Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Artist of the Week 05/31/05

My most vivid memory of an installation by Rina Banerjee was the one I helped her install at the ARCO art fair in Madrid a few years back. In a sense, like seeing behind the scenes at a movie, this very practical experience removed some of the magic from the final product (all her found objects were revealed for the mundane things they really are). Still, nothing at the "Greater New York" exhibition at PS1-MoMA caught me by surprise or delighted me as much as Rina's new piece there. I could only find a very small image of it online, but you really have to see it in person anyway.

Born in Calcutta, raised in Britain, and educated at Yale, Rina now lives in Brooklyn with her husband and daughter and is represented in New York by Suite 106 gallery. The colors, shapes, textures, and political complications of her previous and current homes combine in her installations, drawings, and video works. Rina's work is difficult for me, I must admit. It takes time to look at her work, and even then you're never quite sure there's not criticism of you in it (but usually there is). Take for example this pink Taj Mahal installation. It's wonderous and colorful and certainly well made enough. It's titled Take Me, Take Me, Take Me . . . To the Palace of Love (lifted from a kitschy Hindi movie of the mid-fifties) and according the website of Mass MoCA (where it was exhibited), it "addresses both the absurdity and charm of the western infatuation with this cultural landmark as a romantic fantasy." In other words, Rina's work deals head on with the way "exoticized elements of a colonized culture often become fashionable in the culture of the colonizer." And in case it's still not obvious, on one level at least, to her that's an insult.

I find work like this difficult because I'm not sure where I'm supposed to position myself in relation to it. As someone of Anglo-Saxon descent, my ancestors are certainly among the fools who decorated their homes with the cutesified paisley shawls, Indian furniture, and other decorative items meant to domesticate the exotic far-off lands and make them less threatening. Am I supposed to apologize for this past when faced with Rina's work? Am I supposed to attone? Consider this other piece from her Mass MoCA exhibition:

Notice the hierachy of objects on the back wall: A dollhouse, then a bird cage, then a pair of plastic lotus lights, then a group of portraits, followed up by a pair of baby buggies topped with pink onion domes, and finally above everything else Gilbert Stuart's portrait of George Washington (a copy). Rina supplemented this installation with the following text:

The world of possessions requires the world of make-believe; the domestication of empire is rehearsed through ceaseless ordering and reordering of its proxies. The altar shrinks global objects to a miniaturized, portable dimension. This endearing shift in scale piques our sense of wonder and channels our desire to control, inviting playful wandering. The world out there is brought back to the world inside; the dollhouse souvenir invokes its translocation.
On a purely logical level, I think Rina mixes here criticism of British colonialism with a critique of America's imperialist attitude, if not outright conquests. Perhaps for her, colonialism is colonialism and if you're not with those opposed to it, you're against them (I'll ask her next time I see her). I do admire her way of putting it all out there though. Life, with all its messiness and little miracles, is celebrated in everything she makes, even when she's criticizing. Consider this next piece, titled With tinsel and teeth, gem and germ ...get back, get back, get back to where you once belonged:

You want to like this exotic creation with its absurd feathers and shiny globes, but the clawed table legs and fallen plastic (perhaps pricked globes) at the base stand as a warning to get back...this thing can hurt you.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Miguel Angel Rios's "A Morir (‘til Death)"

Ask me what art I've recently seen that has truly impressed me and often times I'll struggle. I see so much that often I forget I had seen something until someone reminds me, and then I'll be like "Oh yeah, that was great!"

Thanks to Tyler Green, I just had that experience again. In a post about what he saw during a recent trip to the Hirshhorn, Tyler informed us that they've recently purchased a piece I first saw at the Reina Sofia in Madrid: Miguel Angel Rios's gorgeous and highly compelling three-channel video installation, "A Morir (‘til Death)" (the awful installation shot on the Hirshhorn's site doesn't do the piece justice...see this page for a better sense of the imagery). This is the best description of the piece I've found in English:

[A] three-channel video installation shot in Tepoztlan, Mexico; the work focuses on a popular street game called "trompos" that involves spinning tops. Viewed from multiple perspectives, the video begins with one spinning top and culminates in a cacophonous profusion of numerous tops in a single game that includes thirty of the most skilled players in town, aged 14 to 50. Through the documentation of this simple scenario, dynamics of competition, invasion and territorialism are signaled both visually and aurally. The lyrical movement of the tops is accompanied by their intense, sycopating sound. Confined within a white grid painted on asphalt, the masses speak to both space and subjectivity. The relative violence is complicated by the game’s high formality and beauty. A Morir (’til Death) negotiates both politics and poetics in abstracting narrative about urban sprawl, congestion, and war.
Nearly everyone who saw the installation in Madrid remarked that it reminded them (and I agree) of Shirin Neshat's 3-channel video installation at the last Documenta (the buzzing tops looking like nothing so much as Neshat's group of women in burkas on the beach perhaps). I rarely say this, but if you're in DC, do NOT miss the Rios piece.

Dirty Old Town

It's been said that a young person from a small town will fall hopelessly in love with the first big city they live in. For me, that city was London. I fell so madly in love with London that I ended up extending a 3-month work visa to a 6-month work visa to a 3-year somewhat unauthorized stay. Even today, when I return (as often as I can), my good friends there will greet me with "Welcome Home." London is my favorite city on earth. It's not as exquisite as Paris or as frantically optimistic as New York or as magical as Florence or as romantic as Istanbul, and although I know the Pogues version of Dirty Old Town is supposed to be about Dublin, in my mind it's always been about London, yet, at some point during each visit to London, usually when I have a moment to myself, I'll realize that I'm as content and at peace with the world as I'll ever be. London flat out makes me happy.

And so I was somewhat taken aback when I read this paragraph in Holland Cotter's review (titled "That Exotic, Deceptive London Smog") of the Brooklyn Museum exhibition, "Monet's London: Artists' Reflections on the Thames, 1859-1914," in
The New York Times this morning:

Monet made the world look wildly, paradisically pretty at a time when it was anything but. He turned the eradicating grind and dishevelment of the industrial era into a lyrical music, bathing smokestacks and haystacks alike in a symphonic gauze of color and light. By painting an anti-Romantic reality in a Romantic way, he let his middle-class audience, the new art audience, have its illusions, and we continue to reward him with our loyal attention.
Of course London in Monet's day was much dirtier than London in my day (although I still swear I blew a good kilo of Northern Line soot out of my nose daily and could not keep my fingernails clean even when working in an office while living there), but I think Mr. Cotter overstates his case significantly. London was not pretty when I lived there either. But it was beautiful.

But I should back up. The small town I grew up in is part of what's called the Rust Belt, a string of communities in the North Eastern US that once thrived but that have fallen on hard economic times because many of the steel mills and automotive plants there closed. Chained factory doors, crumbling smokestacks, railroad lines overgrown with weeds, boarded-up shop windows with layers of sun-baked torn posters...these were the hallmarks of the landscapes there (still are for the most part). And so the art students in the region developed a sophisticated appreciation for the aesthetic of decay. I still marvel at the palette of a rusting bridge beam or an evening sky turned blood red by the release at the remaining local mill. There is beauty in the jumbled rhythm of brick buildings and falling pipes and chimneys for me. Layers of torn and faded posters are as compelling as any Richter.

