Friday, March 30, 2007

My Own Personal Chocolate Jesus (not!)

This morning I almost blogged about the anatomically correct chocolate sculpture of Jesus that Cosimo Cavallaro was supposed to exhibit at the Lab Gallery (opening after Palm Sunday and closing on Easter Sunday), but decided against it because I wasn't sure I liked it enough to discuss it. I had decided to go see it first and then blog about it if it was as interesting as it seemed. Now I may never know. Under a barrage of pressure and angry phone calls, the hotel that houses Lab Gallery cancelled the show. The gallery's creative director Matt Semler, resigned in protest. And Catholics (and seemingly Catholics alone from reports I can find [because, like, we other Christians don't care about Jesus???]) all over the city are enraged. This all happened in one day.

There are three issues of interest to me here. One is the knee-jerk reaction by some people to artwork they haven't seen in person, to the mere idea of something.

[W]ord of the confectionary Christ infuriated Catholics, including [Cardinal Edward] Egan, who described it as "a sickening display."

Bill Donohue, head of the watchdog Catholic League, said it was "one of the worst assaults on Christian sensibilities ever."

"It’s not just the ugliness of the portrayal, but the timing — to choose Holy Week is astounding," he said.
Maybe that's just lazy reporting. Maybe other nonCatholic Christians were also infuriated, but the Associated Press didn't bother to call to ask. Let me just say that as a Protestant, I'm offended that we didn't get our outraged entered into the public records. (OK, so I'm being facetious...I'm not outraged, but some Protestant somewhere must be, no? come on AP...get with it.)

Secondly, and perhaps most importantly for me is the degree of art-history ignorance this rapid-fire outrage reveals. I mean like does the characterization of this work as "one of the worst assaults on Christian sensibilities ever" now mean Serrano's finally off the hook? Is chocolate more offensive than piss? And, I'm sorry but "It’s not just the ugliness of the portrayal" suggests Bill Donohue has never even heard of Grünewald...I mean, talk about your ugly Jesuses:

But perhaps worst of all in this is the fact that here I was just a few months ago defending my co-Christians against the irate Muslims of the world who were hopping mad over a few political cartoons. I guess sculpture's too sacred for free speech defenders. If Cavallaro had just drawn Jesus in ink on paper, perhaps, the show could have gone on.

Lame, lame, and such a shame. I really wanted to see it.


All Together Now: "Another GOP Lie"

As so giddily confesses, the GOP feels they finally have an election-time talking point they can agree on (I guess keeping the nation safe from terrorism is too divisive a topic for them now):

All Together Now: 'The Largest Tax Increase in History'

If yesterday's House Republican Conference bloggers' event in the U.S. Capitol taught me one thing, it's that Republicans have finally found an issue to rally around. Seven conservative bloggers heard from 28 members of Congress (I've posted more than 100 photos on
Flickr). While some Republicans deviated from the script (most notably former Speaker Dennis Hastert), nearly everyone used the occasion to rail against the Democrats' budget proposal, which amounts to the largest tax increase in U.S. history.
It's a compelling talking point, I'll agree. And if they could manage to get the public to swallow it, they might have a winner come November 2008. The only problem is, this notion of "the largest tax increase in U.S. history" is simply another GOP lie. The always amazing Hilzoy over at Obsidian Wings explains why:

[H]ere's what [the GOP's] "largest tax increase in U.S. history" actually comes to: the Republicans passed a series of tax cuts that they set up to expire. They intended to make them permanent, but never got around to it. The Democrats are proposing to leave their tax cuts alone. But this counts as a tax increase, apparently on the grounds that whatever Republicans sorta kinda thought they were going to do, but never actually got around to doing, counts as already done, and anyone who proposes to leave things alone counts as undoing the things they were intending to do. [all emphasis mine]
Hilzoy goes on to have fun with this talking point (what else should one do with pure fantasy?). But here's the real retort to this Republican revisionism:

How did the Democrats manage to create an automatic tax increase? Don't tax increases normally have to be enacted? I hope so. It would be awful if tax increases could just happen automatically. Come to think of it, it would be even worse if it turns out that this isn't confined to the tax code, and all sorts of laws could be passed automatically. I mean, who knows what the US Code might decide to do to itself, without the intervention of any human agent? We could wake up one morning to find that ping pong had been automatically criminalized, or that a requirement that all Americans wear silly clown costumes had automatically come into force, or that all our national parks had automatically sold themselves to WalMart. The possibilities are horrifying.

Imagine my relief when I realized what was actually going on. The Bush tax cuts are set to expire automatically. They were written that way. What the Democrats are proposing to do is simply not to change this.
So essentially the Republicans are all giddy that they can now blame Democrats for not correcting their own mistakes. If further evidence that they are simply out of ideas and should be out of office was needed, this should do it.


Virtual and Vicarious Open Thread

I'll be the first to admit that the advances in virtual reality technology always makes my paranoid mind jump forward to the point where humans prefer (or are forced) to live in some chosen virtual world more than than they do the real one (yes, I'm a geek...that's the plot of The Matrix, I know). But I always reassure myself that there's nothing to worry about because virutal reality and video games and the like are only really popular among younger people. As they age, folks will outgrow their interest in those alternate realities, eventually, and return to the physical world. And besides, it's only the guys who get really obsessed with such diversions...and they'll eventually give them up when, you know, Spring turns their thoughts to other pasttimes.

Then there was
this story in today's New York Times about how retirees are increasingly embracing video games and interactive (Wii) type technology:

PopCap Games in Seattle, the maker of the diversions so popular at St. Mary, says its games have been downloaded more than 200 million times since the company was founded in 2000. A spokesman said that the company was stunned by results of a customer survey last year: 71 percent of its players were older than 40, 47 percent were older than 50, and 76 percent of PopCap players were women.

It turns out that older users not only play video games more often than their younger counterparts but also spend more time playing per session. is a Web site that offers “casual” games, easy to play and generally less complicated than the war, sports and strategy games favored by hard-core gamers. According to Electronic Arts, the game publisher that runs the site, people 50 and older were 28 percent of the visitors in February but accounted for more than 40 percent of total time spent on the site. On average women spent 35 percent longer on the site each day than men.
So much for my theory about outgrowing the games and women saving us men from our addictive selves. But still, there are experiences that folks will still want to have in real life because the idea of virutal versions of them seem silly (and I don't mean just sex), no? I mean, if you know something's virutal, it won't have the same emotional impact as something real and potentially really dangerous (unlike only virtually dangerous). Right?

Then I came across this article by James Westcott on
Artreview: blog:

Body art without the body

A project called
Synthetic Performances by the new media pranksters (yes, I had to copy and paste that) recreates some classics of 1970s body art in the online mega-game Second Life: Vito Acconci's Seedbed [performance view above, from website], Valie Export's Tapp und Tastkino, and Chris Burden's Shoot.
Fortunately, before I got too wound up by the potential significance of this, I read Westcott's sane and calming analysis:

This is disembodied body art: verification, if we needed it, of how far we've come, or what we're left with, since the 70s. Physical presence and the notion of the present -- the pious twin tenets of performance art back then -- are totally satirized here (but there's a nostalgia too). You can't have them and comically don't get them online, neither the sense of endurance or pain. The strenuous authenticity that powered these original performances is irrelevant online. You do get the ephemarality and the pure spectacle though.
Consider this an open thread:


Thursday, March 29, 2007

Photography Fever: Myth or Regional Reality? Or, Is There Still Widespread Multiplephobia?

