Friday, September 28, 2007

How Much Art Is Too Much? Open Thread

In ancient rome there was a poem
About a dog who found two bones
He picked at one
He licked the other
He went in circles
He dropped dead

Freedom of choice
Is what you got
Freedom of choice!

Then if you got it you dont want it
Seems to be the rule of thumb

Freedom of choice
Is what you got
Freedom from choice
Is what you want

----Devo, "Freedom of Choice"

Guess which city the writer of this following rant lives in:

Too many artists. Too many galleries. And too many goddamn openings!

I'm sorry, but since my return to [XXX] after 5 years living overseas, I just cant believe how many - well, CRAP, galleries there are flooding the streets these days. [XXX] in particular is a mockery.

Call me a snob, but I can't help but feel this oversaturation of extremely average talent is making it very difficult to find the diamond in the rough. In my opinion, I count less than 20 galleries of worth in this city but I'd shudder to think how many more there are springing up weekly.

Don't get me wrong, fostering the arts is great - Lots of galleries is great for cities (over 1mil pop.) - but only if they put on consistent shows and have lots of decent artists without trying to find 6 months of "filler".

If I were an artist with a few years experience under my belt i would be well pissed off. Fly by nighters are stealing your audience. "Creative Directors" are putting on utterly shite painting shows!! arrggghhh... the end is nigh

Whats up with this explosion of people who consider themselves artists because they know how to slap paint on things? Or worse, do injkjet prints on canvas - Oh my god that kills me. And then selling them!! Where's the talent? Where's the originality?

Mark my words, in 5 years from now 90% of the artists exhibiting now will be trying to work on commericals or something similar because they couldn't stick it out. I just wish we could speed that time up - its killing me. And its killing the scene.

I just feel for all the "real" artists and galleries. They must be hating it.
Here's the link. The author, Chris St. Clair, lives in Auckland, NZ.

"How much art can a city support?" seems to be a growing question these days. A while back,
Matthew Nash asked more-or-less the same question about Boston:
Is there too much art? What a strange question to have to ask, and yet there are days when the answer seems to be a resounding 'yes!' Whether one looks at a small scene like Boston, or a larger market such as New York or Paris, there always seems to be just a bit more art than one can ever absorb. Is it possible that the very idea of art could be crushed under it's own weight?
I think something Chris wrote may be the essence of this issue for many artists: "Fly by nighters are stealing your audience."

This suggests an interesting set of questions to my mind. First involves the idea that because the human eye/mind can only absorb so many images/ideas/experiences in the context of "art appreciation" that some degree of pre-selection serves the art audience well. This leads me to question whether this actually supports the need for "the system" that we hear some folks railing against so frequently. Perhaps it's a double-edged sword, then, "the system." Perhaps its presence filters out some worthy artists, but its absence leads to Matthew's warning that perhaps "art could be crushed under it's own weight." Then again, we have "the system" now, so the real question is whether its absence would only make things worse. Perhaps not.

Secondly, accepting the volume of art choices suggests there needs to be one of two possible responses by art audiences: look faster or accept you're only ever going to have a limited knowledge of the art of your time. The latter is something I long ago accepted for contemporary literature, so I'm not so daunted by the idea of having to accept it for contemporary art (although, I'll admit to cringing when someone mentions an artist whose work I don't know).

Third is the sheer audacity of the idea of a right to a particular audience by some subset of artists. I suspect that popular, but critically un-acclaimed, artists must resent that notion. The idea that they're somehow denying "real" artists an audience who would have to turn to the "real" artists if (what? "unreal"?..."hack"?) artists like them were not out there fooling the general public and competing for their slice of the limited art purchasing/viewing pie.

Finally, though, are questions this raises with regards to what should the system do to limit the choices overwhelming the art viewing public? You can always let the market take care of such matters, obviously. As long as galleries and institutions are making enough money to stay afloat, why not just have let them compete? But that seems to describe the current situation and clearly that's not working for everyone.

Certain disciplines (like doctors) have quotas on the number of licensed practitioners. Is that an idea that might work here (sound ridiculous to me, but I throw it out there for debate)?

As the art market death watch cheerleaders are happy to point out, we may not have to worry about such matters for much longer or at least may be on the brink of a breather anyway, but when the market comes roaring back (as it generally does after a down turn), we'll find ourselves in this exact same spot again, so, the questions linger....

Consider this an open thread.

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More Museums Embracing Blogs?

If you're a blog junkie like me, the question of whether they represent a respectable form of communication or not probably seems irrelevant. I was drawn to blogs because I was starving for information I couldn't find elsewhere. I knew a good chunk of that information was questionable, but not all of it so much less so than a good deal of what I heard on TV or read in mainstream newspapers. At least on the blogs, I could write back (either via email or comments) in real time and express why something struck me as questionable or just plain wrong, and via that process work my way toward a better understanding if not always exactly "the truth."

Since their rise in popularity, blogs have endured a number of rather misguided assaults from pundits, reporters, or writers who generally focus on blogs' shortcomings as "Journalism." To my mind that's like faulting medicine for not tasting like rich creamy chocolate. You could make it do so, if you wanted to put the effort into it, but as long as the taste of the medicine doesn't make you gag, there are other concerns for its makers than whether it can pass as something it wasn't meant to be. Some blogs are journalism; others aren't trying to be.

Recently, however, there have been indications that the tide has begun to turn, and blogophobia is giving way to a wider understanding of how blogs can help those institutions whose mission it is to spread the word. As I noted
last week, the Old Gray Lady cited the rise of blogs and their usefulness in the Times' goal of "offering unfettered access to New York Times reporting and analysis" as one rationale for their decision to end their pay-to-read service.

Then this week I was emailed a press release from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, who is about to launch their very first blog in conjunction with an exhibition in The Costume Institute galleries. Now there are a host of museums who already have truly excellent blogs, but for the Met to join their ranks suggests to me that opinions are shifting about the medium. Moreover, I'm not sure if any other museum is yet offering what seems to be an interesting innovation that the Met is going to include in this: a "blogbar" (i.e., computer terminals in the exhibition galleries specifically so visitors can comment while there). I'm intrigued by this idea, but I have to say my first reaction is that while in the galleries, I'd rather be focused on the work. I'll save a final opinion on that until I see how it's installed and operates, though.

I can't find the press release on the Met's website, but here's the gist:

“blog.mode: addressing fashion” Sparks Dialogue at Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute

Exhibition dates: December 18, 2007 – April 13, 2008
Location: The Costume Institute
Press preview: Monday, December 17, 10 a.m. – noon

As a living art, fashion is open to multiple readings, and blog.mode: addressing fashion at The Metropolitan Museum of Art from December 18, 2007, through April 13, 2008, presents approximately 40 costumes and accessories dating from the 18th century to the present — all recent Metropolitan Museum acquisitions — and invites the public to share their reactions via a blog on the Museum’s website.

Over the duration of the exhibition, which will take place in The Costume Institute galleries, individual costumes and accessories will be posted on the blog periodically with commentary from curators Harold Koda and Andrew Bolton, and, where relevant, from contemporary designers.

