Thursday, November 30, 2006

Tonight! Boyce Cummings @ Winkleman / Plus Ultra

Boyce Cummings

November 30, 2006 to January 6, 2007
Opening: Tonight! Nov. 30, 6-8 pm

Winkleman / Plus Ultra Gallery is very pleased to present "Versus," the first New York solo exhibition by Boyce Cummings.

In seven new paintings and a large mixed-media wall installation, Cummings explores the workings of conflict in both visual art and human endeavors. Whether "high vs. low," "abstraction vs. realism," or "formalism vs. narrative," themes and constructs of visual art parallel personal conflicts in our day-to-day lives---such as "man vs. nature," nature vs. machine," "winning vs. losing," etc. Cummings blends these parallel arenas, resolving elements that we expect not to work together through an exquisite sense of composition. Representational and abstract elements within Cummings' paintings demand to be connected on an experiential human level. But they consistently defy any sensible narrative, eventually leading the viewer to the realization that it's the very fact that the elements are at odds with one another that serves as the glue that holds the compositions together.

On one wall of the gallery, Cummings has also collaged drawings with knickknacks and other found objects, forming an extensive installation that serves as a legend to the vocabulary of his paintings as well as its own expressionistic composition. With a broad range of styles and subjects, his drawings are mixed to reflect his personal choices but---like his paintings---the juxtapositions eventually lead the viewer along just so far before some compositional roadblock places their growing narrative in limbo, highlighting the experiential impact of conflict itself.

Boyce Cummings received his BFA and MFA from the School of Visual Arts. As a 2005/2006 Rome Prize Winner, he spent a year in Italy, but now lives and works in New York.

For more information, please call 212-643-6152 or email

Boyce Cummings

November 30, 2006 to January 6, 2007
Opening Reception: Thursday, November 30, 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. Plus Ultra is between 11th and 12th Avenues.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Disconnect Between Art and Life

I've been thinking a good deal about this idea the past few months: that art is not reflecting life. I've wondered whether or not it was simply my aversion to the mountains of pointless, truly dreadful political "art" being served up in response to 9/11, Iraq, global warming, etc. Or perhaps it's my aversion to the truly insightful political art being served up in response to 9/11, Iraq, global warming, etc.

I've never considered myself an escapist, but I have realized that I've limited my outrage about how screwed up things are at the moment to certain contexts (like blogs, or debates over margaritas, or studio visits). The rest of the time, I've simply gotten on with things. (UPDATE: OK, so I've gone on marches, and worked to get out the vote, and voted myself, but I mean really put my money and effort where my rage's not proportionate at all).

Perhaps suggesting only synchronicity (but I suspect suggesting an open dialog on the topic) critics Roberta Smith and Jerry Saltz have both recently commented on the link (or lack there of) between art and life.

The link between art and life is a given, but its configuration can vary. The
connection may be roundabout and hidden, or direct and fully exposed — like a live wire. That’s when things start to sizzle.
There’s a new psycho-social space, mainly American, that increasing numbers of artists are probing. Painter Charlene von Heyl has put it this way: "While almost everything in the outer world feels messed-up our inner lives aren’t altogether messed-up." This paradoxical disconnect is neither a state of denial nor one of enlightenment. It is extremely palpable, however, and may help explain why so many Americans are taking prescribed psychoactive drugs when, really, they’re only having reasonable reactions to the echo chamber of information and images that reduces everything to a squalid pseudo-narrative of garbage. Whatever’s happened, Robert Rauschenberg’s famous "gap between art and life" has turned into a new vividly dissonant gap between inner and outer life.
Peter Sloterdijk offered an exhaustive (and exhausting) examination of why this disconnect exists in his 1983 tome "Critique of Cynical Reason." Focused on what he calls "enlightened false consciousness," Sloterdijk explained how sensibilities changed after the 1960-70's (when the collective belief had been "you can change the world"). His argument (grossly paraphrased) is that some point after the 70's, it sank in that knowing things are screwed up isn't the same as being able to fix them, that it's impossible to continue to fight the good fight endlessly. Life itself interupts such efforts (bills must be paid, children must be raised, sleep must be had).

Sloterdijk asserted that we settled for a sensibility in which we're “well off and miserable at the same time,” able to function in the workaday world even though we're still aware that so much of what's going on is wrong. We have comfortable SUVs that carry us to comfortable homes with a whole arsenal of comfortable distractions. If we stop to think about the civil war in Iraq or the genocide in Dafur or global warming, we're enlighted just enough to know what stand to take, but we're simply not able (willing?) to devote our entire lives to changing them.

But that enlightened arena...that's where Art is supposed to thrive (because that's where the "truth" lies). This disconnect is actually more problematic to my mind than escapism, which at least admits it's given up the fight. I'd argue more strongly that it's wrong, but, you see, I have a million things to get done today.

UPDATE: Hmmm...amazing what a jolt of java will do to help one realize you're not making sense. Re-reading this, I see that I've equated making art with activism. Not my intended message. Perhaps what I meant (who knows if I don't, eh?) is that maybe art (the art Saltz is critiquing) actually IS reflecting life, in that we're very much living in that state of enlightened false consciousness it seems to be exploring. Whether that's good or not may be beside the point.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

God Likes This Movie

To give you some background on my sense of this, I should note that growing up our Pentecostal ministers would discourage us from seeing any Hollywood films, even the G-rated ones, because the studios would take the money we paid to see those films and make some R-rated flick with it, and well, that was bad.

It seems beyond silly now, but having been indoctrinated as I was, it was the first thought that occurred to me when I read about the
Vatican hosting the world premiere of the new film "The Nativity Story":

They will almost certainly remain strange bedfellows, Hollywood and the Holy See, but the two had a rare encounter on Sunday when the Vatican was the host of the world premiere of the New Line Cinema film "The Nativity Story," giving an unprecedented stamp of approval to an American studio production. And though Pope Benedict XVI was conspicuously absent from the event, a clutch of high-ranking cardinals joined the more than 7,000 people who attended.
Yes, the Pope's trying to soothe relations with Europe's Muslims by visiting Turkey at the moment, so he couldn't give the film's producers their ultimate endorsement, well, not in a photo op anyway, but it's crystal clear that the tangential consequences of seeing this film is not something the flock has to worry its collective head over. High-ranking cardinals wouldn't steer you wrong.

Now perhaps I protest too much. Since the Counter Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church has very actively paid attention to art and art makers, offering its thumbs up or thumbs down on the works being produced, often commissioning the best artists of each generation to deliver the Good Word in the most politically expedient fashion. And to be fair, I haven't seen this might be brilliant. But there does seem something incongruous about a socially conservative organization cozying up to the godless likes of Hollywood.

Moreover, there's something very unsavory about the opportunistic choices by the studios, looking to cash in on the exceptions the faithful are willing to make in their morally motivated boycotts of Tinsel Town's usual output.

Personally, I don't think God objects to R rated movies, so long as they're honest and well made. It's not like He/She can't see something more immoral than appears on any given screen just by turning elsewhere and looking at real life, often within Churches themselves.