Two contrasting articles made their way across my desktop recently, offering rather different views of where the market for fine art photography stands. I read a good number of photography-based blogs, and have assumed the market was blistering hot, but then I read Ana Finel Honigman's post on The Guardian's blog and got all confused:

Collectors are still shying away from investing in photography, reflecting the medium's ambivalent status in the contemporary art world. [...] The unique issues around collecting photography initially arise from the medium's reproducibility. On the surface, collectors concerned with diminishing the value of their investment seem wise to stick with unique objects and shy away from mediums that can be made in multiples.
I have to admit, that strikes me as an out-of-date analysis. Take for example this opposing view recently expressed by Brian Appel on I Photo Central

Photography fever, especially the "tableau" kind that suggests we are now in a world where simulated feelings and experiences have replaced the real thing, is the current catnip for an invasion of newly-minted wealthy collectors. Soaring prices and the influx of cash is providing a welcome boost for collectors who got in early. Once considered risky and on the fringe, these seductive photographs that describe the 'hyper-reality' of modern media or consumer culture are now THE hotbeds of critical and market attention.

The blurring of reality and unreality from artists who use the medium of photography is not only fashionable, but it's been a very good investment--so far. Lately owning a contemporary piece of art from an important camera artist is like having an endowment of sorts. The work, in many cases, begins appreciating the moment it leaves the dealer's gallery or auction house and is placed on the collector's wall.
Brian goes on to cite some recent auction sales that seem to justify his position. But perhaps, as is nearly always the case, the truth lies somewhere in between these two extremes. Perhaps, it's a simply a matter of comparison. Ana's point seems to be that compared with painting and sculpture, photography is still seen as risky. Or, perhaps it's all relative to where one resides. Brian is US based, Ana UK. Or maybe the difference of note is the type of photography.

I've sort of assumed photography's marketability is here to stay and already successfully erased the line between itself and painting and sculpture. Hell, to be honest, I've been thinking video is fast reaching that same point, and that photography has totally mellowed into one of the "accepted" mediums. Am I out of touch? Are folks still a bit suspect of multiples? That seems so quaint an idea to me, but obviously, I'm a bit closer to this than your average citizen. But new collectors surely are not still waiting to see if this "new-fangled" fine art form called photography is a flash in the pan, are they?

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Julie Evans @ Julie Saul Gallery

Back when I was still finding the time to write the Artist of the Week segments (yes, I wish I could still do them, but they were very time consuming...if someone could add a few more hours to the day, and all that), I offered some info on my dear friend Julie Evans' astounding work. Her Artist of the Week post began:

Anyone who's been reading this feature regularly may have noticed I tend not to write about abstract work as much as I do representational work. That's because writing about abstract work is hard. Seriously, it's a task best left to poets, which I most definitely am not. It requires a mastery of metaphor, not to mention a keen vision (in both senses). So forgive me if I insist that rather than judging by my paltry poetics, in this case you really have to see this work for yourself in person.
I'm still learning how to talk about abstraction, but I'm very pleased to redirect you to that original post in celebration of Julie's solo exhibition at Julie Saul Gallery, which opens tomorrow. From the gallery press release:
The Julie Saul Gallery is pleased to announce our first solo exhibition of new gouache and acrylic paintings on paper and panel by New York artist Julie Evans. Her work brings together influences of contemporary Western abstraction with those of traditional, Eastern miniature painting, combing the most delicate patterning and layering with bold forms and swathes of intensely rich color. The work is deeply sensual and at the same time playful, suggesting both the spiritual and popular nature of ornamentation. They employ complicated palettes that pair those borrowed from traditional Indian miniatures with the brightness of fluorescent pinks and acidic greens, underscoring the double-mindedness of the work.

Evans works slowly and painstakingly, rendering delicate garlands and intricate mandalas, and filling large expanses of color with tiny, countless, vertical strokes. She creates ambiguous spaces within spaces that are at once both micro and macro in realm, keeping the viewer up close to these intimate works, but with the sense of their broader reach into place and time.

She has worked in India and Nepal, including travel and research supported by a Fulbright Scholarship studying with a master of Indian miniature painting. Critic Mario Naves wrote of Evans' work that she "creates vistas infinitely more expansive than the physical parameters of the paintings support. Clearly the conventions of Indian miniature paintings have become second nature to her."
I'll still insist you have to see these pieces in real life to appreciate their vibrancy and simply breathtaking palette and magical sensibility, but knowing not all of you will make it to NYC during Julie's exhibition, I'll sneak in a few images from the show here (click to see larger):

Go Jules!!!


Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Global Reach Resources

So we keep talking about how global the art world has gotten, with boundaries of all kinds being blurred, and the impossible to keep up with "new New York" changing so rapidly (is it Berlin or L.A. this week? Oh! It's London, again....uh...OK.) [yes, I'll be entering the Witness Relocation Program now]. But where can one turn to keep up with a worldwide scene? Prompted by an email from one such resource, I've decided to list my favorite guides to the global art world and praise and/or nitpick a bit what they offer.

Here are some online resources for finding contemporary art around the world.
This self-edit site is the best of the lot in my opinion. Clean design, lightning fast navigation, and depth make it a fun, unconfusing, and enjoyable resource. Run by artists, it's totally independent, and geared toward a wide audience, including artists, gallerist, curators, collectors, writers, etc. With sections like Artist Newsletters, Feature Newsletters, and Artist Opportunities (listing open calls and other things the artist with an eye toward an international audience might want to consider), it puts it efforts where its mouth is with regard to being artist centric. It also has perhaps the most comprehensive lists I've seen of online art publications and blogs.
This is one of the older global resources and it has an impressive database, but it could use a fresh coat of paint, design-wise (it's a bit too cluttered for my taste and the palette is drab). It offers membership packages for galleries, but still manages to offer a good chunk of information for non-member galleries, unlike some other sites. One very cool resource on this site is its artists' ranking page. The other advantage it has over most other sites is it doesn't assume all its readers speak English and offers its info in German, Spanish, French and Italian as well.
It's only fair to give this site some time to grow, given it's still in its beta stage, and it has what seems to be a good search engine, but the hazmat color scheme and somewhat confusing navigation could use some reconsideration, IMHO. In general I like sites that get right to the searching (I generally know what I want to know), but there's not much indication of what I'll find by searching (i.e., the scope of the site isn't very clear). What stands to make this perhaps the leader in the field, however, is their audio-visual approach, including " 'Easy Audio Tour' solutions so that museums and galleries can affordably improve their interpretation and access services ...Visitors can also download audio tours and cultural podcasts for use on their own MP3 players from thegallerychannel, and listen to them in the
museum, while travelling, or from the comfort of their homes." art guide
Name recognition gives this guide an edge, and it has a nifty interactive map-based navigation, which is fun if you're just browsing, but somewhat frustrating if you're returning and in search of fast information. What I like about the service on this site most though, as a gallery, is the helpful email reminders they send if my listing gets out of date. The site is totally self-edit, which isn't as handy as the service on some other sites, but fair enough. And speaking of fairs, like many others, they offer listings of the international fairs (theirs is particularly comprehensive). But what I like most about this site is there Eat/Sleep page, offering info on where to crash or grab a bite if you're doing the global gallery hop.
Unlike most other global guides, this site gives you the most reasons to return on a daily basis. Its news and updates are second to none. Having said that, though, its gallery listings are pretty thin compared to most other sites. A few years ago their sales agents were all over the place, but I'm not seeing them as often now, suggesting a decrease in emphasis on getting new listings (or maybe it's just that we signed up, so they don't need to sell me anymore, which is fine). What I like most about the site though is the way it incorporates its listing galleries into the front page, providing a more comprehensive context than other sites.
The godfather of global art guides, offers the best magazine, bar none, and its membership presence (how much info you get) for galleries is excellent (but a bit pricey). One look at its main galleries page though, gives you some indication of just how comprehensive its vision is. Its auction info is priceless, and its market trends and price database services (both subscription) put it ahead of most others in terms of professional usefulness. It doesn't update its news as often as, though, and there are plenty of very good galleries (ahem) they don't list (see note above re: pricey).