London was gritty, sure, but for me lyrically so. It was a symphony of brick and stone and soot and damp cold woolen coats and wet littered sidewalks jaggedly reflecting lights from the kebab shop windows or passing bus. I don't think Monet was necessarily trying to decieve anyone. I believe he may have seen the same London I see and loved it too.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Kostabi's World

I love Mark Kostabi's advice column on artnet.com (there's a new one up there now). When I first started reading it, I couldn't believe anyone would be so blunt (while so funny) about the art market. I don't always agree with his critique of galleries (surprise, surprise), but I totally respect how he blends an artist-centric POV with tough love in his advice. Here's a sample (which may or may not be from the same "l.a. artist" who occassionally comments here):

Dear Mark,
I went to an artist's studio yesterday and he invited me to be in a show with him (he's looking to find a museum to show our work together). His work is substantially different from mine but has similar themes. He's a naïve artist in many respects but his work is selling like hotcakes, and while many in the art community disdain him, I think his work is appealing. Is there a downside to showing with an artist who's getting buzz but is taking critical flok from inside the industry?
L.A. Artist

Dear L.A. Artist,
What you see is where you see it. Perception is reality. You are judged by who you're with. That said, in the long run you will benefit much more if you endure the temporary snubs and jabs and stand up for who you believe in. If you sincerely like his work and if he's a nice person who would also stand up for you, then start your own scene. There's nothing like a point of view. Confidence and decisiveness will conquer wishy-washiness.

Kostabi is certainly confident in his column, which I had originally imagined would translate into arrogance in real life, but having met him a few times now, I can report he's actually just as generous with his time and interest in other people as he is with his advice for artists. He totally charmed Bambino, who, being quite the charmer himself, was rather impressed. There's plenty of criticism for his business model and even his work in the art world (and he addresses it head on in his column, so this isn't news to him), but because he's so forthright, so pro-artist, and so damned funny, I'm always thrilled to visit his world. If artnet could only get him to write more often....

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Calling all Art Advisors

NADA had another of its workshops last night (see this discussion on Oliver Kamm's blog about the last one). This time the guests were art advisors Stefano Basilico (Senior Advisor, Thea Westreich Art Advisory Services) and Ellen Kern (President, Ellen Kern Fine Art). Again, the conversation was refreshingly frank and extremely helpful. And, again, because names were named, I won't go into specifics, but I did want to put out a general question about art advisors based on the conversation.

Basilico and Kern both noted that they are paid by their clients. That is, they do not take a commission from the gallery's sale of artwork. From my point of view, this is brilliant. Not only for the obvious reason that I'll make more money out of a sale, but because it means I could work with these advisors more openly and without hesitation. As was discussed at some length last night, however, there are plenty of advisors who do take a percentage from a gallery's sale and what that percentage is varies greatly.

So my question: are there any art advisors who feel strongly that if they can't charge their clients for a sale because their business is not set up that way, that there is/should be a standard percentage that all art advisors agree to? And if so, what should it be (and if your answer is "it should vary," well, it already does, so that's not helpful). The young dealers last night expressed that a standard would help clear the air and avoid the awkwardness of such negotiations (which, in a nutshell, means often we feel we're being taken advantage of and that's bad for both us and the art advisors). By being able to point to the fact that all your fellow art advisors (or at least the ones you respect) charge the same commission, you'll actually increase the trust the dealers have in you and accelerate your relationship with them that much faster.

I've looked online for an Art Advisors Association, hoping that there were standards, but I can't find anything. Again, a simple verifiable standard would go quite some distance toward increasing trust almost immediately, so I think it's in the art advisors' best interest.

So what about it...anyone want to choose a percentage and defend it?

Monday, May 23, 2005

Artist of the Week 05/23/05

Eung-Ho Park is one of those artists whose work implants itself into your subconsciousness and quietly remains there. Years later, quite surprisingly, you'll realize that you will never forget it. It seems simple enough at first, slightly altered everyday objects arranged en masse in installations that read like humorous visual puns. But being a dedicated student of the human condition and born anthropologist, Eung-Ho instinctively taps into something deeper, perhaps even threatening, with each of his choices of materials (most often referencing a human body part). The piece here at the top is Sperm Spoons, 1999 - 2004, metal spoons, epoxy resin, 17’x22’x2’’ (wish I knew how to put captions under images aligned to the right).

Consider this large wall sculpture made of painted bottle caps

Eung-Ho Park, I am Looking at You, 2004; bottle caps, epoxy resin, Acrylic, (installation view at Queens International), dimensions variable

Here's a detail:

At a studio visit about a year ago, Eung-Ho told me when he first moved to New York, that's all he would see in crowds of people...all their eyes, staring back at him, sizing him up, perhaps judging him. Whereas I consider a sea of eyes a fascinating image, to Eung-Ho it was also threatening. I don't have that same reaction, though, and I pressed him on this. He politely tried to explain to me that as an Asian he feels a degree of racial discrimination I might not feel as a white man of European descent.

Another piece by Eung-Ho I'll never forget, I realize now, is this installation he had at Exit Art (although there's nothing I can find about that exhibition on their site now, the site is fun). The threat here is the weight of the piece (its ability to crush anyone foolish enough to enter it), again, perhaps, a metaphor for crowds:

Eung Ho Park, Bowling Ball Curtain, 1999, 168" x 60" x 48", bowling balls, chain

This piece won Eung-Ho a commission with Percent for Art in NYC, for which he did a somewhat
less threatening version for a school.

Suspended from the ceiling of P.S. 270, Eung-Ho Park’s Bowling Ball Curtain is composed of fourteen hanging chains of nine balls each. Park’s curtain stretches a full sixteen feet to encircle the 12’ x 8’ elliptical oculus that reaches through the lobby’s open railing. The balls are all uniformly sized but range in hue creating a dazzling multicolored scrim. By transforming the balls into a work of art, Park articulates the awesome possibilities of transformation in nature. The sculpture is a playful spectacle for children who are enticed by it’s deceiving airiness and unsettling heaviness; it is a catalyst for introspection as well, providing the young students with an early introduction to science and art.
And finally, consider this wall installation of clay heads titled 7 Train and Beyond. Like many of Eung-Ho's pieces (sorry I couldn't find a bigger image), the dimensions are variable (he had what looks like thousands of these in his studio).

I'll let his
own words stand as the explanation for this one:

"The human body and its disparate parts are the basis for my art. Facial distinctiveness is the focus of the piece, 7 Train and Beyond, emphasizing the intricacy of ethnic and racial relations. The 7 train, the so-called Orient Express, travels through a large Asian neighborhood in Queens. I am a passenger and also a witness of this human colony. I caricature myself in clay. I caricature them in clay. And make fun of myself."

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Scared into Caring

I haven't had strong feelings one way or the other about the proposed Freedom Tower for ground zero. I looked at the plans, and they seemed adequate. Newish enough to seem futuristic, but guaranteed to age badly, like most other buildings in my beloved city (let's face it, architecturally and city planning-wise, Paris, we ain't).

Personally, I always thought this was the best response to the terrorists' attack. But, in general, I think whatever they decide won't please everyone, so there's little use in getting all worked about this or that design (with all due respect to the people who do feel strongly that it should be a memorial first and something else afterward).

And even when it looked like they were headed back to the drawing boards, I thought, languidly, "Whatever they end up with will be just fine, I'm sure." My disinterest didn't last though.

Enter, The Donald:
Donald J. Trump, reality television star, fragrance entrepreneur and developer of tall buildings, revealed his answer to the problems at the World Trade Center site yesterday. That answer, perhaps unsurprising, was himself.

Donald J. Trump and his structural engineer, Kenneth Gardner, at a news conference Wednesday at Trump Tower in Midtown Manhattan.

In a news conference at Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue, Mr. Trump stood before a large model of his vision for a new World Trade Center, which included towers similar to the Twin Towers, and said that he would press government officials and private developers to rebuild more structurally sound versions of the fallen towers instead of the Freedom Tower, which has been sent back to the drawing board for a new design because of security concerns raised by the Police Department.