The blog is the Metropolitan Museum’s first foray into the blogosphere, and can be accessed from the “Special Exhibitions” page of the Museum’s website ( Visitors can respond to the postings from anywhere during the run of the exhibition, including a “blogbar” of computer terminals in the exhibition galleries.
Don't go to their site looking for the blog just yet, though,

The blog for the exhibition will go online at on December 18, 2007, and will accept new comments until April 13, 2008, when the exhibition closes.

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Büchel---Mass MoCA Summary

As I look back at how my comments about this issue evolved, I realize I've essentially gone nearly two full turns around it (that's the peril of the immediacy of blogging). Now, however, as I'm sure others are, I am mostly just relieved by the museum's final decision not to exhibit the unfinished project.

Tyler has written a well-balanced summary and points to these two links as to where the opposing sides now stand: Büchel's totally disappointing and IMO unfunny letter to Geoff Edgers at the Boston Globe and Mass MoCA's mostly resassuring, if still debatable, FAQs on the entire process.

As I commented in a thread, given how most folks seem able to interpret Posner's decision to justify the position they held before the trial, it's perhaps best to wait until his written opinion is published to take this up again.

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Speculations Realized and Rumors Still Lingering

There was a great discussion a while back on Art World Salon (which is working on expanding its field of commenters, by the way) about the reasons we see such large number of vacancies among the top positions in American museums. As Marc Spiegler noted in the main post:
[I]t seems the problem lies in the way that the job has evolved through mission creep over the years. In addition to the classic connoisseurship required, fund-raising and business skills have become a big part of the job, as has the ability to deal with major construction projects and foreign governments. [...] So it seems today’s ideal museum-director candidate would have a PhD in Art History, an MBA, plus several years of Foreign Service and corporate experience under the belt. It’s a tall order, which may explain why it’s so frequently found to be difficult to fulfill, especially outside the top institutions. [...] perhaps it’s time to widen the notion of how museums are led: Splitting the job into business and art functions, rather than desperately seeking candidates combining all the skills required in the modern museum era and paralyzing the institution until the ideal candidate surfaces.
If Marc ever suggests he knows tomorrows lottery numbers, you might want to invest a stack of cash on his picks. From today's New York Times:
In a move that seems likely to shake up its contemporary art programming, the Museum of Modern Art has hired Kathy Halbreich, the adventurous director of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, as an associate director.

Ms. Halbreich, who said in March that she was retiring from the Walker, will work with the Modern’s curators on innovative programs crossing a range of disciplines and keep the museum abreast of developments in contemporary art. Staff members were informed of her hiring yesterday, and she is expected to start work in February.

For months, rumors have been circulating that Ms. Halbreich, 58, was being courted to succeed Glenn D. Lowry, the Modern’s director for the past 12 years, or to take over from Alanna Heiss, the director of the P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center in Long Island City, Queens, which became an affiliate of the Modern in 1999.

But MoMA chose instead to create a position for Ms. Halbreich that will give her influence in organizing exhibitions, planning performances and making acquisitions without assuming directorial responsibilities like fund-raising or capital expansions.
The Times article continues to explain why this is great news for MoMA: the energy Ms. Halbreich is likely to breathe into its Contemporary programming gives us all reason to cheer. More than that, though, the timing of this split of responsibilities seems perfect given some of the rumors flying around about MoMA's future plans to expand significantly. Particularly in light of this notion:
Having just overseen a $73.8 million expansion at the Walker, Ms. Halbreich said she sympathized with the Modern as it endured harsh criticism about its newly expanded home. For one thing, she said, a capital project can be so consuming that it diverts energy from programming. “Buildings require so much intellectual and financial resources it is almost impossible to be ambitious artistically,” she said.
If the rumors are true, this move might ensure that any expansion project won't distract from the programming, which is good news for us.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Christian Uncensored

As artists know perhaps better than anyone in the art world, until you have power in this business there are times when it's perhaps wise to keep some (if not most) of your opinions to yourself. That wisdom applies to curators and collectors in some contexts as well, and boy-oh-boy does it apply to gallerists. And while I like to tell myself this is just a smart business strategy (i.e., be as nice to everyone as you can and it will improve your standing), the truth is sometimes I don't say something out of fear of retribution, even when I really believe it. No biggie...that's how most industries operate.

The exception to that rule in the art world, though, are the critics. They not only have a license to speak their minds freely. It's their job.

Now I'll confess to love gossiping with most critics I know (that particular passion of mine is not listed in the top banner of this blog because I'm adverse to it). But when I do, I'll generally monitor how I present my thoughts (I have a few close friends who are critics who get my thoughts unfiltered, but...). Because I know I monitor what I say to most critics though, I'm guessing many other gallerists do as well. Therefore, I assume that even the most informed critics out there may not see the business from the vantage point of the person who, because it's their job to try to please everyone, gets a daily, up-close view of the grittiest side of how the sausage is made, as they say. That person of course is the art dealer.
All of which is my long-winded way of saying that if you want the truly unfiltered insider's view of the art world, sit down next to a former art dealer, who no longer has to worry about retribution. Or, better yet, wait until one becomes a person whose job it is to speak their mind freely.

Someone like the Village Voice's Christian Viveros-Fauné.

If you haven't been reading his articles and reviews since he starting writing there, you're missing some of the most fiery (and truly well-informed) opinions out there. Here's a snippet:

So, in my previous life as an art dealer, I learned a few things. First, always pretend that you live on the sunny side of the street (even if it's raining tax audits and razor blades). Second, it's always possible to raise the price of an object, but not lower it. And third—but by no means last—in the art world, it's correct to curve age down. It drives collectors nuts, among other things, to know that their artists are old enough to be lawyers and gastroenterologists.

In the art world, youth is a prize (price?) commodity. No surprise here. After all, why should the art world be different from the music and the film businesses? As things spiral upward in a bullish economy, collectors, curators, artists, and dealers think they've earned the right to create their own Britneys and Justin Timberlakes.
I've known Christian for years, and I've always thought of him as someone I can count on to level with me about how things are, but I'm very impressed with the manner in which he's sharing the insights gained while a gallerist.

Don't get me wrong, it's not all fire and brimstone. Christian is a true aesthete and talking with him about art can get you high as well as make you laugh your ass off. And he loves the people in the art world as much as most of us adore him. In case you missed it (folks linked to it across the blogosphere), here's a passage from the
gorgeous profile he wrote on The New Yorker's (if not the nation's) King of art criticism, Peter Schjeldahl:

A writer whose reviews have, on occasion, been scathing enough to peel the bark off a tree, Schjeldahl is a critic best known for his enthusiasms. A carrier of a sharply calibrated style of compression—"two ideas per sentence," he has said—Schjeldahl's writing acquires special probity when it turns to subjects dear to his heart. A Velázquez portrait ("The textures are an express elevator to heaven"), Cindy Sherman's photographs ("This is photography as one-frame moviemaking"), fireworks ("an everlasting miracle of human invention")—these and other favorite things are capable of moving him to some of the highest expressions of pleasure on record. Self-exposures as much as pointed raves, Schjeldahl's staunchly intelligible passions constitute the most immediate, articulate, unapologetically delightful takes on contemporary art we have.
OK, so I've made a fundamental writing mistake here. I started off praising one critic and then segued into his praise of another, leaving myself no easy transition back into the first except for this pathetic attempt at distracting you for a moment. You distracted??? OK.

