Thursday, June 30, 2005

What Only Art Can Do

It's sad that it takes something so horrendous to demonstrate why the arts are important in our lives, but it should stand as a cautionary tale to those who pooh-pooh the arts as unnecessary. The BBC is reporting that the factory owned by Oskar Schindler is going to be turned into an art museum.
Krakow deputy mayor Tadeusz Trzmiel said: "The establishment of a museum in this historic factory is part of the rehabilitation of the industrial area of Zablocie."

Much like the controversies surrounding art spaces planned for Ground Zero, I imagine Krakow's civic leaders will find the transformation a complicated one, but there's nothing better suited to rehabilitate a landmark than a venue for the arts. Seriously, consider how folks would feel if Schindler's factory were turned into a mall or bulldozed over to make way for a new banking district. Whenever anyone argues that the arts do not represent the very best of what humans are capable of, think of this and remember it's something only art can do.

Investing in Art: Doing the Math

There's a fascinating debate going on over at The View from the Edge of the Universe. Atlanta-based collector and blogger Erik Schneider (whose blog I just discovered but am a big fan of already) decided to compare the return on investing in art versus investing in mutual funds. Unlike other stories on such comparisons I've read, though, Schneider actually shows his work (Excel spreadsheet). He gave himself $100,000 to invest in mutual funds and the same for what he terms "investment grade artwork" (i.e., "artwork by artists with a substantial auction history"). His results were as follows:

Sell in 5 years and net:
Mutual Funds: $136,239
Art Portfolio: $ 95,535

Sell in 10 years and net:
Mutual Funds: $185,609
Art Portfolio: $141,841

Sell in 15 years and net:
Mutual Funds: $252,871
Art Portfolio: $208,412

Sell in 20 years and net:
Mutual Funds: $344,508
Art Portfolio: $306,225

Sell in 25 years and net:
Mutual Funds: $469,353
Art Portfolio: $449,945

Sell in 30 years and net:
Mutual Funds: $639,440
Art Portfolio: $661,117
Schneider explained his overall assumptions about the art investment this way:

Only 90,000 of the initial $100,000 in artwork purchases actually go towards art. The other $10,000 goes toward sales tax, shipping, framing etc. Upon sale, you will net about 73% of the sales price, the remainder will go to commissions etc. (73% is about what you net selling at auction considering a 20% buyer's premium, a 10% seller's premium and 2% estimated out of pocket costs.) So where is the better place to put your money? The mutual funds beat the art portfolio if one sells at anytime before 27 years. After 27 years, the art portfolio beats the mutual funds.
One reader, however, has challenged his conclusions. Among the points the contesting commenter (aka ArtInvestor) makes are 1) Art does not compound; 2) most people start collecting art at a much later age (mostly in their 40s); 3) you're at a disadvantage unless you have an "inside edge" (e.g., "a Gagosian [or] a top art consultant"); 4) there are other costs with art (insurance costs, regular appraisals, cleanings); 5) mutual funds can be used as collateral for loans to help increase your wealth but it's very difficult to borrow money against your art assets, etc. I must say, ArtInvestor's arguments are compelling, but Schneider rejects and/or responds to most of them. Both seem to agree that only by being in the collecting game for the long haul are you likely to see significant returns verus other investment options, but both also agree that collecting has value beyond the merely monetary. Personally, I'll be dead before any of the prize pieces in my collection are sold, so it's all a bit academic.

Freedom and Equality on the March!

I've been avoiding much in the way of politics here lately (despite the banner implying it's 1/4 of the site's raison d'etre). I do have other forums for that, but I feel I must observe the developments in Spain and Canada with this post (cross-posted on ObWi):

The Netherlands and Belgium. Canada and Spain.

"We were not the first, but I am sure we will not be the last. After us will come many other countries, driven, ladies and gentlemen, by two unstoppable forces: freedom and equality," [Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero] told the chamber.

In the US there's a wall dividing good people. A wall built of fear, misunderstandings, and in far too many places basic intolerance. Freedom begins at home, Mr. President. Show some leadership. Tear Down that Wall!

I now return you to the regularly scheduled discussion on art....

The Ever-Expanding Blog Roll

Quick post about some recent additions to the Websites you should know section. Under Art, I've added Greg Allen's refreshingly smart insider's view of all things art related, as well as a blog you photography fans should definitely not miss, Gallery Hopper, by Todd Walker. Under Gossip (I know, there's no clear distinction between it and the Art category for some of me fickle), I've added links to ArtKrush, which after a hiatus is back up and running strong, and a brand new art zine that's not even officially launched yet, but which you can check out anyway; it's called Art Pulse NY, and it's edited by the hardest working indepedent curator I know, the always charming Kóan Jeff Baysa.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Top 10 Fakes List

The numbers in the joke change frequently it seems, but it more or less goes like this: Jean- Baptiste- Camille Corot painted 2,000 canvases in his life, 5,000 of which are in America.

But why are there so many fake Corot's? Well according to
ArtNews, "Art historians have noted that Corot sometimes authorized poor artists who imitated him to put his name on their paintings so that they would be easier to sell." And while that was mighty generous of him, it's obviously left the task of separating the fakes from the real ones somewhat more complicated. (For the record, there's absolutely no reason to suspect the Corot image here [Orpheus Leading Eurydice from the Underworld, 1861; Oil on canvas, 44.25" x 54", Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas] is a fake.)

ArtNews asked a panel of experts to list the most faked artists. Here's their top ten:

  1. Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978)
  2. Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796-1875) (see link above)
  3. Salvador Dali­ (1904-89)
  4. Honore Daumier (1808-79)
  5. Vincent van Gogh (1853-90)
  6. Kazimir Malevich (1878-1935)
  7. Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920)
  8. Frederic Remington (1861-1909)
  9. Auguste Rodin (1840-1917)
  10. Maurice Utrillo (1883-1955)

When I saw the headline for this ArtNews editorial, I imagined I'd see some unifying aspect of the work most faked (such as they all used shorter or inconsistent brush strokes or they didn't make their own paints or something else that would make faking them easier), but if there is such a thread running through them all, it escapes me (other than the fact that they produced their work in considerable volume and are all very popular). The most recently departed (Utrillo [see image...again, not a fake as far as I know]) died half a century ago, so distance and fewer living relatives might play into the choices of the forgers, but again, I assume it's more simply a matter of demand. The Remington Museum actually has a web page that helps you determine if your "Remington" is fake or not. And I think this Utrillo site is warning collectors about a fake offered on eBay as well (but my French isn't good enough to say for certain that's what's going on there).

The ArtNews article notes that not all fakes are intentionally fraudulent on the part of the artists. Some artists are simply so enamored with another artist's work that they flatter them in the most sincere way: imitation. The most delightful aspect of the phenomenon of fake artworks, IMO, though is that there are arguably plenty that no one yet realizes are fakes hanging in prestegious collections and museums:

[T]he late Theodore Rousseau, vice director and curator-in-chief of the Metropolitan Museum...wrote: "We should all realize that we can only talk about the bad forgeries, the ones that have been detected; the good ones are still hanging on the walls."

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Remote Viewing

The key to a successful fantasy world (whether of the Neuromancer or Harry Potter variety) is to flesh out the details. It's not the grand overarching scheme that hooks an audience and makes them fall in love with a vision, but rather the credible, well-considered, well-integrated details.

