Friday, December 28, 2007

Art and Value

The question manifests itself in a variety of contexts, from the rightful amount an artist can claim when donating work to charity to the stories of thieves who steal work for its materials (when the original was worth so much more on the market), like this one:

Vermont State Police said three people arrested Monday in the thefts of large sculptures from inside and outside of artist Joel Fisher's studio last month were after the raw materials, not the works themselves, reports the Associated Press. The 30 works stolen are valued at a total of about $1 million; authorities recovered 23 of them from a scrap metal yard in Hinesburg, Vt., which paid more than $4,000 for the 3,000 pounds of metal. Bronze contains copper, which has skyrocketed in value from about 75 cents a pound in 2004 to upwards of $3 today.
The question of course is how do we determine the value of a work of art. It's a question we deal with constantly in the gallery (and I've blogged about it here), but stepping back and considering more than the issues of supply and demand, stories like the Fisher theft suggest it partly depends on who you know. The thieves were not, I'm guessing, connected enough to hawk the work as "art," which could have brought them a much greater return for their efforts. Indeed, three suspected thieves were arrested Christmas Eve and have been identified as "Joshua Staples, 18; Anni Wells, 26; and Roger Chaffee, 29." Strong they must have been ("some of the sculptures weighed up to 800 pounds"), but underworld masterminds, not so much. Had they known either Fisher (or his reputation) or someone within the segments of organized crime who can unload a stolen artwork, they might have managed better than 0.4% of the market value. (OK, OK, so this assumes there's demand on the black market for Fisher's work, but you know what I mean.)

All of which reveals that the rarefied environment in which hundreds of thousands of dollars would exchange hands for bronze crafted just so (versus what it yields once melted down again) is quite contrived. (No sh*t Sherlock, I know, but stay with me here...I'm verging on having a point.) Indeed, it seems to requires the complicity of more than a few people.


Or does it?

Above I noted it partly depends on who you know. I think it also depends on what you expect or hope for. We went to see post-apocalyptic film "I Am Legend" over the holidays (because nothing says "Merry Christmas" like the world's last man running from zombies, eh?) and Bambino and I both elbowed each other during the scene in Will Smith's character's house where it was obvious he had pilfered a few paintings from the deserted city's museums for his own abode (he had "Starry Night," and a Rousseau [was it "The Dream?"] and a few others...suggesting MoMA was his museum of choice). Of course his character was a wealthy doctor, who (to maintain his sanity in this lonely new world) went out of his way to maintain some semblance of civilization between dodging danger. It was a fantasy I've imagined myself actually (if the city were deserted and I could help myself to any artwork, what would I take?), only without the undead chasing me.

There was something quite chilling about the notion in "I am Legend," actually. It reminded me of "
The Rape of Europa" which documented the efforts of a team of artists and historians within the Allied troops in WWII who risked their own lives to salvage the architectural and art treasures of bombed out European cities. Likewise in the Smith film, because the zombies had the run of the city and no qualms about trashing it, perhaps he stole the works not so much for his own personal enjoyment (he wasn't exactly a man of leisure) as to protect them for the future when he hoped normal life might return.

This casts an entirely new light on the question of art and value, to my mind. Like the WWII "
Venus fixers," the Smith character was counting on normalcy returning after the nightmare was over. When that time came...when civilization was restored...folks would regret not having the great art of their ancestors. It might not have much value in fighting zombies, but as a vessel for both hope and remembrance, it was, in fact, invaluable.

This is the last post I'll have time to make before the New Year. Here's hoping much health, success, and fun find you in 2008!

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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Do the Visual Arts Need a More, er, Visible Role in World Politics?