Do yourself a favor and add Christian to your regular arts readings if you're not already an addict. He's as generous and in awe of great art as he is insightful and ready to tell you how it really is.

Full Disclosure: Christian and I got roaring drunk recently and spilled our guts onto a tape recorder for an article that someone had asked us to write. If the editors decide they can actually publish it (i.e., if it's at all comprehensible), I'll be sure to let you know.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Bonus Link

Don't miss this spot-on and hilarious post by This Broad and That Broad.


Playing the System

Lord knows I'm not advocating this particular path, but I would like to submit it as evidence to those who will argue that artists are powerless to take charge of and/or change how things are done in today's art market. In an article in The Art Newspaper about how a group of rogue employees from a print publisher were hawking fake works of his on eBay (which is an interesting story in itself), the artist Banksy had the following to say:
“They say it’s better to be a fake somebody than a real nobody, but I don’t think that applies to art prints. If it turns out that limited editions have not been limited in edition then I sincerely apologise. This is particularly unfortunate for the people who buy my work to flip it for a quick profit on eBay, as I wouldn’t want to affect their mark-up.”
If I'm reading that correctly, Banksy may be the very first artist I've ever heard of who didn't resent collectors making a quick profit by flipping his work. When I first read that, I thought, OK, he's just being glib for the sake of sounding controversial. But then it dawned on me that perhaps he's being really brilliant.

As The Art Newspaper notes:
A few years ago, Banksy was a graffiti artist unknown to the mainstream art world. But his canny handling of the media has brought his work to the attention of a much wider audience; his anonymity has intrigued the public and helped feed the media interest. Consequently, prices for his work have soared. [...] This success has been achieved despite, or perhaps because, Banksy has bypassed the traditional route to art world success, moving directly from the primary market to auction sales, avoiding galleries which deal in secondary sales.
Of course, this newly forged route is not without its bumps:
One Banksy collector interviewed by The Art Newspaper says that he has no paperwork for many of his authentic prints by the artist. “You have to realise that people started buying Banksy when you could pick one up for £30; they didn’t keep the receipt or think about the provenance, it was not important to them at that time so there are a lot of prints knocking about that don’t have any provenance.”

There is also a problem with forged paintings. On 5 April, Christie’s withdrew two Banksy paintings from its South Kensington saleroom amid fears that they were fake. In an email sent to us at the time, Christie’s said: “[We] will not offer for sale any object that we know or we have reason to believe is inauthentic or counterfeit.”
But my point is that this supports my belief that ultimately the power remains in the hands (or creative minds) of the artist, regardless of how complex or intimidating any given market conditions may seem. By bucking the conventional wisdom and essentially endorsing (if not encouraging) unbridled profiteering by collectors from his work (among other things), he has shot up through the ranks of the most sought-after (read: wealthy) artists in the market.

Will Banksy collectors later regret the lax control over his editions, original paintings, and pricing increases? If I had to bet, I'd say "Yes, they probably will." But I don't have a crystal ball. At least he didn't accept the conventional wisdom about what was possible and how he had to play by others' rules.


Monday, September 24, 2007

Rose Valland

I had never heard of Rose Valland before yesterday, when we went to see The Rape of Europa, the documentary about the systematic plundering of Europe's art treasures by the Nazis. That fact now seems surprising, given that, according to this account by Robert Edsel, she had not only been awarded the French Legion of Honor, the Medal of the Resistance, the Order of the Arts and Letters, and the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit from the Federal Republic of Germany, but received the very rare honor for a non-American of being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

I've written before about the heroic efforts of the Monuments Men, aka the "Venus fixers," who were often among the first Allied soldiers in WWII to venture into a new town, after the Nazis had been bombed or shelled out of it, in order to see what could be done to save, restore and/or repatriate the architecture or art found there. Their efforts form a central story within the tale of The Rape of Europa, but the tale of the rather bookish and shy looking curator from the Louvre, who at great risk to herself, single-handedly collected and preserved (in a secret diary she kept in her home) the origins and eventual destinations of great works of art stolen from prominent Jewish families and art dealers in Paris by the Nazis was one that had escaped me. Apparently none of the Nazis suspected that this quiet, unassuming French woman spoke German and was spying on them to later record the details that would prove invaluable in returning stolen works to their rightful owners.

Here's the story in the words of
The Rape of Europa author, Lynn H. Nicholas, from an interview with NEH Chairman William R. Ferris:
Rose Valland was a curator at the Louvre Museum. During the war the Germans took over a small and beloved museum called the Jeu de Paume, which was where the impressionists and more modern pictures were shown. They took over that building as a storage place for the things they were confiscating and buying. Rose Valland was the person who watered the potted palms and took care of the French maintenance staff. In fact, the whole time, she was spying on the Germans and making lists of what had been confiscated and where they were sending things, which was very brave. The Nazis took photographs of everything they stole, and she would take the negatives home at night and make copies of them, so that after the war the French were able to provide the Allies with information on where the objects were hidden.

In the last days of the war—it's a great story—the Nazis had loaded up a train with works of art that they wanted to remove before the Allies got to Paris. Rose told the French Resistance about it and they managed to keep the train kind of backing and filling around Paris for a couple of days until the Allied armies could liberate the city. They found the train sitting on a siding right near Paris. This was made into a movie called
The Train with Burt Lancaster and a beautiful French lady playing Rose Valland—not very accurate, but it's a good movie.
In 1961 Valland wrote about her spying experiences in Le front de l'art, but it seems to be out of print. If you find a copy (a translation actually, my college French ain't what it used to be), please do let me know where. This heroine's story deserves to be celebrated again and again. Especially today. It was difficult to watch this film and not compare the efforts of the US during WWII to protect and repatriate Europe's art, under the direct orders of Roosevelt himself, with the shameful ambivalence of the current occupant of the White House and his belligerent first Secretary of Defense. Indeed, compare their actions, as Barry Crimmins brilliantly summarized them in the Boston Phoenix:

Unfortunately, an urgent plea for the United States to safeguard priceless antiquities in the former Mesopotamia, made to the court-appointed Bush administration in January by a committee of scholars, must have gotten lost under a stack of doctored documents. While the corporate media focused quite happily on the looting of government buildings and Saddam’s and his collaborators’ swanky homes, a two-day pillaging of the Iraq National Museum went undetected.

When questioned about the looting, an impatient Doomsday Don Rumsfeld asked rhetorically, "My goodness, were there that many vases?" Items looted from museums on the banks of the Tigris River are understandably of little interest to Rummy, since the only history he respects is Genghis Khan’s foreign policy.

Rumsfeld deepened the pit by summarizing the anarchy thusly, "It’s untidy. And freedom’s untidy. And free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things." With this remark he unintentionally disclosed that some of the freest people in the world are now occupying 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Granted there was impatience among soldiers and officers with the efforts of the "Venus fixers" (as that derogatory nickname suggests), but Eisenhower made it clear that American values demanded our troops do all that war would allow to preserve those treasures. I have to conclude that the lack of such efforts in the invasion of Iraq boil down to racism and ignorance.