Every visual artist understands well that the basis of their life's work is fleshing out the details of their own little universe and in doing so offering their version of the "truth." Some artists take "their own little universe" quite literally and invent wholly unique vocabularies suggesting worlds quite different from our own. The practice is not new (think Bosch, Blake, Darger, etc.), but there's a concentration of such visions currently on view at the Whitney titled Remote Viewing: Invented Worlds in Recent Painting and Drawing.

Included in the exhibition are Franz Ackermann, Steve DiBenedetto, Carroll Dunham, Ati Maier, Julie Mehretu, Matthew Ritchie, Alexander Ross (image above is by Ross, but not in this exhibition), and Terry Winters. I've been watching as a few of these artists developed their worlds over the years (Ross, Ritchie, and Mehretu are personal favorites...Dunham and Winters are gods), so I had a blast at this exhibition. (Unfortunately, the museum doesn't have any good images of the work on their website, so the following are simply samples by these artists):

Carroll Dunham, Beautiful Dirt Valley, 1997, Mixed Media on linen, 79" x 69'

In all honesty, some of the work assembled for this show was a bit disappointing for me. I love most of these artists, and I wanted a bigger, better banquet of their work. Most were represented by paintings and a few drawings, but many of the drawings struck me as filler, with the exception being the wonderful drawings by Dunham.

My overall favorite installation was Ritchie's. It best represented what his project is about and the potential it has.

Matthew Ritchie, The First Sea, 2003, Oil and marker on canvas, 99" x 110"

My least favorite, very disappointingly, was Winters'. With so many wonderful paintings by him, those were they best they could get for the show? Here's a great one by him that UBS
owns, that's not in the show (unless I missed it somehow):

Terry Winters, Image Location (correct title?) Oil, alkyd resin, mica, graphite on linen, 96" x 120"

One of the other criticisms of the exhibition I have is that other than Ross (and to some degree Dunham) overall the other artists rely on lots of information to convey their "invented world," as if only via a multitude of messy marks that vision could be convincing (this is an oversimplification, I know, but stay with me...I do have a point). This may seem to contradict my opening observation that the essence here is detail, but I don't think that's necessarily the case. It would be nice to see a world that's just as compelling and complex but that's not as chaotic. Perhaps that's not possible, I don't know, but by the end of this exhibition I was ready to stare at a blank wall for a while.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Artist of the Week 06/27/05

Years ago, I convinced Dan Zeller to title the drawing I bought from him "Ode to Ed's Leg" (I have an impressively large scar running just above my right knee that most folks believe is the result of a shark attack if I tell them, which, in more mischievous moments, I do sometimes). The connection between Dan's incredible drawings and the accident that scarred my leg escapes me now, but I suspect it's the organic nature of what open limbs look like (which I recall all too well) and the shapes and textures he achieves in his mindbogglingly detailed ink on paper works. Consider this one:

Daniel Zeller, Squamotemporal Relinquishment, 2003, ink on paper,13.5" x 11"

You need to see them in person to appreciate the sheer volume of gestures each drawing represents, but this will give you a sense of the time and effort required to produce them. Dan is represented by Brooklyn's pre-eminent gallery, Pierogi, and Daniel Weinberg gallery in Los Angeles (which I can't find a website for), and g-module in Paris. The Pierogi website describes the work this way:

The visual language of these drawings is borrowed from many places, among them satellite images, electron micro graphs, topographical maps, anatomical and schematic diagrams—representations which might be generally categorized as two dimensional translations of the three dimensional world. There is no direct reference to anything in particular, it is more as if all of these sources are thrown together in a pot. In a sense the drawings become an act of digestion and regurgitation; reconfiguration driven by information overload. On a more practical level, the process is dynamic and very direct. It is a fluid series of spontaneous choices governed by self-imposed rules and conditions. The main rule is to always respect what has already been put on the page, as if every line is sovereign territory, not to be crossed or obscured.
Here's another image:

Daniel Zeller, Congestive Contamination, 2004, ink on paper, 12" x 9"

Dan has three (possibly four?) drawings in the Greater New York exhibition at PS1-MoMA (who should really put something about each artist on their website or not make the names in the list links, I mean, really...). Dan's work ranges from letter-sized paper to the rather large ink on gesso on board, like this piece that was in an exhibition at Smack Mellon:

Daniel Zeller, Conduit Merger, 2003, ink, gesso on canvas on board, 65" x 48" x 3 1/4"

In truth, none of these images do the work justice. I've scoured the web for close-ups, but this was the best I could find. Here's one more for the road, but really, go see the work in person. It's breathtaking:

Daniel Zeller, Elemental Inversion, 2003, Ink on paper, 14" x 9"

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Tasteful Nudity, Part II (Shifts in Perceptions)

It's been a while since the first Tasteful Nudity post, and I do want it to be a regular feature, so today I want to highlight the work of my favorite Dadist, Man Ray. Undoubtedly one of the most inventive (technically and stylistically) artists of his generation, Man Ray seemingly never tired of finding reasons to photograph women with no clothes on.

One of my artists, Jennifer Dalton, has this great PowerPoint piece titled, "Contemporary Art According to Jen" in which she skewers the rationales and strategies artists use to position themselves in the art market. It's a very funny piece in which she names names and doesn't hold back, including this slide titled, "It May Seem Like This Work Is About Sexy, Near-Naked Women, But It's Really About Something Else Entirely." Man Ray was the king of artists employing this strategy.

It's ironic that today we could offer up Man Ray's work as an example of "tasteful" nudity, as he most definitely sought to stir up controversy with it. But given where some contemporary artists have dared to go, Man Ray's work seems almost academic today. Almost...this image is still provocative:

Man Ray, Julia,
silver print, 1942

Considering the year (1942), I'm sure this image was just as controversial as, say, Andres Serrano's are today. Of course, if John Ashcroft had had his way, it might have become just as controversial again, but, thankfully, in case you hadn't heard, Gonzales isn't quite as prudish; the boobs at the DOJ have been exposed.

Occassionally, Man Ray's works borders on obvious gratuitousness (that is, the artistic/conceptual objective, if there really is one, gets lost among all the breasts). Consider this image:

Man Ray, Electricité, 1931, photogravure, 10" x 8"

The "electricity" excuse for this piece may have seemed advant garde at one time (it certainly seems to speak to the curators at the Chrysler Museum of Art [they own it]), but today it's just annoyingly obstructing our view of her left nipple.

This image (from his first film "Retour á la raison") is a bit less obvious in the way Electricité seems to me:

Then again, looking at these images in preview, I'm not so sure Man Ray's not still as provocative as he was back then. Seeing one image at a time, it's easy to associate his time and place in history with an innocence that's gone. But looking at them altogether, one gets the sense that he was perhaps just a bit of a perv. ;-)

Friday, June 24, 2005

The Drawing Center Controversy

So I'm listening to 1010 WINS on the radio this morning, and the announcer says "Families of 9/11 victims are upset again." The way he pronounced "again" implied that this was becoming tedious, and my first response was to think, "Hey, leave those folks alone. Whatever has prompted them to speak out, they deserve to be heard." I was still uncaffienated, mind you.

