Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Discussing Islam Too Hot for Western Art Institutions?

Twice now, a public sculpture by German artist Gregor Schneider has been planned and then scrapped because of political pressure. First in Venice and now in Berlin. The work is a large cube made of scaffolding and covered in black fabric. According to The Art Newspaper, "It is inspired by the Ka’ba in Mecca, the holiest site of Islam." In both locations, after giving the go-ahead to install the work, local authorities changed their minds. In both locations their reasoning seems to have been the same: fear of offending Muslims. Why that concern hadn't been thoroughly explored before they gave the go-ahead remains a mystery, but it's safe to assume they were convinced by communications after their announced support to withdraw it.

We've gone rounds here on whether institutions are disserving the public by caving into fear of retribution when work that might be seen as offensive to Muslims is considered for exhibition. One reader on that other thread even went so far as to suggest that only by going out and seeking work that stands an equal chance of offending Muslims do I earn the right to criticize such reversals. I disagree, but did eventually admit that should strong enough evidence be presented to me after I had decided to exhibit such work that doing so would represent a significant threat to our visitors, staff, or artist, I would reconsider. The more I think about it now, though, the more I'm certain I'd rather close the gallery than change the exhibition.

Now in the political blogosphere I'm fairly well known for blasting any even remotely biased anti-Muslim rhetoric, and I'll most certainly do so in the future, but I'm personally sick and tired of Western art institutions getting this so spectaculary wrong. If you're going to scrap exhibitions for fear of offending Muslims, you MUST, MUST, MUST also scrap exhibitions for fear of offending Christians (e.g, the Offili piece in the "Sensation" exhibition), or Jews, or Buddhists, or whomever. Full stop. It doesn't matter if they're less likely to resort to violence in their protests, the only honorable rationale for censoring work that critiques Islam is that you, as an institution, consider all religion off bounds.

There are two important reasons I insist upon that. First and foremost is my belief in freedom of expression. Without getting into whether Schneider's piece is important enough or not to exhibit (clearly at one point the authorities in both Venice and Berlin thought it was), such actions send a chilling message to artists about what they should or shouldn't explore. It's one thing for the art establishment to never recognize a piece as valuable, but another altogether to say, essentially, "Yeah, it's good, but we're too scared to exhibit it." That leaves the artist hanging out there, by themselves, without support to continue their exploration. And in that way, it's shameful.

Secondly, however, such reversals only encourage the nutjobs. Really. What's next? Caving in and not screening movies in public that might offend extremist Muslims? Discouraging Western women from wearing clothing in public that might offend extremist Muslims? Disguising churches or synagouges to prevent that architecture from offending extremist Muslims passing by? Seriously. Where the hell does it end?

Being human means sometimes being offended. The vast majority of Muslims living in the West fully understand that. Caving in to the criminals who are looking for anything to react against only serves to strengthen them. And I mean caving in by the imams and Muslim community leaders here, who I suspect were the ones who approached the Berlin authorities and convinced them the work might incite violence. Why the hell they weren't back in their communities preventing such violence instead is a good question.

When Christians in New York (including the mayor) strongly objected to the exhibiting of Offili's "Madonna" painting at the Brooklyn Museum, the museum responded by tightening security and sticking to their convictions. In other words, they acted like the community authorities on art we expected them to be.

The Venice and Berlin authorities should have done the same thing.

UPDATE: Tyler Green points us to a reason to be optimistic on this front: the upcoming exhibition at MoMA (Without Boundary: Seventeen Ways of Looking ) that looks, in part, at a spectrum of contemporary Muslim artists, including the Mona Hatoum, Shirin Neshat, and Shahzia Sikander.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Artist of the Week 01/30/06

A few years ago the New York art world saw an impressive resurgence in the metaphor and artistic potential of youthful angst as represented, seemingly, by nothing so much as the decorations and objects cluttering that sanctuary of reluctant innocence: the teenager's bedroom. A series of exhibitions, magazines, and events heralded the arrival of this fresh, sexy, smart, energetic, transcultural phenomenon and a series of stars and variations on the theme were born. Oddly, but perhaps not coincidentally, the vast majority of them (all of them?) by male artists.

Preceding this trend in New York, however, was the practice of Barcelona-born, London-based artist Esther Planas who has for a decade at least been combining drawings, rainbows, posters, porn, music, confessions, pop, sex, and cheap furniture in her installations, fanzines, and live performances with her band, Dirty Snow. Her installations never quite reached the critical mass of objects we associate with the New York genre, but what she may have lacked in density, she more than makes up for in intensity. This excerpt from the text for a recent exhibition at
Transition Gallery in London sums up nicely what I mean:

Esther Planas is the achingly and archetypally poetic visionary, playing out her own life/love/art dramas in her work – meshing it all together in a glorious fuck it collage. Her confessional practice predates Emin, influenced instead by the original hardcore exponent of the genre, Kathy Acker.

Esther’s is a plaintive world where everything is continually in flux. Her persona shifting between the wannabe roles of rebel, rock-star, artist, painter, poet, porn star and writer. In her art this personal world is opened up, creating a space for the audience to drift through, to read her narrative as they would a text.

I first met Esther in 2000, when she was involved with London's legendary East End alternative space, Five Years. I found her hypersexual, rock-n-roll bad girl persona a bit threatening, but she went out of her way to make me feel comfortable during our first studio visit. She didn't hold back in showing me any of her work, even the most graphic, but her warm smile and genuine openness made me trust her motives and that went a long way toward providing a point of access. Here's an installation view of her work at Five Years in 2002

Esther's practice includes so many aspects, it's tempting just to list them and provide links where you can learn more. In fact, one central place to start is her website, Club Esther. Another is her fanzine, Dark Star, whose tagline is "Publish and be damned!"

Indeed, there's an amazing dark and yet fun dichotomy to Esther's work that has led to more than a bit of confusion on the part of folks trying to write about it (leading to her hilarious objection "who the fuck said I am a goth artist?"), with many of her videos and collages including stuffed bunnies, or unicorns, or rainbow stickers (the sort more often seen gracing the notebooks of schoolgirls) amongst pornographic photos of herself or other models (what Holland Cotter termed "funky teenage-diary" format [disclaimer: in a review of an exhibition at our gallery]).

Trained as a dancer in Spain before entering art school, Planas is a born performer. In early 2001, I included her in an exhibition I organized in London, and her band performed in the space the night after the opening. In fact, Dirty Snow will be performing live tomorrow on the Resonance FM show, "Make Your Own Damn Music," hosted by a previous artist of the week, Bob and Roberta Smith. You can listen on your radio if you're in London, or hear it online Tuesday, 31st January, at 21.45 GMT at www.resonancefm.com.

