Thursday, April 27, 2006

Loathing Fear

We interrupt our regularly scheduled art program for this brief political announcement (well, we do advertize "politics" in the banner).

When I hear the excuses of Americans willing to give up their civil liberties or, worse yet, let other people in some far off land get blown to smithereens to ensure the terrorists are occupied "over there" rather than here, I wonder what the f*ck they thought the world was like before 9/11? What fantasy of security had they allowed themselves to be lulled into? Were they really so convinced of their invincibility beforehand that the attacks changed everything? Weren't they aware that the world has always been totally fraught with such dangers, that people are murdered around the clock in every quarter of the planet, and that billions still ... STILL ... yearn to breathe FREE? I don't mind saying I think that being a gay man, and having to watch my back to avoid being bashed, has, thankfully, denied me that same false sense of security that I sense in some other Americans. The world has always been scary to me. You deal with it.

Surely, 9/11 rocked my world a bit more than the average day, but at no point since have I thought for even one moment that it's worth letting the government listen to my phone conversations, or check up on which books I've taken out, or even check my bag going into the subway to ensure it doesn't happen again, let alone grant the incompetent fool in the White House the power to grab me off the street for any reason he deems justified, ship me off on a CIA-chartered jet to some country where torture is standard operating procedure, and strip away any means whatsoever I might have once had to contest such actions. But this is what our world has come to. And make no mistake, anyone who voted for Bush last time around is complicit in those exact situations.

I've confronted the people I know who did vote for Bush on these issues, and almost unanimously they offer the same defense: it's worth it to prevent another 9/11. In other words, they're cowards. More than that, they're not worthy of the freedoms countless Americans before them died to protect.

In case you can't tell, I'm positively sick of seeing fear in the eyes of my fellow citizens. Sick of hearing them make excuses ("Well, if you're not carrying a bomb, why not let them check your bag? Only the guilty have anything to worry about."). Sick of hearing them justify the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqis as OK because of some imagined threat to us or the insanely laughable lie that we're bringing them Democracy (yeah, like we're still the authorities on what that is).

Where did all this anger come from, you wonder? Partly it rose to the surface in response to the truly excellent
series on the "Dada" exhibition at the National Gallery that Tyler's been posting. From the first post, titled "Dada: Art about war":
"Dada" is a terrific exhibition about a terrible time. Just as important: It is a celebration of the power artists have to portray horrors, as well as a celebration of the voice they have in condemning the circumstances that produced those horrors. On view in Washington at a time when our nation is questioning the Bush administration's conduct before and during war in Iraq, it is a rare -- very rare -- instance of an exhibition at our National Gallery of Art bumping up against the news of the day.
And partly it's a response to this article about an artist arrested in London:

A woman who describes herself as an artist was arrested after a series of suspect packages sparked a security alert in west London, police in the British capital said today.

A number of suspicious items—apparently meant to be art installations—were left unattended at five locations in the busy Shepherd's Bush and Hammersmith areas just after 8:00 am local time.

As police closed a number of roads, prompting traffic chaos, and bomb disposal specialists were called in, a 36-year-old woman walked into a local police station.

"The woman, who is from the Shepherd's Bush area and who described herself as an artist, was then arrested on suspicion of causing a public nuisance and taken into custody where she remains whilst enquiries continue," police said.
Now, I'm not arguing that it's particularly clever of anyone to leave packages lying around in a city that's still reeling from a deadly terrorist attack, and I suspect the authorities are being as professional and level headed in their response as can be expected, but damn it, here's what the artist left at one location:
One in Shepherd's Bush consisted of three cardboard tubes supporting a polystyrene "altar" on which stood some flowers and a note lamenting the loss of a certain "Pelagius."

"Your absence has gone through us like thread through a needle. Everything we do is stitched with its color," the note read.
It's not even as transgressive as the piece here in New York, where an artist named Clinton Boisvert left boxes spray-painted black with the word "Fear" stenciled on them around the Union Square subway station (and again, I'm not arguing that the piece was brilliant, but it was essentially a valid critique). In that instance, as well, the police responded sensibily, not like some jack-booted thugs squashing the artist or throwing him in prison, so I'm not criticizing the city authorities here...I'm criticizing the national response that has led to the situation in which we're afraid of art. It's shameful.

Consider the massive response to the bombings in Madrid to see why. I'll let two pictures (one, two) tell the tale here.

This is how a people who treasure their freedom respond to terrorist attacks, by marching a million strong to say we will not cower. We will not live in fear. We will confront you en masse and let you know in no uncertain terms that these are our streets...our cities...our country. Boxes with "fear" on them left in Madrid that day would have been trampled into pulp by citizens marching together to demonstrate they were not afraid.

Yes, the world is a scary place. It freakin' always has been and forever will be. That's only tragic if you let it change your commitment to live freely despite the risks.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Chicago Chaos Clearing?

Every dealer or artist who's installed at an art fair has horror stories of the chaos it often entails. Recent fairs have had problems with flooding, power outages, and dangerous carbon monoxide levels to name but a few. But in the annals of art history, this year's Art Chicago, which was supposed to take place in a tent in Butler Field again, might just rank as the most chaotic set up of all. From the Tribune (see update here):

Art Chicago, the annual fine art exposition, appeared down for the count Tuesday, just two days before its scheduled opening night, but its manager insisted it had another round left in it.

Thomas Blackman, who has produced the show for the last 13 years, issued a statement at 8:45 p.m. Tuesday, after a day in which many of the 125 exhibitors expected at the fair were kept in the dark about time and location.

"Art Chicago will most definitely go on as planned this weekend," said Blackman. "Although we have had to change venues, my primary concern has been to keep my commitment to the city of Chicago and my exhibitors."

[...]

Early Tuesday, the first trucks rolled into Butler Field to set up booths and install art from galleries around the country and abroad. They found an open, deserted tent, with a dirt floor and no walls.

The first obvious sign of trouble came last week, when some unions represented at the site engaged in informational picketing.

[...]

Howard Tullman, president of Chicago's Kendall College and a contemporary art collector, said Blackman called him Friday, but the two didn't speak at length until Saturday. Tullman said that he was asked for a short-term loan of $250,000 and that Blackman offered art works he owned as collateral.

"I said I would look at it, but was it feasible?" Tullman said, given the work stoppage at Butler Field. He said that Blackman tried to resolve the labor problems but that "by Monday, it was too late."

[...]

"Had we been able to conclude something Monday morning, I could have gotten something built [at the pier] Thursday night," Lyman said.

That would have been welcome news to Gregory Martin, owner of a San Francisco art services company. He had driven three days in a truck full of art works from exhibiting galleries and arrived at Butler Field early Tuesday. He couldn't unload and began calling around to figure out what to do.

"If it's rescheduled, I could go visit relatives Downstate and come back," he said. "If not, I'll just turn around and go home."
I've heard a few horror stories behind the scenes (and have requests for more info out there, so I'll update as I learn more), with some folks already assuming they'll suffer a loss, but today the exhibitors finally got some good news. From an email sent by TBA:

Art Chicago 2006 is on!