What's got the families of 9/11 victims upset now? Plans to move
The Drawing Center to the redeveloped World Trade Center site (with the moronically titled "Freedom Tower"). Why would this upset them? Because they feel the Drawing Center has exhibited unpatriotic, even offensive, artwork and that's inappropriate for Ground Zero.

I have a wide range of responses to that assertion. First and foremost, I understand that for many years or even generations to come, the location where the attacks took place will remain sacred to many people, and there are indeed reasons to be careful about what they'll be subjected to when visiting that location. Personally, I can't think of anything more offensive than rebuilding a symbol of unbridled capitalism there, but that's me.

Secondly (and here's where I know I risk pissing folks off, but stay with me, I'm just being honest), I never thought moving The Drawing Center to Ground Zero was a good idea. When I first heard of those plans it struck me as a bit tacky and somewhat shortsighted of the Center. Don't get me wrong. I think they do amazing work. And because their current neighborhood is no longer the art lover's destination it used to be, I imagine their attendance has waned a bit, so I totally support their moving to a higher profile location.

But the World Trade Center location will be a huge tourist draw, spanning the spectrum of people from around the world, many of whom don't see much art, let alone much art by "emerging and under-recognized artists", so any exhibition space there probably should be a bit fluffier and/or more universal than the Center's program has been to date. To assume their program has a wide enough appeal to serve that audience in that frame of mind, or that any institution with their reputation for rigourous cutting-edge curating could, is a bit naive in my opinion. Yes, the whole world should be encouraged to visit their space, but in a different context from the one the whole world will be expecting at Ground Zero. That doesn't mean Ground Zero should be a Freedom-flouting Disneyfied theme park, just that I can't imagine the feedback from tourists who--- expecting stars and stripes and John Philip Sousa---stumble into the Drawing Center won't end up changing the type of work they exhibit, and that would be a loss. Regardless of how firmly they stand up to criticism, the impact will be felt.

Thirdly, I think the families complaining about the art the Drawing Center has exhibited might benefit from learning just a bit about what the they're sounding off about. From the radio report I recognized a few of the "controversial" works they're objecting to. WINS didn't have this story up on their website when I was writing this, so I've taken this description of a few from the always dreary
New York Daily News (which is where WINS gets half their stories from anyways it seems):

  • [A] drawing of a jetliner dive-bombing a naked, spread-legged woman.
  • The infamous hooded Abu Ghraib figure, the wires falling from his wrists to arrange themselves into the word "Liberty."
  • A connect-the-dots organizational chart fancifully linking George W. Bush to Osama Bin Laden and former Texas Gov. John Connally and some oilman here and some financier there.
The last one is a piece by the late Mark Lombardi, who I knew to be an extraordinarily generous person with an impeccable degree of integrity about his work. Anyone who thinks that piece is inappropriate in any context has an allergy to the truth. The other pieces are perhaps a bit provocative for the audience I expect to flock to the new World Trade Center (only perhaps, mind you). But, again, I imagine the Drawing Center would think twice about showing work like that there based on the feedback I'm sure their more casual visitors would offer (I'd hope to be proven wrong about that, but again, I'm just being honest). All of which, again, is why I never thought their moving there was a good idea.

Finally, what would be a total abuse of the empathy the nation has for the families of 9/11 victims would be for them to get carried away with this latest protest and somehow demonize the Drawing Center. The tone of the quotes from family members (not to mention the tone of the Daily News' preposterously ignorant editorial, in which they demand to be told what the space's curatorial vision for the future is) is already beyond offensive to me, but the potential is there for some grandstanding politician to offer the Center up as the next "Piss Christ" example of what's wrong with the arts. The Drawing Center is a gem among New York's cultural institutions. It deserves better than this. Still, for totally different reasons, I agree it shouldn't move to Ground Zero. The pity in this is that the hacks at the Daily News will make a big deal about how they saved the nation from this scourge if the plans are changed. But only fools take them seriously anyway.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

China Art (and No One ) Objects

Well, it certainly wasn't love at first sight, but the most populous country in the world has recently fallen head over heels it seems for the most unregulated major market in the world. And, despite being a supposedly progressive community with rigidly liberal leanings, the art world seems quite smitten with the oppressive behemoth as well. Now, everywhere you turn in the art press there are stories on China's embrace of the West's cultural institutions. From Art Newspaper:

Not so long ago Chinese authorities were in the business of closing down contemporary exhibitions. Curators and artists organised shows furtively: at the 2000 Shanghai Biennial, for example, the official State-subsidised exhibition was accompanied by a crop of impromptu “underground” shows in warehouses and basements, most of which were announced just a few days before they opened to avoid pre-emptive moves by the police. Now Chinese authorities have become enthusiastic champions of domestic contemporary art; last week they inaugurated the first Chinese pavilion at the Venice Biennale and there is talk of a permanent Chinese pavilion to be built in time for the next biennale in 2007.

So what accounts for this volte-face? To say that money is the driving factor would be simplistic. The real reason is a desire to be taken seriously on the international cultural stage. “The Chinese want to be big in Venice and Basel. Compared to a few years ago, there is a generation of no less repressive but more subtle generation of leaders in power. They realise that contemporary art does not seriously threaten their authority,” says Jonathan Napack, a Hong Kong-based advisor to Art Basel.

He cites the example of former Chinese President Jiang Zemin who was embarrassed on an official State visit to France in 2002 by his inability to discuss paintings with president Jacques Chirac; no sooner had he returned to China than he promptly organised remedial lessons in modern art with Fang Di’an, now vice president of the Central Academy of Art in Beijing and the commissioner of the Chinese Pavilion at the current Venice Biennale.
And from comes a story about the hot art community in Beijing, 798. With comparisons to early Soho, and a bevy of foreign galleries opening up satellite spaces there, it's got "history in the making" written all over it.

Even artists who left the country in response to political repression or in hopes of making a better life for themselves are now returning to the Chinese metropolis. The Dashanzi Art District -- known simply as "798" to aficionados and located in the northeastern part of the city -- is the best example to date of a site where foreign visitors can see for themselves the serious art scene that has developed in Beijing. Starting on April 30th, a four week long multi-media cultural program, the Dashanzi International Art Festival (DIAF), was held there for the second time under the motto "Language / Fable" (Yuyan / Yuyan).
Read the whole article...798 seems raw, clunky, and exhilarating in the way Williamsburg or Soho were when they first began organizing. Here's more on 798 from DIAF's website.

Myself, I'm just in love with puns for titles. I don't actually object to this budding romance. In fact, it's a very good thing for China (see images like this for a hint as to why), and stands to be a very good thing for the art market. When discussing possible new locations for young art fairs with some colleagues recently, I insisted that Beijing was the spot to get a foothold in. There's a sense among dealers that the Chinese collectors are not quite ready to buy much Western art yet, but the Western galleries opening up in 798 now will undoubtedly have a leg up on the competition when they are.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Biennials vs. Art Fairs

Well, it's official:
Art Fairs are the New Biennials.