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Saturday, September 22, 2007

Very Disappointing Decisions

There are two very disappointing decisions behind the ruling by Judge Michael A. Ponsor, who in Federal District Court in Springfield, Mass., concluded that Mass MoCA can exhibit the unfinished work by Christoph Büchel.

The first was the decision by Mass MoCA to take the issue to court. Fighting for the right to exhibit an unfinished work strikes me as more about the institution or its leadership's bruised egos than any higher ideal, like, say, Mass MoCA's mission. Seriously, what's the core message here? Money invested trumps artistic vision?

As I've noted before, I'm not without sympathy for any institution that an artist targets as a patsy in a stunt or fails to live up to his/her side of an agreement with (and I'm not saying that's what Büchel did here...I'm just saying there are instances where an institution is right to fight back against an artist), but such fighting has to stop short of saying it's the institution's decision whether or not an unfinished work should bear that artist's name in the public's eye. If Mass MoCA wants to exhibit the work as a creation of their own but "after Büchel" that's another matter (über-lame, but another matter), but to open the doors to a public, many of whom might not have followed the controversy or understand even the most prominent of wall texts explaining the context, is to willingly misrepresent the work of the artist. And yet, that's exactly what Mass MoCA went to court to claim was their right to do.

The other disappointing decision, of course, was the legal one. I am not a lawyer, and the decision as reported seemed to be limited to the judge's interpretation of the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 and nothing more, but it's a hair-splitting technocratic decision that ignores the spirit of the law, in my opinion:
Judge Ponsor said that the artist rights act did not apply, in essence because it has no provision to prohibit showing an unfinished work of art simply because it is unfinished.
Here's what the law does say:
the author of a work of visual art-

(1) shall have the right-

(A) to claim authorship of that work, and

(B) to prevent the use of his or her name as the author of any work of visual art which he or she did not create;
which of course leaves open some rather serious questions as to when a mix of materials changes from being just that, raw materials, into a "work," but the next part of the law seems pretty clear to me:
2) shall have the right to prevent the use of his or her name as the author of the work of visual art in the event of a distortion, mutilation, or other modification of the work which would be prejudicial to his or her honor or reputation; and
How Posner failed to interpret the finalization of the piece before the doors can open (including important aesthetic decisions like interior lighting and final compositional [and/or safety] decisions that a multi-part, three-dimensional piece like this will surely require) as a "modification" of the work is beyond me, quite frankly.

Mass MoCA seems to be trying to move on now that they've won this decision:
Joseph C. Thompson, the director of the museum, which is in an old mill complex in North Adams, Mass., said in a telephone interview that he was happy with the decision. But he added that his institution would now think long and hard about what to do with the work inside its Building 5, which covers an area the size of a football field and includes such Büchel components as a wrecked police car, a carnival ride rigged with bomb casings, a dilapidated two-story house, a mobile home and a rusted oil tanker.

“We very much appreciate the fact that the court granted us the right to use our discretion and we’ll use it very carefully,” said Mr. Thompson, who added that he would consult with art scholars, people who helped work on the installation and many of the museum’s visitors before he decided whether to open the unfinished installation or dismantle it.

“It’s not a decision that we’ve reached yet,” he said, but added: “Our mission is to help make new work and we’re very anxious to move forward.”
but I'm afraid that long-lasting damage has already been done here.

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Friday, September 21, 2007

The Met Rules!

I haven't been able to get up there since the Greek and Roman galleries re-opened (it's so-o-o- far north!), but, if the reviews are anything to judge by, the must-see exhibitions in New York museums at the moment are at the Met. As if they didn't merely want to out-class their competition as much as encourage them to convert to night clubs, the Met's curators have put together two seemingly life-altering shows.

If you've been reading here long, you know I don't much go in for advertising museum exhibitions, but in this case I'm so impressed by the reviews and concepts, not to mention exquisite timing of these shows, that, at the risk of ensuring my own near-future visit will be so packed I won't be able to see anything, I want to highlight these curatorial accomplishments.

First is The Age of Rembrandt: Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, which is not only causing local critics to dream up new superlatives, but has inspired a huge "how to visit"
article by Holland Cotter in today's New York Times (including this wonderful online interactive graphic [kudos to Mr. Cotter and the Times for harnessing the power of the web so brilliantly!]). What most impresses me about the concept here is how they've combined their obviously world-class collection with an interestingly educational installation idea (works are installed in the order in which the Met acquired them, providing insights into how such a collection is built). From the Met's web site:
The Metropolitan Museum is home to the finest collection of Dutch art outside of Europe--including 20 works by Rembrandt himself--and all 228 of these masterpieces are displayed together for the first time in this major special exhibition. The exhibition, which coincides with the publication of the first catalogue of the collection, celebrates Rembrandt's 400th birthday. On view is a rich array of works dating mostly between 1600 and 1700--landscapes, genre pictures, still lifes, marine views, portraiture, and historical and biblical paintings--by Rembrandt and other celebrated Dutch masters such as Frans Hals, Johannes Vermeer, Gerard ter Borch, Pieter de Hooch, Jacob van Ruisdael, and Aelbert Cuyp. Broadly outlining how the collection was formed, the exhibition reflects the taste for Dutch art in America and among New York's great collectors of the past two centuries.
The other must-see exhibition received one of the most enthusiastic reviews I've read by New York Times critic Roberta Smith in a long time. According to the Met's website, the Muriel Kallis Steinberg Newman Collection is the "only extant collection of Abstract Expressionist works gathered at the time of their creation." Even more interestingly, IMO, is the fact that Ms. Newman was a painter herself and put her eye as such to work in selecting these works. I'll let Roberta give you a sense of the collection that created and what Ms. Smith calls a "spine-tingling exhibition":
The consistently high quality of Mrs. Newman’s selections is thrilling. Many communicate a forceful self-sufficiency, as if they were the only works by their particular makers that we ever need to see. It is not hard to imagine them being looked at and loved, providing daily sustenance. [...]

The signal work of the Newman gift is arguably de Kooning’s “Attic” from 1949 [seen above], which has hung at the Met since it was formally given in 1982 in honor of Mrs. Newman’s son, Glenn David Steinberg. This work is what connoisseurs sometimes call “beyond category.” It seems to encompass the artist’s entire career as well as his era. Its shuffling planes of white — defined by whiplashing, curving or arabesque lines of black — are clearly in competition with Pollock’s drip technique, but the painting also reaches back to de Kooning’s Cubist roots and forward to his slouchy paintings of women, and even the broad cursive ribbonlike strokes of his late works.
You're still reading??? Go!

These shows won't last forever...

The Age of Rembrandt: Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art
September 18, 2007–January 6, 2008
Organized by Walter Liedtke, Curator in the Metropolitan Museum's Department of European Paintings

Abstract Expressionism and Other Modern Works: The Muriel Kallis Steinberg Newman Collection in The Metropolitan Museum of Art
September 18, 2007–February 3, 2008
Organized by Gary Tinterow; Nan Rosenthal, Special Consultant; and Lisa M. Messinger, Associate Curator, all of the Metropolitan Museum's Department of Nineteenth-Century, Modern, and Contemporary Art.