Mr. Trump's model was designed by his structural engineer, Kenneth Gardner, who quoted poetry at the news conference, apologized to his mother and thanked many people who "made this day possible."
Forget the made-for-bad-reality-TV press conference, if there's one thing Trump is a total success at, it's erecting butt-ugly buildings. Exhibit A:

Exhibit B:

And the eyesore of Atlantic City (which is really saying something), Exhibit C:

Fortunately, no one is taking the oddly coifed one seriously, but it did help me see that taking interest in the development plans is a civic obligation.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Get it off your chest: open thread

What do you dislike most about galleries? Be honest.

Unless you've actually been to my gallery, I won't take it personally. Even if you have...I'm curious in an anthropological sort of way.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Bambino's Juicy Gossip Column, No. 1

Note from Edward_: My boyfriend/partner/husband (one day)...I call him "Bambino"...knew very little about contemporary art when we met (nearly 4 years ago now), but he's always been incredibly supportive and the truth is, I couldn't do half of what I'm doing without him. English is his 4th and newest language, but he's wonderfully fluent in flirting in any language and continues to amaze me and my friends (who've been networking in the art world for years) with how easily he'll meet someone and start up a friendship. Literally, if there's a famous curator or collector or whomever at a party that I want to meet, I just point that person out and within 10 minutes Bambino has totally charmed that person and is introducing me. Often, after we leave a party, I have to tell him how famous his new fan is in art circles, but he rarely cares. He judges people based on the social currency most valuable to him: how juicy their gossip is.

So I've invited Bambino to share his networking secrets and juiciest stories in a series we'll call "Bambino's Juicy Gossip Column." If you're in the art world (or any scene where contacts are important) and want to brush up on your networking skills, I highly recommend taking note.


"Dancing around the Art Crowd"

Here are my thoughts about being surrounded by the talented, young, old, famous, unfamous, rich crowd in the NY art world. Based on my personal experience I think if you are a person who loves and appreciates art, likes to be seen in art world, enjoys conversation and some gossip, it's easy to join that crowd and earn a lot of new friends and make a new circle of friends if you would have enough time for everyone.

But there are a lot of things you have to go to and attend. It doesn't come to you.

As a non art person (I am not a big collector yet, I am not an artist,
and I am not an art dealer), I really do enjoy going to art openings, meeting new people, checking out who is there, what they wear, how they look and more importantly introducing people to each other. It's really easy for me to introduce them to each other, as I can be generous to any person with compliments and am a totally non shy person. It's a piece of cake.

Here is how I met my latest famous artist whom I had no idea who it was until we left the opening. Another artist introduced us to a woman who said she's the wife of an artist. I really enjoyed this "wife's" company...such a lovely lady. (I think I have found another source for fresh gossip, if I'll see her again.) After having a few drinks and gossiping, her husband came up. Edward later told me he was the world-famous painter Philip Pearlstein. Anyway, my point is that we didn't have to do anything to meet her husband, she introduced us to him. They were just nice people to me.

My point is, don't be shy, be happy, give away compliments, smile and you'll see it's easy to meet new people. As the famous Russian children song says, "Friendships start with smile."

Dilin kemigi yoktur
("The tongue has no bones")

I Remember You Well in the Chelsea Hotel

I've always romanticized the Chelsea Hotel (it's actually named "The Hotel Chelsea," but who calls it that?). From the list of artists who've stayed or lived there (Mark Twain, Dylan Thomas, William S. Burroughs, Joni Mitchell, Janis Joplin, Dee Dee Ramone, infamously Sid Vicious, and---a hero of mine---Brendan Behan, to name but a few), to the sadly soulful lyrics of the Leonard Cohen song Chelsea Hotel No. 2:

I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel
you were famous, your heart was a legend.
You told me again you preferred handsome men
but for me you would make an exception.
And clenching your fist for the ones like us
who are oppressed by the figures of beauty,
you fixed yourself, you said, "Well never mind,
we are ugly but we have the music."

this 23rd Street landmark has captured my imagination and stood as a symbol of what attracted me most to New York City: bohemia. Built in 1884, by George M. Smith and designed by architects Hubert, Pirsson & Co, it reportedly stood as the tallest building in New York until 1902. Like few other locations in the world, if its walls could talk...I'd eagerly listen.

The New York Times Home section has a lovely story today about a family living there and why:

The hotel, on West 23rd Street, may be a good place to meet artists and eccentrics, but it is hardly viewed as a family setting. Yet Sally Singer, the fashion news editor at Vogue magazine, and her husband, Joseph O'Neill, an Irish novelist and lawyer, are raising their three sons in an eighth-floor suite that deftly mixes glamour and domesticity.

[...]For the O'Neill boys, ages 2 to 5, the hotel is a funky version of Eloise's Plaza. They race their tricycles down the hallway past cross-dressers and aging rockers. As their father said, to them Halloween is almost indistinguishable from any other day.

When Ms. Singer, 40, was growing up in Oakland, Calif., in the 1970's, she pored over Vogue and Interview magazines, dreaming about dancing at Andy Warhol's Factory and meeting Truman Capote. "I was so annoyed that my parents weren't invited to the Black and White Ball," she said, referring to Capote's famous party at the Plaza Hotel. "So this is where I should live, the Chelsea hotel," she said.

[...]Ms. Singer said she considers the hotel "a small village" of neighborly acquaintances and a gathering place for the couple's friends.

Ms. Singer cooks frequently - she made a Christmas feast last year for 20 - or they order in from El Quijote, the Spanish restaurant on the ground floor.

"Some people leave because of the mice, some people leave because of the roaches, and some people leave because of the people in the elevator," Mr. O'Neill said.

But he and his family plan to stay.

I envy the O'Neill chilren in one respect. Like Ms. Singer, I had longed for that sort of access to artists and writers when I was a child. I consider it an incredible gift to raise your children in the city, giving them a leg up in exposure to and appreciation of the arts and progressive ideas. I know that concept horrifies many parents, but we're not all cut out for the white picket fences and manicured lawns of suburbia. Some of us thrive in the insane chaos of too much information, and yearn to understand and see for ourselves what other people are like...what they know, what they dream of, what they can teach us.

I'll never forget what my Mom said when I called to tell her I was moving to New York City. (She has lived her entire life within a 20 mile radius of where she was born in Ohio; by this time, I had already lived in London, Milan, Oporto, Annecy, and Washington DC.) My Mom and I are different in that way. She likes her home, I love to travel. When I called to say I was relocating to Gotham, she paused just a moment and then said "My, you are having an interesting life, aren't you?" I cherish that observation. I felt like, at that point, she saw me in a new light, she saw me better.

I hope I'll continue to have an interesting life. And if I can't die falling off the side of a mountain in a train wreck in India (long story), I'll settle for passing away quietly, my "Bambino" by my side, listening to Leonard Cohen, in a small room in the Chelsea Hotel (more images here).

