Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Who's Your Daddy Now? (or, How Provincial is Influence?)

Things have gotten a bit too serious around here, so, given how lovely it is outside and all, I've decided to lighten up and (picking up on this older post here) to muse on this hardly controversial article from The Art Newspaper in which UK art students voted Marcel Duchamp their most influential artist:

Marcel Duchamp has emerged as the most influential artist in the UK. The French conceptualist who famously placed a urinal in a New York gallery in 1917 and declared “this is art”, has come top of our survey of students from 11 of the leading art schools in the UK. We spoke to over 320 students and asked them which three artists, living or dead, had inspired them most and have had the greatest influence on their work. Using their responses we compiled a ranking of the artists who have had the most impact on the next generation of British practitioners (right). Duchamp is followed by other 20th-century giants Picasso, Bacon, and Matisse.

The British painter Lucian Freud, 83, who comes fifth, is the highest ranking living artist. The only other living artists to make it into the top ten are Tracey Emin, 42, in joint eighth place with Salvador Dalí (her contemporary, Damien Hirst, comes in at number 19), and Bruce Nauman, 64, at number nine, whose work is currently on show at Tate Liverpool (until 28 August).
Bacon and Freud? sure Constable didn't make the top 10? I mean, come on. In this global art market, influence is surely not still that provincial, is it? Looking at the top 20 (you can see more at the link), I'd say you could make a strong argument it still is (British artists in Red):

1 Marcel Duchamp
2 Pablo Picasso
3 Francis Bacon
4 Henri Matisse
5 Lucian Freud
6 Philip Guston
7 Egon Schiele
8= Salvador Dalí
Tracey Emin
9= Joseph Beuys
Bruce Nauman
10 Gustav Klimt
11 Alberto Giacometti
12 Andy Warhol
13 Paula Rego
14=Jenny Saville
Luc Tuymans
15=Martin Creed
16=Louise Bourgeois
David Hockney
17= Andy Goldsworthy
Claude Monet
Vincent Van Gogh
18= Frida Kahlo
Gerhard Richter
19= Jean-Michel Basquiat
Damien Hirst
Piet Mondrian
Charles Rennie Mackintosh
20= Eva Hesse
Mike Kelley
David Shrigley
Tracy Emin above Andy Warhol? I know British beer is supposedly stronger than US beer, but how much do you have to drink of it to see things that wobbly?

So my question: Is there something inherently more influential about artists from one's own part of the world? An inescapable influence? It makes sense that there would be, at least before the art world shrunk to the size of a tent in a park, but that seems so-o-o-o-o 20th Century.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Tortuous Reasoning

It was virtually impossible to imagine 7 years ago: the day that America would find itself debating under which conditions it was OK to systematically torture prisoners of war for information, under which conditions our President had the Constitutional authority to disregard our signing of the Geneva Conventions, not just for the all-too-often-trotted-out ticking bomb scenario, but for hundreds of clearly low-level enemies in captivity, if indeed they were clearly enemies at all, on a routine basis. But that day came, and I read in sheer disbelief as otherwise upstanding Americans across the blogosphere defended the practices we've since discovered were happening at Abu Ghraib, Guantanemo, the "Salt Pit," and via CIA-chartered jets extraditing suspects to nations we know would do the dirty work for us. Fearful Americans with defenses that amounted to "I don't care what they do, so long as they keep me and my family safe."

Yes, yes, I know, the President and his Attorney General (I don't imagine for even a moment Gonzales sees himself as the country's Attorney General) will go to great lengths twisting logic to try and create just enough reasonable doubt to clear him, W, of any involvement personally, but it's rather difficult to imagine, given that they were so incredibly pressed for time in fighting the so-called War on Terror they couldn't comply with the nation's laws on domestic spying, that they had the leisure time to direct Justice Department lawyers John Yoo and Robert Delahunty to speculate on when the Geneva Convention guidelines applied and why the President couldn't be held accountable for war crimes, if they were not applied, unless this was a very important argument to have made beforehand. In other words, you don't need a pre-emptive "Get Out of Jail Free" card if you're not intending to break the law, so the creation of that card seems to speak for itself.

The most horrendous aspect of all this, of course, is that expert after expert insists torture does not result in reliable intelligence, making the President's penchant for it seem like little more than revenge, the stomping of a petulant brat with power shoving it back in the face of anyone he can conceivably associate with the 9/11 attacks that happened under his watch.

But I can jabber on about this for hours, and have. What brings it back up as a preface for today's post is the article in the NYTimes by Holland Cotter about what he considers some good examples of "political art," including a performance piece video about interrogation. Cotter's criteria for good political art seem similar to my own:
To some people political art means protest art: slogan-slinging, name-calling, didacticism, an unaesthetic thing. But in the trauma-riddled early 21st century, after 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, with a continuing war in Iraq, political art can be something else: a mirror.
Cotter highlights a video by Coco Fusco, called "Operation Atropos," which will be screened tonight at the City University of New York Graduate Center. For the video, Coco and six other women volunteered to be abducted and interrogated by a private defense company called Team Delta, based in Philadelphia, comprised of former members of the United States Intelligence Agency who sell their training services as experts in the "psychology of capture."

As the 50-minute video opens, Ms. Fusco is reading aloud from a briefing that laid out the ground rules for the ordeal ahead, clearly amused by the portentous language: "You will experience physical and psychological pain." The women share a piece of secret information they will do their best not to reveal under duress.

The course begins. The women are riding in a van through the woods in the Poconos when masked men stop them at gunpoint and direct them to strip to their underwear for a search. The women's clothes are exchanged for Day-Glo orange coveralls; their heads and faces are covered with blackout hoods. They are led, handcuffed, through the woods.

The make-believe nature of all this is periodically reinforced as "enemy soldiers" drop out of character to be interviewed about their work. Even so, a sense of real tension starts to build.

Mr. Olujimi's darting, probing, camera work helps to create it. So does the sustained image of the women being pushed, prodded, forced to their knees, yelled at and insulted by the all-male interrogation team.

I have to say, intially the idea of this project offended me, in that its moments of levity seemed to imply that being abducted and interrogated was a sophisticated a corporate camping trip for bonding purposes or something. Cotter disagrees, though, and his rationale is compelling:
So what kind of political art is this? It isn't moralizing or accusatory. It's art for a time when play-acting and politics seem to be all but indistinguishable. "Operation Atropos" is reality television with the cracks between reality and artifice showing. It's in the cracks, Ms. Fusco suggests, that the political truth is revealed.
I'm still left wonder which "political truth" exactly is revealed (though perhaps that's unfair given I haven't seen the video yet), but I appreciate the point about how this piece illustrates the virtually nonexistent line between play-acting and politics these days. What gets me in the end, though, is that, through all of this, why we're examining it is because real people were really tortured, by Americans. We have the luxury to debate this on the blogosphere and/or experience expensive, yet ultimately safe, re-enactments. But I can't help but wonder what the individuals who lived through (or didn't) those interrogations would make of all this tortuous reasoning. I imagine it's all pretty damn black and white for them. I long for the day when it for all us again as well.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Fish are Jumpin' ... and the Cotton Is High

We Love Summer!!!!

