Wednesday, August 31, 2005

New Orleans Needs Our Help

UPDATE: Via Tyler Green.
AAM reports that the Southeastern Museums Conference has established a fund for museums and cultural sites affected by Katrina. Click here for information on how to contribute.

In fact, the entire Gulf Coast needs our help. I've spent the morning looking a photos of the devastation and it's clear when the count is totalled, that hundreds of people will have lost their lives and millions their way of life. New Orleans as we knew it is gone. The misery for its residents is clearly only beginning.

The Red Cross is one of the best places to send contributions at this point.

After 9/11, Americans from every corner of the country proved that we were all New Yorkers. Today, we're all New Orleanians.

UPDATE: Mark has recommended an online auction to help raise funds. Anyone with experience doing that want to suggest how to start?

UPDATE II: I don't want this to turn in to a red vs. blue free for all, but doesn't he have people to tell him that photo ops like this

President Bush plays a guitar presented to him by Country Singer Mark Wills, right, backstage following his visit to Naval Base Coronado, Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2005.

are best reserved for days on which the nation is not also seeing images like this...
Floodwaters from Hurricane Katrina cover a portion of New Orleans, La., Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2005, a day after Katrina passed through the city.

Bush Tax Cuts' Bias Against Art Being Fought

It's not as if most people in the art world needed another reason to dislike President Bush, I know, but here's a thorny little issue: when he finally managed to force through his controversial 2003 tax cuts, Bush reduced capital gains for most assets (including stocks, and bonds, and real estate) from 20% to 15%, but he left artworks at 28%. Now I'm no fan of the Bush tax cuts, but if he's gonna assert that they're meant to stimulate the economy, then leaving the art industry out of that picture is anti-elitism taken to its most unfair extreme.

Finally the art world is preparing to fight back. From the Financial Times (but via the FirsTnews site, which doesn't charge), we learn:

Leading US art dealers have joined with auction houses Christie's and Sotheby's in a big push to reduce the capital gains tax on art and collectibles, in the industry's first lobbying effort in almost 20 years. [...]

Gilbert Edelson, the counsel for the Art Dealers' Association, said: "The internal revenue code is unfair to artists and to collectors. The art industry is one of few that until now has not done anything about legislation, but there has been a growing movement that we should do something about this."

He said the British Art Market Federation had been lobbying effectively for some time in Britain, and the US had looked to this as an example of what might be achieved.

The dealers' association, an invitation-only group of 160 members, has formed the Visual Arts Alliance with the two auction houses, to represent their group effort, and hired two Washington lobbyists to put their case.

The "Visual Arts Alliance" might need to change their name (that moniker's already been claimed by a group from Houston), but it looks as if they might be a force to deal with (and a very pro-artist force at that!):

As a result of the alliance's efforts, Senators Pete Domenici, a Republican, and Charles Schumer, a Democrat, in June introduced the Art and Collectibles Capital Gains Tax Treatment Parity Act, which would make art and collectibles taxed at the same rate as other assets.

The bill also aims to correct a discrepancy which penalises artists. A collector who donates an artwork to a museum is able to claim the donation as a tax deduction, at its fair market value. However, an artist who donates their own work to a museum is allowed to claim only the cost of materials, such as paint and canvas. The bill would allow artists to claim the fair market value of their donation in the same way as collectors.
Now Senators introduce bills to appease rich contributors that don't stand a snowball's chance in hell all the time, and of course the old adage of "be careful what you wish for" applies nowhere as much as it does for groups who want more of the Federal government's attention, but this adjustment is only fair. What should be interesting is watching the Congresscritters who love tax breaks but hate the arts contort themselves into some sellable position on this. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Art History as Subject Matter

In yesterday's Artist of the Week thread, reader Tim offered what I consider a debatable, but brilliantly considered, opinion about using art history as subject matter in one's work:

I have alot of trouble with this work [Eve Sussman's]. It is undeniably beautiful (from the stills anyway) but she is borrowing credibility from art history. It is a strategy we are all taught these days but it seems small minded and fearful at its base, Some sort of abdication of artistic responsibility to be self determined and fearless. The artist's responsibility is to put him or herself at risk. To seek a bullet proof path is to fail to grapple with this basic thing and leaves the viewer (this viewer, I should say) feeling cheated.
Disclaimer: Like Eve's gallery, my gallery exhibits work by several artists who use art history as their subject matter in one way or another. It's not only a passion of ours, but we consider it a zeitgeist that would be, for us anyway, pointless to ignore. My comments below are informed by that position. Also, I'm not meaning to pick on Tim. I really do think his comment was brilliant...but it provides for great debate, and that's what blogs are for IMO.

The part of Tim's comment that stings (because it's true to a large degree) is the notion that artists using art history as their subject are "borrowing credibility." More than "credibililty" though, they're borrowing interest. Why that would disappoint or even annoy some art viewers is clear if one considers why it's become annoying that every third Hollywood movie these days (Dukes of Hazzard, Spiderman, Batman, Bewitched, etc. etc.) cashes in on some existing franchise's popularity. You have a built-in audience, and, to that degree, I can understand why Tim sees such work as fearful...on that primary level it's safe.

But here's the thing, the age of pluralism has afforded artists more than simply a lack of a dominant, oppressive movement that overshadows everything else. It has provided a break of sorts, a reprise (for how long, who knows?) from the accerlerating succession of 20th Century movements (or earlier) that promoted themselves via what I call the "slay the father" method, which in turn has provided an opportunity to reconsider whether those movements had died of exhaustion or were actually murdered by an ambitious heir apparent. In other words, artists are currently free to pick up the narratives of the giants of previous movements, to continue their explorations, often finding that they had been buried prematurely, that there were indeed very valuable discoveries yet to be realized had the art world been patient enough. We're seeing a corrections of sorts. Not a deconstruction of the canon (been there, done that), but rather a reconstruction, a picking up of the pieces deconstruction had left strewn across the landscape by a new generation of "Artists": people who want to, no scratch that, need to make, build, create.

Like I said, I feel it's a zeitgeist I can't ignore. Where it leads...? Who knows.... But it's a very relevant part of who we are right here, right now. Using art history as subject matter is a direct, honest way of exploring this stage of reconstruction. YMMV.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Katrina and the Waves

Just a quick post to point out how you can help those affected by Hurricane Katrina. Network for Good has compiled a list.

Artist of the Week 08/29/05

Eve Sussman made a huge splash with her video 89 Seconds at Alcazar. The piece was included in the last Whitney Biennial and was described in New York Magazine this way:

In 89 Seconds at Alcazar, [Sussman] presents a ten-minute loop based on Velázquez’s Las Meninas, with actors playing members of the Hapsburg family. “That painting has the cinéma-vérité quality that only a snapshot has,” says Sussman, “and it predates photography by centuries.” At 42, Sussman is one of the Biennial’s older “emerging” artists, but if her breakout moment has been a long time coming, it seems to have definitely arrived. To make Alcazar, Sussman met with one of the world’s foremost Velázquez scholars and teamed up with Jonathan Bepler, who composed the score for Matthew Barney’s Cremaster series. But any similarities between her and Barney end there. “Where theatricality and real life mix—that, to me, is more interesting than the lavish theatricality that Barney does,” she says. 89 Seconds at Alcazar nevertheless promises to be one of this Biennial’s epic experiences.
Was it ever!