I realize this list isn't exhaustive. Please feel free to share others you like (just remember, we're talking sites with global info).

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Monday, March 26, 2007


My idiotic computer crashed and deleted over an hour's worth of writing! Arghhhh!!!!!

I'll have to walk around the block and start again (rather than toss the &$%ing thing out the window), but don't know if I'll finish what I was working on today now.

In the meanwhile, the discussion on taking photos in galleries continues on James Wagner's blog.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Taking Pictures in Galleries

Blogger and cultural connoisseur James Wagner, who (with Barry Hoggard) probably does more to help publicize the artwork and exhibitions of emerging artists in New York than all the MSM publications combined, raised an interesting question on his blog about restricting photograpy in galleries:

This is a true story (only the names have been withheld, for considerations of privacy and copyright):

A young artist is chosen to be in a group show at a respectable small non-profit space.

An appreciative and enthusiastic art blogger captures an image of the artist's work installed in that space and publishes it on his site.

On a return visit to the space months later the blogger is told by people in charge that photographs are not allowed at any time.

The blogger ceases to photograph any artists' work in that space.

Two years after the image of the young artist's work appeared on the blogger's site a major museum in another city writes to him asking if it could have permission to use it in publicity materials being prepared prior to a solo show it has scheduled of the artist's work, since there is no other photograph of the piece available.

The blogger suspects that the piece itself may no longer physically exist, thus explaining the importance of his photograph.

What does the blogger do in this case, and in the larger scheme of things, what does this scenario say about our cultural institutions' photography restrictions generally?
I'm not sure what it says about our cultural institutions' photography restrictions generally, but I know what it says about that non-profit space's documenting practices. (Full disclosure: I feel free to say this because we're not always the best at documenting our exhibitions either [something on my "do better" list], but then we don't discourage bloggers from taking photos.)

And I guess that's the issue here. What are/should be the guidelines for taking photographs in galleries. We have a fairly liberal policy. We appreciate being asked (and have, on occassion, asked someone who didn't ask to stop if we're not sure who they are), but we welcome bloggers and other media folks to snap away. (Why not, they're hopefully going to post the images and that helps us advertize the show.) For a non-profit space to object to free advertizing, well, I don't get it at all (feel free to enlighten me).

I should note, that there are some restrictions with some work in our space. One of our artists photographs his sculptures, and those photographs also comprise his artwork. In that case, we prefer folks not to photograph the work (at least not from the same vantage points [close-up] the artist works from). Also, if taking photos would disrupt the viewing experience of other visitors, we ask the requester to wait.

Now I fully understand copyright concerns and context concerns, but I'm curious if anyone can recount an episode where a photograph taken in a gallery actually hurt the artist or their career (i.e., in particular their rights to profit from said piece).

In general, I see press as press. And press with pix is the best press there is. It has yet to bite us in the ass.

Other galleries? Any reason I should reconsider this position?


Thursday, March 22, 2007

One Artist's Junk is Another Man's Treasure

An article in The Guardian this morning about an electrician who had the foresight to salvage all kinds of, well, junk from the studio of Francis Bacon caught my attention this morning because of a disparity it revealed. First the story, by Charlotte Higgins:

It is not surprising - only a little dispiriting - that a pile of junk Francis Bacon chucked out 30 years ago could earn the man who salvaged it from a skip half a million pounds. A certain Mac Robertson, an electrician working at Bacon's studio, had the foresight to save the clutter of damaged paintings, diaries and cheque stubs before they reached the municipal dump and now all these bits and pieces are up for auction.
Higgins goes on to note how silly it is that folks will spend good money to own, or even just look at, the detritus of someone just because that person was a famous artist:

The Lady of Shalott is never going to be illuminated by Alfred, Lord Tennyson's pipe. And yet I have dumbly looked upon the poet's pipe in a tiny, dusty museum on the Isle of Wight. Ulysses is not going to be cracked wide open because one has beheld a pair of James Joyce's spectacles. And yet that did not stop Sotheby's from auctioning them off a few years back, along with a medal he once won in a singing competition.
It's hard to argue with her reason, and yet, I too have been willing to part with cash to be closer to the artifacts of the life of someone I've been amazed by.

Still, the disparity mentioned above:

There are two classes of such ephemera. One includes letters, diaries, documents of historical and scholarly value. That is allowable; that is what libraries are for. The second category consists of junk.
Hang on there. If letters and diaries and other documents (presumably of a writer) are potentionally of historical and scholarly value, then why are not damaged paintings and diaries of a visual artist?

OK, so I realize there are two questions in there. First is whether the diary of a visual artist (something Higgins has mocked Robertson [and potential bidders] for valuing) is of historical and scholary value. In this instance, I'm sure Higgins is wrong. The diary of a visual artist is as equally important as that of a writer (sometime even more so).

The second question is more complex though: is damaged artwork valuable?

My first response to this wants to be "no." Artwork isn't even artwork (i.e., it's not complete or ready for viewers), until the artist says it is. If Bacon didn't want to present it to the world as finished, then essentially, it's not art yet.

And still, I see immediately that I've confused the matter. We're not talking about whether a damaged Bacon painting is worth anything as art, but rather whether it has historical or scholarly value. Whether it's as interesting and worthy of preserving as Tennyson's pipe or Joyce's spectacles. But that's a bad comparison. The damaged painting is more akin to a writers notes, something that Higgins allows belongs in a library, so why not preserve a damaged painting in a musuem? Bacon didn't shy away from destroying what he wanted no one else to ever see, so we have to assume this piece survived to serve some end.