The hot and humid weather arrived here in New York right on cue. Bambino and I wish you and yours a wonderful start to Summer...just don't forget the sunscreen.

See you next week.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Hugging a Porcupine: Transgression and Timing

When I think about the role of transgression in artmaking, I usually find myself harkening back to the prodding of the bourgeoisie that began in earnest in the late 19th Century in Paris. What a courageous gang of heroes they were, no? Calling society on its excesses, championing free will and progressive ideals, telling the Academy where to stick its musty traditions. Bold young rebel rousers...whose works today just happen to sell for enough money to feed millions of starving children, or buy needed AIDS drugs, or build a dozen schools, but...nevermind the's all about the in-your-face daring of the singular artist willing to challenge the establishment and speak the Truth! What it generally takes me a few moments to realize when daydreaming about these romantic martyrs is that although we love them today (and pay fortunes to own their works), they were truly despised in their time, and have no one to blame for that but themselves.

The thing is, transgressive art, by design, pisses people off. The conventional wisdom, at least in the art world, is that it only pisses off the people who need to rethink their position, but even so, transgressive art intentionally pushes buttons, if not the envelope, and tells the viewer, every viewer, in fact: THINK MY WAY. Which in some ways is what all art does, but non-transgressive art does it more subtely.

What bothers me about the tradition of transgressive art, though, is how it has evolved to where too many transgressive artist expect, rather than to be despised in their time, to instead be appreciated, if not loved. This seems unrealistic, cowardly, and unaltruistic...essentially, the opposite of everything we celebrate transgressive artists in the the past for being.

The New York Times Magazine focused on the state of architecture last Sunday, offering a tone-setting
commetary by Deyan Sudjic on why architecture remains perhaps the only form of expression that still has the power to really piss people off. How the commentary began, however, solidified my thinking about transgression in Fine Art a bit:

Painting and sculpture still have the power to make people intemperately angry, as former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani's outrage over Chris Ofili's distinctive ways with elephant dung and canvas vividly demonstrated not so long ago. But after a century or more of twisting the bourgeoisie by the tail, the cultural shock tactics of visual artists are subject to the inevitability of diminishing returns.
There's a lot in there. First is the idea that when the culture at large expects artists to be shocking, the artists have to be extra-super-duper shocking to be actually transgressive. Second is the idea that there are diminishing returns on being trangressive, which I interpret as meaning a) artists should be prepared for a backlash; and b) artists won't actually affect change through transgression as the public becomes immune to its power. Finally, there's also the questionable assertion that artists are not bourgeoisie themselves...that there's a built-in dichotomy/antagonism that strikes me as more and more anachronistic.

But let me back up. Traditionally, the transgressive artist was subject to a timeline that goes something like this: Once there was an artist who recognized an ingrained social injustice or hypocrisy. He/She made art that shocked the public out of its complacency about the issue. The public responded with outrage, a double-edge sword in that it can result in opening people's minds or it can result in the artist be attacked....often both. It's important to remember that the angry people were seriously angry and felt true animosity toward the artist. The artist is called names, shunned, taunted or worse. Eventually, though, a debate was initiated, in part because of the artwork, and attitudes changed. A few generations later, the artist was recongized as a element of change for good, and got absorbed into the list of lovable favorites.

Today, however, I see a desire for a short-cut through this. In other words, I see otherwise realistic aritsts who find transgression the best means of expressing an idea expecting that he/she will become beloved in his/her lifetime for telling the Truth in such an in-your-face way. This is somewhat understandable in that they do get incredible support from the art machine (dealers, curators, collectors), many of whom tend to assume that a societal critique doesn't apply to them personally, so they create an environment in which an artist gets lulled into a false sense of acceptance by "society" for their transgression. It's further complicated by the politically correct stance adopted by the vast majority of the art world as well (of course, the critique doesn't apply to me...I'm enlightened).

But what this implies in the end is that transgression has become merely a means toward acceptance, which is a paradox of Biblical proportions, IMO, not to mention a tactic that demands a new word for cynicism. And, yet, that tactic is not particularly new. What's new, I feel, is the idea that transgression and the artist should be embraced immediately. (Images of hugging a porcupine spring to mind.) Freedom of expression has somehow morphed into an implied freedom to be transgressive, which neuters the whole concept quite effectively. If you're free to say anything (i.e, there are no boundaries), there's no such thing as transgression and the tactic loses its effectiveness.

I'll admit my thinking on this is in its infancy. I look forward to any input.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006


In yesterday's post on "Art about Art" I entered a comment but then deleted it because I realized, post-publish, that it was a topic worthy of its own forum and felt it would derail that thread, which, I don't mind telling you, has some rather specatucular thinking represented in the comments you should read if you haven't already. The comment I deleted dealt with the part of the general public's antagonism toward "Art" I'm least comfortable discussing because, well, it gets personal for me. That topic is elitism.

Coming from a working class family, I tend to focus on the rags-to-riches stories sprinkled across Art History when charges of elitism come up. "No," I'll say, "Look at de Kooning, look at Warhol, look at the Ganz's, look at the crop of Williamsburg galleries that have done very well for themselves despite their modest beginnings. Art is not always about being born with a silver spoon in your's often about working your ass off. That's a working class value."

But it's not exactly a matter of class, is it, elitism? One can be poor and a snob. It's harder, but one still encounters it. No, elitism is perhaps better defined by how one looks down on the rest of the world, whether from a private jet or an ivory tower or merely some self-manufactured peak of self-importance. Anyway, enough stalling, here's the comment, by ml, that prompted the one I deleted:

Don't you think that part of the problem is that art sales require a certain elite status? The difference between a $800 painting and a $20,000 painting is not always based on quality - it's part of the star system that is rampant in capitalism. The easiest way to be elite is to speak a specialized language that only a small subset of the population has the leisure to know intimately.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I don't see art-for-art's-sake as coming just from artists. It is built into the system.

Look how the galleries which used to be in SoHo moved to Chelsea. It wasn't
just rent increases - it was partially an escape from the looky-loos who mocked the work.
I'll defend the dialog, but I do recognize that the demands it makes on viewers often strike many as unworth the effort. Then, via, comes this report on the rise in popularity of "Outsider Art" across the heartland. The rationales offered for this rise hit at the heart of this issue:

The [Outsider Art] movement has been gaining steam in the Midwest for about five years, collectors say, fueled in part by its accessibility. Outsider art, they said, is straightforward, affordable and created by artists who are unpretentious.

A large part of the appeal is that you never have to distinguish a piece of art from a paint spill. What you see is what you get.

"In outsider art, there is not that tendency to intellectualize," said Yuri Arajs, owner of Outsiders and Others Gallery in Minneapolis, which opened in 2003. "It's more art that people relate to on a gut level."

There is an appealing innocence in the pieces, he said, that bring buyers closer to them.

"It's almost a cliché, but the more childlike a work is, the more appealing it is," Arajs said.

Which is not to say the form is simple. Outsider art is rich in social and symbolic overtones as diverse as the quirks and whimsies of the human psyche. Religious and sexual themes are common.

