Thursday, September 28, 2006

While We're Away

OK, so I'm leaving the country in your hands (Bambino and I head out this afternoon). While we're gone, don't think it's non-stop-party time, though. Below is a "to do" list of five things we expect to be completed by time we get back. You're all adults (well, most of you), so I'm sure you can work out amongst yourselves who's best suited to do what, but we'll be checking in (as best we can) during our journeys, so don't leave it all to the last minute.

Here, in no particular order, are the things we'd like to see upon returning to the US:
  1. Maintain a healthy national respect for habeas corpus, for all human beings, no matter what. I know that Lincoln suspended it during the Civil War, but let me make this easy for you...Bush is NO Lincoln and he never will be, so stop suggesting that makes it OK. This means, defeat the CYA detainee treatment bill Bush is muscling through the Congress to ensure he can't be tried for war crimes. (EXTRA: If you find the time, try Bush for war crimes).
  2. Get the ambitious "Christian" leaders who attended the Family Research Council/Focus on the Family/American Family Association "Values Voters" summit to come up with a "rally the base" message that doesn't hinge upon fear, hatred, or intolerance. You know, help them pick an issue that Christ would approve of.
  3. Give each Democrat serving in Congress a spine implant. And a few could use a personality implant while you're at it.
  4. Car pool, buy a hybrid, take the bus now and then...Do what you personally can to lessen the pollutants contributing to the greenhouse effect. At least do more than you're doing right now. If that's just not your thing, consider instead buying some new ocean-front property. I hear good deals are to be had in Ohio.
  5. Don't be afraid. No matter how high they raise the terror alert, and even if (God forbid) terrorists do strike...buck up, handle it like adults, and look out for each other. (I'll repeat that one because if I come back and hear any of you forgot this one, there will be hear me???) LOOK OUT FOR EACH OTHER. And most importantly, keep our civil liberties intact. Fight for them tooth and nail. In the end, as a nation, they are our greatest treasure. Lose them, and the rest doesn't matter anywhere near as much.

OK, that's it. Do these right and we'll bring you all back some juicy sheep eyeballs as a pressie. See you soon!

e_ & b

PS. Image above of Tash Rabat, ancient inn on the Silk Road, about an hour outside the Kyrgyz / China border. We'll be visiting (but not's a national monument now). I'm so excited!!!

Monday, September 25, 2006

Galleries...Please Note

In discussing inequality between men and women in the art world recently, an art critic friend of mine thought I was coining a new phrase (must be my accent) and stopped me to ask if things were really all that bad. She wanted to know what I meant exactly by "despair-ity." I laughed and said no, I didn't think things were quite so "disparate" that I had lost hope, but clearly things are not equal.

This came up in response to the current exhibition in our space of new work by Jennifer Dalton. Conceived as one statement (a snapshot of the current art world and its measurable priorities), the exhibition deals, in part, with where the system stands in 2006 on the issue of gender equality. In a few of her five major works in the exhibition, in fact, Jennifer demonstrates that the system still favors male artists, even while asserting that there are complexities at work here (she explores a range of art institutions from schools to auctions to critics to galleries) that prevent any blanket incriminations. OK, so there is one incrimination that can be made rather easily: Chelsea galleries overwhemlingly favor male artists.

Jennifer demonstrates this visually in the exhibition with two maps (Art Guide, 2006, Map, colored pins, painted wooden frame, 9.5" x 10.5" x 1.25" ) on which blue pins represent male artist exhibitions for a two month period in Chelsea during the past season and pink pins represent female artists. You don't even need to count...the blues win easily in both.

But sometimes counting is a good idea as well. In his recent column, Jerry Saltz offers some sobering new statistics on this issue:

According to the fall exhibition schedules for 125 well-known New York galleries—42 percent of which are owned or co-owned by women—of 297 one-person shows by living artists taking place between now and December 31, just 23 percent are solos by women.
Jerry continues, noting that things are even worse in New York's major museums (At MoMA, only 5 percent of the objects in their permanent collection of art from 1879 to 1969 are by women; at the Guggenheim, only 14 percent of their solo shows of living artists have been devoted to women; at the Whitney, only 19 percent of the participants in their recent installation of their permanent collection were women), but contemporary galleries can't use history as their excuse for disparity the way museums can.

So what are galleries supposed to do? Set quotas? I think that's a bit of a red herring response actually, but I hear it all the time, so I wanted to get it out there. Just being conscious of the disparity isn't enough, but there's some point between that and purposely (artificially?) balancing one's program that seems appropriate. I'm not exactly sure what that is, but I do think the first step is to actually count.

I'm not exactly proud to report that of the artists we represent, only 5 (about 35%) are women. We will be working with two new (for us) women artists this spring, but that still won't make things equal.

Why pick on galleries, I'm sure my colleagues are saying? Disparity is everywhere in the art world. Well, as Jerry notes:

If only 24 percent of the shows are by women, how can 50 percent of the shows you preview, review, buy, or sell be by women?
We galleries are most often the first link in the chain for the rest of the system. Equality begins with us. Dennis Christie of DCKT responded to Jerry's article with the following on his blog:

For the record our represented artist's roster is 40% women (low for us due to some recent changes) and our fall exhibition schedule (here & here) is 100% women. It's not intentional, it's just the way it is.

Historically, 46% of our solo shows have been by women & 45% of the exhibited artists in our group shows have been women.
If there were only one response to Jen's exhibition and Jerry's article, I'd wish that it would be for each Chelsea gallery to take a moment to reflect on where they stand with regards to equality in their program. After that, well...let your conscious conscience* be your guide.

*Yes, yes, I should let a Literacy Checker be my guide.

UPDATE: Barry Hoggard offers some insight as this issue applies to collectors and curators.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Re-Elect Bill Clinton!

I swear to God, he's one of the only reasons I still have hope for this country.

To all the spineless Democrats wasting space in Congress, to anyone who regrets having cast a vote for Bush in 2004, I beseech you to read how a real President thinks and talks, off the cuff, under attack, and with humility and insight. We need more like Bill Clinton, and we need them now! Copied here from Think Progress (with thanks to JEC):

Today, President Bill Clinton taped an interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace, which is scheduled to be aired Sunday. He was told the interview would focus on his nonpartisan efforts to raise over $7 billion to combat the world’s biggest problems.

Early in the interview, Wallace attempted to smear Clinton with the same kind of misinformation contained in ABC’s Path to 9/11. Clinton was having none of it.

ThinkProgress has obtained a transcript of the interview. Here are some highlights

WALLACE: When we announced that you were going to be on Fox News Sunday, I got a lot of email from viewers, and I got to say I was surprised most of them wanted me to ask you this question. Why didn’t you do more to put Bin Laden and al Qaeda out of business when you were President? There’s a new book out which I suspect you’ve read called the Looming Tower. And it talks about how the fact that when you pulled troops out of Somalia in 1993, Bin Laden said “I have seen the frailty and the weakness and the cowardice of US troops.” Then there was the bombing of the embassies in Africa and the attack on the USS Cole.


WALLACE: …may I just finish the question sir. And after the attack, the book says, Bin Laden separated his leaders because he expected an attack and there was no response. I understand that hindsight is 20/20.

CLINTON: No let’s talk about…

WALLACE: …but the question is why didn’t you do more, connect the dots and put them out of business?

CLINTON: OK, let’s talk about it. I will answer all of those things on the merits but I want to talk about the context of which this arises. I’m being asked this on the FOX network…ABC just had a right wing conservative on the Path to 9/11 falsely claim that it was based on the 9/11 Commission report with three things asserted against me that are directly contradicted by the 9/11 Commission report. I think it’s very interesting that all the conservative Republicans who now say that I didn’t do enough, claimed that I was obsessed with Bin Laden. All of President Bush’s neocons claimed that I was too obsessed with finding Bin Laden when they didn’t have a single meeting about Bin Laden for the nine months after I left office. All the right wingers who now say that I didn’t do enough said that I did too much. Same people.