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

A Tale of Two Cities and a Disputed Patch of Coastal Massachusetts

They say a young person will fall hopelessly in love with the first major city they live in. That might explain why, as much as I adore New York, my favorite city in the whole wide world remains London. From Hamstead Heath to Ladywell, from Raven's Court to Hackney (we have friends in those places), crisscrossing the city on the Tube or double-decker buses is a breathtaking trip through time, passing ancient churches and futuristic skyscrapers. Even as ridiculously expensive as it has all become, walking along Charing Cross Road toward Tottenham Court Road, past the smaller streets with the books shops and nightclubs of my misspent youth, taking in the aroma of the kebab shops, the laughter spilling out from the pubs, and the Babelish cacophony of virtually every language on earth all within earshot at once, I can relax and want to dance at the same time. Londoners who don't know me might consider this presumptuous, but upon my arrivals my friends there greet me with "Welcome Home."

Which is partly why we're thrilled to be heading back in a few weeks for the Year 07 Art Projects (taking place at County Hall [seen above], see details here), and scheduling in as many dinners and pub crawls as humanly possible in between the important work of presenting signature installations by a few of our artists (yes, this part's a sales rest for the wicked) including the highly acclaimed, 40-foot-long facial bar graph otherwise known as What Does an Artist Look Like (Every Photograph of an Artist to Appear in The New Yorker, 1999-2001) by Jennifer Dalton and the piece that encouraged nearly a hundred curators (seriously) to head to Central Asia when it debuted at the Venice Biennale in 2005, Trans Siberian Amazons by Gulnara Kasmalieva and Muratbek Djumaliev. We're also bringing some fabulous new work by Rory Donaldson (see this image of a canal in Venice). Please do stop by if you're in town for the art festivities.

Speaking of Venice, though, that's the other city in the world I just can't get enough of. Last time Bambino and I were there it was boiling hot, and we staggered from piazza to piazza nearly drowning ourselves in the public fountains just to cool off. Winding our way through the labyrinth of streets we would continually come around a corner and just gasp at what we saw. At each new doorway or window or crumbling wall, so gorgeous in nearly every detail, the thought would cross my mind that "someone really should paint that," just to be chased out by the realization that very likely someone already has. And the Venetians are rather proud of that, I'd say, and rightly so.

Which brings me to the disputed patch of coastal Massachusetts. It's a patch that someone once painted as well. Edward Hopper, no less. And similar to the way the Venetians react when someone dares suggest they add or subtract something from their city that has been immortalized in art history, the residents of South Truro are up in arms about plans to alter the landscape that Hopper immortalized in his painting "Hills, South Truro" (seen below).

The New York Times has the story:
Walking the beaches and dunes of South Truro, it is easy to see how the artist Edward Hopper and countless others were captivated by the scenery, a sweeping expanse of sand and sunlight bouncing off Cape Cod Bay.

Now some worry that the view from Hopper’s small whitewashed home is in jeopardy, as well as the home itself. The parcel has become the subject of controversy, with some residents trying to protect what they see as a piece of American artistic history and others defending the right of a property owner to build what he wishes on his land.

In May, Donald and Andrea Kline bought 9.3 acres next to Hopper’s house for $6.75 million. They plan to build a house that, with a garage and a pool, is expected to be about 6,500 square feet, according to a sewer application.

Expansive houses dot the dunes here. But the Klines’ proposal has angered some residents who say it will sit atop a ridge directly in the “Hopper Landscape,” a swath of land visible from a large, north-facing window that allowed into Hopper’s home the light he found so captivating. Hopper first came to Truro in 1930 and spent every summer here until his death in 1967. Mr. Kline says the home would be to the right of the Hopper Landscape.

Joan Holt, a Truro resident, opposes construction of the house. “It’s a place that has great historical and artistic significance,” Ms. Holt said. “Our roots here on the lower cape are with two kinds of people, fishing people and artistic people.”
Like the Venetians, the Truro residents understand the value of their artistic roots. Once that landscape is altered, part of what captured the artist's imagination
about that place is lost to us forever.

I realize that Mr. Kline has rights in this as well, and that, as some have pointed out, the folks so keen on preserving that landscape could have purchased it in order to protect it themselves (Party of Davos advocates, line up to the right please). But I see nothing wrong with the other residents appealing, heartily, to his better self via the legal means they have to do so. I hope he weighs what's to be gained versus what's to be lost in making his decision.


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Times De-Select

In one of my snarkiest editorials ever, I chastised The New York Times for putting material (mostly their prize columnists) that they had been offering free to online readers (who have to register and are bombarded with advertisements, mind you) behind a pay-to-read section of their site that they called "Times Select." Here's the gist of what I wrote, in the form of a letter to the editor:
It's quite a gamble you're taking here actually. Surely you realize the rise in popularity of your columnists over the past 4 years is due in large part to how easily bloggers can cite them while they're free. Take away that option, and the number of times they're referenced in the blogosphere is most certainly going to plummet.

I, for example, will not direct readers from any of my blogs to a site they'll have to pay to read.The irony here is that I buy your paper, at full price, from my local vendor every day. I often turn to the editorial pages first, read all the columns, and often they become a source for my blog posts.

Because, again, I won't direct my readers to a site they'll be charged to read, though, you've just convinced me to start picking up the Washington Post each morning instead.

Good luck with your new program. Do let me know when it's been scrapped.
Well, they did let me (us) know. It's been scrapped. And their reasoning?
Since we launched TimesSelect in 2005, the online landscape has altered significantly. Readers increasingly find news through search, as well as through social networks, blogs and other online sources. In light of this shift, we believe offering unfettered access to New York Times reporting and analysis best serves the interest of our readers, our brand and the long-term vitality of our journalism. We encourage everyone to read our news and opinion – as well as share it, link to it and comment on it., what did I tell you???? It was obvious back in 2005 when you first launched this nonsense. I'll point out as well that folks who did subscribe for it will get a prorated refund, which is good of the paper.

Still, let me take advantage of this moment of triumphant told-you-so-ism to suggest you replace David Brooks with a conservative columnist who'll do more research for his pieces than reading Rove's latest talking points. Seriously. He's an embarrassment.

We now return to our regularly scheduled bickering about art....

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Relativity of Objectivity Open Thread

I was a bit surprised to read a line in an arts article in The New York Times this morning that used what even I consider a subjective term in the context of journalism to describe the ongoing effort to fight terrorists hellbent on attacking the US. It's a term I use myself frequently, it's a term I totally understand and sympathize with, and it's a term that I read without giving it a second thought in the editorial section of the Times just yesterday.

