Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Guys and Dolls: Miami Day 2

Day 2: Finished installing our room at Aqua, had the VIP preview at Aqua (a bit quiet really, but...), went to the Basel Vernissage (a bit overwhelming, as usual), went to the Bass Museum opening (a bit past the snack-getting hour), went to the containers (mostly to meet friends), went to the concert on the beach (a bit of an oasis in the chaos), met some lovely art bloggers in a French bar (a bit more about chaffed nipples than you might have expected). And there was art in there somewhere, I swear.

In talking with Caryn Coleman of fame, I learned the only way to really blog from an art fair is with images and captions...there's not much point in trying to formulate any rational opinions, given how fried my brain is now, anyway, so here goes... Bambino is trying to work out the spy cam on the jacuzzi, until then, though, here's a few shots of our room (again, we moved from the tiny 122 to the spacious 114) ...

Here's our room from the outside...think anyone will be able to figure out whose it is?

Here's an interior view, showing how spacious it is...there's more around the bend, and behind where I'm standing...the long landscape in the background is a new piece by Chris Dorland, as is the cropped pink one on the left...the framed piece under the TV is a fireworks drawing by Rosemarie Fiore, and the video playing is the great flying tomato piece (With Open Arms) by Kate Gilmore...the three smaller landscapes are from the roadside adult bookstore series by Christopher Johnson....John Waters discusses one of these with Bruce Hainley in their book about art and sex.

Our project space (formerly a vanity) with sculptures by Joe Fig, including Jasper Johns and Robert can also see a snippet of a new painting by Rosemarie Fiore...I suck at photo composition, I know.

Here's a final interior shot that I took just as this guy walked into view. I met him (he's exhibiting at Pulse), but I have to admit, my brain's a colander right now, so if you recognize him, don't tell him I can't recall his name.

More images of the room tomorrow.

With my painfully crappy phone camera, I took this shot of the New York Dolls in concert on the beach...they were fun (even though they look radioactive in this lame image):

Still, there was something about dancing with Bambino to the NYDolls rendition of Piece of My Heart, on the beach, beneath a perfect star-filled sky, that made me forget just how exhausted I was for a bit...

Children and Animals Two by Two: Miami Day 1

We arrived in Miami just in time for the end of the world it seemed. The skies opened and didn't so much pour as vomit rain on our heads. I heard from other folks that there was some flooding problems at NADA and Pulse with some work being damaged, but that's unconfirmed. Let's hope it's an exaggeration.

As for us, we kicked off our shoes and happily splashed through puddles, as we moved our very heavy crates from room 122, which was a bit too small even for the crates, let alone anything else, to the more roomy room 114. So if you're looking for us in 122, we're at the back's near the Jacuzzi...come on over.

Our room looks amazing by the way, if I do say so myself...and I do...

I read through the firestorm I started with the last Artist of the week. Too exhausted to comment just yet, but nothing so far seemed unimaginable. I kind of suspected a strong advocacy of one artist's work could bring strong critiques, I guess that's fair enough.

Got to hit the sack now...early morning. I will try and snap a photo of the lovely Monya Rowe in the Jacuzzi if she's still there when I pass by again...more tomorrow

Monday, November 28, 2005

Artist of the Week EXTRA (11/28/05)

Well, very much to my own surprise, I managed to finish a mile-long list of pre-flight chores a bit early and so decided to share the following as an "Artist of the Week EXTRA."

Full Disclaimer: I'm very pleased to acknowledge that Plus Ultra Gallery will be representing the following very talented young artist.

I discussed Chris Dorland's work without mentioning his name in a post a few weeks back, but now that we officially represent his work, I don't mind sharing his name, nor the virtual avalanche of accolades he's received recently: he's the cover artist of the Nov/Dec issue of ArtPapers, which is reinventing itself with a huge party in Miami; he's just been announced as the winner of -scope Miami's 2004 emerging artist grant (they're always a year later); and he was a 2005 recipient of the Rena Hort Mann Foundation Grant.

Canadian-born, but now Brooklyn-based, Chris Dorland was one of the featured artists at a party, hosted by the brilliant art world mover and shaker, that force of nature, otherwise known as Simon Watson. There in Simon's downtown loft hung these huge toxic-colored landscapes, at once futuristic and nostalgic, with a surface as carefully worked over as an excavation site and yet as exhilarating as any neo abstract expressionism, a mixed sensation brought about through a bold juxtaposition of exquisitely tight and evoactively loose passages. In other words, paint! in all it messy glory, serving an end both conceptual and emotional. I was an instant fan.

Chris Dorland, Century City, 2005, Oil on canvas, 48" x 48"

After a few studio visits, where I had the opportunity to discuss in more detail the sociological punch these canvases deliver, I was an even bigger fan. But don't take my word for it (clearly I'm biased). Here's how the editor in chief of Art Papers, Sylvie Fortin, describes Chris' work in her cover story:

Dorland was a painter with a project, I thought. His work was effectively re-articulating what painting can still do, and do best. If Dorland, like most painters of his generaion, is demonstrably well versed in the history of painting as medium and discourse, he was also proposing something different from many of his contemporaries. It reminded me of Deleuze's pronouncement about the cinema: Dorlands's painting was a form of thinking. This painter was thinking about painting, history, utopia, and social experimentation through painting. His work was charting a way for us to redefine our relationship with the 1960s. If Dorland accomplishes this reactivation of the 1960s through his choice of subject--1960s modernist architecture---this is only a small part of the story. His treament of this subject combines careful composition, reliance on the grid, loose brushstroke and acidic colors---and this is where it gets interesting....
Indeed. This is where it gets very interesting. Whereas I've always mourned the loss of Modernist utopian ideals, Chris accepts them as matter of fact. Not as tragic, just as what is. For me, the post-Modernist all-cynical-all-the-time critique was devastating, neutralizing..."what's the point, really?" For Chris, because he's younger, perhaps, and the world was always this way for him, my response seems a bit overblown, I'm sure. Sure, for the younger generation, the ideals represented by the World Fair type architecture are ancient history, and should be studied, but LOOK, we...humankind...are still here. Mulling about. Getting on with things. Turning those crumbling former beacons of a bold new future into something infinitely more useful than symbols: buildings we, living people, can actually use.

Chris Dorland, Untitled Pavilion (establishing shot), 2005, Oil on canvas, 48" x 48"

But more than just interesting sociologically, though, Chris' work rewards extended viewing. With wonderfully painterly passages and damned excellent drawing boldly overlapping, there's an invigoratingly emotional push-pull to them. Here's one in a private collection I simply must convince the owner to trade me:

Chris Dorland, Terminal Beach, 2005, 2005, Oil on linen, 16" x 16.5"

And one final image for the road:

Chris Dorland, Acid Yard, 2005, Acrylic on canvas, 40" x 40"

And (yes, yes, I'm a whore...Hey, it's in the job description...), we'll have a few of these in our room at the Aqua Art Fair. Along with some other amazing stop in.

Artist of the Week (short break)

Aqua Art Miami! We're heading to Miami Beach soon, where we'll be bloggin' live from the Aqua Art Miami Fair (and other locales with free WiFi). The Artist of the Week column will resume in two weeks.

Do stop in and say "hi" if you're in Miami! We'll be in Room 122.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Miami Countdown (Part III: South Beach)

UPDATE: For the real insiders' scoop, be sure you check out The Next Few Hours, an art blog out of Miami that's planning a daily listing of art events throughout the week.

Continuing in our list of less-publicized events in Miami during the fairs, grab your flip-flops and a mojito and lets head down to SOBE, shall we?

