Thursday, March 30, 2006

Hmmm...Be Careful What You Ask For, eh?

Like so many other people in the art world who are torn by the impact of the historically hot art market on what gets attention and what doesn't, I've called for, on more than one occassion, a continual focus on means that ensure collectors get to take their time when purchasing work...that they don't get caught up in the speculative aspect of the market and spend tons of cash on works they'll later regret having. And I'm serious about that. I want my friends who are collectors and those who collect from us to build excellent collections and not fashionable ones.

Still, this article in The Art Newspaper today did give me pause. Is the emerging art market cooling off?
The penny has finally dropped. For the last few years, several US museums have competed for the very latest work by the hottest contemporary artists, purchasing at the top end of an intensely speculative market. For example, according to our annual acquisitions survey, in 2002 five museums bought work by German photographer Thomas Struth, who was then enjoying his greatest popularity and highest prices, buoyed by museum exhibitions in Dallas and Cleveland, and at commercial galleries in New York and Germany.

In 2005, the overwhelming majority of museums chose to focus on established, mid-career and post-war artists, such as Ed Ruscha and Jasper Johns, whose artistic reputations are already secured. This trend was very much in evidence at ArtBasel/Miami Beach last December, where a number of dealers noted the shift, as reported in the daily newspaper we published at the fair.
Now this may simply be a reflection of maturing tastes. The conventional wisdom on the street (10th Avenue, if you must know) is that the current market is bustling because an ever-larger group of wealthy Baby Boomers are retiring, folks who now have much more free time and are looking for ways to enrich their lives. Collecting art is a very good way to spend that hard earned cash, in my opinion, but there's a sense that many neophites were buying before they had a good grounding in what's a smart purchase. Perhaps, now, a few years into the feeding frenzy, they're slowing down a bit and going for the artists whose "reputations are already secured."

Which may show itself to be an overcompensation, actually. In my opinion, the trick isn't buying work only by artists who are already in the history books. The trick is to learn 1) what your personal collection is going to be (what it will reflect...what will distinguish it, other than your own superior tastes...that is, its Point of View); 2) what among the works that are available by established artists strengthen that POV; and 3) who among younger emerging artists are doing work that will also strengthen that point of view. In other words, it's about really understanding what it is you're collecting. Having work that's in the history books (current or future) is flattering, I'm sure, but if your collection is a mess, I don't see how it can give you much joy beyond that. One day it's bound to dawn on you that it could have been richer.

OK, so I see I'm rambling now...off to get coffee...anyone else have an opinion about what the shift toward established artists means?

PS: You really owe it to yourself to read this brilliant review by Tyler Green in yesterday's Observer. I'm still digesting what the implications are for what MoMA apparently decided here.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Nancy Baker @ Plus Ultra Gallery

Nancy Baker
City of God
March 30 to April 22, 2006
Opening: Thursday, March 30, 6-8 pm

Plus Ultra Gallery is very pleased to present City of God, the first New York solo exhibition by North Carolina-based artist Nancy Baker. In this new series of elaborately imagined landscapes, Baker---who admits to having an "inexplicable" attraction to Medieval Christian art---explores the intersection of contemporary American culture and religion at its most idealized (and perhaps absurd) extremes. With an astonishingly complex vocabulary that she appropriates from across the span of art history, Baker walks a razor thin tightrope between kitsch and high art. As noted in a catalog essay by curator Luis Camnitzer, Baker sees her dance with kitsch as not just about dubious taste, it's "also about play with forbidden taste, subversion of highbrow arrogance, poking the provincial attitudes of hegemony that determine and separate the good and valid from the bad and invalid…."

Fueling the theme (and providing the title) of Baker's exhibition is the dichotomy of the human condition explored so thoroughly in St. Augustine's landmark book, The City of God, which was primarily a philosophical response to the sacking of Rome by the Visigoths in 410 AD. Many Romans believed this catastrophe represented the wrath of the pagan gods because their countrymen had embraced Christianity. Augustine of Hippo sought to counter these beliefs, drawing a distinction between those who live for the pleasures in the earthly "City of Man" and pious believers who suffer but focus on their eventual joy in the "City of God." While meant to be a consolation to the Roman Christians who were reeling from the shocking attack on their capital, St. Augustine's text here paradoxically serves as the pretext for Baker's humanist counter-assertion that although good deeds in the light of death may seem absurd, it's all that we've got and therefore reason enough to live one's life that way.

In addition to the general themes of the text, Baker's series draws from the imagery of an illuminated manuscript of City of God by "Maître François" for Jacques d'Armagnac, Duke of Nemours (d. 1477). Lifting other imagery from along the path of art history up to and including pop iconography, Baker connects the dots between the famous response to the attack on Rome and our response to recent events in the US.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Barneys Vs. Pierson: or The Irony of "Owning" an Appropriated Vocabulary

Tyler and Barry have both been all over this, but I still wanted to flesh out some of the details on the Barneys vs. Jack Pierson scrap (which is really playing itself out in public as Barneys vs. Cheim & Read, but...[image to right, Jack Pierson, Fame, 2005, Plastic, metal, wood, and neon, 160" x 45" x 4" vertical install, image from Cheim and Read website]). As fate would have it, the day before the gallery's letter hit the blogosphere, I had walked by Barney's Co-op store in Soho and caught a glimpse of the fake Piersons there. My first thought, being the naive country bumpkin I am, was "Wow, Barneys has quite an impressive art budget to be able to afford such big Piersons for their boutique...and rare ones at that...I've never seen those before."

A few feet later it did dawn on me (yes, I'm slow like that) that the text was too obvious to be a real Pierson and that the store had likely appropriated the vocabulary in an attempt to lure in art savvy types...or that they just liked the aesthetic.

Now if you haven't seen it, the gist of Pierson's gallery's complaint is as follows:

Around a year or so ago, imitations or forgeries of [Pierson's] works began to appear in Barney’s clothing stores throughout the country saying such things as "fabulous, courageous, and outrageous." They are formally weak plagiarized versions of Jack Pierson’s work and we want you to know that they are not by Jack Pierson. Many people have assumed they are. They are, in fact, made by Simon Doonan, the chief window dresser at Barney’s. Jack Pierson has asked that he remove them but he has refused.

We regret this lack of integrity on the part of Simon Doonan and Barney’s. They obviously have no respect for artists or the art world. [emphasis mine]
And I fully agree with C&R's assessment of the pieces...they stretch out too far and, again, the text is lame...they're lazy knock-offs designed to appeal to folks who know just enough to be flattered that their sophisticated tastes are being catered to (er, yes, I was temporarily fooled...make of that what you will).

Now there's an argument to be made that indeed Barneys is showing a lack of respect for the art world here (i.e., who else would assume the text was "art"?), but what really intrigues me about this episode is the assertion that a visual vocabulary of appropriated lettering is now owned by the artist who assembled it.