WALLACE: Do you think you did enough sir?

CLINTON: No, because I didn’t get him.


CLINTON: But at least I tried. That’s the difference in me and some, including all the right wingers who are attacking me now. They ridiculed me for trying. They had eight months to try and they didn’t…I tried. So I tried and failed. When I failed I left a comprehensive anti-terror strategy and the best guy in the country, Dick Clarke… So you did FOX’s bidding on this show. You did you nice little conservative hit job on me. But what I want to know..

WALLACE: Now wait a minute sir…


WALLACE: I asked a question. You don’t think that’s a legitimate question?

CLINTON: It was a perfectly legitimate question but I want to know how many people in the Bush administration you asked this question of. I want to know how many people in the Bush administration you asked: Why didn’t you do anything about the Cole? I want to know how many you asked: Why did you fire Dick Clarke? I want to know…

WALLACE: We asked…


WALLACE: Do you ever watch Fox News Sunday sir?

CLINTON: I don’t believe you ask them that.

WALLACE: We ask plenty of questions of…

CLINTON: You didn’t ask that did you? Tell the truth.

WALLACE: About the USS Cole?

CLINTON: Tell the truth.

WALLACE: I…with Iraq and Afghanistan there’s plenty of stuff to ask.

CLINTON: Did you ever ask that? You set this meeting up because you were going to get a lot of criticism from your viewers because Rupert Murdoch is going to get a lot of criticism from your viewers for supporting my work on climate change. And you came here under false pretenses and said that you’d spend half the time talking about…

WALLACE: [laughs]

CLINTON: You said you’d spend half the time talking about what we did out there to raise $7 billion dollars plus over three days from 215 different commitments. And you don’t care.

CLINTON: What did I do? I worked hard to try and kill him. I authorized a finding for the CIA to kill him. We contracted with people to kill him. I got closer to killing him than anybody has gotten since. And if I were still president we’d have more than 20,000 troops there trying to kill him. Now I never criticized President Bush and I don’t think this is useful. But you know we do have a government that thinks Afghanistan is 1/7 as important as Iraq. And you ask me about terror and Al Qaeda with that sort of dismissive theme when all you have to do is read Richard Clarke’s book to look at what we did in a comprehensive systematic way to try to protect the country against terror. And you’ve got that little smirk on your face. It looks like you’re so clever…

WALLACE: [Laughs]

CLINTON: I had responsibility for trying to protect this country. I tried and I failed to get Bin Laden. I regret it but I did try. And I did everything I thought I responsibly could. The entire military was against sending special forces into Afghanistan and refueling by helicopter and no one thought we could do it otherwise…We could not get the CIA and the FBI to certify that Al Qaeda was responsible while I was President. Until I left office. And yet I get asked about this all the time and they had three times as much time to get him as I did and no one ever asks them about this. I think that’s strange.

Read the full transcript (rough)

Friday, September 22, 2006

Kyrgyzstan, London, Etc.

As I noted a few posts back, Bambino and I are heading to Kyrgyzstan next week. Described just a few years ago in the New York Times as perhaps the "world's least well-known country," Kyrgyzstan is now increasingly in the Western news (the 2005 revolution, the US Airforce base, and a burgeoning contemporary art scene that is capturing the world's attention all contributing to a greater awareness about its politics and future), but I have to admit to having had no idea where it was before I met Bambino. Here's where it is.

Now, however, I'm totally obsessed with its incredible history and culture. Part of my obsession is due to my studying Kyrgyz, which is one of the most difficult undertakings I've ever tried (there's no gender, no articles, a wonderfully subjective sense of the past tense, and it's written in Cyrillic, for which there are at least 5 letters that look just like English but are pronounced entirely differently, a whole host of letters that look like mathematical symbols, and vowel sounds I can usually only make during dental surgery).

Geographically, Kyrgyzstan is 90% mountains---some of the steepest, most ruggedly gorgeous moutains on are some photos: 1, 2, 3.

As folks who were reading my political blogging a while back knew, I'm also obsessed with the history of Alexander the Great. If you've read of his conquests, then you know of the truly terrible time his army had fighting the hard-boiled horse-riding marauders before entering Afghanistan...yup, legend has it, those were the ancestors of modern-day Kyrgyz. In fact, exceptional horsemanship is among Kyrgyzstan's points of pride as a nation. Larger festivals include an ancient form of polo called "ulak tartysh," where opponents battle fiercely on horseback for a goat's carcass:

Yeah, the goat carcass thing is bit tough for me too. But that's not the only graphically different cultural adaptation I'll be making while there. Bambino's been cooking Kyrgyz food for me for years and while I love most of the dishes (plov, lagman, manti, etc.), there's a traditional feast in Kyrgyzstan in which a guest of honor is presented with the head of a sheep and expected to take the best parts for himself (the best parts widely considered the eyes, cheeks, ears, etc.). Let's just say I suspect I'll be tasting plenty of Kyrgyz vodka during that feast (just kidding, Bambino). The truth of the matter is, I would be so incredibly honored to be presented with this plate (and there's no guarantee a foreigner will be so honored), I might not be able to eat through my tears (yes, that's my story and I'm sticking with it). A Kyrgyz treat I'm actually looking forward to trying is "kumiz," Kyrgyzstan's national alcoholic beverage (essentially fermented mare's milk). You can't get it in the US, and with the new airline restrictions on liquids, I most likely won't be able to bring any back, so I'm getting my share while there.

After a few days in the capital, Bishkek, including attending the opening of the
3rd Bishkek Exhibition of Contemporary Art, we're heading into the mountains, where we hope to do some riding and possibly stay in a "yurta" which are still widely used by the nomadic people living in the mountains. I don't think we'll get a wireless signal up there, so bloggin will be light, to say the least.

After Kyrgyzstan, we're off to London (via Armenia) where we're participating in the Year 06 Art Project fair corresponding with Frieze. Some great US and Europen galleries are included, so do stop in if you're that side of the pond.

All of this information is preface to explaining that bloggin might be sporadic at best over the next few weeks. Bambino and I hope to take zillions of photos that we'll bore you with when we get back (Ed on a horse, Ed in a Yurt, Ed eating sheep eyes, you know, the same old holiday snaps). I will try to find an internet cafe I can blog from on occassion though, and I'll continue to blog up until we leave next Thursday, that is if we get all the shopping done in time (he has a large family, this Bambino...I truly can't wait to meet them).

Thursday, September 21, 2006

A Few More Points on What Makes for Good Political Art

A while back I was quoted as saying that I thought we'll see more political art in the galleries this season. What I hadn't said in that interview was how that prospect makes me anxious. (I won't retype my entire argument again [you can read an earlier rant here], but, in a nutshell, if, as Charlie Finch tells us, "most art sucks" then, IMO, most political art only aspires to sucking.) So I was thrilled and relieved to read a review by Joao Ribas of an exhibition of new work by Adam McEwan currently up at Nicole Klagsbrun's that inspired this brilliant reasoning:

In contemporary art, casuistry is often taken for conviction, and a general evasiveness in regards to politics pervades. Even as artists face the moral responsibility of addressing barbarity, a lot of art concerned with the vicissitudes of geopolitics today merely flirts with the intellectual cachet of being "political." That's now virtually synonymous with being "serious."

Mr. McEwen's take on the scourge of war lays bare the callous indifference with which it's calculated. It's a political show as much about World War II and modernism as about Iraq and Halliburton — without ever having to say so.

It also confronts how art and politics still struggle to be reconciled. Mr. McEwen's response is to treat both the literal and the literary with equal suspicion. In doing so, he points to the kind of politicized art — resonant, uneasy, and incisive — that ought to be more commonplace on all sides of the political spectrum.
If there were one simple thing that could vastly improve most "political" art it is that idea of expressing a universal critique, applicable across history as well as to current events, without ever having to say so. That in and of itself is not enough to make it good art, but at least it will work toward preventing it from being disposable. To make good art, I think Joao indicates the right approach as well: "resonant, uneasy, and incisive" (with a huge ol' emphasis on incisive). I haven't had the pleasure of seeing this exhibition yet, so I'll take Joao's word for it that it does this, but as the article indicates, one measure for whether politicized work is good art, or merely an illustration of a talking point, is "Does it ask more questions than it tries to answer?" Any political art with more answers than questions is suspect, IMHO.