It may start to change eventually, given how much more there is going on in the design district each year, but so far, the bulk of fair attendees are staying in South Beach during the fair. And why not...??

You'll end up passing the same people dozens of times before the week is over, so don't do all your catching up at some for the time you're stuck in the queue for that party at the Delano.

One word of warning, last year a few folks were mugged late at night walking along the beach, so do reconsider that 3:00 am moonlit stroll, unless you have company, which is more romantic anyway. Also, many of the folks you'll probably want to meet will be soaking up the rays each morning before the business starts, so bring your swimsuit and sunblock, grab a cafe con leche from the cafe at Collins and 18th (I think), and head on over. Even if the collector/curator/dealer/artist of your dreams doesn't happen along, you'll get your daily allowance of Vitamin D...which you'll need, believe me.

The center of the South Beach scene is, of course, Art Basel Miami Beach at the convention center, but there are other ABMB events spread across SOBE (for a list of events, see
here). The Vernissage Wednesday will become increasingly packed as the night wears on, so do get there early if you actually want to see any art. When they chuck you out of there (and they will), many folks head over to Art Positions (aka "the Containers" [see image above, Courtesy Art Basel Miami Beach]) for drinks and a burst of ocean air. If the weather holds, it's paradise. If not, folks dash to dinner before hitting the best party they secured an invite to. For the super-exclusive parties, you're really on your own. They're tougher and tougher to crash every year.

In previous years, Jeffrey Deitch has generously sponsored a free concert on the beach this first night (last year he had the awesome
Scissor Sisters), but the conditions were unpredictable (high winds made it very difficult to hear the previous year). That may be the reason Deitch is sponsoring a performance in the Raliegh Hotel this year:

Deitch Projects, M·A·C and the Raleigh Hotel are pleased to present The Citizens Band's new large-scale performance, The Trepanning Opera, November 30 at 10 PM.
It looks to be another amazing show. Deitch's folks told me the performance is open to the public on a first come first first serve basis, but they recommended getting there early for a guaranteed entry.

If you're staying on South Beach, be sure to tune your radio to WVUM 90.5 FM from the University of Miami, which will be broadcasting WPS1 ART RADIO LIVE

For the second consecutive year, WPS1 will broadcast live from Art Basel Miami Beach. Between November 30 to December 3 from 1-4 p.m. EST. WPS1, the Internet radio station of P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, will be the exclusive source for up-to-the-minute international art news, culture and gossip —all as it unfolds at one of the biggest art shows of the year.

Broadcasting from an open-air pavilion overlooking the beach, programs will include music and discussions with artists, curators, gallerists, DJs, writers and other VIP guests at Art Basel Miami Beach. Miami-based listeners will be able to tune in via local station WVUM 90.5 FM from the University of Miami.
Like I noted before, many art world types end up at the late-night bar on South Beach where the art handlers gather. If you're exhibiting, ask your shipper (I don't want to publicize the name, as that would destroy the word-of-mouth coolness of it). I didn't make it last year, but the year before this uber-hip dive provided an amazing mix of locals and art world folks. Last year, as I noted, a few folks ran into muggers way late at night outside there, but if you leave with a friend, you'll be fine.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

m i g r a t i o n _ n o t i f i c a t i o n

After months and months of lawyers and brokers and fire codes and seemingly on and on and on, finally it's official!

Plus Ultra Gallery is so mind-numbingly beside ourselves, barely-able-to-not-piss-our-pants pleased to announce we'll be migrating to a new ground floor location in the Chelsea District of Manhattan in January 2006.

Yes, yes, yes...we're fuckin' psyched too.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Miami Countdown (Part II: Design District Doings)

As noted earlier, perhaps the best way to network in Miami is through the parties. Each of the fairs has a VIP reception and you should make use of your best connection with a participating gallery to get passes to those. But all along South Beach there are private parties in the trendy hotels nearly every night. I'm still working to secure invites to some of those, though, so I'm sorry pumpkins, but you're on your own there.... Again, a good way to hear about such parties and other events is to hang around the "Containers" during happy hour or, at least in previous years, end your evening at the late-night bar the art shippers hang out at. Just ask'll learn where it is. Do be careful around there though, a few folks got jumped after flashing cash late at night last year.

Each year, however, the number of events (i.e., networking opportunities) in the Design District (see
map here) seems to have grown exponentially, with this year no exception. The big night here is Saturday, December 3rd, when "Art Loves Design" takes over the streets and exhibition spaces, 8:30p.m. - Midnight for a block party that's always a blast. There's a mix of open and by-invitation-only parties here as well. But this year it seems Thursday, December 1st, will also be a big night in the district as well.

In addition to the block party, events to enter in your PDA include:

* The "Co-Dependent" exhibition I noted yesterday.

* Pierogi in Miami
DECEMBER 1–5, 2005
Design District
180 N.E. 39th St., SUITE 218
Pierogi Opening party: December 1st, 8:30 - midnight
Street party: December 3rd, 8:30 - midnight
Daily: Noon-8pm

* Form Follows Dysfunction (Art and/or Furniture)

Presented by Michael Steinberg Fine Art
Friday, December 2 – Sunday December 4th, 9 AM to 12 NOON
The Mosaic Building 155 NE 40th Street, Miami Design District
T: 305.573.8116 –
Artists Include: Alex Arrechea, Elena Bajo, Jean Blackburn, Christine Callahan, Linus Corragio, Carlo Ferrari, Barbara Gallucci, Rob Nadeau, Laurie Thomas, Richard Tuttle, Penelope Umbrico, Nari Ward

If you're not the beachy type, during the day, don't miss out visiting some of the world-class collections in the
Wynwood District, right next to the Design District, including the Rubell Family Collection and The Margulies Collection at the Warehouse...better than many contemporary art museums! Many visitors to the fair will make an effort to stop in to at least these two, so you never know who you'll run into here.

Tomorrow...South Beach events!

Monday, November 21, 2005

Miami Countdown (Part I: Meeting Curators)

OK, so finally I've found my plane reservations...and like what was I drinking? Frickin' idjit that I am, I've left no time at all for beachcombing the first day....hmpf...we'll see about that.

As we countdown to the art world's annual invasion of South Beach, I'm gonna list, over a series of days, in response to questions from readers about how and where you can meet the people you hope to meet while down there, events that aren't yet on the major calendars or websites. The fairs all have schedules, and you can find them here (
Aqua, Basel,Frisbee, NADA, Pulse, Scope), but there's so, so much more going on...

In a previous thread someone asked how to meet curators. They don't have booths and don't wear name tags, so how would you recognize one if you saw them? Well, like gallerists (and you and everyone else), curators have busy schedules in Miami and probably don't want to have it presumed they're just waiting to be approached and shown portfolios, but there's one event you don't want to miss if you want to see in person (and possibly meet) some of the country's best mid- to upper-level curators who work with emerging artists.

Co-dependent: Artists, Artist/Curators, & Curators Select Artists

@ The Living Room
4000 N. Miami Ave.
Miami, FL (in the Design District)

Hours: Thursday, Dec. 1: Opening reception: 6pm - midnight
Friday, Dec. 2 : public hours 11 - 7pm
Saturday, Dec. 3 : public hours: 11am - midnight / "Art loves design party" 9pm - midnight
Sunday, Dec. 4 : public hours: 11 - 5pm

But who might you meet there, you ask?