But ultimately, regardless of medium, we are talking here about controlling the message, and so as long as the new wave of religious stories coming out walk the line, I'm sure we'll see more such endorsements, even knowing that they risking aiding the studios with their plans to use their profits to make the sequel to "The Last Temptation of Christ."

Monday, November 27, 2006

Countdown to Aqua

We leave for Miami a week from today, and there are still 1001 details to attend to. I think every gallery on our block was humming yesterday (not only is everyone preparing for Miami, but most exhibitions are turning over as well). With crates coming in, crates moving out, and miles of bubble wrap stretching across the gallery floor (the people who make shipping materials are test driving new Porsches this morning), you would have hardly known it was a holiday weekend.

As you've no doubt heard if you've paid any attention to all this, Miami will host a baker's dozen of art fairs next week. To help you find what's where, has posted this very handy
interactive map.

Regardless of your budget or interest, if you're collecting art, you'll find something you like in Miami, I'm sure.

I haven't heard yet of anyone organizing an art blogger's party (hint, hint), but Bambino and I are skipping the big hotel bashes and opting instead for a series more intimate gatherings. Having said that, if you have any spare tickets you can't make use of, I get constant requests and would make sure they go to good use.

If you're in Miami, do stop by! You'll find us at Aqua in the same suite we had last year (behind the pool, in the back). We're very excited to be bringing work by some artists we've just begun working with, as well as some knockout pieces by the artists you may already know. Even if you're just making the rounds, we'd love to see you.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving

Hoping you and yours have a happy, healthy holiday! See y'all next week.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Communication Happens

With our original location in a working class neighborhood with large families, many of them struggling to get by, we often had occassion to explain our current exhibition to a very skeptical, very vocal audience. One exhibition in particular brought out that skepticism with passion. The locals who would peer in to see each new exhibition, only coming in for a closer look if it interested them, seemed to take it personally that this time what we had on view didn't fit their definition of "art." One young man (about 10 years old, I'd say) voiced the frustration his gang of 6 friends displayed with their body language, shouting through the glass, "That ain't art!"

From the street, the installation of Kate Gilmore's video Heartbreaker (see this PDF file for more info) looked like a mound of splintered, splattered planks dangling from the ceiling with gnarly masking tape. Which, from the street, it was. Only after one entered and looked from the other side would the viewer find a video, which showed a woman in a pretty yellow dress, covered in blood, hacking apart a large wooden valentine with an ax. (You can see Kate's work currently in a group exhibition at Mary Boone Gallery.)

One day two burly local men (about 35 years old, I'd say) came in for a closer look at Heartbreaker. I expected the same agressively dismissive response we'd been getting from the passersby. Rounding the pile of rubble, though, they stopped and watched the video and, their body language told me, began to relax. Finally, one turned to me and said "It's about having a broken heart, isn't it?" I could have hugged him. Yes, I said, It's about having a broken heart. The two men left nodding their approval, big smiles on their faces.

I was reminded of this incident while reading the New York Times article about Nina Katchadourian's current project in Lower Manhattan:

Several years ago the artist Nina Katchadourian found herself staring up at the sky full of office windows in Times Square and thinking about the faceless occupants behind them. “You think, ‘My God, all those anonymous people up there, living and working,’ ” she said. “There’s this sense of so much detachment between interior and exterior.”

With the cooperation of one of those anonymous people and the help of the Public Art Fund, Ms. Katchadourian is now trying to build a bridge — or at least, as she says, stretch a tenuous thread — between those two worlds.

Last week, on a windy plaza at the corner of Liberty and William Streets in Lower Manhattan, workers installed a heavy-duty tourist-type telescope. Its lens is fixed on a 17th-floor office window two blocks to the east, and at least once a day for the next two months the corporate lawyer who sits near that window will choose three objects from his office — for instance, a potted plant, a picture of his young son and a calculator — and arrange them on the sill. Anyone who wanders by the telescope can peer into it and see the objects, a kind of occupational variant on the famous lanterns in the Old North Church.

Then, using a pictorial key mounted on the telescope, the observer can translate the lawyer’s messages and, perhaps, divine something about personality or his soul. Or at least whether the deli forgot to put mustard on his pastrami sandwich again.
I have to say, I love this concept. It taps into so many ideas/motifs that interest me (spanning the gap between people with twists on the idea of "commuication," a sophisticated portrait system, interactive durational work that keeps viewers coming back for more, etc.). But it was the comments of a few observers that made me fall in love with this project:

On the first day of the project, only a few observers wandered tentatively over to check it out, seemingly confused about why a tourist telescope was pointed in the direction of nothing particularly touristy. But Bill Fatouras, a project manager for Chase Manhattan Bank, who had walked outside to enjoy a cigarillo, squinted into the telescope and said he would return to make a daily smoke-break check on his nameless neighbor.

“That way if he’s having a bad day and I’m having a bad day, maybe we can get some empathy going, you know what I mean?” he said.

Martin Griffin and Jerry Morgero, underwriters for a commercial insurance company, said they might keep tabs too, but admitted that they didn’t quite know what to think of the project as an artwork.

Mr. Morgero shrugged: “I guess it just goes to show what I don’t know about art.”

Mr. Griffin shrugged too, but then brightened.

“It’s a big, glorified mood ring,” he said. “If that’s what it is, I like it.”

The more I think and write about art, the more I realize whether it works or fails for me personally often has a great deal to do with how well it works as communication. By "communication" I mean specifically: transmitting an idea between two (or more) minds in a meaningful way. The hallmark of successful visual art, for me, is that it communicates something that can't be expressed in words or some other medium, but more basic than that is that it works well as communication, that essential components of good communication are considered: does the mode reinforce or undermine the idea; how is the idea received (i.e., in a setting/form where it can be accessed?); how will the reciever view the messenger (i.e., has the artist considered bias against him/her)...I could go on ad nauseum, but...

When it all comes together...when art serves to facilitate the most magical of moments...when it prompts someone to see the world in a new way, it's among the most rewarding of human experiences. Which gives you insight into one of the major reasons people become gallerists and curators, by the way: you get addicted to seeing that happen.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Shameless Self-Promotion

Tis the season for shameless self-promotion, no?

Actually, I'm under deadline to get two texts written and have to process my scouting in Chicago this past weekend, so today's post will be a short pointer to
this interview with yours truly with the immensely talented New York arts write Shane McAdams for the local paper Chelsea Now. Much of it is stuff you've read here before, but some might be new...

Regular posting to resume tomorrow.


Friday, November 17, 2006

Painful Video

I don' t know how much play this is getting, so I'm jumping on. Regardless of what the Police thought their responsibilities were in this instance, this is so totally unacceptable that they must be held accountable for poor judgement here. When the authorities are the source of our nightmares, it's time to relieve them of power:


Mostafa Tabatabainejad, a student at UCLA's Westwood campus of Iranian descent, was working in the computer lab of the Powell Library when UCLA campus police (a sub-section of the LAPD) conducted a routine ID check to ensure everyone still in the building after 11pm was a student or otherwise authorised person. Tabatabainejad either refused to show his ID or had forgotten it and was therefore asked to leave. According to witnesses, the officers then left and returned to escort him out, but he was already walking towards the exit of the building with his backpack on his shoulder.