Ongoing request for info

I'm gonna leave a link to this post requesting info at the top for a few days. Big sloppy kisses (or manly handshakes, if that's your thing) to everyone who's taken the time to help out here already. The info is very helpful (and eye opening) and highly appreciated! Check below for newer posts.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Knowing It When You See It, Part I UPDATE

I received an email from the collectors who had bought and then lent for exhibition the painting that a regional gallery in Australia covered with a curtain due to complaints from visitors (see here for story). The collectors have given me permission to include here their jpeg of the work. I've also included some text written about the artists by the gallery that covered it up due to pressure. Here's the piece that's caused the stir:

Ramona, Remika, Tennielle, and Vondean NOCKETTA (aka the Jirrawun Girls),
You Big Hole, 2006, Ochres and pigment with acrylic binder on Belgian linen, 4 panels, 120 x 120cm. See
Sherman Galleries website for more information.

Here's some background information about the artists:

The Jirrawun Girls are four sisters, Ramona Nockeyya aged 15, Remika Nocketta aged 17. Tennielle Nocketta 18 and Vondean Nocketta 21. They were born in Derby Hospital while their parents were living in Halls Creek. Their father, Major Clyde is a Gurindji man and nephew of Vincent Lingiari (one of the greatest Aboriginal leaders of all time, but best known for his historic photo with Gough Whitlam). Their mother Kitty Nockette is a Gija woman whose mother is the artist Nora Nocketta. Other close relatives are the extremely talented artists Phyllis Thomas, Peggy Patrick (her exhibition Blood on the Spinifex at the National Gallery of Victoria told of the Mistake Creek massacre of her forefathers) and Goody Barrett.

The Jirrawun Girls are named after the Jirrawun Arts centre, which was established to provide financial security and peace of mind to Aboriginal artists (who were often exploited by commercial galleries), so that they could simply live to paint.

The sisters lived in Halls Creek, Crocodile Hole, Warmun and Kununurra. They lived at Crocodile Hole when Jirrawun Arts was based there and attended Doon Doon School. Remika and Ramona currently attend the Barramundi Special School in Kununurra. Vondean has a two-year-old daughter, Leshante, and Teneille has a one-year-old, Alexandra. Vondean has been on the Homeswest waiting list for three years and will wait another two years for a state supplied house. They surive by living between family members and extended family members’houses. There is no stability, no home base. They are particularly vulnerable because of overcrowded housing.

Their painting Kununurra Midnight Prowl, similar to the one showing in Orange Regional Gallery, will be showing in an International exhibition in Belgrade, later this month. The exhibition, titled Art, Life and Confusion, was curated by the highly respected German curator Rene Block. The exhibition asks the question “what is the relationship between art and life with all its confusion today?” - the collapse of political systems, the dissolution of existing value systems, and the massive social changes brought about by globalisation, which are leading to an ever-greater sense of insecurity. Traditional structures are challenged, as confusion mounts as to which values and social orders are to hold valid for our coexistence with each other.

---Brenda Gray, Education Officer, Orange Regional Gallery

The collectors have noted that they wish to discuss what their response to the decision to cover the work (if any) should be with the artists themselves, and they make a very valid point about why this is problematic. From their email:

We don't (in a very large way) feel that it is up to us to decide how the situation should be handled, so we are contacting the artist today and we'll decide how best it should be handled.[...]The other thing that is annoying for us, is that the work is now being viewed out of the context of the exhibition and that it is ruining the exhibition for the other artists. [emphasis mine]
I have to say I was surprised at the ages of the artists. Learning that they're not having such an easy time in their early years, I began to wonder about what it means that their artistic expression of the reality they live is too harsh for some people. (Imagine if those same people were faced with that actual reality.)

This in turn brings me back to something I've always known was true. That there is no topic too taboo for art (i.e., there's no such thing as immoral art). If it reflects someone's reality, then it's merely well done or poorly done. The notion that art viewers need to be protected from the harher aspects of what other people, especially children, have to actually live suggests a twisted set of priorities to my mind.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Two Items of Note

Here are two good things you should know about:

1. The Peeksville Project. Bambino and I spent a splendidly sunny afternoon touring the 3rd annual Peeksville Project, just a short train ride up the Hudson, last Sunday. This very ambitious city-wide collection of site-specific installations, group exhibitions, performances and other events has precedents in the art world (the Brewster Project [full disclosure: which I participated in as a co-curator the first year] being one), but for scale and consistency of high quality of work, you really must make the trip. Here's more info:

Peekskill Project 2006
111 Artists . 16 Curators . 1 City
September 16 Through October 7

While there, don't miss the two excellent exhibitions at the Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art, as well as the exhibition across the street in the old factory (it has a few gems for installations you won't want to miss). Photos from our visit are below.

2. Dieu Donné Papermill's 7th Annual Benefit Auction

As I've noted before, the first gallery I worked with specialized in works on paper, so I've always had a soft spot in my heart for Soho's
Dieu Donné Papermill. Artist friends who've participated in their residency or Workspace Program rave about their commitment to pushing the boundaries and helping them realize their vision, and besides, there's something spiritually refreshing about being around all that great handmade paper.

In a few weeks (October 4, 7-11 PM), they're having their auction benefit (another full disclosure: our artist Rosemarie Fiore is among those whose work is available in the live auction) at The Gallery at Metropolitan Pavilion, 125 West 18th Street New York, NY. Reserve your tickets now and treat yourself with some great new art! You can
learn more here.

Monday, September 18, 2006

A Request for Information

I have a big favor to ask. I'm working on a presentation about the continuing globalization of the contemporary art world (the good aspect, where artists from outside the usual centers are gaining more attention), but realize there's not enough time for me do the sort of research myself that y'ins (as they say where I come from) might have at your fingertips.

What I'm looking for are examples of spaces, both commercial and nonprofit and ranging from start-up artist-run garage-turned-gallery types up to innovative exhibition spaces by uber-connected or well-funded individuals, that impress you with their programming and depth (contemporary art only please). What, for example, is the most exciting space in Shanghai or Tokyo, Sydney or Dehli, Istanbul or Dubai? Outside South Africa or Eygpt, are there contemporary art spaces you've worked with or know of in Africa? In South America, where there are plenty of great spaces, who stands out as having a strong international program?

More about why I ask: Bambino and I have been invited to be part of a panel discussion at the 3rd Bishkek Exhibition of Contemporary Art in Kyrgyzstan in October about international artists and institutions. We're representing the commercial gallery type of institution...duh, and specifically hope to address the commercial opportunities for artists (so, we're not talking museums or spaces that don't sell as a rule, although they don't have to be concerned first and foremost with selling). It's a few weeks away yet, but I woke up in a panic last night thinking there are very likely all kinds of extraordinary new spaces I've never heard of, and it wasn't until I was checking the hits on the blog that it struck me the folks who visit here are truly global and might have some insight they'd be willing to share.

If you can point to a website for or article about the space as well, I would be very grateful.

Thanks in advance.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Knowing It When You See It, Part II

On the heels of our discussion on warning the public about mature art, Tyler Green points us to an indication that one can indeed be idiotically prissy:

This notice ran on the front page of today's Raleigh News and Observer, North Carolina's second-largest newspaper and a three-time Pulitzer Prize-winner. [via] Here is the story behind the penis that threatened Raleigh, and here is (pretty much) the image about which they 'had' to warn their readers.
I'll accept that a pop singer's exposed breast threatens to burst the coquettish bubble some folks wish to live in, but the notion that any human on earth needs to be warned before viewing a work of art from the collection of the Roman Catholic Church, one of the most conservative organizations in the world, sexually speaking at least, suggests the Enlightenment was a fleeting human accomplishment and that Darwin was mistaken when he asserted that the members of a species who could not learn would be "selected against" by nature.

