Tuesday, July 31, 2007

American Credit Card Industry: Making the Sopranos look like the Cleavers

I sometimes wish I had an extra 6 hours a day. I would love to begin a new blog on the thoroughly disgusting way our representatives in Washington have failed to protect us from the thieves running America's credit card industry. That's right, I said "thieves." What else should we call the callous cohort that clearly, intentionally looks for new ways to plunge hardworking Americans into what amounts to financial indentured servitude?

As you might guess, I, like many Americans, have had a few surprises when reviewing my credit card statements. Recently one bank jacked up the rate on a card to over 23%. When I called to complain, they explained that in a document they had sent months ago (you know, one of those microprinted, 30-page documents with legalese even most lawyers can't make out) they had alerted me to the fact that if I actually use my card (i.e., keep what they consider a "high" balance), they have the right to reassess the risk I pose and jack up the rate. Mind you, I never went over the limit, and I always paid on time. There were no mistakes made in any other of my financial arrangements. Simply because I decided to let the purchases on one card sit a few months, they decided they should rob me.

I called and cancelled the card immediately and gave the two representatives unlucky enough to take the call a piece of my mind (I had to be triaged up to a supervisor, so unsuccessful was the first representative in explaining to me why their actions were not criminal).

Again, I know I'm not the only American experiencing such extortion. And it's unquestionably out of control. From Today's
New York Times:

The federal agencies that are supposed to regulate the banking and credit card industries have failed utterly to keep pace with deceptive and unfair practices that have become shamefully standard in the business. As a consequence many hard-working Americans who pay their bills are mired in debt — and in danger of losing whatever savings they have, and perhaps their homes. Congress, which sat on its hands while the problem got worse and worse, needs to rein in this sometimes predatory industry.

The scope of the problem was laid out in Congressional hearings this spring held by Senator Carl Levin, the Democrat from Michigan. According to testimony, one witness exceeded his charge card’s $3,000 limit by $200 — triggering what eventually amounted to $7,500 in penalties and interest. After paying an average of $1,000 a year for six years, the man still owed $4,400.

That experience has become all too common as the credit card industry has stealthily adopted methods designed to maximize burdensome penalties and fees, while ratcheting up interest rates as high as 30 percent. Companies bombard unwary consumers with teaser packages that promise very low interest rates to start, while reserving for themselves the right to raise rates whenever they choose. The details are buried in deliberately arcane contracts that run 30 pages long and that even lawyers have trouble understanding.

Congressional investigations and studies by consumer advocates have exposed other unsavory practices. Some card companies apply penalty rates retroactively — to purchases that were made before the penalty was incurred or in some cases to debts that were even paid off. As one Congressional witness pointed out, the credit card industry is the only one allowed to increase the price of a product after it has been sold.

Under a provision known as “universal default,” a cardholder who pays a credit card company faithfully can still be hit with a high penalty interest rate for missing payments with another creditor. In another despicable tactic known as “double cycle billing,” a cardholder who pays $450 of a $500 balance is charged interest on the entire amount as opposed to the unpaid balance.

State usury laws would once have precluded many of these practices, but those have been preempted by federal regulations that are increasingly designed to make banks and credit card companies happy — rather than protect consumers.
But what has this got to do with art, you ask? Not much, actually. Although I did find this incredibly cynical ploy by a credit card company on (Notes on) Politics, Theory & Photography:

Some time ago my friend Susan Orr pointed out a really troubling advertisement on Alternet for a new gimic from Visa - the "Enlightenment Card." Touted as "a socially conscious credit card" the new gimmic panders to the narcisscistic demographic that somehow has convincced themselves that consuming itself is a political act. Hence, the purveyors announce:

"The Enlightenment Visa Reward Card was founded on the idea that money is energy and if used with positive and integrative intention, can have the power to affect change in our lives and the world. Everyone uses a credit card, so why not have one where people can earn points towards positive products and services that enhances their overall conscious life?"
Everyone uses a credit card. (Well, that's a slight exaggeration, but continually becoming less of one.) And therefore, it behooves our representatives in Congress to ensure that everyone is protected from the utterly faithless industry flogging credit cards.

Again from the

A bill introduced by Senator Levin would limit “penalty” interest rates to an additional 7 percent above the previous rate. It would also prohibit retroactive penalties and double cycle billing, and it would limit the amount of fees companies could charge customers who exceed their credit limit.

Passing the Levin bill would be a good start. But Congress needs a comprehensive approach to this problem. Lawmakers need to ban deceptive card offers outright, strengthen federal oversight and toughen truth-in-lending laws.
Remember, I didn't even exceed the credit limit or miss a payment. The "penalty" thrust upon me was due to simply using the card the way I always believed I could (and not understanding the new, virtually incomprehensible, conditions sent long after I had started using the card).

In addition to the steps Levin's bill would take, I have an additional suggestion for our legislators to work on enacting:

The essence of any changes in the rules and regulations for any credit card must be presented to the customers in large, easy to understand print. The central idea of any change, which the bank's representatives manage to convey in one sentence if you're screaming down the phoneline at them, should be printed extra large at the top of the legalese gobblygook. "NOTE: Your rate will skyrocket if your balance remains over X% of your limit for X months, even if you pay on time and never exceed your limit."
At least give the busy businessman or parent or whomever the courtesy of not having to rush out and get a law degree to understand how you intend to rob them. At least give them the chance to cancel the card before you do what you know the changes were meant to do: screw them. At least Tony Soprano and his crew explained the terms of the loans they offered in clear English...the credit card industry should endeavor to operate at least with that much integrity.


Monday, July 30, 2007

Sleazebag Dealers Open Thread

File this one away in the Tough Love category.

What is a sleazebag art dealer, though? Who deserves that label?

Having begun our gallery in Williamsburg, where a majority of the spaces there are run by at least one artist, I've heard again and again artists-turned-gallerists confess to feeling very differently about the artists-dealer relationship than they had before they opened their spaces. They realize with time that running a gallery is a risky and very often thankless task and that dealers are not the only ones in the business willing to take advantage of other people. This awakening, IMO, is to be expected...walk a mile in anyone's shoes and you'll gain a new-found respect for their position.

Having said that, though, it's clear to me from the tales I hear from artists who are friends that there are some sleazebag dealers out there who seem to have forgotten that the 50% of the money they take in is not theirs. How quickly a gallery can pay an artist for a sold work may vary from time to time (cash flow problems are a never-ending bane in any small business), and each gallery has to work out with its artists what to expect in terms of payment schedules, etc. When in doubt, a frank discussion with one's dealer is always appropriate, IMO.

But those are not, to my mind, the sorts of things that deserve the label "sleazebag." Abuse of established payment schedules may lead to that being the case, but merely needing to establish some system is a reality.