Obviously, I immediately recognized the text as Pierson-esque, so in that sense, Jack does own it. But the argument C&R makes (while I viscerally agree) does seem as if it might fall apart in court. When an artist appropriates other vocabularies, images, styles, etc., at what point can he/she claim that new mix as his/her own? When the art world recongizes it as theirs or when the general public recognizes it as theirs or never?


Consider this an open thread.

Monday, March 27, 2006

The Only Job in the Art World Worse than Being a Gallerina?

I'm insanely busy today, so the artist of the week is being postponed...hopefully I'll get it live later this evening. In the meanwhile, I got a request via email from an artist for information on how to get a job as an art handler.

I know there are galleries with staffs large enough to include an "art handler" position on the payroll, but for most galleries in my circle, the name on the door is the name of the art handler, and floor sweeper, as well as owner/director and candlestick maker. Then I realized perhaps the artist sought a job working with an art shipper. Long story short: I know many artists who work as "art handlers" but don't know 1) what the application process is like or 2) whether there are things to look out for in getting such a job. I've heard countless tales of woe from artist--art-handlers who were sorry they fell into that line of work (mostly because of how humbling it was to move the work of their former classmates who were doing so well and other such situations), so I was surprised by the email. But clearly, it's a good honest job and perhaps the only folks I hear from are the ones who don't like the work...perhaps there are happy artists--art-handlers who it never occurs to to complain.

So, any advice (pro or con) about this line of work? Who are the good art shippers to work for?

Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Faithful Versus Art
(not the pro-God action one might think)

Yes, it's yet another story of the faithful demanding the death of an artist for dissing their dieties. This time in India. From artinfo.com:

A court has issued an arrest warrant for M.F. Husain, India's best-known artist [see image at right, Untitled, Oil on Canvas9, 0" x 65", 1964,] after he failed to appear in a case related to his depiction of a nude "Mother India," a report said today.

An activist in the city of Indore, in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, had filed a case there against the artist, saying that his painting offended the sentiments of Hindus, the Press Trust of India news agency said.

The artist's lawyers had asked for the case to be moved to the capital New Delhi, expressing fears about the painter's safety in the central state.

A month ago, a hardline Hindu group offered a reward of $11.5 million for the murder of the controversial artist.

Right-wing Hindu outfits regularly target the 90-year-old Husain, who is a Muslim, for drawing their gods and goddesses in the nude.
My guess is that Husain is a bit of a MINO (Muslim in name only), but I'm very happy to see the overall global debate take on a bit of nuance. But the mere fact that the blood-thirsty fanatics calling for his murder are not struck dead by God is the strongest evidence I can think of to suggest the atheists are on to something.

Now despite my admitted agnosticism, there are symbols I feel so strongly about that I think I might turn to violence if someone desecrated them (think symbols of dearly departed loved ones, for example, and I'm sure you might have some too), so it's tough for me to laugh away the concerns of the offended here, as if they were merely country pumpkins turned political pawns. Tough...but not impossible.


What I'm astonished at is the irony of how they race to murderous thoughts rather than charitable ones. Why the artist isn't viewed as pitiful and in need of help for not appreciating the glory to be found in the dieties is confusing...in other words, why don't they practice what they preach? Essentially, through their actions, they are being much more offensive toward their gods than the artist is.

I mean, if their gods are the blessed beings they believe them to be, the guiding lights, the truth and the way, they certainly wouldn't need defending by their motley mortal masses. Their example and strength and glory would speak for itself, outshining any mean-spirited critque, no? And more than that, they would, one suppose, fill their followers' hearts with the sort of bliss that's incompatible with blinding hatred, no?

In other words, the followers' actions are in and of themselves an insult to their own gods, suggesting that the weakling immortals need them rally round to defend them and in doing so become unglorious monsters in response to the humble human critique of one lonely painter. Why can't their gods fend for themselves against such a tiny threat, if they're so powerful?

Of course, what we're really talking about here is who owns the symbols that stand for the power, but I don't think the murderous mobs are working through that thought process. They're simply allowing themselves to be manipulated by political low-lifes who clearly have little faith themselves, otherwise they'd hestitate to blaspheme their gods through essentially arguing they are helpless.

Or something like that....

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

I Wanna Draw Like Mike

There's a charming controversy brewing over an exhibition at the British Museum. Charming, because it's reassuring to know such matters still occupy the minds and hours of people in this hyperfast age of multi-tasking and blah, blah, blah....what was I saying? Oh, yeah, I find it charming...anyway, moving on.

Essentially, the British Museum has gathered about 80 drawings attributed to Michelangelo for their exhibition
"Michelangelo Drawings: closer to the master"

Drawing on the outstanding collections of the British Museum, the Ashmolean and the Teyler Museum in Haarlem, Michelangelo Drawings is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to follow the evolution of some of the world's most celebrated artworks.

The exhibition traces sixty years of Michelangelo's stormy life, from intimate studies made when he was in his early twenties to the visionary Crucifixion scenes carried out shortly before his death.

It reunites material not seen together since the dispersal of the artist's studio more than 400 years ago, offering a wholly different perspective on the defining genius of the Italian Renaissance.
Only thing is, only three of the 80+ drawings in the exhibition are universally considered to be by the master's hand. All the others are questionable. Now that's not news. Folks have debated for years whether the number of extant drawings by Michelangelo is 630 (as declared in Charles de Tolnay's four-volume catalogue of Michelangelo's drawings that appeared between 1975 and 1980) or closer to the 95 attributed to him in 1991 by the Swiss scholar Alexander Perrig, a number we're told is "more in keeping with what Vasari and other contemporary sources tell us of their rarity."

Again, the controversy is not news, and it's even acknowledged in the exhibition's catalog, but as Richard Dorment laments in a fascinating article in Britain's
Daily Telegraph, the exhibition could have been set up to provide a great opportunity to make progress in determining which works were actually by someone else, but they passed (understandable given that the Museums lending the work wouldn't have been too happy to find they had lent a Michelangelo but were having returned a work by one of his assistants, but...truth should trump ego).

Anyway, in the interest of moving the debate forward, I've decided to call upon you. Below are five drawings included in the exhibition. At most three of them could be the universally agreed upon authentic Michelangelo's...and at least two of them are questionable. Can you see any significant differences? There are clues for what to look for in Dorment's article, but look here before you read that and see if anything jumps out at you. (All images from
British Museum website online tour)

1.

Attributed to Michelangelo, Josophat (Iosophat), a red chalk drawing, About 1511-12
Rome, Italy

2.



Attributed to Michelangelo, Design for Laurentian library door and Designs for the Laurentian library door from the vestibule (recetto) and an external window, pen and brown ink over stylus, Florence, Italy, About 1526

3.


Attributed to Michelangelo, Lazarus, a red chalk drawing, Florence, Italy, About 1516

4.

Attributed to Michelangelo, Study for Day, a black chalk drawing, Florence, Italy, About 1524-25

5.