One of the officers then grabbed his arm and Tabatabainejad indignantly demanded he let go, repeatedly shouting "get off me". This is the point at which a witness's video phone began taping. Inaudible words were exchanged between him and the officers and it seems he had for some reason fallen to the ground, they demanded he get up and when he did not they shot him with a taser:

This report in the LA Times does suggest the student was passive-agressively resisting (going limp when the police tried to escort him), but judging by the reactions of the other students, these officers still made a horrible decision here. I can't watch this without getting furious at them.

Heading to the Heartland

OK, so it's not exactly the breadbasket, but it's more the middle of the country than where I grew up (Eastern Ohio)...but blogging will be light for a few days as I head off to Chicago. I'm doing some studio visits, catching up with some dealer and curator friends, and seeking recommendations for where to catch a good late-night bite near the Art Institute of Chicago Museum (image from their extensive exhibition "The Silk Road and Beyond" [which I can't wait to see]). Any suggestions on restaurants?

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Wisdom Without Convention

First and foremost, I do not profess any expertise in reading the tea leaves that are the auction results from contemporary sales. You can turn to's handy summaries and analyses or read's breakdown on the top 5 prices, but in trying to mesh what is happening at the auctions with the "conventional wisdom" one hears on the street, I've taken to making sure I have a pinch or two of salt nearby.

For example, the conventional wisdom
last year was that the art market had probably peaked in 2005. There were still high prices, but they were mostly for established artists. Fresher faces were seeing interest in their work declining, which seemed to echo solid indications of a coming chill...or so the convetional wisdom said:

In 1990, 28 artists under the age of 45 sold an artwork for over USD 100,000 at a public auction. The following year, only 7 of these hit the same level. In 2005 the new wave of artists pushed the figure to 49. What will the result be in 2006?
Well, all the 2006 auction results are not in just yet, but at Sotheby's Contemporary exhibition on Tuesday, all the work by artists under 45 (I think 9 of them fall into that age bracket) sold at well past 100K, with at least 4 of them setting new records (there were 15 new all-time high records in total). There are, of course, other contemporary sales results to come, but so far things seems less than apocalyptic.

In fact, by all indications, the trend is ever-upward*:

It was just another record-breaking auction at Sotheby’s New York on the evening of Nov. 14, 2006. In the first sale in a week of contemporary art sales, Sotheby’s totaled $125,132,800, with 76 of 83 lots finding buyers, or almost 91 percent. By comparison, the Sotheby’s sale of a year ago totaled $114.5 million on 48 of 54 lots, and in fall 2004 the house did $92 million on a sale of 62 lots.

And as MAO pointed out recently, there's every reason to expect strong sales to continue well through 2007:

Well.. the preliminary numbers are in!!! Lets just say... there will be freakin truck loads Billion and Billions of Wall Street Bonus Dollars to grease the wheels of every NYC Art Gallery, Auction House, Coke Dealer, Real Estate Agent, Strip Joint and Sports Car Dealership this Christmas Season..So.. HO HO HO! Pass the MONET and Let the merriment begin!

All of which seems to indicate that things will indeed by jolly in Miami this year (yes, I'm shamelessly plugging our participation in Aqua really should stop by if you're in Miami...Bambino will not be pleased if he hears you didn't).

*I don't have data on last might's auction, so if it tanked, please just pass the mustard with my crow.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Lamar Advertising's Anti-Gay Censorship

One point of Karolina Bregula's art is to increase the visibility of a segment of the population in her native Poland that is still struggling for recognition, the gay and lesbian community. As she's done in Poland, her project includes billboard images of same-sex couples holding hands. Here are examples

As part of a very large exhibition of contemporary Polish art at Hartford Connecticut's miraculous arts center
Real Art Ways (curated by Marek Bartelik), Ms. Bregula's work was to be posted on billboards in Hartford and New Britain. Lamar Outdoor Advertising company had agree to participate in the project, offering billboards for three of Bregula's works and two other text-based works.

Then, Lamar Outdoor Advertising changed their mind.

After initially agreeing to do the project, Lamar Outdoor Advertising rejected Bregula’s images, and refused to run them on the billboards. (The company gave the go-ahead to the two text-only billboards by another artist that didn’t have images, but Real Art Ways withdrew them in protest of Lamar Outdoor Advertising’s rejection of Bregula’s work.)

In a conversation with Real Art Ways’ Executive Director Will K. Wilkins, Lamar’s regional vice president and general manager, Steve Hebert, stated that the company was concerned that the images could be perceived as controversial, and perhaps be marked by graffiti. When asked by Wilkins if he had any groups in particular in mind, Hebert said he did not.

"To make a decision like this based on the anticipated actions of bigots," says Wilkins, "does a real disservice to the gay and lesbian community and the broader community as well.”

Marek Bartelik, guest curator of the show, says the images are no more provocative than "a print ad for the Gap or Bennetton."
And this is not the first time Lamar has rejected pro-gay messages. Last year in Georgia, they censored one too:

Billboard company Lamar Advertising has rejected a series of ads from Georgia Equality, an LGBT rights group, that were scheduled to appear this fall in rural parts of the state.

The campaign, called "We Are Your Neighbors," features gay men and lesbians in various professions. A gay firefighter, for example, is captioned "I protect you, and I am gay. We are your neighbors." A lesbian doctor is similarly titled "I care for you, and I am a lesbian."

I'm not big on blogosphere vigilantism normally, but if you felt the need to express your opinions on this directly to the folks at Lamar's corporate headquarters, you'll find their contact information here. And to share your thoughts with the folks most directly responsible for this recent decision, you might find this helpful:

Lamar Advertising of Hartford
Dan Giordano
32 Midland Street
Windsor, CT 06095-4334

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Survival of the Most Creative

In an event blending my two favorite topics (art & politics...OK, so there's a bit of business thrown in as well, but the best business is a bit of both anyway, no?), the Louise T Blouin Foundation is hosting a three-day "Global Creative Leadership Summit" in New York. has a short article here. It started yesterday, but there are plenty of panel discussions today and tomorrow. No where on their site could I find information about tickets or whether the event is open to folks without an invitation (I can't get up there anyway), but they are providing a live webcast on their site. The panel I'm most interested in that takes place today is

In a flatter and closer world, winning the battle for ideas is determining the successes and failures of business and government. How do you create a company, nation, or university that thinks better and embraces change? Business empires rise and fall. Why? What are the warning signs and how can we spot them? What do we know today about the brain that we can apply to leadership, motivation and creativity in corporations, schools and governments?

Bradbury Anderson, Vice Chairman and CEO, Best Buy Co,, Inc.
Chuck Close, Artist
Joseph LeDoux, Professor of Neuroscience, New York University
Jimmy Wales, Founder, Wikia Inc. and Founder and Chairman, Wikimedia Foundation

Mike Oreskes, Executive Editor, International Herald Tribune

Other topics include
And the one I'm almost afraid to watch:

Video games, virtual reality, chat rooms, communities—titillate, transport and connect in good ways and bad. What does the Internet do to the brain? To the brain of your child? What are the social and psychological implications of “always connected, always on?” After 50 years, what will the Internet-conditioned human being be?
I know many of the speakers at this event are controversial, but I have to hand it to the Louise T Blouin Foundation for having the vision to organize this. Anyone get in to see any of it?

