Friday, June 30, 2006

I ♥ American Art

Just in time for America’s 230th birthday (as well as its own 75th), the Whitney throws a summer-long birthday party in the form of a museum-wide installation of work from their permanent collection (in an exhibition titled "Full House"). When my good friend, the painter Gary Petersen, invited me along to the opening Wednesday, despite a very long day, I knew I'd be sorry if I didn't accept and go. I was so happy I did. The show is a total delight, with more than a few surprises, and a generous opportunity to revisit some favorites, connect some dots, and come to some satisfying conclusions about American Art in general, as well as what it reflects about America itself.

In the Times today,
Holland Cotter offers a thorough and thoughtful review of the exhibition, and notes

The work is mostly arranged by loose theme rather than date, an approach I like. It enlivens objects by setting them in unexpected, often energizing company. And it points up the basic arbitrariness of orthodox art history and critical opinion. An unfamiliar little piece off to the side is revealed to be every bit as interesting as a celebrated big piece in the center of the room.

The important thing the show does, though, is deliver the story — a story — of American culture through art. It is a culture of staggering contradictions: idealism and amnesia, censure and unruled pleasure. It is diverse and narrow-souled, with a devotion to the idea of power so ingrained as to make discord inevitable and chronic. If "Full House" is about one thing, it is about discord. It is about how harmonious America never was.
Gary and I had left ourselves only a short period to see the whole show, so we unfortunately had to rush through it a bit, but each time we emerged on a floor I felt a rush, like the proverbial kid stepping into a candy shop. There, right outside the elevator, on the fifth floor hung my sentimental favorite American painting of all time:

Edward Hopper, Early Sunday Morning, 1930, Oil on canvas, 35" x 60", Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

I have more personal reasons than aesthetic or conceptual reasons for loving this painting, but it set the tone and got my mind racing like that of child on Christmas Eve about what lay ahead.

The entire 5th floor is devoted to Hopper, the artist most identified with the Whitney according to wall text. You do walk away from it a bit less sure he wasn't simply a very talented illustrator not interested in the challenging revolution painting was undergoing in his day (he had spent time in Paris during the tumultous turn of the last Century and managed to emerge apparently untouched by the ideas flourishing there). But limited to one, I'd take Early Sunday Morning over most other American paintings any day.

The fourth floor covers Minimalism, and it's a remarkably handsome installation. We spoke with the exhibition's lead curator Donna De Salvo about the installation at the opening, and she pointed out that they symbollically opened up (uncovered) every window in the museum for the show. The 4th floor installation feels remarkably open and allows some larger pieces to have a dialog with smaller ones in a way most installations wouldn't achieve. Minimalism is getting is share of criticism these days (it's fashionable to reject it as fraudulent), but I loved this floor all the same.

The real treat for me though was the third floor, whose installation is subtitled "The Pure Products of America Go Crazy." With works as disparate as those by Stuart Davis and Andy Warhol, this floor is more than a candy store, it's virtually Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory. This floor illustrates the point at which American artists began to turn their attention outward (as opposed to how the Ab Exer's had turned it inward) to deal with the reality of the world around them (and truly examine the discord Holland Cotter highlights). The argument seems to have been that life in America wasn't really some noble narrative full of heroes and ideals, it was, as rock star Bono once noted "The best of everything and the worst of everything." In order to capture that dichotomy truthfully, American fine artists began blurring the lines between high and low culture, and, as Arthur Danto argued, managed to bring Art History to an unceremonious end.

So why with that depressing baggage did I love this floor so much? I'll explain with an anecdote: There's a lesson about art I learned from the dealer I consider my first mentor that I'll never forget. When a client asked him why a rather pricey Diebenkorn etching was so special, he responded quite emphatically "Just look at it!" Indeed. That's all there is really. Walking around the third floor at the Whitney, that's all one needs to do to be enthralled...just look at the work. It's exhilarating.

On the second floor are the works that finally enabled New York to steal the title of World's Art Capital away from Paris, those of the Abstract Expressionists. As on the 4th and 3rd floors, there's a blend of art not quite defined by the central theme installed throughout, making for some eye-opening juxtapositions, like the Joan Mitchell sandwiched between a Pollock and a deKooning.

Adrian Piper, Out of the Corner, 1990, mixed media, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

It was about this time in our tour however that the museum was closing down, so we didn't get to see the Calder on the first floor or spend anywhere near enough time taking it all in. But we have all summer to return and there's so much more to see and learn there. The hard-hitting Adrian Piper installation (see above), for example, took my breath away, and it was a bit overwhelming to see the Mark Lombardi piece in this context...I can recall meeting Mark at his first exhibition of that work at Pierogi as if it were yesterday...and now here it was, part of the canon...part of American history.

Have a safe and fun-filled weekend folks...and Happy 4th!

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Bio Camp Open Thread

In discussing Open Submission exhibitions the other day, I noted that many gallerists consider them negatives on an artist bio, which led to a discussion about what makes for a good bio, which led me to think about it quite a bit over the past few days, which led to no very solid conclusions I'm afraid, because, well, the best bio is always one tailored to its viewer. Each potential viewer will be looking for different things.

It's with that caveat (i.e., that these are things I look for and they may or may not help with residency programs, grants, other galleries, etc) that I outline some general impressions about what strikes me as a negative in reading a bio. I hope this leads to more discussion about what has worked or not worked for various artists (i.e., a positive open thread, with not too much complaint about how the system has its priorities wrong). The following are simply my opinions and not a reflection of the system, per se.

The general categories I normally see in a bio are
  1. Name
  2. Contact info
  3. Short biography info
  4. Education
  5. Solo Exhibitions
  6. Group Exhibitions
  7. Awards/Grants/Residencies
  8. Bibliography
  9. Collections
  10. Writing / Curating / Related Professional Activity

So what's good to include (and how) in each of these categories? What other categories are often left off but potentially important? Which categories are not that important?

In general it's imporant to remember that a resume is not chiseled in stone. You can edit it per audience, so don't get too hung up on a one-size-fits-all approach. Here's my personal observations on what's effective.

This one seems simple, but I've seen aliases or confusing "aka" info here. Choose a professional spelling of your name and stick with it (i.e., if you use your middle initial...use it everywhere...if you don't want it everywhere, don't use it here). If you have the exact same name as an artist already getting attention, do consider a variation. That may not always be appealing, but it might help lessen confusion

Contact info
Address, phone number(s), email, website.

Short biography info
Born: include year (f*ck the agists) and city/country
Work/Live: city/country

I wouldn't include much more than that, and of course, you can lie about your age if you like, but be prepared to be caught out and have the person catching you trust you less. I've seen it happen.

It's best here to keep it simple: School, degree, year. Unless your major is relevant to your current body of work, I wouldn't include it. I wouldn't include most residencies here either. Create a separate category for them. Education implies a curriculum you passed, not free room and board and studio for a set period of time.

Solo Exhibitions
This is information I turn to first most often. What I'm looking for is a track record that makes sense to me given what I think I know about this artist. What I'm also looking for is a track record that makes sense for our gallery. In other words, if an artist has only exhibited at blue chip spaces, I'll wonder why they're now interested in our emerging space. There may be a very good reason, but here's a good opportunity to edit your resume for your audience. Not every exhibition you have under your belt will be a positive here. You can get away with any combination you choose by using the header "Selected Solo Exhibitions."