I could go on ad nauseum, contradciting myself here, when essentially the central question Higgins was asking is why we place value in the things of someone famous that we'd throw away had they belonged to someone else? I guess my real reason for harping on this is to deflate, just a bit, the jaded rejection of the cult of personality that's so popular at the moment. I don't disagree that it is often taken to ludicrous extremes, but given that we'll line up for hours to view the belongings of some boy king who dies millenia ago, I'm not sure this practice isn't hardwired into us somehow. As a species, it's important to us to leave some record (what other species does that?) of our having been here. Perhaps, because it's impossible for there to be physical records of any significant depth of each individual human begin, buying into the cult of personality permits us to project something of ourselves onto certain popular figures and thereby ensure something of us, if only a ticket stub of an exhibition or concert, is connected to the historical importance we collectively assign to them, taking us forward into history with them. I don't know...I'm confusing myself now. Back to what you were doing.


Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Christopher Lowry Johnson @ Winkleman Gallery

Winkleman Gallery is extremely pleased to present Chorus, our third solo exhibition by New York artist Christopher Lowry Johnson. In a new series of paintings, Johnson continues to negotiate a balance between familiar contemporary content and a combination of art historical styles, here via a group of canvases that share the landscape format and a somber tone. Essentially depopulated scenes (such as decorated pines and carved mountain sides) insinuate a human presence in the natural world, a deliberate summoning of the Romantic Movement wherein human longing is irrevocably analogous to the vast potentialities of Nature.

As suggested by the title Chorus, these paintings emphasize harmony achieved through the use of repetition, culling from a diverse array of sources ranging from Islamic tile work and Theosophical Society telepaths to Minimalism and fractal geometry. While the works in the exhibition are imbedded in order, their painterly, agitated surfaces impose a tension that reflects how even as the color is cool the underlying themes are much darker. The basis of the series, as in Johnson's last exhibition, is a response to our troubling times. Formations of pine trees adorned with twinkling lights become silent personifications of soldiers. The weighed down branches are an aggregation of weather and the burden of time. The chiseled appearances of the presidents on Mt. Rushmore are disembodied and silly as well as grim reminders of loss. Hints of snow capped mountain ranges, ice, and foamy pools are evocations of real or imagined tragedies like Hurricane Katrina or Moby Dick.

For more information please contact the gallery at or 212.643.3152.

Christopher Lowry Johnson

March 23 to April 21, 2007
Opening Reception: Friday, March 23, 6-8 PM
Hours: Tuesday - Saturday, 11 am to 6 pm

Winkleman 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.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Democracy and the Irate True Believer

Andrew Sullivan published a brilliant analysis of "the core conservative question" sent to him the other day that really opened my eyes to the limits of liberal democracies. As is my habit, when first reading it, I extrapolated its insights to explain a wide range of paranoias or conspiracy theories (I come from the land where every conspiracy theory is true until proven otherwise, and still then, we'll cling to it), and decided to rant about how it explains the ruthless accumulation of power by the religious right that we're witnessing and the death of democracy that that fortells. And I think it does explain the potential for that (to some much smaller degree than my first draft suggested), but after watching a biography on Eleanor Roosevelt on the American Experience last night, I realize both that it isn't that dire and that this notion also offers insight into the actions of more than just the religious right.

the quote:

The question is...not whether political frameworks can be neutral [they can't], but how and against whom they ought to discriminate. At the basis of the democratic truce lies the presumption that a viewpoint-neutral framework – not absolutely neutral, but still as neutral as possible and consistent with its own survival – is the only fair and transparent one. But this excludes the true believer, who could never accept a system that proclaims neutrality between truth and error, virtue and vice. [...] As soon as a democratic system becomes sufficiently diverse, the true believer will begin to be unsatisfied with it. For a while the true believer's vision can still be enforced through democratic majorities. But then even the majorities begin to dwindle. At that point the true believer has to decide whether to lie down peacefully and see his beliefs swamped, or whether to turn anti-democratic, to reject the most basic clauses of the democratic contract. [...] Would the religious right accept defeat gracefully? I do not mean one or two elections, I mean total defeat: Drip by drip, state by state, issue by issue, the culture wars are lost, first in the culture at large, then at the ballot box; there is first a mellowing and then a great falling off of Christian belief across the country; after 20 or 30 years, the US is well set on its way to becoming as secular as Canada. [...] 99% of the religious right would surely accept this with good enough grace, but a toxic remnant may just turn against the systemic engines of secularisation. A self-styled "Stonewall Jackson Brigade" of Christofascist terrorists perhaps, secretly liaising with (the successors of) Al-Qaeda. [all emphasis mine]
Watching the E.R. bigography (funny how her initials are the those of her spiritual counterpart in England, eh?), I realized that we've already seen toxic remnants of true believers turn against the system in this country. The KKK is a good example, but so are eco-terrorists. In fact, as brilliant as this analysis of the issue is, it doesn't discuss the fact that that there are genuinely "true believers" on both sides of most cultural war issues. Folks so "pro-life" they'll kill doctors on one side are counterbalanced by animal rights activists who feel firebombing people's cars and terrorizing them at home is a good way to get their point across.

A good deal of the intense acrimony we're witnessing in the US at the moment (the red vs. blue flame wars on the blogs being a good indication of just how heated it is) seems to boil down to true-believer ground that otherwise democratic folks refuse to cede. In other words, it seems to me that there's a bit of true believer in most of us.

What's frightening about that idea to me is how easy it is to tap into that inner true believer and manipulate it. We witnessed this, I think, in the co-ordinated campaigns against gay marriage. Folks who might have lived and let live, permitting change to come drip by drip, state by state, were things to have evolved without disturbing their comfort zones, found themselves voting for all kinds of truly uncivil legislation they wouldn't have dreamt of supporting a few years back, essentially letting themselves be rallied by zealots to penalize gays for reaching too far too fast.

And sometimes it didn't take anyone else to manipulate them to that. It was merely their preference for a slower pace of change. In fact, when I've pressed otherwise rational folks on right wing blogs to explain why they supported such legislation, many, if not most, of them will eventually concede it was in response to feeling rushed into the new cultural acceptance of gays as equals. "If you hadn't pushed so hard, I wouldn't have pushed back."

Now the truth of the matter is, I think we're seeing the acrimony we're are in the US, because we've made so much progress in ensuring equality (under the law at least), and we're now negotiating the tougher issues affecting smaller subgroups. Indeed, think about how far we've come in granting rights to folks who didn't have them when the country started a little over 200 years ago, even though they represented much larger chunks of the population. The closer we get to greater diversity and greater equality, though, the more the true believers will burrow in to defend their last patch of chosen holy land, and the harder the fight will be. But fight on we must. It's just wise to be aware of how easy it is to make dangerous true believers out of regular folks and to plan accordingly.

UPDATE: Sullivan (again) points us to this collection of images of the sort of actions that true-believers-turned-toxic convince themselves are appropriate responses to having their world views challenged. The Without Sanctuary website is beyond brutal, just be warned.

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From Canvas to Celluloid

Inspired by the forthcoming film based on Thomas Kinkade's painting, "The Christmas Cottage," Tyler Green has sent out call for folks to list their top five choices for other paintings that should be made into films.

So here goes. Five paintings I think someone should make into a film
  1. The Girl With the Pearl Earring
  2. The Rape of the Sabine Women
  3. Mona Lisa
  4. The Starry Night
  5. Nighthawks
Huh, what's that? I can't hear... Ohhhh....