Monday, November 13, 2006

A Tale of Two Artists?

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of million-dollar photographs, it was the age of skyrocketing studio rents. It was an epoch of roaring prosperity and historically high prices; it was an epoch of nearly existential frustration and seemingly soulless production.

There was a king with a sensational gallery and a cooking wife on the throne in England; there was a king with an ever-expanding gallery and a poaching penchant on the throne in America. In both countries it was clearer than crystal to those who remembered the 80's, that things in general were never settled for ever.

With profound apologies to Mr. Dickens, it struck me this morning that it must be maddening to read articles about the strength of the art market if one is an artist still seeking a place in that market. In particular I was prompted to parody by
this article in the Toronto Star [via]:

Kim Dorland, a Toronto artist enjoying his first blush of international success, has recently hewed to a rigid schedule: Get up. Paint. Sleep. Repeat.

"I'd burn out if I kept painting like this," says Dorland who, as soon as humanly possible, intends not to. But there are miles to go before he sleeps: Paintings are needed for a slate of fast-approaching solo shows in Chicago, Los Angeles, Milan and here at home. And then there's the art fair circuit, a gaping maw of art buying that needs more and more work to satisfy appetites.

Major fairs in Miami, London, New York, Los Angeles and Basel, Switzerland, have fed on a robust international art economy, attracting thousands of buyers and inciting acquisition frenzies.

"I've been painting as much for the art fairs as I have for shows," says Dorland, who plans to have a presence at the Miami fair next month. "They're a great way to have an international audience see your work. But yeah, I'm starting to get a little tired."

Dorland means not to complain: few artists are able to enjoy art-making as a full-time job, let alone one that's brisk-paced and profitable. But as Dorland, 32, has learned, in an increasingly overheated world-wide art market, the demands of a voracious — and growing — community of buyers is putting pressure on artists to produce more work, faster, than ever before.

Nice work, if you can get it, I'm sure many artists are thinking.

There is, of course, a downside to all this that shouldn't be underestimated:

And while no one’s complaining about the profits, some artists are bemoaning the possible effects on their work—from overexposure to monotony.

"So many artists become formulaic, and that’s because of the market,” said galleriest Jessica Bradley. “They become a brand, and they can’t change.”
But I'm fairly sure that's a risk many struggling artists would be more than happy to take.

Or is it?

The problem with discussing this issue (as with most issues these days) is our tendency to compare and constrast the extremes and then pat ourselves on the back as if we've done the subject justice. The issue of "too much success" has been framed, far too often, as though there were two options: be an artist in such demand that you're unable to keep up with the orders or be an artist who only wishes that described his/her career at this point.

But rather than two options, it seems to me that these extremes (while an effective dramatic device) don't tell the true tale, at least not in a way we should expect papers of record to tell it. The Star article does concede that few artists live off their work, but then continues to imply Dorland's particular circumstances are typical, by not qualifying the word "artist" consistently: "a voracious — and growing — community of buyers is putting pressure on artists to produce more work, faster, than ever before."

That statement (and artinfo's summary of the article didn't even qualify it in the same way the Star did) is still misleading. Perhaps "a voracious — and growing — community of buyers is putting pressure on more and more artists to produce more work, faster, than ever before" would be better, but I'm getting off course.

My point is really that today there's a spectrum of artists---from those who've totally sold out to those who have become very wealthy making what they want to those selling just enough to pay for their basic needs to those struggling to make enough to pay their studio rent to those perhaps not selling anything at all but still exhibiting widely to those not interested in selling anything at all---but the issue is being consistently framed in the press to suggest there are only two types (as
Jennifer Dalton noted brilliantly in her recent piece at our gallery): losers and pigs.

And while that same false dichotomy applies to sports and business arenas as well, it's particularly upsetting to see it applied to the arts, in which artists often struggle not just against current measures of quality but also fashion (few folks really care whether a baseball player relies on "patience at the plate" or not or whether a captain of industry has a reality TV show, so long as he/she consistently knocks the ball out of the park or increases the price of the company's stock, but a brilliant abstract painter may have to wait for the fickle finger of fashion to point back toward abstraction to have his/her accomplishments fully recognized).

It's possible that when this overheated market finally cools down that folks will remember there are other measures of success for artists besides a waiting list, but until then, reject the framing...resist the false dilemma. As a few folks said when faced with Jennifer Dalton's bins of free bracletes (one choice reading "pig" and the other "loser") there is a third choice: not taking either.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Lisa Hunter's Hot New Book Launch!

Come meet the author!

Winkleman / Plus Ultra Gallery and Schroeder Romero are delighted to host the launch party for art expert and
blogger extraordinaire Lisa Hunter's fabulous new book for non-trust-fund-babies interested in learning from scratch how to start a collection: The Intrepid Art Collector: The Beginner's Guide to Finding, Buying, and Appreciating Art on a Budget

What: New Book Launch Party
When: Thursday, November 16, 2006, 7-8 pm
Where: Schroeder Romero and Winkleman / Plus Ultra Galleries
637 West 27th Street (between 11th and 12th Avenues)
New York, NY 10001


Here's an excerpt from the book:

First, here’s how not to learn about contemporary art: When I was an art history student in New York, my friends and I would dutifully go downtown to contemporary galleries (a prerequisite, we thought, to becoming “intellectuals”). Our courses on Caravaggio hadn’t prepared us for anything we saw there. We had no idea which pieces were good and which were junk, but we were too mortified to admit it. Instead of asking questions, we’d walk around the galleries with a knowing air and murmur, “Very interesting.” This is a dumb—not to mention boring—way to go to galleries.

You wouldn’t expect to learn about any other topic without reading or asking questions. Why should contemporary art be any different?

You probably had a teacher once who told you that if you looked at a work of art long enough, you’d understand it. Not true. You could look at a pile of bricks in a gallery all day without realizing that it’s a witty refutation of another artist’s work, if you didn’t get the reference. Ask questions! Once you understand what the artist was thinking, that pile of bricks may actually be fascinating, amusing, even moving.

A hushed gallery isn’t always the most comfortable place to ask questions, especially when you’re not ready to buy. If you’re shy, ask to see press clippings or background materials. Many exhibitions include an “Artist’s Statement,” in which the artist attempts to describe what he or she was trying to do. (Artists hate writing these, but they’re very helpful to new collectors.) You could also read reviews of the exhibit before you go, to get a general sense of what you’re looking at.

Even better, start by going to art fairs, art shows, and open studio tours. These are more casual than galleries; they’re more amenable places to ask questions and strike up conversations. So are art school exhibitions. Students love to give their opinions about what’s good and bad in contemporary art.