Following up on the ever so pleasant conversation that this post led to, today we can reveal that The Art Newspaper offered a slightly uneven, but mostly entertaining, op-ed by the UK Shadow Minister for Culture [a Conservative], Ed Vaizey, titled "Artists are apolitical, leaning to the left but embracing right-wing standards." Making the argument that today's high-profile artists embrace many of the central values of right-wing conservatives ["If you take “right wing” to mean support for commerce, free markets, trade, indeed all things capitalistic, then of course modern art is right wing."], Vaizey expresses surprise that there isn't more art defending right-wing positions. Readers with long memories might recall I seconded Zach Feuer's belief that high-profile right-wing artists were coming (perhaps not as quickly as we had expected, but...), but Vaizey's complaint is much more specific than an apparent absence of right-wing star power. Discussing a debate hosted by The Art Fund and titled “Is modern art left wing?” he noted:
Cultural commentator Munira Mirza, who participated in The Art Fund debate, pointed out that none of the country’s recent political disputes has been engaged from the perspective of the right. Where, she asked rhetorically, is the play about the banning of hunting? Here is a community, rooted in a centuries old past time and tradition, whose way of life was eradicated by an authoritarian government. Substitute aborigine for fox hunter, and one would have seen plays, and canvases, galore.

The debate becomes even more sensitive when one discusses the rise of religious fundamentalism, and how it is treated by artists. Contrast the defence of free speech when Christians picket Jerry Springer, say some on the right, with the muted reaction to the murder of Theo van Gogh or the riots outside the theatre putting on the play “Behzti” in Birmingham [which depicted a rape in a Sikh temple]. Not so, say the Birmingham Rep, who point out that far more edgy plays criticising the Muslim community have played without incident. “Behzti” was an exception, closed for specific reasons. But still, the feeling pervades that right-wing views are easier to attack and the outrage of the left is rarely challenged.
I'm on record as noting that most political art sucks and that which does (suck) does so precisely because it fails to consider the issue it's tackling from all perspectives. So in that way, I'm sympathetic with Mirza's position. I suspect the political art coming from left-leaning artists would be much more acute and insightful if there were right-wing rejoinders challenging it, sharpening it. Oh, there are right-wing condemnations all the time to left-wing art, but those are generally dismissed as the screechings of Philistines (which is often an irrelevant response).

The one criticism of the left I feel deserves more light is the silence greeting the death of Theo van Gogh. Had he been murdered by Christian fundamentalists there would have been no end to the outrage expressed by the left. He deserved better from the arts community than he received (and I include myself in that).

Vaizey ends with a challenge of his own to artists:
Where does this take us? For a Conservative politician, frustration, perhaps, with how the arts establishment leans to the left, and accepts Labour governments in far less critical ways than it does Conservative ones. It is left only to political cartoonists to use visual art to criticise all politicians, from the left and right, without fear or favour. For artists, the debate highlights the need to engage with current political discussions, and, paradoxically, to challenge their own small “c” conservatism in dealing only with issues with which they feel comfortable.
It's here, in his assertion that artists are "small 'c' conservatives," that I think Vaizey's argument is a bit weak. Specifically he argues, a bit snarkily:
The contemporary art trade is...a finely honed, global business. Artists have become brands, and their work is their product. ‘Twas ever thus of course, from the Medicis onwards. Artists have always relied on rich patrons, it’s just surprising to find the system in such rude health half a century after the state supposedly stepped in and took over. The right, however, might not wish to be associated with such red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalism. Even Conservatives acknowledge that it has its unacceptable face.
Relying on rich patrons and embracing Conservative values are not one in the same (indeed most of the wealthy collectors we work with lean unquestionably to the left). The implication that artists are even more enamored of "red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalism" than Vaizey's party is a considerable leap here as well. He is correct in that it 'twas ever thus (the branding of artists...the capitalist nature of their projects), but he leaves out that the appeal for the Medicis et al. was a mix of bragging rights and (in most cases anyway) actual intellectual/spiritual/aesthetic enrichment and ennobling. There have always been other ways to wear one's wealth on one's sleeve than art.

But we've been all over that before. Vaizey's central question remains: "[W]hether artists have some responsibility to use their talent to participate in the political debate." "Responsibility" seems a bit strong to me. We don't ask whether bankers have a responsibility to use their talent to participate in the political debate. Further, having watched
Shut Up and Sing last night (a documentary about the Dixie Chick's tumultuous ride after Natalie said she was ashamed that Bush hailed from Texas), it seems clear to me that in this country at least most people are content to have their artists remain out of the political arena. But if an artist is truly engaged in effecting societal change, joining into the debate would seem a natural extension of their project, so....questions linger.