Eve is a very good example of how the pay-off we've been discussing can come for artists who don't compromise their work. In her early forties, she took a chance with a major investment, stayed true to her vision, and saw her career skyrocket. A beloved part of the Williamsburg scene whom everyone is very happy to see make it big, Eve is represented by Roebling Hall Gallery. Here's another still from 89 Seconds...

It is a gorgeous, mature piece that I quite frankly would be shocked to see a younger artist have the insight to make. MoMA owns a copy, and because the others in the edition are long sold out, I suspect that's your best chance of seeing the piece now (anyone know of any upcoming museum showings?). The obvious comparison with Bill Viola has been made, but as one critic noted:

Eve Sussman slows things down, too, with her own slow-motion version of Las Meninas. Whereas Viola aims at the stability of painting, however, Sussman perceives the instability of its making. Where he hopes to make human tears stand still, she makes one wonder what that still moment can ever capture.

Like many video artists, Eve exhibits stills (photographs) from her productions (and sells them too). The stills from 89 Seconds at Alcazar are breathtaking: Here's another:

Eve was in Greece this past spring (actually I'm not sure she's back yet), shooting her next piece, The Rape of the Sabine Women (or possibly titled Raptus...there's a bit of confusion it seems), inspired by Jacques-Louis David’s painting The Intervention of the Sabine Women (1794–99). Here's a production still of that upcoming piece (if you look closely you'll see one of her dealers in this still):

I, for one, can't wait to see this when it's complete.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Collecting Getting More Complicated:
What You Should Know

As I noted in yesterday's post, The Rand Corporation recently released a 152-page report (pdf file) titled "A Portrait of the Visual Arts: Meeting the Challenges of a New Era." (See more about the report on Gallery Hopper and Arts Journal.) The summary of the report suggests the art market is not quite as "rosy" as the conventional wisdom suggests, but I think that's a bit sensationalistic for reasons I'll explain in yet another post (how meta can we get here, eh?). For today, though, although the report contains observations about nearly every corner of the art world, including museums, galleries, artists, and curators, I want to focus on the trends they highlight that collectors should note. From the text of the report:

Changes in collecting patterns have been even more dramatic than those in appreciation. Although still dwarfed in absolute numbers by the millions who go to museums each year, the number of collectors appears to have increased during the last two decades by an order of magnitude. In addition, the tastes of collectors appear to have become more diverse in terms of what they collect, e.g., periods and styles of work and the media used.

Whether these trends will continue into the future, however, is less certain since they appear to have been driven by three phenomena: first, rapid growth in the most affluent segments of the population; second, that population's increasing attraction to fine art collectibles; and third, a growing tendency to view fine art as an investment. The first and third of these trends will largely be determined by such macrolevel forces as the growth of the economy and the relative returns on different kinds of assets, which are largely beyond the purview of the arts market per se. Therefore, the key questions may well be whether the more affluent will continue to purchase art and what types of art they will purchase. As the prices of fine art have risen, the range of art that collectors have purchased has expanded to include less expensive items that were not formerly prized.... This trend may well continue, but it may also spread to the general commercial and design markets---particularly if purchasing and collecting art becomes more of a middle-class pastime.

In any case, the tremendous growth of the arts market has raised questions about its longer-term effects on the quality of art more generally---particularly among those who fear that continued growth will be driven by speculation. [emphasis mine]

This last idea gets a fair bit of attention in the report, with Rand summarizing their findings this way:

At the same time that prices have reached headline-grabbing heights, the arts market has become increasingly like other asset markets. The value of an artist's work is determined not, as was traditionally the case, by the consensus of experts, but increasingly by a small number of affluent buyers who are drawn to purchase works for their potential investment value.
OK, so I'm gonna say this one time and then drop it so that I can discuss the art market in unemotional terms. You should only buy art that you love. No, scratch that, you should only buy art that you simply MUST have. No, let's be clear, you should only buy art you are so obsessed by you nearly cause a 50-car pile up on the interstate so distracted were you by considering whether you could live with sending your child to that third-tier university in order to buy that piece you keep dreaming about. We good on this? OK...

That highlighted observation in the last quote above is the key to understanding how collecting has been impacted by recent trends. In a nutshell, the art market became more like other markets in that it became much, much more transparent. Those who understand how unregulated the art market remains in comparison with other markets may chuckle at that idea, but bear in mind that until a very significant change in strategy by the auction houses (i.e., from predominately wholesale into retail operations) and the resulting increase in access to important information (via their catalogs, symposia to educate potential clients, presale viewings, and lavish entertaining of clients), everything had moved much more slowly. Back then, collectors got their very valuable information by developing intimate relationships with dealers, curators, museum directors, etc. (now that information's on the Internet or in the mail for all to see) and so had a good deal more time to consider their purchases. Today, as evidenced by the scene at the opening of last year's NADA fair, many collectors are more like crazed shoppers at Macy's clearance sales.

But that's just one part of how the art market has changed. The other significant change is a dramatic increase in both prices and volume of artwork (and, as we know there ain't been much of an increase in the volume of new Old Master works, the main market we're discussing here with regard to increases in volume is the Contemporary one). And it's the same with prices...Contemporary Art is what's changing the game:
Although the work of Impressionists and old masters has generally garnered the highest prices (Picasso's Boy with a Pipe sold for $104 million in 2004 and Van Gogh's Portrait of Dr. Gauchet for $82.5 million in 1990), perhaps the most dramatic increases were in the values of contemporary artists. The first $1 million sale of a work by a living artist (Jasper Johns' Three Flags) occurred in 1980. Nine years later, Johns' False Start sold for $17 million, and more recently another work by Johns reportedly was sold for $40 million in a private sale--a forty-fold increase in price in just over 20 years. Today, the size of the market for contemporary work is considered to be equal to or greater than the market for historic works. This phenomenon may be partly because the supply of contemporary work, unlike that of old masters and modern art works, is constantly expanding. Nonetheless, at least ten living artists are known to have one or more works purchased for $5 million and up.
Here's a chart that illustrates the increase (from the report, because, let's face it, this piece is text heavy enough [click to see image larger]):

Unlike other markets though, when prices go up in the art market, so does demand. And that brings us to the essence of what's changed: "a major reason for the initial price increases and their subsequent volatility was the trend toward treating contemporary art as an investment."

"Volatile" is putting it lightly.

An interesting side effect of speculators having easier access to the sort of information that used to be the privilege of those who had developed relationships with the insiders (and become insiders themselves) is that speculators are increasingly (and more confidently) competing more openly with "real" collectors for those prized pieces. Especially at the art fairs, where dealers are under tremendous pressure to pay for their booths.

So what does that mean for "real" collectors? Personally, I feel it means they're being pressured to make decisions more quickly (not to mention compete more fiercely themselves), and that may eventually lead to weaker overall collections. (Yes, this is a dealer saying this...but remember, some of my best friends are collectors and I don't want to see them getting burned.)

At a recent panel discussion at an art fair, I asked two of the world's best-known collectors of contemporary art whether they felt the shift in focus from gallery purchases to art fair purchases, where collectors are known to sneak into the fair during set-up (some even posing as maintenance workers or gallery employees to do so) just to get first dibs, has impacted the way they buy their art. In particular, did they feel like they were being rushed.