Attributed to Michelangelo, Crucifixion, a drawing in black chalk, Rome, Italy, About 1538-41

I don't know which of these, if any, are the universally accepted Michelangelo's, mind you, but I know at least two are not. Any insights?

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

What About Artists? Open Thread

The New Yorker profile on Tobias Meyer I wrote about a while back has caused a bit of a storm with two prominent art writers (both of whom I greatly admire, both personally and professionally) ...uh, I should clarify...they're upset with The New Yorker, not my post. The writers are the esteemed Jerry Saltz and Tyler Green. First Tyler responded to the profile, commenting on how "gushy" the weekly has gone lately:

The New Yorker's arts coverage (more on that later today) has gone gushy:

"One of the few criticisms I've heard about Adam Weinberg is that he might be too nice to run a museum." -- Calvin Tomkins, March 13, 2006.

"[Sotheby's contemporary art salesman Tobias] Meyer's stylishness and physical beauty are legendary in art and design circles, and can reduce even experts on such matters to near-incoherence." -- John Colapinto, March 20, 2006.

Then Jerry commented (quoted by Tyler on his blog):

I'm not the only one who has noticed that three recent New Yorker big-deal profiles of art people have had nothing whatsoever to do with, uh, hmmm, well.... artists. Village Voice critic Jerry Saltz also thinks that the New Yorker's recent coverage, the Meyer piece in particular, is strange. We've got a Big NYC Media Smackdown: Saltz sent this letter to both MAN and The New Yorker:
The New Yorker really drank the Kool-Aid in John Colapinto's wet-kiss to big-money fast-action art-heroes who sell art works to the highest bidder. How can someone conscientiously write an entire profile on Tobias Meyer, the chief auctioneer and worldwide head of contemporary art at Sotheby's, and not mention, even in passing, that contemporary art auctions are bizarre combinations of slave market, trading floor, theater, and brothel? They are rarefied entertainments where speculation, spin, and trophy hunting merge as an insular caste enacts a highly structured ritual in which the codes of consumption and peerage are manipulated in plain sight. Auctions are altars to the disconnect between the inner life of art and the outer life of acquisition, places where artists are cut off from their art. At auctions desire is fetishized, buying and selling become a sort of sacrament, art plays the role of sacrificial lamb, and the Ponzi scheme that surrounds it all rolls on. For The New Yorker to publish an article like this and not raise one discouraging word about auctions is more than a little discouraging; it is a sickening.
And then Tyler followed up with:

Aside: Several emailers have written in to defend the Leo Koenig piece in the New Yorker. Yes, it certainly had more backbone than the Meyer or Weinberg stories. But I think my underlying point stands: What about artists?

OK, so I subscribed to The New Yorker only earlier this year, but I'd read it fairly regularly before then, and although I agree with Jerry and Tyler that the profiles in question were "gushy," I'm not sure the charge that The New Yorker is ignoring "artists," per se, is entirely fair to the magazine. Not in general, at least.

To support my thesis I offer the findings of the awesome piece by our gallery's artist, Jennifer Dalton, titled "What does an Artist Look Like? (Every Photograph of an Artist to Appear in The New Yorker, 1999-2001)." Created in 2002, it presents, as advertised, each and every photograph of an artist to appear in The New Yorker over the course of three years, totalling 436, for an average of 2.8 photos per issue. Now, Jen's piece includes photos of writers, musicians, dancers, filmmakers and others, in addition to photos of "visual artists," but compare that with the totals for dealers or museum directors or auctioneers over the years and the immediate conclusion anyone can draw from her collected data is that The New Yorker does indeed devote a great deal more space to artists in general.

OK, but that doesn't exactly address Tyler and Jerry's points. They're commenting on how the editorial decisions being made at the magazine are helping to perpetuate the misplaced attention of the historically hot art market on the movers and shakers, rather than on the creators of the art. Fair enough. But there are two issues here. First is the attention non-artists are getting, and the second is the free pass those non-artists are getting, the non-critical examination, especially when there's arguably a great deal to criticize about the current system.

What I want to explore here (somewhat in contrast to my original post on Meyer, I'll admit...but I'm fickle that way) is why would it assumedly be OK for The New Yorker to offer a "gushy" profile of an artist, but not a dealer or auctioneer? Are artists not in any way also responsible for the tone and texture of the current art market? And if not, why?

UPDATE: Mr. Meyer will be speaking March 30th. If we weren't having an opening you should really attend instead that night, I'd recommend you find out for yourself whether The New Yorker piece was hyperbole or fair and balanced journalism.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Artist of the Week (03/20/06)

Happy First Day of Spring!

When I first met New York artist
Joan Linder, she was exhibiting these moody and quirky, yet lovely, paintings of her family at a gallery on 57th Street. The series (called "118-60 Metropolitan Avenue") were psychological portraits and exhibited the humor and keen insight I associate with Joan as a person.

By the time we had our first studio visit, Joan was branching out beyond her family and making fiercly in-your-face paintings that exploded the myths of male sexual attractiveness, turning her fearless gaze onto the pot-bellies and bare buttocks of the sorts of men who, fully dressed, would assume a position of superiority in relation to Joan's small frame and gender. As she phrased it, she was attempting "to classicly objectify the male body." Here's one from the series:


Joan Linder, Snake Belly, Oil on canvas (image from artist's website).

Also, and mostly in private, she was making live-sized drawings of nude men that were incredibly unflattering. Several of the drawings resembled New York art dealers far too much to be coincidental, and she hinted that she might just do one of me (which I don't think she ever did, or at least she had the kindness to spare me the sight of it).

We included a fantastic series of photos by Joan in our first group exhibition at Plus Ultra when we opened. For the series (called "Men About Town") she took some of her life-sized emasculated figures (reinforced with foamcore), posed like odalesques or holding their penises, and placed them around typically male-associated settings, like Home Depot or fast food restaurant parking lots. I can't find any of these easily right now, but you can see a few thumbnails on this
Google page (they lead to NOT FOUND pages, but you'll get the idea).

Joan told the story of being chased out of a Toys R Us store with one of these by a manager who lectured her on the inappropriateness of her project, just to have a sales clerk confide to her on her way out that he did much worse things with the Barbie Dolls after the store was closed.

When I next caught up with Joan, she had embarked on the series that she's getting a great deal of attention for now. Represented by the awesome
Mixed Greens, Joan's new ink on paper drawings seem always to reach for some extreme or other, while maintaining that same comforting quirkiness her family paintings had that made them so warm, despite their critique. To the right is an example of one of her large pieces (Joan Linder, Red Rocket, 2001, Ink on paper, 144" x 52"; image from Boreas Gallery, via Arc Studio website). Others of trees or panoramic views of interiors or spans of electrical towers are as gorgeous as they are ambitious.