Art fairs are the new biennials. They are gigantic conventions where everyone sees one another, hangs out, and does deals. Fairs generate a genuine sense of community in an art world so sprawling that this experience is otherwise rare. They are more egalitarian than curator-driven exhibitions in which one person tells everyone else what to look at. Curator Massimiliano Gioni ruefully calls them "the ultimate form of the avant-garde: the corporate avant-garde."
It's common now to say that the commercial art fairs, like those in Basel or Miami, are the new biennales, vast malls of eclectic taste, dealer-run, not dictated by curators or hidebound by tradition, not hampered by lofty expectations or stuck with a slow schedule. Some museum survey shows now seem anxious to emulate the fairs, pandering to collectors, skipping big ideas, seeking to get ahead of the curve (see "Greater New York 2005" at P.S. 1).
In fact, one famous critic suggested the other day I don't need to travel to Venice this year because "You guys, gallerists, are doing a much better job at the art fairs than these curators" (meaning the curators of the biennials).

In contrast to what many other dealers have been quoted as saying, I actually love art fairs. I get off on the intensity of it all, including the set-up and tear down, the parties, the insane schedules, and especially the wheeling and dealing.

Having said that, I'm none too pleased to see the biennials take a back seat to the fairs. Despite increasing efforts to make art fairs about education, there's an inescapable overriding objective. An article in the UK's
Telegraph newspapers summed it up nicely:
Basel [the biggest fair in the world], on the other hand, is unquestionably about money, but aspires more and more to be about culture and education, to be like a biennale. Its curated exhibitions, critical forums, artists' talks, performances and public art projects all lend a tactical veneer of disinterest in money, while underwriting the notion that the art for sale is of museum quality.

For the legion of hungry collectors, however, any sense of decorum can quickly evaporate. Particularly noticeable this year was the feeling of urgency about capturing works by promising young artists while prices are low. As the doors opened, there was an unseemly stampede as collectors made a dash for their targeted prey. Countless sales were made within the space of a few hours.
Again, I don't mind the feeding frenzy art fairs have become. It's exhilarating, and let's face it, I'm in the business of selling art. But as an art lover, I want there to be a balance. I want biennials to counter the commerce-centric aspects of the fairs, to enrage the critics, bring out the protesters, spark debate among artists, etc., etc. Perhaps the major biennials need to reexamine their approach, and by that I most definitely don't mean become more like the art fairs.

The major observation (theory?) about why the biennials are failing is increasing globalization. The biennials used to be opportunities to see work one had only heard of, to gauge trends, to be surprised. With the Internet, easier travel, and most galleries representing artists from around the world, there are few surprises in any of the biennials. In fact, once wind gets out which artists are going to be in a biennial, it's increasingly rare to find any of them who haven't been snatched up by galleries and given exhibitions to coincide.

All of this will change, of course, when the art market cools down. But biennials still need to find some way to compensate for globalization and the reach of the galleries. Perhaps set a quota for unrepresented artists (certain studio programs won't allow an artist to be represented until after they leave the program, perhaps biennials could operate in a similar fashion). If they don't, they'll find their attendance numbers dwindling. I'm taking that critic's advice and not going to Venice at all this year.

UPDATE: Seems there's something in the air on this. Tyler Green* weighs in.

*And be sure and stop in to see the exhibition Tyler's curated, opening at DCKT this Friday.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Pricing Art

Constant reader crionna yesterday raised the issue of how expensive a sculpture was and how it wasn't worth that much to him. That got me to thinking about how art is priced.

Actually I think about it all the time. Barely a day goes by in the gallery when the topic doesn't come up, and working with emerging artists, it comes up in contexts that require a bit of patience and diplomacy, because, well, crionna nailed the issue: art is mostly priced according to what someone is willing to pay for it.

But first, for context, consider the anecdote of the famous French artist who is recognized by the owner of the cafe he stops into. The owner is delighted by the visit and promises to offer the artist the very best of his kitchen and bar. "And I would be honored if, while I prepare your meal, you would be so kind as to make a drawing I could hang in my cafe." The artist, turning over his paper place mat, agrees and begins to draw the flower in the vase before him. Later the owner returns with a feast and is thrilled to behold a stunning reproduction of the table decoration. "Mon Dieu!" exclaims the owner. "That's exquisite." The artist nods and states matter of factly, "That will be 5,000 Francs [it's an old anecdote]." "What!" cries the owner, stepping back and putting the drawing down. " can you charge 5,000 Francs? It only took you 10 minutes to make that drawing." "No, my good man," replied the artist. "It's taken me my entire life to be able to make that drawing."

It's this reality for artists, (i.e., that it's taken them years of study and very expensive schools to get to the point where they're ready to exhibit their work) combined with knowing how much other artists are getting for similar work (and, often, other artists they're convinced are inferior), that leads many emerging artists to assume their prices should be comparable.

What younger artists sometimes don't recognize (or don't want to, perhaps) is that the art market is first and foremost a market, and prices are determined by demand. If collectors are lining up to purchase a piece by an artist, his/her prices go up. If not, they don't. Of course, there are thresholds and size considerations (yes, paintings, for example, by unknown artists are often priced by the foot), but in general it's governed by the laws of supply and demand.

Paradoxically perhaps, one of the most common ways to increase demand for the work of an emerging artist is to price the work very attractively at first, thereby getting it into the collections of people who will exhibit it in their homes, talk it up, and do much of the PR for the artist themselves. Getting some younger artists to agree to this is challenging, but others seem to get it instinctively and insist their prices remain low until they have a waiting list. After that, the rise is much faster.

Some patient folks have amassed incredible collections by seeking out these underpriced works by good young artists (think the Ganz's). It takes a good deal of time and a good eye, but the reward is twofold: having a top notch collection and having it appreciate well beyond anything you could have afforded otherwise. Just food for thought.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Artist of the Week 06/20/05

It was his duct tape pigeon sculptures (see right) that first got me interested in Kevin Landers' work (apparently he's been making them since his first New York Solo show at David Zwirner Gallery in 1994 [he's now represented by Elizabeth Dee Gallery in Chelsea and Angstrom Gallery in Dallas]), but it's his photography that's perhaps earned him the most critical acclaim.

What William Eggleston is to Memphis, Landers is to Manhattan's Lower East Side, finding seemingly endless interest in the rich texture and absurdity of life and, particularly, commerce there. But more than just clever snapshots of everyday life, Landers' work skewers contemporary art while it documents. Consider this photo of a stuffed drainage grate:

Kevin Landers, untitled (Grate), 2002, C-print, 73 x 99 cm

Cropped to suggest nothing so much as a piece by Andreas Gursky, Lander's "Grate" does double or even triple duty (sending up certain practices in art, documenting the reality of his New York, commenting on consumption). And there's more to the sociological aspect of his work. As Art in America critic Barbara Pollack put it,

For Landers, the American consumer is found on Delancey Street, not browsing at Prada, as he reveals in Untitled (Man with Plaid Cart, New York). This figure, like a Duane Hanson sculpture, is unaware that his cheap brown coat or gaudy shopping cart might be subjects of ridicule. Landers's everyman, like the photographer himself, seems happy to ignore good taste or fashion trends but is willing to stop for a moment for the promise of a photograph.

Kevin Landers, Untitled (Man with Plaid Cart, New York), 2002, C-print, 47" x 31.5"

And although it's not totally clear to me what the exact message is, Landers does seem to attempt some commentary with his choice of materials, reflecting perhaps the potential curing effects of recycling on the chaotic consumerism he sees. From the handmade duct tape pigeons to his wall of handmade felt and plasticine "Sneakers" (another dig at Gursky and at Nike), he's perhaps highlighting the absurdity of what we're willing to pay for brand name goods.