Art Chicago in the Park announces a change in venue from Butler Field to the historic Chicago Merchandise Mart located at 350 N. Orleans, Chicago, IL 60654. With the generous assistance of the Merchandise Mart Properties, Art Chicago has been given the opportunity to mount its International Exposition of 104 dealers in one of its massive exhibition halls.

The fair was forced to relocate due to a series of related installation delays. Although we looked forward to returning to the Park, the time was too short for us to successfully mitigate the problems. We approached the Merchandise Mart recently as we were seeking alternative locations to Butler Field should these problems become intractable.

We are happy to offer our exhibitors this high-profile alternative location. Construction has already begun on the new floor plan and will mirror as closely as possible the configurations of the floor plan of the show in the Park.

We are holding a meeting with an update on the plans for Art Shippers, Installation and Opening Night. The meeting will take place at 12:00pm Wednesday, April 26th. The location is still being worked out so please call the office after 10:30 am at 312.226.4700 for final information.

We thank you for your patience and consideration at this time. We are doing everything in our power to make this situation as productive and seamless as possible.

Sincerely,
Thomas Blackman Associates, Inc.
Here's hoping now things will progress more smoothly and that the participating galleries will look back on this all chuckling as they count their sales totals.

Joe Fig @ Plus Ultra

Note: I spent my birthday installing this exhibition. I couldn't be more proud of Joe for the accomplishment this exhibition represents or more pleased with how his show looks.

Plus Ultra Gallery is very pleased to present the third solo exhibition of new work by gallery artist Joe Fig. Following Joe's solo exhibition at the Bass Museum in Miami Beach in 2005, this new body of work furthers his series of conceptual portraits of contemporary painters via exquisite miniature sculptures based on extensive research into their studio practice. In addition to a major new double-studio sculpture this exhibition includes 16 new sculptures of painting tables, which incorporate audio tracks from Joe's growing library of interviews with important contemporary painters.

The heart of the exhibition is Joe's largest sculpture to date, an exquisitely detailed miniature of the side-by-side Long Island studios of artist couple Eric Fischl and April Gornik. An architectural marvel in its own right, the structure includes two practically identical buildings connected by an elegant entrance and represents the second time Joe has realized a husband-wife sculpture (the first was Inka Essenhigh and Steve Mumford) highlighting one of the central themes of his exploration, the romance we associate with the artist in his/her studio. New to Joe's work is the integration of audio into his sculpture, filling the space with the voices of the artists, which enhances the intimacy of the viewing experience.

Also exhibited are 16 new sculptures that focus on the artists' painting tables. This on-going project includes portraits of the following New York area artists: Gregory Amenoff, Chuck Close, Will Cotton, Karin Davie, Eric Fischl, Barnaby Furnas, Bill Jensen, Ryan McGinness, Julie Mehretu, Philip Pearlstein, Matthew Ritchie, Alexis Rockman, Fred Tomaselli, Dana Schutz, Amy Sillman, and Joan Snyder. In contrast to Joe's full-studio sculptures, which include a figure of the artist, in these gem-like pieces, the unique set-up and elements of the painting table itself stands in as a process-related psychological portrait of the artist. Further, each piece is enclosed in a vitrine, referencing art historical artifacts, and each includes the audio of Joe's interview with that painter, forming an extraordinary document of the ideas and practices of a wide range of important contemporary artists.


Joe Fig
April 27 - May 27, 2006

Opening reception: Thursday, April 27, 6-8 pm

Plus Ultra Gallery
637 West 27th Street (Ground Floor)
New York, NY 10001
t: 212-643-3152
f: 121-643-2040

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Defining a "Drawing"

This issue comes up frequently in the gallery, but as of yet has not been resolved, so I'll toss it out there and see if some definitive answer emerges: what constitutes a "drawing"?

My first art world job was working for a secondary market gallery that specializes in works on paper, where I was taught that if it's unique and created through the application of some medium on or to paper (whether ink, graphite, paint, or collage or whatever), it's a "drawing."

Recently in the gallery, however, we discussed whether images made from oil paint on paper were "paintings" or "drawings." Again, I was taught to call them "drawings," but the artist called them "paintings" and I fully understand why. Still, MoMA seems to validate my previous boss's point of view (not sure really):

Drawings

One of the most comprehensive collections of twentieth-century drawings anywhere, MoMA's holdings bring together more than 6,000 works on
paper.
These include a historical range of drawings in pencil, ink, and
charcoal, as well as watercolors, gouaches, collages, and works in
mixed
mediums.

However, The Guardian offers a review of a "drawing" exhibition today that notes the issue is far from settled:

The selection pinpoints one or two prevailing trends, and makes some challenging assumptions about what a drawing might be. Matisse defined it as "putting a line around an idea", for example; while for Roger Ackling it meant scorching an imprint with the aid of a magnifying glass.
So would you help us please? What is a "drawing"? What's not a "drawing"? Can it even be defined, or do we simply let the artist tell us what the category is. And if so, who's going to tell the curators at MoMA?

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Year One

Today's the first anniversary of the launch of this blog. It's two days before my personal birthday, on which I'll be installing our next exhibition and lucky if I can sneak in a b-day cupcake, but on that day I'll be a never-you-mind number of years older than the blog, so I'd rather celebrate its b-day than mine anyway (beside, Bambino and a friend we'll call Ondine treated me to a wonderful escape recently so I'm good on that front).

Anyway, the blog has helped introduce me to some spectacularly talented and truly charming folks, and I'm continually impressed with the quality of the comments written here...they challenge me in ways I didn't know I could be challenged and I'm in your debt for your honest, thought-provoking and often very humorous contributions. So have some virtual cake on me...and thanks!

Friday, April 21, 2006

Let It Be Long

Holland Cotter has come to the rescue of artists over 31 years old everywhere! No sooner had we beat the drums here about collectors who only want work by infants, than the always admirable Mr. Cotter offers the following:

"Don't trust anyone over 30" was the street wisdom I grew up with.

I still find that excellent advice. But my faith in youthful inspiration has been tested recently; by art, of all things, or rather by the art world's fixation on barely-out-of-school talent.