What fascinates me most about Esther's work, though, is its underlying thread of self-sabotage or as one writer put it "doomed romance." Indeed, many of her projects have seeds of genius, but as presented represent only a brilliant start...rarely what seems a totally resolved finish. I thought this was perhaps just a clash of aesthetics (mine vs. hers) at first, but this review of a performance by Dirty Snow suggests there's something else there

Following with a much more mature sound and appearance were Dirty Snow. A band with an average age of about thirty, they bash ‘em out with the best of them. With the ‘wall of noise’-ness of ‘Sonic Youth,’ and the conservative gothness of ‘Siouxsie and the Banshees,’’ Dirty snow` show a fierceness that would make children cry. Most striking is undoubtedly the leading lady. She looks like Shelley Duvall of ‘The Shining’ fame. Wendy Torrence armed with an arsenal of twisted, tortured writhing, gyrating ‘dance’ moves to send Jack Nicholson straight to hell. No discernible words came from her mouth, and if they did were hidden under the screams and wails of that wild banshee woman. But hey, who needs words anyway. The ‘Dirty Snows’ are not at all precious about their sound, giving it up for an energy that truly shakes and stirs the front woman. ‘Dirty Snow’ are not doing anything particularly new, if anything they are playing on old styles, but their energy is fresh, sincere and exciting to watch. It’s just a shame they burnt out after only 15-20 mins.

James Bridge Williams, The Dry Bar, Manchester 2/12/2004

But perhaps burning out after only 15-20 minutes is the point with Dirty Snow's performances, as if to suggest an entire life can be lived within that period, or at least one worth living, if lived well. I'm not quite sure (and neither are most critics) whether to take the band (which plays in clubs as well as galleries) as a serious musical endeavor or consider it an "art performance." Here again, that nebulousness seems to be part of the point. "Who's to say we have to choose." Here's a live performance audio clip.

UPDATE [RELATED]: See this article by João Ribas on the increasing respect in the visual arts world for artwork by musicians (including [can't praise this show enough] the exhibition at DCKT of collages and journals by Exene). João notes:

Influenced by the legacy of punk rock, and its do-it-yourself spirit and barrier-breaching ethos, a new artist-musician vanguard is helping to finally put to rest most of the negative connotations of being a musician who also paints, draws or takes photographs.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Hey Honey?? Where'd You Leave the Serra? Open Thread

Massive bronze sculptures around London are disappearing left and right. Over 20 at last count.

Recently missing works include a
6.5 foot bronze by Lynn Chadwick, stolen from a university and a 2-ton Henry Moore sculpture stolen from the Henry Moore Foundation just outside London. As of yet, the police have offered no clues on who's behind the alarming heists.

And the mystery of the missing massive work is not limited to London. In Madrid, a
38-ton Richard Serra sculpture has been misplaced at the Reina Sofia Museum. Now there's no proof, as far as I know, that that one was stolen, let alone by the same people, but one would think if it was just in another part of the warehouse, it'd be easy to spot.

In London, I'm sure the explanation is as mundane as the police are suggesting it is. Theives are melting the works down for scrap. But that's too depressing, so I like to imagine some gigantic (think Jabba the Hut sized) James Bond-esque villian is gathering the master works for his 40-acre garden through which he'll feel petite while he strolls.

But back to the more likely explanation, and why it's paritcularly unsettling:

While Moore's "Reclining Figure," which was stolen from the grounds of the Henry Moore Foundation in Hertfordshire on Dec. 15, is worth as much as £10 million, or nearly $18 million, as a work of art, Sergeant [Vernon Rapley, chief of the Metropolitan Police art and antiques squad] said, its value as scrap metal is more like £5,000, or roughly $9,000.
I can see the day coming when artist making work for public spaces begin to insert radio transmittors into the piece so it can be tracked down if stolen.

Consider this an open thread.

UPDATE: Via Oliver K, who always has his finger on the pulse, we find this wicked weekend chuckle...

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Composition Test: Answers, Results, and Conclusions

Yesterday I offered a test of the hypothesis that in visual art, a really good composition is so well balanced that should anything be moved, added, or removed, the overall effect will be ruined. You can see the test and comments here.

The original, untouched Diebenkorn compositions are

Example 1: Left
Example 2: Left
Example 3: Bottom

Today I tallied the responses. A few folks changed their choices, so it was slightly confusing, but I think I got it right now. I only counted someone's answers if they made a clear choice for all three examples. The results of the 15 people who did are below:

As noted in the chart, each correct choice is marked with an X. The one most folks got correct was Example 1. The one most folks guessed incorrectly was Example 2. Three of you got all three correct.

When the guessing first started I was confident my preconceptions would stand. The blogger going by training VS taste ???, who guessed first and immediately got all three correct, offered concrete, even logical reasoning for his/her choices. Such as

regarding second one, much of the drawing is about crossing of line (whether perspectival at bottom and the x or t's at the top. given that, it seems to make more sense that one also crossed the picture plane and by placing the x to the far right, the eyes are forced to cross the picture plane

But even this blogger noted "i don't think there are right or wrong answers here (or most anywhere)," a notion that ending up being supported again and again throughout the remainder of the voting.

Indeed personal taste does seem to be a factor in determining whether a composition is good or not. One blogger chose the incorrect choice for each example, and I know this blogger to be a very talented artist...perhaps one poised to change our general perceptions about compositions. Who knows?

There are a few assumptions/problems with this experiment that make it less than scientific, and most of them were highlighted in the comments. One interesting one that I hadn't considered was pointed out by heather lowe:

This is difficult because the images are so interesting beside one another and they have a definite influence on one another.The pair becomes something entirely unique, in my opinion.

Another assumption that I had considered was noted by auvi

I guess the underlying assumption is that Diebenkorn is better than Edward,
everywhere, all the time. Maybe that's not true.

I should acknowledge that I spent no time considering the composition when I made the changes. Perhaps I have some innate skills, but there was no analysis or attempt to "improve" upon the original. I merely wanted different types of changes (flipping, centering, vertical moves) to see if an analytical conclusion could be drawn. As training VS taste ??? pegged what was wrong analytically with each of my changes (almost frightfully so), I was intially convinced the hypothesis was true.

But again and again in the comments, folks prefaced their choices as a matter of preference, even training VS taste ???, suggesting that whereas some folks prefer logical compositions, others prefer compositions that defy logic and, as JT Kirkland noted, have "bit more excitement to" them.

As I also noted yesterday, perhaps a better test is to add or remove something from a composition (rather than just moving), as that's generally how the hypothesis is framed, although that opens a whole new kettle of fish regarding whether objects and their relationship to each other (i.e, narrative) plays a major role in whether we like a composition or not....but enough for today...the coffee shop awaits. Thanks to all for participating!

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Testing a Hypothesis about Good Composition

Art Soldier offered a terrific review of the Rauschenberg exhibition at the Met the other day (what is it about that exhibition that's bringing out the best sort of art writing?...see Jerry Saltz's breath-taking review here as well...I really must get up there this weekend)...and focused on one of my favorite topics in discussing art: composition. From AS's review:

Rauschenberg is a master of composition (perhaps the best of the 20th Century).

His work is not about color, line, etc., etc., -- it's all about composition. He is one of the few modernists (I'll get to that in a second) to retain such a serious respect for the almost traditionally classical skill of composition. What at first appears like slapdash collage is actually the result of a precise and sophisticatedly brilliant eye. I find comments like Peter Scheldahl's in the New Yorker to be besides the point:

"Rauschenberg's "combines" ... are works in progress, permanently."