I'll confess that my knee-jerk reaction to this story is to see it as a defense of unchallenging, dumber art, and think if that's what someone wants they might consider donating their brain to science, as clearly they can get by with just a spinal cord, but then that would be pretentious, I know, and clearly pretentious is bad...innocence is good, childlike is good, quirky and whimsical and simple is good, but

After I've calmed down a bit, I realize though that it's more a call for art that's emotionally accessible, "art that people relate to on a gut level." That may indeed represent a much higher achievement than the headiest of accomplishments, I know. However, I want Art that aspires/manages to accomplish both. No matter how heart-felt, most "Outsider Art" strikes me as little more than "cute." Not all of it. Some is truly exquisite. But I need more than "cute" in my Art, I'm afraid. I have a thirst for knowledge and I want Art that challenges me ... emotionally yes, but also intellectually. I can't get by with just a spinal cord.


Tuesday, May 23, 2006

It's a Meta, Meta, Meta, Meta World

As evidenced by the way blogs dominated the online debate on the recent week-long back-and-forth by art critcs on Arts Journal, Marshall McLuhan certainly earned his fame: every medium is indeed first and foremost about itself it seems. Perhaps more than anything else these days, that can be said about Art as well. Several commenters on the thread about the public's perceptions about the Art World hit on the theme that Art is no longer about real life, that it's all too incentuous, and that that turns off the public. Here are three such comments from wise and thoughtful thinkers:
Todd W:
Maybe a renewed focus on art that is relevent to everyday life would work even better. But, as I've said before, we aren't likely to get much of that since the Art World is so insular, incestuous and inwardly focused. The prevelance of grad-school trained artists is only likely to exacerbate the situation.

Bill Gursky:
Edward you bring up a point that hits hard with me: the "art world" has done nothing to make itself relevant to the rest of the world. I don't think it's entirely untrue to suggest that the influential art world players enjoy a certain degree of elitism. And I think it's a damned shame.

Steve Ruiz:
I'm going to echo a few other commenters here, and say that the reason not many non-art folks like the art work is that, from what I've experiences, a lot of the the art world doesn't like non-art folks. Its been a mark of quality to have "confrontational" or art for quite some time now. Why should anyone expect that after so much confrontation - and I'm talking on all levels from simply aesthetics to core morals - audiences wouldn't start giving art the finger?

OK, so the critique represented by those comments goes beyond Art's message being itself, but that common thread seems to be at the root of the public's antagonism toward Art, so I wanted to explore this a bit: why is so much of today's Art about "Art"?

Part of me believes it's a Warholian thing. If one accepts that we're living in a hyper-specialized world, where everyone is competing in their respective fields against cradle-to-grave-type obsessives, pressuring us to be equally obsessive, is it any wonder everything's so self-referential? If Art is your entire world (and to compete it seems it has to be), what else would consume you but Art?

As I write that though, I recall a brunch I attended with some old friends several years back. One of my dearest friends was describing something to the group and, when he looked over at me, noticed I was distracted. "Oh, that's right...we're not talking about Art any're bored," he said. It stung because it was true. I had allowed myself to become so monomaniacal, I couldn't participate in a basic conversation about something that wasn't Art related. It hadn't always been that way. There was a time when I could discuss film, literature, travel, etc. at length, but I had been working so hard on getting the gallery up and going that I ate, drank, slept and breathed Art during that time. I made a decision later that day to re-enter the world and did.

However, as time has gone by, I look at the obsessives in my business and wonder what I might have accomplished that I haven't had I not spent so much time the past few years delving into politics and other things I totally enjoy, but which don't directly further my agenda. The people I most aspire to be like do indeed eat, drink, sleep and breathe Art.

So, my question: does all this focus rightly reflect itself in Art about Art? Clearly ours is not the only field in which people isolate themselves or become obsessive. If the culture at large consists of people moving toward ever-increasingly specialization, isn't Art about Art merely a product of its time?

Of course, I go back and forth on this as it applies to myself and what I'm trying to accomplish. A few threads back a commenter suggested:
get a job. don't you have artists to represent instead of being a poor man's pundit?

To which I responded:
interesting...a call for the sort of all-consuming specialization that makes people too uninteresting to appreciate, let alone participate in, the promotion of the arts...
And yes, that is the second link back to a previous thread in this post (is there any medium more meta than blogs?). But I believe that, actually: that to be able to understand and appreciate what artists are doing (even Art about Art) requires a breadth of experience and openness, so I'm caught in a loop here.

I know the easy answer is to suggest art should be about human realities, like sex and death, and love and loss, and I agree to a point, but the most consuming reality of my life (currently at least) is this tremendous pressure to work harder and longer and more efficiently and to become a better expert than anyone else in my field, and, among other things, Art about Art reflects that in a way I can recognize. It's also fascinating, but then I'm an obsessive, so....

Monday, May 22, 2006

Artist of the Week (06/22/05): Special

A little over a year ago I posted the first artist of the week on my dear friend, the New York-based painter, Amanda Church. In honor of her solo exhibition "Liquid Love" at Michael Steinberg Fine Art, which opens this Thursday, I'm updating that post as an Artist of the Week Special.

Although I'm not going to shy away from promoting my own artists on this blog, I'm also going to highlight and critique the work of other artists. Just because someone is selected as the "artist of the week" doesn't necessarily mean I'll have generous things to say about the work (and I'll encourage any commenters to take the same tough love approach [OK, so the love hasn't been all that tough, what can I say? I'm a soft-hearted artists lover]). I will endeavor, however, to highlight the work of artists who are perhaps "underappreciated."

To get the ball rolling, I want to discuss briefly the work of a good friend of mine: Amanda Church. She's represented in New York by Michael Steinberg Fine Art and in Boston by Clifford-Smith Gallery. [which has since closed, Rob and Jim promise to return in some format soon though]. Here's one of the paintings [from her new exhibition]:

Amanda Church, Society's Children, 2004, oil on canvas, 72" X 80"

Here's another:

Amanda Church, Tangled Web, 2006, oil on canvas, 72" x 80"

Amanda's work has been called psychosexual, so if you think you're seeing naughty things when looking at it, you're not necessarily crazy. Amanda's forms are abstracted from body parts, pop icons, kitschy images, and more recently text. Her greatest achievement, IMO, is her palette. Amanda's one of the most amazing colorists working today. Her choices are constantly innovative and her taste is flawless.

I bought a piece by Amanda at a benefit long before I met her. I now am the happy owner of several of her pieces, and one that resides at the foot of my bed makes me as happy as anything else in my collection when I contemplate it. There's a mature joy of life in this work and just enough silliness to charm me even in my darkest hours.

Here's a snippet from the press release for her new exhibition:

This body of work -- the artist's most exuberant and largest scale to date --continues her exploration of the newxus of Pop and pleasure.

At times evoking senuous sea creatures, at others tropical foilage, these body-inspired shapes tease us into squareing private yearnings with public personas. They wrestle and vie for attention; they caress and nestle against each other. But mostly they encourage each viewer to put his or her own emotions on the line within the psychological arena the artist has created.