I also look to see if an artist has exhibited in what I consider galleries of a kindred spirit. This requires the artist doing some research to pick the right ones to highlight. Check to see what art fairs the gallery does, and who also participates in those fairs that you've exhibited in. There's no guarantee you won't include someone the gallery doesn't like, but the odds of that are not so great you shouldn't focus on those here.

Of course all the above presumes you have a list of solo exhibitions, which for emerging artists is often not the case. If you don't have any solo exhibitions, then simply have one header "Selected Exhibitions." Don't draw additional attention to the nonexistence of solo exhibitions by using only a "Group Exhibition" header.

Also, choose one style for the details of an exhibition and use it CONSISTENTLY. Organize these by year (months are not important). If you're really, really keen on getting into a particular gallery, do your homework here too. Check the bios on the gallery website and see what style they use (is the title in quotes or italics, is the gallery name in all caps or not, is the city and state listed, or only city, etc.). Make your bio look how they make theirs look and you'll avoid making them think about what seems different so they only concentrate on what you want them to.

Group Exhibitions
Believe it or not, too many group exhibitions can be a negative, suggesting the artist is all over the place and probably doesn't have a body of work for a solo exhibition that hasn't already been seen in bits and pieces. It can scream "Overexposure." "Selected Group Exhibitions" is a better idea. And of course the ideas of tailoring apply here as well.

As I noted in the other post, I consider open submission exhibitions a negative here. Also, exhibitions in restaurants and the like should be left out. Gallerists are snobbish about the context of where art is appropriately seen. You can dislike that about them, but you shouldn't ignore it in preparing your bio for one of them.

Awards /Grants / Residencies
Again, organize these by year and keep the information simple. What and when.

Number one question I hear about this: should I put online reviews in here. YES. Even blog reviews, Yes. Press is press. What a gallerist is looking for here is 1) are people writing about your work and 2) who is writing about your work. Just because a talented writer writes about you online rather than in print doesn't change either of those.

Organize chronologically. Most distracting here for me is inconsistency again. Choose one style and stick with it. Your resume is a professional document, not a creative one. Be detail oriented, consistent, and clear.

Really only impressive if the collectors are well known. Otherwise, a negative IMO. I'd limit to museums and collectors with international reputations if you feel it's important at all.

Writing / Curating / Related Professional Activity
I'd be careful here. Unless the related activity somehow reinforces your studio practice or project, I'm not sure these items always help. A gallery needs to know the artist is serious enough about their art that they spend as much time as possible in their studio. If it's clear the artist is running all over the place being a curator, critic, professor, or whatever, that seems less likely. Having noted that, some such activities can be very impressive and, well, make an impression, so it's a bit of a tricky one. I'd suggest keeping this section simple and direct if it seems important to include.

But I've rambled on long enough here. What feedback have you received/given and what do you recommend?

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Rebels and Martyrs: Or, Does Great Art Require "Artistic Temperament"?

An exhibition titled "Rebels and Martyrs" at the National Gallery in London (one of my sentimental favorite museums in the world) has set as its subject the notion of the artist as a romantic, rebellious loner struggling to be understood in a contentious, antagonistic society. From

From Lord Byron to Sid Vicious, artists have lived fast, sparked outrage and died young.

A new exhibition opening tomorrow at Britain's National Gallery traces the image of the artist as rebellious loner from its Romantic roots through works by Vincent van Gogh, Edvard Munch, Edgar Degas and others.

Co-curator Alexander Sturgis says "Rebels and Martyrs" explores "the romantic myth of the genius suffering artist" that arose in the early 19th century and is still going strong 200 years later.

The unmade bed that bears the corpse of boy-poet Thomas Chatterton, a suicide at 17, in Henry Wallis' 19th-century portrait prefigures the messy-bed installation that made Brit art star Tracy Emin famous in the 1990s. The pale skin, disheveled hair and staring eyes in self-portraits by Gustave Courbet and Alexandre Abel de Pujol are echoed in elegantly wasted rock stars, from Keith Richards to Pete Doherty.
The exhibition also highlights the silliness of such notions taken to extremes, including the satirical painting seen here: Leonardo Alenza, 'Satire on Romantic Suicide', about 1839. Museo Romantico, Madrid.

In exploring the notion that all great artists were emotionally intense, this show touches on the mythology supporting that most annoying of postures: artistic temperament. Personally, I agree with Gilbert K. Chesterton, who noted that "Artistic temperament is the disease that afflicts amateurs," but, alas, the popularity of the myth persists.

Perhaps it's the way in which society allows itself to not resent the artist too much (i.e., it's not their fault...they were born that way) for living outside the standards of working and behaving more like everyone else. The irony is that most artists I know who attain some financial success behave exactly the same way any other person with money does: buying bigger property and nicer cars, taking better vacations, investing in the stock market, etc. In other words, becoming a vital part of the very society they were supposedly rebelling against. Of course, they still get to dress down and "play" in their studios, but as with everybody else, with success comes the pressure to make compromises in order to maintain it.

So perhaps artistic temperament is a luxury only poor artists can afford (like arrogance was a luxury the fox in the fable about sour grapes could afford). But to quote Chesterton again: the great tragedy of the artistic temperament is that it cannot produce any art. Tom Clancy once wrote that "writing = ass in chair." The same simple forumla applies to the visual arts as well, IMO: "art = ass in studio." All the artistic temperament in world won't compensate for that.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Caution: Curator Cattle Call

Damien Hirst, her first choice, wasn't available, so artist Sophie Calle placed an ad seeking an unconventional (or at least unpredictable) choice to curate her installation in the French pavilion at the next Venice Biennale:

Traditionally, it's the curator's job to choose the artist. And placing a want ad in a newspaper is not the typical way of finding one. Of course, when the artist is Sophie Calle, one must expect the unexpected. As Le Monde's Michel Guerrin reports, last week Calle discreetly submitted an announcement to the newspaper. But unlike those seeking an apartment or a new employee, Calle is looking for someone to curate her show in the French pavilion at the next Venice Biennale.

Guerrin quotes the ad in full: "Sophie Calle, artist selected to represent France at the 52nd Venice Biennale, looking for enthusiastic candidate for the position of exhibition curator. References required. Pay to be negotiated. Command of English desired. Send a CV and a cover letter to:"

As one may gather from the announcement, hopeful candidates would be sending their applications to Calle's gallerist in Paris, Emmanuel Perrotin. According to Guerrin, Calle originally asked Damien Hirst to do the honors. But when Hirst refused, a friend apparently gave her the idea of placing an ad in the paper (a version of the advertisement also appears on page 230 of the Summer 2006 issue of Artforum.)

Guerrin insists that the ad is serious and that the artist's request should be taken "à la lettre [at its word]." "[Calle] likes to put herself in danger by setting up scenarios which she does not completely control," writes Guerrin. This approach allows Calle "to produce works whose content and breadth cannot be expected from the outset." Given Calle's reputation, potential curatorial candidates may themselves be in for a few surprises.
The link above is live, so if you're interested, go for it. Although, the warning should be taken quite seriously, I'd venture, given Calle's other famous piece in Venice where she posed as a chambermaid in a Venetian hotel in order to :

...investigate the lives of strangers through their possessions and habits. In the guests’ absence, she photographed opened luggage, laundry, contents of bathrooms, and even trashcans, noting details gleaned from diaries, letters, and so on. Each of the twelve works in the series (one for each room Calle was assigned to clean) consists of a grid of photographs shown alongside a larger image of the hotel room’s bed, which is above a text written by the artist. Freely combining fact and conjecture, the texts include quotes and details from the documents Calle read as well as her own interpretations of the people whose privacy she playfully—and almost criminally—invaded.
Lord only knows what Ms. Calle might have in mind for the curator selected.