(background) Kevin Landers, Sneakers, 2002, 60 felt and plasticine "shoes", 77" x 138" x 4"

Here's a close-up shot (with the artist). Landers stole the show (for critic Charlie Finch at least) with his sculpture at the most recent Armory Show. As Finch noted: "A few quirky masterpieces emerged from the decorative, photo-dominated heap. Best in show, by far, is Kevin Landers' eye-popping rack of colored bags of "potato chips" -- in fact they're filled with Styrofoam -- from Dallas' Angstrom Gallery, priced at $20,000." Here's an image:

Friday, June 17, 2005

Photography's Rise

Reportedly, John Baldessari once said, "There's no such thing as a bad photograph." I believe what that means is that so long as it's the artist's intent, a photograph can be blurry, the subject can be off-center, the image can be overexposed, etc., etc. (consider the photos of Thomas Ruff or Gerhard Richter). All the formal considerations we'd expect to be important for our family portraits by a professional photographer are the artist's to play with in order to achieve the final desired effect.

Although this acceptance of formal flexibility gives the artist a fair bit of leeway, just as with abstract painting or sculpture, it also places a heavy responsibility to convey something significant to the viewer. We'll accept that a painter meant for a palette to be jarring, for example, but that had better work toward a conceptual end of some importance or be beautiful despite itself.

Photography, as a medium, has broken out somewhat from its third-place standing behind painting and sculpture over the last decade. Consider what's happened in prices. The piece above, by Richard Prince (untitled, 1982, ektacolor print, 24" x 22.8"), recently sold at auction for US$576,000 (and it's an edition of 2). Of course, there are forces artificially inflating Prince's prices, but still...over half a million dollars. And that's not the most that's been paid for a photo either. Also consider what's happening in exhibitions. At MoMa recently, we've had major exhibitions by Thomas Demand, Lee Friedlander, and Ansel Adams. At the Met, exhibitions by Diane Arbus, August Sander, and Richard Avedon. And those are just the blockbuster exhibitions at the two biggest museums; there are many others. Photography has arrived.

Two of the major reviews in today's New York Times are about photography exhibitions. Roberta Smith reviews the Irving Penn exhibition at the National Gallery of Art in DC (see image at right). While Holland Cotter reviews what looks to be the absolute must-see photography exhibition of the year, "Young America: The Daguerreotypes of Southworth and Hawes" at the International Center of Photography. Here's a snippet from Cotter's review:

It's hard to find the right adjectives for "Young America: The Daguerreotypes of Southworth nd Hawes" at the International Center of Photography. So I'll just say that the exhibition of 150 or so mid-19th-century photographs is precious in the very best sense: literally beyond price, and almost, but not quite, beyond praise.

When photography arrived in America from Europe in 1839, it existed in two different forms. In England, William Henry Fox Talbot had developed a way of printing positive images from negatives onto paper; while in Paris, Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre had fixed positive images on polished metal plates. Talbot's process had the advantage of yielding unlimited copies of images, cheap. The selling point of the daguerreotype was the staggering clarity and brilliance of its images: diamond-cut empiricism bathed in apparitional light.

And here's a few of the daguerrtotypes in the exhibition:

Alice Mary Hawes, ca. 1855. Gift of Alden Scott Boyer. George Eastman House.

Decatur, Sloop-of-War in Boston Dry Dock, ca. 1855. George Eastman House.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Do the Masses Still Like Art in the US?

Disclaimer: I can't stand David Brooks. He's the biggest waste of op-ed space the NYT has. And yet, I read him, so...there must be something there.

In his column today, New York Times columnist and, IMO, hack extraordinaire, David Brooks pines for the days when the popular newsweeklies, like Time or Newsweek magazines, catered to the "middle-class people across the country who aspired to have the same sorts of conversations as the New York and Boston elite." The pull-quote in the print version of the paper reads, " Once upon a time, the masses liked art." Brooks argues that the days of 6-page spreads on Abstract Expressionism and other such middle-brow fare were snuffed out by a two-flanked attack:

Middlebrow culture was killed in the late 50's and 60's, and the mortal blows came from opposite directions. The intellectuals launched assaults on what they took to be middlebrow institutions, attacks that are so vicious they take your breath away.

Clement Greenberg called the middlebrow an "insidious" force that was "devaluing the precious, infecting the healthy, corrupting the honest and stultifying the wise." Dwight Macdonald lambasted the "tepid ooze" of the Museum of Modern Art and the plays of Thornton Wilder. Basically, these intellectuals objected to the earnest and optimistic middle-class arrivistes who were tromping over everything and dumbing down their turf.

At the same time, pop culture changed. It was no longer character-oriented; it was personality-oriented. Readers felt less of a need to go outside themselves to absorb works of art as a means of self-improvement. They were more interested in exploring and being true to the precious flower of their own individual selves.

My knee-jerk reaction to this claim was to want to assert that there's now a specialization in the media that didn't exist in the late 50's (literally dozens of new art magazines offering the 6-page spreads he holds up as proof) and that there's no need for broader publications to do that sort of in-depth coverage any would be redundant.

The more I though about that, though, the more I realized that perhaps Brooks has a point (as my father is fond of saying, "Even a blind pig finds an acorn now and then"...OK, that's my last pot shot...promise). Time and Newsweek are supposed to cover the spectrum of issues that affect our lives, including the topics that speciality magazines cover in more depth. Their decreasing coverage of more middle-brow art might indeed represent what Brooks calls a move toward "Less Rembrandt, more Me."

This would seem to be countered by the attendance at US Museums though:
There are now 16,000 museums in the U.S., drawing 650 million visitors annually, a 60% increase in attendance since 1997. Some of this growth is due to refocusing on local and regional visitation after 9/11/2001.
A 60% incease over the past 8 years doesn't sound like the death of interest in art to me, but there may be other factors to consider, like what those museums are exhibiting (i.e., how many of those 650 million visitors included motorcycle enthusiasts jamming into the Guggenheim?).

So back to my question. Do the masses still like art in the US? And how can that be determined?

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Art Fairs and Taking Control

The art market is so incredibly hot right now, it's no wonder that the most concentrated venues for it, art fairs, have become the centerpiece and controlling aspect of it. The plethora of art fairs now is approaching the level of farce, but with so much money and, more importantly, networking at stake, few emerging galleries can afford not to get into as many fairs as they can.
Despite the growing number of art fairs, though, with the market so strong, there are more and more galleries all the time, and so competition for the most important fairs is fierce. The directors of the most important fairs are virtual superstars (truly, Art Basel director Samuel Keller was listed in Details magazine a year ago as one of the "50 Most Influential Men Under 37"), and the anxiety among dealers who apply for the best fairs is high. For the 2005 Armory Show (New York's most important art fair for new art), a record 522 galleries applied for the 162 available booths.

Not getting into an important fair can have devastating effects on younger galleries, who rely on them for a big chunk of their annual sales, though, and as necessity is the mother of invention, younger galleries are finding ways to take control when the bigger art fairs turn them down.

One way younger galleries have responded is to form their own art fairs as satellites (some would say parasites) to the bigger fairs. One of the oldest and certainly the most ambitious of these satellite efforts is the series of art fairs in hotels called -Scope. With fairs in New York, Miami, London, Paris, and now even the Hamptons (as well as efforts in Los Angeles and Venice), -Scope can rightly claim to represent a global effort. Despite a sense among many galleries that -Scope fairs are not as serious as the main fairs they're feeding off, I've noticed an amazing degree of respect among collectors for the work they find in them. Oh, some still view the hotel motif as "cute" or whatever, and the galleries there as minor league, but they buy work from them (-Scope's last New York fair sold $2.5 million reportedly).