This is a misconception about abstract paintings, also often applied to De Kooning's work, that suggests that the work is unresolved, caught in a state of incompleteness (as opposed to representational memesis, I suppose, which has a clear stopping point), or possibly even 'allover' in composition (although in Scheldahl's case I think he meant it as a sort of complement, as the blurb of a review was highly laudatory). Nothing could be further from the truth. Anything added or taken away would ruin the effect, then they would be 'in progress' and would look unfinished....

That last idea (that in a very good composition anything taken away or added will ruin the overall effect) has always captured my imagination. At least since one of my mentors drilled it into my head early on. He considered Richard Diebenkorn the 20th Century's greatest master of composition and we'd spend hours looking at RD's works contemplating how they would fall apart if this or that element were missing or moved. I've always taken this on faith and repeated it many times myself...but I'm growing a bit more skeptical as I age and, well....

I don't know why exactly (I know it's downright brainless, if not sacrilegious in some ways), but Art Soldier's post put this bug in my brain that won't go away and so I've relented to it. Below are three sets of images by Richard Diebenkorn. I've chosen three black and white etchings to avoid complicating this experiment with color. In each set, one is untouched, and in the other something has been moved. The changes are subtle (at least to me they are), but my question to you is "Can you tell which one is wrong?" Please forgive me if some obnoxious art teacher you've had already subjected you to this silliness, but I'm still curious, so I'll press on. Can you spot (without downloading the image and looking at it magnified in Photoshop), which one I've changed based more or less on the "ruined" composition? I've always been convinced anyone with a well enough trained eye can, and no one will be happier than me (having told countless people that it's true over the years) if everyone spots every fake, but it's early...I'm uncaffienated...and this still seems an interesting enough test to push forward (are those enough caveats for you?). If nothing else, perhaps this will lead to a discussion about what makes for good (or bad) composition and whether that's at all relative.

Example ONE:

Example TWO:

Example THREE:

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The Other Asian Art Market to Watch

There's been a good deal of news about the burgeoning art scene in China lately, including a few posts by yours truly, but artists in that other emerging economic giant in Asia are beginning to see a much brighter future for their careers as well. An article in today's New York Times profiles 90-year old Indian painter Tyeb Mehta, who after decades of toiling in poverty, saw one of his paintings break the auction record for a contemporary Indian work at Christie's.

Mr. Mehta's career has mirrored the changing fortunes of contemporary Indian art over the last six decades, from the intellectual fervor of its birth at Indian independence in 1947, to a lifetime of aesthetic and financial struggle, to the improbable rise of the Indian art market in the last few years. As the Indian economy has galloped forward, art galleries have mushroomed, prices have skyrocketed and contemporary art has become the latest marker of affluence among the newly minted rich.
Now, I'm in the infancy of my education about the scene in India, but I have a few friends/acquaintances who are well versed in what's happening there, so I'm learning. In speaking with Shumita Bose of New York's premiere gallery exhibiting contemporary India art, Bose Pacia Modern, recently, I learned that whereas a decade ago contemporary Indian artists needed to work with galleries outside their homeland to secure a successful career, the art market there is so incredibly strong now, many need not even bother. Further, as one might expect, the number of galleries opening in India has sky-rocketted.

India hosted its first national pavillion at the Venice Biennale this past summer as well, featuring Atul Dodiya, Anita Dube, Ranbir Kaleka, Nalini Malani, Raqs Media Collective, and Nataraj Sharma (
all of whom exhibit at Bose Pacia, no less). I had the pleasure of meeting Ranbir at the opening of his highly acclaimed first New York solo exhibition and was delighted by his wit, patience, and apparent bemusement with all the attention. We talked at length about his process and his enthusiasm for the potential of mixing new technology with ancient themes and perceptions about humanity.

Given the scope of the country itself, no blog post can do justice to all that's happening in the art market in India (well, no blog post I have time to attempt right now), but every indication is that the contemporary scene there is one to watch. From here in New York, your best vantage point is undoubtedly via the excellent program at Bose Pacia.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Artist of the Week 01/23/06

There's a ludicrous disparity between our perceptions of the "good life" and the reality of those we assume are living it. We imagine those who have "made it" flit from party to party, always perfectly coiffed, the absolute picture of success, as if living in a high-production cola commercial. Even in the art world, because few of us know all the art stars personally, it's unusual to think of them as having bad days, or bouts of self-doubt, or even the common human miseries. Usually all we have to inform our imagination of what their lives are like are the thoughtful poses of them in their studios that grace their four-page profiles or the gossipy summaries and snapshots of the A-list flocking around them at last week's fabulous gala.

This disparity is the vein New York artist David Kramer mines for his drawings, paintings, sculptures, and video. From the press release for David's kick-ass 2004 exhibition at Chelsea's
Feigen Contemporary:

“In a perfect world I would be one happy mother fucker,” David Kramer declares in a drawing of a beautiful woman posing next to a convertible. “I want to know how the other half lives,” he announces in another of a six-pack of Bud with three cans missing. Such desire is the driving force behind Kramer’s comedic drawings, videos, and sculptures. Perceived inadequacies at work or awkwardness at parties are magnified by juxtaposing his self-deprecating stories with the clichéd expectations of success and splendor showcased in the unreal world of flashy advertising and popular culture.
David's drawings are like popcorn. Perhaps popcorn sprinkled with hot peppers, but popcorn all the same. Rife with sad-sack tales of both life and the art world kicking him when he's down, they're at turns profound, biting, hysterical and droll.

David Kramer, Untitled (Less is more), 2004, Ink on paper, 10" x 8 1/2"

TEXT: You always here people say, keep ’em wanting more. Like hold back a little. Make them hungry for more. Well, let me tell you, I’ve got closets full of shit that I’ve been wanting to give. I’ve got piles and piles that I’ve just been waiting for the opportunity to let it out. I mean, look, I understand the hole strategy and I can see the virtues of holding back a little bit just to make people salivate and anxious for the next time around. But hey the only one left around here who is kept wanting more is me. So, “keep ‘em wanting more?” Fuck you.
(Image from
Feigen Contemporary website)

In real life David is as Seinfeldian a person as you're likely to meet, smart, sardonic, always able to see the dark side of any situation, but ultimately optimistic. He's been a friend of the gallery for years now, and we're delighted to see his career taking off. His second exhibition at Feigen is currently up and runs through February 4th, with a video program this Thursday (January 26th, Reception: 6:00-7:00 p.m. Video Program: 7:00-8:00 p.m.).

And if his drawings are like popcorn, David's videos are the whiskey you wash it down with. In the 2004 installation, he created an "old man's bar" (see below) from which you could watch his parody of the film classic “The Fountainhead”, a case of mistaken identity that leads to David's being noticed by a big Chelsea gallery. With hilarious cameos by a host of Brooklyn and New York artists, "Million Dollar Moment" is one of the most brtually funny explorations of how unfair and irrational the art world can seem at times.

David Kramer, Installation View at Feigen Contemporary, May 20 - June 26, 2004 (Image from
Feigen Contemporary website)

In his current exhibition, David is introducing a new body of paintings. I had the pleasure of getting a preview in his studio about 6 months ago. With a similar approach to the one he uses for his drawings, these oil on canvas pieces combine commercially imagined happiness with paradoxical text, but by leaving out the detailed prose and thereby highlighting the imagery, he's sharpening the tension between the two.