Monday, June 26, 2006

The Jury's Still Out on Open Submission Exhibitions

An artist the other day asked me about open submissions juried exhibitions. I said what I always say about many US gallerists they're a negative on a resume, suggesting a lack of confidence in the work. I also noted that the perspective, like all free advice, was worth exactly what he paid for it, but...

I wish I had read
the following before offering that advice though:

A painting of a blonde girl in a black dress, aptly titled Blonde Girl, Black Dress, emerged yesterday as the best out of 1,305 works on display at the Royal Academy's summer exhibition in London.

Chantal Joffe, 36, a native of St. Albans, north of London, was stunned to learn that she surpassed such art world heavyweights as Sir Anthony Caro to collect the Charles Wollaston award for "most distinguished work" at the show.

"Blonde Girl, Black Dress is an incredibly strong and striking painting," the judges said. "It held its own in the gallery in which it was shown. There was no debate about the winner, the decision was reached unanimously."

Blonde Girl, Black Dress was selected from a shortlist of five works for the prize—whose past winners have included David Hockney—that is worth $45,750 (£25,000, €36,000).

"I never expected to win against such an illustrious line up," Joffe said. "I am overwhelmed."

In addition to Sir Anthony, that illustrious line up included Georg Baselitz, Sandra Blow, Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst, Ken Howard, and Richard Long.

But before you rush your piece over for next summer's exhibition (actually, I'm not sure, but I think there are residency restrictions, so...) or reconsider whether juried exhibitions are indeed a solid path to fame and glory, consider this article, published in the Times of London before the exhibition was selected (it's titled "
Amateurs queue up for £18 chance at artistic glory":

ARTISTS must suffer for their art, and not even repeated rejection from the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition could deter hopefuls from trying again yesterday — although several were angry at having to pay £18 for each work submitted.

One man, who has almost lost count of the number of times that he has been turned down since he first entered in 1970, was back again this time for another go. Theo Matoff, 75, a former architect from London, told The Times that he has probably been rejected 15 times. But he remained defiant as he handed over his latest abstract composition.

“It’s like winning the lottery,” he said of his chances. Only 10 per cent of about 10,000 works entered this year will be chosen for the final exhibition.

One artist, who declined to be named, said that the £18 handling fee for each work was far too expensive, particularly as anyone living outside London also has to pay for transport costs. “And you then have to come back and pick them up when they’re rejected,” she said. “The Academy is raking it in.” It also takes 30 per cent in commission from sales made at the exhibition.
Moreover, despite the tone of the first article above, this year's winner was not exactly the Cinderella story it seems to be. Along with Turner Prize winner Grayson Perry, Chantal Joffe (whose work I didn't know, but who, upon a bit more research I learned, exhibitions with, among others, Victoria Miro Gallery [suggesting she's no outsider]), had been invited to submit work to the exhibition. Still, congratuations to her for her prize.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

A Delicate Arrangement: Postscript

I sincerely had no intention of igniting the firestorm of emotion that resulted from the post on the SVA MFA exhibition held at Zwirner last week. I simply thought the approach that led to the exhibition was extraordinary and something worth noting. When the thread was hijacked and it turned to a diatriabe against the perceived preferential treatment students get by galleries in these speculative times, I was a bit miffed, to be quite honest. I felt something positive and optimistic had been derailed. There simply ain't enough positive and optimistic stuff in this world to dismiss the little that comes along.

But, having noted that, I do understand the frustration that leads to the comments posted. I hear such comments from friends all the time. But I think the frustration got ahead of a few commenters. It didn't actually appropriately apply to this exhibition. For one thing, from the catalog it's clear that rather than infants being snatched from cradles a large percentage of the SVA graduates are in their 30's. Clearly having waited to attend graduate school, one assumes because life interceded.

And there are other reasons, but I'll let the words of a participant in the exhibition speak for themselves. The following comment was posted to the initial thread by "Zuke" (not sure if that's the artist's real name or not). It's wise, balanced, and a very good example of the energy and attitude I was trying to highlight originally:
I was in that Zwirner show and I just got back from the de-installation. I am tired and sweaty: I've got paint on my clothes and spackle clotted in my leg hair. I am not particularly young and I'm not particularly rosy-cheeked (unless I've had a few cocktails.) In fact, the show was largely organized by a group of SVA MFA students who were post-30, having been out of the educational system of the better part of a decade, if not more. People who'd worked full-time at jobs outside the art field, who had relationships and commitment to friends, family and lovers that far outstrips the "youth" found in gradate art programs. Yes, yes, we're relatively young in sidereal terms, but old enough to dig in and work as hard as humanly possible.

We organized the show for several reasons...

1.) This show was staged as an attempt to patch egregious holes in the architecture of the SVA program due, mainly, to the lack of guidance and/or direction from the MFA Fine Arts Department Chair, David L. Shirey. It was a 100% student organized exhibition and we consider it a loud and vivid protest against the failure of current administration to have the slightest bit of ambition for the program. The current system works as follows: our thesis shows are broken into thirds, allowing only 10-11 students at a time (out of a class of 31) to show their work. In the case of the first thesis show, it was scheduled to open three days before fact, before that particular group had even met with a thesis advisor. The second thesis show went up in mid-January, a mere week AFTER those students were assigned thesis advisors. The third thesis show batch had a little more time to meet with thesis advisors--the show went up in mid-March, during SVA's spring break--but it still highlighted the fact that the the MFA Fine Arts department had a very dismissive attitude towards our output and studio practice. Wah wah wah, I know: we're teary-eyed, spoiled children in a rarefied system, complaining of its failures. Say what you want, people, but most of us came to SVA to have an educational experience, to work closely with our thesis advisor to create a coherent, disciplined body of work. It was, realistically, the final installment in our formal education: we came to dig in, to learn and to be challenged. As the current program exists, they do very little to rise to our dedication to the educational experience other than exposing us to a few "big name" artists during our sojourn within the studios, and assuring us that the Winter/Spring Open Studios matter far more that the thesis shows. Sad recompense, if you ask me.

2.) This show was also designed to give us, the Class of 2006, as sense of community and completion. I felt an enormous sense of community during that Zwirner show. I had spent the previous two years hearing, seeing (and, sadly in many cases, smelling) the presence of 30+ students in my class. I had varying degrees of affection/dislike for these people but I never regretted submitting myself to their presence. So to have one final gathering of both the student population and the WORK of the students was an amazingly satisfying experience for me. It was psychologically boosting. Laugh, if you must, but it was. I put myself in debt for the next decade for a good dance, and a good godd*mn dance I got at the opening on Wednesday night.

3.) And, finally, why not? Why effing not? In this day, in this ridiculous art market, why not do everything we can to gain attention for ourselves? The organizers of "A Delicate Arrangement" were tired of reading articles in the Times and the New Yorker about the Yale and Columbia grad programs. So why not us? The administration was willing (and eager, in my opinion) to fail us but, considering the crippling financial obligations we'd assumed by signing on to SVA's MFA program, we were NOT willing to fail ourselves. So we stepped up and did the work ourselves. Dan Cameron was an absolute catalyst. He was supremely supportive and encouraging throughout the entire experience. But we did everything we could to meet the challenges he threw at us and--at the risk of sounding cocky--we met his challenges with every gram of grace, talent, discipline and enthusiasm at our disposal. And we--Dan and the Class of 2006--succeeded.