Now perhaps the editorial staff of the News and Observer was simply pre-empting complaints they knew from experience they would receive for publishing a painting of a penis, but that still doesn't make them look any less ridiculous for caving into such prudish predilections. An image of God Himself appears in that painting, for Pete's sake. Do the N&O editors really need to worry they're going to offend anyone (anyone whose objections are worth considering at all, that is) by publishing an image renown the world over as a masterpiece of religious art?

What's really bizarre (and truly sad) about this warning is that it suggests the editors assume that a significant percentage of the N&O's readership may have never seen this image before. If so, I submit that the fine folks of Raleigh have a much more immediate crisis to attend to than any potential PTSD (Post-Traumatic Schlong Disorder).

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Magpie Tendencies of Genius

Much to my surprise, it's reported in the NYTimes today that singer/songwriter/legend Bob Dylan frequently...what's the word....oh yeah....steals from other writers for his lyrics.

OK, so that's a bit harsh. Perhaps I should rephrase that...he borrows from other writers for his lyrics.

But then that brings to mind the old saying "Good artists borrow; great artists steal," and so, no, I'm much more comfortable, despite the harshness, saying Dylan steals from other writers.

Here's the essence of why this is news:

Perhaps you’ve never heard of Henry Timrod, sometimes known as the poet laureate of the Confederacy.

But maybe you’ve heard his words, if you’re one of the 320,000 people so far who have bought Bob Dylan’s latest album, “Modern Times,” which made its debut last week at No. 1 on the Billboard album chart.

It seems that many of the lyrics on that album, Mr. Dylan’s first No. 1 album in 30 years (down to No. 3 this week), bear some strong echoes to the poems of Timrod, a Charleston native who wrote poems about the Civil War and died in 1867 at the age of 39.

“More frailer than the flowers, these precious hours,” the 65-year-old Mr. Dylan sings in “When the Deal Goes Down,” one of the songs on “Modern Times.” Compare that to these lines from Timrod’s “Rhapsody of a Southern Winter Night”:

A round of precious hours
Oh! here, where in that summer noon I basked
And strove, with logic frailer than the flowers.
And there are other samplings of Timrod's poetry lifted virtually verbatim in Mr. Dylan's latest (click image to view larger):

Fans of Dylan have taken extremely different views of this news:

Scott Warmuth, a disc jockey in Albuquerque and a former music director for WUSB, a public radio station in Stony Brook, on Long Island, discovered the concordances between Mr. Dylan’s lyrics and Timrod’s poetry by doing some judicious Google searches. Mr. Warmuth said he wasn’t surprised to find that Mr. Dylan had leaned on a strong influence in writing his lyrics.

“I think that’s the way Bob Dylan has always written songs,” he said. “It’s part of the folk process, even if you look from his first album until now.”[...]

Because Timrod is long dead and his work has fallen out of copyright — you can find his collected poems on the Internet — there is no legal claim that could be made against Mr. Dylan.

But some fans are bothered by the ethics of Mr. Dylan’s borrowing ways. “Bob really is a thieving little swine,” wrote one poster on Dylan Pool (,642969), a chat room where Mr. Warmuth posted his findings. “If it was anyone else we’d be stringing them up by their neck, but no, it’s Bobby Dee, and ‘the folk process.’ ”
The issues serves as a perfect example for not only the debate over how much borrowing or outright stealing is OK, but also whether geniuses get more license to do so than other artists:

In Mr. Dylan’s case, critics and fans have long described the songwriter’s magpie tendencies, looking upon that as a manifestation of his genius, not unlike other great writers and poets like T. S. Eliot or James Joyce who have referenced past works.
Reference...hmmm...that's an alternative to "steal" or "borrow" except there's a very easy test of whether one's talking about plagiarism or allusion:

[Christopher Ricks, a professor of the humanities at Boston University] said that one important distinguishing factor between plagiarism and allusion, which is common among poets and songwriters, is that “plagiarism wants you not to know the original, whereas allusion wants you to know.”

“When Eliot says, ‘No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be’ — to have a line ending ‘to be’ when the most famous line uttered by Hamlet is ‘to be or not to be’ — then part of the fun and illumination in the Eliot poem is that you should know it,” he said. But he added: “I don’t think Dylan is alluding to Timrod. I don’t think people can say that you’re meant to know that it’s Timrod.”
So Dylan is stealin' --- plain and simple (and apparently this is not the first time [read the article for more examples]), but the question for me is whether that detracts from my admiration for him. It honestly doesn't. Timrod's work is in the public domain, Dylan's apparently a voracious reader of Civil War works, and Dylan's also one of our nation's most perceptive pop poets...for me it makes sense that he would read a line and then recall it later, perhaps remembering its source, perhaps not, when trying to capture an emotion or idea in a song. Should he retrace his steps if a line seems familiar and credit it on his CD ["Mr. Dylan does not acknowledge any debt to Timrod on “Modern Times.” The liner notes simply say “All songs written by Bob Dylan” (although some fans have noted online that the title of the album contains the letters of Timrod’s last name).]? I'm not so sure. I'd rather he move on to writing his next song and let the bloggers and fans deconstruct his art.

As Warmuth noted,

Dylan’s work is still original. “You could give the collected works of Henry Timrod to a bunch of people, but none of them are going to come up with Bob Dylan songs,” he said.
But that's easy for me to agree with...I'm not Henry Timrod. Perhaps he's stomping up a storm in heaven (or wherever he may be) cursing Dylan and the nation who sent his CD to #1 on the charts without due homage to a clear inspiration. Then again perhaps he too is simply too in awe of Dylan to be anything other than flattered.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Exhibition Argues that Western Museums Destroyed History

It's a circular argument sort of question really: If Western museums had not created a market for antiquities, when would the nations now blaming them for destroying their history have begun to notice the importance of the world buried beneath them and taken steps to protect it from the armies of home-grown looters who sold it off? I suspect that's not one of the questions raised in the traveling exhibition "Lost History" which has recently moved from the Cyprus Museum in Nicosia to the Benaki Museum in Athens, but I wish it were:

The trade in looted antiquities has been a controversial topic among museum heads and cultural patrimony officials in recent months, with Greece and Italy demanding the return of illegally excavated artefacts from major museums, such as the Getty in Los Angeles and the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Now, a multi-media exhibition examining the trafficking of antiquities is travelling from the Cyprus Museum in Nicosia to the Benaki Museum in Athens. Organised by the Greek documentary and television production company Anemon, History Lost (until 22 October) traces the looting of archaeological sites around the world and aims to demonstrate how objects lose their historic value when taken out of their native setting. The show implies that the market for smuggled antiquities is largely due to the establishment of Western institutions such as the Louvre, the British Museum and the Metropolitan Museum.
There's not much more information than that on the Anemon website, but there are a number of photos of children and a few adults with headphones on staring at a small screen, suggesting a good chunk of this exhibition could be delivered online and not require anyone to travel to Greece, but....

Getting back to that notion that "the market for smuggled antiquities is largely due to the establishment of Western institutions," though, I can't see any reason to argue with that, but the underlying indictment is that the establishment of institutions created to protect and cherish history has, in a large sense, had the opposite effect. From the Anemon website:

"The looting of archaeological sites is still widespread, and in some countries so severe as to undermine any hope of establishing a proper history of these lands.

Let us remember that the most important loss occasioned by looting, is the loss of information. With the destruction of such sites the context of the finds is lost, even if the finds survive..."

---Lord Colin Renfrew, archaeologist
Sidebar: Lord Colin Renfrew is listed on Cambridge's website as "Formerly Disney Professor of Archaeology and Director of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research" (I'm sure they're not the same Disney and McDonald that spring to mind in the US, but it was too amusing to not point out in the context of someone quoted on what's destroying culture.)