Art critic Sarah Schmerler comments:

"That Chruch can render her forms familiar, yet ever hard to pin down, is proof of her power an an abstractionist. There's a strange, inverse-ratio at work: the more she pares down her composition, the more they are about a senuous pure viewing pleasure."

Here's another sneak peek at Amanda's new work:

Amanda Church, Flash Point, 2006(?), oil on canvas, 72" X 80"

It's been a true pleasure to watch Amanda's work evolve. Each year it's become more complex and sophisticated, while maintaining that joyous edge that attracted me to it in the first place. But don't take my word for how great Amanda is...go see the exhibition!

Friday, May 19, 2006

EXTENDED: Joe Fig @ Plus Ultra

We had realized the need to extend Joe's exhibition a while ago, but it gives me great pleasure to announce that the show will now be up until June 3rd, in conjunction with noting Joe got awesome reviews by Jerry Saltz in the Village Voice, and Ken Johnson in today's New York Times (can't find a link online, so you'll have to buy the print version). Congratulations Joe!

And if you haven't made it over yet, please do stop in and see the exhibition. Again, the details:

Joe Fig
April 27 to May 27, 2006
Checklist and Artists Interviews

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 has exhibited widely in the United States and in Europe. His work has been included in exhibitions at PS1-MoMA, the Bass Museum, and the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and is represented in the following collections: the Altoids Collection, the Fogg Art Museum, and the Hood Museum of Art.

For more information, contact the gallery at or 212-643-3152.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Ten Things in the Gallery That I Dislike
(in no particular order)

Yes, I'm in a grumpy mood again. (Stupid allergies...stupider allergy medicine.) Anyway, in lieu of a post that would eat up the few available brain cells not involved in all this sneezing, here are a few pet peeves:

Ten Things in the Gallery That I Dislike

  1. People who walk through the gallery just to get to the other side, especially ones with large packages or (yes, it happened) a shopping cart of stuff (what about the name on the door suggests this is your own personal thoroughfare, eh?).
  2. People who pocket the pen from the sign-in book.
  3. People who take up an entire page to draw their own artwork in the sign-in book (unless it's good, which it seldom is).
  4. People who lecture their children for touching the artwork and then let them do it again when I don't say anything (my silence is respect for your position, not an indication that the artwork needs sticky finger prints all over it).
  5. People at openings who treat the bar like it's their own personal liquor cabinet. If the bartender doesn't get to you right away, don't help yourself...this isn't your fraternity house.
  6. Vendor sales people who get huffy that my schedule isn't convenient for them (don't solicit my business then). I've had one vendor cancel a meeting at the last minute and then huff and puff when I said their prefered choice for a reschdule wasn't going to work.
  7. Postage that comes back as undeliverable when I know the address is good and the recipient hasn't moved. Oh, and (not in the gallery, but related) the psychopathic teller at the local post office. Would someone up his meds and fast, please?
  8. The time alloted to disarm the alarm before it goes off. I told the technician I was disorganized in the morning, but he brushed my concerns aside (imagine heavy Eastern European accent): "Hnuh, it's small space. Enough time."
  9. People's reluctance to wear name tags. There's this moment of panic when someone walks into the gallery and I know I should know them, but I can't recall their name. I've gotten very good at eliciting their name if someone else is with me, but if I'm on my own, I miss the first five minutes of what they're saying because I'm ransacking my memory banks for some clue. This hurts my brain.
  10. Not being able to see who's entered the gallery from the desk. I think video cameras are a bit creepy, actually, but not as tacky as one of those bubble mirrors. Yes, this can be resolved with a bit of reorganizing, which we'll do over the summer, but right now it's driving me nuts.

Anyway, that's my list...feel free to add your own pet peeves (and they don't have to be about our gallery, either).

On this topic, don't miss Paige West's awesome post here.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Considerations in the Debate on How Good an Investment Art Is

Let's face it, art is expensive. So as much as it makes me cringe when folks want to talk about it as an "investment," I'll sigh and then nod and then take a deep breath and offer as solid advice as I can. But such advice is difficult. Even the best considered opinions vary.

Two bloggers I admire have discussed the reality of "art as investment" recently (with solid calculations), outlining some good examples of why it's certainly not a fait complet that you'll ever see that work you love appreciate. First is Todd Gibson, who in a two-part series (
part 1; part 2) illustrates how unless you're very fortunate (with a better eye than a former curator at MoMA), you stand better odds perhaps with a well-managed hedge fund. And Felix Salmon advises that unless you're flipping work rather quickly, beating out the other investment options becomes less likely:

The trick, of course, is to sell not only at a large profit, but relatively quickly, too. If you wait more than 50 years, then your CAGR [compound annual growth rate] is going to come down to the 10-15% range even if you sell for 400 times the original purchase price.
But is it only an eye better than a MoMA curator or quick turn around that can work toward good returns, investmentwise? This article by John Dizard (found via who picked it up from the Financial Times) suggests bold choices can also make a difference:
The results of the auction of the Refco photography collection produced one of the few pleasant surprises that have come the way of the bankrupt commodities trader’s creditors. Christie’s conducted three sales between April 24 and May 10 that raised more than $9.7m, almost 50 per cent more than pre-sale estimates and about three times what the collection cost to assemble, mostly between 1998 and 2003. That leaves the creditors only a few hundred million dollars to go in filling the black hole in Refco’s accounts.

The money raised was the main focus of the creditors, of course, but there were also some interesting lessons for the rest of the art collecting world, and corporate collectors in particular.

The first is that while caution and conservatism make good sense when conducting legal and regulatory compliance, they don’t serve as well as boldness and experimentation in putting together an art collection. That applies to both the commercial and aesthetic considerations. Who wants to buy something boring, and who wants to look at it?
The article goes on to explain why Corporations with bold collections are more likely to profit handsomly. In fact, most of the lengendary collectors whose relatively modest investments paid off big time when they passed away and their life's work hit the auction block were more than slightly adventurous, consider the Ganz's for example. Of course, by the time the Ganz collection came up for auction, the artists it represented were famous, but many of them were not when the Ganz's first bought their work. What they all were arguably was bold and daring at the time.

Perhaps the most important, but most difficult to measure, ROI with art is the experience it provides. I know that sounds cliched, but from the dialog it fosters with artists, dealers, other collectors, etc. to the opportunities it provides to start a dialog with friends and acquaintances who are less interested in art, not to mention how it reflects on one's personal priorities and intellectual interests, there are many other measures than CAGR to consider when calculating whether a purchase was a "good investment" or not. What price do you place on joy?

But, as I noted at the top, art is expensive, so a reality check about how good an investment it is remains a service to all art collectors. Thanks to Todd and Felix for doing the math.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The Politics of Art: Part I (mea culpa)

OK, so we've gone a few rounds about Political Art, but what about the politics of art? There are plenty of folks fully engaged in a dialog about who gets exhibited where and when and next to what, who makes it into the history books, and who gets yanked out them, but I'm not at all sure where it's heading. Perhaps no one is.