My reason for highlighting it is not to disagree with the writer or even to suggest the writer is consciously making an overt politic statement by doing so. I was simply surprised, that's all, and it got me to thinking about how it's become rather difficult to separate out politics from anything these days.

a report on the third annual Conflux festival that was held in Williamsburg this past weekend, Martha Schwendener (who I know to be an insightful and thoughtful writer) wrote the following:
....was a presentation on “Guy Debord’s Game of War,” a work in progress by the Radical Software Group that the artists plan to publish eventually as free, open-source software. Taking their cues from an actual game developed by Debord, the group used its discussion to gather feedback on how older war-game strategies jibe with contemporary warfare, like the so-called war on terrorism. [emphasis mine]
With no quotes around it suggesting this was the term the Radical Software Group used, I was surprised to read this. Has "so-called war on terrorism" reached such a widely accepted usage that it's now truly, more-or-less neutrally synonymous with the "Global War on Terror." Or was Martha editorializing?

Now I don't mean to pick on Martha. She's a great art critic, and her report represents the sort of coverage I would like to see a lot more of, but this phrase made me wonder at what point does what was once a clearly political characterization become neutral enough to get past the editors?

Don't get me wrong, I consider Global War on Terror to be equally political (and grammatically, if not logically, challenged), but because the administration uses it (they still use it, no? Or has it morphed into the "Global War on Enemy Combatants and by 'Enemy Combatants' I mean anyone I, George Bush [and by 'I George Bush,' I mean I Dick Cheney] decide to haul off the streets and send to our 'enhanced interrogation' chambers"), I guess I let it go when a journalist uses it (but even as I write that I can see the inherent laziness of that).

In the end, I agree with Martha's characterization, but if someone uses it during dinner conversation I do indeed make a mental note that he/she is on my side of that issue, so I don't see it as entirely neutral. On the other hand, if Martha had used "Global War on Terror," I would have suspected interference by an editor (perhaps the one who dropped the ball in monitoring the propaganda Judith Miller was filing daily). So I wonder if a journalist isn't caught between a rock and a hard place here (yes, puns are calling).

Or is there a spectrum of objectivity for journalists based on their beat? If everyone you write about refuses to use the term Global War on Terror, aren't you making an equally questionable political statement by discussing their actions via the use of that phrase? Yes, quotes would technically absolve you, but even quotes (saying "these are not my words, Home Land Security") becomes a political statement, suggesting the subjects being covered are perhaps out of step with (who?) the President(?) to use what they do.

I'm sure there have been studies (anyone?) of how language or terminology shifts as the general sentiment for or against a political action shifts. Consider this an open thread on art, politics, language and objectivity.

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Monday, September 17, 2007

A Reader Asks

A blogger named tantrumette left a question on the 50/50 split thread we had a while back. In response to this item:
"Some artists don't have a primary gallery, per se, and therefore sales are not split between their galleries."
tantrumette asks:
I have been showing with two galleries, one in New York, one in my home state, for 15 years. The New York gallery relationship just evolved over the years with no contract. At the same time, the in-state gallery became quite successful showing my work, and despite two shows in New York, sales there were minimal.

Recently the New York gallerist became aware that I have been sending new work to the instate gallery - I had pretty much lost confidence in the New York gallery, and was continuing the relationship largely for the glamour it added to my cv. Now New York is insisting that I should show all new work to them first, so they can have first choice. (The gallerist seems to think that they are my "primary" gallery, though the results would not bear that out.) I am unwilling to do this, I never agreed to anything of the sort, and it would not be fair to my other gallery. Yet I am reluctant to end the relationship; I assume if I found another gallery they would impose the same sort of conditions. I want to be fair to both galleries, but am in a quandary about how to deal with this. Any ideas?
There's not a one-size-fits-all answer to the overarching question here to my mind, but I appreciate (as a gallerist) that tantrumette wants to be fair to both galleries. In general, I think it's always appropriate for any artist to request a meeting to discuss the often-unsaid (let alone unwritten) assumptions both parties have in the artist-gallery relationship, though, and this would be a very good example of when such a meeting could help avoid any future miscommunication/anger/etc. I don't know the galleries in question here, and I see that tantrumette is unwilling to let the New York gallery be his/her primary gallery, but I do want to elaborate a bit on the thinking here so that tantrumette can approach the New York gallery with as full an understanding of their probable thoughts on the matter in order to help, hopefully, find a solution that suits everyone.

What I think I'm hearing between the lines in this account is that tantrumette feels more aligned with the non-New York gallery (i.e., more inclined to make them the primary gallery) because they're selling more of his/her work. Also, because they're a local gallery, the bond is likely stronger due to proximity (i.e., easier access to build that kind of relationship). That's totally understandable, but it's not the bigger picture in full.

It's perhaps a questionable action on the part of many New York galleries to assume without asking that they are the primary gallery for the artists they represent, but it's good to keep in mind when agreeing to be represented by one that many do indeed assume just that. The cost of running a gallery in New York, the glamour (as tantrumette calls it [although, I would say "prestige" and note that goes hand in hand with the resulting attractiveness of one's art outside New York for being recognized as valuable in such a fiercely competitive market as New York]) it affords its artists, and the fact that the New York gallery took the chance on this work first [update: I only noticed in re-reading that tantrumette did not indicate that his/her work was shown in the New York gallery first...I don't recall what had made me think that, but I'll leave my comments regarding that in just in case that is the chronology here) all contribute to why the New York gallery likely makes this assertion now in good faith.

As I noted in the 50/50 split thread, galleries are often investing in an emerging artist with the knowledge/hope that the work will begin selling strongly only after a sustained marketing/education effort. It's not at all unusual for that effort to pay off first in another location and still take time in the, again, fiercely competitive New York market. If a gallery takes on the additional risk of exhibiting an artist first, then other galleries benefit from the costs that first gallery paid out. Having New York exhibitions on one's resume probably didn't hurt the sales in the non-New York gallery either. Perhaps the New York gallery will never match the level of sales the local gallery can (and the potential reasons for that are too many to list), but the prestige of having the New York gallery, the costs for the exhibitions there, the exposure that brings, etc., etc. should be balanced against sales, IMHO.

Having said all that, I strongly feel an artist should be free to chose their primary gallery (just don't be surprised if the gallery feels so differently it leads to them end the relationship). In this instance, I would suggest asking the New York gallery for a meeting (by phone if more feasible) and in it explain that you would rather have your work sell at the local gallery than sit in storage at the New York gallery. If the New York gallery is asking to view new work, though, it's because they suspect they're not getting the best work to sell (and implied in that is that they feel they could possibly also sell the work the local gallery is selling, and in their mind [true or not] is the assumption that in New York they might sell some of it to more prominent collectors).

Bottom line here though is that it may not be possible to resolve this quandary without upsetting one or the other gallery, and I can't give any concrete advice on how to avoid that. The best I can do is offer information that you can use in trying to get them to agree to what you want.

Keep in mind that galleries need to sell artwork and anything, real or imagined, that hinders them from doing so will be viewed, consciously or not, as a problem to solve. Making sure the New York gallery understands you have some awesome new work for them to offer will go a long way here too, I suspect. I know this shifts the responsibility for being the "adult" in the relationship from where it's generally perceived to be (with the dealer) to the artist, but in a situation where you want to keep the New York gallery, but not let them be the primary gallery, it might take some mature maneuvering to get to that point.