I'm going to pledge to keep my personal feelings out of this conversation (as well as do my damnedest to not comment on what I suspect are other people's motivations for their statements) and ask anyone else participating do the same. I know things tend to get a bit heated here when politics are discussed (hell, that's half the fun of discussing politics), but I'd like to try staying on topic and see how folks feel about whether artists have some responsibility to participate in the political debate, through their work (one assumes is the question).

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Tinkering with "Finished" Work

Nicolai Ouroussoff asks an interesting question in today's NYTimes that picks up, to my mind, where we left off in discussing Richard Prince's decision to respond to the fact that he hadn't literally destroyed all his early work, as implied in a 1988 interview, by refusing to permit photos of what could be found from that period to be included in an exhibition catalog for a show of that work. In question in Ouroussoff's article is the decision by the Brazilian master modernist architect Oscar Niemeyer to "tinker" with his own masterpieces:

In the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s [Niemeyer, who celebrated his 100th birthday this month] established himself as one of Modernism’s greatest luminaries, infusing stark abstract forms with a beguiling tropical hedonism that reshaped Brazil’s identity in the popular imagination and mesmerized architects around the globe.

In Brasilía, a city that rose out of a jungle in the span of four years, he created at least a half dozen architectural masterpieces — a mind-boggling accomplishment by today’s standards. Today Mr. Niemeyer is held up as one of Brazil’s greatest national treasures, and he seems as spry as ever. He is at work on a cultural center in Aviles, Spain, and another in Niteroi, just south of Rio de Janeiro. He recently unveiled a new line of furniture at the Art Basel Miami fair. And last year he married his longtime secretary, Vera Lúcia Cabreira.

In recognition of the heroic scale of his accomplishments, Brazil’s president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, recently proposed legislation that would confer special landmark status on all of his buildings.

But the greatest threat to Mr. Niemeyer’s remarkable legacy may not be the developer’s bulldozer or insensitive city planners, but Mr. Niemeyer himself.

It is not simply that his latest buildings have a careless, tossed-off quality. It’s that some of his most revered buildings — from the Brasilía Cathedral to the grand ceremonial axis of the city itself — have been marred by the architect’s own hand. And this poses an uncomfortable dilemma: At what point do we — that is, the public that idolizes him, his government and private clients — have an obligation to intervene? Or is posing the question an act of spectacularly bad taste?
It's this last question that I want to begin with: whether it's bad taste to question the motives and/or actions of an artist who's trying to revise/improve upon their part of art history. I mean, unless otherwise agreed to, an artist retains the copyright to the work he/she creates. But does that mean he/she retains the right to alter the work indefinitely? Or is there a point at which, after presenting something as "finished" to the public, let alone selling it and accepting critique/accolades for it as such, that an artist has a societal obligation to leave it alone?

In Niemeyer's case, Ouroussoff offers the following specific complaints:


In the mid-1980s Mr. Niemeyer altered the shape of the arches that frame the main facade of his Ministry of Justice building, sacrificing the elegance of their symmetry in favor of something more whimsical. Around the same time he renovated Brasilía Cathedral, considered one of his greatest works. Designed as a series of parabolic arches that splay open at the top, its form added an exuberant touch to the ceremonial axis. Mr. Niemeyer painted its exposed concrete structure white, and he replaced its towering windows with stained-glass panels designed by Marianne Peretti: changes that detract from the raw force of the building’s upward thrust.

Perhaps most damaging, however, was the completion last year of Mr. Niemeyer’s National Museum [seen above] and National Library along the ceremonial axis. The museum’s white dome, pierced at one end by a long ramp, rests on its concrete plaza with the grace of an army bunker. The interior’s curved walls and lack of natural light — a shame in a climate like Brazil’s — make it an uncomfortable place to view art.
There's a difference between Prince and Neimeyer, in that the implication in the legendary architect's case is that no one is disrespectful enough to tell him to his face that they fear he's no longer at the top of his game. It's an awful dilemma, IMHO, actually. I recognize the fact that Niemeyer might indeed be making choices far more sophisticated than we can appreciate at the moment, that he has actually superceded his youthful genius and is making work that will only be appreciated in the future, perhaps. I also recognize that at 100 years old, he'd be a very rare case indeed if that were true.