Not that my interest in new art has in any way diminished. It hasn't. Still, these days I find my attention drawn to the not-so-new, to artists who are in midcareer and beyond, sometimes far beyond. Many such artists are in evidence in galleries and museums this month, and I'll mention a handful below, among them a posthumous hero, a poet-turned-artist, an octogenarian debutante. They have one thing in common: their work has developed over time and maintained its presence for a number of years. In a fast-food culture, as capricious in its erasures as in its rewards, that's the vote of confidence that counts.
I feel the need to issue the same caveat: My interest in new art is as intense as it ever was, but I do think that artists who have experience are undervalued in the current market, and that makes no sense to me at all. After reviewing a handful of current exhibitions by more experienced artists, Holland closes with this gem:
So wisdom comes with age after all. And what can it tell young artists ready to dash out of school? Don't just do something; sit there. Art takes time. Let your brilliant career have a middle, and a late period, and an end. Let it be long.
Indeed.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Public's Right to Own, Part II

My friends at Triple Candie are pushing the envelope again with regards to authorship and the public's right to own/view artwork, staging another exhibition about the art of an elusive artist, rather than of the art by said market-weary recluse. Last time around it was David Hammond, who has a coy-at-best relationship with the "art world." This time they're offering their take on the work of Cady Noland, not so much a recluse as a total refusnik, rejecting the art market outright and in no uncertain terms. And rather than simply offering images of Cady's work, this exhibition offers "approximations" made by four other arists, working from images:
They are approximations that have been handicapped by practical limitations (e.g. lack of money and technical expertise; insufficient information about scale, materials, or color; the obsolescence of certain ready-made components; and a limited time-frame). By deliberately falling short of its target, the exhibition is meant to incite the public's desire and curiosity to experience the real thing, which remains frustratingly elusive.
Triple Candie offer an intriguing rationale for the exhibition:
"Cady Noland Approximately" was conceived of conjointly with—and is meant to serve as a complement to—the exhibition "David Hammons: The Unauthorized Retrospective" that was presented at Triple Candie in February/March 2006. There are a number of important similarities between the two artists. Both are evasive figures whose art has been highly influential on younger artists. Both artists tightly control access to their work. Both have expressed dissatisfaction with the art world and have operated outside of it, on their own terms, albeit in different ways. The Hammons exhibition consisted of photocopies and computer printouts from existing reproductions; this exhibition consists of three-dimensional objects that are made from information gleaned from existing reproductions but which are not exact replicas. In comparing the two exhibitions, one question that arises is: "Which of the two compromised forms of replication is closer to the real thing?"
But as Brian Sholis points out, this approach leaves out a critical component of Noland's work and by doing so can't really hope to expose the viewer to an experience even remotely approximating the original. From Brian's blog:

Far be it from me to police what a gallery chooses to exhibit, but it seems to me that making an exhibition-of-photocopied-reproductions-as-homage in the spirit of one artist—an exhibition that leads even the Times to wonder if the artist is involved—is one thing. It is far different, and less malicious, than re-creating the artworks of an elusive artist, no matter how poorly and with how much transparency. As someone said last night at dinner, "This show cannot even begin to look like a Cady Noland show. Cady has very specific reasons for installing her objects the way she does; the relationships between them are of equal importance to the sculptures themselves. This cannot be re-created by others' hands." Hammons is enigmatic, and his relationship to exhibitions and the market can be seen, in some way, as part of his oeuvre; Noland's relationship with the art world is much closer to a categorical "no." In my mind, the differences between those stances outweigh the similarities described above.
However, that said, the value of these efforts for me is in the complexity of the questions they raise. As I've noted here before, one of the huge advantages of this age of pluralism in the visual arts is that it's providing a opportunity to really dig back into and flesh out the issues explored by the far-too-often prematurely assassinated movements of the 20th Century. The questions raised/answered about authorship by Post-Modernists were hardly exhaustive, and this exhibition most certainly illustrates that. Then again, I begin to wonder whether the issues can ever be exhausted and at what point we simply have to let the artwork do its job and speak for itself. [ok, so that was lame...let me try again] at what point we have moved too far away from what visual art can teach us and enter into what might be better off in written form.

Anything but dull, those Triple Candie kids.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Anatomy of a Cultural Sin

The following detailed provenance has applied to all 19 of the drawings by William Blake that are up for auction a week from this coming Tuesday.

PROVENANCE
Mrs. Robert Cromek;
Thomas Sivright, Edinburgh;
his sale, Edinburgh, C.B. Tait, February 1, 1836, and sixteen following lawful days, lot 1835, ‘Volume of Drawings by Blake, Illustrative of Blair’s Grave, entitled “Black Spirits and White, Blue Spirits and Grey”,’ for £1-5s-0d, possibly to John Stannard (1794-1882);
Henry Lawrence Stannard (1934-2001);
given to a relative in 1987;
Caladonia Books, Glasgow, 2001;
purchased from the above, Fine Books, Ikley and Bates & Hindmarsh, Leeds, by the present owner,
December 2002.
As noted in this earlier post, one piece from this series has already been separated from the group, but since 1836, these other 19 drawings have remained a set, travelling from safekeeper to safekeeper together. Come Tuesday, May 2, it's very unlikely they'll continue to do so. You may have to register to see these links (not sure...I'm registered), but the following 19 individual lots very likely represent the end of opportunity for convenient study of Blake's wonderous drawings together. The dollar amount after each represents the estimate for that individual lot:


1
WILLIAM BLAKE LONDON 1757 - 1827, INSCRIBED TITLE-PAGE DESIGN FOR 'THE GRAVE'(THE
SKELETON RE-ANIMATED)
180,000 - 260,000 USD

2
WILLIAM BLAKE LONDON 1757 - 1827,
THE MEETING OF A FAMILY IN HEAVEN(A FAMILY
MEETING IN HEAVEN)
280,000 - 360,000 USD

3
WILLIAM BLAKE LONDON 1757 - 1827, DEATH OF THE STRONG WICKED MAN(THE STRONG WICKED
MAN DYING)
1,000,000 - 1,500,000 USD

4
WILLIAM BLAKE LONDON 1757 - 1827, THE GRAVE PERSONIFIED
1,000,000 - 1,500,000 USD

5
WILLIAM BLAKE LONDON 1757 - 1827, WHILST SURFEITED UPON THY DAMASK CHEEK, THE
HIGH-FED WORM IN LAZY VOLUMES ROLL'D, RIOTS UNSCAR'D
700,000 - 1,000,000 USD

6
WILLIAM BLAKE LONDON 1757 - 1827, THE REUNION OF THE SOUL & THE BODY (THE
RE-UNION OF SOUL AND BODY)
900,000 - 1,200,000 USD

7
WILLIAM BLAKE LONDON 1757 - 1827,
THE SOUL HOVERING OVER THE BODY RELUCTANTLY
PARTING WITH LIFE(THE SOUL HOVERING OVER THE BODY)
700,000 - 1,000,000 USD

8
WILLIAM BLAKE LONDON 1757 - 1827, THE DESCENT OF MAN INTO THE VALE OF DEATH
700,000 - 1,000,000 USD

9
WILLIAM BLAKE LONDON 1757 - 1827,
THE DAY OF JUDGMENT(THE LAST JUDGMENT)
1,500,000 - 2,000,000 USD

10
WILLIAM BLAKE LONDON 1757 - 1827, DEATH'S DOOR
1,000,000 - 1,500,000 USD

11
WILLIAM BLAKE LONDON 1757 - 1827,
THE SOUL EXPLORING THE RECESSES OF THE GRAVE
700,000 - 1,000,000 USD

12
WILLIAM BLAKE LONDON 1757 - 1827, THE GAMBOLS OF GHOSTS ACCORDING WITH THEIR
AFFECTIONS PREVIOUS TO THE FINAL JUDGEMENT
700,000 - 1,000,000 USD

13
WILLIAM BLAKE LONDON 1757 - 1827,
THE COUNSELLER, KING, WARRIOR, MOTHER &
CHILD, IN THE TOMB(THE COUNSELLOR, KING, WARRIOR, MOTHER & CHILD)
700,000 - 1,000,000 USD