I should have been more tactful. I don't think they'll be buying from me any time soon. They, of course, denied that there was any negative impact from the trend. A younger collector on the same panel, though, answered that she did indeed feel more pressure to make up her mind more quickly. She resisted the pressure, but she felt it.

So what can a young collector, who can't muscle their way into the fairs early, do to compete and maintain the strength and integrity of their budding collection? That's something I'll tell you in private (Hey, I'm still a dealer).

Tagged and Bagged, Part III

In case you hadn't heard, Marc Ecko did end up getting the permit for the graffiti art performance at his block party (see earlier rant about this):

The event was the climax of a monthslong legal struggle that ended Monday, when a federal judge ordered the Bloomberg administration to reinstate a city permit to close West 22nd Street between 10th and 11th Avenues for the celebration of graffiti.

The judge ruled that the city had abridged the free-speech rights of the company holding the event, Ecko Unlimited, run by the designer Marc Ecko. has more photos (like this one below).

Friday, August 26, 2005

Tagged and Bagged, Part II

OK, so this is an example of exactly why I was so hesitant about condemning graffiti art: doing so in absolute terms leads to facist censorship bullshit like this:

Using a little-known ordinance that allows the city [Los Angeles] to regulate murals that abut public property — including sidewalks — officials have notified some property owners that they must either modify or remove their murals.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa began the pilot program to enforce the ordinance while he was still a councilman representing the Eastside. But the effort, which targets murals that lack city permits, has divided residents, reflecting a divergence in views about graffiti and art that is playing out in cities across the nation.

Though some consider the graffiti look a legitimate — even hip — form of art, others, including city leaders and police, remain convinced it is a symbol of blight and crime.


In Boyle Heights, inspectors arrived at Joe Escobedo's Rosemead Radiator Shop on Wabash Avenue a few weeks ago to tell him to remove the spray-painted mural he had commissioned for the west-facing brick wall of his business [see image above].

A tagger who called himself Keo had approached him about five years ago saying, " 'You got a nice wall there. Want a mural?' " Escobedo recalled.

"I told him, 'Do something nice, something I'm going to like,' " Escobedo said Wednesday, his face and work clothes a little oil-stained. "You've got to get close to figure it out, but it does have something to do with radiators."

The mural shows the name of the shop in bold graffiti-like letters next to a pair of cartoonish radiators. Keo received $300 for the job and periodically returns to touch up the mural when taggers or gang members vandalize it, Escobedo said.

But the city recently issued an order saying Escobedo must whitewash the wall and that a nonprofit art group would come to paint a new mural for him.

The inspector "said they considered [the mural] graffiti," Escobedo said. "That's graffiti right there," he said, pointing across the street to a white wall sliced by crude gang tagging.

Are you fucking kidding me? Government inspectors in Los Angeles are going to decide what's art and what's not? Who are these inspectors? What are their credentials for making such a determination?

Consider the ramifications here. Escobedo commissioned that piece. If Escobedo likes it and it's not violating any obscenity laws, who the hell is Villaraigosa to play art critic? Worse than that, though, who are these "nonprofit art group" artists? Do they take orders on what to paint from the mayor? What if Escobedo doesn't like what they paint? Can he insist they start over, and where does that leave the new artist with regards to creative control? This is an idiotic idea from beginning to end.

Here's more:
"For the last 15 years, the relationship between the store owner and the writer [muralist] has been there and there hasn't been a need for government articipation," said Montalvo, 35, also known as Nuke [see image above]. "What I'm afraid is they may want to suppress or oppress any content that in their eyes they think is inappropriate."

One of the murals the city has targeted for removal or modification was a spray-painted piece created by Montalvo in 2001. The mural, on a wall of the crumbling Mazatlan theater on Eastern Avenue in El Sereno, depicts Charlie Chaplin and Mexican comedic icon Cantinflas with the phrase "Comin' to da Barrio."

He said he painted it with the theater owner's permission and with help from female graffiti tagger Mellow.

Read the article. Some of the murals slated for whitewashing are by artists who spend a great deal of their own time and effort repairing the pieces. Methinks L.A.'s new Mayor needs a to spend a bit of time reading the Bill of Rights. I truly hope this goes to court and they slam his philistine ass for this.

Is Pop Pooped?

The media are of two minds about Pop Art it seems. A recent article in The Times of London suggests Pop is tired (or has retired):

Pop Art’s Big Bang is in retreat, its once carefree brightness dimmed by new fears as the world darkens. The great irony is that while so many Pop Art images play on the supposed distance between high and popular culture (a distinction that may have meant something in the 1960s but which means almost nothing today), they are now subject to the kind of connoisseurial anxieties once common only to museum-grade “old” art. They’ve become marooned in time, super-precious and fully tamed. [London dealer Gul] Coskun’s show offers them a sunlit, glorious retirement.
And, further suggesting Pop is no longer relevant enough to give much thought to context, the Warhol Foundation can seemingly find no enterprise beneath Andy's legacy. In an article about how they've licensed Andy's imagery to the flagging (flailing?) Levi's clothing line (expect $250 jeans), we learn:

Here are some previous licensing deals authorized by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts:

  • June 1997: Campbell's Soup reaches an agreement to use Warhol's work in tapestries, carpets, stationery, beach towels, watches, clocks, jewelry, leather goods and apparel.
  • January 2001: Coca-Cola announces a deal to create housewares, gifts, collectibles and apparel bearing images from Warhol's Coke pop art.
  • August 2001: Brunswick Bowling & Billiards releases a set of bowling balls featuring Warhol's Coca-Cola artwork.
  • October 2001: Licensing consultant Beanstalk Group signs an
    agreement to use Warhol images on products such as dishes, vases, sportswear, stationery, calendars and sheets.
  • January 2004: Sphinx by Oriental Weavers introduces its Andy Warhol area rug collection.
  • April 2004: Campbell's Soup distributes 300,000 cans of tomato soup with labels inspired by Warhol's work.
  • July 2004: Orange County-based Paul Frank launches its Paul Frank for Andy Warhol line of apparel and accessories.
  • November 2004: Corbis, the digital image agency, announces an exclusive deal to digitize, license and manage the rights to the artist's work.
(And yes, arguably, this is exactly what Andy would be doing had he lived this long, except he'd be picking winners, not lending his name to companies on life support.)

On the other hand, Artforum devoted their October 2004 issue to "Pop after Pop" suggesting the movement can (has) indeed evolve(d) to stay relevant. From Jack Bankowsky's guest editorial:

"Is there life after Warhol, and if so, what does it look like?" we asked the
roundtable [contributing editors Thomas Crow and Rhonda Lieberman, artists Jeff Wall and Stephen Prina, curator and critic Alison Gingeras, social critic Diedrich Diederichsen, and Artforum editor Tim Griffin]. Jeff Wall answers in the affirmative, but suggests that he doesn't necessarily like what he sees; we need not live our lives or make our art at the mercy of every "flicker of meaning emitted by Hollywood"; the Warhol trick, he tells us, doesn't work the same way the second time around. Wall sees art in the shadow of Warhol as hostage to "the second appearance," to the endless recycling of past inventions, a relinquishing of the higher purposes of art. His fellow panelists largely agree that the second
appearance—the sampled, the appropriated, the parasitic, and the performed—is an inescapable given, but for them the question is, rather, where do we go from there? In Murakami's work, for instance, Diederichsen sees not merely superflat triviality, but an artist who updates Pop's "art director" model for a new moment in our culture of communications. And, in chorus with Gingeras, he appreciates in the work of German painter and "performer" Martin Kippenberger a theater of all-too-human affect that, taken together with the trail of art objects he leaves behind him, is both update and antidote to Andy's deadpan shtick.
So the question then becomes does Pop = Warhol? If you answer yes, then perhaps it's true that its time has passed. If you answer no, then you're left answering "What is Pop?" and why, unlike other movements, does this one resist fossilization? Had Andy created the first immortal, ever-mutating movement? If so, is there anything meaningful post-Pop?