Other satellite fairs include the Stray Show (and now NOVA) in Chicago, the astonishingly successful NADA art fair in Miami, the worldwide DiVA art fairs, the Zoo art fair in London, and on and on and on. One of most recent (it's on as I write this actually), is the Volta Show in Basel. Its website notes that it's "part of the emerging movement of non-profit project fairs that are made by galleries for galleries." There's already a satellite art fair in Basel that's now 10 years old (Liste), but Volta represents the fact that galleries who are not included in Art Basel (the godfather of them all) or Liste still see the opportunity to be seen in that context (i.e., with all those curators, museum directors, and most importantly collectors spending vigorously) as important enough to take control and carve out their own piece of the pie.

One of my favorite responses to not being included in the "big" fair was the Art Rock project by New York's Clementine Gallery this past year, which presented projects by 10 artists from 10 galleries at Rockefeller Center and one of the most enjoyable parties of the season. It was a triumph of spirit, IMO, and the Clementine dealers are new heroes of mine for making such a huge and optimistic statement.

Eventually, this market too will cool. Established dealers are already discussing the coming "corrections," and the first victims of such will likely be the smaller fairs. What inventive solutions the younger galleries can find to deal with that downturn remain to be seen, but surely that which is not killing us now, is making us stronger.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Collecting with One's Ears: Open Thread

During a studio visit recently, I had an artist I've known for a number of years ask me point blank what I thought the odds of her selling a 8-foot tall painting she had just completed were. She asked in an open way that suggested I should advise her on how better to strategize in her studio so that the market helped her deplete her growing inventory. (In other words, what should she do with regards to size, etc. so that she would begin selling her work.) She's a very talented painter with a MFA from a top school, but so far the market has not beaten a path to her door.

I told her what I honestly believe, that each painting should be the size it must be to be conceptually sound. Then I told her what I see to be the reality of the market. It often all depends on whether you get "a name" or not. If you're relying on the foot soldiers, so to speak, among collectors---those who pound the pavement and seek out the newest of the new in the out-of-the-way spaces and who are daring enough to buy work by unknown artists---many (if not most) of them don't have the kind of space (or money) to buy work that large. If you do catch on, though, it's important to know that a good number of the bigger collectors (those with the money and space to let size be a more minor consideration for them) "buy with their ears." At that point, if you really want to sell, you better have a bunch in the same series though (same size range, same vocabulary range, same conceptual range, etc.) because that's what those who buy with their ears will like the one so-and-so has.

This phenomenon is a constant source of frustration for me.

There is a collector who's widely known to collect "challenging" art. He prides himself on it and is only to happy to tell you so. To get work into his collection is something good for my artists though, so despite nearly insufferably arrogant and rude behavior on his part, I'm as professional as I can be when we meet. Depending on who else is in the room, he may or may not recall that he recognizes me (that sort, you know). Anyway, at an art fair a few years back, this collector made an incredibly snide and dismissive comment about the work of an artist I was exhibiting. Truly, it was the rudest thing anyone's ever said about work I show to my face.

A short time later, that artist's work really took off, got into several important collections, and there's now a waiting list for it. This same rude collector then had a change of heart and decided to look at the artist again.

I don't care if a collector doesn't "get" work and so doesn't buy it, but then after some consideration realizes there was something there that's now appealing. I think that's a normal process within collecting. What disappoints me is collectors who don't learn to develop and then trust their eye. What pisses me off is those who are so committed to buying with their ears that they assume anyone they haven't heard of yet can't be any good. Consider this an open thread.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Artists of the Week 06/13/05

Normally I reserve this column for artists who are perhaps "underappreciated," and although the following winners of the Venice Biennale awards can no longer be considered "underappreciated," their achievement deserves special notice, IMO. So here they are---this year's Golden Lion and other winners:
  • Golden Lion to an individual artist: Thomas Schütte from Germany, whose sculpture in the Italian pavilion (see image to right) should not be confused with the work of Thomas Scheibitz, who with Tino Sehgal represented their nation in the German Pavillion.
  • Golden Lion for an artist under 35: Regina José Galindo of Guatemala.
  • Golden Lion for a national pavilion: France: for Annette Messager's installation about the Pinocchio.
  • The award for a young Italian artist: Lara Favaretto.
  • Golden Lion for lifetime achievement: Barbara Kruger of the USA (see one of my favorite pieces by her below).
  • And curator extraordinaire Harald Szeemann was posthumously awarded a special Golden Lion.

Congratulations to all the winners.

Barbara Kruger, Untitled (You Construct Intricate Rituals), 1981, Black and white photograph, 40" x 50".

Friday, June 10, 2005

Just for Mac

Given that he chose Warhol as the "most overrated artist," I figured Macallan would probably not want to rush out and see the new super-sized retrospect of Andy Warhol's work that Dia:Beacon is exhibiting to celebrate their second anniversary, so I thought I'd bring a bit of it to him.

Holland Cotter has truly outdone himself with a brilliant review of the exhibition in The New York Times in which he compares Warhol to Rubens. Here's a snippet:

Rubens believed that he lived in a diminished and degenerate age, "decay'd and corrupted" by a succession of "vices and accidents" in his words. He hated it, and constantly looked to an ancient past for a consoling model of virtue. Warhol, who went to Mass every Sunday, was similarly aware that the world was weak and corrupt, but he loved it, because it was there, and he was in it. Corruption, to him, made an endlessly fascinating study. For weakness, he had a soft heart. His Golden Age was his childhood, which he doggedly tried to recreate. In short, he saw decay where Rubens saw decay, but he also saw beauty. Who, in the end, had the truer eye?
With a Washington Monument wallpaper grounding all the 2-d works in the show, Dia is exhibiting Warhol's paintings in the way he apparently wanted them to be seen.

I have a problem with paintings that require installation to be seen at their "best" then being sold without the wallpaper (or whatever), so in general the practice rubs me the wrong way, but that's just the purist in me, I suppose. I'm sure Warhol would have argued that there's a reality to the market vs. exhibition I should just accept. Of course, I'm also sure he'd have argued that collectors should paper their homes with his wallpaper too. Here's one more image from the exhibition:

Thursday, June 09, 2005

The Art of Product Placement

Art Newspaper reports that the apparently cash-starved Boston Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) has extended the lease of paintings by Manet, Sisley, Pissarro, Renoir, and Cézanne to Paperball, a company run by Pace-Wildenstein that "operates a pocket-sized exhibition space in the Bellagio casino in Las Vegas." I've seen the exhibition space in the Bellagio, and "pocket-sized" is a euphemism. And while I want to retch when I think about the context, at least the Bellagio admits its raison d'etre is entertainment.