Start with basic questions such as “Can you tell me about the artist?” or “Is this work part of a particular tradition?” Admit what you don’t know. As long as you don’t try to pretend you’re a buyer when you’re not, dealers and artists are usually gracious and willing to answer questions.

If you keep asking questions and engaging yourself in the work, you’ll find that contemporary art is endlessly interesting. There’s always something new.

Mark your calendar, and please stop by this coming Thursday. If you love Lisa's blog (as we do), you'll adore her in person. Oh, and the book makes an excellent present for all those art lovers on your list!

Thursday, November 09, 2006


By the way, he's already headed over to his soiree and won't see this until later, but just to let you know, today is Bambino's Birthday...If you get a chance, feel free to leave him a birthday greeting for him to see when he gets back. Oh, and officially, he's 18...(again!).

Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock? Or The Irony of Class War in America

There's so much wrong with the selling of this story, it's difficult to know where to begin.

Perhaps, I should start with the obvious: America remains a country engaged in a civil war...a class war, that is. It's more intense at times than now, but certain events and stories still arise to drive the point home that lasting peace has yet to arrive. More than that though, as in perhaps all wars, the sanctimonious posturings on both sides are so ludicrous and self-serving, that in the end, neither army is morally "pure."

Take the story of 77-year-old
Teri Horton:

After retiring from truck driving in 1987, Teri Horton devoted much of her time to bargain hunting around the Los Angeles area. Sometimes the bargains were discovered on Salvation Army shelves and sometimes, she willingly admits, at the bottom of dumpsters.

Even the most stubborn deal scrounger probably would have been satisfied with the rate of return recently offered to her for a curiosity she snagged for $5 in a San Bernardino thrift shop in the early 1990s. A buyer, said to be from Saudi Arabia, was willing to pay $9 million for it, just under an 180 million percent increase on her original investment. Ms. Horton, a sandpaper-voiced woman with a hard-shell perm who lives in a mobile home in Costa Mesa and depends on her Social Security checks, turned him down without a second thought.

Ms. Horton's find is not exactly the kind that gets pulled from a steamer trunk on the "Antiques Roadshow." It is a dinner-table-size painting, crosshatched in the unmistakable drippy, streaky, swirly style that made Jackson Pollock one of the most famous artists of the last century. Ms. Horton had never heard of Pollock before buying the painting [see image above], but when an art teacher saw it and told her that it might be his work (and that it could fetch untold millions if it were), she launched herself on a single-minded post-retirement career --- enlisting, along the way, a forensic expert and a once-powerful art dealer --- to have her painting acknowledged as authentic by scholars and the art market.
Cute enough story, no? Worthy of attention. And sure enough it's getting some, in the form of a documentary that opens in New York next week (titled "Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock?"). But add a dash of "60 Minutes" style scandalmongering spin and the advice of a bitter criminal and you've apparently got just another caricature of the "evil" art world:

The movie, directed by Harry Moses, a veteran television documentarian, was produced by him; Don Hewitt, the creator and former executive producer of "60 Minutes"; and his son, Steven Hewitt, a former top executive at Showtime. Mr. Moses said he first became aware of Ms. Horton's quest when he was approached by Tod Volpe, a high-flying art dealer who fell to earth, and landed himself in prison, in the late 1990s for defrauding several of his celebrity clients, including Jack Nicholson and Barbra Streisand.


The filmmakers were initially fascinated by the science-versus-art angle of Ms. Horton's story, about how forensics may be starting to nudge the entrenched tradition of connoisseurship from its perch in the world of art authentication. But as they spent more time with her, they began to see the movie as being about something more important than whether the painting was a real Pollock, a question left very much for the viewer to decide.

"It became, really, a story about class in America," Mr. Moses said. "It's a story of the art world looking down its collective nose at this woman with an eighth-grade education."
Now I get the notion that the art world is mysterious and glamorous and as such is ideal for folks to project all kinds of dark fantasies onto, and according to this article, the filmmakers have some predictably snobbish quotes from some predictably snobbish authorities ("Thomas Hoving, the former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, [examined] the painting in somewhat dramatic fashion, tilting his head and almost touching his nose to the canvas before pronouncing it 'dead on arrival.'"], but the end result of framing this story this way is that they're helped turn Ms. Horton into a sort of of Don Quixote, chasing after art world windmills of oppression that have led her to an absolutely insane conclusion:

Ms. Horton was clearly having fun in her now-enlarged role as self-appointed scourge of high-dollar high culture, which she calls "the art-world conglomerate conspiracy." She said, though, that she remained completely confident that she would see herself vindicated, and that she would sell her painting at her price --- no less than $50 million --- within her lifetime.

And if that does not happen?

She clicked a long, lacquered fingernail on the tabletop.

"Before I let them take advantage of me," she said, smiling broadly, "I'll burn that son of a bitch."
Don't get me wrong. I'm not defending the Hovings of the art world. They're so busy trying to convince themselves that they are important, they've lost sight of the fact that it's their responsibility to try to convince society-at-large that art is important, and in doing so perpetuate the mistrust the public has of the "experts." (He's such a jerk at times, Hoving: "Mr. Hoving says that Ms. Horton has no right to be bitter about her treatment by the art world and adds sternly, when told that she would vehemently disagree: 'She knows nothing. I'm an expert. She' not.'")

But to conclude that her shabby treatment by some art world experts entitles her to burn the painting, whether it's a Pollock or not, suggests an equal degree of self-importance on Ms. Horton's part. Which is the great irony of the class war in America: it creates bull-headed, arrogant jerks on both sides.

I've lived in this country long enough now to know that most folks, even rich ones, will buy into the spin here, but look no further than Moses's own words to find the underhanded manipulation here: "It's a story of the art world looking down its collective nose at this woman with an eighth-grade education." [emphasis mine]. He didn't have to present her that way. She's a woman with a painting that very well might be a Jackson Pollock (or at the very least a good fake). To focus on her education in presenting her to the public, Moses is intentionally playing up the class-war angle. She might have an art historically important work of art...why on earth is her education significant in getting it appraised? Hoving didn't re-inact his snobbish assessment after Horton approached him on her own. It wasn't merely caught on candid camera. Hoving performed, as he could be counted on doing, with cameras running and more importantly, context already set. In other words, from what I know having read this article, this film seems to be a fictionalizing ambush, being presented as documentary...more guilty perhaps of perpetuating the class war than anything Hoving might have done left to his own devices.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

And Now...?

First and foremost, congratulations to all those who won their contests yesterday. In this country, at this time, it's no small feat to expose yourself to the microscope, putting yourself and your family out there for scrutiny on the grueling campaign trail, and so regardless of party, to the winners, I say enjoy your hard-earned celebrations.

Now that the Dems have control of the House, however (and, at the very least, more power in the I write this two contests are still undecided), I'm reminded of Truman's famous response to the rally cry "Give 'em Hell Harry," noting that he never gave anyone hell, he just told them the truth and they thought it was hell.

As I think about how I'd like the Democrats to move forward, I realize that they really don't have to seek revenge for the years of being marginalized by this arrogant President and his staff. They don't have to "give them hell." They need do no more than do their jobs: serve as oversight, pass legislation, and investigate suspected abuses. If that feels like hell to the Bush Administration, so be it.