[Curator or artist/curator: featured artists]

Isolde Brielmaier: Isaac Diggs, Deborah Grant, Vlatka Horvat, Kambui Olujimi, Hank Willis Thomas

Amy Davila: Jacob Hartman, Lucas Ajemian, William Villalongo, Bengala

Blane De St. Croix: Amy Broderick, Ellen Harvey, Simon Lee, Carol Prusa, David Row

Rachel Gugelberger: Chris Coffin, Blane De St. Croix, Madeline Djerejian, Reynard Loki, Micki Watanabe

Christopher K. Ho*: Benjamin Carlson, Mike Calway-Fagen,Troy Richards, Andrea C. Stanislav

David Hunt: Kate Gilmore, Tommy Hartung, Chris Larson, Jennifer Ruff, Pawel Wojtasik

Omar Lopez-Chahoud: Sebastian Blanck, Joyce Kim, Pia Lindman, Rachel Mason, Doreen McCarthy, Julieta Aranda & Carlos Motta

Gean Moreno: Kevin Arrow, Cooper, William O'Brien

Renee Riccardo & Paul Laster: Satoru Eguchi, Margaret Lee, Doug Morris, Jon Rosenbaum, Lee Tusman

AA Rucci: Rob Carter, Peg Trezevant, Margarete Jahrmann & Max Moswitzer, Ursula Hodel

Diana Shpungin: & Nicole Engelmann, Emily Lutzker, Michael Mahalchick, Robert Melee

Franklin Sirmans: Derrick Adams, William Cordova, Stephanie Diamond, Wangechi Mutu, Odili Donald Odita and more...

*That site requires registration...sorry!

The odds are not great that you'll find so many excellent curators working with emerging artists in such a celebratory (i.e., possibly approachable) setting any time soon. At least be sure to visit the exhibition. And, for the love of God, don't tell any of them that I said they'd talk to them. I'm counting on them to buy me mojitos.

Artist of the Week (11/21/05)

I've been to a few open studios of my good friend Gary Petersen and watched as other painters took in his latest achievements. Their response is often to nod their head gently, chuckle under their breath, and make a face suggesting they're taking mental notes to themselves, as if to say "Yes...he's right...that is the answer to that question." Gary is an absolute pillar of painting strengths.

When I was first introduced to Gary's work, he was producing shaped canvases like the one to the right. Sort of a mix of Ellsworth Kelly and Caroll Dunham. I use that shorthand a good deal when talking about painters (i.e., they're like So-and-so meets You-know-who), but Gary stumped me when, a few years back, he moved away from the shaped canvases and abstraction of the body into more spatial abstractions, like the piece below, which is currently on view in Gary's solo exhibition at Michael Steinberg's in Chlesea (perhaps you can name the mix):

Gary Petersen, Interstellar Overdrive, 2005, Oil on canvas, 54" x 50" (image from Michael Steinberg's website).

I guess that could be a humanoid abstraction, but more than anything, Gary's latest work is about the love of abstract painting it seems. Oh there's plenty going on within the investigation of the figure-ground relationship, but for me each piece is also a controlled exploration of what it is that paint on canvas can do. From an exhilaratingly inventive palette to a daring juxtaposition of techniques to an exquisite application (difficult to see in reproductions, do go see the show!), each of these paintings offer a visual feast for painting lovers. Here's a piece you won't find in the current exhibition, but it's one I love all the same:

Gary Petersen, Seperation, Oil on canvas, 78" x 48" (image from Metaphor gallery's website)

Gary describes his latest series this way in the current exhibition's press release:

I've always been interested in humor, and in the spiritual in previous forms of abstraction; I feel these paintings reflect that. Figures, veils and portals opening into other spaces are suggested in my work. These paintings flirt with representation and act as a bridge between the real and the imagined.
Here's another piece that from his current exhibition:

Gary Petersen, Outside of Tokyo, 2005, Acrylic and enamel on wood panel, 24" x 30" (image from Michael Steinberg's website).

With the plethora of fast and loose figuration one's bombarded with these days, it's good to be reminded of the quality (and sheer joy) that technical expertise and careful exploration are capable of producing. Here's a final image, of a drawing...there are some fantastic works on paper in Gary's show now as well (have I mentioned you really should go see this show in person?):

Gary Petersen, Untitled (Outsidein # 8), Acrylic and spray enamel on paper, 23" x 30" (image from Michael Steinberg's artnet website).

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Artists at Art Fairs

I attended a few openings in Chelsea last night (two I'll recommend: Gary Petersen at Michael Steinberg's and James Siena at Pace Wildenstein ... painting lovers will love them both), and each time I asked an artist if we'd see them in Miami, most shared some hesitation about putting themselves through that experience.

Of course there are some artists who, like me, thrive in such settings, being very social and getting off on the energy. But last night, again and again, I heard..."Ahh, I'm not sure. I don't like how I feel at those things." And the more "those things" become the new biennials, where there's less of a distinction between the commerce and conceptual aspects of the art business, the more difficult it becomes to decide whether to attend.

There's a line in the movie Heathers that comes to mind when I step back and imagine how I must look trying to advise artists about this. The flaky high school teacher is "counseling" Veronica and says: "Deciding whether or not to commit suicide is one of the most important decisions a teenager has to make."

I mean, let's face it...seeing hundreds and hundreds of works of art for sale cannot help but make you feel a bit like a number in a cold, hard system. Even if you're currently in the midst of your 15 minutes of fame, or reasonably established, there are many other artists at that same stage, and they've all got work in that same fair, sometimes selling for more than yours. It can be discouraging. Unless....

What I tell my artists who ask whether they should attend an art fair is only if they're prepared to take off their creative hat and put on their business hat. An art fair is about the business of selling art. If you're going there looking for artistic validation, you're likely going to come away discouraged. This is not the place to focus on your work's conceptual or aesthetic integrity. It had better have that to spare and then some here. In this setting, your work is a product. The buyers are incredibly knowledgeable, and the competition is über-fierce.

In yesterday's thread, Anonymous asked "Do you think that an artist that is not represented by another gallery should not attend the fair at all?"

That's a good question: If you don't yet have a gallery or only have a gallery in one city and wish to expand the number of spaces you're working with, what are your chances of starting up a productive conversation with a gallery participating in that fair? It depends on so many factors. The better you understand how the whole thing works (really works, I mean), the greater your chances of success are here.

Before anything else, I'd suggest you consider how much pressure a gallerist is under during an art fair, so you don't misinterpret their response to being approached. First of all, it's a horrendous amount of work getting there, getting set up, living out of a suitcase but working twice as hard as you normally have to, networking half your ass off each night just to get up and work off the other half each day. It's emotionally and physically draining. Personally, I love it, but most of my friends who are gallerists see it as a necessary evil. It's hardly a vacation. Secondly, gallerists must, must, must pay for their expenses and often times are counting on making a chunk of change to get them through the leaner months to come. In other words, they're a bit desperate.

So before approaching a gallerist, imagine that they've not sold a single thing yet. They've shelled out tens of thousands of dollars to get here, but collectors just aren't buying, and they're calculating how many of those empty Coke cans they saw in the garbage out back they can return to the supermarket to buy a Greyhound bus ticket home at this point. This is certainly a worst-case scenario, but I've worked art fairs for other galleries before where it was not that far from the truth. Now imagine that into this setting enters you, with no prior introduction, wanting the dealer to shift their focus from their dire situation and have a look at your portfolio. That blank look on their face that greets you is caused by their wondering if your body will fit in the extra crate in the back.

This is most likely not the situation for many galleries in Miami, especially now that the market's as strong as it is, but I guarantee it will be for some.