To be honest, I don't know. I'm just throwing those things out's Friday, I'm reading through the recent Rand report on the Visual Arts* (more on that later), and my brain can't really handle as many disparate topics as it used to. I just found it fascinating that Pop is in the news as much as it seems to be. I will enjoy reading your thoughts, as always, though...

*152-page PDF file.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

A Fresh Breeze in Miami Beach

As I noted in this post a while back, the entire art world has been migrating to Miami Beach for the first week of December for the past few years now. The draw is what has become, very quickly, America's most important art fair, Art Basel Miami Beach.

As I also noted, there's a growing industry of satellite art fairs, and there's no getting around it, they all take advantage of the fact that Basel brings the big collectors and curators to this tropical location and everyone is usually in a very good mood.

Our gallery has exhibited in Miami for the past three years, and this year we're very pleased to announce that we'll be participating in the freshest new satellite art fair: Aqua Art Miami. It's right on Collins Avenue (mere steps from the beach!!!) across from the Loews Hotel, where many of our best collectors stay (hey you guys, walk on over!). Aqua includes a great mix of predominantly West coast galleries (did I tell you the West coast was hot right now or what?). So if you're coming to Miami Beach this December (and really, where else would you want to be then?), be sure to stop in and say "Hi." We'll be serving up the mojitos cold, the gossip hot, and some new work by our artists you won't want to miss!

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Foot in the Door, 101

I've gotten a few emails from artists (thanks for the encouraging words about the blog) with questions about the gallery biz, and at the risk of turning this site into an "Ask Aunt Edna" (advice columunists should always be named "Edna" in my opinion), while the art season is still just warming up, I thought I'd try to answer a few of them online. (I won't have much time to do so soon, so it's now or next summer.)

One question that I hear frequently is would I recommend artists get involved with vanity galleries or other organizations that say they'll help you enter the NY art scene, for the right price of course.

No. I would not recommend it. To be blunt: I think they're a dead end, a waste of money, and it's critical to remember that context is very, very, very, very (ad infinitum) important. Having said that, if you're so frustrated with the other avenues you've tried that you feel it's worth the risk, do be sure and ask those organizations for recommendations from other artists who've paid for their services.

OK, you say, "But I've sent my slides to hundreds of galleries and they always just come back. What CAN I do?" First and foremost, stop sending slides to hundreds of galleries. You should choose the gallery that's right for you by carefully studying their program to ensure its a good match for your work. I'm always amazed by artists who will send submissions to a gallery they've never even been to. It's not an online catalog sort of business. One dealer I know tells artists quite bluntly, don't even bother approaching me until you've seen at least three exhibitions in my space. This is the single most important aspect of getting a gallery...picking the right one.

Still, there are things you can do while you search for the right one, or wait for the right one to appreciate their mistake in not working with you. Consider these four ways to get your foot in the door of the NY art world. These are written to apply for both NY-based and out of town artists:
  1. Build a support network of NY artists. No one is a better ally in your fight to get the recognition you deserve here than other artists. They're undoubtedly the most qualified critics of your work, they understand completely what you're going through, and if you share what you hear about opportunities with them, you should be able to expect the same in return. There's strength in numbers. Get some artist friends.
  2. Submit your work to registries. These are curated generally, so your work may still be rejected, but they do indeed lead to group exhibitions and other opportunities. There are two primary registries you should apply for: the one at Artists Space and the one at White Columns. Please note that both of these spaces focus on emerging artists engaged in the "contemporary" dialog, so if you're more of a traditionalist, you might not be accepted...all I'm saying here, is consider their mission before you submit.
  3. Take a survival course. Two to consider: Artists Space offers an amazing series of workshops. And the Bronx Museum of the Arts' "Artists in the Market Place" is a remarkable program that I've seen change everything for some of its alumni.
  4. Get involved in another way in the meanwhile. Best advice I ever got before I opened my gallery was "You MUST get in the game." So much of getting the career you want is being aware of the opportunities. Being involved in the art world (in any capacity) greatly increases your chances of hearing about those opportunities. So organize an exhibition, write reviews, work for an art handler, work for a museum, for a gallery, teach, join an artists' crit group, start an artist crit group, go to salons, go to lectures, go to openings. Be out there, be seen, be heard, look, hear...etc.

OK, unfortunately, I have to stop there for now. Please consider this an open thread and share any tips you have for artists starting out.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

OK, Can We Wrap This War Up, Quickly, Please?

There's an article in The New York Times today so awesome I cannot recommend it strongly enough. Sitting beneath the Citadel, a neighborhood in the Kurdish city of Erbil, are layers and layers of previous buildings dating back to what's literally the cradle of civilization, all waiting to be studied, once the turmoil that's continuously plagued this region since the advent of modern archeology finally subsides. This hilltop, walled-in community rivals Jericho and a few other sites as perhaps the oldest continually inhabited location on earth and has seen the rise and fall of, among others, the Hassuna, Akkadians, Sumerians, Assyrians, Medes, Persians, Greeks, Parthians and Abbasids. By the time Alexander the Great defeated Darius to become ruler of Persia on a plain just west of here, this place had already been inhabited for an estimated 7,500 years.

In 1964, when Kanaan Rashad Mufti and his prominent family were part of the neighborhood, a floor in his father's house, near the mosque, collapsed during some renovations.

Underneath was a whole series of rooms from some previous civilization, possibly the Abbasids, said Mr. Mufti, who is now director of antiquities in western Kurdistan. There is nothing that Iraqi archaeologists would like more than to begin systematic digs through those layers, said Donny George, director of the Baghdad Museum.

Here are a few images. (The NYTimes has more):

More than anything, a site like this, having seen empire after empire turn to dust, mocking the folly of imperial desire, stands as a testament to the human will to survive. Even today, though, life in this place is not easy:

Living in brick hovels amid the ruins of palatial houses are about 1,000 families displaced from Kurdish villages that Mr. Hussein destroyed in an infamous pogrom called Anfal. In a routine that resembles a fire drill, the families scramble to siphon water from sinuous pipes running through the Citadel that function for about 30 minutes, once a day. [...]

Kadim Mustafa - a 39-year-old mother of three, whose brick and concrete shanty includes fragments of the grand home that was here before - stood on a fancy balcony overlooking Erbil and dismissed pretensions like Mr. Adlig's.

"We have a nice place with a view, but not the facilities of life," Mrs. Mustafa said. "As soon as we start having lunch, the electricity will go off."
Even amidst the ruins, though, there are attempts to preserve and promote culture here, including the Kurdish Textile Museum (see image below) and what sounds like a totally misguided institute called the "Center Arthur Rimbaud" opened by a Frenchman the NYTimes article spares no scorn.