OK, so that was silly and lazy of me...I'll give this more thought. Your ideas?

Friday, March 16, 2007

Pressies for Press

Jen Graves has written an impressively thorough article on the question of where the practical ethical guideline boundaries are in the artist-critic-gifts triangle. Fueled by an earlier blog post in which Jen discussed whether it was appropriate for the regionally powerful, Seattle-based critic Matthew Kangas to write about work without disclosing that he owned it:

Matthew Kangas, a longtime critic for the Seattle Times, wrote the essay in the brochure for the exhibition of paintings and drawings by Mary Henry at the Wright Exhibition Space. [...]

What the brochure doesn’t say is that he owns one of the paintings and one of the drawings in the show, a credible source let slip to me the other day. In the checklist, those are listed simply as the property of an unnamed “Private collection.”
Jen called Kangas' lack of transparency "outrageous" and then dropped this bombshell:

I’ve had several Seattle artists over the years tell me that Kangas has not been above exacting payment of one sort or another for his editorial services. If they are telling the truth, then why does this persist?
which lead to the longer article exploring the issue in depth.

Others have blogged about this already, including discussions at
Off Center, Artworld Salon, and Grammar.police.

The stories' a bit more complicated that it seems (or at least the analysis Jen provides is more multidimensional that one might expect), but the evidence, without the analysis is pretty damning:

Early in his career, the Seattle artist Charlie Krafft...says he got a phone call from Kangas.

Kangas had written a positive review of Krafft's work.

"He just opened the conversation by saying, 'When would it be convenient for you to have me over to select something?'" Krafft said in a phone interview. "I didn't want to give him anything, really, but I did it. It was an extortion. He's a character, and I appreciate him, but I think it's predatory."

Eight other artists also on the record say that—from the 1980s to 2005—Kangas, either by direct request or "cleverly worded implication," as artist Jeffry Mitchell put it, solicited them for gifts of art. Most of the artists say the requests came after a review, and none of the artists say they believe Kangas's opinions were influenced by their gifts or their refusals.

After Kangas's 1995 review of Alice Wheeler's photography show at Vox Populi was published in Art in America, he called her, she said. "It was like, 'Okay, the review's out, when can I come over to pick out some art? We also need to go to lunch and we're going to Palomino and you're buying,'" she said. "I thought it was what I had to do." She gave him two pictures and spent $75 on lunch, she said. "My rent was $285 at the time, so it was a lot of money. I like Matthew; I just think that some of what he does is manipulative and BS."
Jen then provides an incredible service by polling some of the nation's top critics for a mini-consensus on the ethical boundaries here. As he often does, NY critic Jerry Saltz offered a poignant and passionate position on the issue:

"I find it appalling that a critic would ask an artist for a work of art—good review or bad," Saltz wrote in an e-mail. "It's as sick as an artist asking a critic for a review, good or bad. It's more than tacky; it's corrupt and clueless. You might as well advertise good reviews on Craigslist."
Jen is generous, IMO, in pointing out that there's no evidence that Kangas "was biased by his collecting." She even goes so far as to explain that there's a difference between a critic that a community of artists sees as an advocate and one they see as being more objective, with it being somewhat understandable that artists see an "embedded" writer as one of their own first, and perhaps as a journalist second.

Being in New York, where the guidelines are more clear (The New York Times, for example, states clearly that "An arts writer or editor who owns art of exhibition quality [and thus has a financial stake in the reputation of the artist] may inspire questions about the impartiality of his or her critical judgments or editing decisions" and has an injunction against gifts worth more than $25.00), it's difficult for me to understand the empathy in Seattle for Kangas. He clearly made a good number of artists very uncomfortable with his gift receiving, if not right out encouraging, policy. To me, that's his biggest sin. It's tough enough for young artists to feel their way through the quagmire of unwritten rules without authority figures taking advantage of their unwillingness to jeopardize their opportunities in a realm where it's unclear what consequences await for those who stand up for themselves. In other words, it's opportunistic and more than a bit brutish, if true.

I highly recommend the article and the other blog posts discussing it. Here, however, I'm curious if other artists have experienced this...especially in New York.

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Last Chance...Sort of

Don't say I didn't tell you....

Don't let a few flurries deter you from stopping by the gallery this last weekend of Cathy Begien's exhibition. It was chosen as a "Top Pick" by the opinionated Barry and James over at And Holland Cotter writes in today's "highly recommended" Last Chance listing in The New York Times:
The reason to see this first solo show by the San Francisco filmmaker Cathy Begien is an ingenious, surprisingly intense short video called “Black Out.” In it the blindfolded artist delivers an episodic account of a bad-trip, club-hopping night on the town, as friends pop into the frame from the side to hand her drinks and cigarettes and act out parts of the story. When Ms. Begien breaks down toward the end of the film, it’s hard to tell whether she’s laughing or crying. Both responses make sense. Winkleman Gallery, 637 West 27th Street, Chelsea, (212) 643-3152; closes tomorrow. (Cotter)
Bu...bu...but, I can't take a flight to New York to visit the gallery this weekend. I'd miss March Madness.

Should you find some slightly credible excuse to miss the exhibition, though, you'll have another chance. We've just learned that Cathy's video Black Out has been curated into a major exhibtion at the main space at the Getty in Los Angeles next year! (March 18-June 8, 2008). Curated by Glenn R. Phillips (with 6 guest curators, including Meg Cranston, Rita Gonzalez, Kathy Rae Huffman, Bob Riley, Steve Seid, and Bruce Yonemoto), the exhibition will explore the history of video art in California from 1968 to 2008 and include 60 artists. This focus on video comes on the heels of the Getty's acquisition of the Long Beach Museum of Art Video Archive, which, at almost 5,000 works, is one of the largest video art archives in the world.

Personally, I'd try to catch it in both locations (just so you have "I saw it back then" bragging rights), but that's me.


Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Purpose of an Art Display

Houston's M2 gallery hosted an exhibition entitled "Justice For All" back in February that featured art by inmates on death row and other artists dealing with the death penalty. Via comes news that two works from that exhibition that were later selected to be shown at the Texas state capital building were subsequently removed by an upset state representative:

Texas executes more people than any other state, and state legislators don’t like being criticized for it, either. Houston’s Democratic representative Borris Miles personally removed two artworks from an exhibition organized at the Texas capital building by the anti-death-penalty group the Texas Moratorium Network. Miles refuses to return the works, claiming that the images are inappropriate for children. The works in question are a painting of a hanged man, and an illustration of a man in an electric chair featuring the ironic inscription, "Doing God’s Work."

The State Preservation Board, which regulates art shows in the Capital building, requires that exhibitions call attention to public issues, and have the sponsorship of a member of the legislature -- in this case, Miles’ fellow Democrat Harold Dutton, who has declined to take a stand defending the censored works. Texas Moratorium Network president Scott Cobb told the Austin American-Statesman newspaper that Miles had no right to censor the artworks -- and that the lawmaker should have at least gone through the proper channels to lodge a complaint.
The Houston Chronicle has more on this sorry turn of events:

In e-mail to House colleagues Monday, Miles wrote: "I was greeted with these images as I walked through the halls of the (Capitol) Extension this morning with my two children, ages five and eight. I consider them to be extremely inappropriate and highly objectionable.