Nicholai's other question is even tougher: "At what point do we — that is, the public that idolizes him, his government and private clients — have an obligation to intervene?" There's no way to do that that isn't hideous. A competency hearing might be the conclusion of any attempts to intervene, and a genius like Niemeyer deserves better than that. Then again, what about the public's feelings? Are they to stand by silently watching their prized buildings "tinkered" with by someone who's possibly started believing his own press? Someone whose latest work, as Ouroussoff puts it, is missing that "lightness of touch that could draw you deeper into the work"?

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Happy Holidays

We'll be heading off soon to enjoy Christmas with my family in the heartland (weather and airlines permitting). Bambino and I wish you all a very happy Holiday Season and much success in the New Year!

Someone at a party last night said something I hear a good deal, which, without false modesty, I'll note was "Everyone loves your blog." I realize the hyperbole in the sentiment is a compliment and I'm always truly very happy when someone takes the time to say they read here, but I often answer by noting that the credit goes mostly to the commenters. They, without false flattery, often agree.

I too love this blog, precisely because of the commenters, and would like to thank those of you who take time out of your day to contribute to the dialog here. Reading the threads is something I look forward to every morning, and even when we disagree, I'm aware of the gift your participation represents. For those of you who read, but don't comment (the legion of "lurkers" [we really need a nicer name than that in the blogosphere, it sounds like someone wearing an old raincoat and nothing else]), I would like to thank you too. I see you in the hit counts, which increase with each year, and truly appreciate the encouragement your stopping by supplies.

As my gift to all of you, here's my favorite YouTube video of the year. It's simple, and astonishing. It's not very Christmassy, in any traditional sense, but it did make me appreciate my life and the wonderous world we live in, which seems no small feat for a 40-second piece to do:



We'll see you after Christmas. Happy Holidays to you and yours!

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

MAO on Collecting on artinfo.com

Bambino and I were quite pleased to get one afternoon on the beach in Miami after the fair, but we were bummed when we learned that extra day meant we might miss a young collectors panel discussion at Aperture, which included the ever-so-thoughtful and delightful MAO of Modern Art Obsession. MAO and Dr. Quiz were kind enough to invite us over for cocktails at their very comfy apartment with the drop-dead serious view of Miami during the Baselrama festival, and as always we learned so much about the contemporary photography scene and its players in talking with MAO, so I was particularly disappointed when our flight landed too late to make to the event.

Fortunately, artinfo.com's Caroline Kinneberg was able to make it and offers a summary of the discussion under the context of
Seven Tips for Beginning Collectors:

Starting an art collection can be intimidating for a number of reasons: financial constraints, lack of a formal art background, or the attitude beginning collectors can be greeted with at certain galleries, a standard of customer service W.M. Hunt of the (friendly) Hasted Hunt Gallery describes as: “You could be set on fire and no one would give you a glass of water.” Last week, Hunt moderated a panel at Aperture Foundation’s gallery about the first steps to creating a photography collection. In principle, the advice applies to other sorts of art as well, though Hunt told ARTINFO, "Photography seems like a smaller field of dealers and auction houses. As overwhelming as it is, it's easier to negotiate and, at least in the past, the financial consequences weren't so huge." At the panel, Hunt talked to beginning collector Gael Zafrany, who works at Charles Schwartz Ltd., preserving and creating museum and personal collections; longtime collector David Kronn; Modern Art Obsession blogger [MAO]; and designer Todd Oldham about their experiences as fledgling collectors.
Among the pearls of wisdom MAO offered for younger collectors were:

Under "Be Selfish": [MAO], who works in finance in New York City, focused early in his collecting career on pieces that reflected his interests: industry and the city.
Under "Do your homework": Although some collectors buy impulsively, [MAO] called purchasing “a methodical process,” especially for collectors with limited financial resources who need to be selective.