But there they are...all in one place...the art dealers who you've been dying to meet and have over to your studio. Surely, if you could just get them to look at one image, it could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship. Well, perhaps it could. But remember what I said above: "An art fair is about the business of selling art," so be a total professional. Here are some guidelines for how to approach a gallery at a fair, if you must.
  1. Do you homework. Know something about the galleries you want to talk to before you go. Your best opening comment is always an informed statement about some aspect of their program. The more knowledgeable and positive you are the better, and if you can't honestly compliment their program, this probably isn't the gallery for you.
  2. Choose your moment. Your schedule will likely be just as hectic as anyone else's, but the most dangerous place at any fair is the space between a dealer and the collector he/she wants to talk to. Getting in between them will not make a good impression. Later in the fair, when the dealers have (hopefully) sold most their work is probably better than earlier. The last day can be better, but not late in the day, as the only thing the dealer's thinking about then is packing up.
  3. Read the signs. If the dealer is clearly distracted or not interested, say "Good luck," sign their book, leave your card, and follow up a few weeks later. Don't push your luck. Like I said yesterday, we have a black list, and artists we had kind of liked before they demanded attention at a fair, we now cross the street to avoid if we see them.
  4. Reach out before hand. A gallerist is much more likely to take some time to talk if they recognize your name or your work. If you had sent your slides and got a form rejection letter though, you might want to wait until there's a better introductory point. If you have a gallery already, have them email the other gallery you're interested in and let them know you'll be by. Some level of previous recognition goes a long way here.
  5. Use your best connections. If you're friends with a well-known collector or museum director, ask them to visit the gallery's booth with you. I really shouldn't share this info (and apologize to my gallerist friends in advance), but this is undoubtedly your best avenue to introducing yourself. The association will stick in the gallerist's mind.
  6. Meet dealers at the fair's parties before visiting their booths. Some of this begins to get obvious, in that this is how networking is done, but generally everyone is very happy to see the "life of last night's party" in their booth the next day. But this leads into perhaps the most important advice I can give...
  7. Keep it short. All you can really hope for, unless the gallery approaches you and/or invites you to breakfast to discuss future plans together, is to make a good impression and follow-up later. Fairs are fast and furious, and no matter how happy the dealer is to see you, there are hundreds of people behind you they're just as anxious to meet. A good impression is a good day's work. Make it and go.
  8. Consider not doing this. After all that, I hate to throw cold water over all this, but in general, if you ask any dealer, meeting previously unknown artists is about 10th or 11th on their priority list for art fairs. That doesn't mean they're not happy to see your work in some other gallery's booth, just that they're so busy and the experience is so intense, they're happier about making connections on their own terms.

Enjoy the fair.

Bubble (w)Rap

Ahhhh, don't you love this season. So much art being shipped to so many places. Folks ship art all year long, it's true, but the fact that virtually the entire art world will descend on Miami in a few weeks makes this particular stretch each year especially joyous.

The usually cheery receptionist at the framers is audibly groaning when you ask for an update on the work you're waiting on. It takes a Navy SEAL team to track down the one person you must talk with at your art handlers. And seemingly the entire universe is conspiring against your sworn oath to have the artwork you're shipping packed and ready on time AND on budget this year.

One of the, er, joys of being a gallery with less than Gagosian-sized budgets for shipping is that you get to spend a good deal more quality time wrapping and crating work yourself. As I sit here writing, my back aches, my feet hurt, my hands are covered with cuts and scrapes and I'll be damned if I can remember what crate I put the screw gun in (nor how the hell I managed to close the crate I hope it's in without it, which means the screw gun is actually either lost in storage or in the trash or...grrr....).

I usually make another oath this time of year as well, under my breath at least. As much as I love our artists (and none of this applies to YOU, if you're's those other artists, really), I've taken to pledging with God as my witness, that I'll never even consider working with another artist who cannot produce evidence (in the form of a notarized document, supplied in triplicate) verifying at least 3 years experience as a senior art handler.

I kid...sort of. In the spirit of the season, let me offer, gently, these few things any artist might consider if you're wrapping your work for transfer from your studio to where it's being crated for shipping:

  1. Art shippers charge by volume. That one-inch deep piece you buried somewhere among those 10 inches of crumpled cardboard...the one you could probably sail across the room unwrapped like a frisbee and still not damage...that's probably just a tad bit of overkill. And yes, it is cool, the way your 20" x 16" painting becomes rather spherical after you've added the 17th layer of bubble wrap around it, but it's probably gonna travel just fine with fewer layers...even if someone accidentally dropped it...from the Space Shuttle.
  2. Speaking of Bubble Wrap: I know it's not free, has a shelf-life people! Those four grime-covered scraps you dug out of some know, the ones of varying bubble size, held together with at least 4 different types of tape, and covered with the remmants of at least three previous shipping labels...that's probably not the best wrapper for the work you've carried over to it in white gloves.
  3. The day the work is being collected/delivered is not the day to suggest a new (still wet) or larger piece is better than some other previously agreed on piece(s). Crates have been built by this point often. Wet work doesn't travel well. Budgets have been calculated (see item # 1).
  4. Instructions for installation/assembly...this is just a thought, mind you...should preferably be legible. There probably won't be pharamcists at the destination to interpret your doctor-esque handwriting.
  5. None of this should be seen as a reflection of your genius or how much your gallery loves your work. Seriously. No matter how much I grumble this time of year, it's the work, and only the work, that matters in the end. Also, it is indeed better to be safe than sorry. Still, do consider these tidbits, all the same... ;-)

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

What We Learn (or Don't) from Masterpieces

As much as I've criticized Jerry Saltz for critiquing the system and not the art, if every such piece he's written so far was leading up to his masterful critique of MoMA that appeared in the Village Voice last week, then I take it all back. This is a brilliant assessment that only someone who has really been paying attention could write:

As far as programming, vision, mission, and ambition are concerned, MOMA must reconnect with its wildcat roots and remember it was created to take on the whole world. It's time to get beyond its orderly version of postwar art: namely that abstraction was essentially invented by a bunch of white guys in the Cedar bar, pop art was primarily an American phenomenon, women didn't become good artists until after 1970, and conceptualism was a hiccup.

MOMA's commitment to rethinking postwar art feels balky at best, averse at worst. Yet it must wholeheartedly and creatively re-examine and reimagine the art of the last 50 years—although it's hard to envision this without a single designated "project gallery" in the new building. Things are so far off at MOMA that Tate director Nicholas Serota recently accused it of suffering a "loss of nerve."

Others have noted it's a must-read, and I agree, but there's one observation Saltz makes among many excellent ones that I want to flesh out a bit:

Just when everyone is ready to see modernism and the Modern anew, the new building only allows MOMA to exhibit a tiny fraction of its collection. Worse, the lack of space means MOMA must show mainly masterpieces. Obviously, everyone wants to see the peaks. But if you're only seeing mountaintops you can never know how high they are. [emphasis mine]
More than never understanding how high they are (and it's true that we begin to take masterpieces for granted when that's all we see), we miss the very important instructional things we can learn from lesser works, like the cues they offer on how to connect the dots. Remember, the mission of MoMA (and many other such institutions) is largely education:

Founded in 1929 as an educational institution, The Museum of Modern Art is dedicated to being the foremost museum of modern art in the world.
Take Mondrian for example. MoMA's retrospective of his work several years ago was spectaular...truly world class, but, of course, such exhibitions cannot be housed indefinitely. Still there was a very important lesson about abstraction and particularly how it can borrow its sense of rhythm from nature that I had no clear sense of at all until I saw that restrospective. It took juxtaposing one of Modrian's early tree pieces (see above) with his later 1913-1915 pastel-ish abstractions and then a much later masterpiece like Broadway Boogie Woogie for me to see it, but eventually I did. Those somewhat earlier tree pieces can't touch the masterpieces he would create and become famous for later, in my opinion, but according to MoMA's website it doesn't look like the own any of the tree pieces at all, which is not only a mistake, but a significant lost opportunity for the public. What a wasted chance to help enlighten the public about a complicated issue.