Friday, September 14, 2007

Who We Talk About When When We Talk about Art

Via Modern Kicks I found this wonderful article by Berlin-based critic Jennifer Allen on how to talk about the art you haven't actually seen. I'm so delighted by this piece, I'm tempted to reprint the entire thing here (actually, I'm having a hard time choosing among my favorite passages), but she starts by explaining how she was saved from a series of awkward social situations that might have been, because she had postponed seeing a chunk of this summer's Grand Art Tour and folks were expecting her to be up-to-date in the dishing and dialog at parties and such:

[M]y wisest move had been picking up the book Comment parler des livres que l’on n’a pas lus? (How to Talk about Books You Haven’t Read).1 Written by Pierre Bayard, a literature critic and professor from the Université de Paris 8, this book-length essay – both an apology and a how-to guide originally intended for literary professionals – became this year’s surprise best-seller in France.
Allen suggests one can simply replace the word "book" in Bayard's text with the word "art" to arrive at the perfect manual for surviving those chatty art parties where everyone seems to have seen everything. Here's how:

Bayard’s first words of advice: don’t be ashamed, you’re in good company. The author assures us that he and most literati, dead or alive, never did their homework. Take Paul Valéry, who penned a homage to Marcel Proust a year after the latter’s death in 1922: ‘Although I hardly know a single volume of the great work of Marcel Proust […], I am nevertheless keenly aware, from the little I’ve had the leisure to read in In Search of Lost Time, that literature has just experienced an exceptional loss.’2 Oscar Wilde didn’t like to read the books he reviewed. Michel de Montaigne couldn’t remember the ones he wrote himself. Why should art lovers have higher standards, even if most art works are consumed with a cursory glance? [...]

Books and art works can be pretexts for a complex exchange in which many elements come into play beyond the storyline and the artistic medium: collective and individual memory, relative cultural values, power structures, social circles and reputations – of both the speakers and the works themselves. Physically absent in a conversation, books and art become imaginary, virtual, ghostly, fluctuating, even fictional entities, which Bayard urges us to invent with gusto. Since this imaginary library – or museum – is collective, everyone has the right, if not the obligation, to participate in its upkeep by talking its holdings into existence.
But the gem of keen observation here is revealed in this passage:
There are always enough details floating around about art works to make associations creatively. If you make a mistake, Bayard tells us, you can always pretend you confused one work with another. Talking about yourself – Wilde’s modus operandi – involves treating the book/art work as a pretext not for a conversation but for an autobiographical note. For Wilde, a fanatical non-reader avant la lettre, the object of criticism was himself, not the work: ‘I never read a book I must review’, said Wilde, ‘it prejudices me so.’3 With evident admiration Bayard advises making a perfunctory reference to the work’s title, status or atmosphere before getting down to the real business of you.
Indeed, there's nary a conversation about art I can recall that didn't eventually segue into an oration about the preferences (art related or not) of the person I was talking with. Which I'm very guilty of myself (see, I did it just there!).

Armed with this encouragement, I now feel empowered to share my impressions of a wide range of exhibitions, from the 1913 Armory Show to the 2009 Venice Biennale (who said the art has to be made yet for me to talk about it?). Lucky you, no?

Lucky all of us.

Have a great weekend all.


Thursday, September 13, 2007

Transparency or Surrender? Web 2.0 Open Thread

Ironically for a festival about how exposed everything is these days, reports on what actually took place at the Ars Electronica "Goodbye Privacy" festival that just ended in Linz, Austria, are somewhat hard to find online (in English anyway). Artforum was kind enough to translate part of a French report for us, but misunderstood that "Goodbye Privacy" didn't merely seem to be the main was the festival's official theme this year:

"Good-bye, privacy!" That seems to have been the main message at this year's Ars Electronica in Linz, Austria. As Libération's Marie Lechner reports, the electronic-arts and new-media festival took stock of the new security society and the subsequent erosion of privacy and civil rights in the name of a struggle against terrorism. "It's urgent that artists create new images," critic Brian Holmes told Libération, "new metaphors to make the public more aware of this intrusive level of surveillance."
I'm always a bit sceptical of any declaration of what's "urgent that artists create," but I am interested in new metaphors that can help me make sense of it all. But I'm still trying to get a handle on what was discovered or decided at the event. I did find one report in English, from Australia, but it's not clear if the blogger attended the event or is quoting some other source:

ARS Symposium coordinators Ina Zwerger, Armin Medosch have these words to say on privacy: We publicize our view of the world and of ourselves in weblogs and at sites like Flickr, MySpace and YouTube. Many of the services that are being marketed under the banner of Web 2.0 are based on network linkup, exchange and the voluntary revelation of private information. With the emergence of this new “public life,” the value of that which is private has changed."

So theres more participation in and desire for / access to detailed information about private individuals. .>> do this give rise to new service further architectures of surveillance and control. Reflecting on Foucalts now well plundered text on Control Societies we can ask: are we well on the way to a transparent society? or is this new openness precisely what is paving the way for the abuse of power behind the scenes?
OK, so maybe I'm gonna have to wait to understand what the answers were, but here's what the event set out to explore:

Artists, experienced network nomads, theoreticians, technologists and legal scholars will approach this year’s theme from quite different perspectives:

  • What do we have at our disposal to counter the intrusions of control and surveillance technologies?
  • How can the new cultural paradigms of Web 2.0 communities be made to generate social dynamics that can also display relevance in the real world?
  • How can we prevent the loss of individual control over our digital personas?
  • What sorts of new strategies are there to reinvent privacy in the transparent world of digital media?
  • How can we shatter the pre-configured virtual public spheres of the entertainment industries and mold new ones ourselves?
  • How can we bring the entire cultural diversity of our societies to bear in these newly emerging public, social realms?
That last one strikes me as somewhat drafted by committee, but the other questions are truly fascinating to me, especially "What do we have at our disposal to counter the intrusions of control and surveillance technologies?" I think that is the central question here. Moreover, specifically for our growing digital selves, is there an underlying threat we're not seeing by posting our thoughts/images/personal anecdotes etc. online for any potentially malicious agent to abuse? Obviously, I'm not overly concerned about that myself, but then I'm hardly the brightest bulb in the chandelier either.

I go rounds on this. I mean, I'll walk an extra five blocks or more to avoid opening my bag if requested by the police in the subway station, but am I really consistent if I surrender to what is approaching a full cavity search at our airports these days? I would demand to see a warrant if any official requested access to my home, but I'll happily post holiday snaps and detail our adventures abroad for the whole world to see. I know I retain the choice in such matters, but am I fooling myself even in that?

There are undoubtedly great things that come from the blending of the personal with the potential of new technology. The number of deliriously happy couples I know who met online being one good example. And it's indeed been a wonderful experience to meet folks who trek all the way over to the gallery (but might not have otherwise) because they enjoy the blog. The technology CAN bring people together.

But that's enough of what I think. What are your thoughts (yes, that's somewhat a trick answering you're already saying you're not too concerned)? Big Brother who's boss and blog...

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Andy Yoder in Art in America

We're rather pleased with this.

Many thanks to Mr. Leffingwell for such a lovely and thorough review:

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Calling London

In a month or (egads!) less, the contemporary art world's attention shifts almost entirely over to London, where the Frieze art fair will be the first major contemporary art fair to be held since the US economy started hiccing up (as Bambino so adorably puts it) (translation: "hiccuping"). Like any successful contemporary art fair, Frieze has spawned an ever-growing number of satellite fairs, including the one we're thrilled to be participating in again Year 07.