David Kramer, Untitled (immediate satisfaction), 2005, Oil on canvas, 46" x 44" (Image from
Feigen Contemporary website)

For me, David's at his best when he's dealing with a topic that serves to offer both a witty observation about life and an art-dialog-specific dig, like in this piece:

David Kramer, Untitled (irony and coincidence), 2005, Ink on paper, 15" x 22" (Image from Feigen Contemporary website)

Or just musing on the life he's chosen, all the while wallowing in the poignancy and pathose we love him for:

David Kramer, Untitled (teach a fish...), 2005, Ink on paper, 17" x 20" (Image from
Feigen Contemporary website)

Friday, January 20, 2006

Opponents in High Places Open Thread

Artists who compete for public commissions certainly have a tough enough time of it, with the seemingly never-ending (and certainly never simple) proposal submission process and anxiety of waiting. But imagine if in addition to having to beat out all the other artists submitting their projects, you had to ward off a high-powered opponent of your work....and when I say "high-powered," I mean, well...The Art Newspaper tells the tale:

UK sculptor Anish Kapoor says that Prince Charles is out to thwart some of his most high-profile public projects. Kapoor’s first taste of this supposed royal interference was when the Dean of St Paul’s suddenly abandoned his designs for a new font for the Cathedral. “From what I understand, the palace, in the form of Prince Charles, had a hand in putting the kybosh on it,” Kapoor told reporters. A spokesperson for St Paul’s says, however, that “Anish Kapoor was never commissioned to design a new font for the Cathedral. His submission was rejected at the exploratory stage.” The Prince of Wales then apparently vetoed the artist’s proposal for the Princess Diana memorial in Hyde Park, London which “technically, we were supposed to have won”, gripes Kapoor who lost out to US landscape architect Kathryn Gustafson. The sculptor is now holding his breath for his planned memorial to the 11 September attacks in Hanover Square in Lower Manhattan, which broke ground last May. The piece was commissioned by the British Memorial Garden Trust, the patron of which is none other than Prince Charles. So will the heir to the throne disappoint Kapoor again? A spokesperson for the trust insisted that “the memorial is scheduled for completion in around a year’s time”.

Of course, it's possible that Kapoor sees a conspiracy where none truly exists, but I can understand where he might become a bit paranoid after a while. But this story reminded me of something I'm continuously re-learning in the art world, which is that it's important to make as few enemies as you can along the way, because the small fish you dis today might be a power-broker tomorrow. Of course, it's highly unlikely someone you dis today will become the heir to the British Throne, but just in the past week, I've seen two people I've had dealings with get very important positions. And in neither case had I seen such a leap coming. You can draw your own conclusions from that, I'm sure. Consider this an open thread.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Not so Flattered (Theft in Artmaking Open Thread)

I've had a few requests for an open thread on theft in artmaking. The following account is typical of why folks want to discuss this:

[T]heft [is] often done by someone with more power and resources than than the one they're stealing from, making it difficult to call them on it. It's happened to me, and yes, now I would handle it differently, but at the time I was inexperienced (which the thief knew and counted on) and I couldn't quite believe that it was happening and didn't know what to do about it.
Now, in a vacuum, I like to think that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but in reading the comments surrounding this issue, I realize that's too flippant a response to leave it at that (folks are quite sincere about this). In trying to relate, I remembered that I've had a few lines/ideas I've written lifted and uncredited (one by a NYTimes political columnist, no less, or so all my friends insisted...I'm still not sure it wasn't just a coincidence, but...), and it never really bothered me, but I'm not a professional writer. Still, despite my vague (perhaps clueless) ambivalence about this question, I do get the sense that what's driving the passion around it are two artworld realities:

  1. The first artist to get significant attention for some innovation of new vocabulary gets the credit, and everyone else is treated like a copycat, regardless of the true chronology invoved.
  2. Artists with pre-existing power in the art world will most likely be given considerable leeway should the issue of theft be brought to the attention of the authorities or public at large.
These realities are not unique to fine art. Music, television, film, novels, etc., all have parallels. So, in hopes of learning more myself about why this is such a powder keg issue, and perhaps having folks provide good remedies to such actions, please consider this an open thread.

What Can Architecture Tell Us About Art's Future?

Nicolai Ourossoff offers a thoughtful overview of the New Museum's journey toward its new home in the East end of SoHo in today's NYTimes. I know a number of folks who work at the New Museum, and although they've been somewhat anxious over the past year, you can feel their excitement building as they get ever closer to the move (currently they're operating out of a temporary location on 22nd Street in Chelsea). The new building (rendering at right) was designed by the Tokyo architectural firm Sanaa, and as the Nicolai notes:

[W]hile some of the design details are still being tweaked, it is now razor-clear that the building will do more to freshen the bond between Manhattan's art and architecture communities than any building since Marcel Breuer's Whitney Museum of American Art opened on Madison Avenue four decades ago.
In fact, Ourossoff's article focuses somewhat on how in order to thrive, art communities need architecture that helps drive it forward. I couldn't agree more and can't wait for the New Museum to inaugurate its new space. But what does it mean, really, for a building to drive contemporary culture forward? Nicolai does a nice job of describing how various innovations in the building reflect the mission of the museum, but I wonder if there's an concrete set of criteria by which to measure how architecture influences culture in this way. If one were to look at a series of building would some pattern emerge?

In thinking about how architecture drives the future this morning, I was delighted to see that C. C. Sullivan has offered a list of the top 12 buildings that emerged over the course of 2005 on
artinfo.com (which has begun differentiating its banner ads as either "news" or "exhibitions" I was very pleased to notice):

If you haven't seen these works yet, now's the time to add them to your schedule. In their own ways, these works are defining what architecture will become tomorrow. Are you curious about our built future? Then have a look.
You can read C.C.'s comments at the link above, but here are the choices (and a few images):
1. Best Civic Building:
Scottish Parliament Building (Holyrood)
Edinburgh, Scotland
Enric Miralles (EMBT/RMJM)

2. Best Museums:
de Young Museum, San Francisco
and Walker Arts Center Expansion, Minneapolis
Architect: Herzog & de Meuron

3. Best Tower:
Agbar Tower
Architect: Jean Nouvel

4. Best Factory:
BMW Central Plant
Leipzig, Germany
Architect: Zaha Hadid

5. Best Government Offices:
Caltrans District 7 Headquarters
Los Anegeles
Architect: Thom Mayne / Morphosis

6. Best Expansion:
High Museum of Art
Architect: Renzo Piano

7. Best Multi-purpose Arts Building:
Shaw Center for the Arts
Baton Rouge, La.
Architect: Schwartz/Silver Architects

8. Best Memorial:
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
Architect: Peter Eisenman

9. Best Housing:
Sanchinarro Mirador
Architect: MVRDV

10. Best House:
Art Collectors' Residence
Architect: Hariri Pontarini Architects

11. Best Hospital:
General Hospital of Ciudad Real
Ciudad Real, Spain
Architect: Ángel Fernández Alba

12. Best Convention Center:
Milan Trade Fair
Milan, Italy
Architect: Massimiliano Fuksas

OK, so it's a bit of a leap from looking at the architecture of the future (which will drive the culture of the future) to making predictions about the art of the future, I know...but, I don't see any immediate patterns (unless the struggle between organic and geometric [i.e, natural and man-made] will be a central theme...)...does anyone else want to take a stab?