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Kindred Spirits

New York Times art critic Michael Kimmelman is on the warpath. And rightly so. Kimmelman suggests that the New York Public Library conspired with Sotheby's who it at least smells like conspired with John Wilmerding, an art historian and consultant, to ensure Widmerding's long-time client Alice Walton (of the Wal-Mart Waltons who's been plotting for a while, reportedly) was able to secure Asher B. Durand's spectacular painting "Kindred Spirits" for her future museum in Arkansas. This is a considerable blow to the city. On Monday, Kimmelman explained:
The sale of this Durand is poignant. William Cullen Bryant, who in the picture peers over the cliff, as if into America's expanding future, was not just a poet and the editor of The Evening Post. Among other things, he led the movement to devise Central Park. As Thomas Bender, the New York historian, pointed out in an Op-Ed article recently, Bryant's belief in "the counterpoise of landscape and cityscape" encouraged urbanites who feared losing touch with nature to buy landscape paintings, which meant the growing success of the Hudson River School and of progressive art in New York, and it also helped to inspire Olmsted and Vaux's design for Central Park as a pastoral respite in the city.
In other words, like few other paintings, this one belongs in New York City. Unfortunately, because Sotheby's hastily organized an auction that included sealed bids, it virtually guaranteed that no local museum would be able to move quickly enough to keep the painting in NYC.
The auction entailed sealed bids, whereby a bid too high squanders a fortune. Closed bidding favors buyers with leeway to spend and no one to answer to. A private collector like Ms. Walton has both; museums rarely have either. "Closed bids are a horror," Philippe de Montebello, the Met's director, said after the sale. "If you're an institution, you're terrified to put in millions too much because that would seem irresponsible. Had it been an actual auction we would have had a better chance. I could have gone to the auction with a donor who could, on the spur of the moment, cover a higher bid."
Kimmelman went on to state bluntly, "Auctioneering is an amoral business." But that was just a warning shot. Today, he's charging straight ahead, guns ablazin', shooting at museums and other public institutions, as well as the auction houses:
The last straw is my own new hobbyhorse, the New York Public Library's sale of Asher B. Durand's "Kindred Spirits," one of the great Hudson River School landscapes, a civic treasure. The work was bought last week for $35 million by Alice Walton, a Wal-Mart heir, in a closed auction at Sotheby's.

It's time for transparency. Increasingly, we demand it from government, the media and Wall Street, in response to dwindling public faith. The same should apply to libraries and museums, which also regularly test our trust. They have many excuses for selling art (to raise money for better works, to prune overcrowded storage) and most of what's sold shouldn't raise eyebrows. But it's the exceptions that count.
I'm not sure how far down the warpath Kimmelman will get. Pretty powerful forces oppose what he's proposing. Still, he does have a point.

Truthfully, though, more transparency is not something most folks in the art world are chomping at the bit to see, which isn't to suggest there's widespread shady going-on's (although clearly, on occassion, art world folks break the law), just that being unregulated like few other businesses, it wouldn't be our first priority to join the fray.

Personally, I think most folks in the art business are fairly altruistic and above board with regards to business practices. At least on the gallery end of things. Sure, you'll hear of this or that scandal, but as a dealer I know in Washington DC told me when I confessed I wanted to open my own gallery, "Don't go into it for the money. You'll make more money opening a laudromat. Only go into it because you love it."

Which brings me to another kind of kindred spirits. Last night the New Art Dealers Alliance (NADA) held another of its workshops, this time on ethics, practices, and longevity as a gallerist. We new dealers were blessed to have three established and highly regarded dealers (Andrea Rosen, Jay Gorney, and Roland Augustine) share their wisdom and answer our questions. And I do mean blessed. It was an extremely helpful discussion (there are no "how to" books for dealers), and it was very generous of those dealers. If NADA critics had any idea how unlikely such an event is in other industries, I suspect they'd have much more regard for what the organization is really trying to do.

Chelsea gallerist and one of my favorite bloggers, Oliver Kamm, suggests that the entire discussion remain "off the record" because, as he notes, "names were named." But in the context of the Durand painting fiasco, I don't mind sharing that in general there was little love expressed for the practices of the auction houses.

I also wanted to highlight that I was particularly impressed with Andrea Rosen. Jay and Roland were awesome, but after I read the new updated revision of The Art Dealers (a series of interviews) I instantly fell in love with Rosen. She seemed to have the most amazing overall philosophy of what a gallery is or should be of anyone I've ever heard of. From how she chose her artists to her willingness to challenge the system, Andrea seemed entirely too altruistic in that interview to be true. I was floored when I heard her speak last night, though. She's even more impressive in real life. Again, the other speakers were great as well, but Andrea spoke with a degree of integrity and heart that made me love the art world even more than I already do.

I'm sure, like all of us, Andrea, Jay and Roland have their off moments (and this is a business, so in one sense we're definitely competitors), but kudos to NADA for doing whatever they did to get them to share their experiences with us. I really appreciated the insight.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Trucker Arrested for Stealing $1.5mil Basquiat

Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown inexplicably poses with the painting after police recovered the untitled work allegedly stolen by 35-year-old truck driver, Anthony Porcelli Jr., of Staten Island. (Does Brown think the painting's owner appreciates the fact that they've unwrapped the painting just for a photo-op? Are there professional art handlers there? Even so, is this appropriate?)

Porcelli allegedly stole the work, which was headed for either Rome or London, depending on which account you read, from a warehouse at JFK Airport. Apparently he had no idea what he was taking:

The large wooden crate had only the word "painting" on it when it was swiped from an air cargo warehouse at Kennedy Airport.

So the Staten Island truck driver who allegedly took it earlier this month had no idea what it held: a work by artist Jean-Michel Basquiat that is worth more than $1.5 million, authorities said yesterday.

"He saw it there, he pushed it, he figured he'd take a shot with it," Det. Michael Mormino of the Queens District Attorney's office said of the safely recovered painting, allegedly stolen by Anthony Porcelli. "He didn't know he hit the lottery."

Again, though, why is the DA bellying up to the painting for the photographers?

Favorite Paintings

Tyler Green points us to this article in the Guardian about the The National Gallery's search for Britain's favorite painting. I love assignments like this and so challenge y'all as well. Here's Tyler's and my choices:

1. What's your favorite painting by an American?

Tyler couldn't chose just one (I totally understand): "I'd be tempted by a
John Marin skyscraper or a Joseph Stella of the Brooklyn Bridge. Both are thoroughly American. Maybe a Rothko, too. Or James Rosenquist's F-111. "

With the caveat that this is my choice this week, I choose Edward Hopper's
Early Sunday Morning

Like nothing else that springs to mind it embodies all that I love about America and American painting.

2. What's your favorite painting in America?

Tyler chose "Matisse's
Bathers with a Turtle, at the St. Louis Art Museum" (a brilliant choice, IMO).

Same caveat, I choose Vermeer's
Young Woman with a Water Pitcher (at the Met)

beyond sublime.

Your turn.

Who Owns History?

I am not a direct descendant of Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717–1768). No one is (and no, I don't dress like him either). But sharing a surname, as well as a few passions, he's always been a hero of mine. He is often referred to as the "father of archeology"---a disputed title, to say the least---but not in dispute is the fact that his groundbreaking tome, Geschichte der Kunst des Alterhums (1764, History of the Art of Antiquity) ignited the neoclassical movement in European art and set the standard for rigorousness in art history (he was the first art historian to catalog the works he encountered along with a discussion of their political and historical context, and organized them according to a model of organic growth and decay). He was ambitious, as well, becoming a friend of the powerful Cardinal Albani and even enjoying an audience with Maria-Theresa. Before he realized his ultimate dream of traveling to Greece, however, he was murdered in Trieste by Francesco Arcangeli, a young Italian some insist was a casual acquaintance, but others insist was a bit of "rough trade." But that's neither here nor there.

I mention Winckelmann, because to my mind he demonstrates the passion that Germans have had for antiquities and art scholarship for centuries. I mention this because of the article in The New York Times today about the exhibition of looted artworks the Russians opened to coincide with the 60th anniversary of their defeat of the Nazis:

A week ago, on the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and President Vladimir V. Putin appeared together in Red Square in a symbolic nod to the historical reconciliation between Germany and Russia. But a few blocks away, a museum exhibition showed how the war's dark legacies continue to divide the two countries.