He also had some comment under the heading of "Haggle" (i.e., negotiating with dealers for a better price) but, for some reason, I can't seem to get my copy-and-paste fingers to cooperate in presenting it here. :-)

Congrats to MAO. We're so sorry we missed it.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Trend toward Darwinism in Arts Funding: OpenThread

First was the Bloomberg plan:
Declaring that they had wearied of their annual dance over arts financing, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and the City Council announced yesterday that they would make more money available to arts groups, award it on a merit basis and widen a peer-review process to level the playing field
Now the British plan:
Nearly 200 arts organisations in England have been told that their funding will end from next April in the biggest and most bloody cull since the Arts Council was set up more than 50 years ago.

Pre-Christmas letters from Arts Council England have been dropping on the mats of groups across the arts, telling them they cannot expect to continue receiving public money.

Many organisations will, however, have had good news. Of the 990 bodies which get funding, three-quarters have been told to expect inflation or above rises.
In both places, certain institutions stand to get much more funding than they previously had. And as an opinion piece in the Guardian put it:
The big argument in arts spending today is not whether there is enough public money for the arts but whether that money is spent in the best way. In one sense, of course, there is never enough money. But the arts have had a good spending round for 2008-11, not a bad one. Spending on the arts will increase next year not decrease, while there is now to be more emphasis on arts and culture in schools, not less.
What this really boils down to for arts organizations, as Dominic M. Recchia Jr., chairman of the New York City Council’s Cultural Affairs Committee so bluntly put it, is “It’s a sign that you have to produce.”

Indeed both plans seem to reward excellence and cut off support for organizations just limping along. In a vacuum (i.e., a situation without politics outweighing as objective appraisals of excellence as humanly possible), I support this Darwinian trend. I do see potential peril for organizations devoted to more experimental (i.e., less immediately recognizable as "excellent") efforts. And I'm a bit unsure all this exceptionalism is actually the point of a country's or city's commitment to supporting the arts. But I do see that, when dealing with tax dollars/pounds, that rewarding excellence is more politically expedient, and, so long as the commitment to the arts remains a part of what we agree our taxes should be spent on, I guess overall this is a good move. Besides, I agree that excellence should be rewarded.

But enough of me going on about my opinion. Tell me what you think about my opinion...or your own opinion. ;-)

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Monday, December 17, 2007

Do the Visual Arts Need a More, er, Visible Role in US Politics?

Charlie Finch chastises those in the visual arts for not participating more visibly in Presidential politics in his most recent artnet.com column. What research he did to conclude "the involvement of the visual arts community in Presidential politics is nonexistent" is not revealed, but he does cite a few high-profile precedents that, by having no obvious and current parallel, would seem to suggest he has a point. Here's the gist of Charlie's complaint:
That art is now defined as marginal and transgressive only adds to the general ignorance of all Presidential candidates about what is, with music, the greatest contribution of Western, and every other, civilization, to the human spirit. Organizing efforts tied to the run for President by Artsland have been sporadic in recent years. There was an effort to sent [sic] volunteers to Ohio for John Kerry in 2004 and Ronald Feldman’s brilliant marketing of Roy Lichtenstein’s print of a colorful and empty Oval Office in support of Bill Clinton in 1992.

This year, to coin a phrase, nada. Perhaps the art world’s joyous bath in collector dollars, to the strains of unknown and musically passé rock and roll bands, has eliminated any overt concern for the public weal. Certainly, this indifference is matched by the unsurpassed artistic ignorance of the candidates. Giuliani condemned "Sensation!" and Hillary Clinton was unjustly criticized for exhibiting a late de Kooning in the East Wing of the White House. That’s it.
It's not clear what Charlie considers "this year." Does that refer to the period one year out from the November 2008 election or to the 2007 calendar year? Either answer would suggest that Charlie has bought into the absurd leap-frogging urgency of moving up the primary dates. What that would indicate he's ignoring, however, is that neither party has yet chosen a candidate, and that whereas his precedents all happened when the art world's presumed favorite (the Democrat) was already nominated, we are far from that point now, and many of us in the art world are still, rightly, debating which of the candidates among those in our party running, should get the nod.

None of these issues gets in the way of his jumping to conclusions about how there's too much money about for the art world to condescend to care about politics. The truth of the matter to my mind is that it's simply too early in the process to comment on much more than just that, the process, which is what the January group exhibition "Caucus" at
Schroeder Romero will be doing, for one. As for supporting particular candidates, I know of quite a few artists working on various primary campaigns, but again, we have yet to cast a single primary vote, so the notion that those of us invested in "the greatest contribution of Western... civilization...to the human spirit" as a whole have somehow fallen down on the job strikes me as quite premature. Indeed, Charlie's charge of "indifference" perhaps reveals nothing so much as his own impatience.