There was the seemingly obligatory scene in Art School Confidential where the students complain that all the work they're being shown was made by Dead White Males (DWMs) to which the instructor (played by Angelica Houston) slyly responds that they weren't actually dead when they created the work, but I was struck by how little mileage we've made since the emergence of that sweeping misguided vilification. (I mean, belittling the dead is not exactly a promising foundation for a more balanced future, IMO.)

And yet, when faced with the statistics, I'm floored at the inequality, still, in this day and age. I mean anecdotally it seems like more women and people of backgrounds other than European are being exhibited than ever before, but from Greater New York, to the Whitney Biennial, to the galleries of Chelsea, the numbers speak for themselves, at least with regards to the disparity between men and women artists. I'm not sure what the numbers are for artists of non-European backgrounds. (anyone?)

And, I'll confess, we've been part of the problem. Our gallery has slightly more men than women artists (although we're getting close to equal) and far more artists of European backgrounds than other (although, again, artists joining the fold soon will add more balance), but there was no overtly conscious decision to make it unbalanced or then to balance it actually. That's simply how the program has evolved. Shamefully, as our Associate Director Max reminds me, we don't represent one single gay artist (despite Bambino's encouraging all our artists to reconsider their orientation...just kidding...really, he's never done that). Again, though, that was not a conscious decision. We've worked with plenty of gay artists in group exhibitions, but somehow that never led to representation.

But my defense of "conscious decisions" doesn't satisfy me. What about my subconscious decisions. Am I perpetuating bias by not actively seeking balance? I don't like the implications of that actually. I like the standard of choosing the art that makes the most sense for the program. Choosing the art, not the artist.

And yet I sense a zeitgeist among my peers. More of my colleagues seem to be sensing the need to expand their programs (this might have more to do with the hotness of the market, but I think it's also increased exposure to a more global clientele and the ever-shrinking art world). So maybe we're on the right path, but it's simply taking longer to get there than one might have expected when Identity Art first started shaking up the establishment.

In the end, I like to think the best art always wins, but when the numbers lean so heavily toward the traditional, it's tough to accept there's not something ingrained in the system. And if we're not actually, if frustratingly slowly, making progress, what else can be done to achieve more balance?

Monday, May 15, 2006

Art Critics Free-for-All

If you haven't been glued to it all day already, I'd encourage you to check out the weeklong online debate on art criticism being hosted by Arts Journal. So far there's a surprising degree of scepticism about the very medium that's making this forum possible, but no lack of good writing or interesting back-and-forth.

Maybe the Art World Needs a Good PR Firm

I know there are plenty of insiders who agree with the general public's assessment of the art world as a cesspool of degenerates and talentless wanna-be's, but in watching two works of entertainment over the weekend, I was struck by just how little respect there seems to be for the realm. Not that stereotypes aren't often based on a grain of truth, and not that we shouldn't be able to laugh at ourselves, but in this age where perception trumps reality, it seems a bit foolish for the art world not to get out ahead and start spinning a better story. So I'm wondering if it's not time for a Public Relations make-over of sorts. The current perceptions are simply god-awful and actually a bit boring.

Warning: possible spoilers below.

First, Bambino, Ondine, and I saw
Art School Confidential. It has a few delightful comic moments, and once or twice the script was insightful (I was pleasantly surprised by the Q&A with the alumnus art star, who told the student audience what they all really wanted to know was how to become him, and then argued that the freedom to be an asshole was essentially what they all envied), but overall that movie's a bit of a mess. The thread about the murders drags on painfully and rather pointlessly, the critique about the art market is one-dimensional, and most of the best bits are in the trailer, so you might consider saving $10.75 and wait for it on cable, which pains me to say because I was so looking forward to this film.

I know it's supposed to be a dark comedy, but by the end of it, I was ready to take a shower. The dealer was perhaps as scummy a human being as imaginable (I mean really, when will we see a portrayal of an art dealer that doesn't have him/her all but boiling kittens alive and twisting a long pointy mustache?), the school's instructors were so icky and pathetic you wanted them to take a shower, and there was barely a scene in the whole film where the set wasn't strewn with detritus, suggesting the entire milieu is founded on filth. Even the lead character, the supposed "real artist," willingly sells out. Granted, the scene where the main instructor (John Malchevich) defends his triangle paintings is hilarious, but one leaves the film feeling the art world's all one big sham, the last bastion of hope for losers who can't see the reality of what's right in front of them, let alone anything even moderately profound. Which seems an accurate reflection of the public's perception, as Ondine noted when we left.

Later at home, Bambino and I watched an episode of Law & Order where a character based not-at-all-loosely on Thomas Kinkade kills his business partner and his wife so he can keep all the profits from their burgeoning joint franchise business of his work. Normally, I'd have no sympathy at all for Kinkade, whose business practices are repulsive, but to suggest he would kill anyone seemed a bit beyond the pale to me. More than that, watching everyone mock his artwork rubbed me the wrong way as well. Perhaps deep down I feel that's a privilege reserved for me, I don't know, but I think it was more the annoyance with how so many folks who wouldn't criticize a scientist's theory feel fully qualified to weigh in on art as if experts. I was also annoyed by how the collector couple anxious to start their own franchise were portrayed as total imbeciles. As much as I dislike Kinkade personally, I would never tell anyone else they were wrong to like his work, which is essentially what the writers of the episode were doing. More than that though, they were lazy about developing the character. The artist was a greedy fraud...end of story.

Now I realize that the more three-dimensional portrayal of the art world I crave would require a sharp increase in actual interest on the part of the general public, and that's unlikely in this country where folks wear their anti-intellectualism like a badge of honor. But still, I can't help but feel the art world itself is mostly responsible. Afterall, if we don't correct the misperceptions (assuming this film and TV show reflect misperceptions), how would we expect anyone to conclude they weren't accurate?

Ondine saw another film yesterday that held a clue as to what might be the solution here. He saw
Giuliani Time, in which he learned that "America's Mayor" tripled the PR budget for his office and that that, more than actual progress on issues like reducing crime (which was already well underway in NYC when he took office), accounts for the perception of him as a success and hero. Now, don't get me wrong, I will always be grateful for the tremendous job Rudy did in the wake of 9/11. He was spectacular. But I want to hold my nose a bit when I see him exploiting that as he explores a run for President. As one who lived under his regime I don't mind saying he was a total nightmare as mayor, one who stomped out so many aspects of what drew me to NYC in the first place. But the perception remains that he saved the city and turned it around, because he had his PR people out there every day shaping that perception.

So what am I saying? That the art world should mislead the public through a concerted PR effort, the way Rudy misled the city? Even as I write that I cringe. But what about simply getting better at telling the real story, the one in which not all dealers are villians, not all artists are sell-outs, not all instructors are washed-up, and not only the assholes become successful? How about telling the story about the collectors who know what they're doing and rightfully love the works they acquire?

I can hear a film executive somewhere scratching his head, saying, "Who'd watch that?"

Thursday, May 11, 2006

All Art is Caricature

John Hyman offers a rather cheeky dismissal of the fledgeling "science" called "neuro-aesthetics" in an article on the website "Art and Cognition Workshops." It's a fun read, if for no other reason than the author manages to strike me as nearly as silly as the scientists he's taking to task (something about male brainy types discussing women's breasts as if authorities always makes me giggle), but it did make me wonder about one assertion offered up.