Shortly before Victory Day, as it is known here, the State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts put on display 552 ancient works of art, including Greek bronzes, vases and amphorae, Etruscan figures, fragments of Roman wall paintings and Coptic amulets carved from bone, all meticulously restored.

None have been seen in public in more than 60 years. All are spoils of war, seized by Soviet troops from the ruins of Berlin in 1945 and carted back to Moscow. The exhibition - especially because of its timing - could easily be viewed as either a memorial to the ravages of war or as the taunt of a boastful victor.

When the Russians found the treasure trove in Berlin, most of it was badly damaged, and even the Germans admit the Russians have done a fantastic job restoring many of them. But the Russian arts officials are very clear about the fact that they see these ancient works as their rightfully seized "compensation":
Anatoly I. Vilkov, deputy chief of the federal agency that preserves cultural heritage, said in a newspaper interview in February that Russia has 249,000 works of art, as well as 260,000 archive files and more than a million books, that were taken from Germany as war compensation.
The Germans, with little moral ground to stomp their feet here, have been making good faith efforts to at least share in the glory that the collection they amassed is now receiving, but still they can't hide their annoyance:
[Christina Weiss, Germany's culture minister], who visited St. Petersburg last month to return a replica of a Greek statue that belonged to Czar Nicholas I and his wife, said that Russia's recalcitrance "strains our relations, endangers pieces of art and adds to the annoyance of German museum directors."
I can empathize with the German museum directors. The sixty years since the war are but a drop in the bucket of time compared to the age of the articles they must feel they have more rights to than the Russians (we won't mention the Greeks or Italians, OK). Still, to the victors go the spoils, so I would suggest they dig up a few other artworks they had pillaged from the Russians over the years and continue making gifts of them to Russia.

Tasteful Nudity, Part I: William-Adolphe Bouguereau

I'll most likely be drummed out of the contemporary art associations I belong to for this post, but in the spirit of giving the people what they want, I've decided to add a series of "Tasteful Nudity" posts to the line-up here. Of course, "tasteful" is totally subjective, so if you don't like the first round of images, do check back.

The first artist in this series is William-Adolphe Bouguereau (French, 1825-1905 - Academic Classicism). This painting to the right is his "A Nymph Defending Herself against Cupid" ca. 1880 (also sometimes titled "A Nymph Defending Herself against Eros"...as the Milanese would say, "Boh, Mah, Qui Sa?"). The Getty Museum owns it currently. It hails from an era that makes many contemporary art historians and artists cringe. And, as I'm sure you've guessed, that has nothing to do with the nudity. As Paul Jeromack explains in an article on

[T]here is [a] kind of picture that even the art press really doesn't like to acknowledge -- 19th-century academic paintings. Works from this category are both wildly popular and consistently strong performers on the market. But despite 40 years of work by rehabilitationist art historians and small museums, 19th-century paintings are looked upon as rather embarrassing, something that is decorative and middlebrow, hardly the stuff of serious collections.
I generally assume this sort of work is what most Americans think of when they say "tasteful nudity." I know Americans well enough, however, to suspect that a generalization like that will prompt many of them to deny such a claim for fear that it pegs them as unlearned or old-fashioned, or whatever, which is a pity. No one who loves Bouguereau, in my opinion, should apologize for it. Again, taste is subjective. I'd have one if it were available (of course I'd install it as part of some ironic juxtaposition just to maintain my street cred, but I'd admire it secretly when no one was looking...William-Adolphe Bouguereau could paint).

Here's another painting ("Nymphs and Satyr," 1873):

And one more ("Orestes pursued by Furies," 1862):

Monday, May 16, 2005

Artist of the Week 05/16/05

In his rather testy review of the "Greater New York" show at PS1-MoMA (disclaimer, I have one artist in that exhibition and do want it succeed), The New York Times senior art critic Michael Kimmelman noted:

Drawing is the new painting. There's one much-promoted trend. Everybody draws so preposterously well now that it's almost boring.
Many folks in the art world are relieved at how well the new crop of artists are drawing, though, after what had seemed a total ambivalence toward draftsmanship for ages. But this new proficiency does seem to have popped up over night. As recently as last year, in an essay that also appeared (in an edited version) in the The New York Sun, Thursday, June 3, 2004, Maureen Mullarkey opined:

Does drawing matter anymore? It is a common question made all the more pointed by the absence of drawing in exhibitions of contemporary representational artists. All the early Modernists were great draughtsmen. Yet today, few painters draw and fewer still exhibit their drawings.

Mullarkey uses this observation to introduce her thoughts about the work of English-born, New York-based painter Rackstraw Downes. Like few other living artists, Rackstraw can draw and how.

Cover of recent book of Rackstraw's work published by Princeton University Press

Rackstraw and I met many, many years ago at the Moondance Diner in Soho (you may have seen its facade on "Friends" or the first "Spiderman" movie). The food there is not as good as it used to be, and the prices are much higher now, so the old gang that used to haunt it has mostly moved on. But back in the day, I used to eat there at least once a week, usually by myself. One time I noticed a gentleman a few tables away chuckling and looking my way. He raised the book he was reading as explanation. It was the same book I was reading (Deirdre Bair's glorious biography of Samuel Beckett). We began talking about Beckett and other things and started up a correspondence (he's an absolutely delightful and staggeringly brilliant mind [he's well regarded as a writer and editor in addition to as a painter]), but it wasn't until later I realized he really was a famous painter and not just another struggling artist who hung out in diners.

Rackstraw has shown at a range of very blue chip galleries, including Marlborough and Robert Miller, and currently exhibits with Betty Cunningham.

Rackstraw is perhaps best known for his paintings of places most people pay little to no attention to, places that populate the space between other places we do pay attention to, like our homes, workplace etc. Places we drive past without noticing, like industrial parks, construction sites, housing projects, refineries, and landfills.

Rackstraw Downes, Mixed Use Field on Texas Coast, 1987, oil paint on canvas on board, 11 3/4 x 58 5/8 inches

He paints them in a traditional plein air process but with a unique point of view that simulates what such vistas look like if you could see with a wide-angle vision. In other words what the space far to your left and far to your right looks like from that vantage point without flattening the landscape. This is just one of the devices he employs toward his overarching exploration of "seeing." He's really very serious about it. In a recent interview with the also brilliant publisher of The Brooklyn Rail, Phong Bui, Rackstraw plead his case this way:
[I]n a short essay called "Seeing and Copying," Valéry says that when you draw an object you realize that until then you had never actually seen it, even your best friend’s nose. I think of that as a rather serious matter: you don’t know what things look like, in terms of a drawing, but you do know what they look like in terms of your life. If you’re walking down the street you say, "Oh, there’s Phong." You don’t say, "Who the hell is that?" Recognition is there: you have an image you carry in your head. You don’t know what the image looks like on the page ‘till you draw it on the page; it’s a construction. When you make a painting, you’re constructing out of observations. I’m totally opposite to the Duchampian notion that the idea is what counts. I don’t feel like that at all. For example, I have a strong interest in environmental issues, and one of the aspects of my painting that has relevance to that is that I don’t use anything technological—my materials are terribly simple. You know, the brush hairs are from an animal, the wood from a tree, the canvas from a plant. I spend hours and hours looking at real things with as much concentration as I can muster and everything comes from that concentration. That is something that our rapid tool-bound society does not ask you to do. I’m constantly asked, "Why don’t you take a photograph of this thing?" Well, I want to make a painting.
Here's another piece (unfortunately only available in black and white, but it demonstrates how impossibly well he draws). No, it's not a photograph.