"Capitol exhibits are supposed to serve a public purpose or be informational in nature. These pictures were hung with no accompanying text or explanation," wrote Miles, D-Houston.

"We should not prevent the display of art," he said. "But there have to be limits."


On Tuesday, Miles delivered the pieces to Dutton, who said he does not recall sponsoring the exhibit.

"It doesn't bother me whether it's up or down," Dutton said. Avoiding the display of artworks that anyone deemed objectionable, he said, might defeat the whole purpose of an art display.

To my mind, Miles provided the easiest resolution to this stand-off himself. Return the works to the exhibition with some accompanying text that explains, in essence, "Texas executes more people than any other state, and state legislators don’t like being criticized for it." Then the next time Miles walks through with his children he can explain to them why state legisltators don't like being criticized for that record.

This, of course, taps into a larger issue about denial and owning up to one's choices. In an excellent analysis of the issue on the
Houston Chronicle's blog, John Whiteside nails it:

It's interesting to me how we sometimes don't want to look at things we support. So while we have the death penalty in Texas, and use it more vigorously than many other states, we don't seem to want to be reminded of it, or see it happening.

I think we need to be willing to look at ugly things that we believe are necessary. Part of making difficult choices - whether it's empowering the government to end a life, sending our people to war, or standing by while some of us work in dangerous conditions to produce things that the rest of us need - means acknowledging those choices.

And so my gut reaction to this is that if you want the death penalty, you need to be willing to be reminded that sometimes we kill people because we think it's the right thing to do.
And so yes, the purpose of a public art display is often to help us look at things openly and honestly. To see a reflection of what and who we are. So long as the work reflects truth, don't blame the artist or exhibition co-ordinator if you don't like what you see.
Justice For All exhibition, Annie Feldmeier Adams (Chicago, IL).

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Slow Down. Support Your Local Smaller Art Gallery

The death of the "mom-and-pop" art gallery is being discussed in depth by Marc Spiegler et al. over at ArtWorld Salon and in, but there are a few things about this that I think make sense to discuss in the context of the dialog here, and a few things I'd be curious to learn via your thoughts on the subject.

The growing firestorm was ignited last year apparently by Amy Cappellazzo, co-head of Post-War and Contemporary at Christie´s

[She] was quoted in Art Review saying that she expects to someday be auctioning brand-new works, saying, “We’re the big box retailer putting the mom-and-pops out of business.” Cappellazzo says the quote was taken out of context; apparently she meant it as a description of how auction houses are perceived, not their actual aims. But she says seismic shifts are surely afoot. “Auction houses are a barometer of the artworld, and today’s artists have a different relationship to the market,” she explains. “Artists are not ceding so much control to their dealers. They’re leaving for better offers, promoting their own careers, bankrolling projects themselves by working with collectors. The artworld has morphed and shifted. So while the older generation of artists are less likely to work directly with auction houses, for the younger artists that boundary is less delineated.”
Oy vey...where to start. Well, as always, the root of the issue is the best place to begin. Marc sums it up well, as usual:

Despite the strength of the market, [galleries] feel their position is under attack, be it at art fairs [see this post] or in the secondary market. Likewise, auction houses - with their huge staffs and sprawling marketing apparatus - are simply better positioned for the new globalized market, able to target collectors no one (not even the houses) knew existed.

Suddenly, galleries feel forced to play a much more finance-driven game, be it publicly (at auction, as [New York dealer David] Zwirner decried) or privately. “People who never sold work before are selling to auction houses now,” says [New York dealer Roland] Augustine. “A collector of ours, someone who sits on a museum board, just sold a Christopher Wool painting for $2 million. I had sold it to her for $75,000, but she never even offered it back to us. So we find ourselves in the position of calling around to collectors and checking if they want to sell, which is not what I got into this business to be doing.” Given the current market conditions and the way the artworld has evolved, the traditional model of the gallery building its position through close control of its artists’ markets seems shakier than ever. There are too many variables – collectors flipping works at auction, artists defecting to other galleries, sudden market shifts.
There do indeed seem to be major shifts in the way the market works, but what to do about it, is the question. Both of Marc's co-authors on ArtWorld Salon seem to see the writing on the wall for smaller galleries unless they take drastic measures:

Ian Charles Stewart

The strong galleries with good artists, and the ability to locate and promote good new artists, have little to fear. Even if their influence over the secondary market dwindles in the short term, as it must in these volatile times. They will continue to be feted by the fairs and recognised by the auction houses and maintain their position with buyers and artists. It is the second and lower tier galleries that have to worry.
András Szántó

Another, longer term division of labor between small galleries and large arts businesses (be they galleries or auction houses) would be to adopt the model of other creative industries and leave the talent scouting to the small firms. In this model, galleries could focus on what they do best and operate as talent agencies. The production and the distribution would then be the job of larger corporate entities that have the reach and capacity to do the job. This may sound like complete nonsense to some, but it does happen to be the way a couple of other very large cultural industries operate.

My point is that markets and cultural industries are not immutable. They must evolve, and so must galleries.

As noted before, essentially, I believe evolution is the response to change, but I like András' other idea in that comment (consolidating power among smaller galleries to compete) more than resigning ourselves to this talent scout idea of his.

Now I actually wrote a post about this yesterday, including a passionate rant against the auction houses (specifically the idea that they're encouraging young artists to be disloyal to their galleries and deal directly with them [snippet of that rant: I tell you what, Christie's, if that happens, you're gonna get 'em anyway, so why don't we younger galleries just forward you the thousands of submissions we have to sort through now and spare ourselves the trouble?]).

But in re-reading my post, I realized two things: 1) I was angry and 2) I wasn't thinking the issue through very clearly. No one can see what the future will bring for smaller galleries. Some are already adapting to the current challenges with leaner, meaner programming. Others are shooting up through the ranks to challenge the more established galleries, and if they can do it, so can others.

Yes, the idea of pooling their power makes sense (hence you have organizations that cater to younger dealers), but I saw two articles juxtaposed today that made me rethink just how much of the conventional wisdom here is based on reality and how much is based on buying the spin put out by the auction houses.

It's too much to quote, so I'll give
the link to these stories on

Christie’s Gets London Gallery And Draws Art Dealers’ Ire


Russians Pay Dearly for Art by Their Own at London Sale [emphasis mine]
OK, so it makes sense to highlight the essence of the second story:

Sotheby’s auction of contemporary Russian art in London on Feb. 15 yielded sales of £2.6 million ($5.2 million) amid heavy demand from private Russian collectors.
Which sparked an idea. Rather than play along by the auction house rules and accept second-fiddle status, I think the best thing galleries, and especially younger galleries, can do is constantly focus attention on the one aspect of the auction house business that doesn't serve their customers well. Namely, auction houses intentionally make art more expensive than it has to be, and this only helps the auction houses in the end. After the glamour and excitement of overpaying for a work of art in the flurry of carefully crafted hysteria wears off, collectors are charged heartily (Sotheby's commission rates -- Christie's commission rates) for that momentary thrill. And even the afterglow of media excitement for broken records is short-lived, because the auction houses immediately go into overdrive to inflate the prices by the same artist at the next sale. More than that though, what happens at auctions affects prices everywhere else, meaning that even if you don't currently buy at auctions, you're still paying more than you should have to for the art you buy.