Checking artnet.com's archives, we find that Charlie himself had waited until July 2004 to write what was then also titled "
Art and the Presidency" (recycling headlines? how very green of them). Back then, though, his criticism was reserved for the entire nation, via criticism of the candidates:
It says something about Baby Boomer times that none of our presidents since Nixon, even the movie star Reagan, have inspired any great art. Perhaps, we have finally reached the time when any run-of-the-mill elitist, full of moral polenta, can become president.
The same might be said for other positions of power as well.

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Friday, December 14, 2007

Triple Threat: The Public's Right to Own, Part III

According to Artnet.com, the folks at Harlem's Triple Candie have yet again staged an exhibition that's pushing the boundaries of homage and art integrity. You may recall their exhibitions of works "by" Cady Noland and David Hammons. Now, the artist they're championing through unconventional means is Jacob Lawrence.

Two notes: 1) I personally know and greatly admire the Directors of Triple Candie, Shelly Bancroft and Peter Nesbett. 2) Peter Nesbeitt is an expert on Jacob Lawrence's work. As Artnet puts it, he "was formerly director of the Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Foundation, and is the co-author of the two-volume The Complete Jacob Lawrence (2000), which includes a catalog raisonné and Over the Line, a collection of essays. He is also author of Jacob Lawrence: The Complete Prints (1963-2000)."

Here is what they're up to this time:
Which is better, a complete set of facsimiles or a limited selection of originals? Ambitious viewers can decide for themselves this month, as the Triple Candie exhibition space in Harlem presents full-color offset reproductions of the 60 paintings in Jacob Lawrence’s The Migration of the Negro, an epic work made by the 24-year-old artist in 1941. According to Triple Candie, Lawrence considered the paintings to be a single artwork and intended that they all be exhibited together, though he sold half the series to the Museum of Modern Art and half to the Phillips Collection shortly after it was made.

Despite Lawrence’s intentions, major Lawrence retrospectives have routinely included only parts of the work, and thus "radically misrepresented" it, Triple Candie says. The Lawrence retrospectives of 1960 (at the Brooklyn Museum and 16 other venues), 1974 (at the Whitney Museum) and 1986 (at the Seattle Art Museum) all featured only fragments of the work. Both MoMA and the Phillips Collection have also exhibited it in truncated form. The Migration of the Negro has never been shown in its entirety in Harlem, where it was originally made.

What’s more, the misrepresentation of the work continues to this day. The Triple Candie exhibition is mounted to coincide with "Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series: Selections from the Phillips Collection" at the Whitney Museum, Nov. 21, 2007-Jan. 6, 2008, which presents only 17 of the 60 panels. That show was originally scheduled to appear at the Studio Museum in Harlem, but had to be moved to the Whitney due to high humidity in the original venue’s galleries.
As Lindsay Pollock details in her book on Lawrence's dealer, Edith Halpert, the gallerist tried valiantly to sell the entire series to one collection, but neither Phillips or MoMA would agree to purchase all 60 panels. I do recall some agreement on their part at the time, though, to collaborate to permit full exhibitions of the whole work. Why that has turned out to be so difficult is a mystery to me.

So I get why Triple Candie is offended by this continuous misrepresentation of the work to the public (the title of their exhibition clarifies their feelings about this: "Undoing the Ongoing Bastardization of The Migration of the Negro by Jacob Lawrence,"), but once again I find myself uncomfortable with the nature of their response. I am on record as opposed to reproductions being exhibited as if art. Even when the nature of the reproductions is clearly stated, I find the context overwhelmingly misleading and thus potentially as much of a bastardization as only partial groupings.

While I totally appreciate Peter and Shelly's frustration with the institutions wanting to cash in on Lawrence's vision, but only so much as it's convenient for them, and admire the way they're putting their money where their mouth is in bringing attention to this fact, I still wince a bit at the idea that some young visitor will leave their exhibition thinking that the original series was done as prints.