Rackstraw Downes, Twelfth Ave at 134th Street, (2003), oil on canvas.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Reminder: Taste 5/16/05

If you're in the NYC area, be sure to visit Williamsburg tommorow, Sunday, May 15, 2005, for the Third Annual Sunday Brunch event we call "Taste!"

20+ Galleries, 20+ Restuarants, one great afternoon good for your body and soul!

Details here.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Fantasy Auctions 2005 Update II

Picking up where I left off. Phillips' first session results are in, and I'm happy to report that I would have got one of the pieces I wanted in that session!

As you may recall, I had $610,000 to spend at Phillips. Agnes Martin's Stars went for only $486,400, so assuming I would have gotten it for $487,000 (yeah!), that leaves me with $123,000, which should get me a fair number of the items I wanted in the second session...we'll see.

Even without buying the Martin, I was never going to get close to the Kippenberger. Its low estimate was $600,000, and so unless I had spiked everyone's beverages with a very strong laxative timed to kick in just as that lot came up, there was no real chance. It sold for $1,024,000 (which is fine...I didnt' have room for it anyway, so there!).

Most of the lots went within their range, which probably means there ain't too much dancing over at Phillips, but a few artists did well enough to suggest they may be becoming new "ones to watch." Piotr Uklanski for example did very well. His 41-cprint piece entitled The Nazis had a high estimate of $70,000 but sold for well over twice as much ($168,000). And Jorge Pardo (a god in my book) did very well with his untitled silkscreen on canvas piece (see below), which with a high estimate $80,000 sold for $156,000. Go Jorge!

Evolving Personalized Information Construct

It's easier all the time to imagine a future where MSM organizations are irrelevant. Quality will suffer of course, but if quality were a priority for news consumers, this would look very different:

Constant reader crionna pointed me to this hypothetical scenario by which the future behemoth Googlezon (Google + Amazon) defeats the New York Times Company in a SCOTUS case that allows Googlezon (via their new product EPIC [Evolving Personalized Information Construct]) to sell the work of freelance editors (that's where you and I come in) who put their version of the truth online. EPIC then sorts through the available data and customizes the news from a multitude of sources for each reader according to their demographics, desires, network of friends, etc. The result is criticized in some quarters as a collection of trivia, much of it untrue, all of it narrow and shallow, but essentially it's what the public wants. The MSM retreats from the fight, and by 2014 The New York Times goes offline.

Perception trumps reality.

I see a few problems with this scenario, though. Someone will have to still collect the raw data (quotes from those on the scene, photos, etc.). If it's the freelancers (and who will the most successful of them likely be if not ex-MSM reporters?), they will still need some procedures, guidelines, etc., by which to operate, and those with the higher standards will become the most sought after, no? In other words, if one source proves to be more reliable, even though you can't necessary distinguish that person's contribution in the jumble you're fed, that person will rise in power eventually, no?

God, I hope so.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

So 15 Nanoseconds Ago

I'm a huge Neuromancer geek. I actually can't wait for that future to reach us, and I look for signs that it's here all the time (in fact I saw a hipster in the East Village last night with four vampire-pointed teeth alternated with nubs of teeth along just his top row and thought, "Generation gapping taken to its literal extreme, eh?" get it? gaps, teeth...ahhh...nevermind). The problem with looking for this cool new world, however, is that nothing "cool" stays so for very long anymore (Mutant Dracula had better have a good dental plan) and so any snippets of it you find now will not still be cool when the other snippets crop up. There will be no "cool" future, per se, because although new cool things will come along, they'll exist side by side with other things passing into hasbeendom. There will always be this combination. Consider this passage from a review of an exhibition called "Contagious Media" at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in the New York Times:

The exhibition offers seven viral artifacts: Black People Love Us! (a Web site), "Nike Sweatshop" (an e-mail exchange), "All your base are belong to us," (a badly translated phrase from a Japanese video game), Hot or Not (a Web site), Fundrace (a Web site), Dancing Baby (a piece of animation) and the Rejection Line (a phone number).

Don't worry if you've never heard of these. It just means that you're not cool. And now that you've learned about them in the mainstream media (known as MSM on the Web), they're not all that cool, either.
Not only are they not that cool, in the blogosphere (where posting a piece mere seconds after someone else suggests you owe them a cite) they haven't been for relatively quite some time now. What this suggests to me is that exhibitions like this cannot be done while the material is still interesting to its primary audience, at least not offline. Unlike paintings or sculpture or photography which are meant to have a longer shelf-life, new media either graduates to old media (like the Dancing Baby did to TV's Ally McBeal) or gets dragged into the Trash icon to clear diskspace. There will be classics of course; "All your base are belong to us" still makes me chuckle, but it does seem rather "nostalgic" at this point.

UPDATE: For an example of what's not quite oh-so-15-nanoseconds-ago in the blogosphere yet, see this post on Brian Sholis's In Search of the Miraculous. Be sure not to miss this snippet (joy happens!)

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Fantasy Auction 2005 Update

UPDATE: Artnet has some results (and juicy gossip) from last night's Sotheby's auction. From what I had wanted in that auction, the Kara Walker went for $329,600 (I was going to stop at $220,000) and the Cy Twombly went for $1,360,000 (I was going to stop at $1,200,000...but I really wanted that one and I might have gone higher).

UPDATE II: From what I had wanted at Christie's Post-War and Contemporary Art (Evening Sale), I had decided not to bid on Ed Ruscha's The Amazing Earth to free up some money. It went for $800,000, much more than I was willing to spend. But the Kusama I wanted (No. B, 3 ---estimate 250,000 - 350,000 USD for which I was willing to go as high as $350,000, fool that I am) sold for---wait for it---$1,192,000! I mean, I know she's worth it, but how was the estimate that far off?

I took a tour of the work up for contemporary auction at
Phillips last night and want to make a few adjustments to my Fantasy Auction choices (working from the online catalog is only so good in helping you make decisions, obviously).

Before I do though, I'd like to thank Amanda Corriero, who was a delightful and impressive host, and who, if she represents the budding auction house's ambitions and smarts, suggests Christie's and Sotheby's won't enjoy their lofty positions for as long as they might think. I'd also like to thank Sherri and Heather of NADA for organizing the private viewing. Again, they're simply awesome.

I only chose two pieces from the Phillips auction, but that was mostly because I was running out of money. Having seen the work in person though, I'm going to give up a few of my choices from Sotheby's and Christie's, and I'm not going to bid on one piece at Phillips (Luc Tuyman's
Fish, because although it's beautifully painted, it doesn't quite represent what Tuyman is capable of doing with light the way I thought it did from the online catalog, and I think I'll wait for another one that does...of course that may have just been the lighting in the gallery, but I have no reason to believe I can do better at home, so...).

From the other auction houses, to free up some money, I'm going to not bid on Donald Baechler's Self-Portrait or Ed Ruscha's The Amazing Earth. That gives me another $1,2500,000, (I can NOT add) $610,000 which I'll spend bidding on the following (you can have no idea how much I love this fantasy...even when I imagine I win the lottery, the first thing I do is go art shopping):

  • Agnes Martin's Stars ---estimate 400,000 - 600,000 USD (this piece is simply sublime...as with most of Martin's work, you can't capture that in a photograph, and in fact, although Phillips' online catalog is overall leaps and bounds ahead of the other houses' this image is particularly ungood).

    If I don't get the Agnes Martin, or if this next piece goes for under $610,000 (which is unlikely as Kippenberger is red hot at the moment), I'll take this:

  • Martin Kippenberger's untitled ---estimate 600,000-800,000 USD It's spectacular in real life and although I don't currently have wall space for a piece this large, I'll figure out something. Of course it does need some distance to see what's happening, so maybe I'll need to do some rethinking on the apartment.