Soon-to-be Speaker Pelosi is promising an agenda geared toward helping Americans who have been neglected under Republican rule and finally, finally, finally acting to make us safer here at home, for real, not just using whatever serves their purposes as rhetoric toward that. Her priorities include
  • Boost the minimum wage? The only question is how high, how fast.
  • Fiscal discipline? “Remove all doubt. Pay as you go.”
  • Research on new embryonic stem cells? Scrap the ban on federal funding.
  • Problematic prescription drug coverage for seniors? “We can do something about that.”
  • 9-11 commission recommendations? Approved on Day One.
I don't know about you, but I feel safer already.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The Good, the Bad, or the Ugly

There's a scene in Borat, which we howled through this weekend, in which the Kazakh journalist attends a "high society" dinner and delights in the attractiveness of the women who sit on either side of him. He asks a pastor at the head of the table if the blonde next to him is his wife. No, answers the pastor, indicating to the much plainer woman at the end of the table, "That's my wife." Borat continues, "In a my country, they would go crazy...for these two [indicating the women on either side of him]...not a so much...[he indicates toward the pastor's wife]." It was one of many moments in the film where you wanted to put your hands over your eyes (and many people in the theater did, repeatedly). "No, no, no...he didn't just go there...." Yet, it wouldn't have been painful (or funny) if there hadn't been a marked difference in beauty among the women. The audience could see the difference as clearly as the character did. We grimaced because it's taboo to point it out.

article by Mary Devereauz on the webite for the American Society for Aesthetics discusses the underlying meaning of the discomfort we have with acknowledging "ugliness" in other people:
We shun mention of the ugly, it seems to me, for a number of reasons. First, we naturally enough do not want to think of ourselves as ugly –especially not in the present tense. The thought that others might find us ugly is unsettling and embarrassing, particularly in a culture such as ours, where, rightly or wrongly, success, esteem and love rest so heavily upon physical appearance. So, too we generally try to avoid attributing ugliness to others. Calling the ugly ‘ugly’ – recognizing someone as ugly – is thought to be undemocratic and cruel. Undemocratic because even with a pluralistic conception of beauty, some people are going to lose. It’s bad luck, but a fact. Recognizing the ugly is cruel because, whether the judgment is mistaken (as in the case of Pecola’s self-hatred in Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye) or correct (as with Frankenstein’s monster), calling someone ugly may do as much or more damage as calling them a liar or a cheat. Unlike lying or cheating, ugliness seems to have few excuses, a situation worsened, ironically, by the readily availability of the cosmetic fix and the raising of the bar of “standard” good looks. Hence many of us are rightly reluctant to apply the predicate ‘ugly’ to human beings.

The discomfort I am describing is intensified by a long intellectual tradition associating beauty with goodness and ugliness with evil. While a extensive line of physically attractive villains from Vronsky to Rhett Butler attests to the falseness of this connection, an equally entrenched narrative tradition insists upon its truth, using ugliness as a mark of bad character if not downright wickedness (e.g., the ugly stepmothers and stepsisters of Grimm’s fairytales). Alternatively, ugliness and the social ostracism it (unfairly) provokes may turn the good man bad, as the tale of Frankenstein’s creature and a range of others illustrate. The point is that one way or another, an ugly face is frequently associated with a form of moral badness.
In fine art, of course, the notion that "beauty = good" has been pronounced dead, repeatedly. In fact, it's considered déclassé to be attracted only to classically beautiful objects (but, more and more it seems, considered equally unsophisticated to not appreciate them on some [higher, of course] level). Still, only philistines don't have an appreciation for the aesthetics of decay, or see the beauty in the rustic, or the rugged, or the rusted out. In my opinion, such posturing is usually more about current fashion than anything else, but I'm curious whether, as with physical beauty, we don't associate certain "moral" values to beautiful or ugly artwork, or at least their creators.

See image here.

I'll sacrifice my own sense of aesthetics (and perhaps reputation) here to provide an example of what I'm wondering about. I think I've noted repeatedly that, despite appreciating his achievement intellectually, I'm not at all emotionally/aesthetically attracted to Jackson Pollock's work. To me, to put it bluntly, the drip paintings are ugly. Mind you, I once felt that same way about Philip Guston's cartoon-based work but now involuntarily drool like a bulldog in August when I see one, so I do look forward to the day when I have my Pollock epiphany. But where other folks will marvel in front of "
One, Number 31" [above] at MoMA, for example, I (and I've tried) can't seem to get past how the dour drabness of the palette and the seeming chaos of the composition overshadow any appreciation I might otherwise have for the energy of the gestures or scope of the vision or whatever...I stand there really wanting to just yell out at the admirers, "Come on, now! Admit it. It's ugly!"

So I think, despite his historical achievement, I do tend to think of Pollock as lesser than, say, Rothko or de Kooning, whose work for me is breathtakingly beautiful. More than that, even, if asked to choose one of the three to keep my most valuable secret, Pollock would definitely be the last. I don't quite trust him somehow. It's not his personal life either (Mark and Willem were self-absorbed and self-destructive, each to his own degree, as well), but something I associate with him because of how I feel about his work. Surely he could have made those works more aesthetically pleasing, if he had wanted to, if that had been important to him, if he was a better person, or something like that (it's not all that clear to me).

See image here.

On the other hand, despite reports of his being quite the little shit of a person, I associate much more trust with Carravagio. I mean, anyone who can paint that lusciously must be, deep down, a decent human being, no? Obviously not, but knowing nothing more about their personalities than what I associate with what it took to create their work (i.e., in a vaccuum), I would choose Carravagio over Pollock in picking a person to share an important secret. There's something instinctual about it.
Experiments have shown we naturally gravitate toward beauty and distrust physical ugliness in human faces, so why would it be any different with art? (Beside the fact that we're supposed to be educating ourselves, I mean).

The flip side to this, of course, is how after a few encounters with Carravagio-esque people, we can also learn to mistrust beauty (which may have more to do with the see-sawing of tastes and fashion than any sustained "growth" in that direction). I often hear artists or collectors say this or that work is too polished for them, too pretty to satisfy their discerning eye. And while I know what they mean, I do wonder whether, at some point in the future, I might feel that a Rothko or a Guston or a Pollock is too pretty? I'm not so sure. Arte Povera, for example, advocates "a complete openness towards materials and processes," but for me its more successful pieces still adhere to a handsome formalism. Like infants who will smile at a "pretty lady" but pull away from a disfigured face, I suspect there's something innate about our response to art, suggesting our more "sophisicated" tastes for work that's not traditionally beautiful is an intellectual stance, not an emotional one, which is still important, I'd argue, but perhaps not "natural" in a way that we often ignore when encountering skeptics about contemporary art.

OK, I've rambled in circles enough me out.

Monday, November 06, 2006

One Final Thought

Before you head to the polls tomorrow, take a moment to review what's at stake [via Sullivan]:


A vote for a Republican is a vote for more of the same. Vote Democrat or abstain.

It's Coming....