So essentially, Western institutions are responsible for the destruction of the context of the objects looted to fill their coffers and that makes it much harder, if not impossible, to establish a proper history of these lands. I can accept that argument, although it seems a bit too convenient for those original countries, who now stand to benefit from the awareness of the importance of their culture that the dreaded Western institutions raised, not to mention the value of those objects they restored, cataloged, wrote about, and created an appreciating price tag for.

More than that, I wish countries like Greece and Cyprus could find ways now to collaborate with the Western institutions, without all the finger pointing. I in no way support the illegal practices we know brought many objects into the museums of Paris, New York, and LA, but I don't think it will benefit the modern states sitting over ancient cultures to continually alienate them in the long run either. There's a wealth of experience and information that could be shared to a mutual benefit. Prosecute criminals as appropriate, but stop short of hosting these traveling "shame on you" circuses, which could find as many villians in the original countries as they do overseas if they looked hard enough.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Knowing It When You See It Open Thread

"Obscene" art is making headlines again. This time in Australia. From

What’s behind the curtain? A painting city officials and the Orange public gallery have dubbed “for adults only,” according to the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

The piece, You Big Hole, was created by Jirrawun Girls, a group of young Aboriginal women, and consists of four panels containing graffiti and swear words.

The gallery has used a large black curtain to cover the work in response to complaints made to the Orange City Council and upon approval by the city's general manager and mayor.

A warning sign now accompanies the exhibition, stating that children need parental guidance and that visitors should ask gallery staff for a view of the painting.
I've looked on the gallery's website and scoured the web, but can't find an image of the disputed work. If you find one, please do let me know.

The issue of where the line should be drawn with regard to open access to "obscene" art has been discussed a good deal in my circle lately. Good friends of mine with a gallery had been asked by their landlord to cover their windows because passersby could see a graphic depiction of an orgy in their space. The exchange came close to bordering on demands that would have meant censorship, but eventually that was averted through a patient response by my friends.

Still, when we're talking "art," what guidelines should be used to decide when warnings or (eek) curtains are appropriate in a public space? [Yes, I'm gonna drag out and dust off that old quote again:] Infamously,
Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart wrote in his short concurrence in the obscenity case of Jacobellis v. Ohio (1964) that "hard-core pornography" was hard to define, but that "I know it when I see it" [a view he later recanted as simply untenable]. Of course, he's talking about truly obscene hard-core materials (arguably inappropriate for anyone, or so the case was supposed to decide), but does the same guildeline serve when considering what's only "obscene" in that it may offend some adults but is widely considered inappropriate for children? Even as one who quotes frequently Genet's sense that the only two subjects worthy of a great artist are death and sex, I have to admit that there are images I feel my nieces and nephews should be older before seeing, and as a gallerist that same consideration extends to the children of other people.

Many galleries will put up signs on their doors if the work on exhibit is of a mature or graphic nature, giving parents fair warning before they enter, which seems a good balance. But the idea that a work needs to be covered and is then viewable only upon request strikes me as more perverse than anything it could possibly depict. I don't know if the work by the Jirrawun Girls is installed in a place where it's impossible to warn viewers before they happen upon it or not, but I think the gallery's solution to the complaints is unfair to the artists and to the public. I appreciate that they wanted to keep it in the exhibition, but the curtain suggests a rather backhanded form of support for the artists (I wouldn't want to track down a staff member to ask to view the piece). On the other hand, it has lead to me wanting to know more about their work, so....

But where is that line? Another gallery with huge windows onto the street recently exhibited a series of male nudes. The street is is frequently travelled my many children each day. I think that was OK. The nudes were individual figures and sex was not implied in any way, but at what point between sitting there naked and engaging in behavior inappropriate for children to view would a work necessitate a barrier to viewing? If a man and woman (or two of either) were sitting naked together? If they were touching each other? If they were clearly aroused? If a solo figure was clearly aroused or arousing him/herself? Where's the line?

Some folks draw it at nudity. Others at certain antaomical states of engagement, let's leave it at that for now. Of course we can let whether anyone complains or not serve as a guideline, but by then the context of the exhibition has shifted, so I think it's better to decide before anyone complains and stick with your decision. But that's just me...I'm prudish AND stubborn. Consider this an open thread.

Monday, September 11, 2006

What I Remember

I never thought I'd need so many people.
---David Bowie, Five Years
There will be well-choreographed memorials and opportunistic speeches today. But I'd like to remember the tragedy with a messy, emotional recollection. Five years after the events that "changed everything" it still hurts so much more than I would have ever imagined to recall that serious things that happened day. It seems silly really...but allowing myself to watch a trailer for a film about it or see photos of the carnage brings it all rushing back so vividly, I cringe. So I'll recall the minor, incidental things as my five year memorial.

I was in a cab heading uptown at the precise moment the first plane struck the WTC. When I arrived at the office building I was working in, folks were already huddled around computers, whispering about the "accident" at the towers. It seemed awful, but credible that some fool pilot had gotten too close to the buildings and crashed. When the second plane reports came in, though, credibility vaporized and my mind went scrambling for some point of reference.

The day wore on, with a string of seemingly endless and more horrific updates, until our office building was closed and folks were told to make their way home at about 1:30 pm. When I stepped out onto Third Avenue, the streets were packed with people and cars, but it was surreally quiet. About half a block from where I started, I saw the first car covered in ash. How useless were its windscreen wipers at moving the ash away as it inched uptown through the gridlock.

I walked downtown, watching the smoke blacken the southeastern sky, and watching the dazed expressions of the people walking uptown become more and more vacant the further I travelled. About 18th and Fifth, I found an open deli, and decided I should stock up on food and water, unsure what the next few days would be like or when they'd be able to bring new supplies into the island. I half expected the owners to be giving food away for free in solidarity (there were restaruants and other businesses doing their part to make the millions travelling many miles home a bit more comfortable).

At 14th Street I hit the first checkpoint. I had navigated over to 7th Avenue and the police were polite in informing folks that only those with valid ID proving you lived downtown were allowed passed. There were two more checkpoints before I reached home (I live two blocks north of where they weren't allowing anyone to enter).

My neighborhood was deserted, eerie, and smokey. A local restaruant was handing out its linen napkins to locals as face masks. Ambulances were still making their way up 6th Avenue toward St. Vincent's, but no where near enough of them. Overhead, the helicopters pulsated, and the smell (dear God, that smell) was inescapable.

I met some friends later in the East Village. We very consciously chose a Middle Eastern restaurant for dinner, fearing a backlash against American Muslims, and wanting to show our support. Later still we watched the President address the nation on TV at a friend's house in the neighborhood. The nation had been attacked. What had started as a glorious September morning had morphed into a hellish nightmare so completey unimaginable just a day before that we felt we must have been sleeping all our lives.

I got home about 10:30 pm. With my partner at that time (yes, 9/11 was pre-Bambino), I walked the two blocks down to Canal Street. It was as far as any unauthorized person was allowed to go. Not that anyone else was trying. We stood the lone pedestrians in the street, covering our mouths against the clouds of white dust churned up by the massive trucks moving through, all lit up so unearthily with huge flood lights.

Most people in my nieghborhood must not have returned. I didn't have cable and there was no reception (the WTC had been how we got local broadcasts), so we listened to nothing until we were simply too exhausted and fell asleep. It was so freaking quiet that first night, I'll never forget it. No cars, no people, no anything. I dreamt that a blanket of ghostly white ash had covered the world.

The next day I had business to attend to (framed work to collect for an opening that Friday), or so I thought. Anything to have something to do. The framers were closed, of course, but people were milling about. I saw my first "lost person" on the street of the closed framers. He walked with a homemade sandwich board covered in photos of a woman and a scrawled question: "have you seen her?" He walked like a zombie. There were to be many, many more lost people in the coming days and countless pictures posted around the city. I saw dozens of people walking the streets over the next few weeks break down right before me.