    If I don't get either of those (and, again, the Kipppenberger is a long shot), I think I'll go to their
    second session. I am actually quite taken with these Gordon Matta-Clark photographs

  • Gordon Matta-Clark Walls---estimate 15,000-20,000 USD

    And this Rodney Graham is beautiful

  • Rodney Graham Stanley Park Cedar #11---estimate 30,000-50,000 USD

    And finally, if I have to have a Louise Lawler (and I should!), this one is hysterical

  • Louise Lawler Damien---estimate 20,000-30,000 USD

  • Tuesday, May 10, 2005

    The Arts Getting Respect Again?

    Maybe it's Laura Bush's influence, who knows? But unlike the way the arts were the GOP's scapegoat for nearly all that ailed us back in the Bush I and Clinton years, there seems to be growing bipartisan recognition of the importance of promoting the arts for our nation:
    Four U.S. senators are spearheading the formation of a new bipartisan Senate caucus to promote the vital role the arts and humanities play in American life -- a coalition that will likely serve as a strong base of support for pro-arts legislation in Congress' upper house.

    Senators Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), Michael Enzi (R-Wyo.), Jim Jeffords (I-Vt.), and Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) will be co-chairs of the caucus, "which will work to highlight the programs and impact of the National Endowment for the Arts [NEA], National Endowment for the Humanities, and Institute of Museum and Library Services," the federal government's three major cultural funding institutions, according to the nonprofit organization Americans for the Arts.

    "Future generations will learn about our history and ideals through our literature, paintings, dance, and drama," wrote the four senators in an April 14 letter inviting their Senate colleagues to join them in the new caucus. "Yet we often overlook the important role of the arts in our daily lives.... We can do much more to emphasize the broad array of activities that contribute in such a significant way to the cultural identity of our country. The Senate Cultural Caucus will provide opportunities to accomplish this goal."
    Of course this comes on the heels of another effort being launched to explore the importance the arts play in shoring up our nation's economy, so it's not as altruistic as some folks might think (the hyperstingy New York Times is archiving its articles faster these days it seems and probably had something to do with the demise of the NYT Link Generator that no longer works, but I found a PDF of this article):
    What happens to the brain when you write or read a poem, beyond the moment of creation or enjoyment? What do the arts mean for jobs and economies? How can creativity be taught and fostered?

    Those are some of the questions that led Louise T. Blouin MacBain, founder of one of the world's largest art magazine publishers, to set up the Louise T. Blouin Foundation. The international non-profit arts organization has a wideranging agenda to support cultural development around the world, through research and new programs.


    One of the foundation's early projects will be to study the economic importance of the arts. It plans to hold forums at which artists, politicians, business leaders and educators propose cultural policies. The foundation also wants to endow a chair at a leading university to research the relevance of art to everyday life and the connections between the study of art and the study of perception and cognition.
    It seems a bit daft that it's taken pols this long to realize that the new economic model (you know, the "ownership society," in which the "productive" class comes up with all the innovations and we outsource the actual labor to nations better able to produce work cheaply) demands more creativity of its workers and that the best way to nurture creativity is to support the teaching of the arts. But better late than never.

    Monday, May 09, 2005

    Artist of the Week 05/09/05

    Caroline Cox is Williamsburg art world royalty. With her husband, artist Tim Spelios, she founded and directed the Flipside Gallery from 1997 to 2001. Since then, she has been focussing more on her own art and currently has an exhibition at the newly opened Sarah Bowen Gallery in Williamsburg (the website indicates it closed May 1st, but I know it's been extended...not sure until when though). Her latest installation blew me away.

    I've been following Caroline's work for a while now, having planned to include her in an exhibition I curated that never quite found a home (incoming directors at museums seem to have no sense of loyalty to the planned exhibitions of their predecessors...minor pet peeve of mine). That exhibition dealt with translucency, and Caroline's work offers one of the most sophisticated uses of translucency of any artist I know. With haberdashery-meets-hardware-store-sourced materials (meshs, wires, mirrors, fishing floats, crystals, etc.), Caroline creates vast, complex colonies or microcosms, and although most of her materials are either opaque or transparent, with the nearly infinite number of reflections and resulting distortions, the transparent materials begin to do the work of translucent materials for the human eye (letting light through, but obscuring the objects beyond them somewhat). You'd probably have to have explored translucency as long as I did to be excited about that, but fortunately it's only one avenue of access into Caroline's work.

    More immediately compelling is the experiential aspect of her gallery-filling pieces. The critic Susan Canning put it quite nicely in a text quoted in the gallery's press release (pdf file):

    ...A sense of wonder soon gives way, however, to confoundment as the cosmological references of the piece entice one to move beyond sensual experience and consider less tangible elements such as light, space, and gravity. When this happens these strange and inventive shapes seem less about artistic invention than the limits of the senses and the fragile and chance nature of existence...where contradiction is an operative element and transmutation an active state of being.

    Again, I'm not sure how much longer this exhibition is up, but if you're in the Williamsburg area, it's a definite must-see.

    Friday, May 06, 2005


    Just a quick post to invite folks in the NYC area to join the galleries of the Williamsburg Gallery Association for the third annual "Taste" event, Brunch in the galleries, Sunday, May 15, from noon to 4PM. Local restaurants team up with galleries, so you can spend a leisurely afternoon, strolling from exhibition to exhibition, eating along the way. For more information, see the WGA website.

    Thursday, May 05, 2005

    Have You Seen This Léger?

    I really want to adopt a moralistic POV on this issue, being in the business of selling art and all, but the truth of the matter is I'm as fascinated as the next person by the high-profile thefts of great works of art and totally enjoy the fictionalized accounts of a masterful cat burglar who foils the museum's high-tech security system. Let's face it, it seems so glamorous. I probably wouldn't feel the same way if someone had stolen anything from my collection, but as of this morning, each piece was safe where I had installed it (and by the way, the floor is pressure sensitive, the camera system close-looped, and the laser beams are randomized, so don't even THINK of trying to get through them).

    Most of the time, though, art theft is much more mundane. Consider the theives in Oslo who stole one of Munch's "Scream" paintings recently:

    Armed robbers have stolen the iconic Edvard Munch painting, The Scream, from the Munch Museum in Norway.

    Two masked thieves pulled the work and another painting, Madonna, off the wall as stunned visitors watched on Sunday.

    One robber threatened staff with a gun before the pair escaped in a waiting car, a museum officer told the BBC.

    Not exactly the Thomas Crown Affair type flair.

    But sometimes, reality imitates the movies. Have you seen this Léger?

    Fernand Léger, La Boite à Chapeau Polychrome,
    oil(?) on canvas, 29 x 36 inches

    According to the FBI, it wasn't until it was formally reappraised last December that anyone knew a crime had been committed. Then it was discovered that someone had switched a forgery for the painting. Anyone with information on the whereabouts of the real one is encouraged to contact their local law enforcement agency. And the FBI lists other such cases on their website, as does Interpol.
    One of the most interesting ongoing cases is that of New York dealer Ely Sakhai, who with his manager Houshi Sandjaby, forged and then sold as real an undisclosed number of minor works by major artists through Sakhai’s Manhattan gallery Exclusive Art Gallery, Ltd. How they were caught out is even more spectacular:

    Vase de Fleurs (Lilas) is not one of Paul Gauguin’s greatest works. It’s a “middle market” painting, which means it changes hands usually for only a few hundred thousand dollars, and without much fanfare. But in May 2000, the painting proved it could still turn heads. When Christie’s and Sotheby’s released spring catalogues for their modern-art auctions, they were alarmed to discover that each was offering the painting—and each house thought it had the original.