It used to be it wouldn't really start until after Thanksgiving, but now you see the first signs popping up even before the Halloween candy has been distributed. I'm talking of course about that annual December festival of commercialism...Art Basel Miami and its ever-expanding solar system of satellite fairs.

I'll admit it, I get excited too (it's a blast, and it usually comes on the heels of the first frigid blast of winter here in NYC, so it's very, very welcome). With bands on the beach; art in every hotel room, convention center, tent, and warehouse; reunions with distant friends; and plenty of new people to meet, what's not to love?

For a truly comprehensive list of the festivities, you might have to cobble together a few resources, but between,, and you can learn a good deal about what and who are when and where.

We're beyond delighted to be participating again in the Aqua Art Miami Fair---hands down the most pleasant fair experience we've ever enjoyed. called it "the surprise hit of the 2005 season," and said, "The central outdoor courtyard of the Aqua Hotel, onto which each room opens, makes this one of the most fun-to-visit fairs." I call it a chance to work in flip flops, but if you're heading for Miami, don't miss the chance to stop by and see for yourself.

If you haven't made your hotel reservations yet, you might want to hurry (I understand rooms are still available in some places, but it's getting very, very tight).

Friday, November 03, 2006

Benefit for Choice

Why on earth is Ed doing all these political posts?, I hear you wondering. Because election day is around the corner (and absolutely critical this time around) and because, IMO, art and politics mix like gin and tonic, socially speaking anyway. Besides, you're gonna pass up an opportunity to meet Gloria Steinem? I hear she's like the Germaine Greer of America:

A Choice Conversation with Gloria Steinem: Developing Tomorrow's Leaders Today

A Benefit for Choice USA

November 9, 2006, 6:00 pm - 8:00 pm EST

McKenzie Fine Art, Inc.

511 W 25th Street, Second Floor
New York, NY 10001
(and don't miss the great exhibition by Chris Gallagher while you're there)
View Map

You and other pro-choice supporters!
Tickets: $100 donation

RSVP by November 3 online or by calling Heather Darling at 202-965-7700

Purchase Your Ticket Today to Support Future Pro-Choice Leaders!

Join renowned author and activist Gloria Steinem for an evening of fun, food and conversation about the future of the pro-choice movement.

In the past year, emboldened by the appointment of two conservative justices to the Supreme Court, South Dakota passed a sweeping abortion ban. In California, a proposed initiative seeks to limit young people’s right to choose. And across the nation, pharmacists are doling out speeches and admonitions rather than prescriptions.

With reproductive freedom under attack, now more than ever, it’s imperative to build a thriving, successful pro-choice movement -- one that is ever evolving, embracing trailblazers while making room for new leaders. Building such a movement requires focusing our resources on developing youth today!

"If anyone wonders who the new leaders are - or who is nurturing them - they have only to look at Choice USA ." – Gloria Steinem

Movements for social change wither unless they develop new leaders. Choice USA is the sole organization in the pro-choice movement entirely devoted to preparing diverse young people for leadership roles.

We invite you to learn more about us, and about what you can do to ensure a pro-choice future. Bring your questions, thoughts, and ideas and share them with Choice USA President, Gloria Steinem, and Executive Director, Crystal Plati!

Thanks and hope to see you on November 9!
Crystal Plati, Valerie McKenzie, Susan Lobel, and Lauren Young

Choice USA

1010 Wisconsin Ave., NW, Suite 410
Washington, DC 20007

Context and the Culture of Corruption

There's a story Aubrey Menen tells in his book Art & Money that I was reminded of when thinking of all the political scandals that have broken in the past year:

At the beginning of the sixteenth century, [Rome] was a squalid city, with narrow, insanitary streets, rat-infested medieval houses, and moldering ruins. Although it was the seat of the papacy, its moral vices were notoroious. The situation was summed up in a famous story, much quoted. A Jew was brought by a Christian to Rome. After a year, the Jew became a Christian. Asked by the astonished citizens why, he replied that if God permitted the things to go on that he had seen, then Christianity must be the true faith. [Menen, Aubrey, Art & Money: An Irreverent History, 1980, McGrawHill, p. 115]

Indeed, context can define "corruption" and our response to it. I came to recall this story when thinking that at least a few of the "scandals" that have broke would not truly be all that scandalous in another time or place. By that I mean that because our current public arena has been so dominated by the moralizing rhetoric of the social conservatives who have direct influence at the White House, the context, like that of the seat of the papacy, contributes to the collective shock at such revelations that might not be there, were the ambient political rhetoric less holier-than-thou.

Take the example of Ted Haggard, the very powerful, virulently anti-gay Evangelical leader who quit his post because an male escort has asserted that he's had a three-year relationship with the Reverend and that their party favors had included methamphetamine (don't miss this wonderful bit on Tyler's blog about the homoerotic art in Ted's church). The Reverend insists he's not gay and that he's been faithful to his wife, and that he's stepping down only until this is all cleared up, but my gaydar goes off the charts when watching this video of him lecturing his audience about why he knows gay sex is wrong (scroll down a bit). Not that my gaydar should be entered into evidence in a court of law, mind you, I'm just saying....

But if the church-led anti-gay rhetoric were not at a fever pitch in this country, then, to me at least, this would essentially be a story about a closeted homosexual minister who cheated on his wife and had to get really high to overcome the guilt of doing so. In that context, I might actually feel a bit sorry for him (and his wife, of course). In the current climate, however, this represents a hypocrisy of epic proportions, and it's the blatant duplicity that is so hard to stomach, not just the cheating (hey, the gay part of it is just fine by me). Had the political atmosphere been less toxic (i.e., had the Fundagelicals not constantly beat the anti-gay drum over the past decade), then Ted's congregation might be more willing to see this in a less limited, more open-minded context, as well. A more human context.

The ultimate irony for me here is just how unChristian the context has become now that the Religious right has ascended, how unforgiving. Having cast his fair share of stones, Reverend Ted can hardly insist he be spared by all but the totally sinless, should this story turn out to be true. He's personally responsible for creating the mindset that will condemn him, without mercy, I suspect. Again, I almost feel sorry for him.

Unbelievable Update: OK, so via Sullivan we can conclude that should you be an Evangelical minister accused of having 1) hired and had sex with a male prostitute and 2) bought crystal meth, and evidence indicates that you most likely did one or other other, you admit to having bought the illegal susbstance:
Haggard told reporters that he bought the methamphetamine for himself. He says, "I was tempted, but I never used it." Haggard told reporters he bought the meth because he was curious - but that he then threw it away.

He also says he never had sex with Jones. He says he received a massage from him after being referred to him by a Denver hotel.

"Twisted" doesn't begin to cover it.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

31 Degrees Fahrenheit in Hell

I never thought I'd see the day when I would quote Ronald Reagan, but in the context of the pending election, this deserves as much play as possible. Via Sullivan [emphasis mine]:
"You and I are told we must choose between a left or right, but I suggest there is no such thing as a left or right. There is only an up or down. Up to man's age-old dream - the maximum of individual freedom consistent with order - or down to the ant heap of totalitarianism. Regardless of their sincerity, their humanitarian motives, those who would sacrifice freedom for security have embarked on this downward path," - Ronald Reagan, stumping for Barry Goldwater in 1964.
Vote Democrat next Tuesday.