14
WILLIAM BLAKE LONDON 1757 - 1827, THE DEATH OF THE GOOD OLD MAN (THE GOOD OLD MAN
DYING)
550,000 - 700,000 USD

15
WILLIAM BLAKE LONDON 1757 - 1827, A FATHER AND TWO CHILDREN BESIDE AN OPEN GRAVE AT
NIGHT BY LANTERN LIGHT
350,000 - 550,000 USD

16
WILLIAM BLAKE LONDON 1757 - 1827, HEAVEN'S PORTALS WIDE EXPAND TO LET HIM IN
350,000 - 550,000 USD

17
WILLIAM BLAKE LONDON 1757 - 1827, OUR TIME IS FIX'D, AND ALL OUR DAYS ARE NUMBER'D
350,000 - 550,000 USD

18
WILLIAM BLAKE LONDON 1757 - 1827,
CHRIST DESCENDING INTO THE GRAVE(THE DESCENT OF
CHRIST INTO THE GRAVE)
350,000 - 550,000 USD

19
WILLIAM BLAKE LONDON 1757 - 1827,
'FRIENDSHIP'
180,000 - 260,000
USD
The "present owner" of all 19 is a group of investors headed by the London art dealer Libby Howie. Her motive in breaking up the set is simply to see as large a return on their investment as possible. That's fine for a bottom-line obsessed banker or stock broker, but for a supposed authority and protector of culture it's a sin.

Of course Howie and her co-conspirators won't object if someone buys all 19 drawings, so long as they do so one at a time, ensuring the maximum price is paid, knowing that the buyer would likely go well above the estimates on the last piece to ensure a complete purchase. And therein lies the truly gruesome cynicism of their plan.


But that outcome is not very probable. More likely the individual drawings will scatter, and this wonderous vision will be watered down by distance and the difficulties of gathering them for scholarship. Re-gathering them, I should say.

Should a potential buyer for the whole set emerge, anyone who purposely tries to purchase only one of these drawings should be very ashamed of themselves.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

More on Collaborating with Curators

I attended a thought-provoking panel discussion on curating last night in which I asked the panel about the meme that's seemingly gaining ground about a backlash against the "star curator" whose exhibitions are more about their own personal vision (read: their own "art") than the work of the artists they include to support that vision. Back several years ago when I was curating independently, I was aware of a growing resentment among artists against curators who were so in love with their own ideas/celebrity/mission that they'd undercut the vision of the artists they worked with in order to illustrate this or that point.

Then a few weeks ago,
Art Soldier pointed us to an interview by João Ribas' with Klaus Ottmann, who's curating the 6th Site Santa Fe Biennial (July 9, 2006 - January 7, 2007). Here's the relevant bit:

You’re curating Site Santa Fe without a curatorial theme. Why did you decide to keep the exhibition open and unmediated in that way?

I had concerns about doing another big, theme-driven group show because there have been so many. With all of these exhibitions—and I’ve done a number of them myself—they really end up being more about the curator and his ideas than about the art. I wanted to try to create an environment where the art can speak for itself as much as possible—where I would be more in the background. I’m still the curator, of course, but I thought that if you have the works without a theme, there’s less filtering going on and there’s more of a chance for the viewer to see the works on their own terms.
When I raised a question about this to the panel of 6 curators, I asked the sole independent curator on the panel to address it specifically (the others worked for institutions), and was pleasantly surprised at the acknowledgement of the need to be aware of the potential for such problems when curating by all of them, but the independent curator cut through the issue and noted, rightly I think, that if a high-profile exhibition falls flat on its face, that curator will likely never get another gig like that again. Meaning, that there's a lot at stake for curators in such positions. Moreover, the independent curator noted that big biennials and such choose specific curators because they're looking for a particular type of exhibition. You know the "something" you'll get if you hire so-and-so, and sometimes that "something" is exactly what your exhibition needs.

So I left a little less sure of the critique (i.e., that exhibitions that seem more about the curator than the artists are in and of themselves bad) than I had been before. One curator later acknowledged that many younger artists are so grateful to be included in a high-profile exibition that they'll suck it up if the installation undercuts their work somehow, but that essentially no one forces an artist to participate in an exhibition, so artists can control this. Easier said than done, I know, but incrementally, I think artists can redefine the expecations to ensure their work is shown in its best light, even if the curator's vision takes priority in the installation.

Like I say again and again, it's critical that artists choose their gallery based on that being a good fit for them. The same applies to curated exhibitions. If you're approached about an exhibition, do a bit of research on the curator. Moreover, discuss early and earnestly what your expectations/requirements with regards to the exhibition/installation are (you won't get everything every time, but you're better off knowing that sooner rather than later). When I curated independently, the artists who got their requirements in early more often than not got what they needed...and those who didn't concern themselves with such matters until late in the process were often left with fewer options.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Artist of the Week (04/17/06)

As a gallerist, there are times when you know immediately you want to exhibit something. The idea of how great that work will look in your space is overwhelming and instant. It's happened to me a few times now, but one of the the first was the day I walked into the studio of Brooklyn artist JoAnne Carson. Plus Ultra was a very small space at the time (yes, smaller than it is now, you sizists), but I knew it was the perfect exhibition space for "Bouquet," JoAnne's wonderful, giant sculpture of flowers, imagined and real, combined in one fantastic bush. Roberta Smith described the way it looked in our space this way:

The squarish space at Plus Ultra is small, even by Williamsburg standards, but it is the perfect setting for JoAnne Carson's ''Bouquet,'' which resembles a rose tree infested by several other species of plant, or a giant dyed-flower corsage in a roomy box. All the blooms are big, made of pale turquoise fabric, and most seem anatomically correct right down to the leaves and stamen. Even the most botanicallychallenged will recognize day lilies, morning glories, sunflowers and cherry blossoms.

But several are completely fictitious, like the large daisy with an eye of lilacs; and a few display mildly sinister malformations. The work's unapologetic decorativeness recalls the late 1970's work of artists like Robert Kushner and Ree Morton. Its fragility and distorted scale give it the giddy beauty of glass flowers or some of Cy Twombly's more attenuated sculptures.

Perhaps a result of grafting run amok or gardening with steroids, perhaps a comment on genetic engineering, ''Bouquet'' might also be a metaphor for social tolerance and coexistence: it takes all kinds

I've scoured my files for a good installation shot in the old space, but can't find one. Here's one of the entire piece in JoAnne's studio though: JoAnne Carson, Bouqet, 2001, aqua resin, thermaplastic, 105" x 84" (image from Albany SUNY Art Department website)

JoAnne's sculptures and drawings seem both fantastic and sinister at the same time. Part of this sensation is due to their scale---the blooms and otherwise delightful objects dwarfing the viewer's own head--but part of it is JoAnne's observation about a particularly curious paradox, described this way on the website for Claire Oliver's gallery (where JoAnne has a two-person exhibition opening this Thursday):

JoAnne Carson’s works reflect society’s propensity to believe concurrently in scientific fact and metaphysical alchemy. In a world where it is possible to make plastic from corn, and human proteins have been produced in genetically modified rubber plants, what is “real” transcends the fantastic in sheer implausibility.