Mixed Green site (which does a wonderful job of revealing their artists' personalities) has an interview with Joan that provides a good clue into what motivates her and inspires the POV of her work:

Q: What gadget would you like invented?
[Joan]: A lie-detector lens.
The interview continues, with Joan explaining:

The drawings of men explore gender and power dynamics. The male body, sexuality, machismo, and masculine stereotypes are depicted from a female point of view. Even during figuration's recent comeback in the '90s, all I saw were images of women. Men like John Currin paint women with big tits and are labeled "bad boys," while women like Lisa Yuskavage paint women with big tits and are "bad girl" feminists. I'm not into women with big tits. I am a woman drawing and painting men with big bodies: big bellies, balls, and asses. I think about R. Crumb and wonder what he would make if he were a she.
More recently, Joan has been tying up the figures in her drawings....


Joan Linder, Trussed, 2005, Colored inks on paper, 72" x 52" (image from
Mixed Greens website)

or, more interestingly, merely suggesting the figure with the ropes themselves:


Joan Linder, Orange Rope, 2005, Colored inks on paper, 51" x 78 3/4" (image from
Mixed Greens website)

Joan currently has a solo exhibition at Rowland Contemporary in Chicago, where among other things, she's taking on the absurdities of the war...I can't imagine anyone better equipped to do so:


Joan Linder, Seven Eighty-Two, 2005, Ink on paper, 82" x 52" (image from
Mixed Greens website).

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Making Art More Expensive Open Thread

Update: My original title here was misleading (even to me...as the rant below is misguided based on my misreading of a quote). I think the general sense of the post remains valid, but I do want to point out my error and acknowledge the difference it implies. Essentially, Meyer's statement is less disturbing that I originally suggested, but it still raises many of the same issues discussed in the comments, IMO.

There's a don't-miss profile on Tobias Meyer in the March 20th issue of The New Yorker. He's the sauve 43-year-old chief auctioneer and worldwide head of contemporary art at Sotheby's, and his is the kind of story that makes you feel like a total slacker, even if you already work 80-hour weeks.

The profile is a delightful peek into the methods and high drama behind contemporary art auctions, but Meyer said something that is both admirable (given that he understands his job so clearly) and a bit troublesome (in that it's the sort of thing I can't imagine people saying when I was a kid) that I want to explore a bit here:

Bill Ruprecht, the C.E.O. of Sotheby's, says, "People make the mistake of describing our business as being about objects. It's not. I think we handle the interaction between people and objects. The cliche in the auction world is: 'We bring objects alive.'" Meyer puts it slightly differently. "What I love to do is put people in front of art and make them feel it, make them stop everything else they're doing and experience it, deeply," he says. "That's how I make art expensive. And that's my job, for the company and for my clients. To make art expensive." [emphasis mine]
Indeed, that is his job, and he does it extraordinarily well. And, yes, to some degree, that's my job as well, although I prefer to think of it as "to make art important and then irresistible." The difference for Meyer is he doesn't have to make the "important" argument...what he sells is usually already in the history books. But expensive? Why not "irrresistible" first, and then let the desire of the collectors who can't resist it drive the price to what the market will bear? Why think in terms of highest price first and foremost? There's another passage in the article that illustrates what it is about this that bothers me:
[Cheyenne] Westphal [, charman of contemporary art for Europe] is particularly fond of Meyer's trademark move, when the bidding on a work reaches nine hundred thousand pounds, of glancing at a bidder and casually saying, "Make it a million."
Now I want to be careful not to sound like a Boy Scout, or {gasp} a Socialist, but there are two realities at play here. The reality of the buyer, who will undoubtedly get a bit of extra mileage out of telling his/her friends that they paid "$1 million" for a work of art at auction, and the reality for the other 99% of the world, for whom that extra $100,000 dollars could support their entire family for much longer than that collector will be able to dine out on the drama of caving in to Meyer's seductive charm. And although I get the concept that art is valued at what the market will bear, and unless you push, how do you know what that is, I still find it somewhat disturbing. It seemss such an obscene amount of money to treat so casually.

And, of course, I'm a hypocrite. In addition to selling art, I also love to gamble. I love the thrill of casinos and watching folks piss away sums of cash that could put a talented young, but poor, person through college for four years. And that's all Meyer is doing, providing a similar thrill. If the buyer has the money, why not let them spend it on art. That's one less Hummer they'll buy, isn't it?

Perhaps all I'm offended by is the honesty of his rhetoric. If Meyer had said it's his job "to make art irresistbile" it would essentially mean the same thing in the end. What he is doing is not only fully legal, it's arguably good for the overall economy as well, creating more jobs, increasing the art market, and giving greater opportunities to emerging artists.

So why does it stick in my claw craw?

Your thoughts?

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Argument for Expertise

I'm fully aware of the fact that no one would expect me to say anything else, but I do so firmly believe in the value that dealers add to the promotion and preservation of art that I was both appalled and bemused by the facts in Carol Kino's brilliant article in The New York Times this morning. In an email exchange, Carol indicated to me that originally the article was meant to be a simple anecdotal story about the art market, but the more she probed, the more it became apparent that something was amiss. From the Times:

From diamonds to dog food to Dom Pérignon Champagne, Costco is known as an astute marketer of high and low. Recently, it even ventured into the rarefied world of Picasso, selling a crayon drawing at its Web site for a bargain $39,999.99.

The buyer, Louis Knickerbocker, a meat distributor from Newport Beach, Calif., had never fancied himself a big-league collector. But as he was cruising to work in his sport utility vehicle one day, a radio news report about the Costco offering roused him to action.

Mr. Knickerbocker, 39, quickly called his wife, Diana, on his cellphone and asked her to race to the Web site and charge the purchase to his American Express card.

"They just sell the top quality — whatever you buy at Costco, whether it's a washing machine or a vacuum cleaner," he said in an interview. "I just thought, if it's a Picasso, you can't go wrong."

"Worst-case scenario, we can always return it," he recalls telling his wife.

Actually, the worst-case scenario may be that the drawing is not a Picasso — an assertion that has Costco scrambling to live up to its consumer-friendly image.

Carol does an exquisite job of tracing back how this "Picasso" came to be offered on the Costco site and asks the questions along the way that should have been asked the first time, eventually leading her to Pablo's daughter, Maya Widmaier-Picasso, who is the authority Sotheby's and Christie's turn to for authentication questions about the Spainard's works. Apparently the dealers working with Costco had a certificate with Widmaier-Picasso's signature, but the 70-year-old daughter of the lengend told Kino the certificate's a fake.

Now here's where my interest really begins to pique. The world is awash with fake artworks, and there's only so much any dealer can do to ensure what they have is the real deal. In this instance, there was a dealer who tried to get Widmaier-Picasso to affirm that the certificate he had was indeed real, but she never returned his faxed messages. Frustrated, he eventually relied on the word of an associate in Rome who unofficially got "a verbal nod" from an unnamed expert at Christie's in Paris that indeed the certificate was consistent with Widmaier-Picasso's other certificates. A claim she totally denies:
"I would have said, 'In my opinion, I can certify that this drawing in pencil on paper measuring 12 by 24 centimeters representing a scene from a bullfight — I would put in more details concerning what's on the actual drawing — is a work in the hand of my father.'