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The Public's Right to Own

We've gone a few rounds in the discussions here on whether artists still control the irony in their work...that is, whether they can control the irony the viewer sees in it, regardless of how sincere they were in offering it. Bambino and I had the pleasure of spending some time with New York contemporary art's extraordinarily well-versed couple, James Wagner and Barry Hoggard, last weekend, and Barry described an exhibition in which the imagery looked as if it were a social commentary on fashion appropriation by Brooklyn hipsters. In learning more about the artist, however, he discovered the work was not about today, but was indeed sincerely about the first time those fashions had been popular. We discussed how this illustrated the point about irony being out of the artist's hands. 20th Century art had trained us to at least suspect irony/appropriation in almost everything.

Lately, however, I've begun to sense a growing assertion that not even the imagery of an artist is in their hands. The argument seems to be that once an image is put out there, the public has some rights to it. The public has a right to own, in some way, the images it endorses/cherishes/supports. (I can hear the steam pouring out the ears of copyright lawyers across the planet.)

Two upcoming exhibitions explore this assertion to various degrees. One I'm not at liberty to reveal just yet, but I'll try to sketch what's important about it in this context without giving too much away. The other has released a press release and so is grist for our mill.

The one we can discuss is at the always-two-steps-ahead not-for-profit Harlem space Triple Candie (see image at top for installation view). Despite years of asking, the space could not get elusive Harlem-based artist David Hammon to agree to exhibit there (he only exhibits in blue-chip galleries and none of his dealers or close collectors would lend his work for an exhibition). So, in the spirit of exploring "how the strategic process of ascribing value to an artist's work---by galleries, collectors, curators, even artists---changes the art's relationship to the public," Triple Candie is presenting an "unauthorized" retrospective of David Hammon...one that will not, however, include any of his actual work. Artnet.com explains:
With nearly 100 items, the show is the most comprehensive ever of Hammons’ work -- but it features no actual art, only photocopies and computer printouts taken from previously published catalogues, exhibitions brochures and websites. According to Triple Candie director Peter Nesbett, the show is meant as a populist attempt to share Hammons’ work with a local audience. Hammons, who is notoriously enigmatic and aloof, rarely exhibits his work, Nesbett says, and when it does it’s at blue-chip galleries, not in the neighborhood. Since it opened in 2001, Triple Candie has tried to interest Hammons in doing a show at the space, without success.
In some other venue's hands, I might be a bit suspect of this argument, but knowing and totally trusting directors Shelly Bancroft and Peter Nesbett, as I do, I'm more than a little intrigued by this idea.

The other exhibition, which is I believe still seeking a home, also explains its use of another artist's imagery with a populist defense (as soon as details are shareable about this one, I'll post them). In this instance, however, no attempts have been made to convince the artist to participate. The effort is a commentary on how this target artist's work is so pervasive and influential that essentially the public owns it as much as the artist does.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating for this second exhibition, I'm sure, but two independently organized populist efforts like this do begin to make my antennae twitch.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

MSM = Mainly Supplementing Marketing?

I don't recall the exact moment, but it did dawn on me at one point not too long ago that I had, for the most part, stopped reading the high-end art press. Oh, I still flip through the standard glossies, mostly looking at the ads, and checking to see who got a review, but rarely do I read the articles any longer, or most of the reviews for that matter. Now part of that is the fact that I'm working an average of 60 hours each week (I know, I know, where do I find the time to blog? [this isn't work...this is pure pleasure]). But with a few notable exceptions, the art world's MSM (mainstream media) seem to have spent this era of historically hot markets re-inventing themselves as little more than monthly brochures for their advertisers. And this trend now seems to be affecting online art channels as well. Consider this homepage for artinfo.com:

Now I should note that in addtion to having a great deal of respect for a number of artinfo.com's writers and finding ideas for blog posts on their site about once every other week, I don't have a problem with any online entity selling ad space and/or making buckets of money for delivering quality content. I do, however, object to not being able to tell the difference.

I attended the opening for Warren Isensee's exhibition at Danese. It's a gorgeous show, and I even considered getting one of the drawings in the back room. So when I looked at artinfo.com last night and saw the big banner for that show on their homepage, I thought "Cool, someone has reviewed or done a feature article on it." I mean, after all, that banner (which scrolls through different images) generally links to news or feature articles. Furthermore, the list of links to the direct right of it is titled "Today's News Highlights," and there are advertising images above the navigation and in the right hand column, where one expects them on web pages, so every visual cue available suggests that clicking on the image of Isensee's work will take you to some analysis or feature article. Instead, it takes you to a paid placement of the gallery's press release, what artinfo.com calls a "power page."

Again, I have no qualms about advertising or online services charging for their ability to reach millions of potential clients. What I find disturbing is the suggestion to the website's visitors that this advertisement is a service (i.e., in this context, value-added content). I mean, I saw the exhibition and I read the press release there. Moreover, there are several other advertisements on that homepage, so if I had wanted to read an ad, I was certainly not confused about how to do so. But discovering that what looks like a link to a feature or review is actually an ad is really disappointing.

Now I know it only took a few seconds of my life to make that discovery. I don't think I've suffered any irreversible trauma from it. I have, however, been trained to mistrust the artinfo.com homepage somewhat, which is a pity, because overall they offer a very good product.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Artist of the Week 01/16/06

Karen Heagle's work tends to remind me of going home for the holidays from the big city. Particularly Thanksgiving, when in our mid-Western town, everyone's dressed in flannel, every home is decorated in warm and hearty earth tones, and there's an underlying--unspoken, yet virtually visible--tension that's one part about sexual taboos, one part a clash of generational values, and one part a clash of cultural ideology. We've shared stories about our childhoods, and Karen's was a bit more rural than mine, but compared with living in New York, we come from the same place.

The first paintings I had ever seen of Karen's were the from her "Xena Warrior Princess" series. At the time I thought the exploration they represented was fun and perhaps culturally daring (it's tough as a gay person surrounded by the icons and corresponding codes and narratives to know what will strike straight audiences as "scandalous" or whatever) but, for me at that time at least, they seemed rather campy (none the least because of their German Expressionistic overtones). Not that there's anything wrong with that:

Karen Heagle, two paintings from "The Legend of Xena" series, circa 1999(?). (I apologize for the quality of these images and lack of accurate information...the paintings are truly gorgeous in real life, but these were the only images I could get my googling/photoshopping mitts on.)

In watching Karen's work develop over the years though, I've gained a new-found admiration for that earlier work, which I've realized---partly from talking more with her and partly from the press release from her 2001 solo exhibition at Brooklyn's most rockin' gallery, 31 Grand---deals with "the erotic connection between everyday life and science fiction comics." From that exhibition's press release:
Heagle mines her Midwestern roots, and flights of fancy into her paintings of popular culture icons and farmland settings. To quote [Dorothy] Allison [whose in 1985 essay, "Puritans, Perverts and Feminists." inspired these works] , "Most sexual imagery does not have one interpretation but a range of multilevel impacts depending on context, personal taste, and hidden symbolism". Karen Heagle finds her own meaning in the already familiar faces of AJ from the Backstreet Boys, Chyna from WWF, and the animals and farm machinery from her childhood.
Karen is currently represented in New York by I-20 Gallery, where she has a solo exhibition opening on January 28th. We've been talking about another studio visit for a year now it seems, but judging from the images on the gallery's website, her most recent work still deals with erotic imagery, mid-Western values, and celebrity. But she's taking on art history more directly now as well:

Karen Heagle, Bather (after Magritte), 2005, Oil on panel, 66" x 61" (image from I-20 Gallery's website).