All the same, I love their commitment and passion.

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

People Love Free Stuff

In my Mini Miami Report, I promised to elaborate on the project Jennifer Dalton created for the Pulse Miami art fair. Artforum.com's Linda Yablonsky described it this way:
I thought about the black vinyl bracelets handed out at Pulse by artist Jennifer Dalton, imprinted with the phrase I’D RATHER BE HOT THAN RICH and the complementary white ones that read I’D RATHER BE RICH THAN HOT. If I didn’t know it before, I knew it now: Even after five days in an art bubble, far outside the real world, I’d rather be among art folks than not.
This is the second time Jen has created a bracelet dilemma piece (the viewer gets one for free, but must choose between two extremes). The first one (see installation shot below), titled "Would you rather be a loser or a pig?" was actually inconclusive, as there were both "Loser" and "Pig" bracelets remaining at the end of the exhibition (it was a much tougher choice and someone who shall remain nameless, but whose intials are A.G., started telling folks there was a third choice...to choose neither).


Jennifer Dalton, Would You Rather Be a Loser or a Pig?, 2006, Mixed Media (bisected Plexiglas bin, 500 “loser” bracelets, 500 “pig” bracelets, pedestal), 22” x 22” x 46”, edition of 3

Jennifer has shared a philosophical metaphor about her artmaking with me, saying she believes an artist can be both the prom queen and the valedictorian. That is, an artist's work can be "pretty, smart and popular." This perfectly describes the aesthetic, insightful, and democratic qualities of Jen's work.

What I love most about the bracelet pieces, though, is both the internal debate I go through when presented with the extreme choices (I ended up choosing "Pig" after a short stint with "Loser," and proudly wear my "I'd Rather Be Rich than Hot" bracelet) and the wonderful debates they spur among those trying to decide. Long after the bracelets were depleted in Miami (more on that in a bit), we saw folks wearing them at the Art Basel Miami Beach Vernissage, on the beach, at the parties, etc. etc. In fact, we ran into a few New Yorkers at a holiday party just last night still wearing theirs (and they had never met Jen). And so the debate lives on. You can imagine how much this delights Ms. Dalton...it certainly delights her dealer. Among the comments we heard in Miami was my fave: "If you're rich, everyone's going to treat you like you're hot anyway, so you'll never know the difference."

What was surprising, but perhaps shouldn't have been in the context of a busy art fair, was the number of people who refused to make a choice, taking both bracelets, or (and we saw this a number of times) helping themselves to handfuls of both (despite signage explaining they could take "one"). When we explained the nature of the piece...the fact that it's a dilemma...we were told quite boldly, "Yes, but I want to give these to my nieces as souvenirs." This most certainly did not delight Ms. Dalton's dealer, but led to a fun night of wondering just how outrageous the text could become and still have folks take them. Some of my faves were "I didn't even read what's on this bracelet" and "I love free stuff." The piece was depleted at the opening night preview party.

Yes, people love free stuff (I do too... what can I say?). But enough folks participated in the piece in the spirit with which it was created for me to report that more of the visitors to the Pulse Art Fair would rather be Hot than Rich. We were in Miami, after all.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Bitching (with some Bonus Thoughts on the Solitary Vision)

Upon my first full day back in New York, I was somewhat surprised to see there were no articles on visual art in the Arts section of today's New York Times. Not even in the Arts, Briefly section. Nothing.

There were reviews of rock concerts, operas, books, plays, etc. etc. and news about movies stars, TV programs, libraries, orchestras, etc. etc. But not one single mention (in the printed version anyway) about visual artists, or museums, or galleries, or anything.

After the 21-ring circus that Miami was, it is a bit of a relief I'll admit (indeed the folks in Miami reporting the most satisfaction with their social schedule were the ones who got as far away from the art world as possible [boxing matches, alligator farms, and the like were this year's must-see events]). Still, it got me to wondering about the role of visual art in our society that not even one bit of visual art news was fit to print.