"On the same line, I would have written, for example, ' "Paris, le 14 mars,' and I spell out the month. My lines always run from the far left to the far right, and there is no break between paragraphs."
All of which simply emphasizes the need for folks in the art world to slow down a bit. When the leading authority can't be reached, you simply have to wait. But the "experts" know that. The person in all this I think really needs to learn something is the collector, Louis Knickerbocker. When told that the drawing he bought was possibly a fake he responded:
"Seeing as she signed a lot of those things, who knows how many years ago, I'm not surprised if she's going to say that it's fake unless she has it in front of her," he said. (Ms. Widmaier-Picasso viewed printouts of high-resolution digital photographs of the drawings and certificates.)

Mr. Knickerbocker, who once bought his wife a two-carat diamond ring at Costco, said he remains a loyal customer and that for now he has no plans to return the drawing.

"I think a lot of times with this, especially with art — high-end, number one — I'm sure that the art galleries hate that Costco's selling art," he reflected.

"I would still feel just as comfortable buying from Costco — even more so than buying from one of the other dealers — because I know that Costco stands behind what they sell."
OK, so he's half right. Galleries do indeed hate seeing Costco's selling art, but his faith in Costco should not be confused with reasons to have faith in that Picasso. Whether Costco stands behind what they sell or not is irrelevant in this case. I'll draw this out a bit to explain.

Costco relied on a series of experts to authenticate the piece. At each step of Carol's investigation, though, these experts backed down (read the article to see this). When finally she got to Picasso's daughter, there was no one left, not even Costco's executives, who were willing to swear the piece was indeed a Picasso. In light of this, keeping the drawing makes no sense. Costco may go the extra mile to ensure they're offering their customers quality, but in this instance that extra mile has been shown to be full of potholes. They really should insist Knickerbocker let them buy back the drawing until there's more conclusive evidence.

Appropriately, each of the experts Kino interviewed expressed immediate shock and dismay at the news, keenly aware of the effect this revelation could have on their reputation, which, in the end, is the only currency a dealer has. No one is perfect. Even the most careful dealer can make a mistake, but when one's pointed out, the appropriate response is to correct it right away transparently and fully. I can't help but feel that the entire string of experts involved owe it to Knickerbocker to convince him to at least consider getting the drawing authenticated by some other Picasso authority. He's clearly already skeptical of Widmaier-Picasso (as are other scholars, Kino indicates), but he seems to be clinging to the drawing through some misguided loyalty to Costco. In a nutshell, though, Costco are not experts in Picasso. And, I assume, $39,999.99 is a high price to pay just to prove you have faith in a corporation...unless Knickerbocker has stock in Costco or something...but that's another investigation I suppose.

William Powhida @ Schroeder Romero/Plus Ultra Project Space

Plus Ultra Gallery in collaboration with Schroeder Romero is pleased to present the first in a series of installations in the project space between our galleries. Please join us TONIGHT, 6-8pm, Thursday, March 16th, for the premiere of "Joint Manifesto" by the wholly incorrigible New York artist William Powhida (www.williampowhida.com). "Joint Manifesto" is a site-specific wall drawing best described by William's own words (in the form of an open letter to the "Art World"):

Dear Art World,

In their desperation BID to individuate themselves from becoming Part of the Problem in Chelsea, Plus Ultra and Schroeder Romero have asked me to create an installation in their new project space (While I detest the notion of being some kind of second rate circus act in front of two serious shows of genuine art, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to author a joint manifesto for their renewed enterprise of selling art in Chelsea). The piece, Joint Manifesto, is out of their hands. I am interpreting their mission as it should be in a hypothetical, ideal world free from the repulsive influences of fashion and money. This is an uncompromising manifesto. Many may even detest it, but it IS a representation of my brilliance GENIUS. So, I invite you to come look at something that you cannot own.

I know, you can’t believe you are reading this shit. I KNOW, but come on. Everyone is holding their collective breath that the Market won’t collapse this year. Hoping if everyone just ignores the 80’s, collectors will blindly continue to speculate on art objects. Put that aside. Join ME in welcoming Plus Ultra and Schroeder Romero into what Jerry Saltz calls “THE BIG LEAGUE.” It is time for them to take off the training wheels and sell some fucking art, I guess. The overhead is RIDICULOUS! You should really buy something. (I will have some framed drawings available that are AMAZING!…if they’re not all sold by the time you get there.)

I urge you to come on out, it’s almost in New Jersey, but there will be strippers and booze, maybe. Certainly there will be booze, but maybe a rich collector will order strippers from Scores. It’s OK, Feminism is dead. Seriously, I’m another alpha white male with no apparent marginalization, and people show my work? That’s TERRIBLE! If you coked-up stockbrokers must have tits, Ken Weaver has plenty in his show, Royally Fucked, at Schroeder Romero. I really need you to come out and help me raise my profile. I’m trying to get on the hot artist lists and in a spread for Vogue. You can help me out by (a) showing up, (b) writing a SPECTACULAR REVIEW, or (c) sending me a check for a hundred thousand dollars. I would prefer the latter, but I would feel comforted by your presence. Please. My friend just sold a book and escaped middle-class hell. You, the art world, could start my social transformation into a GOD.

Thanks,


William Powhida
OK, so I have no idea what he's talking about, but, if you're in the hood, do stop in....

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Jack Handey's Ideas for Paintings

The New Yorker has published a gem of a piece by Jack Handey that made me snort out loud on the subway. You can read the whole thing at the link, but here's a taste:

Because I love art, I am offering the following ideas for paintings to all struggling artists out there. Some of those artists may be thinking, Hey, I’ve got good ideas of my own. Really? Then why are you struggling?

These ideas are free of charge. All I ask is that when you have completed a painting, as a courtesy to me you sign it “Jack Handey and [your name or initials].” And, if the painting is sold, I get approximately all the money.

Good luck! Let’s get painting!

Stampede of Nudes
The trouble with most paintings of nudes is that there isn’t enough nudity. It’s usually just one woman lying there, and you’re looking around going, “Aren’t there any more nudes?” This idea solves that.

What has frightened these nudes? Is it the lightning in the background? Or did one of the nudes just spook? You don’t know, and this creates tension.

Made You Look
This idea is difficult to execute, but could turn out to be a masterpiece. It depicts a grandly dressed lady looking straight at you. At first, her look seems to say, “Quick, look behind you!” So you turn around, and when you look at her again her expression now seems to be one of smug satisfaction.

.....

The Repentant Cameron Diaz
Cameron Diaz, her tear-streaked face lit by a candle, gazes wistfully at a photograph of me.

The Weary Peasants
Some tired-looking peasants are walking down a road at sunset, carrying sheaves of wheat. A nobleman in a fancy coach is coming up from behind. This creates drama, because you’re thinking, Why don’t those peasants get out of the way?