What I believe warrants the label, though, is the sort of behavior that's led to the creation of a new website:
Crying Lost Art.
Almost every artist has such a story. The gallerist can't find your work; either lost it or sold it under the table, and won't negotiate a reasonable amount to cover the loss, the tragedy and the trouble. Sometimes shit happens and life goes on, other times the dealer is a sleazebag. Often artists loose considerable sums of valuable art and time. And it's very hard to fight it in court or in the press. In the end they'll always get away with it, either going bankrupt or simply by calling you a "problematic prima Dona" and letting everybody in this tiny art world that you are a risk. Just because you asked for justice. This site is for those that are not millionaires, artist that can't afford a good lawyer. This is your site, post pics of your lost work and tell your story. Maybe someday the art press will decide to push this problem so common in our profession. The artist shouldn't have to pay for a dealer’s idiocy. Artist make the dealer, is not the other way around. Please, send you stories and pics to: coscaleaves@yahoo.com anonymous collaborations are welcome...
I was sent a link to this site by one of the first artists to have their work listed on the site, Pedro Velez, who is also a talented writer who wrote for artnet.com a while back. I won't republish the particular charges here, as I'm not in a position to judge the situation, but I will note that I trust Pedro wouldn't have taken this step lightly.

Although I have mixed feelings about this Hall of Shame approach, I do understand the frustration many artists feel when faced with recouping funds from a dealer who isn't responsive to their appeals. To be clear, I have no respect for any dealer who would lie to an artist about what they've sold or lost. Inventory mistakes can happen without malice, but upon being asked, it's the gallery's responsibility to sort out where a work is and pay the artist pronto if it's been sold, damaged beyond repair, or cannot be located. It's entirely unacceptable for a gallery to suggest they don't know what happened to the work and try to leave it at that.

To avoid situations where both sides are sure they're right about the whereabouts of a piece (but one is obviously mistaken), even for artists who are represented by a gallery, I suggest some form of documentation trade hands each time work is taken into inventory. Either a consignment form or inventory database printout. Something. I'll be honest, we don't always do that (we do for any artist who's in a group exhibition or otherwise not represented, but tend to work less formally with those in our "stable"), but as we get busier it's clear that we will need to.

But what if you have documentation and the dealer still won't give you the work back or pay you for it? Then you're unquestionably dealing with a sleazebag, IMO. As the blurb from Crying Lost Art notes, taking a dealer to court can be costly (although you can always consult Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts or similar organizations). Also, as noted, the art world is a small place, and dealers know each other and talk (yes, we do), so if you're the only artist complaining about a particular gallery, your odds of winning your case in the court of public opinion may not be all that high.

That's why the best advice I can offer if you're faced with what you believe is a sleazebag dealer is to meet individually with other artists who have shown in that gallery and subtlety probe about their experience. If you find others in the same boat then approach them about acting together. One artist complaining about a dealer might be (mis)interpreted as a Prima Donna, but several with the same story will turn the tide and convince other artists and dealers that there's a problem there, if they go public. But approaching the dealer with plans to go public together might make that last step unnecessary. A dealer's reputation is the most valuable asset they have. If that doesn't work, then at least the funds from several artists will go a lot further in court costs than those of one.

But what if no other artists report your experience or none are willing to join forces? I guess the Hall of Shame idea might work. I'll be checking back to find out.

And now I'll turn the keyboard over to you. I'd ask that you refrain from naming names (unless you're signing your own [anonymous accusations are accepted on Crying Lost Art, but I strongly discourage them for this context]), but have you had similar experiences (from either the artist or dealer end of things) and how did you resolve them? Any advice to others faced with this situation?

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Friday, July 27, 2007

Four Current Faves for Friday

1. My current favorite exhibition up in Chelsea (yes, yes, I know: shameless, unbridled favortism) ends today actually. Here's what Roberta Smith writes about it in The New York Times:

SARAH PETERS In an impressive first show, this artist revisits several pictorial conventions of colonial America — the portrait, the mourning picture and the landscape — with antic results. Her weapon of choice is black ballpoint pen backed by pencil, deployed in a fidgety yet gossamer cross-hatch style whose precedents include Edward Gorey and the early work of Jim Nutt and Sue Williams. Winkleman Gallery, 637 West 27th Street, Chelsea, (212) 643-3152, winkleman.com, closes today. (Smith)
What can I say? It's a great show.

2. My current favorite YouTube video was a tough call. The John Edwards
"Hair" video came close, but in the end I have to go with "Thriller":

See my thoughts about this in the comment threads (don't want to spoil anything here).

3. My current favorite comment on this blog...hell, it's got to be among my favorite comments on any blog anywhere, is this combination poignant commentary and brilliant parody of artspeak by
Henry on yesterday's thread:

The whole artworld is violently anything-goes. Why should anyone be surprised or bothered when anything went? The conservative press is still trying to put Andy Warhol back in the bottle. Nobody takes them seriously. The liberal press isn't going to bite the hand that pours them drinks.

All the Korean lady needs to do is reject the notion that artificial qualifications can be conferred on an individual by the patrimonial industrial-education complex of the Hegemon, and take a stand for her individualism and unique creative and feminist vision as an authentic multicultural alternate to the restrictive orientalism of the west, blah blah. All the Documenta people have to do is say they were exploring issues engendered by the collapse of faith among the people in the wake of the controversies at Enron and the World Bank, yada yada.

Get out of jail free. Everyone in the Greek Chorus will say "oooooh ... exploring issues ... nice ... I'll try a martini next ... I mean ... explore the issues raised by the juxtaposition of gin and vermouth, which are two commodities created for self-medication by the oppressed working classes of pre-industrial London in previous centuries but have recently been elevated into the realm of the elite by the framing techniques of various pouring and imbibing rituals, and the inclusion of sophisticated vegetation like the olive, which normally represents world peace, but when pickled in such volatile spirits, takes on many of the aggressive connotations of the shark Hirst created in the latter stages of the twentieth century, dramatically summarizing an era of genocide and despotism during which the American hegemon asserted itself on the international stage...".
4. My current favorite visual joke. Thanks to Ondine for forwarding this gem. Since Texas has been having so much rain, a designer has created new shoe styles for the fashionable ladies undaunted by global warming:

Have a great weekend all!


Thursday, July 26, 2007

Scandals and More Scandals

Forget the looped "I cannot recall, Senator" responses up on Capitol Hill (OK, so don't "forget" them, impeach the creeps, but...), the art world is seeing a bumper crop of scandals itself this summer. And it's still only July.

First, in the ongoing debacle in North Adams, we learn via Christoph Büchel's lawyer, Donn Zaretsky, that Sergio Munoz Sarmiento
has weighed in on the Büchel vs. Mass MoCA court battle:
The most elucidating part of MASS MoCA’s defense is predicated on affirmative defenses that should arouse suspicion and distrust on the part of any visual artist toward any cultural institution. Out of the twenty-nine affirmative defenses, MASS MoCA is claiming that Büchel’s counterclaims are barred because “the materials that are the subject matter of [Büchel’s] Counterclaims do not contain sufficient original expression on the part of Büchel to be protected under the [U.S.] Copyright Act.”

Alternatively, MASS MoCA argues that Büchel’s counterclaims are barred because MASS MoCA is “a joint owner of any copyright in the Materials which are the subject matter of Büchel’s counterclaims.”

More alarming is MASS MoCA’s argument that they are the lawful owners of the materials which are the subject matter of this dispute, and thus allowed to display them publicly.

But this isn’t the end of this wonderful yarn of fiction. MASS MoCA further argues that Büchel’s work is not even art, but simply a compilation of materials which, if accepted by the Court, would not be granted protection under the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 (VARA). If in fact the Court decides that VARA does apply, MASS MoCA argues that any modification to the “materials” which may have happened is allowed by VARA under the “conservation or placement” exception, and/or that the doctrine of “fair use” would allow MASS MoCA to display Büchel’s project without infringing the Copyright or VARA Acts.
OK, so I can see in each instance how MASS MoCA would make those arguments (logically that is), but I can't for the life of me grasp why they would. They seem to have lost their grasp of the bigger picture here. Whatever credibility or funding they hope to recoup via these arguments, they're putting any future artists they might work with on notice that they decide when something is the artist's work and when it's not. Scary stuff.