Organized by the thoroughly charming team at Keith Talent Gallery, Year 07 is taking place in a location of no-less-impressive art history than County Hall, on the Thames, right across from the Houses of Parliament. Visitors to Saatchi's first gallery there will remember the grandness of the space, and our booth, or so we've been told, affords us a view of Big Ben.

We love London in general (some of our dearest friends live there, I lived there three years and have a long list of favorite haunts, the beer and Gemütlichkeit of the pubs are unparalleled IMO, etc....), but I've been a bit unlucky in searching for London-based art bloggers. There is, of course, the world-class arts blog on the Guardian newspaper's site that you're read me rave about incessantly, but many of the art blogs I've found via Google haven't been updated in quite some time.

Therefore, I'm putting out a call. What local art blogs are important for Londoners? Which ones should we know about? Bambino and I are hoping to organize a pub party during Year 07 for art bloggers (not limited to UK-based ones either, so let us know if you'll be that side of the pond that week) and could use your suggestions.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Six Years

There was a campaign poster up throughout Paris during what (I believe) would prove to be François's last election that read simply "Mitterand. Sept ans. Ça suffit." (Mitterand. Seven years. That's enough.). Six years on since the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington DC, I had that slogan come back to me as I thought about what tone to take in writing today's post. Six years. That's enough. No?

Indeed, on the front page of
The New York Times is an article describing how Mayor Bloomberg has worked to move the city past its grief:

When he took over as mayor in 2002, Mr. Bloomberg threw himself into fixing the many pressing problems wrought by the terror attack: shoring up the security of a city suddenly at the center of a bull’s-eye; closing the gaping hole in the midst of Lower Manhattan; bolstering a sinking economy suffering the loss of thousands of jobs.

But the mayor has also played an essential if more subtle role in nudging the city to gradually let go of its grief. It is a challenge the mayor has handled sometimes clumsily and sometimes with great sensitivity and eloquence, as he charted the path away from the concrete events of 2001. Now, as he works to imbue the city with optimism for the future, he even hints at a day when remembering may not mean reading the names of all the dead.
OK, I thought. Sure. Despite the fact that other newspapers have black front pages with cursive scripts declaring "We Will Always Remember" (and I suspect for our life times indeed we will), it does make sense to move it along in terms of not repeating the same elaborate ceremonies in the exact same way, which would lose its impact and become less meaningful as the subtle contempt (or at least lack of focus) of familiarity inevitably sets in. As time passes, the limits of memory will do the work they're meant to and soften the pain.

Then again, in reading through
Edward Rothstein's report on the exhibition of photographs up at the New York Historical Society, I encountered this eloquent assessment:

It isn’t memory that is the issue. It is commemoration. Memory, at least right now, is readily summoned. Commemoration is something else altogether.
I know there are more poignant images, more metaphorical ones, for what happened that day, but it's ones like these that haunt me:

I know what happened at Ground Zero was much more horrifying, but there at least natural instincts took over and folks responded automatically to falling debris or other dangers. They didn't have time to think about things...they had to act. (They would have worse nightmares, I'm sure, but those would come later.) But for the folks who watched it, safely, from blocks away, in real time, the horror seems to have been somehow more immediate and the looks on their faces simply rip my heart out. And so, despite agreeing with Mayor Bloomberg in principle, all it takes is a few images for me to be reduced, still, to a puddle of grief.

And yet, I know he's right. I know it's his job to lead the city past this stage. In small steps at first, perhaps, like moving the ceremony because the actual site is under construction and somewhat too dangerous to have the full reading of the names there. Later, I agree, it will be appropriate to shorten or stop the reading of the names, and we'll know when that's right. I expect (and fully understand) certain family members of those lost on that day to feel differently about when that time has come, but six years on I can finally imagine, at least, the day when September 11th will be a day for commemoration, but perhaps the memories won't hurt quite so much.


Monday, September 10, 2007

Blinded by Blood Lust

The first time I watched the single-channel video "Revolution" by our artists Gulnara Kasmalieva and Muratbek Djumaliev, I was a bit confused. After a masterfully edited montage of live footage of the Summer 2005 coup of the corrupt Kyrgyz government, climaxing in a syncopated delirium with the fervor of Edvard Grieg’s ‘Hall of the Mountain King’ and harrowing scenes of the widespread destruction that followed in the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek, the video fades to black and reopens on a silent performance, a close-up of two hands slowly, methodically cleansing white stones that had been covered in dark dirt (based on a regional shamanistic tradition).

When I asked the artists about this stark juxtaposition, they noted that as awful as the violence of a revolution can be, the reality is that the changes afterward can bring better lives for the population, that every such overthrow carries with it hope. There are, of course, no guarantees, but it has been known to happen. Indeed, as a nation born out of a revolution, it's ingrained in our consciousness that good things can follow one, lending them a morality one would assume their inherent violence contradicts. As Jefferson noted: "Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God."

So it would be false for me to suggest a revolution in the art market wouldn't offer the same potential for cleansing, and it leads me to be more patient about sharing my knee-jerk response to statements like this one from Holland Cotter's review of third annual Art Parade in today's
New York Times:
Death is going to be big in art this year. With Damien Hirst’s diamond-encrusted skull in the news, and Goth whatnots still in fashion, mortality is shaping up to be a thematic mini-trend of the kind cooked up to keep sales moving through the season. Or at least that’s apparently the hope, although frankly, if the economy keeps shape-shifting, Chelsea could power down fast. Would this have any effect on the Art Parade, with its here-today spirit and throwaway work? Would it become the larger, even fringier, truly go-for-broke event it has the potential to be? Can’t wait for 2008 to see.
Of course Holland doesn't come right out and wish for Chelsea to power down fast, but there's an implication that if it did, things might be more interesting.

Which brings me to a point I'd like to make. I sense a rising enthusiasm among those I'll call the art market death watch cheerleaders (note: I'm not, based on this one quote, including Mr. Cotter in this; his quote merely triggered this response) and it's beginning to strike me as somewhat akin to blood lust. Yes, yes, yes, I have a lot invested in hoping that the art market doesn't nosedive, so I'm hardly an objective observer, but put yourself in the shoes of someone who's just built out a space in Chelsea or an artist who's just beginning to make enough money from selling their art to consider quitting their day job or any of a number of other people for whom the strength of the art market has meant a better life and you'll see how such seeming ambivalence (or the outright glee some express over the potential of a crash) might be annoying.

The popular assertion is that money is ruining everything, with the unstated implication that we'd have better or more interesting art if only that were not the case. But the truth is that events like the Art Parade, which is sponsored by one of the city's most successful galleries and a not-for-profit organization and magazine that are undoubtedly benefiting from the current market in terms of how it adds to resources they have available to help fund such events, are made more possible because of the strength of the market. In other words, it's possible to have both a strong market and wildly popular (and I'd argue, important) fringe festivals. The Art Parade has grown in size and popularity despite the market being stronger each year since its inception. The two can co-exist.

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