Although seemingly rooted in reality and organic growth, Carson’s floral creations—made from aqua resin, thermoplastic and fiberglass—rise up to nine feet in height and threaten to walk the earth on Tim Burton-esque animal legs. When studied by the critical observer, the flowers themselves have something slightly unnerving about them, the veins of the large, flesh-like flowers protrude instead of recede, as do those of an animal.
Here's an image of the major piece in that upcoming exhibition: JoAnne Carson, Puppet's Revenge, Thermoplastic, fiberglass, metal leaf, paint, 106" x 85" x 85" (image from Claire Oliver Gallery website)

and a detail of the same piece:

As an artist and teacher, JoAnne is an incredibly generous person. I've become friends with her and her husband, the superb painter Jim Butler, and am continuously impressed with how thoughtful and giving they both are. To enter JoAnne's studio, though, is to have a whole series of paradoxes swirl you into a state of wonder. No object or material is exactly how it appears, and that extends to the artist herself, whose outwardly gentle and calm appearance reveals nothing of the blow-torch welding, pipe-bending, master craftswoman who continuously shocks the staff at the hardware stores where she buys her art supplies, including one man who had alarmingly questioned which pipe in her home she wanted to cut through when she once sought certain tools. Here's one of JoAnne's sculptures I had seen up-close in her studio but which my eyes still can't believe isn't made from wood: JoAnne Carson, Wood Nymph, Fiberglass, resin, cloth, plaster, oil paint, 108" x 96" x 34" (from the Claire Oliver Gallery website)

JoAnne's more recent sculptures seem even more Tim Burton or Willy Wonka-esque in their whimsy and brilliant palettes. Here's another: JoAnne Carson, Sprout, Thermoplastic, fiberglass, rayon flock, 58" x 42" x 35" (image from the Claire Oliver Gallery
website)

here's a detail of the same piece.


Don't miss her upcoming show. This work is even more delightful in person.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Oh, Lame Saint!

Congrats...you've done it! You've solved the anagrams, and even pointed out the embarrassing fact that #4 was screwed up. Here, for the record, are the solutions:

1. A Nice Rug = Guernica, by Pablo Picasso
2. We Sell Art, II =
Water Lilies, by Claude Monet
3. A Term in Chicago =
American Gothic, by Grant Wood
4. Garry's in Tenth* = well, it doesn't equal anything really, as I left out an H and a T (not one of my least imbecilic moments)...it was meant to be
The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh
5. I'm a Horny Nerd =
Harmony in Red, by Henri Matisse (painting also known as "La Desserte" and "The Red Room")

And the Bonus: I Hate Stalin = The Italians, by Cy Twombly
Kudos to Henry and Eleventh Hour and Gary for getting the last two, tougher, ones. Thanks to everyone for playing.

Here's one more for the road. It makes no sense, but I made it without the Anagram Servant, so try to solve it without. Again, it's a famous painting (and I checked it twice).

Super Bonus: Teaching a brittle son to stomp for a mule

Thursday, April 13, 2006

O, Draconian Devil!

OK, so I saw the trailer for The DaVinci Code, a book I had no intention of reading until I realized how much of it is actually about art (yes, you'd think I'd get that from the title, but I never was the brightest bulb in the chandelier). So now, I'm racing through it before the film opens and was charmed that the one character had a hobby of making anagrams out of the titles of famous works of art. Charmed and challenged. So I came up with a few of my own.

The following are all titles of famous paintings by artists who are no longer with us, except for the bonus one, which is by a contemporary artist. There's no prize for getting them right other than the satisfaction of knowing you probably solved them about a billion times faster than it took me to make them:

Unscramble the following and/or provide your own:
1. A Nice Rug
2. We Sell Art, II
3. A Term in Chicago
4. Garry's in Tenth*
5. I'm a Horny Nerd

Bonus: I Hate Stalin


*see comments...messed that one up.

short break

can't blog today, I'm afraid...tied up with really boring stuff all day...

stumbled upon this funny and poignant and very popcorn-esque site: Last Words of Real People

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Bunny Suicides

Just stumbled upon this. Yes, it's dumb, dumb, dumb, but too damn funny not to share:

Bunny Suicides.

What Is an "Emerging Artist"?

I was talking with some other contemporary dealers and an art consultant yesterday when I was happy to learn that they shared my annoyance with collectors whose first question about an artist is "how old is he/she"? We all found ourselves continuously surprised at the importance placed on that bit of data and at the disappointment we've encountered when an artist wasn't considered young enough. One dealer suggested the cut-off was 31 years old (meaning anyone older than that was sure to disappoint this type of collector). I felt my heart just sink at that, but mostly because I feared she was right.

Now mind you, all of us there represented organizations that proudly promote "emerging artists" so our conversation turned to what exactly makes an artist "emerging" versus, I guess, established or some other nebulous measure. In the end, I'm not sure we came up with a satisfactory answer, so I'll turn to you. I know that's not entirely fair (i.e., if dealers representing "emerging" artists can't define what the term means, why should anyone else be expected to), but who said life is fair, eh?

What is an "emerging artist"? Is it solely a matter of age? Exhibition experience? Name recognition? Can someone in their seventies be an emerging artist? Or is it time to take that term out behind the barn and shoot it?

Monday, April 10, 2006

Artist of the Week (04/10/06)

I first visited James Esber's studio back in 1999, I believe. His large representational works made from plasticine on canvas (seemlessly incorporated into the wall) were astounding, but his exploration (which Ken Johnson described as "plumb[ing] the polymorphously perverse depths of the American psyche') stood in stark contrast to the genial, understated gentleman I met that day. Over the years I became friends with James and his wife (the equally talented artist, Jane Fine) and although his work has evolved somewhat since that first introduction (and I included one of his particularly tantilizing pieces in a group exhibition about sleaze culture), James remains to my mind the sort of decent upstanding person you'd be happy to have manage your retirement funds.

But then again, James' work deals with dichotomy in blunt and brilliant terms. Consider this piece:


James Esber, Toledo Bend, 2003, Plasticine on canvas, 104" x 58" (image from
PPOW website).

The press release for James' 2003 exhibition at PPOW gallery, described his work this way:

With each piece Esber creates figurative hybrids, chimeras that combine the innocent with the naughty, the sublime with the beautiful. The cartoonish painterly style of Guston, for instance, is rendered in a highly original three dimensionality. The figures he paints are hyper-biological, even more so for being pushed up against totaled automobiles with hoods agape and motors out: cars disemboweled. In Esber’s work the tactility of the image creates a distortion effect; the plasticity of the image makes it pop into life.

Sometimes the hybrids become quite complex as well. Here's another image from that exhibition:


James Esber, Thimbleton, 2003, Acrylic on styrene, 100" x 69" (image from PPOW website).

And one more:

James Esber, Yankee Boulevard, 2003, Acrylic on styrene, 84" x 72" (image from PPOW website).