In lieu of getting to see its Impressionist paintings, however, the MFA is offering its viewers an exhibition of cars. That's right, if Krens can offer Guggy viewers motorcycles, why can't MFA offer its patrons cars? Ah, but wait, these are no ordinary cars...this exhibition comes complete with built-in cross-promotional opportunities. Behold: "Speed, Style, and Beauty: Cars from the Ralph Lauren Collection." And, of course, it's worse than you think:

The vintage Mercedes, Bugattis and Ferraris are undeniably beautiful design objects, but unless the museum treats them as it does other categories of fine and decorative arts, the institution blurs its mission with those of commercial and entertainment venues. For the Ralph Lauren show, the MFA leans heavily in that direction, with Mr Lauren’s voice on the audio guide, and a catalogue interview that allows him to discuss how his cars relate to his merchandise, not to mention his company’s ad campaigns. (emphasis mine)

Of course, the museum will argue that design has its place in their program and that ticket sales prove they're just giving the public what it wants, but stunts like this eventually make the MFA, like the Guggenheim, a bit of a joke. As Mark Kostabi noted recently, when it comes to art, often "what you see is where you see it." In this case, Lauren may benefit from having his collection seen in the context of a museum that has a certain prestige, but unfortunately that transaction doesn't work in reverse. Lauren has no serious art-world-valued prestige to offer the museum, and neither do his cars, beautiful as they may be.

The Summer Group Exhibition

Many New York area galleries host group exhibitions in the summer. As a dealer, it's an opportunity (while all you can focus on is which weekends you can get out to the Hamptons) to let someone else do a bit of the work (many shows have independent curators) or take a survey of where your program is and how it's holding together. It's also an opportunity to work with some new artists and have fun with the title of your show. Here's a quick round-up of selected group exhibitions just opened or about to in Chelsea and Brooklyn (we'll begin with one close to my heart):

The Expression of Elemental Passions...(or, Damn Everything but the Circus) @ Plus Ultra, featuring Nancy Baker, Leslie Brack, Amanda Church, Jennifer Dalton, Nicholas Gaffney, Kate Gilmore, Joe Fig, Rosemarie Fiore, Jeff Hand, Christopher Johnson, Alois Kronschläger, Thomas Lendvai, Max-Carlos Martinez, Analia Segal, and Andy Yoder.

Monochrome Images @ Elizabeth Harris Gallery, featuring David Baskin, Miriam Bloom, Francis Cape, Mary Carlson, Susan Grahm, John Monti, Arlene Shechet, Mary Beth Thielhelm, and Thomas Weaver.

Wasteland: 21st Century Landscape @ Roebling Hall, featuring Erik Benson, Jane Benson, Davide Cantoni, Adam Cvjianovic, Christoph Draeger, Justin Faunce, Dan Ford, Cadence Giersbach, Yun-Fei Ji, Justine Kurland, Hans Op de Beeck, David Opdyke, and David Thorpe.

Delicate Demons and Heavenly Delights @ Oliver Kamm/5BE featuring Van Hanos, Adam Helms, Min Kim, Paula Kane, Charlene Liu, Tim Lokiec, Ted Mineo, Dane Nester, and William Villalongo.

Life and Limb (curated by David Humphrey) @ Feigen Contemporary, featuring Joe Andoe, Lars Arrhenius, Drew Beattie, Max Beckmann, John Bock, Saint Clair Cemin, Henry Darger, Tim Davis, James Ensor, Inka Essenhigh, George Grosz, Nicky Hoberman, Paul Hodgson, Ridley Howard, Elizabeth Huey, David Humphrey, Dennis Kardon, Amanda Lechner, Judith Linhares, Craig Love, Kerry James Marshall, Jim Nutt, Sarah Peters, Clare Rojas, Ivan Witenstein, and Karen Yasinsky.

Something is Somewhere (Curated by Anat Ebgi and Monya Rowe) @ Monya Rowe, featuring Aja Albertson, Katia Bassanini, Larissa Bates, Amy Bennett, Jen DeNike, Angela Dufresne, Echo Eggebrecht, Adriana Farmiga, Sabrina Gschwandtner, Magalie Guerin, Elizabeth Huey, Ellen Lesperance & Jeanine Oleson, Caitlin Masley, Sigrid Sandstrom, Erika Somogyi, Frances Trombly, Whitney Van Nes, Abbey Williams, and Sheri Warshauer.

And opening soon, Somewhere Outside It (Curated by Janet Phelps) @ SchroederRomero, featuring Sarah Beddington, Mary Carlson, Jennifer Coates, Mira Dancy Tory Fair, Linda Ganjian, Heather Johnson, Medrie MacPhee, Adia Millett, Laura Parnes, Arlene Shechet, and Charlotta Westergren.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

I thought we won the Cold War

Some things defy comment:

From Articulatory Loop (via Wonkette) comes this photo of a poster for the MARC commuter rails between Baltimore and our nation's capital. I'm speechless.

Richard Serra the Mensch?

Michael Kimmelman goes to great lengths in his review of the new exhibition at the Guggenheim in Bilbao to reframe the public perception of superstar sculptor Richard Serra.
The installation is one of the great works of the past half-century, the culmination of a remarkable fruition in Mr. Serra's career. It rejuvenates and pushes abstraction to a fresh level. And it is deeply humane, not least because it counts on individual perception, individual discovery.
Humane? Serra? Really?

Look up any bio of Serra, even a very short one, and you'll see noted the fact that he so misunderstood the location (and people who live/work there) of his lower Manhattan behemoth outdoor sculpture Tilted Arc (1981) that he was forced to remove it quite unceremoniously. What's surprising about that episode is how Serra's resentment got so much press and support among art world types. The rightful (IMO) resentment of the public was pooh-poohed.

Kimmelman argues that since then Serra has perfected his visual language (and downplays the difference context makes to viewers...that what they're willing to tolerate in a museum is vastly different from what they're willing to tolerate in their daily commute) and that his newest pieces are no longer about mountains of raw steel or the artist's ego, but rather about the individual interacting with them:
Mr. Serra's sculptures are massive, but their materiality is subordinated to intangibles of perception. [...] You might say that they shift the focus from sculpture as object to the viewer as subject.
You might, but I won't. Serra remains for me, along side di Suervo and even Smithson and to some sense Judd et al., the most offensive sort of artist. When I saw the Serra room at Dia:Beacon, sure I enjoyed, in a "when in Vegas, get into the spirit of it" sort of way, wandering through the maze of cavernous leaning walls, feeling dwarfed by all that cold metal, but all the while my most urgent question was finding out how the hell they got them in there. Eventually I made my way to the end of the hangar-sized room and found the giagantic garage doors...ahh, I that's how. And, sadly, little more.

The feeling was similar to watching a blockbuster movie and being so bored by the narrative your mind wanders to how much it cost them to shut down that section of Manhattan long enough to film there. At the point, whatever the medium, the piece fails. Serra's work has yet to transcend that impression for me. There were other works at Dia whose installation required just as much engineering, now that I think about it, but I was so swept away by their presence when faced with them, it was the furthest thing from my mind.

I could go on, but it's still possible one day Serra's work will "click" for me and I'll want to take all this back. Until then, by all means, wander through them...they're a wonderful feat of installation, wherever they may be.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Artist of the week 06/06/05

This is the image that first told me Anthony Goicolea was an artist to watch:

Anthony Goicolea, Whet, ©1999, black and white photograph, 40" x 88", Edition of 5

I saw it in a group exhibition back in 1999 or 2000 and knew I would never forget it. All three of the figures are actually Anthony, obviously digitally inserted into the same scene somehow (I've never asked him about his process, but he's clearly a master at it). His Detention series is even more provocative and memorable (particularly [warning: not work safe] this image and this one, and yes, again, it's mostly him in each role). Violence and mayhem among adolescents run rampant through many of the earlier narratives Anthony created in his photography and videos, but lately he's stopped using his own image as much (he still looks half his age, but he suggested once he can't keep doing that series for ever because he's getting older).