Over the coming days I would hear that two people close to me who worked in the towers had been spared. One was late to work that morning, and the other (trapped in an elevator and rescued) was placed into an ambulance that drove away just before the first tower collapsed. I was remarkably lucky in that regard. Many people I knew had lost at least one friend or relative or neighbor or acquaintance.

I'll also never forget the day, three weeks later, I realized things were returning to normal. All of New York had been stunned into being much nicer versions of themselves. It wasn't natural and it freaked me out a bit. Then finally, one night while walking along Avenue A, this princess hipster strutted her way past us, rudely cutting us off like she was the only person in the city who mattered, and I thought..."Ahh...signs of normalcy."

It's a lovely day in New York again, this September 11th. My thoughts and prayers return to the friends and families of those who were lost five years ago. It seems like so long ago now, but I know the pain is still sharp and real.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Why There Have Been No Attacks Since 9/11 in the US

Vice President Dick Cheney appeared on "Meet the Press" this morning, and, in response to being asked if the billions spent on invading Iraq might not have been better spent on securing Afghanistan and securing our ports and increasing other efforts recommended by the 9/11 Commission that have gone wanting, he argued that the fact that there have been no attacks on the US since 9/11 is a good indication that the administration is doing something right.

You're gonna hear that argument repeatedly leading up to the elections. It sounds compelling. But it's a lie, and Dick Cheney knows it. He knows full well that the abscence of attacks on US soil is not a good indication whatsoever of how well his administration has secured the nation.

From Ron Suskind's book, The One Percent Doctrine (which I will encourage you again to buy and read):
Inside the analytical shops at CIA, and NSC, the Madrid bombing and swift follow-up investigation lead neatly into another growing consensus--a conclusion that was the last thing anyone in the White House wanted publicized: al Qaeda might not, at this point, actually want to attack America.

A key element of that analysis was a report that had been picked up a few months before, in December 2003, by the Norwegeain Defense Research Establishment---the government's intelligence arm--from a jihadist Web site with close links to Saudi al Qaeda.

The forty-two-page treatise, Jihadi Iraq, Hopes and Dangers, was completed in September 2003, and bears the mark of none other than Yusef al-Ayeri. It is dedicated to al-Ayeri, carries quotations from several of his books, and has the unmistakable al-Ayeri tone of analytical--as opposed to religious--fervor. It may have been written in part by al-Ayeri before his death in May 2003, some CIA analysts believe, and then expanded and burnished by his disciples.

The strategic document carries a host of pointed recommendations about how to undercut U.S. efforts in Iraq. A primary one is to isolate the United States, separate it from its allies, and specifically add to America's financial burdens by forcing the withdrawal of its few significant partners....

Beneath those headlines, though, was further affirmation of what CIA analysts had first begun to see in signit and limited humint as far back as the spring of 2002: a possible strategic shift by al Qaeda away from further attacks on the U.S. mainland....

The deeply classified debate over why [Ayman al-]Zawahiri had called off the chemical attacks [on NYC], meanwhile, shed its old self-congratulatry thesis that this might be due to the pressure the United States was putting on al Qaeda's structure. That line of analysis gave way to growing evidence that al Qaeda might not have been trying to attack the United State in the three years since its singular triumph of 9/11.
Suskind qualifies this theory constantly, being far more careful than the Vice President ever is to indicate the difference between what is known for certain and what is merely our best guess. But it's clear with this theory as very possibly true, that the Vice President cannot truthfully claim that the abscence of attacks on US soil since 9/11 is indicative of our doing anything right at all. He may want to take credit, but if he's honest, he knows he can't.

Friday, September 08, 2006

What Makes Someone "Not an Artist"?

I've wondered for many years just what defines an "artist" and what makes someone "not an artist." We have degrees and exams to define doctors or lawyers or scientists and such, but even armed with an MFA, a graduate seemingly still needs to pass some unspoken test to earn the title "artist" for most people. And of course, there's no requirement that one has an art degree to earn the title if the evidence (their art) is convincing enough. We would never, however, let a self-taught "surgeon" demonstrate their right to that title (at least, not on us) or a self-declared "lawyer" try an important case for us, no matter how many episodes of "Law & Order" they convinced us were decided incorrectly. As a society, we have measures of competence for such professions we expect to be met.

Now clearly what hangs in the balance if an incompetent artist paints our portrait (or whatever) is nowhere near as consequential as what hangs in the balance when lawyers or doctors get to work, but given how much artwork and the institutions that support and protect it cost, you would think that as a society we'd have some clearer definition of who it is making such treasures. (Stay with me here, this isn't as inane an argument as it might seem at this point.)

Two things bring this up. First is the NYTimes article excerpting highlights from Michael Kimmelman's ongoing blog posts on the US Open (wonderfully and oddly, they also ran these greatest hits from a work in progress in the print version of the paper, adding a dizzying spin on the whole digitial vs. print issue, their relative importance, and the laws of time and space...but I digress). As Michael noted, many artists (and dealers) are obsessed with tennis, but he offers a better rationale than that for running this article in the Arts section of the paper:
Interviewed on court after beating Mara Santangelo, Amélie Mauresmo is asked about being No. 1 and winning Grand Slam events: Which was better? One derived from the other, she said, treating a silly question politely. Then she spoke about the feeling of winning slams. Everything you do as a tennis player, she said, was to have those brief feelings. She didn’t mention titles or money or posterity. She talked about fleeting emotion. She sounded like an artist.

Artists try to do or make something exceptional in life to produce out-of-the-ordinary reactions, in themselves and in other people. This is a basic definition of art. We seek it out, at the movies or in a museum or at a concert hall, to escape from our routines and be moved in ways that might refresh and enlighten us when we return to normalcy.

After all, what is beauty except the opposite of mundane? That’s not all it is, of course. But its exceptional status engenders feelings like those Mauresmo describes as her true goal. It’s also what sports fans desire: to be stirred, if only fleetingly, by an experience above and beyond the norm, which is as rare in sports as it is in art.
Michael didn't write Mauresmo "is an artist," but he makes a rather compelling argument that what she does on the court is as much art as it is sport. And in that idea lies my confusion. If what someone does is "art," why are they not then an "artist"? [Update: See also Tyler on MK's sportswriting gig.]

The other thing that brings this up is a wonderful conversation I had with a young conductor at a party last weekend. OK, so I thought it was wonderful, but I suspect he was a bit frustrated with my refusal to accept his distinction between an "artist" and "not an artist" and just move on. I kept bringing up examples of other creative professions (dancers, musicians, actors, and even conductors) that he would argue were "not artists" because they didn't invent what they performed. He drew the line, if you will, in defining an "artist" at someone who creates something from nothing, repeatedly coming back to the metaphor of the "starting with the blank page." I cited the example of Baryshnikov. "Surely, you have to agree that he's an 'Artist'?" No, he said, he's a virtuoso. And round and round we went.

Eventually I asked about the actor who, despite what the screenwriter wrote or the instructions the director gave, goes off, on their own, and through hours and hours of trial and error, comes up with a gesture or quirk or a particular delivery that is totally their own. He dismissed that as "interpretation." What if it's more than a single guesture, what if it's an entire new character, I asked (I didn't think of it at the time, but the example of how Johnny Depp breathed incredible life into his Captain Jack Sparrow role, almost in spite of the direction and writing he had to begin with is a good example). Surely, that is an example of the actor as "artist." After all, no one else created those decisions for them. At this point, I think the conductor was looking for an escape (which he took quickly when two friends came in) because he conceded half-heartedly that perhaps method actors were "artists."

My reason for torturing the poor guy, of course, was I see conductors as "artists" and couldn't understand why he wouldn't accept that title (after all, it's a compliment in my opinion). His reason for resisting, of course, was that his working definition was a personal choice, and he couldn't understand why I wouldn't just accept that.