There's an obvious affinity with Peter Saul's work in these pieces, and in fact Robert Storr included both Peter and James in his curation of Site Sante Fe (2004-2005), which was appropriately titled "Disparities and Deformations." Here's an installation shot of James' work at that exhibition:


James Esber, Bouquet, 2004, Plasticine, 106" x 75" (installation view; image from Site Sante Fe website).

We say this on this blog all the time, but in this case it's never been more true, you really have to see James' work in person to say you saw it. And if you haven't, you're in luck, because James has an exhibition opening this Friday at Pierogi in Brooklyn. I'll end with two of my favorite pieces by James:


James Esber, Double Dick, 2004, Plasticine, 2 panels, 49" x 25" each (image from Carl Solway Gallery website)


James Esber, Hummel Boy/Muscle Man, 2002, Plasticine, 40" x 40" (image from PPOW website).

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Sunday Short: I Wanna Draw Like Mike, II

It's the first nice day we've had in NYC for a while, so I've got to get outside, but I wanted to point you to this interesting essay by Karl Zisper on the Michaelangelo drawing exhibition we dicussed a while back here. This link is to a summary of the essay, but you can see the whole thing here. Karl did the work the Museum didn't apparently want to make easy, and came up with a short list of the most 8 likley non-Mike drawings in the show:

  1. A seated male nude twisting around 10%
  2. Last Judgment: A flying angel and other studies 15%
  3. Three figures in adoration 75%
  4. Two figures leaning forward 75%
  5. Head of a man in profile 75%
  6. Sketch for a battle-scene 75%
  7. Study for the drapery of the 'Erythraean Sibyl' 75%
  8. Christ at the column 75%
None of Karl's top eight were among the five I posted for your consideration, though, and it's not easy to match up the ones I posted with his master list, but the essay is a fascinating read all the same.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Who Spiked My Seltzer?

Shhhh...my cerebral cortex is throbbing....

Just a quick, hazy shout out to all the brave folks who trudged their way across the jungle of West, west, Chelsea last night. Bambino and I had a really excellent time hanging with you all. AFC has the quasi-Entertainment Tonight-esque round up (I might just disagree with her assessment of everyone except João though, ...I'll know for sure when the Motrin kicks in). Paddy doesn't seem to have met the folks behind a half dozen other excellent art blogs, mind you, but who can blame her? I'm still not sure who that one guy was....

A-n-y-w-a-y, in no particular order (and I really hope I'm not unduly outing anyone here...or forgetting anyone), thanks to Tyler at
MAN, João at Notes and Queries, Todd at From the Floor, Todd at Gallery Hopper, Felix and Michelle, MTAA/MTAA-RR, Andrea "Sloth" of Log World and Adam, James and Barry, Dennis and Ken , Mike at MAO and Mike and Eric at We Like Sheep, Dan and Patrick, Brent at Heart as Arena, Chris at NYC Art, Tom, and of course, the lovely Paddy at Art Fag City.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

The Digital Dialog (or The Real Impact of the Internet on Artistic Practice)

An interesting notion was repeated by a few artists in yesterday's thread on the increasing difficulty of being a struggling artist in New York City. Essentially several folks noted that the Internet has made it less important to be here with regards to keeping up-to-date and predict it will continue to facilitate the decentralization of the art world. I'll quote paul to sum up the sentiment:
The Internet is why I don't live in NY. Most of the artists I'm most interested in live in NY, but I already know most of them because of the WWW. We collaborate and discuss ideas on blogs and through email. They bring me there for shows, and I bring them here for shows. I miss out on some things, but it's balanced out by the lower cost of living here which gives me a lot more time and space to work.
Now, I love, love, love the Internet and blogs and email (and I think I have a crush on jpegs in general), but I'm not entirely convinced by this argument for some reason. It may simply be a stubborn refusal to accept that all the work I've done and the sacrifices I've made to be part of the scene here are becoming increasingly in vain, but there's something else that seems perhaps missing in that assessment. I can't quite put my finger on it, though, so I'll ask: How has the Internet changed your involvement in the art world and particularly your participation in "the dialog", if at all? I'm hoping to get specifics, like "the Internet got me into that great exhibition" or "my work looks so different online, it hasn't helped at all." But more importantly, do the sort of "virtual studio visits" one can have online with other artists impact your thinking and work in the same way in-person studio visits can? Do they impact them in other, better ways?

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Propping up Persepolis?

UPDATE: Be sure not to miss the always insightful João Ribas's article on how tough it's getting to be a struggling artist in NYC on artinfo.com. Money quote, as it relates to the Times article cited below:
And although creative workers contribute significantly to the city's economy—$14.5 billion in 2000, according to the Freelancer's Union report, plus untold intangible value—the city is doing little to directly address the problem: Of the $131 million the city plans to spend on cultural programs, according to study, almost all of the money is earmarked for institutions, rather than direct support for artists.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
There's a legend you'll hear whispered if you listen carefully in darkened alleyways or musty private corridors about a time when New York City was not the undisputed cultural capital of the world. Blasphemous mumblings about supposed predecessors with ancient names like "Paris" or, if I recall correctly, "London" and "Berlin." And if you dare push even further down such corridors past the heavy wooden doors with the rusty hinges into the place they call the "vault," you might just hear the highly improbable tales about places called "Persepolis" or "Constantinople" or "Rome" or, what was it? oh, yes, "Athens" (right, like that's a real name). Not that I lend any credence to such nonsense, mind you. I'm merely reporting what I've heard.

Still, I couldn't help but wonder if perhaps the lengend was true when I read the Times today:



Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced yesterday that the city would create a new office to "aggressively pitch New York City around the world as the nation's art and cultural capital" by helping nonprofit organizations, especially those in the arts, cope with the high costs that threaten their survival.

"We won't and can't be complacent," Mr. Bloomberg said, adding that he was determined not to cede New York's status as a world cultural center. "In the creative sector, as in so many other areas, at one time New York City didn't have to compete with other cities," he said at a conference at the Museum of Modern Art that brought together 220 officials, artists, business people and academics. "Now we do. Other cities are quickly learning the benefits of being a creative hub."
OK, so by now you're probably thinking, "yeah, so...what's with all the sarcasm at the beginning? Surely, you Ed, if anyone, would support the idea that New York stay culturally competetive."

You'd think so, yes. But reading further you come across a number of remarkably self-centered ideas by community leaders about how best to manage this, including this gem:



Terry J. Lundgren, the chief executive of Federated Department Stores, which owns Macy's, said that because once-bohemian neighborhoods were no longer affordable, "what is vital is to make sure that our transportation system is effective," so creative workers who have been priced out of Manhattan can still reach their jobs and even form new communities of artistic ferment.
Notice, he hasn't argued that so-called creative workers be given rent subsidies or somehow better wages so they can thrive in Manhattan. No, Mr. Lundgren's solution to astronomical real estate prices is to find better ways to transport artists in and out of the city, where he works.

