after cathedral was attacked. Both eyes, bronze and Carol, advised on its restoration. And the museum spared no expense. The canvas was, together with surgical, sutures and orthodontic wire on especially built table for painstaking years later it was unveiled it's not per se, if you know where to look and look closely, you can see the scars, but the impression survives. The painting can still take your breath away. Cathedral is currently on display at the state Aleck, but not whose afraid of
yellow and blue three. It's a painting that that is very close to everyone's heart, at the museum and in Amsterdam. Yet We do all agreed now that it's not what it used to be Hunting is sitting in the storage facility at the edge of town, it's too big to fit into the normal play. He says that are reserved, so its stance by itself get kind of lonely against the wall. It waits there. Hoping for a day when feature conservators might be able to undo what was done to it to remove the layers of paint and get to the original experience the one the artist created, still sleeping underneath
John Brazil, talks to me more about the coolest job in the world. After this. We often don't think of winter is a time of growth or creation, but if you think about it, it's the perfect time create your own website. Cooped up your thinking about being productive and now square space can help you do it with squares, can take your cool idea.
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Better help offers licence councillors who specialise in issues including depression or anxiety, get help on your own time. Your own pace and at an affordable rate, money neighbours invisible listeners we'll get ten percent of their first month with discount code, invisible, that's better help, dot, com, slash invisible! Why not get help better help, dot com, slash invisible. While he was working on this story, our Rapporteur John Vasil, really You fell in love with art conservation. There was a point in every conversation that I had with the conservator while working on this story where I'd be like this is the cool job like there is no better job than this. In fact, you can hear one moments. In my interview with ice brand, you I think you have.
Indeed the best job in the world. Its like is a fantastic profession. I think you know daily I enjoy it. Why do you because so much? Why are you so enthralled? Well concern matters are sort of this? Hybrid of an artist or, they would probably say an artist assistant in one of those forensic scientists from CSI. So first you, you really have to think like an artist to try to preserve what, as Carol says, the artists was trying to achieve when there work and she actually spend a lot of her time interviewing living artists when she's restoring their work. She's built an archive of these interviews You can access online called the artist documentation programme and they're just audio recordings of her interviewing artists about their process. But in addition to getting inside the mind of the artist you off after no chemistry and all this hard science stuff about the composition materials that artists use in there somewhere.
They far out technology that that they employ in their able to work miracles. In what kind of technology are we talking about? Let's start with imaging techniques like photography, they have technology that allows them to see below the surface of the painting. Like the layers underneath the painting that I sprang talked about in the story, infrared reflect Toggery, I'm not gonna get to technical on you. They also bring paintings to hospitals to have them. Trade and that's the only way. This field overlaps with medicine, actually that conservators, who stitched cathedral together Netherlands. They were actually trained at the hospital to do that. They talk to another conservator who had been a pre med student before going into this field. So, that they are able to see below the surface of the painting, using special types of photography and unjust, Plano X rays. There also, to determine what elements are in the painting,
like in the in the paint layers. So they have this thing. It's like it's sort of, looks like a grocery store scanner and they can scan all over the painting and it'll identify the elements like you know here, zinc hears cobalt. They can be sickly map the the surface of the painting down, to the Adam in terms of of the elements that are there and there also able to see to how the painting will fade over time? Have these tools that can measure and artworks sensitivity to light and project how it will fade. So they can not only see under the surface of the painting in really inside the painting. They can also see into the future of that painting yeah, that's so cool! How do you use that information when you're trying to conserve painting so can determine how much light can be exposed to like, for instance, if,