But I do still wonder: what makes someone "not an artist" even though what they're putting out there for us to see is arguably "art"? Is "interpretation" a good delineation? Is starting from a "blank page" a requirement? Is it a matter of defining a difference between "performing" and "creating"? Is it a personal choice, or should a society have a good working definition? We hate to limit and define it too much because "art" needs room and air and we like to be surprised, but why I care, I guess, is if anyone can declare that they're an "not an artist" can anyone then declare that they are, and what are the ramifications of that?

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Politics of Belief (It's All in the Choosing) Open Thread)

The inaugural Singapore Biennale---which 1) opened this past Monday, 2) has a really groovy website, and 3) includes two artists who've recently joined our gallery (Gulnara and Muratbek, you rule!)---is curated around the notion of "Belief" (or at least part of it is; their website also notes a parallel segment about Asian art practices in the 1970s).

From The Art Newspaper:
The inaugural Singapore Biennale (until 12 November) opens with an ambitious programme of exhibitions and events in venues across the island. The biennial’s theme is “Belief”, inspired by the city’s multi-faith population—most Singaporeans are Buddhist, but there is also a Christian and Islamic population. Also, many works have been installed in religious sites, such as the Masjid Sultan Mosque, the Sri Krishnan Hindu Temple, the Orthodox Armenian Church of St Gregory the Illuminator, the oldest church on the island designated a national monument in 1973, and the Chinese Catholic Church of Saints Peter and Paul, which was designated a national monument in 1993.
OK, so I've admitted to being agnostic (believing in nothing else quite as much as I do Art, but reserving the right to start believing in God in an emergency [yes, I'm opportunistically religious...the whole foxhole thingy makes total sense to me]), but it's impossible to not take organized religious seriously these days, even if only as a threat to invidualism, so I'm impressed by the bold mix of art and religion this program takes as its theme. Still, I had never thought of the piece that Gulnara and Muratbek are exhibiting as dealing with "belief" in a religious sense (although other works of theirs deal directly with such themes), so I went looking for the Biennale's mission statement. From the Artistic Director, Fumio Nanjo:

The world today is complex and diverse, fraught with war and terrorism. As Huntington suggested in his book, The Clash of Civilisations, is it really impossible for people with different values and faiths to live together peacefully? In this age of ever diversifying and mixed value systems what should people believe in and live by? To live moment by moment is also to make choices from multiple possibilities. What do we base these decisions to live by on? Some people believe in the absolute truth of religion, others believe in the rules of capitalism and economics, others in progress and development, and yet others believe in the values of nature and the environment. Love and Art can also become ways or pointers by which to live.

Although Singapore is a small island nation, different faiths, languages and ethnic groups coexist without violent conflict. It is perhaps fitting then to reflect on the meaning of belief today in such a society. Through art, can we once again think about what binds us together as human beings? This seemingly straightforward yet potentially complex question underpins the first edition of the Singapore Biennale.
[Peaceful co-existence? I'll let you decide for yourself if Singapore's notoriously strict and restrictive government is not perhaps the true reason such violent conflict is not as much a problem there are it is elsewhere, but I do appreciate the promotion of the ideal all the same.]

But back to Belief. My general sense of belief is best summed up by the joke "Everyone has to believe in something. [pause for comic effect] I believe I'll have another drink." In other words, we choose what to believe, very consciously, after consideration. That means we also choose, very consciously, what not to believe, rejecting the alternatives. And it means something else as well: that our choices are not as important as the choosing itself. Sure, we, as humans, will choose poorly from time to time, because like anything else, choosing well takes practice. The ultimate peril, IMO, lies not choosing poorly, but in merely adopting the position someone else suggested you should (which, you could argue, is merely another choice, but not one worthy of the hard work the species has done to evolve if you ask me).

That just so happens to be my guideline for political positions, as well. I feel everyone is obligated to choose a position on the most pressing issue of the day, eventually at least. You can always change your mind, but you can't remain indefinitely ambivalent (well, not and still have a relevant opinion...which, of course, means my opinion on religion is currently irrelevant, yes, I know). There's a spectrum of "truths" for any given issue, and as the political blogs demonstrate quite convincingly, you can debate the details ad infinitum, but in the end, your relevance depends on believing in something. Making that choice. This may seem obvious to many people, but it's always been a struggle for me.

This became clearer to me after spending a good chunk of time debating on right-wing political blogs. I found that I liked and admired many of the folks on them I was debating and could find lots of common ground to help smooth over the more contentious exchanges when things got too heated. More than that, though, I often found their argument as equally compelling as my own argument on a given topic.

For a while, that was paralyzing. How could I argue pro-this or anti-that if my side didn't have an unshakable grasp on the Truth? Then slowly (like most things) it dawned on me that my argument was very likely just as compelling to them as theirs was to me, but that they had actually just taken a stand. I had wanted my decisions to be made on irrefutable facts. I hadn't realize that it's a weighing process...adding up the pluses and minuses and deciding in the end what to believe.

This realization, of course, led me to understand the importance my worldview played. If I add up the pluses and minuses and the totals pro and con are nearly equal, do I just stay on the fence? No, I've decided, because the staunchly pro and staunchly con sides will keep marching forward, trying to bend perceptions and the law to their will. The only way to not be a victim to that is to make a stand myself. That was nothing short of a liberating epiphany for me. I realized that I can't resolve the discrepancies of each issues (I don't see how I'll ever be able to answer fully, for a controversial example, why a zygote isn't a human entitled to rights), but I can rely on my overall worldview to make a choice when the choosing matters.

How, you're probably wondering at this point, is this fool going to tie all this back into the Singapore Biennale? I wish I knew that myself. I think I'll choose to open up the thread instead:

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Jennifer Dalton @ Winkleman / Plus Ultra Gallery

Jennifer Dalton
Would You Rather

Be a Loser or a Pig?
Sept. 7 to Oct. 14, 2006
Opening: Thursday, Sept. 7, 6-8 pm

Winkleman / Plus Ultra Gallery is really quite pleased indeed to present "Would You Rather Be a Loser or a Pig?" our third solo exhibition by New York artist Jennifer Dalton. Known for large-scale installations, often with quasi-scientific or corporate motifs, Dalton develops incisive visual systems that facilitate instantaneous, concise conclusions from otherwise overwhelming amounts of data. For this exhibition, she presents a series of works focused on the reality behind what it means to be a contemporary artist working today. Each is an exercise in testing conventional wisdoms about the "art world" and its players (including artists and their families, collectors, critics, gallerists, auction houses, and art schools).

For How Do Artists Live? (2006, projected slide show), Dalton conducted an extensive,
Internet-based survey of more than 850 anonymous artists in Fall 2005. Her presentation of the results examines the lifestyles and economic situation of working artists and finds some surprising answers to the title question, including that 20% of artists with incomes over $200K/year do not have health insurance; women artists are twice as likely as men artists to be primarily supported by their partner; and men artists are more than twice as likely as women artists to primarily support themselves with art sales.

Highly praised in multiple art publications after its debut at New York's Pulse Art Fair in March 2006
The Collector-ibles (2006, mixed media installation, edition of 3) features five large glass-fronted cabinets with 200 figurines representing the "Top 200 Art Collectors," as catalogued in ArtNews magazine's 2005 list. Each figure is a gilded Marvel or DC superhero mounted on a handmade base. The type of figurine and the treatment of the base denotes where the collector's money comes from including business; finance; the arts & media; science & computers; real estate; law; energy (oil or mining industries, etc); and inheritance. In addition, each figure is holding different colored miniature shopping bags, color coded and also labeled in tiny printing to represent the type of art the collector collects.

He Said, She Said (2005, chalk pastel and blackboard paint on paper) places literal hatch marks on the marital headboard of husband and wife art critic couple Roberta Smith and Jerry Saltz, keeping count of the number of their reviews of female vs. male artists over one year. Also exploring the disparity between men and women artists is the Art Guide series (2006, mixed media). Maps taken directly from the "Chelsea Art Guide" distributed free at galleries-with each piece using color-coded map pins to indicate male (blue) solo exhibitions, female (pink) solo exhibitions, and mixed-group (white) exhibitions--show a consistent Chelsea ratio of approximately 2 to 1 exhibitions of male vs. female artists.