On one hand that seems a rational objective, but once you begin to really think about it, the question you have to answer is "transport how far?" From Flushing? From Jersey? From Pennsylvania? Where does Mr. Lundgren and the other consumers of culture, who I've heard moan and groan for years about making their way out to the relatively very close community of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, expect this new Bohemia to spring up exactly? (Yes, there's a part of me that resents having had to cross the river to survive.) Have they seen what's happening to rents in the Bronx and Astoria and elsewhere? And why do they assume that once it does spring up that the creative workers will still wish commute in to where it's easy for them and their friends to hang out? The article goes on:


James Schamus, a co-president of Focus Features and a producer of the film "Brokeback Mountain," said that since 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq, the tighter restrictions on entering the United States have made New York seem less hospitable to international artists. Widely reported abuses of American-held prisoners at the Guantánamo Bay military prison in Cuba and elsewhere have also taken their toll, he said. "Water-boarding your potential clients is really not good for the culture," he said, referring to a form of torture, and he received scattered if nervous applause.

Mr. Diller seemed swayed by some of those arguments. "We're certainly not an inviting place that greets people with a big happy smile to come into the melting pot," he said.
Indeed. Yesterday internationally renowned cellist, Yo-Yo Ma, testified before Congress about how increasingly difficult it has become for non-American artists to even enter the country:


Mr. Ma said barriers to foreign musicians "have become extraordinarily high." He cited the case of two Iranian musicians, Siamak Aghaei and Siamak Jahangiri, who have visited the United States eight times with the Silk Road Project since 2000 and must still wait months before receiving visas. They have to fly to Dubai for a consular interview and then fly back to pick up the visa. In the last year, Mr. Ma said, they went a third time because the visa printer was out of order. The latest procedure lasted three months and cost $5,000.
The bottom line is the conditions that first led to New York becoming the arts capital it did have changed. Even when I arrived, 12 years ago, it was remarkably easier for a young artist, from wherever they hailed, to find a small studio in the city and begin to change art history. Today, if they're lucky enough to legally live here, they're very unlikely to find studio space anywhere convenient. The business leaders may understand the importance of culture to the vitality of the city, but they seem to not get that artificially propping it up isn't conducive to the environment in which great art flourishes. By all indications, it's inevitable that some other city with that magic combination of location, cheap rents, liberal values, and laissez-faire attitudes will call to the world's best artists, and as has happened again and again throughout history, the world will beat a path to their doorstep.

In other words, it's about the art and what makes its creation possible. If New York has evolved into a place where that's no longer possible, New York will lose its number 1 standing. No city adminstration that's catering to the concerns and convenience of business leaders will change that either. Bohemia happens where it will. It's not something you can cook up by committee. Not and expect to get art of any value out of it anyway. I will be sorry to see some other city knock New York off its perch if it comes to that, but I'd be sorrier to see the Disneyfication of the New York art scene, and that's what this effort will surely lead to the way it's being conceived.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

"Crash" Talk Open Thread

So two collectors of ours who always have interesting insight into the art market came in over the weekend and noted that they were surprised I hadn't yet blogged about Marc Spiegler's provocative New York Magazine article on the supposedly inevitable crash of the market (actually only the title seems to imply a "crash" is inevitable, but...). The truth of the matter is most of the articles I've read and many of the blog comments I've seen have hinged on an illogical dichotomy of extremes in my opinion, and I've been waiting for the dust to clear, thinking someone would eventually start offering analysis that matched what I see in the gallery. Also, as much as I love to participate in talks about the art market, I'm actually somewhat clueless about the finer points of the stock market and other bellwethers, so I tend to listen a lot before jumping in.

So fortunately, these collectors and I spent some time hashing out our thoughts on the subject, which helped me identify the source of my hesitancy to weigh in on the debate. In short, IMO, despite the chicken little chatter prevalent across the art press, the alternative to the market continuing to rise indefinitely (which no thinking person assumes can happen) is not limited to a devastating "crash." There are many other possible futures. Spiegler stated as much in his article, but, again, that alarmist headline overshadowed his balanced take.

Then I found the very informative overview of the issues at hand by George of
FutureModern. George gently walks his readers through the vocabulary (crash, contraction, froth, topping phase, etc.), outlines the "crucial factors affecting recent art pricing," and explains the warning signs that some downward turn are coming, including, froth, auction psychology shifts and a stock market decline (or bear market). It's a great read you shouldn't miss.

Finally, yesterday,
artinfo.com reported on a lecture Tobias Meyer gave where he offered a very optimistic prediction:

Meyer said the boom can be attributed to “a small supply and an enormous demand” for contemporary art. The supply/demand imbalance is such that “I hardly know what things are worth. It has nothing to do with the market anymore. It just depends how much a collector wants it,” Meyer said.

The heightened demand is coming from a new generation of young collectors “who have made their money by intelligence," said Meyer. "They’re not interested in living a pseudo-aristocratic lifestyle. They want to be part of a living culture.” Big money is also coming from new collectors in Russia, China and India, all of whom love their Warhols, and some of whom will pay anything to get one. Meyer called these “the ‘I-don’t-care collectors.’”

“I think it hasn’t even started yet,” Meyer said of the boom, looking happily bewildered.


Of course, Meyer's argument is virtually verbatim what Spiegler suggests we'll hear from those invested in sustaining the frenzy for as long as possible:

Because if art itself is built on the image, the idea, and the object, the art business hinges on words—the spoken and written seductions that persuade buyers to pay ever-higher sums.
What emerges, the more you read, is the clear sense that no one really knows when the art market may cool or crash or may just soar even more, and the smart people are prepared for either to happen. What's perhaps most important for anyone looking for a healthy long-termed relationship with contemporary art (as either collector or artist or consultant or whatever) is to align yourself with the folks who are in it for the long haul...folks who will weather any coming bear-market-storms because it's in their blood. Indeed, Marc relates one anecdote that serves as both comic relief and cautionary tale:
Even [Marc] Glimcher [president of PaceWildenstein gallery], a seller in this seller’s market, is a little tired of [the seller’s market]. “In the VIP room at Art Basel last summer, I overheard these young dealers, people who had booths in the fair, talking about what they’d do when the market crashed—Hollywood producer, agent, etc.,” Glimcher recalls, his voice a mix of outrage and amusement. “I turned around and said, ‘Good riddance. Get out now!’ ”
So essentially, I combine all this and to me it seems to form a license to put my nose to the grind stone and simply do what it is I love to do as well as I can do it...being essentially prepared for the worst but ready for ever better things to happen.

The thread is open...

UPDATE: Marc Spiegler, who I've met before, was kind enough to email me about this post and upon reading his response I realize I mischaracterized what I had hoped to convey about his article. My only issue with it at all (overall I thought it was excellent) was the title, which I know journalists rarely write themselves and should have emphasized above. Marc also questioned my admittedly glib line about the "the chicken little chatter prevalent across the art press":

About "the chicken little chatter prevalent across the art press": Generally speaking, I think actually there's very upbeat coverage of the market. Pessimistic pieces are handily outpaced by those filled with frothy positivist chatter from dealers and auctioneers, all of whom are vested in a strong market's persistence. Look at all the Chinese Contemporary art-market Eldorado stories lately, for example, with rare mention of the rampant speculation and frequently cowboy behavior of the scene's artists and collectors.
I told him I should have clarified that as well. To me the "art press" is increasingly predominantly blogs, and many blogs by artists, who are perhaps at the forefront of discussing more openly the good that could come from a "crash" (i.e., a new-found emphasis on less commercial work). I would agree that the printed art press remains predominantly upbeat. ("Thank God!!" says the dealer who just moved to Chelsea.)