Second, is a storyline right out of a Patricia Highsmith novel. Shin Jeong-ah, a rising star in the art world, was set to co-curate the 2008 Gwangju Biennale, one of the biggest fine art events in South-east Asia:
Until this week, [Shin Jeong-ah,] 35, was at the top of her profession. Claiming to have a doctorate from Yale and a master's degree from Kansas University, she was the youngest professor at Seoul's prestigious Dongguk University and the head curator of the Sungkok Art Museum, home to some of Korea's most prestigious exhibitions and the recipient of millions of pounds in corporate sponsorship from the country's biggest conglomerates.

[...] In a country that takes art seriously, and has an exceptionally large number of museums for its size, many saw Shin's appointment as a sign that the young curator was destined to become the leading figure among Korea's legion of art gallery administrators.

But others were less impressed. [...] On Monday rumour became fact when the University of Kansas issued a statement saying Shin had attended classes there between 1992 and 1996 but had never graduated.

Officials at the Gwanju Biennale initially supported her. They produced a document backing her claims to have a Yale doctorate - a faxed response from the Connecticut-based school to an inquiry by Dongguk University in September 2005.

[...] Dongguk said on Wednesday this week that Yale had agreed to look into the fax.

In a telephone interview with Seoul's Chosun Ilbo daily newspaper on Tuesday, Shin said, "I certainly did receive a degree from Yale, which is proven by the document Dongguk received from Yale in 2005. I will make a statement and take legal action as soon as I return to Seoul."

But the firestorm consuming her career intensified when Yale issued a terse statement yesterday stating that Shin did not graduate with a doctorate in 2005, as she had claimed, and had, in fact, never been registered with the university at all.
I wonder who will play her in the movie?

Third, is a less sensational, but still somewhat surprising charge being raised about another curator. On
artnet.com, Bazon Brock, professor for aesthetics and theory of design at the Wuppertal University, points out an ethical question that apparently got past many journalists:
Recently we saw what happens when a big boss offers his sweetheart special favors, as World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz had to step down amid reproaches and taunts. Yet Documenta 12’s big boss, Roger M. Buergel, who unhesitatingly named his wife Ruth Noack as chief curator of the primarily publicly funded event, has, as far as I know, received no admonishments from the art press or other art-world bodies, much less any recrimination from D12’s shareholders or advisory board.

Even the powerful German labor union ver.di, which has a section for artists and curators and which is known for its vigilance when it comes to work rules, has remained silent, as if beguiled by this artsy partnership. What’s more, all of this was accompanied by murmurs that poor Buergel was actually under Noack’s thumb, and therefore deserves our sympathy.

So why didn’t Noack apply for the director’s position herself? Who knows. We hear from the powers-that-be that Buergel, in his application for the artistic director’s job, failed to announce his intention to give his wife the top curatorial post. In recent scandals at both Volkswagen and Siemens (involving bribe-taking and philandering, among other transgressions), those involved apparently had the best of intentions. No doubt the same can be said for Buergel’s idea to delegate the Documenta esthetic decision-making to his wife.

But it does cast some doubt on Buergel’s suggestion that he sought to undermine the nepotism and conflicts-of-interest that characterize today’s art business. What’s more, his claims to act for marginalized artists in the Third World are dubious. As if Muslims can’t get things going in Europe on their own; like Chinese or African artists actually need European subculture’s benevolence.
Brings to mind the Bush-Cheney relationship to some degree, no? Brock offers some blistering critiques for D12 in general, but this question in particular seems worth a response from the husband-wife team. Not that anyone seems otherwise all that interested in D12, that is.

Other scandals (besides the way Charlie Finch can turn even a eulogy into a monologue about himself, that is)?


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

UAE Insta-Museums' Labor Woes

The United Arabs Emirate's plans for securing instant prestige in the global museum game by paying the Lourve $500 million to $1 billion for the Louvre’s name, expertise and the loan of artworks, has run up against the growing concern by international watchdog organizations for the working conditions migrant workers are forced to endure as Dubai and especially Abu Dhabi explode in new building projects. The Guggenheim, which is also building yet another satellite there is also being asked to stay aware of the concern. From Artnet.com:

Human Rights Watch [HRW], the New York-based nonprofit whose causes include banning both landmines and the use of child soldiers, is keeping its eye on both the Guggenheim and Louvre museums. In separate statements issued on July 19, 2007, Human Rights Watch urged the two museums to protect the rights of laborers working on the construction of their new branches in Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island cultural complex.

A recent HRW report asserts that the building boom in the United Arab Emirates is based on the abuse of South Asian migrant workers, who face "wage exploitation, indebtedness to unscrupulous recruiters, and working conditions that are hazardous to the point of being deadly." The nonprofit further calls on both the Gugg and the Louvre "to require that its UAE partners not withhold workers’ wages, not confiscate passports, document and publicly report work-related injuries and deaths, and forbid recruiters from unlawfully collecting recruiting, travel and visa fees from workers," as well as guarantee workers’ rights to bargain collectively, form unions and strike.

HRW has brought its concerns to the attention of Guggenheim Foundation director Thomas Krens and Guggenheim board chair William Mack as well as Louvre director Henri Loyrette and France’s then-culture minister, Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres. According to HRW, no response has yet been received.
Emotions run high on both side of this controversy, with workers striking (illegally) to protest conditions and UAE citizens arguing the whole thing is being blown out of proportion. Here's a sample of the opposing opinions posted in response to an article on the topic on the BBC website:

The Dubai dream for thousands of South Asian migrants becomes a nightmare after spending a few months there. The workers and labourers are underpaid and treated almost like slaves. Draconic rules exist. For example the employer takes the passport away from the immigrant worker. Hopefully, with the economies of South Asian countries improving and booming in the coming years, the workers will not have to slave in other countries to make a decent living.
Subbu Ramanathan, Indian, USA

The entire gulf region has grown on the sweat and blood of third world labourers who are paid atrociously low wages - some of them have to wait for 4-5 months before they are paid. There is a high level of suicides amongst such labourers, but nothing gets reported. The discrimination in offices is outrageous and frustrating. It is shocking that Dubai is being seen as a shining beacon when the truth is it has only grown to this level because it has discriminated on poor people...making thousands of lives miserable and wretched.
Peter Walters, Milton Keynes

Your article is ill conceived, lacks depth and is premature. I would highlight that competitiveness of Dubai has made pay scales fairly equal with many Asian expats in senior and strategic positions commanding competitive salaries. Globalisation drives this issue not 'quality' euphemism. Now that you are returning to your own country, you might highlight the gross and indecent inequalities and educate your readers about it. What beguiles me is the irresponsible manner in which journalists have painted Dubai with their particular brand of criticism, simpleton statistics without much substance and comparison. Exploitation was far worse not so long ago (pre 2nd and 1st World War) in the country that you worked in recently and across the Atlantic. Certainly, the many expats from Asia would not have to be here if their own countries could provide for them. You have also missed the point the many tens of billions of Dollars that are repatriated which sustains millions and provides a far more promising future. Your article has done a gross injustice to your country men and to the many that who have made their livelihood, a possibility that would not exit in their own countries. UAE has applied much change towards improving the conditions of employment and is taking major and rapid steps and I am confident that the present leadership has the vision and the goodwill to implement on an ongoing basis.
Mehboob Hamza, UAE
I've never been to the UAE, but folks I know who have suggest the problem, if it's as widespread as reports claim, is far from view for most people, so I'm hesitant, especially from the comfort of New York, to climb on too high a horse about all this. I'm still somewhat bemused by the notion of buying another nation's reputation for culture, and I've gone on ad nauseum about the imperial pitfalls of the Gugg's global land grab, but I think there's too little evidence to out-and-out condemn the UAE for offering immigrants jobs just yet. And there's certainly no evidence yet that either museum has facilitated any abuse or turned a blind eye to it, so it's prudent to simply note this is a concern HRW wants them to stay aware of, not an accusation of any wrongdoing.