With some folks so rich they don't care if they overpay and the thrill of acquiring that prize piece being worth every cent to them, I think it will take a concerted effort to help everyone else snap out of it, as Bambino would say, and see that supporting your local art gallery---developing a relationship that will ensure you have access and the best prices available---ultimately makes so much more sense than dreaming you can outbid the überwealthy at auctions. Because when the auctions are the only game in town, what do you think is gonna happen to those commission rates then?

The other big advantage to supporting your local smaller art gallery is the luxury it gives you to slow down in making purchases. Collectors can still get first pick at the art by the artists they like, and I don't mean in the frantic previews of art fairs, but rather in the calm and charm of the artist's studio. Yes, that's still possible if you establish that sort or relationship with a gallery that values that experience. Or, you can get your paddle and waive it enthusiastically, hoping the auctioneer will spot you among the throngs of other bidders, while you try to quickly recalculate whether you really need that much money to retire the way you want to. The choice is yours.

Believe me, you're gonna see more on this here.


Monday, March 12, 2007

The Re-Education of America

There's a joke I heard some comedian tell once that went more or less like this:

Every once in a while, I'll engage in a bit of introspection about my life and review what I've done or said during the past few years, and invariably I'll come to the conclusion that about 5 years ago, based on the evidence, clearly I was being a real asshole. I've done this enough times for it to finally dawn on me that, five years from now, I'll mostly likely realize that I'm being a real asshole right now. I think this is why older people tend not to babble on as much as younger people. They've figured this out.
I thought of this joke when thinking about the fact that five years ago I was much more liberal, politically, than I am today. Don't misunderstand, I'm not equating being liberal with being an asshole...quite the contrary. It's just that my views on certain issues are more conservative than they used to be. When I first started realizing this, I found it a bit alarming. Am I being brainwashed by the VRWC? Or, even more alarming, is it simply a natural path for people to grow more conservative as they age? And if so, does that suggest that being conservative comes with wisdom, and being liberal is a youthful folly?

After all, there's that famous quote, infamously attributed to a whole host of characters, so I won't say who I heard had said it, that goes:

If a man isn't a socialist when he's 20, he has no heart. If he's still a socialist when he's 30, he has no head.
Is that all it is? Liberalism is an idealism-fueled state of youthful, wishful thinking? There might be a grain of truth to that, but it wouldn't explain the tendency for some generations to be more conservative than others when they reach adulthood. Nor would it explain the roller coaster ride of popularity both political ideologies take throughout history.

No, I think in my case, there's a bit of getting more settled as I get older, but reading
Kevin Drum over at the Washington Monthly, I think there might be another influence on my thinking here as well:

Media Matters reports that the Democratic victory in the 2006 midterms has had almost no effect on the guest lists of the Sunday chat shows: with the exception of ABC's This Week, they've all continued to invite considerably more conservative guests than liberal guests. More Republicans than Democrats. More pro-war than anti-war. Etc.

I know. You're shocked.
Full report here.
I watch those shows, so I was shocked to learn that not only do they all (including ABC's This Week) have more guests identified as Republicans than Democrats (why didn't that register with me?), the percentage of Republican guests actually increased for all of them from 2005 to 2006. Meet the Press invited 36% Republicans vs. 29% Democrats in 2005, but 41% Republicans vs. 27% Democrats in 2006, for example. See the charts for all 4 major network programs here.

And before you assume that this is merely a reflection of who was in power, note that more Republican-identified journalists were invited to be guests than Democrats as well. From the conclusion of the report:
When we released our prior study on this topic a year ago, the response from some network representatives was that their guests merely reflected the realities of power: When Republicans were in charge, Republicans were asked to appear more often, and when Democrats were in charge, Democrats were asked to appear more often. If they offered this argument in good faith, the coming of the new Democratic Congress would see a swing toward Democrats and progressives on their shows.

So far, such a swing has only occurred on ABC's This Week, and to a lesser extent on Fox News Sunday. Furthermore, no network representative has ever given an answer to the question of why conservative journalists outnumber progressive journalists so dramatically on the Sunday shows. This question has nothing to do with which party is in power, and the disparity has been obvious for all of the past decade.
So what to do about it? I don't want to stop watching the unfair and unbalanced Sunday Morning programs. They're entertaining. But what if all that extra exposure to conservative ideas has slowly led me away from my liberal leanings? Me and the rest of country? Shouldn't the networks be made to answer for this disparity?

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Coming Soon to a Multiplex Near You: Thomas Kinkade

It's hard to know which of the revelations in this story to be most surprised by. I'll let you decide:

  • Thomas Kinkade's (pictured right) company asserts it's sold $1.7 billion of artwork at retail over the past 15 years along with $2.4 billion in licensed product sales -- such as greeting cards and calendars -- over the past decade, resulting in Kinkade art being found in one out of every 10 U.S. households.
  • Lionsgate and the Firm are partnering on a feature adaptation of Thomas Kinkade's painting "The Christmas Cottage," aiming for a holiday season release.
  • Lionsgate production chief Michael Paseornek told Daily Variety that the company was attracted to making a deal with Kinkade, partly because of the accessibility of his artwork and his massive mailing list.
  • [The f]ilm, penned by Ken LaZebnick ("Prairie Home Companion"), will be partly biographical, based on how Kincade was motivated to begin his career as an artist after discovering his mother was in danger of losing the family home.
I'm speechless.

UPDATE: I see I'm late to this. Tyler pointed to this story last week.

Who Gets to Exhibit at an Art Fair

In The New York Times today, Carol Vogel reports from the European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF) in Maastricht, the Netherlands, that Christie's and Sotheby's auction houses have muscled their way into an event that had until now been restricted to international dealers:

But neither is using its name. Sotheby’s presence comes under the guise of Noortman Master Paintings, a Maastricht art gallery it bought in June for $82.5 million. Christie’s is represented by King Street Fine Art, a subsidiary it formed especially for the fair.

The presence of these archrival companies, with booths directly facing each other, has caused a stir among dealers who have long considered the auction houses their biggest competitors.

“It is wrong,” said Leslie Waddington, a London dealer who has been exhibiting at the fair for 15 years. “It is a terrible way to celebrate the 20th anniversary of a great fair.”
I've heard this same issue crop up at the fairs for emerging art that we're invited to, only, rather than auction houses, the scorned newcomers are usually consultants or curators or private dealers who don't maintain a physical gallery. To me, the illogical nature of the complaint (they don't have the expenses we gallerists do so they shouldn't get access to the same potential customers) reveals just how much pressure gallerists are under to sell at fairs. Of course, I get that context is important, but the correct answer to the question of who should get to exhibit at an art fair seems to me to be whoever the fair's organizers invite.

That doesn't mean galleries are powerless in creating a context they like. Galleries can (and have) started their own fairs specifically to ensure a context that suits their needs. Oddly enough, though, most of the artist-founded art fairs I can think of have grown to include non-traditional-gallery-type booths, suggesting a balance is crucial to having an attractive fair.