In a nutshell "neuro-aesthetics" seeks to uncover the "the biological basis of aesthetic experience" and how those interested in such discoveries go about it should be the topic of Mel Brooks' next movie. In his article, Hyman skewers two neuro-aestheticists, including one named V.S. Ramachandran:

Ramachandran claims to have discovered ‘the key to understanding what art really is’. He also calls this key ‘[a] universal rule or “deep structure”, underlying all artistic experience’ and ‘a common denominator underlying all types of art’. [4] He writes as follows:

"The purpose of art, surely, is not merely to depict or represent reality – for that can be accomplished very easily with a camera – but to enhance, transcend, or indeed even to distort reality. … What the artist tries to do (either consciously or unconsciously) is to not only capture the essence of something but also to amplify it in order to more powerfully activate the same neural mechanisms that would be activated by the original object."[5]

By ‘the original object’ Ramachandran means the object represented by an artist: for example, a man or a woman, the interior of a room, a landscape, and so on. His hypothesis is that the works of art we enjoy activate the neural mechanisms that are normally activated when we see the kinds of objects which they represent, but they activate these mechanisms more powerfully.

But why should a distortion of reality have this effect? Ramachandran’s answer, which he describes as ‘the key to understanding what art really is’, is that this is an example of a psychological effect called ‘peak shift’. He writes as follows:

"If a rat is taught to discriminate a square from a rectangle (of say, 3:2 aspect ratio) and rewarded for the rectangle, it will soon learn to respond more frequently to the rectangle. Paradoxically, however, the rat’s response to a rectangle that is even longer and skinnier (say, of aspect ratio 4:1) is even greater than it was to the original prototype on which it was trained … this principle holds the key for understanding the evocativeness of much of visual art."[6]

Ramachandran’s favourite example of peak shift in art is the way in which the female figure was represented by classical Indian sculptors. Figure 2 [from Edward_: see left side, image below] shows an example from the eighth century, a sculpture of the goddess Kaumari. This kind of sculpture, Ramachandran says, is essentially ‘a caricature of the female form’. And he adds this:

"There may be neurons in the brain that represent sensuous round feminine form as opposed to angular masculine form and the artist has chosen to amplify the ‘very essence’ of being feminine by moving the image even further along the male/female spectrum. The result of these amplifications is a ‘super stimulus’ in the domain of male/female differences. "[7]

So Ramachandran proposes a generalization about art and then postulates a mechanism to explain the generalization. The generalization is that ‘the purpose of art … [is] to enhance, transcend, or indeed even to distort reality. … not only capture the essence of something but also to amplify it’. More pithily: ‘all art is caricature’.[8] And the mechanism which explains the biological function of art is peak shift. In this way, Ramachandran explains a profound and pervasive part of human life in terms of a simple physiological mechanism, which can be demonstrated in the laboratory with a rat, square, a rectangle and some cheese.

Hyman then goes on to dismiss Ramachandran via discussions of pigeon experiments and photos of Pamela Anderson, an exercise only slightly less ridiculous than what he's critiquing, but I did pause while reading to wonder about the assertion that "all art is caricature." To get the party started, I'll offer the following juxtaposition of the Indian sculpture used as an example by Ramachandran and a more contemporary work of art:

OK, I see no point in trudging out any musty arguments about whether Currin's work is "art," so let's just get to whether all art is actually caricature. It's probably better to leave abstract work out of the equation here as well, to avoid making this so complicated my brain squeezes itself out my ears in self-defense.

Always best to start with a definition, I find, so:
Caricature - A representation, especially pictorial or literary, in which the subject's distinctive features or peculiarities are deliberately exaggerated to produce a comic or grotesque effect.
Now clearly, the editing process that takes place while making art could indeed be defined as a series of deliberate one can recreate any object exactly as it appears in real life so choices are made and those choices do indeed represent exaggerations in one direction or the other. However, the intent of the artist is clearly not universally "a comic or grotesque effect" so does this fall apart? If we accept that definition, perhaps, but let's look a bit closer:
The history of the word caricature takes us back through the centuries to a time when the Romans occupied Gaul, offering the blessings of civilization to the Gauls but also borrowing from them as well. One such borrowing, the Gaulish word *karros, meaning “a wagon or cart,” became Latin carrus, “a Gallic type of wagon.” This Latin word has continued to roll through the English language, giving us car, career, cargo, carry, and charge, among others. Caricature, another offspring of carrus, came to us via French from Italian, in which caricatura, the source of the French word, was derived from Italian caricare, “to load, burden, or exaggerate.” Caricare in turn came from Late Latin carricre, “to load,” derived from the Romans' Gaulish borrowing carrus.
Now I think you could make a more convincing argument that all artists attempt "to load, burden, or exaggerate" such that their work carries some significance (and yes, even as I type this I realize I'm bordering on being guilty of the same sort of angel-on-pinhead-counting fruitlessness I'm blasting Hyman et al. for. but...all this did allow me an excuse (weak as it may be) to juxtapose the Currin with the Indian sculpture, and isn't that rationale enough really? No? OK, let's salvage this train wreck of a post with a boiled down question: Is there representational artwork for which one cannot claim the result came via loading, burdening or exaggerating (i.e., distorting) the original? In other words, is all representational work actually caricature?

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Brooklyn College Fiasco

I've been hoping the dust would settle and a clear image of what exactly is going on with the shuttered Brooklyn College exhibition at the World War II memorial hall near the Brooklyn Bridge would emerge before I rung in (see here and here for Times reports, and here for an up-to-the-minute first hand account by the students involved). I had hoped to get some images of the supposedly offensive art ( posted one here). I'm a big believer in getting as many facts as possible before forming an opinion, and there did (from available accounts) seem to be some merit to the Park and Recreation Department's argument that Brooklyn College violated a verbal agreement to only exhibit family friendly work in the space, assuming of course, that penises are somehow unfriendly toward families, a notion a basic education in human reproduction would seem to dispute, but I digress....

But now the situation has evolved to where the College is clearly making grotesque mistakes. As reported in the Times, on James Wagner's site, and with images and details on the Students' site, without co-ordinating with the artists, the College sent movers (apparently not art handlers, mind you) to de-install and haul away the work. The artists, rightfully, protested the ambush. Reports indicate also that some of the work was damaged beyond repair. From the Times:
Yejin Jun, who created the foam-and-pins sculpture, said it took her more than a year to complete the 52-pound work, with tens of thousands of pins placed by hand. She said it was damaged yesterday when it was put on the floor of a flatbed truck, with nothing covering or protecting it. "The foam is damaged, it's destroyed," she said. "I cannot fix it." She added: "Our college did not support us."
And from the Students' website:
No one can describe how it feels to see the fruits of all of your labors taken down and dismantled in the span of hours.
Many critics here are laying blame at the feet of the city officials, but I ultimately agree with Yejin Jun and blame the College. It was their responsibility to deal with the verbal agreement in a way that would have prevented the city from over-reacting, and it was most definitely their responsibility to co-ordinate any de-installation with the artists. There are issues of censorship and support for the arts here, but more than that, an institution of higher education sorely let its students down and needs to make things right.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Good Political Art