Still, it is good to remember that all empires are built on the blood, sweat, and tears of the poor. Further, the $500 million to $1 billion Abu Dhabi is willing to spend to avoid having to build a reputation for their museum the old-fashioned way would certainly go a long way in the South Asian countries they're accepting workers from.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Step Away From the Artwork Open Thread

Believe me, I get it. I totally, totally understand the urge to touch certain artworks. There are pieces that in an alternate universe I would maul, devour, and lick from end to end (too much information?). So sensuous, so perfect, so damned edible are certain works that it's very hard not to react physically to them, which is why on one level, I feel for Sam Rindy [from Artinfo.com]:
A Cambodian-born French woman faces prosecution for criminal damage after planting a kiss on a painting by the American artist Cy Twombly, leaving the imprint of her lipstick on the otherwise immaculate white canvas.

The untitled work, roughly nine- by six-feet, valued at $2.7 million, is part of an exhibition dedicated to the painter in the southern French city of Avignon.

Thirty-year-old Sam Rindy, who visited the show with a friend on July 19, told the AFP that she was so overcome by the white canvas that she kissed it.

"I stepped back. I found the painting even more beautiful," said Rindy. "The artist left this white for me."

Staff of the Lambert Foundation, which owns the painting, took a different view. They called the police and the woman, herself a painter, was arrested as she left the premises. She will appear in court on August 16 to face charges of criminal damage.
And that result, facing charges of criminal damage, neatly sums up why one should, despite any urges, control oneself when tempted to interact with a work of art. I think incidents like the Twombly one are bound to increase, though, as more art becomes (as I predict it will) interactive. There was a piece in a booth of an art fair we did recently that drove other gallerists around the bend. Viewers were encouraged to open a series of doors that revealed inner paintings and such. More than one huffy gallerist was overhead complaining about the lesson that was teaching the attendees, especially younger ones.

As a gallerist, I would normally wax more poetic about why people shouldn't touch the art (it belongs to posterity, you'll alter the artist's intentions, etc.), but there are far more practical dissauders that take care of all that. Some of them are actually safety related.

I recall an incident at the first exhibition we had of Andy Yoder's work. His giant licorice wingtip shoes in that show were a huge hit.

Upon entering the gallery, the smell of the licorice filled your head, transporting you immediately in the way only scents can do, and so perfectly rendered (wonderfully scruffy and worn) were the shoes that they instantly won hearts time and again. At the opening though, where we usually offer libations, a woman eventually gave in to her urges and licked the back of one of the shoes. It was bad enough that she likely left a streak of saliva on the piece, but had she asked we could have spared her that awful aftertaste (the piece had been shellacked). We never heard back that she took ill, but still...

In the end, the ultimate ethical dissuader is that viewers don't have the right to touch the work. It doesn't belong to them, their touch will affect the piece, and it's unfair to the artist to change what they created.
Feel free to share any stories you have (as viewer or artist) regarding the urge to interact with the art.


Monday, July 23, 2007

Ceci n'est pas un livre

Alan Riding has an article in The New York Times today about the exploration France's new president, Nicolas Sarkozy, is undertaking to learn whether eliminating the entrance fee for national museums will encourage your average Frenchman/woman to attend said museums more frequently:

At the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay and other national museums, where admission costs anywhere from $9 to $12, some two-thirds of all visitors are foreign tourists, as are three-quarters of visitors between the ages of 18 and 25.

The new government of President Nicolas Sarkozy wants to alter this profile. With a view to persuading more French people to enjoy art, it is pondering whether to follow the British and Danish examples of allowing free access to the permanent collections of major museums.
The article has some interesting insights, such as that although attendance in British museums has increased a dramatic 50% since free admissions were introduced there in 2001, there's some debate as to whether that increase represents a new audience (i.e., one put off by the former entrance fees) or simply return visits by the same art loving classes who attended less frequently when it cost them something.

And there's a whiff of something not-quite-right in this concern:
Critics of the proposal also argue that the main beneficiaries of free admission will be foreign tourists, and that the change will in effect represent a subsidy to foreigners financed by French taxpayers.
(In their museums showing contemporary French art, at least, they should consider paying tourists to attend, IMHO.)

But the essence of what interested me most in this article is the assertion that what's really dissuading the French from attending their own museums more isn't the price, but their art education in general:
Still, while resistance by several leading museums may in the end torpedo the government’s experiment, the debate has at least served to highlight what many cultural experts consider a more fundamental problem: the poor quality of artistic education in French public schools.

“One learns to read at school, one doesn’t learn to see,” Pierre Rosenberg, the former president-director of the Louvre, wrote recently in the Paris daily Libération. “For decades art historians have been united in demanding that the history of art be required teaching in high schools.”

Yet, puzzlingly for a country with France’s record of great artists, French teenagers are encouraged to create art but not to study it. The shortage of art education for youngsters may in turn help explain the morose state of many French art colleges.

The alarming implication might be that many French people are put off not by the museum ticket price but by the art. And for Mr. Rosenberg, the only answer to this — the only way of truly “democratizing culture,” as he put it — is to teach art history in schools.

Once people are taught to appreciate beauty, the price of a ticket may no longer stand between them and a visit to a museum. On the other hand, the cost of reforming artistic education would be far greater than simply throwing open the doors to the country’s art collections.
I want to highlight one particular point in all that: "French teenagers are encouraged to create art but not to study it."

I originally wrote a long snarky response to that tidbit, but have thought better of it (I interjected enough snark above already). I've gone on before about how I don't believe anyone simply regurgitates Art. Sure there are geniuses from time to time who carve their own brilliant path despite a lack of exposure to others' ideas, but in general, those who don't learn their art history are doomed to offer up the same ideas the rest of us have already digested and then, inevitably, be disappointed when we yawn in response.

This being summer, when the living is supposed to be easy, though, I'll let this idea simmer a bit in my own mind rather than wail away like I normally would. Perhaps some new great French artist will emerge from this system, making mincemeat of my personal take on all this. Don't let that stop you from responding though...


Friday, July 20, 2007

Four Fast Links Friday

  • Skip Van Cel sent me a link to these absolutely brilliant photos. I'm not entirely sure they depict exactly what they seem to, but you have to see them all the same.
  • ARTNews' list of the Top 200 Art Collectors for 2007 is out. (Be sure to see the awesome group exhibition at Sara Meltzer Gallery featuring Jennifer Dalton's take on this annual assessment). Christopher K. Ho, who has a solo exhibition coming up in our gallery next year, also has work in the exhibition (a collaboration with Troy Richards).