have a painting that is especially light sensitive, you wanna know not to place it like, maybe in like the bright lights of a main hall or maybe design special lighting, so that it doesn't fade. The painting faster, oh so, they're like trying to save a painting before it needs to be saved through these types of method, right trying to save a painting before it needs to be saved in the case of this story, word gold, rare applied a bunch of this red paint in efforts to fix the painting, Butch alone. Oh to how would you go about removing paint from a painting without removing all the paid from if you really wanted to to put it back to where originally was so very care fully than theirs. Different ways they remove stuff. From the surface of of of artworks, it's spent that's been added there that they dont want like they use emotions and gels that dissolve
cereal added to the surface of the artwork, but these are gels there. Like kind of vis, guess you know it's not so liquid it doesn't run in there able to keep that really contained. They also use this stuff. I don't think he's been used a lot, but it is probably the coolest thing I've heard about. While, while researching the story, they use atomic oxen, What I about to say doesn't make sense, but its literally oxygen from space. It's it's an elemental form of oxygen that does not exist in the earth's atmosphere. It only find it and low earth orbit. This technology is actually device by NASA, because atomic oxygen is like they were studying com. Ocean on satellites in the international space station and baby, Clean either use like an air brush and like have very close the painting or they put the piece of art in a vacuum chamber pump in this stuff. It's really good for removing such from fire damaged paintings, and you can actually see
some photos online of painting, save restored that had been in fires and It's pretty mine blowing actually like the before and after it. Like you have a picture of a blackened. In painting and on the other. You ve got a completely like restored work, the Atomic OX it was always used most famously to restore this painting by Andy or called bathtub, which is just a painting of a bathtub and Somebody at a party at the museum had had kissed it, so there was a lipstick mark on it. They able to remove it using atomic oxygen, and all these case As you know, conservatives have basically given up hope on those paintings there are like these are never gonna be restored, so all this new technology is it possible they could go back to you're really restore who afraid of red, yellow and blue number three. The way that
It would be a really wanted to be restored yet so the answer is maybe, Yet near the end of my reporting, I talked to journalists in the Netherlands who had written a book on the state of the case. It was in Limerick, is a great resource and a couple years. Oh, he was able to get the full results from the forensic lab analysis of whose a regular and blue three, the one that had determine That goal drier had over painted it. So he was able to get the full thing released. And what the report showed according to him, was that Old right had used several layers of varnish, which is like this clear can like a resident who's that he used several heirs of varnish before painting over the canvas a theoretically, because he did that the layers of paint above the varnish could be removed.
So it is possible yeah, maybe not right now, but it is possible. I talk to Caroline Coos younger from the Whitney about this and she kind of agreed. I dont know I dont know I do know that I've seen my profession grow and our ability to do things at one time. We couldn't do, I believe, that there may be procedures that we can do in the future. That might be able to reverse this so one day, maybe an end mean. I really hope this data, like is doing everything they can to see whether the painting can be restored because it be great to have it back absolutely who cool? you somewhere. So thank you ninety nine percent. Invisible was produced this week by John for Seal and edited by Jo Rosenberg mix intact, production by reviews of music.
By Sharia. Katy mingle is our senior editor course. Tat is the digital director. There s a team include senior editor Delaney Hall, a breach of men. Its Gerald, Terran, Massa, Vivian, Lee Soapy, Eclat, Skirt and me roman Mars. Additional reporting for this waste from voters Yelena Motor is an audio producer in the Netherlands who also out of our cities, when a hard time picturing, those Barnett Newman paintings or we got you covered, Is also deserves a memory constant hotel, Jaeger, John Wakefield and MATS Copeck. We are many one point: seven K, L W in San Francisco in produced on radio row and beautiful downtown Oakland California,. Ninety nine percent, invisible is a member of Radio Toby from PR acts are fiercely independent, collective of the most innovative shows in all a pod casting find them all and Radio Tokyo Fm
you can find the show into discussions about the zone, Facebook. You can treated me at Roman Mars and the show at ninety nine API Org run Instagram Tumblr and read it to, but for some reason, you're having a hard time, picturing those Barnett Newman paintings, or we got two covered at nine- a m p I dot org Radio, too,.
Transcript generated on 2020-02-14.