I am proud of our work. And, I assure you, we worked hard every single day that we had access to the studios. In fact, our hard work manifested itself outside of the studios: we made this show happen. So excoriate us if you want. But we earned this show and, I guess, your excoriation.
Indeed. Why effing not? Once again, congratulations to the SVA class of 2006 for their faith in themselves and their refusal to accept that there was nothing they could do to change how the system was stacked against them!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Hatin' how they love them Youngins: Open Thread

OK, so here it is...the chance to get it out of your system. Choose a psuedonym if you like, but let it rip. How do you really feel about the art market's alleged preference for younger artists? For this thread (and this thread only), we'll turn a blind eye to less than gracious commentary (although, anyone attacking anyone else in here will be asked to your ammo for "the system").

To get the ball rolling, though, let me direct you to the flip side of all this. From
the Guardian:

At 41, Damien Hirst is no longer a 'young British artist'. So what should we call him? A middle-aged businessman? He still pickles the odd shark, but he seems every bit as interested in his £3m country house, his £100m fortune and the danger that it all might slip away. [...]

Damien Hirst: master of all he surveys; worth, so he claims, £100m; the most powerful man in the art world (according to ArtReview magazine, anyway); property magnate; collector. Artist.

It is 18 years since he attracted attention as the Goldsmith's student who curated Freeze - a show of work by his mates that demonstrated the entrepreneurial spirit of a bunch of artists who refused to hang around waiting to be discovered.

These days he employs 65 people, including a full-time business manager, Frank Dunphy, who has become famous in his own right. When Hirst speaks, in his curlicued, erratic, scuttling sentences, he nearly always says "we", not "I". "Well, it's such a big operation," he says. "I tend to mean me and Frank. Or me and Science." (Science is the company that handles his affairs.) The "most powerful" tag, sensibly, he laughs off - "It's Top of the Pops, isn't it? It's funny. When you've been number one you can only go down, can't you? We were once the 'most invited' in Tatler. But we never go anywhere."

And yet despite his army, his stately home in Gloucestershire, his land in Mexico, his properties in Lambeth and Devon, his art's seemingly unassailable market value (Away From the Flock, Divided, 1995, sold last month for £1.8m, his saleroom record), and his sheer celebrity, he does not feel safe. There's Hirst's old friend, fear of death, to contend with. And then there is all that money - burdensome, bringer of both responsibility and distraction, horribly fragile. "The whole thing could fall apart with a war," he says. "I always think it can be taken away from you at any moment. People talk about safe investments, but Lloyd's Bank could collapse. Banks have collapsed in our lifetime." [emphasis mine]

Yes, many artists would still trade places with Damien, but I hope this example prompts folks to question what exactly is it the system isn't giving them that they want so badly. Unless it's simply the freedom to make their art, I'm not so sympathetic. away. Anecdotes are always good.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

A Delicate Arrangement

One of the things I remind myself when considering how to succeed (either in the gallery business or other ventures) is that almost everyone whom we think of as a huge success got there by blazing a new trail. In other words, anyone looking to / mimicking someone else's path, will have a much more difficult time of getting where they want to go, or at least of getting somewhere no one else has ever been before.

I mention this as preface to a charming announcment sent about an exhibition of MFA graduates:

Conceived of by the School of Visual Art MFA Class of 2006 and curated by Dan Cameron, A Delicate Arrangement will be on view at the David Zwirner Gallery in Chelsea for four days only, June 21-25, 2006.

The title of the exhibition, A Delicate Arrangement, refers to the treacherous path of MFA graduates entering the high-stakes commercial gallery world. It also points, with a degree of literalness, to the unusual circumstances surrounding the show’s genesis.

The idea for an exhibition of the entire graduating class grew out of the students' desire to mount a group exhibition at the completion of their full two years in the MFA program. Due to time and space limitations of SVA's exhibition space, thesis exhibitions are often scheduled shortly after the 3rd semester of study, so many students felt that these shows, while excellent, did not always represent the full development of their work.

Dan Cameron, professor of the group's final seminar in Critical Theory, came on board after being asked by the entire class to work with them in assembling and hanging the show. After a two-month search for an empty storefront space or nonprofit venue, he encouraged the students to approach several commercial spaces to ask if such an exhibition would be possible.

While many gallery names were tossed around, from small Brooklyn spaces to up-and-coming galleries, a student walked in to David Zwirner Gallery and asked if they would be willing to make their space available. To the surprise of Dan Cameron and everyone in the MFA Department at SVA, the David Zwirner Gallery said "Yes" and agreed to host the exhibition at no cost to the students.

But the question must be asked, at a time when other MFA programs are erecting walls to protect their students from the pressures of the market and P.S.1’s Greater New York show is characterized as having an air of pedophilia, is it presumptuous of these students to show in one of the city's elite art galleries? Perhaps, but when people ask how this show ended up at one of the most prestigious galleries in New York, the students simply say, "We asked."

by Dan Cameron
An exhibition of the 2006 School of Visual Arts MFA Graduates
525 W. 19th Street, New York, NY
***************FOUR DAYS ONLY***************
Wednesday through Saturday
June 21- June 24, 2006
Wednesday June 21, 2006 6-9pm
The moral of the story, of course, is to dream big and your enthusiasm will often, in and of itself, open doors for you. The other take-away here is akin to something my grandfather used to say: "Anything worth having is worth asking for." His point was, don't be afraid to humble yourself or put yourself out there in a vulnerable position for things that are important to you.

Kudos to the SVA graduates! And a hearty "well done" to Dan Cameron and the David Zwirner Gallery for making this exhibition a truly special one for the graduates.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Who's Hot? Who's Hotter?

Because yesterday's post wasn't quite contentious enough (just pour some milk over that bowl of rusty nails for me, will ya?), I'll direct you to perhaps the best measure available of which contemporary artists are currently most in demand. It's not a perfect measure, but has graciously sifted through the auction data available from the past month (a month in which, "new auction highs were set for works by more than 1,650 artists"). I've whittled down their data a bit due to space can see the whole list of all artists, living and past, on their site. The results for contemporary artists who broke auction records in May 2006 are as follows:




$968,000Mark di SuveroBojangles
$968,000Cecily BrownHigh Society
$912,000Sean ScullyWall of Light. . .
$895,876Cai Guo QiangEagles Watching. . .
$800,000Blinky PalermoKomposition. . .
$744,000John BaldessariBeach Scene. . .
$744,000Raymond PettibonSelf-Portrait as Goofy-Foot
$688,000Mike KelleyAhh...Youth
$688,000Mike KelleyAhh…Youth
$598,400Grandma MosesThe Old Oaken Bucket
$576,000David SalleVagrant
$574,350Pierre SoulagesPeinture
$564,800Elmer Nelson BischoffRed cliffs
$531,200Elaine SturtevantWarhol Diptych
$531,200Neo RauchStunde
$506,186Wang GuangyiRolex
$497,600Dirk SkreberYellow Locomotive
$471,111Ilya KabakovWhere Are They?
$464,000ChristoThe Gates. . .
$441,600Robert IrwinUntitled
$441,600Magdalena AbakanowiczCrowd. . .
$419,588Fang LijunNo. 8
$408,000Piotr UklanskiUntitled (Skull)
$396,800Barnaby FurnasBlown To Bits
$363,200Tomás SánchezGracia en la cascada
$363,200Julio RuelasVisión de la conquista
$332,985Kim Dong-YooMarilyn vs. Mao
$329,600Wang DuFlea Market. . .
$319,615Salvatore ScarpittaElephant Trap
$307,200Peter BlumeWinter
$307,200Thomas SchütteMaschine (4 works)
$307,200Ugo RondinoneIf There Were. . .
$296,000Victor VasarelyJong
$296,000Kiki SmithUntitled (Butterfly)
$275,258Nam June PaikEnlightenment 78 RPMs
$273,600Karen KilimnikTabitha II
$262,400Thomas DemandCollection
$240,000Olafur EliassonRiver Raft
$221,860Demetrios GalanisSeated Nude
$216,495Yang FeiyunDreaming Season
$216,000Rodolfo MoralesDreams of a Village
$204,000Wilhelm SasnalUntitled (Plane and Bombs)
$192,000Ross BlecknerOceans
$180,000Harry BertoiaUntitled (Large Bush Form)
$180,000Martin EderMascara (Dream Endlessly)
$180,000Philip PearlsteinTwo Models. . .
$168,000Rodney GrahamWelsh Oaks #3
$168,000Huang Yong PingThe Doomsday
$163,132Odd NerdrumSelvportrett med hårbånd
$156,000Martha RoslerBringing the War. . .
$156,000Paul PfeifferJohn 3:16
$156,000George CondoThe Insane Psychiatrist
$156,000Thomas RuffNudes pea 10
$153,846Jan SchoonhovenR77-14
$144,000Ellen GallagherNightlamp
$144,000David SchnellGestange II
$144,000Tatsuo MiyajimaTime grid
$134,615Maria LassnigKorkenziehermann (Tod)
$134,615Richard Paul LohseElemente. . .
$132,000Nobuyoshi Araki100 Works. . .
$132,000Rudolf StingelUntitled (diptych)
$120,000John McCrackenGlacier
$115,979Ma LiumingBaby no. 7
$111,111J.-N.NiepceLa jeune fille. . .
$108,000Kerry James MarshallUntitled (La Venus Negra)
$102,000Carroll DunhamField

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Loyalty on the Ropes

When poverty walks in the door, they say, love flies out the window. Apparently, when prosperity walks in the door, however, loyalty can fly out that same window.

As an art dealer, I can't help but feel for my colleagues experiencing the frenzy of defections by their big-name artists in these heady days of art market madness. The rumors about who's moving where are reaching a fevered pitch in Chelsea, and a strange sense that, as an artist, if you're not moving "up the food chain" (pooly defined as that may be), you're in danger of becoming irreverent, is spreading like a highly contagious virus. First was John Currin, then Tom Friedman (both to Gagosian), and now there's a seemingly frenzied rush out the doors of galleries that, in my eyes, are quite successful and work very hard for their artists. The Times reports today:
Defections seem to be contagious in Chelsea these days. Long-settled artists are suddenly playing the field, ditching their dealers in favor of galleries with bigger spaces, better locations, stronger connections to museums and collectors and — perhaps most important — a star-studded roster of artists.

"It's beginning to feel like the good old 80's, no?" said Friedrich Petzel, who recently lost Richard Phillips to Gagosian. Not since then has so much Wall Street money flowed steadily into the art market, prompting artists to scamper from gallery to gallery in pursuit of riches and fame.

The difference today, many dealers say, is that it's the successful artists — whose work commands dizzying sums— who are defecting. "Artists used to leave because they weren't doing well enough," said Helene Winer, a co-owner of Metro Pictures. "Now they're leaving because they're so successful. They're vulnerable to offers from other dealers. We have to adjust if we want to keep them."

In the last year Chris Ofili left Gavin Brown, Sue Williams dumped 303 Gallery, and Lisa Yuskavage bid goodbye to Marianne Boesky, all for David Zwirner's rapidly expanding gallery in Chelsea. And in one of the most talked-about moves of the spring, the artist Paul McCarthy severed a 14-year relationship with Luhring Augustine in favor of Hauser & Wirth of London and Zurich. (News of Mr. McCarthy's defection arrived in the form of a brief letter via Federal Express, Lawrence Luhring said in an interview.)
And at a party recently, some well-informed insiders noted a few other high-profile defections they're heard were underway. I won't say who just yet, but, if true, it suggests that it's not only established galleries or their well-settled artists who are being poached by the big fish.

We, like many galleries, don't have contracts with our artists. We rely on mutual respect and a demonstrable effort on their behalf to keep our artists happy with our relationship. But we're not naive. We tell our artists that if a bigger gallery comes calling and they feel it's an important change for them to do what they feel is best. We advise them to consider it carefully and to understand we'll wish them well if they go but we can't leave their slot open if that move turns out not to be what they thought it would be.

Now, I've been in the biz long enough, and have enough artists as friends, to know that very few artists are perfectly thrilled with every aspect of their gallery. Most like to bitch to their friends (and dealers do the same, mind you), but that's simply the nature of human relationships. There are, however, better ways of dealing with contentions than we're seeing in some of these examples (emails letting their gallery know they're finished? FedEx'd letters? [what ever happened to artists with balls?] Why not a text message, for God's sake?).

I've had the honor of having an artist respect us enough to explain what factors about the relationship were making them think about switching us an opportunity to address those issues. (Like any gallery, if we don't know what's wrong, we can't fix it.) I have immense respect for that artist for being mature enough to approach the situation in that manner. I wish others were as thoughtful. And, of course, there's the other side to this story: galleries dropping artists. I've done that well, and I've done it shamefully poorly. Believe me, you'll always sleep better having done it well.

Now it's no secret that many well-established galleries are looking for more inventory. They sell out at art fairs and sell out their exhibitions, and a few have been known to have to simply skip an art fair because they couldn't come up with enough work to make it worth while. I'm sure this drives artists seeking representation absolutely nuts, but the inventory those galleries are seeking is by instantly sellable "names," not newbies (they leave the hard work of building reputations to the galleries they poach from). What may be less well known, or remembered, actually, is that when the corrections come (and they will), even established galleries that have overextended their stables will need to trim back. Artists who jumped while the jumping was good may find themselves unrepresented. If enough artists find themselves in that position, even the "names" may go wanting for any space that will exhibit their work.

All of which is another way to say artists should consider carefully (with an eye on the long term) why they want to move. If a gallery is truly holding them back, that's one thing. But if it's just more quick cash, it might be a big mistake, careerwise. Not to mention soulwise. Some of these artists are leaving after more than a decade of service and loyalty from their gallery, one...notoriously...during a major retrospective at a major museum that their former gallery had every right to take a good deal of credit for. But, I guess, that's how this game is played, and if you can't stand the heat....