I attended the New Museum-sponsored panel discussion on "Passion" at Cooper Union last night, flanked by This Broad and That Broad of Broadsheet fame. As I strained to see and hear (the Great Hall at The Cooper Union was clearly designed to prevent doing both at the same time), I felt an odd sense of competition with the Broads. I found myself thinking about how they might recount the evening (would their account be better than mine? would most likely be much funnier) and got surprisingly jealous when This Broad (or was it That?) took a few notes at one point. I also found myself wondering whether or not I should share my initial impressions, especially when I thought they were particularly poignant (i.e., if they read that same idea here later would they register that dreaded disappointment of recognition, "Hmmmpf, he said that last night, I can't believe he's offering it up as 'fresh' in his post"). All of which just made me realize that in addition to Bambino, my beloved gallery artists, politics, and new experiences (like eating a sheep's head), I must be quite passionate about this blog and that passion is highly illogical sometimes.

But then, saying that, I still find myself wanting a satisfying definition of "passion," which is kind of what I expected to take away from the panel discussion, but didn't quite. Which isn't to blame the panel, mind you. Moderated by the remarkably well-prepared and gracious Massimiliano Gioni (Curator at the New Museum and co-founder of The Wrong Gallery), the panel included "Marina Abramovic, performance artist; John Richardson, independent scholar and author of A Life of Picasso; Wylie Dufresne, chef and restaurateur, WD-50; Hans Ulrich Obrist, Co-Director of Exhibitions and Programs and Director of International Projects, Serpentine Gallery, London; and Jerry Saltz, Senior Art Critic, Village Voice." Each panelist discussed the topic of his/her most well-known passion, but, well, perhaps that's just it. Perhaps discussing a topic is the antithesis of passion. Perhaps "passion" can only be defined by doing, whether that means performing, cooking, writing, or curating...perhaps stopping to deconstruct and communicate why or how or when, inevitably stalls the engine, or deflates the balloon, or (would someone with a passion for analogy help me here?) I don't know, but the evening was a somewhat frustrating staccato of gems and lulls.

A big part of that, again, was the design of the Hall. The folks to our right kept moving out of the aisle (to view what was being projected on the side screens) and then back toward the center (to see the panel when they began to talk again). We sneered them into stopping after a bit, but I couldn't blame them for the yo-yo seating dance.

I'm really awful at recounting actual quotes at such events (unlike some bloggers, I wasn't taking notes ;-p), so I'll share general impressions of the seminar, rather than go panelist-by-panelist. Two of the panelists were highly animated in their discussion, which is kind of what I expected with a topic like "passion": Wylie Dufresne, who in addition to being charming seemed to be even more conscious about staying on topic than Gioni, and Jerry Saltz, who unquestionably owned the evening, prompting Abramovic to suggest at one point that he should have his own TV show. Indeed, if you've ever heard Jerry lecture, you'll know that in addition to his other talents, he possesses that distinctive genius that allows him to be both insightful and entertaining. After a humor-filled opening about his profession, Jerry showed a slide presentation of a trip to Robert Smithson's Sprial Jetty. I won't reveal the content of that presentation, in case he is planning to show it again, but it demonstrated "passion" perhaps more convincingly than any other visual presented, and got the longest ovation. Personally, I sat there in awe.

The billing for this event had been slightly misleading however. On their website, the New Museum titles it "Passion: For Love or Money?" but there was little discussion of anything much related to money until the Q&A segment when an audience member asked whether fame was a disruptive element in passionate pursuits (my alliteration, not his...yes, I'm passionate about alliteration). Jerry responded with a brilliant quote he said he had just heard and which particularly applies to the blogosphere, IMO: "In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people." There were other parts to the quote, but that summed it up best, IMO.

In the end, however, the frustrating sense of not getting to the heart of the matter was best defined by a young man in the audience who asked whether we're all too busy (making the money we need to survive) to be really passionate. He used the analogy of a hamster on a treadmill being unable to make art (which prompted That Broad to point out how that owed more to his being a hamster than being on a treadmill, but I digress....), and I immediately felt I understood his frustration, but realized that at no point had anyone in the panel (not Marina who has risked her own health for her work, not John Richardson who has embarked on a project so all-consuming it defies belief) suggested that one could seek his/her passions without sacrifice. Jerry cheered that young man on, insisting that "you can do it...I know you can." And then it hit me...perhaps passion is not best illustrated by high drama or grand gestures (those are cariactures of passion), but rather by a steely determination, a quiet but confident belief that what one is doing is not only important, but essential. Asked about doubt by another performance artist, Marina said being an artist to her is like breathing. She never stops to think whether she should breath. She has to breath, or she will die. If that ain't passion, it's something even better.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Vote Democrat or Abstain, Part II (Be Careful What You Wish For)

When all is said and done, I truly believe in religious freedom (I just stop short of endorsing anyone's claim that religious freedom includes coercive proselytizing). Further, I will defend anyone's right to worship as they see fit without intervention or derision so long as that worship respects the human rights of individuals. But as this concerns my own sectarian corner of crazy (I was raised a Pentecostal, and we had regularly scheduled speaking in tongues and a firm believe in the imminence of the Second Coming), I feel well qualified to mock quite mercilessly (I've earned that right through countless hours of mind-numbing indoctrination). Via the always excellent hilzoy on Obsidian Wings comes this nugget of nuttiness:

Voters should oust congressional Republican leaders because U.S. foreign policy is delaying the second coming of Jesus Christ, according to a evangelical preacher trying to influence closely contested political races.

K.A. Paul railed against the war in Iraq on Sunday before a crowd of 1,000 at the New Spirit Revival Center in Cleveland Heights, his first stop on what he hopes is a 30-city campaign.

The Houston-based preacher said he believes that the Bush administration has delayed the second coming because U.S. foreign policy has blocked Christian missionaries from working in Iraq, Iran and Syria.

"Somebody needs to say enough is enough," he said to worshippers who stood, waved and called out in support.
This story is beautifully insane on so many levels. First, of course, is the notion that the Republicans have more power than God. If the time is right for the Second Coming, I highly doubt Karl Rove can stop it. Secondly is how the GOP's exploitation of far Right religious voters is now coming back to haunt them. It's as if the GOP spinmeisters failed to read the fine print when they got their candidates to cozy up next to the Fundies. "Oh, you mean you actually believe in the Second Coming...hmmm, didn't see that one coming. Could you stay behind that yellow line, please?" Third is the more theological idiocy that suggests converting the Middle East non-Christians follows a script more or less like this: "You see, if you don't become a Christian, then Christ can't come back, and the anti-Christ can't come to power, and the world can't spin into total bloody chaos, and you won't have to leave your loved ones behind and...wait...where you going?"

Honestly, in the end, I don't care why the Fundagelicals vote for the Democrats. Just so long as they do. And it doesn't hurt if they continue to entertain me so brilliantly.