Of course, this is a very specific example, and MoMA would need to cover 20 city blocks to even attempt to teach all things to all people, but in this sense, Saltz is right when he notes:

At MOMA everything has been civilized, neutralized, tidied up, and pruned to death. Even the giants are ill served. [emphasis mine]
The giants, and we the public.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Killers, and Auctions, and Art...Oh My (Open Thread)

There's a story on that raises so many questions it's hard to know where to start asking them. First, the background:

Alfred J. Gaynor was convicted of raping, strangling, and killing four women near Springfield, MA, in the late 1990s. He's serving four consecutive life sentences at a maximum security prison, but with the money he gets (one presumes from working in the prison) he's buying art supplies and making drawings. The Web site of an advocacy group for prisoners,, is auctioning off the drawing by Gaynor you see here (details for this piece are here).

The local authorities are outraged that Gaynor is able to profit from his noteriety, with the District Attorney William Bennett asking, "Will they be showing pictures of the women he murdered at the same time?"

The president of the Fortune Society has argued in response that as equally important as punishment is the concept of rehabilitation for prisoners.

What neither side in the debate is asking (and the most important question to me) is whether the work is of high enough quality that it would raise any money at all were the "artist" not notorious. The honest answer to that would serve to shut down both sides of the debate, in my opinion, but I don't suspect they'll be asking it any time soon.

When I first read this story it reminded me of a debate we have in the gallery a good deal (i.e., how much tolerance should society show to it's highly gifted artists who are otherwise shits of human beings?), but upon further reflection, I realized that's irrelevant here, because Gaynor's not a highly gifted artist. Still, since the question's out there.... Should the work of obnoxious, abusive artists still be celebrated, or should there be a societal price for unacceptable behavior that extends to one's sales. You wouldn't buy a car from a man who you knew beat his wife, why buy a painting?

It also reminded me of an anecdote told to me by a mentor of mine who runs a secondary market gallery in another city. His assistant, who was somewhat new to the art world at the time, made him a work of her own (very amature) art and presented it to him framed for his birthday. His refusal of the gift struck her as incredibly harsh at first, but then he explained that it was an insult to him. That here he was trying to elevate the local standards, and she, his pupil, seemingly saw no difference. I don't necessarily agree with the rather elistist attitude that episode revealed, but I understand why he thought it was not cruel (he does have an exquisite eye, and there was no way he would hang the piece anyway, so why not be honest up front?). Personally, I love amature art...I won't buy it, but I won't reject a present of it's generally much better than amature cooking anyway.

And speaking of food...I'm off to get breakfast...Consider this an open thread:

Monday, November 14, 2005

Call Your Senators

I don't think it's overstating the case that this series on Obsidian Wings may be one of the most important to appear on any political blog in recent memory. It's a complicated issue, evidenced by the 13 posts Katherine and Hilzoy have penned to explain it all, but in a nutshell, our Senate voted to suspend habeas corpus for noncitizens being held captive at Guantanamo. What this means, unless it's stopped, is that our President can designate noncitizens as enemy combatants, send them to Gitmo, and then deny them any means to challenge their detentions in US courts until after the "war on terror" is over, which, as we know, may not happen in our lifetimes.

The examples of who this might affect that were debated include, incomprehensibly:

Could a "little old lady in Switzerland" who sent a check to an orphanage in Afghanistan be taken into custody if unbeknownst to her some of her donation was passed to al-Qaida terrorists? asked U.S. District Judge Joyce Hens Green.

"She could," replied Deputy Associate Attorney General Brian Boyle. "Someone's intention is clearly not a factor that would disable detention." It would be up to a newly established military review panel to decide whether to believe her and release her....

Here's the amendment the Senate passed (in pdf format).

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R. -S.C.) offered an impassioned defense of this unAmerican amendment (
here in Word Docucment format), minimizing the seriousness of what this means and exaggerating the potential for abuse not doing it represents. Hilzoy and Katherine make mincemeat of his arguments. If this seems as unAmericanly nightmarish to you as it does to me, I'd urge you to contact your Senators and tell them to vote for Jeff Bingaman's S. AMDT 2517 to bill S. 1042, which is designed to stop this madness.

Artist of the Week (11/14/05)

The original idea with this column was to introduce artists who are perhaps not well known, but I've strayed from that objective a bit here and there (I'm like that...I resent strict guidelines). Moving forward, just so you know, I will be adding to the mix the artists who have exhibitions at our gallery once we re-open (looks like January now), because, well, I have to edit out so much of what I'd like to say about them from the press releases, and this seems a good place to share those thoughts. Besides, it's my blog... leave me want a piece of me??? er, uh... [note to self: caffienate...THEN write].

But back to why I mention the column's original goal: Brooklyn-born Joyce Pensato is one of the most underappreciated artists I can think of, which isn't to say she's unknown, just that she deserves to be a household name in my opinion. She's a genius in my book, and although she's represented by the prestigious Galerie Anne de Villepoix in Paris, why she's not represented by one of the blue chip galleries here in New York baffles me.* Oh she's exhibited consistently (the image above shows Joyce before one of her works at a recent exhibition at Parker's Box in Williamsburg), and she's had her share of recognition (having received a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a NY Foundation for the Arts Grant, and a grant from the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation), but I honestly can't fathom why so many of the other artists given retrospectives at the major museums got theirs before Joyce. If forced to speculate, I'd say perhaps she's not precious enough for some folks, but letting that keep them at arm's length is totally their loss. Here's a image from 1999:

Joyce Pensato, untitled Mickey, 1999, charcoal on paper, 16.5 x 11.5 inches. Photo courtesy Pierogi Gallery. Image from website.

The first time I encountered Joyce's work was at the exhibition where artists moved their studios and worked in Exit Art's old space on Broadway...a sort of "watch the artist in their natural habitat" experience. There were 10 or so artists in that exhibition, if I recall correctly, but Joyce's section was far and away the most messy. Every surface of every object was seemingly smeared with soot, including countless stuffed toys of cartoon characters, the primary subject matter of Joyce's work. It was difficult to imagine any art object emerging from that disaster zone, but when I saw the furiously worked over pieces she was making, I fell instantly head-over-heels in love. Here was passion and energy and nostalgia and humor roaring with unbridled joi de vivre. As an Art in America review of her 2003 exhibition at Elga Wimmer gallery in New York put it: her works "have enough physical and psychic energy to make actual animation look like it's standing still."

Joyce studied at New York's Studio School, where according to an article about her work by artist Rachel Youens,
[A] stream of well established visiting artists who taught, critiqued, and told stories, study was rigorous and centered around many of many of Giacometti's ideas in particular, adapting his challenge to infuse pictures with the emotive qualities of things and reach beyond habitual ways of seeing. Students practiced measuring space and forms and developing an awareness of the effects of their peripheral vision, with an approach that doing and undoing would lead to a greater vision of nature. Years later, Pensato's processes and methods remain tied to this tradition of looking at and abstracting from nature.

Joyce Pensato, The Swimmer, 2004, Charcoal on paper, 40" x 50" (image from Studio School website).