The thing for me, and many other dealers I know, is that I have no delusions about getting filthy rich from this venture. I opened a gallery because I love art and love the dialog. So it's particularly annoying when folks argue that there's no need to take disloyalty personally...the "it's just business" excuse. For me it's deeply personal. That doesn't mean an artist shouldn't move on if unhappy. But I hope it would mean they'd not do so via email.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Another "Coincidence" that Just So Happens to Help Big Oil (aka The Current US Government)

When founder James Smithson started the institution that bears his name, he explained
"I then bequeath the whole of my the United States of America, to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an Establishment for the increase & diffusion of knowledge..."
There's no question that day-in and day-out, the keepers of his vision do an extraordinary job of living up to it (the Smithsonian is a national treasure and I profoundly cherish it). In fact the mission of the current Secretary, Lawrence Small, echoes and expands upon that of the founder:
"The Smithsonian is committed to enlarging our shared understanding of the mosaic that is our national identity by providing authoritative experiences that connect us to our history and our heritage as Americans and to promoting innovation, research and discovery in science. These commitments have been central to the Smithsonian since its founding more than 155 years ago."
However, the timing of a recent decision the Institution has made is for me so very disappointing that I hope they reconsider or do something to reverse perceptions. Via
Just weeks before the release of a movie about the death of the electric car from the 1990s, the Smithsonian Institution has removed its EV1 electric sedan from display.

The National Museum of American History removed the rare exhibit yesterday, just as interest in electric and hybrid vehicles is on the rise.

The upcoming film
Who Killed the Electric Car? questions why General Motors created the battery-powered vehicles and then crushed the program a few years later. The film opens June 30th.

GM happens to be one of the Smithsonian's biggest contributors. But museum and GM officials say that had nothing to do with the removal of the EV1 from display.

A museum spokeswoman says the museum simply needed the space to display another vehicle, a high-tech SUV.

The Smithsonian has no plans to bring the electric car back on view. It will remain in a Suitland storage facility. [emphasis mine]
So help me here. I'm supposed to accept that the Smithsonian (an institution dedicated to the "increase & diffusion of knowledge") "needs" to display a vehicle any American can see clogging all of our highways on any single freakin' day of the year. Yes, it might be considered by some (GM marketing managers, mostly, I'd venture) as "integral" to some current exhibition, and yes, it's a so-called high-tech version of the road hogs out there, but, really is an SUV a rare sight where you live? I mean the suggestion that we have to travel to DC to see one is moronic. I can't spit without hitting three of them.

Electric cars, on the other hand, are like four-leaf clovers...I'm not sure I've ever actually seen one in person.

Now I've thrown my two cents in on political blogs long enough to know that folks who don't want to see a connection between GM's significant sponsorship of the Smithsonian and the decision to replace a rare electric car (just before a hard-hitting controversial film comes out) with a ubiquitous SUV will shield themselves behind delusions of happenstance. "It's just a coincidence ... stop being so paranoid ... you have no evidence ... blah ... blah ... plausible deniability ... blah."

Wiser observers, however, understand that the only thing rarer than an electric car on an American road is a true political coincidence. In this instance, the suggestion that it is a coincidence is virtually insulting.

Consider what extreme steps the Automotive and, especially, the Oil industry have already taken to sour Americans on the idea of the electric car. In response to an air pollution crisis in 1990 (a year the Los Angeles Basin issued 41 stage-one smog alerts), the California Air Resources Board targeted one of the leading causes of the problem: tailpipe exhaust. In 1990...
Inspired by a recent annoucement by General Motors about an electrical vehicle prototype, the Zero Emission Vehicle Mandate (ZEV) was born. It required 2% of new vehicles sold in Californa to be emission-free by 1998, 10% by 2003. It was the most radical smog-fighting mandate since California first required carmakers to install catalytic converters. [...]

Both the Car companies and oil industries argued the mandate was too strict, and both the car and heavily profitable oil industries (in 2005, ExxonMobil posted $35 billion in profits, the largest ever profit recorded by a US company) lobbied heavily against the ZEV mandate from the very beginning.

As early as 1995, the American Automobile Manufacturers Association circulated a confidential proposal to launch a public relations “grassroots education campaign” to repeal the CARB ZEV program.

The Western States Petroleum Association, an oil industry trade group, hired the PR firm of Woodward and McDowell, in the winter of 1993-1994 to drum up public opposition to EVs by calling attention to supposedly sharp price hikes utilities were planning to make to build and expand infrastructure, like charging stations, with the advent of EVs. Through the bogus grassroots organization, Californians Against Utility Company Abuse, Woodward and McDowell sent out hundreds of thousands of letters protesting any utility increases that would follow under the ZEV mandate and made calls to California ratepayers, some of whom were transferred to politicians’ offices so they could voice their opposition to any increases in their utility bills. Michael Shnayerson, author of The Car That Could: The Inside Story of GM’s Revolutionary Electric Vehicle, also claimed that “(t)he oil companies spent far more money than the car companies” in lobbying against California’s ZEV mandate. Also, from December 1994 to June 1995, Mobil took out ads in publications like Time, USA Today and Newsweek to argue against alternative fuels, electric cars and the ZEV mandate by claiming, amongst other things, that everyone would have to pay to subsidize electric cars via increased utility rates and government subsidies.
Now here's why this matters. Even the resident of the White House admits that America's dependence on oil puts us at greater risk of terrorists' attacks. Dependence on foreign oil (something that drilling in ANWR will not make a noticeable dent in, mind you [you soulless freaks]), is directly related to the attacks on 9/11 and our invasion of Iraq. In other words, close to 6000 American lives have been cut short because we consume too much oil to tell the oppressive regimes in the Middle East to fuck off, and so the radical, murderous forces opposed to those regimes targets us, as friends of their enemies. In a nutshell, our excessive use of gas-guzzling SUVs put us at greater risk of terrorism. There's no denying it.

So why does the Smithsonian respond to such matters with this particular choice, in these perilous times? Well consider this first:

The Smithsonian's National Museum of American History attracts nearly 6 million visitors each year. 'Americans on the Move' will be the Museum's first major exhibition on transportation since the late 1970's and will highlight all modes of transport - road, rail, air and water. General Motors will be the named sponsor of this new transportation exhibition wing.
I for one am exhausted from giving the current powers that be the benefit of doubt in such matters. We're living in an age in which power is somehow divorced from responsibility. Enough, I say. No more plausible deniability. If there's even a chance the public will sense a questionable connection, the institutions involved should explain themselves in advance or be laid open to the harshest of criticisms. My tolerance for suspending my suspicions has been drained.

I beseech the Smithsonian: make plans (and announce them) to put the electric car back on exhibition.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

There's a thought-provoking review in the Times today of an anthropolitically focused exhibition in Paris titled "L'Amour, Comment Ça Va?" or "How's Love Doing?" Organized, not by an art curator or critic, but by two French intellectuals (oooo, how that phrase polarizes Americans, no?)---Arlette Farge, a historian, and Rose-Marie Lagrave, a sociologist---the exhibition sets out to explore how Love itself has evolved over the past few centuries and, as the Times put it, how Love serves as "an accurate — and at times disturbing — gauge of social evolution." To demonstrate their point, they've called upon photos and films of artists like artists like André Masson, Barbara Kruger, Michelangelo Antonioni, Pedro Almodóvar, Wim Wenders, Robert Mapplethorpe, Raymond Depardon and Stanley Greene, etc.

"Our intention is to disturb the visitor," Ms. Lagrave notes in an exhibition pamphlet. "While people might expect to find images of physical contact and beauty, we show how difficult it is to love today."

Ms. Farge suggests a reason: "In the 18th century, a man and woman lived together for a maximum of three or four years because of wars, epidemics, death during childbirth and so on. Life was a succession of funerals and remarriages. In fact, until today, couples have never had to live together for a long time."