  • More over at CultureGrrl on the controversial State Department "art that promotes US foreign policy" program. This time someone who's had experience with this notes the State Department never meddled in projects they received money for.
  • Andrew Sullivan has been posting variations on "How many XXX does it take to screw in a lightbulb" jokes on his blog, with neocons or whatever being the XXX, such as:

    Q. How many neocons does it take to screw in a light bulb?
    A. Neocons don't bother with light bulbs. They declare a War on Darkness and set the house on fire.

    Q: How many Christianists does it take to screw in a light bulb?
    A: Christianists don't screw in lightbulbs, they screw in brothels.
    I found this one about art:

    Q: How many visitors to an Art Gallery does it take to change a light bulb?
    A: Two. One to do it and one to say "Huh! My four-year old could've done that!"

  • Have a great weekend folks.


    Thursday, July 19, 2007

    A Matter of Trust or Simply a Bad Idea?

    Jason Edward Kaufman at The Art Newspaper tells us that the State Department is encouraging US Museums to apply for grants to collaborate with foreign institutions in order to "promote US foreign policy." Established in conjunction with the American Association of Museums(AAM), the program (the Museums & Community Collaborations Abroad [MCCA]) is described as such by the AAM:

    What is Museums & Community Collaborations Abroad?
    Museums & Community Collaborations Abroad (MCCA) is a new AAM grant program designed to strengthen international connections through innovative, museum-based exchanges. MCCA grants are offered in amounts between $50,000 and $100,000. Funding for MCCA is provided through a partnership with the US Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
    In a nutshell the program is an attempt to use art in order to serve our current administration's version of our national interests. As with most things created by the current administration, it has a slightly Orwellian feel to it as well:
    Proposals that include foreign museums pre-selected by US Embassies and Consulates “may receive additional consideration by the MCCA Selection Committee”, the application guidelines state. The State Department website presents model projects which have been proposed by US diplomats abroad. The State Department requires that these proposals include a statement explaining: “How this project promotes US foreign policy.”

    For example, the US Consulate in Peshawar has proposed that US museums partner with Pakistani institutions on a programme designed to increase understanding of pre-Islamic history in the Islamic fundamentalist Northwest Frontier Province bordering Afghanistan. “A tangible dynamic exists which downplays or denies the region’s pre-Islamic roots, most prevalently in…tribal areas on the border with Afghanistan,” explains the consulate. US officials in Nepal, Bolivia and Peru are seeking partnerships that “spread tolerance and respect for diversity”.
    On one hand, I want to say "fair enough." The government can't be expected to hand out money to projects that undermine our foreign policy. Regardless of how off-track that foreign policy might be in general, it's moronic to expect the State Department to fund projects that make its job harder. So you either don't apply for state funds for your project or accept that this is why they're handing out money.

    On the other hand, encouraging museums to tailor their proposals to support policy (rather than simply awarding grants to the best proposals) is likely to backfire. Imagine that a journalist covering the exhibition in Peshawar gets wind of the grant. Does anyone honestly believe that won't color his/her appraisal of the exhibition? No matter how honestly it might have been curated, the conditions of its funding could undercut its effectiveness.

    CultureGrrl's Lee Rosenbaum has been
    all over this topic, including being interviewed about it by NPR. She concluded in her first post on the topic:
    Cultural ties can assuredly improve relations between countries, but not when they are conceived as an instrument of political propaganda. AAM has done a disservice to its members by signing up for this dubious government-curated enterprise.
    Erik Ledbetter, senior manager of international programs for the American Association of Museums, responded to Lee's concerns in an email she posted:

    Cultural diplomacy--the exchange of ideas, information, art, and other aspects of culture among nations and their peoples in order to foster mutual understanding--is nothing new at AAM and US museums. For 25 years, AAM and the US Department of State have partnered to enable US museum professionals to collaborate with colleagues abroad. [...] All these exchanges were conducted in the straightforward conviction that museum professionals operating with complete academic freedom are among the most effective ambassadors between cultures.
    Erik notes further:

    Lee has expressed her worry--bordering on conviction--that the State Department will exert undue influence on the content of the projects or the selection of the final awards. A complete reading of the program criteria and selection procedures will put such concerns swiftly to rest.

    In specific:

    • Only US museums, not AAM or the State Department, can make proposals.
    • US museums can propose on any subject and with any partner they choose.
    • US museums are in total control of the participating staff as well as the format, structure, and content of their projects.
    • Department of State does not vet the proposals at any point in the competition cycle.
    • Final selection will be made by a peer review panel composed of a past IPAM participant from a US museum; a representative of ICOM-US (the US National Committee of the International Council of Museums); and a distinguished non-US museum professional.
    Two things occur to me regarding all this.

    First is the notion that although, as Erik points out, "US museums can propose on any subject and with any partner they choose," it's already clear what type of proposal they're likely to accept (and thus, likewise, not accept), so this strikes me as slightly disingenuous. I suppose the assumption is that you could propose an exhibition that's so wonderful that pre-selected locations and/or priorities might be pushed aside in the selection process, but there are clear indications that curators exploring "any subject" that conflicts with the Bush Administration's foreign policy (say an exhibition that in essence condemns torture [it would certainly be something any previous President's administration might give money to promote]) need not apply at this time.

    Second, however, is that I'm not so sure I object to the program nearly as much as I object to the administration in charge of it at the moment. In other words, is my objection simply that I don't trust the current administration? If Gore were President, and I felt exhibitions encouraging energy conservation and environmental concerns were likely to receive the grants, I might not be so suspicious of the program's objectives. I have to sort this out in my mind, but what are your thoughts?

    Image Above: Luc Tuymans, The Secretary of State, 2005, Oil on canvas, 17.91 x 24.21 x 1.57 inches. From the website of David Zwirner Gallery.


    Wednesday, July 18, 2007


    It's been 2,226 2136 days* since a terrorist cell in the US hijacked 4 airplanes, killed over 3,000 Americans, destroyed two skyscrapers, damaged the Pentagon, and ushered in one of the darkest periods of fear and political maleficence in the history of this country. The leader of the people who attacked us, Osama bin Laden, must be presumed to still be at large. The person responsible for the failure to bring him to justice is George W. Bush.

    Gone are the days of Bush's "Bring 'em on" bravado, gone the photo-op days of his "Mission Accomplished" arrogance...but very much still relevant, very much on my list of priorities, and I don't give a rat's ass whether it's naive or not, is his promise to bring in that son of a bitch who ordered the attacks, "Dead or Alive." Through all his incompetence as a Commander in Chief, that's one thing this lame duck of a loser could still do for his nation. But, as he's said, he "just [doesn't] spend that much time on [bin Laden]."

    Well, dude, you had better begin to spend some time on it or get the f*ck out of that office, because Bin Laden is stronger than ever and there's no blaming Clinton for it this time:

    President Bush’s top counterterrorism advisers acknowledged Tuesday that the strategy for fighting Osama bin Laden’s leadership of Al Qaeda in Pakistan had failed, as the White House released a grim new intelligence assessment that has forced the administration to consider more aggressive measures inside Pakistan.