But back to the special case of auction houses at art fairs. Also reporting from Maastricht is Tyler Green, who (if you haven't read it already) posted this
hilarious exchange he witnessed:

While I was admiring the pink luminescence of the [Christie's gallery] KSFA Judd, a woman came tottering in on an impossible set of heels. "Hey, hey!" she chirped, seeking the attention of gallery staff. It was soon apparent that she had just bought something from KSFA. The gallerinas weren't as attuned to her 'hey, heys' as she would have liked, and she looked around impatiently. As one saleswoman moved slowly toward her, the customer called out to her: "You're owned by Christie's, aren't you?"

She might have told the booth that she had just found a lost Caravaggio. Three KSFAers raced over, shushing all the while. The tottering customer noticed that she was being hushed, but not answered, so above the white noise of the 'quiet down!' brigade, she tried again, as if to a child: "You're. Christie's. Aren't you?" One of the staff finally answered: "Yes, yes, we are, but they ask us not to, you know, broadcast that. Or even mention it."

The customer looked triumphant. "Well I'm a Christie's customer!" she said, loudly. "I want a discount!" And with that the woman was skillfully led away, into some private area. I lingered for some time, but I never saw her again.
I see this as simply more of the blurring of lines occurring across the art world in general. I don't disagree with James Roundell, the London dealer in charge of TEFA's paintings section, who

[D]efended his fellow organizers. “The whole art market is changing,” he said, “and we need to be open to that change.”

Recognizing that both companies have been beefing up their departments that sell art privately rather than at public auction, he added, “If Sotheby’s and Christie’s bring more people to the party, then it’s a good thing.”
As much as it pains me, for obvious reasons, I can't help but recognize that as the art world changes, gallerists have to evolve with everyone else. There's no point in instilling protectionism at certain fairs if that will only serve to make said fair less attractive to potential customers. Staying competitive, as in any field, requires new thinking, not a circling of the wagons. Bellyaching is wasted energy. Oh, and before you ask, if I knew what response would work best to the gallerists' advantage in the dawn of this new age, well, I certainly wouldn't share it on a blog. ;-)

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Friday, March 09, 2007

Global Dialog

There was a time, not too long ago, when talking about the "art world" would raise eyebrows and provoke the questioning of "which 'art world'"? But as easier travel, the Internets, the continuing blurring of "insider" and "outsider," and simply the increased international interactions brought about by globalization have truly begun to blend the previously separate worlds into one, there's an emerging need to discuss the "art world" from a more global perspective. If you read the glossy art magazines, you'll have noticed an increase in the number of reviews from places outside New York over the past few years (that doesn't necessarily thrill me, mind you, but alas...), but where can you turn for up-to-the-minute, indepth, international insights into the nitty, gritty workings of this consolidating blob of worlds?

One place is the new multi-authored blog, Artworld Salon. Founded by Marc Spiegler, a Franco-American journalist based in Zurich; Ian Charles Stewart, a media entrepreneur and investor based in Beijing; and András Szántó, a Budapest-born sociologist and journalist based in New York, it offers a truly global perspective by three very well-informed writers.

I was flattered to be invited to be among the commenters on the blog, and don't mind saying the dialog there is so smart I feel a bit intimidated, but I can't recommend it highly enough for those wanting to get a sense of the new worldwide "art world's" new worldwide issues. Recent topics have included, The Dubai Art Fair's "no-nudes" policy, The Zwirner vs. Huber controversy, Why countries that spend so much supporting their artists have such lousy art, and reports from places you probably didn't even know had art scenes.

The comments are currently limited to folks invited to participate, but with the founders' commitment to avoiding the sort of starf*cking and gossipy commentary that defines other that a slam at yours truly?? ;-) --- and a commitment to keeping the dialog truly international, it promises to be a trustworthy source of solid insight and analysis...a guidebook, if you will, to the rapidly growing global scene. And none too soon.

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

Creative Capital

There's a damned-if-they-do---damned-if-they-don't reality for political leaders with an inclination to support the arts. Support them and you open yourself up to association with their oft transgressive messages and thus criticism from conservative folks who see such openness as uncivilized. Don't support them and you open yourself up to association with their anti-progressive detractors and thus criticism from liberal folks who see such closed-mindedness as unsophisticated. The best anyone can do is support them but claim not to always like them.

noted here before, though, there's a growing sense among leaders that without creativity being promoted and nurtured, industrialized nations won't be able to compete/survive in the new global economy. And in this age of branding and racing to frame the debate first, then, you have to give British Prime Minister Tony Blair credit for jumping out ahead of the pack and declaring Britain as “Creative Capital of the World.” From Britian's Telegraph:

Tony Blair said Britain was living through a "golden age" of the arts yesterday - claiming some, but not all, of the credit for it himself.

In the first major speech on the subject, the Prime Minister said that the vibrancy of the arts had made London the "creative capital of the world", putting it ahead of Paris, Berlin and New York as both a tourist attraction and a crucible for cultural innovation.

In deeply reflective mood - the maiden arts speech was quickly interpreted as another attempt to define his "legacy" - Mr Blair said the wealth and depth of great culture in Britain made it a world-beater.

He said: "A nation that cares about art will not just be a better nation. In the early 21st century, it will be a more successful one."
Of course, it might have been a more successful branding had there not been a good dose of truth to the claim. Britain's very creative citizens took this declaration as a challenge and have responded in force on the Telegraph's blog. Some of my favorite responses include:

Tony has failed at making it a golden age of anything else but showers with the rest of Britain.

Go on Tony - choose something slightly ambiguous that you have little influence over at all and put your stamp on it.

Next month: Britain - celebrating the age of the goldren arches.
A golden age? More like old coins worth tuppence. Under Blair we see the prospect of the British Library having to reduce collections and public access. We see the National Lottery good cause funds being raided in order to pay for the London Olympics. We see Heritage funding at the lowest level ever. Blair's vision of culture runs to the Bee Gees, Oasis and Cliff Richard, and don't forget The Dome. Blair's idea of national involvement in "culture" is to open a casino and to liberate gambling.
It's laughable. Blair is grabbing at straws. His so-called "legacy" is crumbling around him - education! the NHS! House of Lords Reform! "The war on terror"! Middle East Peace! So, what's left? Oh, yes, the arts. With Tracey Emin's dirty underwear and Damine Hirst's cow and sheep caracasses in formaldehyde, the Renaissance is here again. And it's all thanks to Tony Blair.
and finally
Britains might be creative, but as soon as they are successful they are condemned, and then taxed back into unemplyoyment benefits and council squalor thanks to Tony. Anyone with any sense and artistic flair gets out and flourishes elsewhere.
Of course, I suspect Bush would fare much worse were he to attempt a similar speech at MoMA. (As if! He's much more likely to attempt to define his legacy with regards to America's cultural landscape at a NASCAR race.) Britain can take solace in the fact that regardless of how little they credit Blair for bolstering the arts in Britain, which is hot and hopping, there's no doubt, he's done infinitely more for them than Bush ever will here.