As well as referencing the celebrity of the current art scene:

Karen Heagle, Andy Goldsworthy, 2004, Acrylic on paper, 41" x 56" (image from I-20 Gallery's website).

All the while maintaining a luxurious senusality:

Karen Heagle, Low Tide At Rialto Beach 4 (Entagled Starfish), 2005, Oil on panel, 40" x 52" (image from I-20 Gallery's website).

I'm delighted by the new series, I must say. They're smart, mature, and clearly painted by an artist more confident in her skills and her analysis of the subject matter. And, best of all perhaps, they can still remind me of Thanksgiving:

Karen Heagle, Turkey, 2005, Oil on panel, 50" x 47" (image from I-20 Gallery's website).

Friday, January 13, 2006

Weekend Chuckle

OK, so most jokes I get emailed are rather forgettable, but this one is so exquistely rude (in every sense of the word), I thought I should share...feel free to add your own faves, but please do consider "*'ing" any strong profanity (it's not that big a deal, but I've learned that some folks who read at work have filters, and besides, you never know when the NSA might be reading over your shoulder):
A man enters his bedroom with a sheep under one arm. His lover is on the bed clearly bored.

"This is the pig I f*ck when you're not available for sex," says the man.

The lover languidly looks over and says, "I think you'll find that's a
sheep, you idiot."

The man replies, "I think you'll find I wasn't talking to you."

The Established Anti-Establisment

Yes, someone poured sour milk on my Lucky Charms this morning, but I have two reasons for the rant that follows: one is to set the record straight (or at least demonstrate why the record really needs a bit of expanding) and the other is to seek advice (like the very good advice I got regarding gallery websites a while back that led to what I feel are significant improvements to ours).

Echoing the earlier call by
Jerry Saltz for galleries to get some "attitude," Roberta Smith today sings the praises of "deviant or alternative galleries"...I'm beginning to suspect these two know each other ;-). And while I don't want to take anything away from the examples Roberta highlights, I will point out that the primary players within the majority of them are extraordinarily well connected within the art establishment, and more than one of them are what I'd call heavy-hitting movers and shakers (and were before they launched their "deviant" efforts).

Which isn't to suggest that they're insincere in any way, but to point out that these players are as involved with the "art-as-product orientation habitually ascribed to the Chelsea scene" Roberta decries, or more so, than a number of other, less-connected examples that I was very sorry to not see make her list. Of course, one defense for why these efforts were chosen over others could be that in addtion to bucking the trend, they also show "better" art (but, of course, that's debatable), OR one could argue that change needn't come from outside the system necessarily, but if the point is to focus on galleries trying to "brake their ascent to establishment status by interrupting the flow of monthly shows and finished objects," here are three few examples of excellent New York-based efforts in galleries run by folks who haven't already ascended (yes, a few in Roberta's list fall in this category, but some clearly don't):

  1. First and foremost is the highly innovative programming at Parker's Box. From their Summer Shorts series to their multi-location International Art Market, which "turn[ed] the tables on galleries representing artists, in order to have a number of artists “represent” their galleries through specific projects presented together under the same conditions and in similar spaces" (btw, artforum.com called this event "a genuine alternative to [Chelsea gallery's] increasingly homogenized sheen, trading high stakes for high spirits and collectibility for down home community."), director Alun Williams continuously shakes-up what it means to run a commercial gallery.
  2. Cinders continues to redefine what a gallery can be as well. This article on artforum.com summarizes some of their innovations.
  3. Noted in the article on Cinders is another program that continuously went out on a limb, eventually becoming totally virtual: Open Ground. One of their last physical exhibitions was a collaboration with Berlin's Galerie Scherer8 called Williamsburg Wedding, which was the very spirit of what Roberta termed "art as a process and a mind-set rather than a product."

And there are others. And not only in New York. Artist-run spaces like Lump in Raleigh, NC, or Soil in Seattle are absolute hotbeds of energy and creativity. I could go on, but...

Let me switch gears now though. As Roberta admits at the end of her article, there's a paradox of sorts involved here. If anyone is interested in combatting the "art-as-product orientation" of the scene, one would assume it's the artists themselves, but

But even the folks at [Lower East Side alternative gallery] Reena Spaulings admit that their artists want big careers and that they were impressed by the activities of deliberate, rather than accidental art dealers while participating in the Liste art fair in Basel, Switzerland, last spring. At [the "the intellectually inclined new collective gallery"] Orchard, an invitation from Extra City, a fair starting in Antwerp, Belgium, is under consideration.

So the trick seems to be operating a gallery that takes advantage of the systems in place that can generate "big careers" but not become an end unto itself (i.e., not turn the art into a "product"). As we prepare to join the circus in Chelsea (for a host of reasons, but definitely including to help our artists reach a wider audience), I'm curious about which elements of the "art as product" side of the system are most objectionable to artists, critics, curators, collectors and even dealers? I mean everyone will say it's a bad thing, but what--specifically--about it is "bad"? What I'm looking for mostly are warning signs that I can recognize and try to combat should we find ourselves heading more that direction.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Is 21th Century Art DOA?
(or Where's Our Matisse?)

As I've noted before, I'm inclined to endorse the idea that the only subjects worthy of truly great artists are sex and death and how the two are linked. There are, fortunately, plenty of nuances within those broad subjects worthy of exploration, but in this age of cynical reason, they remain the only inexhaustible, weary-proof subjects, representing---of course---life's extremes: the potential for eternal beginnings (not to mention, ultimate ecstasy) and the inescapable, most definite end.

Donald Kuspit illustrates in the
first chapter of his serially published book, A Critical History of 20th Century Art, (see some thoughts related to its Introduction here) that these topics indeed consumed the two artists we most associate with the beginning of the 1900s: Picasso and Matisse. (Chapter 1 deals with 1900 to 1910 [for additional commentary, see Art Soldier]).