There's already discouraging talk about this place turning into a tourist destination like the district of the Sacré Coeur in Paris or a "Kurdish SoHo or Greenwich Village." Considering all that's going on over there now, there could be worse fates, but I wish them better than that.

Here's a timeline of the history of this place. Again, I highly recommend this article. It's brilliant.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Artist of the Week 08/22/05

Doreen McCarthy's work is perhaps the most serious "fun" can get. Nostalgic and futuristic at the same time, her inflatable and plexiglass sculptures represent a very bold vision of materiality and rigorous exploration of formalism, while appealing to the inner-child of the viewer (it's really hard not to want to play with Doreen's work). Consider this series of oversized "live-savers" sculptures currently installed in the sculpture garden of the Art Scheel gallery in Sylt-Ost, Germany:

Doreen McCarthy, Circulation (installation view), 2005, Vinyl, 7' x 7' x7' (approx)

Referencing, in part, the water-based activities this island vacation spot is renown for, these pieces, from a distance, invite the viewer to "come on over and play". Upon approaching them, however, their architectural scale and uncompromising formalism stop you in your tracks. You look around for some signal it's OK to touch them or enter them. It must be...look at them, they're so bright and inviting (it is OK, actually, but you still feel self-conscious doing it).

Doreen's most recent solo exhibition in New York (at Chelsea's now-closed Universal Concepts Unlimited gallery) provided a fortuitous installation opportunity. The gallery's walls and ceiling had been covered in sheet metal for the previous exhibition, and Doreen seized upon this futuristic environment to highlight what one critic approvingly called the "Star Trek" feel of her see-through inflatable forms. Here's an installation shot:

Ms. McCarthy is a very good friend of mine. We've known each other for years (even travelled together), and I've developed a profound respect for her incredible grasp of even the most remote corners of the contemporary art dialog. She's a walking encyclopedia of the trends, issues, personalities, and ups and downs of the NY art world. Here's an installation shot from an exhibition in Europe (not sure where...someone's not that good at labeling the images on her website [hint...hint] ;-).

In her latest series (installed in the interior gallery at Art Scheel...until September 25th, if you're gonna be in that neighborhood), Doreen's been creating plexiglass wall sculptures that open up her exploration beyond the space considerations found in the inflatables and deal more directly with light and color. They're still transparent, but their presence extends beyond the physical shape of the piece and onto the wall, forming an almost cubist composition. The subtlety of these handsome compositions is difficult to show in a photograph, but here's an indication of what I mean:

Here's one final example of a more recent, more complex plexiglass piece, demonstrating the captivating mix of two- and three-dimensional compositions Doreen's achieving here:

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Quick Blogroll Update

Pushing the politics, gossip, and tough love lists well below the fold, the art blogroll grows and grows (of course, I expect you'll find plenty of politics and gossip, not to mention huge ol' heapings of tough love in the art blogs listed here). Newest sites I've found and totally recommend:
OK, so here's one political addition:
And since there's absolutely "No Politics (this means you)" at the esteemable Moe Lane's new blog on gaming, web comics, and all kinds of wonderful geekery, I'll list it under tough love.

Friday, August 19, 2005

What I Hate About the NY Art Scene: Open Thread

OK, so I should confess that my comment on the "I Want to Be Criticized!" thread that prompted the following response was written after I had been to see the Fringe theater production by "The Rude Pundit" and then downed three gin and tonics, so it didn't represent my most unpolluted thinking (although, re-reading it this morning, I'd stand by most of what I had written, even if I might alter the tone a bit). Here's the response (from Preacher's Daughter) I mean though:

Funny how someone who doesn't need to make money from his gallery can say there's no "crying in Art". And the curation I have seen, most recently at Sculpture Center and PS 1 was all about dealers jockying for position (PS 1, which I heard included 9 unknown artists from their famous slide review) and on the other hand artist "resistant to market" (Sculpture Center who seemed to pick from the HOT MFA programs and [d]ealers.

And it's funny how content and smug this "no crying" statement is considering what it really means practically--the mostly white trust fund baby gets to be the artist. and funny how that type has of late been producing shows that overall classified as adolescent. devoid of content.

hmmmm. and as far as the resistant to market business. (sculpture center) Most artists are aware that apparent messiness gives one visibilty and curries the interest of the critics. One artist told me my work was too ready to be collected. something I have been told often-- I have to mess it up, get down with Holland (maybe an earth room that's actually a pile of shit will get his attention), and then crank it back to an object I can sell.

The contemporary art world (ny) is turning my stomach.

E I like you and your blog so much, but give me a break.

I stand by my general response to this (i.e., the game's not fair, so rather than complain about that, a better use of your time is to set about changing the rules), but I think Preacher's Daughter (PD) makes some very good points and I want to open a thread to hash them out.

In particular, the "Greater New York" exhibition and other efforts like it always seem to generate much more anger than they do a sense of community. We've talked virtually non-stop about that in my gallery since the list came out, but I'm not sure there's anything short of not having such survey shows that could change that. Perhaps the lukewarm reception to the current rendition will lead PS1 to rethink their approach. I don't know.

I want to elaborate on one point here though before I open it up: I had a chat with one of the "hot" Chelsea dealers a few months back, talking about the choices made for "Greater New York" and this dealer was upset about the obvious choice many artists have made to add (as PD puts it) that certain "messiness" to their work that the critics seem to love so much. This dealer (who has an artist considered one of the originators of that trend) couldn't wait for the smoke to clear so that his artist (the "real deal," so to speak) would get the recognition they deserved without the confusion. In other words, all that strategizing and copying of trends to get the critics' attention can affect other artists and/or carry a price. Specifically, if you go that route, dealers will notice. Less scrupulous ones might exploit that, but the good dealers (the ones I assume artists really want to work with/be affiliated with) will see right through it and avoid those artists...and so, in the end, what do such artists accomplish? A few sales, perhaps, but no long-term respect (not even self-respect, IMO).

My advice: Stick with what you're doing. Perfect it. Tastes change. The market will come around if your work's the "real deal."

The thread is open:

Thursday, August 18, 2005

"I want to be criticized!"

There's a good informative article in The New York Times about an impressive group exhibition of Chinese artists who were working steadily throughout the 80's and 90's but only now being recognized by the mainstream public in their country. It's a good article, it sounds like a good exhibition, many of the works described sound like conceptually sound, aesthetically resolved and even important pieces (see image to right of Gu Wenda's 10,000 Kilometers, "bricks made of hair allude to the many thousands of laborers who suffered in building the Great Wall"), and it's a very good thing that the artists are finally being recognized (the exhibition travels to Buffalo in October). This is the sort of serious endeavor and resulting dialog the art world prides itself on, and rightly so, no?

Actually, the exhibition sounds fine. It's something the exhibition's curator, Gao Minglu, said that touches on a disappointment of mine:

There is much good to be said about this breaching of the wall, for artists and viewers alike, but Mr. Gao said he also feared it had caused artists to compromise their work to fit curatorial interests and the demands of the market. He said he looked forward to the day when the hallowed walls of museums and galleries would lose their appeal.