On the thread about Stephen Colbert, someone asked:
Apropos your 1st point--it's true--we all individually contain a "middle" and a "right" to some degree--even if you just look at it in terms of the milieu in which we were each brought up--and I just read your thing about purple art--somehow the work must acknowledge this bundle of contradictions to go deeper than a one-liner. Do you have a couple of examples of visual art that you think succeed on this level?
I've been thinking about that for a few days now, wanting to offer good examples that illustrate what I expect from "political art" but before I get to those choices, I want to highlight an important distinction. Over the weekend Luc Tuymans came up, and someone asked if his last exhibition at Zwirner represented good political art. Not for me. It's good art. I love his paintings, but just because the subject matter was people in politics, doesn't make the work good political art. Tuyman's exhibition succeeded more for me as an exploration of how memory works than any insightful critique of the Bush administration. Harking back to my post on Loathing Fear, there's nothing Tuyman's pointing out about the precariousness of our situation that wasn't the case before Bush came to power and before 9/11. But they are awesome paintings. For me though they're not great "political art."

I should also note that to me good political art is extraordinarily difficult. Politics is a field where the enthusiasts emerse themselves in the minutiae of every aspect of it--they know the arguments, the counter arguments, and the counter-counter arguments, as well as their weaknesses--so an artist has to know the subject matter inside out to make work that's both insightful (i.e., revealing something profound and new) and universal at that same time, which is more or less my expectation from "good art."

So who does it? The best example I can think of is William Kentridge (here's a Quicktime snippet of 6 Soho Eckstein someone put online), and why is as simple as
quoting the great man himself:

I have never tried to make illustrations of apartheid, but the drawings and films are certainly spawned by and feed off the brutalized society left in its wake. I am interested in a political art, that is to say an art of ambiguity, contradiction, uncompleted gestures, and certain endings; an art (and a politics) in which optimism is kept in check and nihilism at bay. - William Kentridge [emphasis mine]
And why is political art one of ambiguity, contradiction, uncompleted gestures and certain endings? Because that defines the human condition that politics exist to deal with in the first place, and that's what political art must express to be good. That's why work that's all bravado, "Bush sucks, don't ya know it," and sure of itself fails. How could anything as complex as an opinion about politics be that cocksure? As Kentridge points out, the only thing that's ever certain within the realm of politics is how something ends.

Here's an current world example of why I think this all matters. It took me about two years to finally see what a wise and much older blogger on a right wing site was trying to get me to see about the invasion of Iraq. His point, through tons of abuse by me and evidence to the contrary in the papers every day, was that invading Iraq may yet play out to be seen as a grandly generous and selfless gift to the nation by our president. At some point in the distant future, school children may read in History class of how that difficult decision saved the country from certain disaster. Not being privvy to the information the president has, we honestly just don't know at this point. We can, given the information at hand, declare it was a mistake to invade (and I do), but in the back of my mind is this idea tucked away to keep an open mind, look for details about a much more dire future had we not invaded.

In the end, it's the president's job to protect this country, first and foremost. Perhaps that's what Bush was/is sure he is doing, honestly. Personally, I don't think so, but any exploration of the issue that dismisses such a possibility out of hand cannot do justice to the issue, and therefore would not make for "good" political art.

But who else? Whose political art reveals the "truth" by being as complex as the issues that serve as its subject?

Monday, May 08, 2006

Artist of the Week (05/08/06)

When I did a studio visit with New York artist Jennifer Coates several years ago, I left with the impression that here was a sincere and ambitious young artist who had decided on a particularly difficult course for her career. The works I saw at that time would force her to carve a path through some heavy hitting painting before she'd emerge on the other side with a clearly unique voice. Years later when I saw a new painting in a group exhibition at a Chelsea gallery, I realized I had greatly underestimated her. The work had evolved into the bold confident vision of someone cooking with gas, as they say. And it's only gotten better since.

Here's a description from the press release for her upcoming exhibition at
Feigen (which opens this Thursday):

Jennifer Coates' vividly colored, Symbolist-like paintings utilize the conventions of landscape as an anchor for hallucinatory visions that reference the mind and the body simultaneously. Expanses of sky or sea coalesce into pools of thought-like reflection; clouds of geometry warp into an ecstatic vortex; horizons fissure and swell like skin; and intricate vines tangle into knots of energized ganglia. Coates contrasts an atmospheric radiance with meticulous detail, iconic directness with allusive abstraction. Varied painterly approaches are positioned against each other to create a disjunctive but idealistic experience of place.
I've known Jennifer for a number of years, and she's one of my favorite pseudnonymous bloggers (no, she's not Edna, and so many people know her nom de plume, it's hardly worth describing her that way, but I'm not sure whether it's yet totally public knowledge, so...). I mention that she blogs merely to illustrate that she falls into that category of artists who are fully engaged in "the dialog" in a town where that can be somewhat masochistic for young painters.

Jennifer Coates, Creeper, 2006, Acrylic on canvas, 60" x 72" (image originally from now defunct Feigen Contemporary

The following is an example of where I feel Jennifer is blazing an exhilarating trail. This piece creates for me a complex mood that's at once both mysterious and hopeful:

Jennifer Coates, Softwall, 2006, Acrylic on canvas, 72" x 60"
(image originally from now defunct Feigen Contemporary website).

As noted in the gallery press release, Jennifer is using landscape as a metaphor for the mind and body, placing loaded symbols in ominous settings in ways that touch the darker recesses of one's subconscious. Here's an installation view of a selection of drawings from a 2004 group exhibition at
Monya Rowe's gallery that serves a bit as a legend to Jennifer's vocabulary:

Isolated trees or fence posts in barren landscapes stand in for the body. The punch comes from the inclusion of bright, happy colors or senusous shapes teasing out a ray of hope from the otherwise desolate locations. This emotional dichotomy echoes the painterly one, essentially spinning the viewer around in two different directions at once, leaving us wonderously unsettled yet hungry for more. Fortunately, if you're in New York, you can see more in person starting Thursday. Here are two somewhat older pieces for the road:

Jennifer Coates, Grotto, 2005, Acrylic on canvas, 24" x 30"
(image originally from now defunct Feigen Contemporary website).

Jennifer Coates, Stump, 2004, Acrylic on canvas, 60" x 72"
(image originally from now defunct Feigen Contemporary website).

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Art Crimes: In Short

Where there's money (and there's certainly money in art, as the sales at Christie's Sotheby's demonstrated strongly again [yes, a certain part of you does want such stories to change, just for variety's sake, if nothing else, I know]) ... where there's money, there's crime. But we are talking art here, so we'll use the term "crime" poetically, as well as literally, in this short round-up.

1. Oslo: Scream
theives convicted:

Three of six men charged in the 2004 theft of Edvard Munch's paintings "The Scream" and "Madonna" were declared guilty on Tuesday in Oslo District Court and sentenced to prison terms of four to eight years.

Two of the men were also ordered to repay the city $121 million, the combined insured value of the paintings, which remain missing.