    The intelligence report, the most formal assessment since the Sept. 11 attacks about the terrorist threat facing the United States, concludes that the United States is losing ground on a number of fronts in the fight against Al Qaeda, and describes the terrorist organization as having significantly strengthened over the past two years.
    Yes, yes, we know. It's not Bush's fault. Nothing is Bush's fault. This time the White House can't blame Clinton, though, so they're blaming Pakistan’s president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who brokered a deal with tribal leaders "in an effort to drain support for Islamic extremism in the region." As Bush's people hammer away at the point in response to the intelligence report just keep in mind, though, Bush administration officials had endorsed Musharraf's cease-fire with tribal leaders to help prop up Pakistan's president.

    If history tells us anything, we can expect our Commander in Chief to respond to this ominous National Intelligence Estimate by going on vacation. Squirreled away in Crawford with Cheney, he'll be focusing on how to manipulate available intelligence to justify and sell the next war they're already moving ahead with, regardless of what the rest of the world thinks, the one with Iran, distracting the resources, once again, that should be focused on preventing Bin Laden's folks from successfully killing more Americans here on the mainland.

    Should Bin Laden succeed, though (and they say the odds are some attack is likely to), don't forget the man in the oval office will be very willing to manipulate our sorrow and fear in the aftermath, which is why more than ever we need to adopt a response similar to the one Britain does when attacked ("Keep Calm and Carry On"), so we keep our heads about us and don't let Bush lead us even further the wrong direction. He has proven he cannot be trusted as Commander in Chief. Nearly six years after the attacks, our enemy is stronger than ever. Bush must surely be the very worst war president ever.

    *By my calculations, but I'm not all that good at math, so if you know better please let me know. Thanks to Frank for the real number.


    Tuesday, July 17, 2007

    Is "Truth" Overrated?

    You all know by now that I won't pass up any opportunity to climb up on that soapbox and wail away about the difference between propaganda and "Art" (just enter "propaganda" in the search box above and I'm sure you'll find plenty of examples). The thumbnail version of my argument is that what happens when someone sets out to promote an agenda is they compromise their work by consciously or subconsciously leaving out certain inconvenient truths (or simply don't seek out those truths). That compromise is antithetical to the work of making "Art" in my opinion.

    Somewhere hidden in those gigabytes of my pontificating on the subject, though, is the caveat to all this that sometimes, with time (usually after the issue at hand has ceased to be relevant), a work of propaganda can pass into the realm of "Art." I recognize how problematic that little out of mine is, but it's the only way I can account for works like the one Simon Schama highlighted in his
    ongoing series on PBS last night: Jacque-Louis David's "The Death of Marat" (seen above).

    As Schama noted, in annoying detail (Bambino can't stand the way he bounces all over the screen while talking [the jittery habit does kind of remind you of an early 80's music video]), Jean-Paul Marat was not the sort of heroic martyr David depicted him as, but rather a bloodthirsty cheerleader for Robespierre's Reign of Terror. Not only did David gloss over his friend's horrendous crimes, he also air-brushed his pruritic, blistering skin disease. The painting is political and biographical fantasy of the most offensive order in which "truth" takes an extended holiday.

    But is it good "Art"? There can be little debate that David was a talented painter. Even the rigid, statue-esque nature of his figures can be spun to be just what his subjects required. His use of light and space are breathtaking (if a tad too melodramatic for my taste), even as they suggest he was more fond of big ideas than he was of actual people.

    But none of the definitions of "art" that I've read (and I've read plenty) that include the notion that one of its central roles is raising mankind up have suggested that doing so, if it requires lying, is OK because doing so is an end unto itself. The problem with using lies to attempt this is that even if a lie makes one feel momentarily exhilarated, the mistrust and confusion that follow the exposure of that lie can do more harm than any temporary euphoria, no?

    So we're left valuing David's work, not for its humanity (could the man who supported the executions of tens of thousands of people ever convey "humanity"?), but its formal accomplishments. Or is humanity actually more than just the best of mankind...is it also comprised of our darker deeds? What's truly "human" must be a true portrait of our duality, no? Perhaps David's work is truly "art" because, now that his lies are exposed, we can learn much more from them than we would have if all they offered were heartfelt, but naive, political ideals. Perhaps, with the wisdom that comes with time, propaganda can pass into the realm of art.

    Or perhaps I'm full of it. Perhaps "Art" transcends "Truth." I hate to think so, but what do you do with an artist like David, then?


    Monday, July 16, 2007

    The Reality of the Collector-Driven Art World

    This has got to be the most lucid and accurate description of the current art market I have read (and I read a good deal of art market press). Jane Kallir, co-director of Galerie St Etienne in New York, offers a "state of the market" analysis in The Art Newspaper that tells it like it is, without all the hyperbole we're accustomed to seeing in such efforts. Titled "The problem with a collector-driven market," it actually has a bit of constructive criticism for more than just collectors, but the essay itself is damn near flawless in my opinion. Here's the essence:

    For the past century or so, the art world has been supported by four principal pillars: artists, collectors, dealers and the art-historical establishment (critics, academics, and curators). [...] Over the long term, art-historical value is determined by consensus among all four art-world pillars. When any one of the four entities assume disproportionate power, there is a danger that this entity’s personal preferences will cloud everyone’s short-term judgement. Put bluntly, the danger of a collector-driven art world is that money will trump knowledge. Great collectors should ideally become nearly as knowledgeable as the curators and dealers who help them build their collections. But not all of today’s collectors have the passion or the time necessary to develop this depth of knowledge.
    Kallir goes on to describe how this shift affects the other pillars [emphasis mine]:

    In an overheated environment, the art-historical establishment often finds itself chasing rather than guiding the market. The press must keep up with the latest trends, and coverage of social events and record prices often takes precedence over quiet critical reflection. Museums need the support of trustees, but the most powerful collectors no longer need the imprimatur of an existing museum; they can simply open their own. [...] The corollary to a collector-driven art world is that the canon of ostensibly great artists is being largely determined by market forces. [...] [M]arket pressures push dealers to become generalists, showcasing a hodge-podge of high-ticket items instead of specialising as they formerly did.
    Historically, the other pillars (other than collectors and artists) really didn't have anywhere near the sway they have today, if they existed at all, so perhaps we're simply witnessing a return to the former model. However, to my mind, it's an inferior model. Yes, of course you'd expect me to say that, but, as Kallir notes, there's a reason dealers and museums grew in stature over the past century...they were out there championing some rather challenging work:

    Only in the 20th century did dealers evolve from passive shopkeepers to pro-active impresarios, promoting the often difficult efforts of the pioneering modernists with missionary zeal. Public resistance to modernism, coupled with the pressures of international capitalism, gave new importance to dealers and museums, both of which played key roles by superintending the distribution of new art and ratifying its seriousness.
    For certain new, and to my mind, important artists, it takes a good deal of time and patience for a dialog about their work to be established and promoted to enough people for them to then receive enough attention and financial return to continue to push their projects forward. With the understandably limited time collectors have, the more they drive the market, the less such artists will flourish.

    I've noted this before, but don't mind writing it again: I've had a few conversations with some long-time collectors recently, folks who were collecting long before it, as Kallir puts it, "acquired the patina of trendiness that was formerly exclusive to the entertainment and fashion industries." A few of them have been so discouraged by the development of the market (the frenzy in particular) they're seriously considering getting out altogether. To my mind, this is a huge loss. The well-informed collectors are as an important a part of why I'm in this business as the talented artists are. The dialog I cherish requires their participation. Yes, it's my job to encourage newer collectors to become well-informed collectors as well, but as the existing ones drop out through frustration, that becomes even more difficult.