One of my favorite projects that Joyce exhibited recently was the "Wigged and Wild" window installation at Parker's Box, featuring snapshots of Brooklyn and New York art types or just unsuspecting passersby wearing a platinum blonde wig she carried around and convinced them to wear. How animated this simple "disguise" made most people was truly amazing. It was as if Joyce were able to inject some of her energy into these usually cooler-than-thou folks via the wig. I was also one of Joyce's subjects for this and I barely recognized myself in the photo. I don't have my photo to share unfortunately, but here's another one from the series:

Joyce Pensato, untitled, photograph, 2003, (from Parker's Box website)

For more on Joyce, be sure and see these posts by James Wagner and Barry Hoggard. James included a close up of a piece Joyce recently exhibited at Sarah Bowen gallery that illustrates better than anything I could say how much raw energy goes into each of her works.

(image from James Wagner's blog)

And here are a few installation shots of Joyce's show there in 2003 to give you a better sense of her exquisitely grimey aesthetic:

Joyce Pensato, From the Hood and Other Places, 2002, mixed media 4 feet x 8 feet

Joyce Pensato, Donald as a Crossdresser, 1999, charcoal and pastel on paper
10 feet x 14 feet

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Local Government: McDowell Not Advancing Spiritual or Intellectual Well-Being of General Public

The McDowell Colony, for anyone who doesn't know, is a world-class artists residency. Founded in 1907, it offers a care-free environment in a rustic setting to facilitate and inspire working composers, writers, visual artists, photographers, printmakers, filmmakers, architects, etc. etc. The colony has 32 private cabin-turned-studios spread out across 450 acres of wooded New Hampshire heaven. The composers' studios have pianos, the photographers' darkrooms, and visual artists have great light and lots of wall space in theirs. There are no telephones, and lunch is delivered quietly to the studio in picnic boxes, so there's nothing to distract the artists from the work at hand: making their art. Artists I know who've gone to McDowell simply rave about the conditions and how much work they get done. It does indeed sound about as good as it gets.

But nothing stays idyllic forever. Enter the local government:

For nearly a century, the famed artists' retreat has welcomed thousands of writers, composers and others who enjoy up to two months of rent-free solitude and support. Within its rustic stone and clapboard cottages, Thornton Wilder wrote ''Our Town,'' Aaron Copland composed ''Appalachian Spring'' and Dobuse and Dorothy Heyward wrote ''Porgy and Bess.'' More recently, Jonathan Franzen finished writing ''The Corrections'' and Alice Sebold worked on ''The Lovely Bones.''

For decades, the town considered the colony a tax-exempt charitable organization. But after reviewing similar groups from the hospital to the historical society, the Board of Selectmen decided the colony no longer is eligible for the exemption.

State law defines a charitable organization as one that advances ''the spiritual, physical, intellectual, social or economic well-being of the general public or a substantial and indefinite segment of the general public that includes residents of the state of New Hampshire.''

Of course, the town cites its elderly residents on fixed incomes struggling to pay rising tax bills as their motivation for deciding now, after a century, that McDowell's mission is not charitable enough to warrant its tax-exempt status. But as local auto mechanic Scott MacKenzie said in the article cite above, it sounds like the town is just getting greedy. There are details that make this less than a open-and-shut case, and since I don't live in Peterborough, I'll refrain from pontificating. But the rationale behind the change in attitude revolves around an opinion I don't mind weighing in on.

Again, New Hampshire law considers a charity any organization that advances ''the spiritual, physical, intellectual, social or economic well-being of the general public or a substantial and indefinite segment of the general public that includes residents of the state of New Hampshire.''

The MacDowell Colony certainly benefits its artists-in-residence, but ''that doesn't strike us as being the general public,'' said Bob Derosier, one of the town's lawyers.

''From what we understand, their primary purpose is nurturing artists of the highest merit,'' he said.
OK, so that's a bit disingenuous of Mr. Derosier. Many New Hampshire artists have had residencies at McDowell, including Peterborough Selectman Liz Thomas (also a writer), who is among those who believe the Colony should pay more taxes unfortunately (they already pay $9000/year property taxes on land that's not used for their central mission). More than that, however, McDowell provides local programs it considers worth more money than what the town is asking for, like workshops in the schools and monthly discussions led by the artists-in-residence. None of that will relieve the elderly residents' property tax burdens, of course, but it does suggest the Colony is, by state law, a bona fide charity.

But let's back up and look again at what the town's lawyer is arguing. In a nutshell he's saying that "nurturing artists of the highest merit" does not serve to advance "the spiritual, physical, intellectual, social or economic well-being of the general public." Unless the residents of Peterborough have never every listened to "Appalachian Spring'' or ''Porgy and Bess'' or seen "Our Town" or read the works of the hundreds of writers who've benefited from the uninterrupted time to work, or been uplifted by the work of thousands of visual artists who've made work there (a very short list of contemporaries includes Ji Yun-Fei, Lisa Yuskavage, Amy Sillman, Justine Kurland, Renee Cox, and Polly Apfelbaum), then I'd submit the general public's spiritual, intellectual, and social well-being has indeed been advanced by the Colony's mission.

But that's just me....

Friday, November 11, 2005

Fantasy Auctions 2005 (Fall Edition), Update I

Well, it seems I have some new art! (At least in my fantasy world). The results aren't up yet for last night's and today's (duh!) Contemporary sessions at Phillips, but has posted most of the other fall auction returns now, and I'm happy to report that---although that Twombly I was hoping no one would notice was gorgeous went for over 8 million (see the rules here, I only have $3mil to spend)---I would have won the bidding on some awesome pieces, including this Luc Tuymans (no offense to the person who won the bid in real life, mind have extraordinarily good taste!):

Luc Tuymans, Premonition, oil on canvas, diameter: 28 in. 71.2 cm.

What I didn't win includes the
Twombly, which went for $8,696,000, this Peyton, which went for $856,000, and this Candida Höfer, which went for $42,000....all out of the range of where I said I'd stop bidding. But I did win the Warhol I wanted to get for Bambino, so I can go home tonight anyway (it went for $96,000 [estimate $70 - 90k]).

But on to what everyone really wants to did the "emerging" artists do? Very well overall.

Julie Mehretu's Untitled (Skybox) was estimated at $30,000 - 40,000 and sold for $48,000. Kehinde Wiley's Saint Francis of Paola, which was estimated at $25,000 - 35,000, sold for $33,600 (not bad...remember how young he is and this is not what I'd call one of his most complicated works). But the real newsmaker was Dana Schutz, whose Project at Kensington (estimated at $60,000 - 80,000 [see below]) sold for $96,000 (yes, that's real US dollars).

Dana Schutz, Project at Kensington, 2001, Oil on canvas, 42" x 47.2"

I still have my fingers crossed that I'll get a small Twombly and the gorgeous Gonzalex-Torres (so I'm not adding up my winnings just yet, in case I'm already over my budget). Final update to come.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

The Tao of Van Gogh's Drawings

You'd think that visiting the Met on a Wednesday afternoon would be optimal, but with a show as popular as Vincent van Gogh: The Drawings, Wednesday afternoon merely means you're not waiting for hours in a queue to enter the really crowded can force yourself into the mob right away. While we were bobbing and weaving to see around the other visitors, I noticed a rather stately woman being pushed around in a wheelchair, answering her helper's frustrated questions about how they should navigate the hordes by saying, "Let's just get close to what we can. I'll be enriched whichever direction we manage."