Prosecutors said they were satisfied by the trial's outcome and suggested that the financial penalties might persuade one of the convicted men to reveal the whereabouts of the stolen art.

Only if they have $121 million to give, no? Anyone attempting to force me to cough up that kind of money would get little more than a guffaw in response. Wouldn't a penalty that would really cost them something they already have make more sense? Not sure I get how that's supposed to work.

2. Boca Raton, Florida: Driver disappears with millions in Milton's and other goodies:

A convicted felon who worked as a driver transporting artwork to New York City for a Florida company has disappeared with a truckload of pieces valued at several million dollars, investigators said yesterday.

AXA Art Insurance Corporation has offered a $100,000 reward for information leading to the recovery of seven Milton Avery paintings that were part of the shipment, according to Detective Michael A. Mauro of the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office.

He said the driver, Patrick Joseph McIntosh, 36, who was employed by David Jones Fine Art Services of Boca Raton, Fla., left the city on April 18 with the artwork.

Need $100,000? McIntosh is 6'9". Anyone that tall come into your gallery, trying to flog you some Avery's, sit them down, give 'em some coffee, and sneak out to call the cops.

3. Waltham, MA: Censors close exhibition at Brandeis University (via

A bulldozer menaces a girl with ebony pigtails, who lies in a pool of blood. A boy with an amputated leg balances on a crutch, in a tent city with a Palestinian flag. A dove, dripping blood, perches against blue barbed wire.

Palestinian teenagers painted those images at the request of an Israeli Jewish student at Brandeis University, who said she wanted to use the art to bring the Palestinian viewpoint to campus. But university officials removed the paintings four days into a two-week exhibition in the Brandeis library.

University officials said the paintings depicted only one side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Lior Halperin, the student who organized the exhibit, said the university censored an alternative view.
Now, I'm all in favor of "purple" (i.e., more two-sided) art, as noted here, but I think that's the artist's responsibility, not the sponsoring institution's. As Halperin noted: "Let's talk about what it is: 12-year-olds from a Palestinian refugee camp. Obviously it's not going to be about flowers and balloons." The university says they might exhibit the work later next fall, alongside images that show the Israeli point of view. I guess that means images of carnage after a sucidie bombing drawn by teenagers who survived one. So long as the horror is balanced and neither side has to feel morally challenged to change its course of action, eh? Grrr...

4. New York:
Bottomfeeders succeed in breaking up Blakes:

A rare set of 19 original watercolors by English artist and poet William Blake were sold at auction today at Sotheby's in New York.

The auction, which Sotheby's had estimated would fetch between $12-17.5 million, was somewhat controversial, as each original was sold separately—with the potential for possibly scattering the works amongst far-flung private collecitons.


Blake scholars in Britain were outraged when it was announced in February that the group would be sold as separate lots, the Daily Telegraph reports. The British Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art failed in a bid to keep the watercolors within the U.K.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Who Needs Clothes When a Walking Army of Servants Will Ensconce You?

I'm of two minds about the MSM's stunning silence on Stephen Colbert's dead-pan skewering of the president and the press corp at Saturday's White House Corresponents' Association banquet. I've seen the tapes, and they were indeed painful to watch in parts (mostly because you felt for Colbert when the audience didn't laugh at certain jokes that you know were hilariously true). And I guess one side of me gets why they're not reporting on it: this is an event that they's meant to be an opportunity for them to mingle and bond (press and politicos) in a lighter atmosphere...and if it evolves into a contentious event, its life expectancy becomes limited. I get all that.

What I don't get, however, is why that's more important to the MSM than their supposed raison d'etre: news. Forget that Colbert's was the keynote address of the evening. You can't tell me it's not "news" when the leader of the free world is subjected to as blunt a dressing down as imaginable in any era. What, just because it made them uncomfortable, the media can treat the remarkable event like some dirty little secret? The most powerful person on the planet had a rhetorical cream-filled pie schmushed all over his face. In any context imaginable, that's "news."

There were ways to report this that wouldn't mean the end of the event as well: noting the awkward silence, or simply mentioning who spoke last. Were the press corp so stupified they couldn't find one? Not even The New York Times, the supposed paper of record, mentioned the biggest speech of the evening. Why? Out of shame?

It's one thing to feel that Colbert's critique went too far, that it lacked balance, that it was inappropriate in that context or's another, potentially dangerous thing entirely to pretend it never happened.

For more, see James Wagner.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Artist of the Week (05/01/06)

I've been following Tracy Nakayama's work for a number of years, but even when I first saw it in the late 90's its nod to nostalgia made it seem as if I've always known it. I'll admit, it's difficult to choose which of Tracy's work to include here as they can be extremly graphic, and because her work is about sex (and in our culture that almost always implies something unwholesome). Still, although not always, Tracy's work often depicts naked people in compositions as sweet as imaginable. In fact, I once unwittingly offended Tracy by inviting her to exhibit in a group exhibition about sex and sleaze and politics, and didn't understand why she didn't want to be included. It took me a few years (perhaps a few years of growing up) to understand why that context was totally inappropriate for her work. Here's one of her ink on paper pieces whose title makes more clear why:

Tracy Nakayama, Sweet Memories of a Stuffed Animal, 2004, ink on paper, 10 " x 13" (image originally found on Bodybuilder & Sportsman gallery website).

Represented in Chicago by
Bodybuilder & Sportsman gallery, in Los Angeles by Acuna-Hansen gallery, and currently having an exhibition at our awesome neighbors, ATM gallery here in New York (Tracy's work was also included in the group exhibition of Erotic drawings organized by DiverseWorks and the Aldrich, last year), Tracy's work is the kind that prompts dealers to post a warning on the door. This strikes me as an unfortunate reality, but I'd do the same. Even as loving and beautiful as her subjects are often portrayed, the adult subject matter of her work does warrant advance notice to parents.

Despite their usual lack of clothing, the hairstyles and accessories clearly place many of Tracy's subjects in the 1970's. Her duotone palette strengthens the sense that we're viewing an earlier, perhaps more innocent (or at least less complicated) time as well. Here's an earlier piece:

Tracy Nakayama, Wet, 2001, Ink on paper 39" x 25" (see IKON gallery website).

Again, I find I'm carefully editing here. Many of Tracy's images, which she takes from porn films, are much more graphic than these, often depicting orgies or what looks to be casual sex. But even then, they're defined by gentleness and a sense that sex is fun (a novel concept in some quarters, I know).

Tracy Nakayama, Golden Years, 2003, Ink & goldleaf on paper, 10" x 13" (original image here was found on Downtown for Democracy website).

Not everyone is as prudish as I am, though. A few years back, Jerry Saltz called Tracy's works "cute nudie watercolors." And in a 2002 press release for her exhibition at Modern Culture, Tracy was open about her choices, noting she makes creates "art that turns me on....The work is meant to be seen as neither retro nor kitschy. It is sincere and humble." Here's another two images for the road:

Tracy Nakayama, God Only Knows (image from Howard Tullman's blog, HindSight)

Tracy Nakayama, Mountain Men Wine Jug, 2004, ink on paper, 13" x 10" (image from Bodybuilder and Sportsman gallery website).