    The question to my mind in all this becomes, so how, in this super-sped-up world we live in, do any of the other pillars change things so that the new collectors and the existing well-informed collectors can slow down a bit? I've been mulling this over for quite some time now (and would truly appreciate any additional advice anyone from the other pillars has), but one encouraging trend toward this end by dealers is the rise of solo installations at art fairs. There are certain contexts in which that doesn't always make sense (and a good group installation can be equally informative), but if the art fairs are the arena in which newer collectors are first experiencing work and existing collectors are being forced to attend (because galleries are holding back some of their best work for the fairs, because the fairs demand certain levels of quality), perhaps this practice makes sense.

    We've actually taken to thinking of art fairs as simply another slot in our yearly program. Sometimes we fill that slot with a group exhibition, sometimes with a solo exhibition, but the goal is becoming the same (treat what we show in the booth the same as we do what we exhibit in the gallery). In other words, consider the fair an additional teaching opportunity in addition to an extra-gallery selling opportunity. The truth is, we see so many more folks at the fairs than we do for an average exhibition, this becomes almost self-evidently the right approach.

    But I'd be interested in hearing from artists, curators, critics, and academics about what steps they might take (or are taking) to help correct the way the collector-driven market is leading us to the situation where, again, as Kallir puts it, "money will trump knowledge."

    UPDATE: Aurix weighs in on this article as well here with another reason collecting without knowledge is risky.


    Friday, July 13, 2007

    Extended: Sarah Peters "Being American" until July 27

    It had become apparent a while back that we would extend Sarah's excellent exhibition another week, but I'm thrilled to make the official announcement in conjunction with two thoughtful reviews of her show.

    First is in a round-up of recent exhibitions by Jeffrey Cyphers Wright in Chelsea Now, titled "Retrofitting the future: Everything that’s old is new again in Chelsea’s galleries":

    Black and white also conjures the past in Sarah Peters pen and pencil drawings at Winkleman Gallery. The show, called “Being American,” reflects on early American art, when there was no academy to either nurture the natural talents or cull the amateurs. Consequently, egalitarian efforts ensued, marking our national conscious. While lacking in finesse, there was abundant earnestness and innovation. In paying homage to those nascent efforts, Peters recognizes their limitations as the key to their directness, which she further distills.

    Using a lean line, the artist sketches her figures in forests and beneath cliffs. Their isolation mimics the situation of our early painters, thrust into a vast wilderness and cut off from Europe.

    A commanding female stares straight out at us from a glen in “The Club.” While her countenance is serene and childlike, we sense a macabre presence. As if to hammer home the foreboding pall, a small, penciled figure of a man with a large club suspended over his head lurks in the background.
    The second review is by Roberta Smith in today's New York Times (scroll down a bit):

    In her first solo show, Sarah Peters breathes life into an obsession with the art and history of colonial America. The breath comes from a fidgety crosshatch technique rendered in pencil and black ballpoint pen that gives her images both a gauzy drift and an almost fingernails-on-blackboard screechiness.

    The gallery explains that Ms. Peters revisits the naïve, often awkward motifs of colonial art to make them more complete or realistic. Thus “Dreamer,” a portrait of a man in the angular style of an itinerant painter, has a trio of voluptuous bikini-clad women in the background, perhaps to show what was really on the man’s mind. “Séance” adds intimations of ghosts, or at least moving curtains, to an image of a flower urn, a traditional mourning motif.

    But what Ms. Peters really does is make this world seem crazier, suggesting the thinness of the line between the cooked and the raw amid a general atmosphere of chaos and decay. “Still Life With Battle” shows a compote dish of fruit and a background swarming with tiny figures: naked men armed with clubs. And the show’s tour de force, a 20-foot-long drawing titled “Being American,” shows an Arcadian landscape strewn with columns, portrait busts and neo-Classical statues as well as a woman sculptor, contemplating a nude torso.

    Ms. Peters’s precedents include Edward Gorey and the early work of both Jim Nutt and Sue Williams. Her alternately wafting and grating drawing style makes her images feel at once romantic and hard-bitten. They may seem to float through the mists of time, but they have a few scores to settle.
    Congrats to Sarah on the awesome response to her first solo show!

    Sarah Peters
    Being American
    June 15 to July 21 July 27, 2007

    Winkleman Gallery
    637 West 27th Street
    New York, NY 10001
    T: 212.643.3152
    F: 212.643.2040


    Thursday, July 12, 2007

    Mixed Bag Thursday

    It might be the late night we had, or it might be just that it's summer, but I'm taking a break from the longer style post today. I'll offer these tidbits.

    1) Without comment:

    2) This is all you need to know to figure out what's wrong with our country today:

    [via Sullivan]
    A reader writes:

    Yeah, I am not going to argue against anybody calling Michael Moore arrogant, or accusing him of being an asshole. Maybe yes, maybe no. I only know that I don't hang with him. On the other hand, if the media went on the same, blistering, fact-checking campaign effort concerning Iraq in 2002 that they are using to go after "Sicko" (rather than deal with the larger issue of health care), we might all be in a much better place today.
    Consider this an open thread.


    Wednesday, July 11, 2007

    R. Mutt for President

    I'm a bit late to this party (see earlier posts at Emvergeoning [via Tyler] and Obsidian Wings) but Crispin Sartwell's review, if you will, of former Senator Mike Gravel's (D-Alaska) conceptual YouTube "campaign ads" (he's running for President, if you haven't heard) is simply too delightful not to pass along:

    [A]s Americans we all owe a debt of aesthetic gratitude to the genius of former senator and current Democratic presidential candidate Mike Gravel, who has taken the pabulum and kitsch that is our political art and transcended it — swept it up, summarized it and broken through it into a new range of possibilities. Mike Gravel is to political advertising what Ralph Waldo Emerson is to the essay, Walt Whitman to poetry, Jackson Pollock to painting, 50 Cent to bullet wounds. He is the avant garde of the new artpolitical era.
    "Huh?" you ask.

    Gravel was not even on my radar as a candidate until these ads began to gain attention. Now I think he might be some sort of messiah.

    The medium of Gravel's genius is YouTube, but he ought to be on every cable network and broadcast channel in the country. In one ad, he appears in front of a pond. He stares at the camera for about a minute, just squints at us all, confronting us with the very essence of human existence. His silence, it emerges on a careful listening, is infinitely more expressive than the words of Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, and is a bolder and more precise formulation of policy initiatives. Then Gravel picks up a rock and throws it into the pond. Then he walks slowly away.

    In another ad, Gravel gathers firewood. Then for about seven minutes we simply watch a fire burning.
    Decide for yourself:



    Gravel explains the Rock video (which is actually the work of professors/artists Matt Mayes and Guston Sondin-Klausner) here

    What I like the most about Gravel in this interview is his honesty in giving credit to Mayes and Sondin-Klausner, his genuine appreciation of their art (and his ability to distinguish it from his own political statements, meaning he's in it to be taken seriously), and his very accessible discussion of metaphor and why it's OK for folks to interpret these pieces in different ways. He comes across as more than a little brilliant. His call for spontaneity and creativity in American people in response to our current political circumstances is inspiring. Is it too soon to say I love Mike Gravel?