"I hope some artists will rebel against the museum exhibition and criticize the institutional art world and the curatorial system," he said. "I want to be criticized! But right now artists have no time to criticize. They are just enjoying."
OK, so artists and curators have been looking forward to the day that museums and galleries lose their appeal for ages it seems. That's not exactly what jumped out at me here. It was the line I chose as this post's title: "I want to be criticized." In this context I take that to mean he wants his profession and his industry to be criticized. He wants the artists to bite the hand that's only now beginning to feed them. He wants the day to come when China's artists are powerful enough to make statements that challenge the machine. That's all well and good.

But in the context of what that machine has become in recent years (seemingly more so than ever before), Gao's statement could stand as a succinct statement of exactly what's been disappointing me. Let me illustrate with an anecdote:

The first time I lectured a group of graduate students I spent untold hours thinking through how to handle the critique of the series of exhibitions I was curating that I was sure they'd turn the Q-and-A segment into. After all, I thought, that's why I was invited to lecture. The series was about innovative approaches to exhibiting art and the professor suggested my approach would spark a good deal of discussion. I was looking forward to defending my approach (a guerilla-style series of art "raves" more or less) and explaining why it made sense to me at that time. In short, like Mr. Gao, I was looking forward to being criticized, to having to defend the industry and my part in it.

Not one student asked me an even remotely challenging question though. Not one. After an awkward silence following what I thought would be debate-provoking statements, I suggested the students might be interested in learning how to contact curators like myself. Then they were full of questions. Here I had been worried about how I'd stand up to their critique. It was farcical and, as noted above, extremely disappointing. I've since realized that most graduate students want two things out of a lecture: Lots of images and lots of tips on how to get curators and dealers' attention.

OK, so perhaps that's not fair. Perhaps it's too much to expect graduate students who are not actually intimately involved in the industry yet to have a mature critique of it. Perhaps that's only to be expected of artists exhibiting in museums and galleries (not much around there either though). Or perhaps it's not something artists are, or even should be, interested in. Perhaps Mr. Gao and myself are revealing an obnoxious degree of self-importance to assume the industry or our efforts are important enough to consume an artist's time. Perhaps. Within the context of a lecture, though, it's still wholly disappointing. What am I missing here?

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Tagged and Bagged

It's an awfully complicated issue for me, graffiti art (not the kind that hangs in galleries, the kind that's painted without permission on walls and such). If I had to be absolute about it, which I hate to be about anything, I'd say the artists are wrong. They do not have a right to use other people's property as their canvases (but note, I don't feel people [including landlords] should have a right to post billboards all over buildings where people live either, especially over their windows, but that gets a free pass in this city).

Still, I think Mayor Bloomberg got it wrong when he revoked the permit for a block party that included having graffiti artists paint on replicas of subway cars:

The city has revoked a permit awarded to organizers of a block party celebrating graffiti, saying it will not grant another one unless the group scraps plans to have graffiti writers spray paint murals onto models of New York City subway trains. The city acted hours after Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg criticized the plans yesterday.

The block party, scheduled for Aug. 24, was to be held on West 22nd Street by the fashion designer Marc Ecko to celebrate the upcoming release of the video game he designed for Atari, "Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure." The game features characters who vandalize a city called New Radius with graffiti in defiance of a corrupt and tyrannical local government.

Mr. Ecko was granted the permit on July 18, after months of talks with community leaders in Chelsea.

The city revoked the permit yesterday, the same day City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. was quoted in The Daily News as saying the party was "promoting criminal acts."

The Mayor, who gets a lot of mileage in this city out of his support of the arts, insists this is not about curbing freedom of expression:

"Look, there is a fine line here between freedom of expression and going out and encouraging people to hurt this city," Mr. Bloomberg said during a visit to a senior citizens center in Queens yesterday. "Defacing subway cars is hardly a joke; encouraging people, kids in particular, to do that after all the money we've spent, all the time we've spent removing graffiti."

But here's the thing, Bloomberg missed a golden opportunity to take the hip out of graffiti art. The permit had been granted, the context was crystal clear, and it's not as if most folks invited to events like this are going to risk ruining their Prada shoes by climbing a fence in the middle of the night to tag a subway car. All Mikey had to do was show up himself, compliment the artistry of the work in as dry conceptual terms as he could, and the next morning hundreds of kids around the city would have ditched their spray cans out of sheer embarrassment. Instead, he's only further glorified the rebellious aspect of the practice.

P.S. Can't miss this opportunity to plug the amazing Hugo Martinez of Martinez gallery. He's remained on the bleeding edge of the counter culture graffiti art represents and uses his gallery to promote amazing events like this one. A true hero of the city.

UPDATE: As ionart's Mark Barry points out, "It can get out of hand, when everyone has an opinion but little talent to express it. Wooster Collective usually has a collection of the good stuff."

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder...So I Never Want to See You Again

OK, so what can I say? I worship Exene Cervanka. Ex-wife of both John Doe and Viggo Mortensen (yes, the Lord of the Rings guy), she remains hands down the single coolest musician I've ever seen (despite the fact that calling what she does "singing" is a bit generous) and the only poet I'd want to write my eulogy. And all of a sudden, she's everywhere.

DCKT co-owner Dennis Christie recently blogged about seeing the Knitters (the post-X grouping of John Doe, Exene, and D.J. Bonebrake, along with ex-Blasters guitarist Dave Alvin, and ex-Red Devils bassist Jonny Ray Bartel). I saw X three times and the Blasters twice back in the day, and I'm sure I made those Ed Sullivan audience girls at the Beatles' first showing look comatose in comparison (ahhh, the days when moshing was still called slam dancing).

And now, via, we learn that The Santa Monica Museum of Art is exhibiting her drawings and journals:

"Exene Cervenka: America the Beautiful," Sept. 17-Nov. 26, 2005, features nine journals and a series of 20 collages made between 1974 and 2005 in a show that is guest-curated by Michael Duncan and Kristine McKenna. Cervenka has scheduled a free performance at the Bergamot Café at Bergamot Station on Nov. 3, 2005.
Exene was the soul of LA's "punk" scene for me (I put that in quotes in deference to a punker I knew who used to say, X were "punk" only to keep away the riff-raff). I decorated my room with X album covers and posters of her drawings. I even attended a poetry reading where Alvin, Exene and Doe were performing in West Hollywood once and surreptitiously touched her dress while she chatted with friends in the audience (way too shy to say anything back then). I'm sure she would have coldcocked me had she seen.

Click this image and navigate to see more of Exene's collages.

Reading the lyric sheets for X albums was one of the most totally satisfying aesthetic experiences of my youth. An explosion of heart, smarts, and f*ck you attitude I've yet to see duplicated. Please tell me this exhibition's heading east.

Is the East Coast Toast?