Ask Not What Your Country Can Do for You: An Anyone Could Do That Open Thread

And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country.

---Inaugural Address by President John F. Kennedy - January 20th 1961


JT Kirkland, who was kind enough to stop into the gallery while visting New York last weekend, asked in the thread about Tara Donovan:

Can we get a post dedicated to the "anyone could do that" sentiment towards art? That is about the most asinine statement around in terms of art. I would love to see the work that these (presumably) artists make and is impossible for anyone else to recreate. To a degree anyone can make any piece of art if they dedicate the time to learning the craft. We might not all be able to get Artist ABC's work exactly right, but it would be close enough.

So my question is this... who is making work today that no one could recreate? And does that necessarily mean it's any good?

Whenever I hear anyone offer the "anyone could do that" critique about a work of art, I begin to quote JFK in response.

"Ask not what your country can do for you," I'll say. They'll usually respond with a monosyllabic grunt of inquiry, like "Huh?"

I'll continue, "Who said, 'Ask not what your country can do for you?'" And usually (unless they're uncommonly dim) they'll say "JFK."

"Well, perhaps once," I'll push on. "But I just said it...me...me...me! I said 'Ask not what your country can do for you.' ME!!! Those were my words."

"Yes, but JFK said them first," they'll answer.

"Ahhh.... Yes," I'll condescend. "Indeed...and he's credited with them, even though there's nothing on earth that prevents me or you or the man down the street from uttering them now. Again and again if we like, but that would never fool anyone because they will know that JFK said them first."

Sometimes I'll see a light bulb go off over their heads and sometimes I'm met with a blank stare.

"Those eight words are nothing special in and of themselves," I'll continue, regardless of their response (loving to hear myself talk, as I do). "Any beggar can speak them. But for you and I and millions around the world they have special meaning because of who said them first and what he meant when he said them...what the context was...what it was about our world that those words changed."

By this time, if they're not getting it, I'll generally pat them on the head and suggest we go drink instead.

But that's just me...

Now there's a subtle point within JT's prose that I don't quite agree with (I'm not sure any work is recreatable, per se), but I do appreciate his point that it's silly to assert that some work is more valuable than others because of the degree of supposed "craft" that went into them. Academies' warehouses are filled with soulless, but supposedly well-executed work. It's a useless criteria on its own. But I suspect there's a lot more to this issue than that...as even as I type I see others responding to that thread...

Consider this an open thread on Anyone Could Do That

Monday, April 03, 2006

Artist of the Week (04/03/06)

As noted previously, I generally reserve the Artist of the Week column for folks who are perhaps under-recognized, but occassionally I'll see an exhibition that so impresses me I wish to research more about that artist and, well, this weekend that artist was Tara Donovan. As I noted the last time I featured a better known artist, I'll also offer a bit more of a critique than I normally do as well.

Virtually everyone who's seen her current exhibition at Pace Wildenstein on 22nd Street has raved, and so I took a little time off on Saturday and went over myself. Donovan's new installation is immediately mesmerizing. Part of this is due to its scale, and part is due to its rhythm. Here's an installation shot that gives you a sense of its scale:


Tara Donovan, Untitled (Plastic Cups), 2006, plastic cups installation dimensions variable, approximately: 4' x 54' 5" x 49' 8" (image from
PaceWildenstein website).

I'm not sure you can appreciate its rhythm without seeing it in person. It's up until April 22. Don't miss it.

As
Ken Johnson noted in his review in the Times, the untitled piece is made of 3 million plastic cups. He also noted what I consider the work's central weakness (if I might be so bold as to suggest it has one):

People who have never seen one of Ms. Donovan's installations are in for a treat. If you have seen other examples, like the luminous and seemingly undulating wall of stacked drinking straws that she created at Ace Gallery three years ago, then you lose out on some of the surprise factor. Nevertheless, the leap from the mundane to the miraculous in her current show remains visually and poetically exhilarating.
There was a point when I stopped focussing on the scale and rhythm of the installation and began to focus on the individual cups and after that point, I never quite felt the same magic I initially did, but that only made me more curious about her other works (most of which I've only seen in photos). Do works that turn on the very difficult and impressive task of making us see things we take for granted in a new light then suffer from our then absorbing this new awareness into our general sense of their common-place-ness? I don't know. However, the exhibition Tara had at the Ace Gallery in Los Angeles in 2005 gathered a wonderful assortment of her large scale installations and provides an online opportunity to consider this question. (Mind you, I don't do this to try and take anything away from Tara or her work, which I find exhilarating, it's simply an honest question I've not been able to get out of my head since I saw the installation.)

Here are some of the pieces in that exhibition (I'll show a full and detail view for each):


Tara Donovan, Untitled, 2003, paper plates, glue, dimensions variable. All images below from Ace Gallery website.


Tara Donovan, Untitled, 2003, paper plates, glue, dimensions variable (detail).

Here's another:


Tara Donovan, Colony, 2002, Pencils, Glue , 3 1/2"(H) x 9'(W) x 9'(D)


Tara Donovan, Colony, 2002, Pencils, Glue , 3 1/2"(H) x 9'(W) x 9'(D) (detail)


And perhaps her best loved installation (at least here in New York, where this installation shot is from [Ace's old New York Space on Varick], actually, and of which I'll include two details):


Tara Donovan, Haze, 2003, Stacked Clear Plastic Drinking Straws 12'7 1/2"(H) x 42' 2"(W) x 7 3/4"(D)


Tara Donovan, Haze, 2003, Stacked Clear Plastic Drinking Straws 12'7 1/2"(H) x 42' 2"(W) x 7 3/4"(D) (side view)


Tara Donovan, Haze, 2003, Stacked Clear Plastic Drinking Straws 12'7 1/2"(H) x 42' 2"(W) x 7 3/4"(D) (detail)

For me at least, despite how amazing these installations are, I'm a bit more amazed by Donovan's cubes, for which she relies on tension and gravity (i.e., not glue, as she has some installations) to keep them together. The mind-numbing obsession these require is staggering, for example:


Tara Donovan, Toothpicks, 2001, Toothpicks Held Together by Friction & Gravity Only, 35"(H) x 35"(W) x 35"(D)


Tara Donovan, Toothpicks, 2001, Toothpicks Held Together by Friction & Gravity Only, 35"(H) x 35"(W) x 35"(D) (detail)

But even as I question the longevity of some of these works, something that strikes me as almost cruel given how wonderous they are initially, looking at the installation shots of her untitled 2003 ceiling installation of styrofoam cups and seeing how breathtakingly beautiful it is (see below) suggests I'm nitpicking. Work that can do what this installation does requires no defense. Just see it and let your jaw drop.


Tara Donovan, Untitled, 2003, Styrofoam Cups, Hot Glue Dimensions Variable