    Tuesday, July 10, 2007

    Only Antidote to Paid Publicity

    Can you stomach more navel gazing? I know we've been all over the decline in arts coverage in regional newspapers, and the value of critics, and whether blogs are to blame, but Terry Teachout's recent colum in The Wall Street Journal (read it now, before Murdoch gets his grimy mitts all over it) brings this all into focus nicely, so I wanted to share some of my responses to it.

    Teachout is a very good example of the sharp critic with
    a blog who demonstrates the two are not natural enemies, despite what some of his fellow critics seem to think:

    Richard Schickel, Time's film critic, actually published a testy op-ed in the Los Angeles Times in which he compared blogging to "finger-painting": "I don't think it's impossible for bloggers to write intelligent reviews. I do think, however, that a simple 'love' of reading (or movie-going or whatever) is an insufficient qualification for the job. . . . we have to find in the work of reviewers something more than idle opinion-mongering. We need to see something other than flash, egotism and self-importance. We need to see their credentials. And they need to prove, not merely assert, their right to an opinion."
    One needs to prove their "right" to an opinion? In the United States? Terry continues:
    Speaking as a veteran newspaper critic who started a blog four years ago, I suspect that Mr. Schickel hasn't looked at very many artblogs. I, on the other hand, read dozens of them each week. In fact, I now spend more time reading art-related blog postings than print-media reviews. Increasingly, they're sharper, livelier and timelier than their old-media competition.
    And that: "I now spend more time reading art-related blog postings than print-media reviews" is why critics like Mr. Schickel are so testy about this, but, again, bloggers don't hate print critics and many talented print critics get that they don't need to fear blogs. Yes, yes, we've been all over that.

    What I thought was particularly pertinent about Terry's column was his compelling and succinct rationle for why good critics are still needed at regional newspapers:

    One of the most important civic duties that a newspaper performs is to cover the activities of local arts groups -- but it can't do that effectively without also employing knowledgeable critics who are competent to evaluate the work of those groups. Mere reportage, while essential, is only the first step. It's not enough to announce that the Hooterville Art Museum finally bought itself a Picasso. You also need a staffer who can tell you whether it's worth hanging, just as you need someone who knows whether the Hooterville Repertory Company's production of "Private Lives" was funny for the right reasons. [...] [B]logging, valuable though it can be, is no substitute for the day-to-day attention of a newspaper whose editors seek out experts, hire them on a full-time basis, and give them enough space to cover their beats adequately. The problem is that fewer and fewer newspapers seem willing to do that in any consistent way. I don't care for the word "provincial," but I can't think of a more accurate way to describe a city whose local paper is unwilling to make that kind of commitment to the fine arts.
    Terry ends his column with this rather sobering quote by Virgil Thomson, who "dominated American music criticism in the '40s and '50s" :
    "Perhaps criticism is useless. Certainly it is often inefficient. But it is the only antidote we have to paid publicity."
    Support your local critics. Or, as Terry notes "you'd better be prepared to buy a lot of ads."


    Monday, July 09, 2007

    Fickle Collections: Deaccession of Work by the Living

    A deaccession of over 1,000 paintings, statues and other objects from the Dutch national art collection is getting a good deal of attention (including this report in The New York Times [scroll down]) because it's being sold via eBay. I have mixed feelings about this choice, I must say. On one hand, I feel it's probably a good thing in that it could give collectors more options with regards to selling work (and that's really just a nice way of saying, I don't mind that Sotheby's and Christie's etc. might have some competition here). On the other hand, however, the Caveat-emptor nature of misinformation on eBay is not something I'd wish on any budding collector (and yes, here I am compelled to note you get expert information when you purchase through a well-established auction house).

    For example, in looking on eBay for the works the Dutch are going to sell there (I'm guessing they're either not up yet or the sale already happened), I decided to search simply on "painting." The first item in the results list sounded really interesting:

    Wow, I thought. Perhaps eBay is going to give the auction houses a run for their money. Someone is selling an painting from the early American period (something I'm particularly attuned to at the moment because of
    Sarah Peters' excellent exhibition up in the gallery at the moment [no, I'm not above the shameless plug]). But clicking on the search result link, I came to this page (scroll down to the bottom...bidding has ended on this item) with this painting:

    And this caption:

    OK, so there's clearly an opening for an obnoxious joke or two about the new decor (leopard skins and all), but my objection to this listing is that "Early American" might be relatively subjective with regards to many things, but when it comes to art, it's really best reserved for items created prior to 1830.

    But that's not the crux of what I wanted to highlight here (I simply had to get that off my chest). The deaccession, including works by living artists, from a national collection raises some questions to my mind.

    First is actually the context of the sale. By not bringing the work to a specialized art seller, what is the Dutch government saying about the value of the work? One artist's response to the plan suggests he shares my overriding sense that eBay is, in general, the place you go to sell off your junk:

    The government’s decision, a response to the cost of conserving the works, has outraged some artists and cheered others. “They called me the Picasso
    of Amsterdam,” complained one painter, Robert Kruzdlo. “I do not paint rubbish.”
    I'll concede that Kruzdlo's comment might be directed at the deaccession itself, and not the venue. Also, some artists are very happy to sell their work on eBay and do well at it.

    The second issue here for me, though, is the one I'm most curious about: what are the ethical obligations (if any) with regards to selling off work from a collection by artists who are still living. I'm not talking about financial compensation (I assume Holland will share the profits, if any, of the sales with the artists), but rather the societal protocols. Does the state, or any institution (I'll leave private collectors out of this, as I feel that's very different), have an ethical obligation to consider how best to carry out deaccessions, being especially aware of what their actions might do to an artist's career or pride?

    Consider this incredibly careless (to my mind) statement by Dutch government:

    Marina Raymakers, a spokeswoman for the Netherlands Institute for Cultural Heritage, which manages thousands of state-owned art works, said, “These are works that have not been on display in 100 years or works that do not fit in with the kind of exhibitions in museums.” She added that many were produced in the 1980s under government subsidies to support artists.
    OK, so putting the implied swipe at state-subsidized art aside for the moment (although I tend to agree it's problematic, coming from a government official, can I just say, "Yikes!"), how fickle are the curators/directors for this collection that in 20-some years many of their choices already don't fit in with the exhibitions they're interested in producing?

    The entire project strikes me as somewhat heartless, I must say, but not all the artists involved think so:
    [A]nother painter, Willem Oorebeek, said, “I don’t see the auction as a loss, but more of a renaissance of my work, a rediscovery.”
    Which is a healthy way of looking at it, I'll admit (i.e., better that someone should enjoy the work than it sit in storage). Still, other questions remain, such as do the artists whose work is being sold now have to take that collection off their bios? Or was the original purchase and the prestige that went with it theirs to tout forever? Would the government be wrong to protest their leaving it on their bio if they chose to?

    There are perhaps more pertinent ethical questions (and feel free to raise them), but these ones alone strike me as problematic enough that deaccessing work a high-profile institution purchased relatively recently might be given a bit more thought than just that they "do not fit in with the kind of exhibitions in museums." We know the kinds of exhibitions in museums can change with new curatorial leadership. (Which brings to mind a delicious scenario in which the government one day is faced with the decision of whether to buy back a piece they sold off, but, I digress....)