In other words, the organizers argue, love inside or outside marriage is now exposed not only to new challenges but also to an extended test of time.
The resulting mosaic of images, while often specific to France, reflects the experience of other Western societies in which patterns of love have been altered by a host of new or intensified variables: feminism, gay and lesbian rights, H.I.V./AIDS, longevity, late marriages and single mothers, plastic surgery, fashion, falling birth rates, advertising, immigration and unemployment.

In other words, nowhere does love exist in a vacuum. It must constantly confront new problems, freedoms and expectations.

One of the things you think you know when you think about Love from this vantage point is how adversity can impact it, both positively and negatively. "When Poverty walks in the door, Love flies out the window," is one popular notion, but the exhibition explores another as well:

In difficult times, the show argues, love can take the form of solidarity: those coming together to fight a common injustice are also expressing a kind of love. In fact, Ms. Farge points out, "collective emotions" often spawn romantic love. "In the Resistance, there were ardent love affairs," she writes in a book accompanying the show. "And people later suffer when they can no longer share moments of emotional complicity, which can transform love."
In reading how the exhibition concludes, I was somewhat disappointed though:

The show's final section leaps into the 21st century, "from love to subversion," as its organizers put it. By that they apparently mean subversion of the traditional rules of love as people set out in search of new versions of happiness, apparent in the rising numbers of gay marriages and falling numbers of heterosexual ones, the obsession with physical appearance and the anonymity of Internet dating.
I find this a cynical and not too thorough exploration (and bear in mind, this is one critic's take, not necessarily the intent). Looking at where we stand now a bit more carefully, I would note that internet dating, for example, has led to several of the happiest marriages I can think of; obsession with physical appearance is likely a good portion of why people are living longer than ever; and the falling numbers of heterosexual marriages is in no way whatsoever tied to the rising number of gay marriages (in fact the Times writer should issue a retraction of that implication, IMO).

The article does end on a charming note about the beautiful, if frustrating, complexity of love though:

[A] such-is-life short movie, "Pacotille" ("Trinket") by Eric Jameux, drew the largest crowd one recent afternoon. In it Thierry gives a necklace with a little heart to Karine and points out the inscriptions: "More Than Yesterday" on one side, "Less Than Tomorrow" on the other. Karine doesn't understand. Thierry explains that each day he loves her more.

"But you said less!" she retorts.

Thierry tries again, but to no avail. "I want someone who loves me the same every day," Karine declares — and walks out on him.
Perhaps what this exhibition is really exploring is the evolution of romance, not love, per se. I'm not sure I want two French intellectuals attempting to explain the difference, but...

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Gulnara Kasmalieva and Muratbek Djumaliev @ Plus Ultra

It was just a little over a year ago that I received a press release about the first Central Asian Pavillion at the Venice Biennale. I blogged on it here. Through Bambino, I had been learning about the subtleties of Central Asian history and contemporary culture, and was quite impressed with how quickly the region's contemporary artists had been gaining international attention after the collapse of the Soviet Union. After a bit more research, I realized that the work of one team of artists from Kyrgyzstan in particular had such a beautiful, almost heartbreaking sensibility that I really wanted to meet them.

When we learned they were coming to New York for a group exhibition at the Sidney Mishkin Gallery, Bambino and I arranged to go and introduce ourselves. Where that beautiful sensibility comes from was immediately apparent. We instantly adored them both and well, one thing led to another, and it today gives me great pride and extreme pleasure to announce their solo exhibition at the gallery, which opens this Thursday. We've just learned that the film they're exhibiting here in New York was also chosen for the Singapore Biennial which opens in September 2006. I hope you can stop in and see this important work. Here's the press release:

Gulnara Kasmalieva / Muratbek Djumaliev
Into the Future
June 15 to July 29, 2006
Opening Reception: Thursday, June 15, 6-8 pm


Plus Ultra Gallery is extremely pleased to present Into the Future, the first New York solo exhibition by Kyrgyz artists Gulnara Kasmalieva and Muratbek Djumaliev. Collaborating for many years, the husband-wife artists are renowned for their documentary-style video installations and photography exploring the ramifications of political upheaval and modernization.

Working in their hometown of Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, which has been the center of change and protest since the collapse of the Soviet Union and recent overthrow of the widely criticized administration of former Kyrgyz president, Askar Akayev, Kasmalieva and Djumaliev exhibit here their 2005 dual-channel video installation “Into the Future.” Filmed in Siberia, “Into the Future” offers a direct and thoughtful verification of the effects of change and transformation. Through the juxtaposition of slowly changing images of industrial wastelands and the matter-of-fact recording of people boarding a ferry, they offer a complex, non-ironic look into that ambiguous point at which the future becomes the present and how we cope with that.

In addition, Kasmalieva and Djumaliev present a selection of photographs from their “New Menhirs” series. Referencing the giant stone structures (or “menhirs”) that jut out of the ground, marking prehistoric burial grounds, throughout Central Asia, this series catalogs desolate, often destroyed landscapes of factories and their surroundings. Standing, like menhirs, as monuments to a lost epoch, the ghostly structures in these images symbolize the contemporary stagnation that has replaced the brighter future they once promised.

Gulnara Kasmalieva and Muratbek Djumaliev’s work has been exhibited extensively around the world, including in the Central Asian Pavilion at the 51st Venice Biennale; the OK Centre for Contemporary Art for ‘Biennale Cuvee’ in Linz, Austria; the Ujazdowski Castle Contemporary art Centre in Warsaw, Poland; and the Sidney Mishkin gallery in New York. Their work will also be included in the upcoming Singapore Biennale which opens in September 2006.

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

This exhibition was made possible through the generous assistance of Murat Orozobekov.

Gulnara Kasmalieva / Muratbek Djumaliev
Into the Future
June 15 to July 29, 2006
Opening reception: Thursday, June 15, 2006, 6-8 pm

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

Hours: Tuesday thru Saturday, 11am to 6pm or by appointment.
Directions: C or E train to 23rd Street. Walk North to 27th Street. Plus Ultra is between 11th and 12th Avenues.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Iron Artist

The NYTimes reports on the first of what I hope will be at least two (so I can actually catch the second one) "Iron Artist" episodes at PS1 this past weekend. Based on and parodying the "Iron Chef" television show in which contestants are tasked to create a multicourse meal based on a single ingredient, "Iron Artist" pitted two teams of artists and their assistants against each other in a good-natured event of lighthearted competition. Given 45 minutes, a theme and materials, the artists had to make a work that would be judged on originality, execution and responsiveness to theme:

In the first of two 45-minute "duels," two sculptors, Jude Tallichet and Olav Westphalen, tackled the theme of "love and its discontents" using a medium they had agreed on in advance: giant blocks of foam.

Ms. Tallichet, 52, and her crew — dressed as ninjas, their faces covered except for the eyes — cut the foam into an olive-painted dome surrounded by smaller orbs jutting outward on wooden sticks. One assistant walked back and forth with handwritten signs referring to the solar system and its mythological references, while Ms. Tallichet re-enacted several theories about the death of the sculptor Ana Mendieta. [...]

Mr. Westphalen, 42, and his assistants, who wore silver boxing gowns, worked more slowly and meticulously. With a chainsaw they trimmed their block of foam into a snowman, complete with carrot-orange nose and coal-black eyes, and suspended it upside down from a flimsy wooden frame.

"The art world is at the moment infatuated with entertainment," Mr. Westphalen, the winner, said afterward. "The idea of taking that on aggressively and humorously
— to try to measure up to real entertainment, where the art world always comes out short of course, because we don't have the means and the talent and the time to do it right — that's a provocative approach."