The big art news today of course is that the Australian-born former Director of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Michael Brand, has been named the new director of the trouble-plauged Getty. Needless to say, your first source for the story behind the story here should be Tyler Green's Modern Art Notes, and The New York Times has two (count them, one... two) articles on the selection, but it was something in their first article that caught my eye, because I've been reading similar statements in lots of places recently:

"Because of his own background," [Barry Munitz, the president of the Getty Trust] said of Mr. Brand, "I think you'll see a more aggressive reaching out to the south and the west - to Asia and Latin America. Rather than our peers and our measure being the East Coast and Europe, we have turned the compass needle a little bit."
You'll perhaps recall my earlier post about how hot the LA gallery scene has become recently. And even in other spheres, the sentiment is similar:

As the Democratic Party struggles to find its way nationally, [New Mexico Governor Bill] Richardson said the answer lies out West and with the nation's governors, who "see the daily challenges that people confront in their families, in their business and their communities," as he told newspaper publishers in the spring in San Francisco. "I come face to face with these people that I serve, and they're not worried about reforming the tax code or Social Security or some nebulous issue like judicial appointments."
There seems to be a growing sense that the East Coast is old news, that the real action's out West. Of course, a bit of flash is what the West Coast has always been good at, but this feels different. Perhaps it's as simple as the East Coast, with New York and DC being targets of terrorism, not to mention the collective roots of all evil to many people, represents the things Americans are anxious to not have to think about any more. Or to dumb it down even further, the East Coast is gloomy; the West Coast is sunny. Of course, that is all predicated on the San Andreas fault behaving itself, but...what if the power is truly shifting? What if Culver City really is the new Gold Coast of the art world? The industry is becoming increasingly bicoastal. What if the Getty, with its new whiz kid, succeeds in turning the compass needle?

Nah, fuggedaboudit! My malaise here is most likely nothing more than the mid-August itch. I've had enough down time, I miss my far-wandering friends, and I am now looking forward to the art season kicking up again. By mid September, I'll be so busy you'll have to point LA out on a map to me again. No?

Monday, August 15, 2005

Artist of the Week 08/15/05

Anyone who's been reading this feature regularly may have noticed I tend not to write about abstract work as much as I do representational work. That's because writing about abstract work is hard. Seriously, it's a task best left to poets, which I most definitely am not. It requires a mastery of metaphor, not to mention a keen vision (in both senses). So forgive me if I insist that rather than judging by my paltry poetics, in this case you really have to see this work for yourself in person.

Julie Evans' abstract paintings are influenced by her three extended tours of India (the last one on a Fulbright Fellowship). Her latest series was exhibited at Metaphor Gallery in Brooklyn, and she currently has work in a group show at LMAN Gallery in Los Angeles. Artforum has a short review of that show in their online Critics' Picks right now.

Julie Evans, Jaipur Painting #1, Gouache and bindis on paper, 12" x 11"

The first thing I think of when I recall Julie's studio are the seemingly impossible colors. In her work and on her paint table are hot saturated reds and oranges and impossibly cool greens and blues, pigments she brought back from Jaipur and then mixed with gouache for a highly matte, often thrillingly saturated palette. These bold colors are tempered with the most delicate of gestures, soft ornately decorated circles and blobs (mandalas, I guess I should say) float in and around each other, squeezing through this geometric passageway, popping out of that one. To me they suggest mystical landscapes, but I think they're more just collages of Julie's impressions of the symphony of sights, scents, and emotions found throughout India's ancient cities and villages.

For her exhibition at Metaphor, Julie also exhibited a few pieces she collaborated on with the renowned Indian miniaturist Ajay Sharma, who embellished a few of Julie's finished paintings with exquisite flourishes. Julie also incorporated bindis into a new series, referencing, as her gallery put it "colorful clothing and bangles of Indian women, devotional garlands, and the cosmic diagrams of Tantric art." Here's one of the Bindi pieces:

Julie Evans, Jaipur Painting #2, Gouache and bindis on paper, 12" x 11"

Talking with Julie after one of her trips to India is to mentally go there yourself. She's such a keen observer of detail and enthusiastic study of the culture and history of Indian art (not to mention the treasury of jewel-like minatures she brings back with her [one of which I'm now the proud owner...thanks Jules]). I wish I were poet enough to do her work justice. You'll just have to content yourselves with a few more images:

Julie Evans, Pahari Landscape, Acrylic and gouache on board, 11" x 14"

Julie Evans, Bindi Dharma #2, Gouache and bindis on paper, 8" x 8"

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Having Our Cake and Eating It Too?

The man behind the awesome art blog Gallery Hopper, Todd Walker, made such a compelling comment on the "The MSM's Disrespect for Art" thread, I want to give it its own post:
It's fascinating how pieces such as this expose the twisted psychology of the art world - both collectively and individually. Our self-contradictory desire to be widely understood and accepted simultaneously clashes against a desire to be differentiated individuals with tastes and understanding superior to the hoi polloi in the flyover states.

This is in no way a defense of the Stossel piece. The media engage this same strategy when encountering subcultures that are ill understood by the general public. I recently saw a similar take on the Internet by Dateline which played up the link between spam, spyware and porn in a very sensational way.

In this particular case, it seems what Stossel has unwittingly done is highlighted just how essential context has become to understanding of a piece of art as a stand-alone object - if such a thing really exists. Everyone here, and the artists interviewed, would require a good bit of background on the artist in question, the method of creation, etc. in order to make an informed judgment of a work's value. Rightly so, I think. So to separate the "test" works from any outside connections is to set the viewer up for failure right from the start, whether they are a novice or a professional.

What this does highlight, however, is how Americans, at least, are trained to evaluate art. We look, we gauge our emotional or intellectual reaction ("what does that mean?" "Do I like it?" "could I do that?") and we make the grade good/bad or art/not art. Museum presentation where pieces are presented with almost no explanation as to the works' history, process, historical context, etc., are probably mostly to blame for this.

Further, it's the art world itself which is mostly to blame for this. For much of the 20th C., art has turned inward on itself, failing to comment on the larger world and carrying on a mostly self-infatuated conversation. Is it no wonder that the "Wal-Mart crowd" finds art to be of little consequence and judges value primarily on craftsmanship (which the art world long ago abandoned, much to its detriment)?

So, the Stossel "story", for all its faults, should generate a bit of self-examination. Edward, glad to read that you (and some other bloggers) think a broader public education on art is critical, but others are nearly gleeful about this thing as it plays up their own intellectual superiority.
Thanks for the prompt Todd.... Here's some self-examination in the form of rambling thoughts on this:

Although I have a few minor quibbles with pieces of this*, overall I think it's a very astute description of the art world's central paradox. How do you push beyond the obvious and yet get recognized and (more difficultly) accepted for it? The art world wants acceptance, but clearly on its own terms. Cater to the folks you want recognition from and you're a "sell out." It's a rather sado-masochistic relationship when all is said and done.

But I don't think the playing field is at all even here. I think this paradox is hightened in the US where much less pride is taken in our nation's art than in other places. (It may be our relative youth and more meager treasury. It may be the coincidence of our coming of age as a nation during one of art's most radical/polarizing evolutions. It may be simply that art appreciation requires the sort of reflection that requires one to slow down a bit, and like all youngsters, the US is too full of energy and too busy running around to focus like that. A bit of Ritalin might help, but I suspect the reason more mature nations value their cultural legacies more than we do is that ours has never been ravaged or threatened with extinction the way many of theirs have through wars and conquests.) Artists in the US have to overcome a cultural ambivalence, if not outright hostility, to their industry in general. In other words, unlike, say, Europe where the general public will give an artist lots of leeway because 1) they're more patient, 2) they're actually rooting for their artists to achieve something important, and 3) they value their fine arts more, American audiences are not as open to believe it's worth the wait.