    One of the paintings, clearly, was a fake. So the auction houses flew both paintings to Sylvie Crussard, a Gauguin expert at the Wildenstein Institute in Paris. She put them side by side and in a few minutes saw that Christie’s version was, in the delicate argot of the trade, “not right.” (The auction house just barely managed to yank its catalogue back from the printers in time.) Still, it was the best Gauguin counterfeit she’d ever seen. “This was a unique case of resemblance. You never see two works which are that similar,” Crussard marvels.

    Christie’s broke the news to the horrified owners at the Gallery Muse in Tokyo, who’d had no idea it was a forgery. The real painting went back to Sotheby’s, where its owner—New York dealer Ely Sakhai—successfully auctioned it off for $310,000. But when the FBI traced the history of the fake, they discovered something even more surprising: The original source was none other than Ely Sakhai, too.

    According to The Art Newspaper their other fakes included copies of works by Marc Chagall, Pierre-August Renoir, Amedeo Modigliani, Paul Klee and others. If you got a work by one of these artists recently for a price that seemed too good to be true, you might want to check with the FBI’s Brooklyn-Queens office. Tel: 718 286 7100.

    Wednesday, May 04, 2005

    Back Scratch

    Just a quick shout out to Tyler Green of MODERN ART NOTES for the Blog Roll and early support. I've linked to Mr. Green's indispensable site on my other blogs since the day I discovered it. He's a bit harsh on NADA, but otherwise, he's totally the man!

    Tuesday, May 03, 2005

    Political Art

    Generally, I find most overtly political art too obvious and the motives of those making it far too suspect. Literally within two weeks of 9/11, we received proposals in the gallery for exhibitions dealing with the attacks. As the months went on, the proposals increased. I recall at the time thinking, I'm not even sure I know how I feel about any of this, I can't imagine any artist could have taken the time to sort out how they feel and then processed that through a rigorous process. Obviously it's silly to put a time frame on it, but I did have a sense that an artist would need longer to deal seriously with what they felt about 9/11. At least longer than two weeks.

    Even by the time Eric Fischl's controversial sculpture "Tumbling Woman" was removed from the Rockefeller Center's Lower Concourse (well over a year after the attacks), it was apparent that even if artists knew how they felt about the attacks, the public was not yet ready to deal with it.

    But that raises the question of whether an artist should wait until the public is ready to deal with the content of what they feel compelled to make. Perhaps the best political art forces people to realize what's happening in hopes of changing it before it's too late. But that doesn't seem to be the case here, where nothing was going to change what happened on 9/11, and images of burning towers and such simply struck me as exploitative and/or crass.

    That's perhaps why I'm suspect of the artwork coming out of Iraq, where what I'd normally consider rather minor artists (in terms of the world stage) are making headlines with images that reference the abuses at Abu Ghraib:
    The subjects in each of Nasir Thamer's works are trapped behind bars, real or painted. Since the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, the trauma of the occupation has seeped even into Iraq's artistic production.

    "I used to paint scenes of traditional Iraqi life, Arab doors, mosques and letters from the Koran," says the 47-year-old artist. "This is a radical change for me but you just can't escape reality."

    One of his paintings depicts an Iraqi child running away from a US Apache combat helicopter towards his mother. The corner of the canvas where the woman was painted is ripped out, revealing black bars in the structure of the frame.

    I'll admit up front: I'm an awful snob about contemporary art and, based on this one image, I would wholeheartedly agree with Thamer that his metaphors are "crude" (I'm not too fond of his painting ability either, but that's another post). I do recognize the need he describes to resort to such direct methods because of the rude awakening events have forced on him (other very good artists reported the same urge after 9/11), but I reject the assertion that that all-too-human response results in art of any lasting value. Sure he may need to make it, but that doesn't mean we need to see it, and we certainly don't need to pretend it's good.

    In my opinion, the artistic approach toward such atrocities with the most integrity is the "simply record" approach. Metaphors and such take reflection and time, IMO. If Thamer must paint what's happening (and I believe he sincerely feels that way), he should leave his bag of metaphorical tricks aside and just paint what he sees.

    One of the best artists taking this approach IMO is the US painter Steve Mumford. Steve's usual work is as "inventive" as all get out, but when he traveled through Iraq (on several occasions) the work he made rang true because it began with a simple assertion: this was much bigger than he was. So he simply recorded it. This is about as honest a response as I believe any artist can offer to events as they unfold. Again, I'm convinced that the best metaphors require a bit of reflection and introspection. Perhaps sometimes an epiphany can provide immediate insight of lasting worth, but usually the work I see in immediate response to monumental events is trite and, in that way, disrespectful.

    Monday, May 02, 2005

    Artist of the Week 05/02/05

    Andrew Kreps gallery's Robert Melee has two major bodies of work that many people don't realize are by the same artist. One made him notorious and prompted New York Times critic Holland Cotter to dub him an artist capable of "truly formidable outrageousness" (see photo at right...that's Robert's mother at his last opening, where, compared with how she's often depicted, she looks relatively overdressed and composed). This body of work has been critiqued quite heavily. Although there is some overlap in his installations (see this image, for example) Robert's other body of work is generally considered to be quite different and that's what I want to highlight today: his paintings.

    The top three adjectives I use to describe paintings I consider important and superior, giving you some insight into my personal priorities, are (in order) sublime, transcendent, and edible. Robert's paintings are usually the first and most definitely the last (note: I don't actually eat art, and Robert's paintings, which often include plaster, would break my teeth...it's just a desire to consume something because it's so luscious). Consider the following:

    Robert Melee, Redefined Gradual Substitution, 2000 enamel, plaster, beer bottle caps, on wood 25" diam, 20 X 30 inches

    As noted, the circles are beer bottle caps sunk in plaster, and although they do reference the alcoholism, suburbia, and dysfunction explored in his photography and videos, here they obviously serve a formal function and reference Pop Art and Op Art, and eyes, and give Robert a recognizable, accessible vocabulary unit that lends the work a clunky elegance (I LOVE "clunky elegance"). Besides, polka dots have been hot for a while (think Damien Hirst or Sigmar Polke) and whenever a motif crops up in various artists' work, it usually suggests a zeitgeist of some sort.

    Here's a more recent, mixed-media piece:

    Robert Melee, Anti-Disassembled Substitution, 2004, Wood, plaster, beer bottlecaps, headboard, enamel paint, 60 1/2 X 53 3/4 inches

    Robert titles each of these works some sort of "substitution." And although I've actually discussed what this means with him, I'm still not totally sure. Beer as a subsitution for love? It's a painful notion. Here's one more piece, this one using painted curtains in a rec-room-esque installation:

    Robert Melee, Untitled, 2003, wood, plaster, enamel paint, Art 34 Basel 'Statement' installation view

    Here you start to get a sense of what Robert's referencing with his palette, a hyper-saturated 70's technicolor middle-class America memory...think Brady Bunch compacted. In this way, Robert might be seen as belonging among those in a new generation of artists who've discarded the "Canon" as source material and chosen their own pop-heavy, commercialized culture. His beer bottle pieces' titles suggest otherwise, and there's still a sense of nostalgia in Robert's work, giving it a more universal (read: longer lasting) appeal. (Reflection of this sort seems to have been rejected as a necessary lense by some younger artists, making one wonder if eventually this approach to art-making will result in works that become passe even before they're finished...I know that will make me sound like an old fogie in some quarters, but I suspect that impression, too, will pass).

    Robert remains my primary example of an artist who can still surprise me, both with content and personal approach to artmaking. His installations display a rigorous approach and ambition often lacking among his imitators. His paintings are absolutely, in a word, yummy.