In the second match two pairs of artistic collaborators addressed the theme of "man's inhumanity to man," from the Robert Burns poem.

Adam Ames and Andrew Bordwin, who collaborate under the name Type A, used metal studs, power drills and wallboard. The other pair, Julian LaVerdière and Vincent Mazeau, who design sets for film and fashion productions through their company, Big Room, worked with a blackboard, foam, giant black balloons and cylinders of compressed hydrogen.

Mr. Ames, 37, and Mr. Bordwin, 41, were sealed inside a makeshift room by their assistants, and in the final minute of the match punched and kicked their way out by destroying a wall of Sheetrock. Mr. LaVerdière, 35, and Mr. Mazeau, 40, chose a quieter surprise: After filling balloons with hydrogen, they attached them to a brown-painted foam brick with the inscription "Every Man for Himself" and set them aloft. In a close verdict, the judges proclaimed the Type A team the victor.

Sounds like it must have been a blast. Still, as much as I'm an advocate for art that doesn't take itself too seriously, it is rather difficult to imagine the Abstract Expressionists participating in such event (of course, they took themselves quite seriously, or so I've heard). And despite the Warholian lesson that to be a good artist one must embrace one's own time, warts and all, there's a stuffy little voice in the back of my head responding to "Iron Artist" with a mumbled mantra: "slippery's a slippery slope...what if it pushes Art even further toward entertainment?" Fortunately, there's a more boisterous voice in my head telling that stuffy little voice to "zip it, Killjoy...and stay out my way, I want to get a good seat at the next one." Anyone know if another is planned?

Thursday, June 08, 2006

The "Face" That Launched a Thousand Fish Stories

The bottom line is the scientists might be right. The 27,000-year-old drawing found in a cave in France might indeed be a highly stylized rendering of a face that just so happens to look Modernist or Cubist or something we associate with more intellectualism than we generally credit cavemen with possessing. Perhaps there is some cosmic connection between the prehistoric artist who scratched his charcoal across the stone wall and the stocky Spainard and gant Frenchman who would change art history, but does that give Guardian writer Johnathan Jones a license to ruminate so annoyingly...musing on the universality of the human face, lighting here and there across the ages, connecting Bancusi to Egyptian mummies and Jericho to Australia, like some drunken butterfly who's read one too many Barbara Cartland novels? His article could be used as the textbook case study in the search for a cure for prosaic incontinence.

[Phew...ok, glad I got that out my system.]

On the other hand, there's a whole host of other possibile explanation for the resemblance. Like the "Man in the Moon," the "Jesus' face in the cornflake," and a host of other personifications of perfectly ordinary objects (some man-made, some not), it might just be that humans like to project their likeness onto these things. This "drawing" might simply have been the place the caveman artist sharpened his charcoal instrument so he could add the finer details to the wooly mammoth masterpiece he was working on. The lines perhaps meant nothing whatsoever to him or his clan. The fact that we see a face in it now, doesn't mean the artist intended anyone to.

Which, of course, brings us back to the question we've hashed out repeatedly here...does that matter? If contemporary humans see a face in that wall, do the artist's intentions even matter now? It's not possible to ask what he meant, so the question is moot. Still, I do find it humorous to imagine Mr. Jones and Co. spinning poetic humanistic nonsense over four lines that were merely indications of a cliff and a river, but since I can't be sure, I'll just leave it at that. What do you see?

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Conflict of Interest for Times Art Critic?

We were fortunate enough to receive a glowing review in The New York Times for our last exhibition by Joe Fig. We felt the work deserved the review, but we feel that way about nearly every show. We were very appreciative of the interest and insight of the critic, whom I've known a number of years and always find charming and very smart and a man of integrity.

And yet it's terribly daunting to realize the power all the critics of The New York Times wield. The day the review appeared the phone started ringing promptly at 11:00 when we opened and virtually never stopped, and we had literally more than 30 times the normal number of people come by (we counted), often with a cutout copy of the review in hand.

We're not complaining. We love getting NYTimes reviews. It's simply an astounding amount of power the critics have to influence events.

That's why it was rather upsetting to read the post by Tyler on Modern Art Notes this morning:

Why is New York Times art critic Grace Glueck on the board of trustees of an art museum, the Clark Art Institute? Glueck's role at the Clark seems to be a direct violation of the Times' own ethics policies.

"[Times staff] may not join boards of trustees, advisory committees or similar groups except those serving journalistic organizations or otherwise promoting journalism education," the Times' own ethics handbook says. It adds that it doesn't matter that Glueck, who has 62 bylines so far this year, is technically a free-lancer: "Freelance contributors to the Times, while not its employees, will be held to the same standards as staff members when they are on Times assignments."

The Glueck conflict is obvious and embarrassing, and should not be dismissed as one of those things that is for some reason permissible at the culture desk. Would the Times allow its labor reporter to serve on the board of a labor union? Or could a Times science reporter sit on the board of the American Lung Association? What about its religion columnist: Would it allow him to serve on the board of a church, even if, say, he didn't write about that church? (Glueck last wrote about the Clark in 1991.) The answer is to all of those questions is: No. It should not be OK for a Times art critic to be a trustee of an art museum.

Tyler outlines in detail why this apparent conflict is quite serious. Now, I don't mind saying, I thought long and hard before deciding to post on this. The last thing any gallerist in New York wants to do is upset the decision makers at the Times Arts desk. And there's a part of me that hopes there's an explanation that makes this less problematic than it appears to be. I've never met Grace, but have met most of her colleagues and they're everyone remarkably friendly, intelligent, and wonderfully passionate about art. More than that, they are open, direct, and honest. That reflects well on their newspaper and is what we expect from the Old Gray Lady. So it seems incongruous that the editors would turn a blind eye to a conflict so apparently glaring as the one Tyler highlights. Still a response from the Times does seem in order.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Broad Vs. Broad

Long before Edna started stirring things up fact long before I was actually aware of the art blogs community at all, I got my recommended daily (or quarterly, anyway) allowance of funny and furious and feminist commentary on the state of the art world from two self-declared "Lady Artists with Bees in Their Bonnets" who published a 'zine called Broad Sheet. It's New York, if not Brooklyn, centric, and refreshing and fearless. From the very first issue, I was hooked. Here's the piece that made me laugh out loud and an instant fan (from their inaugural Summer 2003 issue):
The Kranky Korner

Top Ten Excellent Art Venues You'll Never Visit Unless You're Showing
There (Don't Lie!)

  1. The Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art (you've been meaning to)
  2. The Longwood Center (it's on your list)
  3. Bronx Musem of the Arts (you even miss all your friends' AIM Program shows)
  4. Snug Harbor (gasp! the ferry!)
  5. El Mueso Del Barrio (We were at the opening. Didn't you see us?)
  6. Any gallery on the upper east side (be real)
  7. The Brooklyn Museum (right in your own backyard!)
  8. DIA @ Beacon (yeah, right, talk to us in a year)
  9. Rotunda Gallery (there's really no good excuse)
  10. Queens Museum (don't worry, you'll be in a show here soon. We think that's them on the phone now!)
Well, I'm pleased to discover that the Broads have gone digital. You can get acquainted over at, where they've kindly posted their past issues in PDF format and outlined an agenda for their new virtual home. They're new to the blogosphere, so show them some love.