In section I of his chapter, Kuspit focuses on Picasso's obsession with the pain women (and his desire for them) caused him, offering some wonderful insights into the decision-making process behind what's considered the "first truly 20th-century painting": Les Demoiselles d'Avignon

Les Demoiselles is an unhappy picture, for it is about the possibility of sickness and death, and conveys an age-old identification of woman and death, derived from the depletion and dejection (as Aristotle thought) that follows sexual excitement and pleasure. Unlike Matisse’s painting, Les Demoiselles is not about sexual fulfillment -- sexual letting go in orgiastic intimacy -- but an individual’s deliberate sexual inhibition, the worried restraint of an anxious man who has suddenly realized that sex, which is life-affirming, might lead to death. Picasso’s picture struggles with the complexities of this paradox -- the peculiar relationship between sex, as the deepest expression of life, and death, which ends it -- even as it suggests Picasso’s conflict about women and sexuality. The contrast between the foreground still life of fruit and porrón, a Spanish wine vessel, and the women -- the death symbolized by the suppressed skull [which appears in a drawing study for the painting but was obviously edited out] has passed into them, giving them an oddly predatory look, like vampires -- epitomizes this conflict. Les Demoiselles is a cautionary parable, and, in a sense, Picasso’s first truly mature as well as truly original work: it is not all gloom and doom, like the fatalistic pictures of his Blue Period, nor subliminally tender, like the subtly erotic Pink or Circus Period works, but rather a synthesis of the two, conveying ambivalence: Les Demoiselles is fatalistically erotic. It is about the terror of raw, unempathic sexuality, life-threatening sickness and elusive health, and the realization that what looks seductively real is in fact an illusion created by one’s own desire.
In section II of his text, Kuspit focusses on Matisse's less misogynistic, but ultimately less virile take on this consuming topic:

Matisse cannot go as far as Picasso did: he cannot convert the whole female body into a grotesque, dead thing, as his Blue Nude: Memory of Biskra (1907) makes clear. Painted in the same year as Les Demoiselles, Matisse’s female nude retains a certain natural presence. Indeed, she is not in a desolate brothel, but surrounded by a flourishing nature, whose abundance her voluptuous body symbolizes. She is the healthy antidote to the poisonous Olympia and the monstrous Demoiselles. She has not been dehumanized, turned into fossilized wood -- Picasso’s punishment for her lack of love, which he needs more than sex (is this the subliminally human point of the story of Apollo’s pursuit of Daphne?) -- however distorted her appearance. [....]

Matisse does not so much dominate his female subjects, as admire them, out of need for the creativity hidden in their bodies. Albert Elsen notes "the almost complete departure of the male model from Matisse’s figural work" after 1906. The Serf (1900-04), a Rodinesque sculpture, is his most famous image of a male, and it is not a happy one. He is a downtrodden, melancholy figure, for all his muscularity, implicitly helpless and passive --unconsciously castrated -- as his armlessness suggests. Is he Matisse’s surrogate, the emotionally inept, oppressed side of the vital, vigorous figure in the 1906 self-portrait? Was his Fauvism an attempt to break the mood embodied in The Serf? Was it an attempt to once and for all assert the vitality he felt he was losing....?
There are many themes running through Kuspit's discussion of the 20th Century's first decade, but underlying them all is a sense of artists being obsessed with death or a fear of sex (which are undoubtedly related). Attitudes and actions that critics have attributed to being radical or transgressive for their own sake, Kuspit counters were the only way to honestly and personally respond to the new alienating, non-objective reality the new century woke up to:

Objectivity was already up for grabs in the 19th century, when various mathematicians had questioned the mathematical adequacy of Euclidean geometry, as well as its accuracy as a representation of reality. In 1887 Henri Poincaré argued that the principles of geometry, and of science in general, were not absolute truths, but relative conventions, of heuristic value but otherwise inconclusive. In a sense, the modern frame of mind can be said to begin with this idea, which unavoidably informed art -- made it truly modern.
It is Picasso’s discovery and use of what were then alien, bizarre forms, derived from African sources, to express and suggest his personal sense of alienation, and the experience of the bizarreness of reality -- female reality -- that follows from and accompanies it, that makes Les Demoiselles the expressive and conceptual model for all subsequent 20th-century art that dares call itself avant-garde. Paradoxically, the qualities of depersonalization and derealization that inform Les Demoiselles, and that are responsible for its aura of abstractness, make it one of the most personal, emotionally realistic paintings of the 20th century.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah, Heard it all in art school," you say..."But what's with your lamely sensationalistic headline?" Well, it's related to this observation Kuspit makes toward the end of his text:

Matisse’s ambition was remarkable, and remains virtually unique in 20th-century art: to invent a new art of harmony, at once cognitively and emotionally satisfying, a visual art that would overcome the dissociation of sensibility -- the split between reason and feeling -- that T. S. Eliot regarded as the disease of modernity. It would be an art of healing and reconciliation, in which opposites merge to synergistic aesthetic effect. His is the only 20th-century art that deliberately sets out to do emotional good. It has a calming effect, with no sacrifice of cognitive and perceptual complexity, and vitality.
And yet, here we are a century later and I'll be damned if I can name the heir to Matisse's mission. It's not that surprising, actually. If the 20th century could only produce one visual artist who could not only transcend the overwhelming anxieties of his age and self-doubt and think beyond himself toward a healing art, if you will, but actually had the intellect and painting chops to have his attempts taken seriously, what chance has any artist of approaching the same in the more quickly paced 21st Century?

Perhaps another Picasso will emerge (see this
extraordinary review by Jerry Saltz on the Rauschenberg exhibition at the Met...truly, a world-class critique!), but where's our Matisse? Are we doomed to an entire century of self-absorbed fear-wallowing? Matisse's generosity, for me, excuses the excesses of his contemporaries. Without him, the 20th Century is so decadent, it, well....let me try this another way... Was Matisse's ambition decidedly a failure...something only the clueless would now attempt? Some would say, "who cares" undoubtedly. Personally, I wouldn't mind so much knowing.

Yeah, I know....

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The Beginning of A New Era

If you're in Chelsea this evening (Thursday, January 12), be sure you head over to 27th Street. Six Seven very good young galleries will christen their new ground-floor spaces in the gorgeous Terminal Building between 11th and 12th Avenues, including ATM's annex, Clementine, John Connelly, Derek Eller, Foxy Production, Oliver Kamm 5BE, and Wallspace (OK, so John already debuted in his new space, but it's fine to wish him well again). Following the lead of Brooklyn legends Roebling Hall, these daring young pioneers are venturing into unchartered Chelsea territory by pushing past 11th Ave, but the buzz on this location stands to make it an overnight destination. (Yes, and it just happens to be where we and Schroeder Romero will be opening soon [can anyone recommend a gentle, but effective way to ask your construction folks to get the lead out?].)

Congrats and best wishes to you all!

A Few Quick Pointers

Too much to get done today (had a collector say he was talking bad about me all day yesterday because he hadn't received his painting yet...my art karma clearly needs the sort of polish only a bit of elbow grease and nose to the grind stone can give it)...so I'm gonna re-direct y'all to this excellent post and budding dialog over on On the Cusp about artists and overexposure...

Jeff on Portland Art links to this brilliant parody...no wait...is it a parody?

And Oliver's Mom apparently sent him these brilliant parodies...no wait...nevermind...

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Picking Your Installation Battles

The New York Times has a feature piece today on the complications and considerations of installing artwork. It's probably a rather dry read for folks who haven't lived this experience (the Times article suggests the subtleties of hanging art are perhaps the "curatorial version of arguing about angels on pinheads") but ask any artist, curator, or gallerist, and most can share more than one nightmare installation story. (Oddly enough, rarely is the one telling the tale the source of the nightmarish problem it seems, but....)