I've used this anecdote before, but it works well here too. A collector who took home a Barnett Newman on faith (trusting his dealer) reportedly looked at it each morning while eating breakfast for years before, more than a decade later, it finally struck him what Newman was doing. Few Americans are anywhere close to that patient about art. If it doesn't clobber them over the head, they reject it.

And hence the problem. Artists are supposed to be on the bleeding edge, way out ahead of the general public. But if the public will only support work they get right away, that leaves most artists with the choice between doing the work they know will give them recognition now or making work that might not be understood until they're long gone. The collector who bought the Newman is the key here. Faith in the artist is crucial.

I could go on, but...I'm more interested in your opinions here...

*Todd wrote: Our self-contradictory desire to be widely understood and accepted simultaneously clashes against a desire to be differentiated individuals with tastes and understanding superior to the hoi polloi in the flyover states.

I think there are two distinct groups being dicussed as if one here. It's the players---the creative types (artists, curators, etc.)---who wish to be widely understood, and the true-blue fans---the die-hard spectators (gallerists, collectors, critics, art historians, etc.)---who desire to be "differentiated individuals with tastes and understanding."

Friday, August 12, 2005

Switching Gears

OK, so that last post was a horrible experiment {{{{Blech, yuck pitooey, blech, horrible taste in my mouth}}}

Here's something much better. A most excellent photography blog by Jörg M. Colberg (an accomplished
photographer himself) can be found at Conscientious. Jörg apparently scours the internet for photography nonstop, because every time I visit his blog there are more links to great photography. A true treasure trove. Don't miss it.

Fair Weather Patriots

Here's a story making the rounds on the political blogs that I can't let pass without commenting. Via Atrios:

Staff Sgt. Jason Rivera, 26, a Marine recruiter in Pittsburgh, went to the home of a high school student who had expressed interest in joining the Marine Reserve to talk to his parents.

It was a large home in a well-to-do suburb north of the city. Two American flags adorned the yard. The prospect's mom greeted him wearing an American flag T-shirt.

"I want you to know we support you," she gushed.

Rivera soon reached the limits of her support.

"Military service isn't for our son. It isn't for our kind of people," she told him.
I've seen the right try to spin this as the mother only saying she supports the Marines, not the war necessarily. If that's indeed what she meant, though, then her t-shirt and flags outside are sending a mixed message to many people. And for the right to suggest that such a distinction is possible, well...let's just say, that's progress, I guess.

Bottom line is, this disconnect afflicting the nation, where folks equate supporting the war with bumper stickers and patriotic t-shirts, has been enabled if not right out encouraged by Bush's refusal to insist the nation sacrifice anything more than their civil liberties for the effort. When shopping with your tax cuts cash (providing you were rich to start with) is all he can think to ask Americans to do for their country, it's no small wonder Americans like this mother think they're doing their part.

Don't get me wrong. I don't blame any American for not wanting to send their children to Iraq. The war is being led by historically incompetent fools or was never winnable in the first place (the primary consideration for a pre-emptive war, btw), so it's understandable to discourage one's children from signing up, but the naked hypocrisy, not to mention repulsive classism, of this woman's statement warrants a sharply delivered smack upside her head.

UPDATE: Oy vey! I've turned comments off for this post (they're still on for other posts). I don't want this blog to become the red vs. blue free-for-all other blogs are. I'll continue to post on politics from time to time, but think it's best to take Basil's advice and not mention the war. Happy weekend all.

What Only Art Can Do, Part II

In today's NYTimes, art critic Roberta Smith reviews an exhibition of the actual photographs taken by the children featured in the Oscar-winning documentary, Born into Brothels. The exhibition, titled "Kids With Cameras: Calcutta," is at the School of the International Center of Photography until Sunday. The ICP doesn't have anything about the exhibition on their website, but the Times review offers a few of the images.

Kids with Cameras, as you may know if you saw the documentary, is a non-profit organization that reaches out to marginalized children and helps empower them through art. You can see more images of the children's photography on their site. From the organization's mission statement:

We use photography to capture the imaginations of children, to empower them, building confidence, self-esteem and hope. We share their vision and voices with the world through exhibitions, books, websites and film. We are committed to furthering their general education beyond photography either by linking with local organizations to provide scholarships or by developing our own schools with a focus on leadership and the arts.
When Zana Briski (a photography teacher and one of the film's makers [with Ross Kauffman]) returned to Calcutta recently, she found that most of the children who she handed cameras to had since been able to enter boarding schools because of her efforts.

Now, I have to admit that I've yet to see either the exhibition or the film, but the following line from Roberta Smith's review, combined with the mission statement on Kids with Camera's website, prompted me to write about this. Smith wrote:
If you ever doubted art's efficacy as a path to valuable self-knowledge and confidence, and thus an essential part of education, look for confirmation here.
I believe that to be true with every fiber of my being. School systems that shut down art programs to save money might as well tattoo "Partially Prepared" across the foreheads of their graduates. The resulting loss of the potential that art helps develop is shameful, in my opinion. Not all students exposed to artmaking will fall in love with it and decide to pursue it, obviously, but all of them will feel the empowering virture of creating their own universe and benefit from the structure in the processes of observing, processing, internalizing and then interpreting. Ahhhh, don't' get me started...I'm an fanatic. Just go see the exhibition. Here's another image:

"Bengali Moon," shot by Kochi.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Check Twice, Spell Once


I really want to side with the artist on this one, dig down deep and find some nugget of righteous indignation based on my respect and admiration for what it takes to devote one's life to the sort of personal expression that opens one up to very public criticisms, but, let's face it, when you goof this badly (and this publicly), you really just have to suck it up and fix it:

The Miami muralist who misspelled Shakespeare, Michelangelo and nine other famous names on a mosaic outside the library slipped into town to correct her errors -- at a cost of $6,000 to the city.

And this time, city officials promise they have checked her work before it gets set in stone.

On Tuesday, Maria Alquilar worked under the blazing sun, using power tools to reshape and install tiles changing "Eistein" to "Einstein" and "Van Gough" to "Van Gogh."

But Alquilar -- who last year claimed artistic license and said she wasn't going to fix the faux pas because people were being too mean about it - - was in no mood to talk.

Wearing a broad-brimmed straw hat and working under a tent, she wagged her finger at a television cameraman and threatened to throw a rock at a Chronicle photographer.

"No pictures of me!" Alquilar yelled, standing behind a barrier that officials had put up to separate her from the public. "If I'm in it, I'm going to sue you."
Now far be it from me to get all high and mighty about the type of mistake she made (a cursory read through this blog will show you I can't spell for sh*t), but I am a strong believer that artists commissioned to do public works have an obligation to research thoroughly what impact their work will have on the public (see this rant on why Richard Serra was wrong, IMO). A library, of all places, is not the venue for careless spellings. Still, it's hard to not feel some sympathy for Alquilar; it will take a while for her to live this down:

And unlike last time -- when the misspellings were not noticed until the library's opening, when the piece was already cemented down -- city officials said they triple-checked the replacement tiles before they were installed.

Jarod Vash, 17, who was borrowing videos with his girlfriend and her family, said he thought the misspellings were just embarrassing.

"When the story first broke, I thought, 'Oh, Livermore, the town that misspells stuff,' " Vash said. "The only thing we've got in Livermore is a library that misspells words."

But he added, "Everybody makes mistakes."

Quipped his girlfriend's 13-year-old brother, Eric Smyth:

"Not this bad."