The title piece, Would You Rather Be a Loser or a Pig? offers the viewer an extreme choice between one of two free bracelets: one reads "Loser," the other reads "Pig," reflecting the increasing tendency within the art world to define achievement solely in terms of financial earnings and conspicuous consumption. Mourning the loss of a past when being a struggling artist was part of an honorable tradition, and there was some contempt for "marketable" artwork, this work's implications go far beyond the art world, to address this dichotomy within many other professions and lifestyle decisions, and reflects the increasing political polarization and rising extremism it fosters.

Other recent and upcoming exhibitions of Dalton's work include Superstars: The Celebrity Factor: From Warhol to Madonna, Kunsthalle, Vienna, Austria, 2005 and Personal Geographies, curated by Joanna Lindenbaum, Hunter College Times Square Gallery, NYC, 2006. For more information, please call 212-643-6152 or email

Jennifer Dalton
Would You Rather Be a Loser or a Pig?
September 7 to October 14, 2006
Opening Reception: Thursday, September 7, 6-8 PM

Winkleman / 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. Winkleman / Plus Ultra Gallery is between 11th and 12th Avenues.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

R U Ready to Rumble!?!

It's conventional wisdom that galleries (in NYC at least) take off the gloves and come out swingin' for their September exhibitions, competing head-to-head with some of their brightest stars and most daring shows. reported just last week, for example, that there are "Big Themes for Fall Season," and nearly every gallery I walked by yesterday (yes, Labor Day, when the bulk of the rest of the country was squeezing in that last barbeque or day at the beach) was a virtual hive of activity. We were no exception (I have blisters on both hands from painting, joint compound under my fingernails, and its dust in places I'd rather not think about), but somehow when you stand back and see it all come together (and I'm beyond thrilled with our opening exhibition by Jen Dalton), it's more than worth it.

And while it all begins in earnest this Thursday (what I've taken to calling Super Thursday [see
here and here] for details), there are no fewer than 129 openings in Chelsea alone over the next 7 days. Even given how concentrated they are within the same area, and if you stayed only two minutes at each, you couldn't attend half of just come to ours, and relax. Just kidding...get out there and see some new art!

In case you haven't guess yet, I'm still too busy putting the final touches on everything to develop a real post this morning, so I'll point you to
this bit I did last year on what to expect if you're heading to the openings.

Hope to see you all soon!

Friday, September 01, 2006

They die so easily, disappear so completely

If you haven't yet watched Keith Olbermann's superb smackdown of the odious speech given by the criminally-still-employed Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, you should catch it on Crooks and Liars. As they say, it's one hell of a commentary. As The Los Angeles Times noted in an editorial yesterday, Rumsfeld's speech was "cranky" and in parts "inane," but there was one line in it that is so remarkably hypocritical it deserves a thorough debunking:
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld warned yesterday that "moral and intellectual confusion" over the Iraq war and the broader anti-terrorism effort could sap American willpower and divide the country, and he urged renewed resolve to confront extremists waging "a new type of fascism."
Now, to be clear, Rumsfeld suggested that those who don't see the threat clearly suffer from a moral or intellectual confusion, not those who oppose him, although that's a distinction without a difference in that the timing of the speech leaves no doubt its main objective is to taint the Democrats as weak on defense and prop up the GOP's chances in November. Here's what he said to the 88th Annual American Legion National Convention:

You know from experience personally that in every war there have been mistakes, setbacks, and casualties. War is, as Clemenceau said, “a series of catastrophes that result in victory.”

And in every army, there are occasional bad actors, the ones who dominate the headlines today, who don't live up to the standards of the oath and of our country. But you also know that they are a very, very small percentage of the literally hundreds of thousands of honorable men and women in all theaters in this struggle who are serving our country with humanity, with decency, with professionalism, and with courage in the face of continuous provocation. (Applause.)

And that is important in any long struggle or long war, where any kind of moral or intellectual confusion about who and what is right or wrong, can weaken the ability of free societies to persevere.

The implication in that, of course, is that Rumsfeld sees clearly what is right and what is wrong, and his opponents don't. But as this is only one in a series of orchestrated speeches the Administration is unleashing on the public for their holiday weekend enjoyment, it's fair to say Rumsfeld is speaking for the Commander in Chief (you know, the Decider) here, and therefore the implication is that the man making the decisions (you know, Cheney) sees clearly what is right and what is wrong...that his moral compass is functioning fully, and that the decisions being made are morally sound.

Which brings me to the Sandpaper Flypaper Theory, you know the cowardly canard the Administration manipulates at every turn, the false (but appealing to the weak and fearful) assertion that if we draw them out and fight them there, in Iraq, we won't have to fight them here:

Bush: This is a global war on terror. I repeat what our major general said -- or leading general said in the region. He said, "If we withdraw before the job is done, the enemy will follow us here." I strongly agree with that. And if you believe that the job of the federal government is to secure this country, it's really important for you to understand that success in Iraq is part of securing the country.
I am amazed (and quite thoroughly embarassed) at how many times I hear an American offer that excuse as their rationale for supporting the war in Iraq. The "it's better to fight them there than fight them here" rationale. When I press them to account for the fact that fighting them "over there" places innocent Iraqi men, women and children in harm's way, they counter either that they deserve it because of 9/11 (which of course makes my head explode) or that (I swear, one of my relatives said this to me) those people are more used to that kind of thing than we are. I won't reveal which relative, as the shame is far too painful.

I came across this passage in an essay by the always brilliant Dorothy Allison the other day:
The first time I heard, "They're different than us, don't value human life the way we do," I was in high school in Central Florida. The man speaking was an army recruiter talking to a bunch of boys, telling them what the army was really like, what they could expect overseas. A cold angry flash swept over me. I had heard the word they pronounced in that same callous tone before. They, those people over there, those people who are not us, they die so easily, kill each other so casually. They are different. We, I thought. Me.

When I was six or eight back in Greenville, South Carolina, I had heard that same matter-of-fact tone of dismissal applied to me. "Don't you play with her. I don't want you talking to them." Me and my family, we had always been they. Who am I? I wondered, listening to that recruiter. Who are my people? We die so easily, disappear so completely....I did not know who I was, only that I did not want to be they, the ones who are destroyed or dismissed to make the "real" people, the important people, feel safer.

Dorothy Allison, "A Question of Class," from Skin 1994, Firebrand Books.
So I guess I should confess to some degree of confusion. I'm totally confused how a nation that claims to be the "Home of the Brave" could stoop so low as to let other people in a far away land die in proxy, and for the temporary illusion that it makes us safer (our invading Iraq has coincided with an increase, not decrease, in the number of terrorist attacks worldwide, and as the bombings in Madrid, London, Bali, etc. demonstrate, not all of those joining the terrorists feel compelled to fight in Iraq, where most of the fighting now is between Iraqis, not terrorists...and...sigh...why are we still at this point in the dialog?).

The answer of course is that it's easy to let the Iraqis die in our place. We never met them, we can't distinguish one mangled body on the TV from another. They die so easily and disappear so completely, there's nothing to it really. That is, unless you believe you have a soul, or you're averse to cowardice.

Now, I'm not noting all this to conclude we should immediately withdraw from Iraq (we most certainly should have NEVER invaded it, but an immediate pull-out would do more harm than good, IMO, and I'll address what I think we should do in another post), but I will not suffer some cranky old fool lecturing his opponents on moral confusion when he clearly doesn't have the humanity to value the lives of innocents over his own theories of a leaner, meaner war machine (Rumsfeld was repeatedly told that to secure Iraq he would have to send in far more troops, but he was too hellbent on using Iraq to prove his lame-ass hypotheses about contemporary warfare to listen, and tens of thousands have died directly because of his arrogance and total incompetence).

"It's better to fight them over there than over here" is a morally and intellectually bankrupt position. They will still come over here, and we don't have a right to the lives they're taking in fighting us over there.