The article focuses on two challenging installations and creative solutions at the Whitney (the Richard Tuttle exhibition, which includes 300 pieces "of all shapes and sizes, made from things like tissue paper, string, Styrofoam and florist's wire. (Some pieces are so delicate that strollers and backpacks are not allowed in the exhibition.)" and Ed Ruscha's exhibition, which includes 10 paintings, "most depicting jutting, angular urban buildings, in a huge square gallery without making the pairings seem too literal, too straightforward - in other words, too square." But it was the following that got me to thinking about what's important to remember about the challenges each installation can present:
While Mr. Tuttle and [Whitney curator, David] Kiehl had argued strongly that they did not want even labels to accompany the work, Mr. Kiehl said, "some battles you lose." But as just one example of the many competing demands on curators, he described another battle over a series of zigzag walls that would have been used to display drawings in one room. Mr. Kiehl hated the zigzags. So he and [Mark] Steigelman [the museum's design and construction manager] simply designed the drawings room to be too narrow to accommodate the walls. He leaned forward during an interview and smiled: "Let's just call what we did creative sabotage." [emphasis mine]
I've seen otherwise cheerful relationships between artists, curators, and gallerist go sour during an installation, and clearly, at that point all the competing interests of the respective parties are bound to clash sometimes, but this one simple idea---"some battles you lose"---is a very good mantra to help get you through such times. In other words, it's important to pick your battles: To make sure you get what's most important to you, you're often better off compromising on something that isn't that important to you. Understanding ahead of time which is which is the trick here.

In the context of gallery group exhibitions, especially with emerging artists still looking for a gallery, this cannot be emphasized enough IMO. Every emerging artist in a group exhibition should consider that exhibition an interview/audition, if they would like to picked up by that gallery. It's important that you stand up for your work and ensure it's installed in a way that makes sense and is true to your vision, but if you reveal yourself to be high maintenance in the context of a group exhibition, the gallerist will undoubtedly take note and multiply that in their head when considering whether they'd want to work with you on a solo exhibition.

An exhibition I curated many years ago included 9 pieces by an artist who knew which walls were hers. There was no dispute over that. But the artist insisted on seeing each of these 9 pieces in every conceiveable arrangement, and consuming the design manager and my time for our opinion on each. My asking the artist to begin to make at least some choices ("This one? Can we agree that this one looks best here?") led to drama and an insistence that I didn't care if the exhibition looked like shit (yes, I often spend months of my life working on something that in the end I'm that ambivalent about). Meanwhile other artists who needed the design manager were growing angry and resentful. I have had several opportunities to work with that artist again, and she's a good artist, but I'm gun shy and really don't need the aggravation. I mean I would have stayed there until 2 in the morning getting it right (and on other occassions I have) if I thought it was important, but this I felt was more about stroking her ego than anything else. In the context of a group exhibition, that's not a wise career move.

Like I said above, every curator, artist, and gallerist can tell you horror stories about installations. There's generally not enough time or resources to please everyone at this critical juncture. But taking the time to understand what's important to you and the other people involved, in addition to ensuring the exhibition looks awesome, is helpful. (Hint: for gallerists, protecting the artwork and/or public safety are often big, legitimate concerns that make them dig in their heels, as are deadlines and costs [I'll let the artists who read here speak for their concerns...feel free to vent!]).

If you have concerns, as an artist, you probably cannot begin discussing them too far in advance with a curator or gallerist. Most logistical needs can be addressed with enough warning. There's no getting around that fact that often there are competing interests. As with all this, thinking it through ahead of time and communicating clearly can save everyone a lot of drama.

Update: Tyler Green, who has curated at least one exhibition himself, adds some interesting footnotes to installation practices at the Whitney.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Artist of the Week 01/09/06

Note: Rather than make the same tired excuses each time I write about an artist who's more established, let me change the working description of the "Artist of the Week" now to be the artist whose work I've been wanting to write about most recently. Moving forward, I expect it to fluctuate between emerging and better known artists. I also intend to offer at least one specific critique going forward. We'll see how long that lasts (depends on how many icy glares I get, I suppose).

David Humphrey was a star in my eyes long before I ever met him. The first time I realized I knew his work was during a three-person solo exhibition at Postmasters back when it was still in SoHo. What's a three-person solo exhibition, you ask? An exhibition of works where each piece was made by three people, of course. In this instance the collaborative team was nicknamed "SHaG" which stood for [Amy] Sillman, Humphrey and [Elliott] Green, stars all in the New York painting world. I can't find any images from that exhibition, but if you know these artists' work, you can probably imagine how fun seeing their vocabularies overlapping would be.

A few years later, I caught David's 2000 solo exhibition at McKee Gallery uptown. It was (forgive me for saying this David) a difficult exhibition for me. I loved the biomorphic imagery and unapologetic sexuality, but I felt there was something hesitant about the way he was using color at that time. This may be more related to my limited exposure to his work at that time than a sophisticated assessment, but I was still a bit confused (i.e., unable to see through the color). Here's one of the monochromatic images from that exhibition (which just rocks, IMO):

David Humphrey, Entangled, 1998, Oil on Canvas, 30" x 24" (image from
McKee Gallery website)

and one with color:

David Humphrey, Co-Occurring Conditions , 1999, Oil on Canvas, 54" x 44" (image from
McKee Gallery website)

OK, now, with all due fairness to David, it's idiotic to cherry pick to images like this to make a point, but all I'm saying is I was still confused by his use of color in this series. By the time he was making work like the image at the top (part of
CreativeTime's "Dreamland Artists Club" series of murals out at Coney Island), I was no longer confused, but a die-hard fan.

In the interim, I had met David (he's currently represented by the astonishingly strong Chelsea gallery
Sikkema, Jenkins, & Co.) and found him to be a delightfully witty and charming person, which always tends to sway one's opinion, but was not the source of my growing enthusiasm for his work. What I sense had changed, from my POV at least, were choices resulting from the increasing dialog (if I may call it such) between his paintings and his sculptures (more solids passages, more playful palettes, etc.). Here's a shot with one of both from an exhibition at Fredric Snitzer Gallery in Miami (I think...see comments for details on my confusion about this):

Here's another recent painting...

David Humphrey, Babysitter, 2004, Acrylic on canvas, 44" x 54" (from Sikkema, Jenkins & Co website).

And an installation view of his 2002 exhibition (with some wonderful sculptures) at Solomon Projects in Atlanta... where he has a new solo exhibition opening this coming Saturday (thanks w.w. and M.M.):

I've been to David's studio a few times now. As you might imagine, it's a bit like visting Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory...fascinating, delicious, and perhaps just a tad dangerous (for those clueless souls who don't know their own inner demons). Each time I've fallen in love with a new drawing or painting or sculpture, like this one:

David Humphrey, Thanks, 2003, Acrylic on canvas, 72" x 60" (image from Solomon Projects website)

Friday, January 06, 2006

I'm sorry. It's too soon.

I am actually quite amazed at my reaction to the trailer of the upcoming film about Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania on 9/11. I read this introduction on Sullivan's site and thought, "Sure..., yeah, whatever":
When you see this trailer, you'll either start choking up, or think that Hollywood's exploitation of tragedy has finally gone too far. I choked up.
So I foolishly watched the trailer. There's not much to it actually; it's mostly just voiceovers. Yet suddenly, I want to crawl into a corner and cry...just cry. I'm sorry, but it's much too soon.