It was the sort of grand statement that anti-elitist forces in this country mock regularly, but in the context of this exhibition it was definite understatement. This show is breathtaking. What's most impressive about what the chronology reveals is how van Gogh's marks themselves evolve over the course of his career. This may be obvious to many folks, and I had a sense of it myself before, but seeing it firsthand is something else altogether. So I'll share my impressions, knowing they're perhaps not at all novel.

Van Gogh's earliest drawings are all about the subject...the marks themselves serving that representational end, none very interesting in and of themselves. But as he matures as an artist, each mark begins to take on more responsibility as an object or even subject itself. In the middle of his career you see that these marks are still serving structural ends, with many reinforcing perspective or working as part of a team to build this or that object...meaning much less on its own. By the end of his life, however, you realize each mark is very much its own end, its own raison d'etre, working in stunning harmony, but with no dependencies or structural purposes. Erase every other mark on any of these later drawings, and the one remaining would still amaze. By the time he's making works like this one:

Vincent van Gogh (Dutch, 1853–1890), Cypresses, 1889, Reed pen, pen, and ink, graphite on wove paper; 62.2 x 47.1 cm (24 1/2 x 18 1/2 in.), Brooklyn Museum, New York, Frank L. Babbott Fund and the A. Augustus Healy Fund (image from Metropolitan Museum of Art website)

Van Gogh has transcended representation anyway. To me, what he's exploring at this point is the, perhaps Toaist, interconnectedness of everything. That's not a new analysis, I know. But I had a surprise a few years back when reading Fritjof Capra's awesome book, The Tao of Physics, when I realized van Gogh's later images (think Starry Night in particular) had begun to look hauntingly like a photograph of a particle collision in a bubble chamber, like the one below (click and expand image to see what I mean):

From The Tao of Physics:

For the further discussion of the process of observation it will be useful to take a definite example, and the simplest physical entity that can be used is a subatomic particle, such as the electron. If we want to observe and measure such a particle, we must first isolate it, or even create it, in a process which can be called the preparation process. once the particle has been prepared for observation, its properties can be measured, and this constitutes the process of measurement. The situation can be represented symbolically as follows. A particle is prepared in the region A, travels from A to B. and is measured in the region B. In practice, both the preparation and the measurement of the particle may consist of a whole series of quite complicated processes. In the collision experiments of high-energy physics, for example, the preparation of the particles used as projectiles consists in sending them around a circular track and accelerating them until their energy is sufficiently high. This process takes place in the particle accelerator. When the desired energy is reached, they are made to leave the accelerator (A) and travel to the target area (B) where they collide with other particles. These collisions take place in a bubble chamber where the particles produce visible tracks which are photographed. The properties of the particles are then deduced from a mathematical analysis of their tracks; such an analysis can be quite complex and is often carried out with the help of computers. All these processes and activities constitute the act of measurement.

The important point in this analysis of observation is that the particle constitutes an intermediate system connecting the processes at A and B. It exists and has meaning only in this context; not as an isolated entity, but as an interconnection between the processes of preparation and measurement.
OK, so I know I'm reaching here, suggesting that van Gogh was seeing something we other mere mortals wouldn't understand until science had found a way to photograph the collision of two subatomic particles, many years later, but then again....

Food for thought anyway.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Short Break

There will be no art post today. Today's the birthday of my Bambino (also known as "the Pretty one")...and I'm spending the day spoiling him rotten.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

How Improbable is Sincerity Really?

Picking back up where we left off with regards to whether sincerity is even possible now, in our last thread Dan nailed the essence of why this remains so unsettled:

This New Sincerity is a tricky thing, shedding the skin of hard irony yet retaining a vestigial wink and nod. It finds today earnestness and cleverness, belief and incredulity, pastiche and parody all messily bound up together. Think John Currin. Or, taking a trip back into the already-forgoten cultural memory banks of 2003, think The Darkness.
Back when I had more time for independent projects, before we opened the gallery, I was researching that exact process in artmaking, shedding the hard irony, but leaving an escape hatch of sorts (I came up with a few metaphors that seemed to work, but none were air-tight). Today, I'm beginning to think that approach is itself cynical. You can't inch your way back into sincerity. Sincerity's an all or nothing proposition. You either dive into the deep end or you never quite accomplish it.

Contrary to what Sloterdijk suggests, I'm convinced sincerity is possible in this age of reportedly all-prevailing cynicism. Moreover if sincerity is possible, it would surface first in "art." Why? Because of what art attempts: to reveal truth. If honesty is the root of sincerity, it would stand to reason that an artist who reveals the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth (a tall order, admittedly), would by defintion present sincere work. Seems simple enough. But what stops that from happening?

Well I used to believe it was the harshness of the critique. That's why artists left themselves some wiggle room (read: threw in a handful of irony), creating for themselves, as I noted, an escape hatch. The critique's overall jadedness would seek out and squash any weakness (read: sentimentality), and artists' egos prohibited them from opening themselves up to that, so they inserted insurance: "Oh, yes, but I'm doing that with tongue planted firmly in cheek, don't you know." But I don't think that gives artists enough credit. So what is it?

I think a definition would be in order here. What are we talking about really when we look for sincerity in art? It's not just a lack of obvious irony or cynicism. There are plenty of artists offering up what they claim is an honest expression of how they feel: "I honestly feel the world is a charming post-impressionistic cottage in the woods with a warm glow emanating from the open-shuddered windows." (Who's to say that's wrong [besides the starving homeless child in India, I mean]?) Perhaps what we're looking for is a worldview that rings true without being myopic or without squashing hope. Perhaps what we're really talking about here is optimism. We expect sincerity to convey believable optimism. Anything short of that we want to consider cynical.

How do artists then make sincere work when such optimism seems to require willful blinders?

Personally, I'd like to think it's as simple as editing out all the noise and presenting what one concludes is "the truth" (i.e., the human condition includes inherent optimism, so that will take care of itself). Of course, honesty doesn't make sincerity valuable in and of itself: until educated, one could honestly believe the world is flat, for example. And, undoubtedly, the more one is educated (i.e., the more one knows about the world), the harder it becomes to be honest (the essence of Sloterdijk's argument): for example, one could assert an honest view of the war in Iraq but it would have to account for so many contingencies, such as Democracy might actually make the Middle East a better place in 20 years' time, but how many innocent civilians should lose their lives to reach that point, but if you don't force Democracy on those nations, what do you do about the threat of terrorism in the mean while, just bunker down and hope for the best? etc. etc. Any work about Iraq that doesn't account for all those issues (and more) isn't the whole truth, so how could it be sincere?

Shakespeare suggests one simple guiding principle here:

This above all: to thine ownself be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Hamlet, Act I, Scene III, line 78.

This would suggest that rather than throwing in a handful of irony as protection against the critique, an artist must expose him/herself fully to be sincere. An artist must be true to his/herself first and foremost, and then their audience would not see any falseness. In other words, it requires courage. Perhaps we lack sincerity because we lack courage. No one is willing to risk a devastating critique, so they build an escape hatch into their work.

OK, so really, I'm not smoking crack. I offer these thoughts for consideration only, not as manefesto.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Artist of the Week (11/07/05)

Recent events have made the Artist of the Week this time an obvious choice. I first disovered the work of Eric Doeringer outside the Armory Show a few years ago. Having spent several hours and at least three beers' worth of entrance fee money drooling over work so far above my art-buying budget my head was spinning, I was thoroughly delighted to stumble upon Eric's make-shift booth, where he stood in the cold flogging his $40 "bootleg" versions of the well-known work selling across the street for tens of thousands or more. Believing profoundly that the sincerest form of art appreciation is writing a check, I bought a copy of the Dunham bookleg you see to the right.