Doing the math in my head (always a dubious venture), I guesstimated the number of new theatrical productions and new movie releases or new TV programs vs. the number of solo exhibitions or museum acquisitions or other possible visual arts story lines and can't help but conclude that there's something amiss here. I ran through a list of possible rationalizations for this. Things like, "Well, it takes so long and the efforts of so many people to produce a play or opera or TV show or movie that it just makes sense they get more coverage." But that doesn't ring true to me, as I know that the middle age artist getting their first solo exhibition has invested a staggering number of hours in their work.

I also considered whether the number of potential consumers of the art product plays a role in the Times' decisions. TV shows, movies, concerts, operas, plays are all designed to reach mass audiences. But not only is there no guarantee they will, blockbuster art exhibitions are often the result of wide press coverage, not just marketing, so that doesn't hold water to my mind either.

It did occur to me that the number of authors with new books out who don't get a Times review is very likely much higher than the number of visual artists with new work on exhibition who don't get one, though, and that began to make me suspect the bias at work here has more to do with the solitary vision than with potential audience.

Indeed, although there are publishers, editors, and others putting their reputation on the line in releasing a new book (just like there are gallerists, curators, and museums putting their reputation on the line for a new artist exhibition), to the public, a solo art exhibition or new book is the product of one person's vision. And there seems to be a reluctance in general to credit any solitary vision as worthy or valuable as group efforts. (This despite the fact that most Broadway musicals, for one personal-pet-peeve example, manage to combine the incredible talents of actors, musicians, composers, choreographers, stage designers, costume artists, etc. etc. etc. and still [usually] end up with an outing only slightly less painful than dental surgery without novocaine.) I get this bias against solitary visions instinctively---Who are You to tell me something about my world? I'll accept social commentary or human insight or poetic gestures as valid when the emerge from a committee, from an organization or group of artists working together. But the audacity of one solitary person to presume to have reached conclusions worthy of my time and attention. Hmpfff!---although I think it has more to do with insecurity than anything else.... Still, the limits of arm-chair psychology not withstanding, I'm curious if others have similar thoughts. Do you do think there is a widespread, if mostly subconscious, bias against solitary visions?

Or is it more simple than that? Am I simply imgaining a rationale where the most obvious reason is staring me in the face? In other words: is it the money? Is it because theaters and cinemas and the like will buy full-page ads from the Times (and most galleries can't afford to) that we'll see a day with no single story on visual arts in the "Arts" section of the largest paper in the nation's cultural capital?

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Monday, December 10, 2007

Mini Miami Report

We are still in Miami taking care of some last minute business, and I feel so entirely out of the loop on current events (have them impeached Bush yet?)...but I wanted to share a few photos of the fair that has been our life for the last week and a few knee-jerk impressions about Miami this year (because those are always so valuable, eh?).


This is the view from the top of the Pulse Art Fair. I'm not big on pissing matches among the fairs, seeing each as serving a different segment of galleries and the art world in general, but I did very much enjoy Pulse this year and liked hearing from other folks that it was among their favorites.

Ahhh...who am I kidding, Pulse kicked ass this year. With record attendance, incredibly strong sales, museum quality art everywhere, and a growing sense of importance among the art world in general, it's become the fair after Basel to beat, in my opinion. Opinions may vary, but I trust mine the most. More on this idea later when I develop these thoughts some more.


We went with an inside/outside/color/b&w theme this year (we somehow scored primo placement and had two outside walls). For the first three days of the fair the interior of our booth was all black-and-white work with formal wall labels and overall appearance. We had color works on the outside. Then we inverted the booth, scrawled the wall labels in pencil on the wall, let down our hair (so to speak), and showed more of our casual side. It had the effect of feeling like we had done two booths or two fairs, and though it was a lot of work, we enjoyed the response. Here's a shot of the first layout:



Some of our artists were in town for the festivities, including Sarah Peters (and her husband the artist Christopher Spadazzi):


David Kinast (and his friend the artist Deborah Grant):



Jennifer Dalton was able to attend as well, and her hilarious bracelets were seen across Miami for the duration of the fair (more on that later).

And, of course, the man I could not survive any art fair without. The hardest working and hardest playing man I know, my Bambino (doing his Janet Jackson impersonation):


Thanks to all the folks who stopped by the booth, and a sincere and grateful thank you to the folks who shared kind words about the blog!

More later when we return to New York.

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