Somethings just make you smile. There's more....

Is Inspiration Unexploitable? Open Thread

So in Britian's Guardian newspaper,* I came across the sort of half-thought-out exploration of artmaking we've come to expect from our contemporary MSM (was anyone else really, really embarrassed for the state of journalism today when comparing it with the sheer intelligence of the Edward R. Murrow monologues re-created for "Good Night and Good Luck"?). The article focuses on what it termed the "vital ingredient of creativity"---inspiration--- and goes on to quote a host of artists' thoughts on the phenomenon, but (as usual) something in the general text distracted my ADHD-riddled mind and wouldn't let go:

[I]nspiration ... is the kind of magic that people like to believe in, perhaps especially now, in a culture where money can buy virtually everything else of value, and science and technology can create or invent the things we most need. Inspiration, in other words, is a kind of God-term; it refers to something we think of as essential but that we can't, or may not want to, understand.....

Whatever it is that feeds us our best lines - the gods or God, the unconscious or the genes, the class war - it is something we depend upon but cannot command. Like God's grace, inspiration doesn't respond to our need or our greed for it. It is not a resource we can exploit; and it doesn't look as if, at least as yet, science or technology can help us get more of it. It isn't exactly measureable. And it may be this, perhaps more than anything else, that makes inspiration so difficult to describe in its workings, and so enraging in its elusiveness. [emphasis mine]
OK, so that's the conventional wisdom about inspiration, but is it accurate? Is inspiration a resource we cannot exploit? I'm not so sure.

I've been mulling this over for a few days, and what I've concluded is that inspiration may be part divine intervention, but it comes via other means(controllable means) as well. For instance, being in the right frame of mind is often critical to being inspired, which is why artists take great pains to create an environment in their studio in which they can clear their thoughts and hopefully forget their worries. It's often why artists sometimes experiment with (live off?) mind-altering substances as well. Being inspired is often contingent on being open to it, and so doing what it takes to be in a receptive frame of mind is something one can do to encourage inspiration. Also controllable is the decision to visit or call on one's muse. If some person or thing sparks one's imagination, then seeking that person/thing out is a means of encouraging inspiration. Finally, there's nothing like the pressure of a deadline to stir up one's creative juices. By waiting until the last minute, or simply setting deadlines for oneself, creative types can often jump start the process (perhaps this is similar to just being in the right frame of mind, but...) through panic.

Now, of course, it can be argued that none of the above ensures inspiration will come. But take them out of the effort and inspiration becomes much less likely, no? So, isn't it, in that way, somewhat exploitable?

Curious about your thoughts.


*Which I once heard described by a London comic as the only daily paper with two crossword puzzles: cryptic and f*cking cryptic.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Collectors' Blogs

Short and sweet today, as I recuperate:

A while back I offered the same advice to collectors I find myself increasingly offering to artists, which is to get your images up on a blog. It's a great, free online catalog; it helps you focus on what you're doing; and, most importantly, it fosters a dialog about what you're making or what you're collecting. Now, I shouldn't take credit for the idea. The supersmart collector and the heart and brains behind Mixed Greens, Paige West, has had a blog (Art Addict) for quite some time, but I am pleased to see other collectors take the plunge, including The Destitute Collector, which is off to a very impressive start, and the very newly launched and refreshingly written The Crionna Collection. Check 'em out, and please list others you know of.

Oh, and other collectors, don't be the last one on your block to start your own!

UPDATE: Even though I tend to think of Mike@MAO more as an opinion maker and quiz master, I was clearly temporarily (?) insane not to include the spectacularly entertaining and information collector's blog Modern Art Obsession in my original post. It should be on your daily must-read list, if it's not already.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Mutual Admiration

My body aches, my brain is fried, my apartment looks like a bargain basement sale half an hour after they let the mobs in, and I won't actually have a day off to right these wrongs until next weekend...

poor me...

; - (

OK, so it's not all that tragic. Pulse has been great (the response by the collectors featured in Jen's piece when they realilze they're in it has been extraordinary...running the gamut from bemusement to sheer joy). In addition, being perched in public has provided me with an awesome opportunity to mix with and meet a host of the bloggers I most admire. Seen, if ever so briefly, at the fair and corresponding parties were the talented folks behind
art.blogging.la; Art Fag City; bloggy; Roberta Fallon and Libby Rosof's artblog; From the Floor; I Get My Show on the Road; In Search of the Miraculous; James Wagner; Modern Art Notes; and Thought Not. And thanks to all the lovely folks who have stopped in and said very kind things about this blog as well. I'm sure I was babbling nonsense when you happened by, but it's been an intense two weeks. All the same, I greatly appreciated your taking the time.

This paltry excuse for a new post was paid for by Friends of the Mutual Admiration Society.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Jennifer Dalton @ PULSE

Plus Ultra Gallery is very pleased to present a major new piece by gallery artist, Jennifer Dalton, as part of the IMPULSE program at the Pulse New York art fair. Known for her large scale installations in which she develops systems that facilitate instantaneous, concise conclusions from otherwise overwhelming amounts of data. Jen's work has been reveiwed in Artforum, Art on Paper, The New Yorker, and other publications, and she was recently featured in a group exhibition at the Kunsthalle in Vienna, Austria.

One of a new series of pieces targeting the five main groups in the commercial art world (artists, auctions, critics, art fairs, and collectors), ""The Collector-ibles" is a multi-media installation featuring 5 large glass-fronted modern black cabinets (total dims approx 6.5 feet high x 8 feet long x 10 inches deep). In the cases are 200 figurines representing the top 200 art collectors as catalogued in ArtNews mag's annual list from summer 2005. Each figure is a marvel or DC superhero gaming figurine spray-painted gold & mounted on a handmade base. Many of the bases have a male & female figure on them because the colletors are listed as a couple. The total dimensions of each figurine are approx 2 x 2.5 x 1 inch. The type of figurine & the teatment of the base denotes where the collector's money comes from. There are 8 categories of income source: 1. business; 2. finance; 3. the arts & media; 4. science & computers; 5. real estate; 6. law; 7. energy (oil or mining industries, etc); 8. inheritance. Interestingly, the only category in which single women collectors outnumber single men collectors is the inheritance category.

In addition, each figure is holding different colored miniature shopping bags, color coded and also labeled in tiny printing to represent the type of art the collector collects. There are 10 categories of art: old masters, 19th century/impressionism, 20th century/modernism, contemporary art, photogrpahy, asian art, latin american art, tribal art, antiquities, and non-art objects. "The Collector-ibles" also includes a pedestal in front of the cases with a mirrored riser top which will feature a single collector figure plucked out seemingly at random from the cases.

Please stop in and see the installation if you're heading over to Pulse!

My Favorite Take on the WB so far

Another short post...gotta run back and forth like the Lederhosened figure on a cuckcoo clock between the gallery and art fair today.