I didn't really know what to make of this cheeky entrepreneur at the time, but there was a certain joy about his project/performance, a pitch-perfect parody of the commerce and iconography being taken so very seriously across the street---an amusing antedote to the excess the Armory Show can symbolize at times. Don't get me wrong (especially if you're on the selection committee), I love art fairs and believe in selling work, but Doeringer's project helped remind me that it's always a good idea to step back on occassion to make sure you're still having fun. Here's an installation shot from one of his booths:

Image from artist's website.

In addtion to the bootleg series, Eric's work includes "ID cards for fictional museums," "Hand Embroidered "Polo" Shirts," and my personal favorite, the Mole Tattoos:

The Mole Tattoos are replicas of my moles. A collector may choose any mole on my body, and I tattoo a copy in the identical location on his or her body. In addition to the tattoo, each collector receives a signed Polaroid of the original mole.

Eric's exhibition history with his varied projects is as earnest as any emerging artist at his stage of his career, with exhibitions coming up in Los Angeles and Zurich, to name a few, but his "Bootlegs" are what he's best known for. And it's his "Bootleg" peformances that led to a controversy this past weekend. From James Wagner's blog:

I still can't quite get my mind around this story, although I first heard the particulars much earlier today: It's essentially the tale of an owner of an art gallery asking the police to get rid of an artist who was selling his work on the sidewalk a few doors down from his business. [...]

Apparently Mike Weiss, who runs his eponymic gallery on 24th Street, where our young artist has usually set up his shop, had complained about [what I would describe as the performance element of] Doeringer's art the weekend before this and had threatened to call the police if he returned the following Saturday. According to Doeringer, Weiss told him he didn't like him selling work outside, "because it attracts people." Doeringer says he thought at first Weiss was joking. Eventually he realized that he meant that Doeringer's presence would attract other artists selling their work there as well. Weiss complained about his high rent and how the artist was making it difficult for him to sell art.

In spite of the pressure, Doeringer was certain he was within his rights in what he was doing and so he returned this weekend. At some point in the afternoon on Saturday he was approached by the police, who told him they were responding to a 311 complaint. They informed him he would have to leave [later he learned that he only had to file some paperwork and register as a vendor, collecting sales tax, in order to be legitimate].

He packed up his work and confronted Mr. Weiss, who admitted he had called the police. He said that he didn't like "seeing people walking around with tiny paintings," while he was paying high rent for his gallery and, "trying to sell $30,000 paintings."

I'm in the unusual position of being able to feel for both parties in this dispute, but, although I've known Mike for years, I think he might have over-reacted here. A series of conversations with Eric, patiently getting him to see the gallery's point of view, would surely have been better than calling the police. Having said that, coming from our old location where a very violent version of stick ball was frequently played with our gallery's front door used as home plate, I get that it's frustrating to think any element in your street is potentially directing traffic away from you. I'm not exactly sure that Eric wouldn't be a good element to have on your street, given that he's clearly invested in (even if poking fun at) the contemporary dialog, but I can see where Mike is coming from.

Bottom line seems to be Eric's rights (once he gets the permit) trump Mike's concerns. (And to put it more succinctly: it's a very competitive business we've chosen. If we can't beat out a street performer selling knock-offs, what chance do we stand against our fellow gallerists?) Here's another one of Eric's "re-creations":

Eric Doeringer, "assume vivid astro focus (aka Eli Sudbrock)," Ink Jet Print, 10 x 8.255", 2004
This piece was created by collaging together different elements from original avaf pieces. Image from
artist's website.
For more on the story, see Barry Hoggard's blog too.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Resistance Is Futile

I've been around long enough to watch a curious phenomenon in the art world, namely that, genuine atrocities/inequalities aside, the culture of one's childhood is often idealized (or at least seen as normal) by each new generation, even when that culture seems ripe for criticism to those one generation older. There's an acceptance of one's culture, as is, without judgement, in the eyes of a child, and for the budding artist, that world becomes, warts and all, relatively neutral grist for the mill.

We're seeing this now in the way pop culture references whose use automatically signified irony a generation ago are increasingly being used sincerely (specifically the assimilation of what had been seen as low culture or failed philosophy...I'll explain this more fully below). It serves to generation gap us older folks, but again and again in studio visits, I'm hearing younger artists say they're really (and neutrally) invested in what during my youth was considered obviously wrong or totally disposable. In some instances I think the artists are actually making a Warholian statment via that, and sometimes I don't think so at all. In the end, though, I'm starting to realize that what threatened me in my youth, because it was new or crass and seemingly superficial, has in many instances actually absorbed significance, taken on a life of its own, for the generation after me.

It's tempting to dismiss this when I see it as shallowness (these poor kids, don't they have anything richer than that to mine?), but it's dawning on me (I'm not the brightest bulb in the chandelier) that each new generation is a clean slate, or, actually, a clean sponge, and they absorb the signifiers around them, and those signifiers do in turn absorb (or become imbued with) significance.

What prompted me to share this now was the juxtaposition of two studio visits I've made recently. One, with an artist slightly older than me and one with an artist much younger. I suspect both of them will recognize themselves in the following description, but I hope they appreciate that this isn't a commentary on their work as much as it is a simple observation. Both are very good artists, and the fact that their work seems to undercut each other's only suggests there are no simple answers here.

The artist slightly older than me is exploring the lost promise of Modernist utopian ideals. More or less the work demonstrates how those ideals are doomed to failed, human individuality finding a way to express itself through any system. (I'm struggling to get to the gist of the idea here without describing the work, so bear with me.) Among other things, we discussed reports of fussy architects who voiced annoyance that the workers in their buildings had personalized their works spaces, destroying the architect's desired sight lines and overall intended tone, assumedly expecting them to never settle in or smudge up the place. This artist concludes, reasonably, that people will always personalize their environments...personal expression will find a way, undercutting the ideal. And because of this, essentially the Modernists one-size-fits-all solutions are bankrupt.

The artist much younger than me, however, starts with the failed Modernist utopian ideas, and rather than judging them--but simply absorbing them as is--explores their significance neutrally. There they are, warts and all, nonthreatening. There's none of the sense of loss or outrage or irony seen in the older artist's work. It's a foregone conclusion the ideals are bankrupt: "And so...?"

Now I know this might be interpreted as suggesting the older artist should be put out to pasture...that "they've served their purpose, but now it's time for their students to take the lead and push futher," but the truth of the matter is, although the younger artist shows incredible promise, the older artist's work is more nuanced and confident. Neither one should stop what they're doing. More than that, there's still the possibility that both of them are wrong or only seeing a small portion of the total picture.

But back to my central point. There's a prevailing assumption, call it classicism, that there are certain standards, ideals, even proportions and approaches with regard to art-making, that transcend the ages and disposable fashions of our day. My namesake, Johann Joachim Winckelmann, was a relentless advocate of such notions and, being somewhat obsessed with him for a while, I had thought he had something there (no one with that name could be wrong, eh?). Now however I'm realizing that indeed resistance is futile. Assimilation of contemporary culture is responsible for all significance (even the ancient Greeks had to start somewhere). Which doesn't mean you can't/shouldn't react against something new. Just that your reactions will have more lasting value if you assume a generation from now this newfangled thing will be far less threatening and actually, through osmosis with humans, will have absorbed much more worth exploring.

I realize I'm rambling now...consider this a rough draft for an ongoing discussion.