A friend of Anthony's (and disclaimer, one of my artists, Jennifer Dalton) explained Anthony's work this way:
Across the specific differences among Goicolea’s works, the artist tirelessly excavates human weakness, awkwardness, and discomfort. Toward the end, he returns again and again to his themes of adolescent sexuality, unflinching self-exploration, and the never-ending contest between victims and victimizers. We are torn between the desire to witness these strivers and underdogs evolve gloriously into calm, powerful grown-ups and wanting to observe the Peter Pans as they play out the piercing struggles of adolescence—such apt metaphors for the rest of life’s battles—into eternity.

A few years ago, Anthony expanded his project to include landscapes. Here's one absolutely stunning image (click on image for larger version). You can see it's still digitally composed, and over the top, but gone are the humans:

Anthony Goicolea, Cherry Island, ©2002, 27" x 71", Edition of 9

Anthony was recently picked up by Postmasters Gallery in Chelsea, where his latest exhibition just closed, unfortunately, but in that exhibition, he returned to narratives with people. The Kidnap series is in someways perhaps his darkest yet, but still totally unforgettable (again, click for larger image):

Anthony Goicolea, Still Life with Tea, ©2004, 40" x 60", Edition of 9

Friday, June 03, 2005

Who is Gorgon?

Not since "Janet Preston" (aka Charlie Finch) made the pages of Coagula sizzle and squirm has a pseudonymous writer offered up the sort of steaming art world dish that "Gorgon" has been pumping out on With only three published pieces, Gorgon's "Irreverent Truths" has become the must-read gossip column (sorry, Bambino). Here's just a taste from the latest:

[Powerful New York art dealer Matthew] Marks may be "conspicuously slavish in his devotion to his artists" -- false personalization at its insinuating best -- but there's clearly an ulterior motive to it. And there's also the "haughty remove" at which Marks keeps himself from the collectors on whom he's dependent. He's apparently "very good at imitating those silly people and the way they talk" or commenting on "what silly thing Aggie Gund" -- former president of the Museum of Modern Art, and thus a power that was and is -- "was wearing when he last saw her. She's a terrible dresser, and Matthew and Jack love to talk about it." It's all in the family -- the quotation is from art historian Robert Rosenblum, another member of the family -- but there's also the wish to humiliate and mock, perhaps because Marks and [former Artforum editor and boyfriend to Marks, Jack] Bankowsky are neither artists nor art historians, but upstart art-bankers, which must make them feel inferior.

Of course, my first thought when I started to read "Gorgon" was to suspect Mr. Finch had adopted a new pen name. Why would he do this when he has his own column on, you ask? Well, perhaps to separate the signed columns in which he's been shamelessly plugging this or that friend's gallery or art from those in which he's re-indulging in his lost art of ripping art folks a new one. Consider that--as one reviewer of Coagula's collected essays "Most Art Sucks" put it:

Coagula magazine is pretty much Matt Gleason and Charlie "Janet Preston" Finch bitching about the capitalist motives behind the contemporary art world. The emphasis here is on the art WORLD, not really the art. I think if you boiled all their ranting down to one argument it would be something like, "The contemporary art world suffers from compromised objectives and financial self-interest due to art world particpants performing dual duties such as the collector-curator, critic-collector, etc."
That also pretty much well describes the subject matter of "Irreverent Truths'" first three columns (1 [on "important art celebrity news"]; 2 [on how "Greater New York" proved it's time to "purge the moneylenders from the temple of art"]; and this latest one on the MM [Matthew Marks] empire).

The problem with this theory however is that the writing styles are vastly different. Finch is a virtuoso of the English language, each of his columns reading like it was written by the absinthe-intoxicated homophobic love child of Wilde and Baudelaire. "Gorgon" is much more clumsy.

Another possible clue to "Gorgon's" identity though may be found in the fact that two of the three columns so far stemmed largely from articles in New York Magazine, AND in the latest piece, "Gorgon" takes a gratuitous pot shot at the art critic of New York Magazine's competitor The New Yorker, Peter Schjeldahl. Could it be that simple though? Could "Gorgon" be a frustrated New York Magazine critic? Two cites are not that much evidence, I'll grant you, but it does seem a possibility.

Perhaps it's even easier though. Perhaps it's Matt Gleason (is he on the East coast now)?

Any other guesses?

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Kyrgyz Artists at Venice Biennale

Bambino and I now are deeply regretting that we had decided not to travel to Venice this year (but last time it was so miserably hot and the dollar currently sucks against the Euro). So, why the regret? For the first time, Kyrgyzstan will be represented at the Venice Biennale. For those who may not know, Bambino is Kyrgyz, and we could not be more proud to learn that a Central Asian Pavillion will be exhibiting work from Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan. But forget the other countries...we're focused on the Kyrgyz artists. They include the teams of Gulnara Kasmalieva & Muratbek Djoumaliev and Roman Maskalev & Maxim Boronilov. Both teams are gaining quite a name for themselves it appears.

Kudos to the Kyrgyz organization
Kurama Art for organizing the exhibition.

Contemporary art in
Kyrgyzstan (which you may recall is essentially still in the midst of a revolution, having chased off their corrupt president and working toward elections this summer) is struggling. It's a highly international art dialogue these days, and being relatively a poor country, it's difficult for Kyrgyz artists to mount the sort of exhibitions that gain international attention. Still, progress is being made, and interestingly, video art seems to be leading the way throughout Central Asia. In the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek, an exhibition held last April (2004) brought video artists from around the world to the G. Aitiev Kyrgyz National Museum of Arts.

So from Bambino and me to the Kyrgyz artists heading to Venice, we say: УДАЧА! (Anyone travelling there, please stop in the Central Asian Pavillion and snap a few photos for us.)

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Get if off your chest, 2: open thread

I'll confess up front that I'll use open threads on days I'm too busy to research something more in depth, but today's question truly is something I think about a good deal: who is the most overrated artist?

Among dead artists, I chose Jackson Pollock. I appreciate his conceptual achievements, but deep down I'm an aesthete, and despite having spent years looking at Pollocks hoping something would click, I still find most of them butt-ugly. It may not be fair to judge by this next image, considering some folks think it's a fake, but if even the experts can't agree whether Pollock painted this or not, it seems to just strengthen my argument:

Among living artists, I choose Damien Hirst. I'd choose Tracey Emin, but let's face it, history is going to be cruel enough to her as it is. I've always suspected Emperor Hirst, though, wore little to no clothes (despite his groovy titles, and decorative but lovely dot paintings), and his last show at Gago proved it to me. This next image for example would provoke yawns from the average audience for a campily-hosted local TV horror flick program (don't know what yours was called where you grew up, but in Cleveland it was the Hoolihan and Big Chuck [who can forget "Readings by Robert"?] show, which morphed into the Big Chuck and Little John show [scroll down at that link a bit])...but back to Hirst, what the hell is this?:

Surely, The Damien is just phoning these in.