Despite scoring the best invitation to a Whitney Biennial I've ever gotten thus far (yes, I'm petty like that)...I have yet to actually make it over, what with the gallery just re-opening and the fair opening tomorrow, but I've been reading the reviews and drilling my friends, and well nothing I've read so far has come close to the breath-of-fresh-air take that Barbara Pollack offers on artinfo.com. Barbara, who was considered as an artist for the WB herself but "rejected," attended the opening with her teenage son. I'm now convinced that visiting with a youngster should be a pre-requisite to gaining entry. Especially if you're an artist and feeling bad about not being included. Here's a snippet:
[A]s my 18-year-old son Max said, “We never get into the Whitney Biennial. We’re like the Red Sox, our day will come!” For that, he earned his place beside me at the opening, an event so-super-hot among his high school friends that Max had no doubts about being the coolest kid in the city that evening.

Even though I didn’t feel part of the cool crowd at the opening festivities, it was pretty nifty seeing the show through a teenager’s eyes, a point of view that was both fresh and jaded at just the right moments. Max made me sit through every video—he loved Cameron Jamie’s costumed troupe of wild things and T. Kelley Mason and Diana Thater’s Jump, scored to the tune of Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues—wondering why videos like these are never nominated in the short film category of the Academy Awards.

Read the whole thing...it's refreshing and insightful.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Religion as Subject, Part II

Sort of crazy busy today, getting ready for Pulse, so this will be a short one...(also, just wanted an excuse to post the Jesus in the Toast photo anonymous linked to). In Part I of this discussion a few folks noted the following idea, summarized nicely by Franklin:

I think art had to separate itself from religion in partiuclar, mythology in general, and narrative even more generally in order to explore the options of modernism. Religion has driven art for a long time, maybe even since the Neolithic, and it has always seemed weird to me that it would cede the field so readily to the Enlightenment. But it did - maybe humanistic values match those of art better than religious ones.
My question about this, if it's true, is why then do we see plenty of art in galleries and museums that takes a critical view of religion, but not art that takes a supportive view? If art has moved past supporting religion, why hasn't it moved past criticizing it?

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Religion as Subject Open Thread

Despite being virtually inseperable for centuries, it's no secret that contemporary art and religion have had an ambivalent if not downright contentious relationship for a while now. Religious institutions still commission works of art, often from very well-know artists, as well as use the arts for community-building, teaching, and celebrating, but it's rare to find a sincere, straightforward expression of faith in a Chelsea gallery. Oh it's apparently fine to question religion in art---From Serrano' Piss Christ to Ofili's Madonna to Cox's Yo Mama's Last Supper the contemporary art that deals with religion (at least that which gets press) is very good at raising controversy---but given that in no other point in my lifetime have the faithful been so vocal, it's a bit surprising we're not seeing that reflected more in the visual arts.

Perhaps it's just a matter of time. Zach Feuer predicted on artnet a while back that we'll see a rise of "Republican" artists in 2006. Perhaps that rise of the conservative voice will go hand in glove with an increased attention to artists dealing sincerely with their religion.

I have to say, I wouldn't mind that (so long as the crtique machine keeps its voice to maintain balance). There are wide calls among pundits and politicians for an Enlightenment in Islam, assuming that would correct what leads to the violence among its faithful that dominates our news these days, but I'm not sure Judiasm and Christianity (to limit this to the big three religions on this side of the world) aren't due for a bit of an overhaul or updating themselves. Clearly the bulk of figuring out how to fix what ails contemporary religion falls to the theologians, but when the main talking points coming from the more high-profile churches, synagoues, and mosques these days are aggressive messages of condemnation and hatemongering, perhaps it's time a few more artists took a stab at it.

Now I know a big contingent of the art community is atheist. As I've noted here before, I'm one more disappointment from the church from being atheist myself, but there's a climate in which sincerity in faith is automatically rejected in most quarters of the art world. I was reminded of this in Seattle, where Howard House Gallery's associate director Gary Owens explained a typical reaction to Lauren Grossman's work is one of knee-jerk rejection. From the press release for that exhibition:

A veteran Seattle Artist, Grossman consistently galvanizes viewers with her formally engaging sculptures and biblical subject matter. Although it is uncommon for a contemporary artist to be so invested in Judeo-Christian iconography, Grossman's work points to the persistence of the ecclesiastical in the functions of western thought. Her metaphors are apt in a world marred by fundamentalism.
Which is perhaps the most important reason for a very public sincere dialogue about religion, including in the art world: to curb the corruption of it by the more exploitative elements within the fundamentalist movements. They have incredible power at the moment, because they thrive when they can feed off fear, and that power will inevitably corrupt.

If I had only read the press release and not seen Grossman's show (which includes many passages from the Bible), I would probably have dismissed it, even though on other blogs I've enthusiastically agreed that the Bible is a wonderfully rich text, if only as literature. Which makes me think that my dismissal of Grossman's exhibition would have been based on fear. I wouldn't have shyed away from work based on texts by Shakespeare or Joyce or Socrates or Whitman (quite the opposite, I would have run to see what part of the dialogue I agreed or disagreed with). But when the subject is raw religion, my first inclination is to stay away. Something about it seems threatening (will it brainwash me? will it turn me into a pillar of salt?). Perhaps that something is merely my sense that that discourse is owned by those who would use religion to oppress others. Perhaps by participating in that discourse, however, a bit of it can be reclaimed. I don't know...these thoughts are in their infancy.... Consider this an open thread.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Short Summary of Our Swing Through Seattle

Our trip to Seattle was a whirlwind of mountains and sea and lovely people and awesome art. We spent our tourtist time heading up to Whidbey Island, so we missed the Space Needle and Experience Music Project (photo to right was taken through a bus window). We didn't get to see anywhere near as much art as we had hoped, but we were thrilled by what we did see. In addition to some spectacular collections we got to a number of galleries in Pioneer Square, where everyone was incredibly generous with their time and information, making us feel very welcome (we can't thank you enough!). Here's a quick summary of the exhibitions we did catch:

Greg Kucera explained that the two-person exhibition at his space was a bit unusual for him. Being a huge fan of Bourgeois's multiples and always delighted to spend some time viewing anything by Matisse, we were happy to you catch this anomaly. Greg (pictured at left) was very gracious and we bonded over a shared nightmare dealing with another dealer (not from NY or Seattle). We had hoped to get together for coffee the following day, but our respsective schedules ended up making that impossible. Kucera Gallery boasts an incredible list of important modern and contemporary artists. I have immense respect for dealers who know how to mix art historically important artists with those who have yet to make it into the history books. It displays a passion for art that transcends fashion. Greg is a prince in this realm. Here's a shot of his gorgeous space:


Unfortunately, we didn't catch James Harris in his gallery, but his colleague Todd Simeone (who is also an artist) was kind enough to spend some time initiating us to the emerging scene in Seattle. The exhibition in the space of large pen and ink on paper pieces by Keith Tilford is elegant and the work is remarkably well priced (hint, hint, collectors in the area). Here's a shot of Todd in the gallery with a piece by Keith behind him:



We were already in love with (and in eternal debt to) the awesome folks at Platform Gallery. Not only are a few of their artists friends, but they were the organizers behind the Aqua Art Fair in Miami, which remains the single most pleasurable art fair expierience we've ever had. The trio of Blake Haygood, Stephen Lyons, and Dirk Park are the brains and heart behind the program, but we were missed Stephen and Dirk unfortunately. We loved the installation by Matt Sellars and Blake (see below) was a charming host:



Of all the spaces I discovered at the Aqua fair, the most impressive for sheer creative energy was the artist-run space Soil Art Gallery. I had that same experience when entering their gallery, where a group exhibition of work by their new members, Satomi Jin, Isaac Layman, and Chauney Peck blew my socks off (well, only figuratively speaking...it was too cold to walk around sockless, but I loved the show). We were greeted by two artists/members (seen below), Margie Livingston and Brian Murphy (who just had an exhibition at Winston Wachter Fine Art that we were sad to miss, but heard many folks rave about).



We ended our tour of Pioneer Square galleries at the beautiful Howard House gallery. We had had the pleasure in Miami of meeting HH's class-act associate director Gary Owen (see below with sculpture by Seattle superstar Lauren Grossman). Gary spoke so eloquently about Lauren's work, we wanted to stay all day. Like all the folks we met in our tour, Gary made us feel welcome and we truly appreciated it. Thanks to all!


Friday, March 03, 2006

Truth

In response to noting (on another post) that there are criteria other than emotional response by which to judge artwork, lou gagnon asked me to elaborate. I responded:

In no particular order of importance, I believe artwork can be judged on at least the following criteria:

Emotional provocation
"Craftmanship"
Innovation
Truth
Conceptual complexity/quality
Integrity (or consistency)
Transcendentalism

[there are footnotes to a few of those you can see on the original]

Later I elaborated further that "OK, I lied. Truth is the number 1 criteria," which elicted two comments that deserve a response. The second, by aurix, was simply, "Could you elaborate on truth as a criterion?" which I'll take as my license for responding in some detail to the first comment by Henry:

Why is truth the number one criterion? And what does it even mean? I was just about to comment that your list of criteria was quite good, except that truth should be taken off.

If by truth you mean intentional sincerity of expression, I don't think truth has anything to do with anything.
The rest of Henry's comment also suggests he and I have very different working definitions of "truth," but I'll respond to this part first. For me, "truth" is not an intentional sincerity of expression, but rather a well-considered, effective expression of an insightful analysis, which is virtually my exact definition of a "work of art." In this sense, truth is for me the most important criterion for determining whether work is good or not.

In thinking about this I keep coming back to Warhol (and if you don't agree that Warhol was a good artist, you might not get much out of the rest of this). Andy told more truth through his work than we'll likely process for decades. Consider how he notoriously reponded to interviews with what he thought the asker wanted to hear. This is a particularly good example of what I mean by truth, because on the surface it seems to be anything but (thereby illustrating that it's not a matter of a relative point of view, but rather an excellent means of conveying a point, regardless of who may agree or disagree with it). The point of Warhol's work here was, in part, to demonstrate that the interview (the media attention and resulting celebrity) was the thing, not its content. So whether what he actually said was somehow cosmically true (however one measures that) was irrelevant...there was truth in his message, and how he chose to express that message was a well-considered, effective expression of an insightful analysis (i.e., it was good art).

Henry continued:

I was just talking with a friend a couple of days ago who said contemporary art was losing its soul, because (among other reasons,) an artist nowadays could vomit on a canvas and call it art. My friend quickly turned to me and said as an aside, "of course, if you vomited on a canvas, that would be different. I know you, and I know you probably had a good reason for it."

So apparently "truth" is in the eye of the beholder.

Well, perhaps, but sincerity is not an element of my definition of truth. Irony (and [I think] even cynicism) can reveal truth as well. So for me the ultimate test of "truth" is not a matter of intention (that's part of assessing conceptual quality and integrity) but rather of effect (like that of emotional response [think "beauty is truth" and this is more clear]).

It can be bent very easily, especially among the "educated." Like car salesmen around the world already know, the smarter you are, the easier you are to fool. I'd strike truth from the list, whatever it is.
I'm happy to strike sincerity from the list [update: or I would be if it were on the list...], but art without "truth," as I see it, is inferior. It may be pleasant enough, but it's not meaningful beyond that, and I strongly believe there is more.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Alois Kronschläger @ Plus Ultra
(now in Chelsea)

In response to being asked how I slept the night before last, I stole the great line, "Well, I slept like a baby...I woke up every two hours screaming." There are so many details as we get ready to open and so little time...alas...

Because this may be my last opportunity to post before we open, let me share the press release for our first exhibition and invite each and everyone of you to join us tomorrow if you can.

Alois Kronschläger
Repercussions: A Series of Surprisingly Divisive Events
March 2-25, 2006
Opening Reception: March 2, 6-8 pm

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Plus Ultra Gallery is extremely pleased to inaugurate our new location with Repercussions: A Series of Surprisingly Divisive Events, the first New York solo exhibition by Austrian-born artist Alois Kronschläger. With a site-specific installation and a striking new series of wall sculptures, Kronschläger continues his ongoing exploration in representing time and space via geometry. In contrast to the multitude of artists, architects and designers engaged in digital investigations of this topic, Kronschläger has developed a hand-made process for recording a complex series of events and actions within curvilinear space. The resulting sculptures constitute frozen points in time within these complex narratives, presented as a composition for the viewer's consideration.

To prepare his sculptures, which playfully reference the early pinstripe paintings of Frank Stella, Kronschläger lines sheets of archival paper with a latex caulk. These evenly spaced lines then serve as measures for recording the pending actions--crunching, pinching, folding, crinkling, etc.--that impact the pictorial plane. Kronschläger then sets the chosen compositions with a polystyrene base. Unlike earlier explorations with shaped or slashed canvases, however, these pieces maintain the integrity of their original plane's vertical and horizontal limits, even as the caulk lines emphasize both the beat of the actions and the topographical aspects of the now three-dimensional space they occupy.

The shift in scale in his site-specific installations takes Kronschläger's approach one step further in that he blurs the line between objects and construction, between space and applied artifact. By using the gallery's planes to emphasize the resulting negative space around his intricate surfaces, his large installations underline the progression into multi-dimensionality within his process.

For additional information, please contact Joshua Stern or Edward Winkleman at 212-643-3152 or info@plusultragallery.com


Plus Ultra Gallery
637 West 27th Street, Suite A
New York, NY 10001
Ground Floor
Between 11th and 12th Avenues
t: 212-643-3152
f: 212-643-2040
info@plusultragallery.com
Hours: Tuesday to Saturday, 11am to 6pm